Friday, January 22, 2010

Received Truth: Sign Here

If one's heritage may be likened to the metaphor of a cultural neighborhood, you grew forth into what you have now become by listening to, obeying many times, and consciously disobeying certain rules from on high. The first boundary you recall was Fairfax Avenue, which you were enjoined from crossing unless in the company of an adult. You have not been on or near Fairfax Avenue for some time, but when you are, a portion of you is yanked back to those times when you lived with your parents and sister on Orange Street, a shady east-west side street of no particular consequence to anyone who didn't live there. Back in the time to which you are yanked, your principle mode of travel was walking or the remarkable conveyance you made from a two-by-four, a broken roller skate, a wooden fruit box, and a portion of a broom handle, which served as your handlebar.


Other boundaries came and went as you moved from Orange street a tad east into what is called The Miracle Mile, then farther east still, with a brief interlude near the university where, unexpectedly, you began to teach for all these years. The neighborhoods changed and so did parts of the heritage, although you have had and continue to have many a long-winded discussion with yourself about what your heritage truly is. In a real sense, your every act was an obedience or disobedience to rules or customs from on high, whether the source was your parents, teachers, elders in general, or that growing sense of what segments of society you reported to. Not that you ever wanted anything to do with The Boy Scouts of America, but you remember one tearful, existentially lonely night in which you cried to your parents that Cub Scouts all over the world were going to bed aware of their membership in the Cub Scouts and what did you have? Your splendid father, a sort of George Burns, told you you had your dreams and how many Cub Scouts had those?

In a real sense, every book you have read, every book you have written, every book you have edited and/or designed has been a tacit hall pass, an excuse to disobey rules of your heritage and culture. Every agreement or disagreement with teachers, with any kind of bureaucracy, with any kind of more or ethos has nudged you toward the heritage of a word you have come to distrust because of contemporary American politics, independent. In that context, Independent means to you refusing to take sides or to learn the issues of the sides. A loner? Too dramatic, tinged with a touch of self-pity. Existential comes close. At any rate, much of the time, say eighty percent of it, you are in this neighborhood, metaphoric light years away from Orange Street and its immediate boundaries. Eighty percent and comfortable in your dealings with others who have strayed from their own neighborhoods, potentially hopeful of a friendship with someone such as you. It is the twenty percent that concerns you and which invites considerable speculation. What are your attitudes when you are suddenly back in the old places and in the mindset of the you who has neither done nor read of exploration? No wonder books of adventure and travel are so much a draw for you, but as well, no wonder that you require from time to time the now overburdened metaphor equivalent of comfort food, the return to the old neighborhood of heritage and conventional wisdom and common sense and received truth. What do you do when you get there, and how does being there make you feel?

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