Sunday, June 20, 2010

Many, er, Happy Returns

As the mousy, anonymous narrator of Rebecca did with the fabled Manderly estate on the Cornish coast, I sometimes dream I return to Los Angeles again. Being in L.A. these days, awake or asleep, opens a complicated drop-down menu of awareness choices, alternately joyous, sad, conflicted, extensively aware of the consequences of change.


Returns of any sort at all are a chancy business; returns to a place of one's birth and youth are particularly fraught. Such returns remind you that you have left a portion of your life there, frozen in time in the manner of your image jelled in an old photo, while the rest of you, the you afterwards, has grown toward dreams of yourself in another venue, possibly even as another person.

Return invariably connotes doing something again, something experienced earlier at least once; it is taking books back to the library, giving a complement to someone who has complemented you, doing a favor for a person who has gifted you with some considerate behavior. You may return affection, travel the reverse direction of a journey undertaken earlier, reply in some manner to a tennis ball sent in your direction, or send an unacceptable meal to the kitchen whence it originated. In similar fashion, you may purchase a notice to be sent back to you after a letter you originated had been delivered to its intended receiver, and you might also send an unwanted communication back to its origin.

Going back to a place may be a part of a happy pattern such as a repeated visit to a restaurant, coffee shop, or theater, your expectations comfortable and positive at each iteration. Conversely, there are places and things for which return becomes fraught with a complexity of discomfort and a sense of disconnection.

The act of returning to a place after an absence rushes you toward this jarring sensation of disconnect. By your absence, you are out of the rhythm of the place you vacated, your psyche vibrant of the other place or places you might have spent your time. Much as you may have been loved, cherished, respected where you were before you left it, the shadow of otherness, alienness, and foreignness have been stamped on your visa, perhaps in subtle degree but not so subtle as to fool all the border guards, Some of them will spot the otherness you have accrued by your act of absence. The ever widening gyre does not stop spinning there; should you return to your new turf, someone there will note the way you have picked up the trace of an accent or some other mannerism from home.

Thomas Wolfe reminded us that You Can't Go Home Again, not without collision with consequences. But in greater truth the consequences and their traces follow you where ever you venture. A return becomes a cosmic tattoo, needled into the skin of your psyche. In the proper light, the right persons will see the patterns and bar codes; they will scan you, read you, get you, whereupon they will return such empathy and creative force as you and they are able to emit and you will both think of this condition as the beginning of love.

The return of a planet or heavenly body to a particular point in its orbit becomes a symbol for a new beginning. Sisyphus, urging his rock to the top of its hill, thinks this is the start of another effort or, perhaps, the end of an older one. When migrating birds or swarming insects or foraging herds return to a familiar place, they commemorate the click of gears in a life cycle. In days before the computer, touch applied to the return key on a typewriter sent the carriage mechanism slamming with satisfying alacrity back to a beginning position whence an entire line of keystrokes awaited their own particular fate.

Return is adventure, consequence, and discovery, waiting to happen.

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