Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sentimental Education

It takes some time to recognize the startling fact that education--even education in so-called dramatic writing--begins with mere rote before transferring to the express line, where connecting dots, any dots, is the crux and the fast ride to understanding.

For the longest while, I successively blamed the culture in which I lived, the University of California, and, later, the Republican Party, on the paucity of and lack of dimension in my personal education. While all these were indeed contributing factors, the most obvious one was my ow sense of inadequacy at having factoids at my fingertips but no way to connect them, no cosmic equivalent of cat's cradle, no sense of myself being as a star in a galaxy. The drop of water did not yet recognize the ocean from which he lurched.

There are now two factors that define the state of personal education to me, the ageing process and the need to connect dots, any dots. We each of us, according to age and number of dots of experience, go about with inchoate information, data points waiting to be connected. In our blood streams and genomes run the bundles of data we not only are but have collected from observation, memory, and intuition. Timidly at first, we connect obvious dots, power point most of our forbears and contemporaries have already connected, a fact that gives us a status called Common Sense or Conventional Wisdom. We begin to shine, give off our own light, just as stars do, when we begin to connect daring, improbable things, making sense and art of them; what we turn ourselves into then is a spinning combination of art and sense, each tidal, perhaps even conflicting. The more seemingly disparate things about us we connect within ourselves, the more we distance ourselves from Common Sense or Conventional Wisdom. The farther we get from these two faux pole stars, the more attractive our radiant light becomes, drawing to us the duality inherent in everything. In this case the duality is attractiveness and voice with which to communicate, the obverse of the coin is an increased distance from our common roots. Accordingly we must never forget to shine, take chances and grow, nor must we forget the absolute need to do what most writers learn at great cost--to avoid patronizing Common Sense and Common Wisdom. It is just as much an error to make fun of these conditions as it is not to have them.

One of the earliest inscriptions in a contemporary language to be found on this continent--North America--is a Spanish inscription on an enormous rock along a well-traveled east-west wagon trail Paso por aqui. The inscribers came this way, letting perhaps friends or relatives who followed that they were on the right track, but taking on the subtext for us of these years that there were others who connected dots before we were even in the picture. Words to remember and live by.

Writers want to produce words they, their characters, and imagined readers can live by; they want to show those who come later that someone was here, telling them the way was safe, the wisdom of the road. We want our wisdom to last and to instruct others while at the same time wanting them to see the things we missed or did not connect.

We want our words to last and to instruct and disturb and entertain and remove the pompous and tyrannical from their pompous and tyrannical pedestals. I am no different in this regard and my desire for such immortality brought me to connect dots I had not previously considered when I was charged with the task of putting together the combination of words to be incised on the granite slab marking my mother's grave site. I, who wanted some shot at my fifty years of lasting beyond my own life, was trumped my my desire for this remarkable woman to be known. And to whom? More than likely, only to those who came to pay respects to the embalmed husks of family or friends. I had five or six words to go under her name and dates, five or six words to carry her essence, her individual Paso por aqui.

In engaging the task, I learned as much about writing as I may be likely to learn: put the individual ahead of the writer. Thus I wrote and caused to be incised, Ann Lowenkopf 1905--1997/ All were welcomed at her table

The reward of having such a mother is being able to speak of her beyond me, allowing her to have passed through here on her way to that place we may think of as Destiny.

We are shaped by what we learn and what we connect that takes us beyond the Common Sense and Conventional Wisdom of our time and into the destiny of words that shape as running streams shape rocks.

We are rocks awaiting the forces that will give us our true shape.


Liz Kuball said...

Next time I'm really, really pissed at you, you should read me this post, because I'll forget whatever it was that pissed me off.

R.L. Bourges said...

A blessing to have had such a mother. I rarely use the words but will here: I feel both envious and jealous. C'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

Even hobos, with chalk or coal, twigs and cairns need witnesses to their lives and "want to show those who came later that someone was here...the wisdom of the road."

An inspiring and elegant post, Shelly

Wild Iris said...

This is by far the most sage piece of wisdom you have yet offered. My life has been a gigantic game of connect the dots. It is nice to stumble onto trails that were once blazed by others, and to blaze a few of my own on the side. Hence the adventure of writing.