Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Uncertain Wetness of Showers

Let us venture back in time to those seemingly palmy days when grown men of a certain social status were able to spend considerable time considering what I will call "the nature of things," my target one Heraclitus of Ephesus, whose life span is thought to be from about 535 before the common era to about 435. He is particularly relevant to my meanderings today not only because of his most remembered observation "You cannot step into the same river twice," but not to forget his belief in the unity of opposites, or to put it another way, the resident duality of everything about us, the proverbial half-empty or half-full glass.


You once ventured into a class in philosophy, thinking it would have the metaphoric effect of a blast of nasal spray to the clogged recesses of your mind. You forthwith were met with Anaximinider and his student, Anaximinides, as well as Heraclitus. You were also met with the wiry blond Midwestern force of Kay, and she with you, to the point where you were hormonally driven, even to the point of dropping out of the philosophy class. With the fondness of retrospect and nostalgia, you think about Kay from time to time; with the awareness that Heraclitus's observation lit some kind of vision within you, you think about him and his discoveries, trying to fit them into your own sense of what story is, what story is not, and how you as the triumvirate of writer, editor, and teacher you have become, can apply these observations to positioning yourself into either of these three modes as opposed to the modes you have identified as antithetical, modes such as the pedant, the authority, the bore, the nuisance, the Jerry-Lewis-type actor in a Shakespearean troupe.

A story is not a single line. True enough, a long wire or string produces a satisfying twang or tone, which may be modified by shortening or increasing its length, but the tone is nothing without some reference point, some opposition or overtone. Nor is a line a story until some conflict or opposition has been introduced . First you, as the writer, must see the duality in a person or situation, then you must learn how to convey this duality to those you would have read the story.

"All things are a-flowing, Sage Heraclitus says," was the line in the Ezra Pound poem, Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, that got the concept set loose in your mind, where it wandered like a mouse in the tall grass outside your laundry room. The grass is not enough; it wants something to give it roots. Your work area, in many ways an accidental result of your attitudes toward neatness and organization, is nevertheless nothing as it stands; it wants a fly buzzing about, landing on your chin or forehead as you type. Your work area is nothing without a book, consulted for some reference and not returned to its nominal place on a shelf, becomes the occasion for you to stub the toe of your bare foot against it, eliciting an immediate summer storm of profanity and a later one, an aftershock of recrimination for not having the follow-through that would have seen the book returned to its place and the stubbing of the toe thus obviated.

You could argue that--story wise--you are best served by setting forth as many potentials for consequence as possible. There was a purpose for having taken the book out in the first place. Indeed there was the distinct laziness of lack of purpose that caused the book to be left where you could walk into it, and even more event-laden is the momentum of fact that had you not been preoccupied with some notion in play, you would have seen the book, stepped over it, and gone your one-dimensional way.

You have never understood the concept of absent-mindedness so well as when you understood the need to immerse yourself into a thing (a chore, a task, an event) in order to make story of it. Things remain at rest until they are engaged in thought. The books you have saved from your college days are not the same books any longer (take that! Heraclitus) because you are a different reader, one who has stubbed his toe many a time on many a thing. Kay may well be a grandmother by now, much changed from the time you stubbed your toe on her, just as you are someone you did not anticipate and yet were rushing toward.

Post a Comment