Thursday, December 2, 2010

You call that an experience

Just as the scene is the basic unit of drama, whether we're talking novel,short story, play, or film, experience is the basic unit of reality, for humans and other species.  We measure drama in scenes, often remembering favored ones to a point where the scene has become in our imagination the very foundation of the story.  Who could give a straightforward, coherent version of Five Easy Pieces in apercu than a critic or someone such as you, who approaches such things to present lectures about the broader concept of drama?  Yet how many individuals in a crowd--how many angels dance on the head of a pin--light up when you repeat those iconic lines from Five Easy Pieces, "You want me to hold the chicken."

Those seven words, morphed into a sentence, gave Jack Nicholson an identity he rode into his own voice, blending the essence of dramatic scene with the sort of event we encounter in life and regret we has less of a response than the Nicholson character did.

Experience is turned into metaphor when we equate it to a visit from friends or relatives.  One of your dearest friends receives constant visits from an individual we both know, a person whose visions of truth and agenda and possibly even need are well beyond much either the friend or you have seen before.  You recall sitting near her during a Christmas Day event at your friend's home.  Seated in the same group was herself, the French Chef, Julia Child.  "And what do you do?"  Julia Child asked this remarkable individual.  "Well, you see,"  the individual began, "I write cookbooks."  This is largely true; the individual had written two Xeroxed compilations of recipes for the Cedar City, Utah, Women's League.  Your friend rolled his eyes as this individual shifted into overdrive.  "Yes,"  she said, "I'm thinking of taking you on with my next venture.  Some chefs in Paris have confided a number of secrets relating to the preparation of B├ęchamel Sauce."

Experiences can also be as rich and rewarding as a dazzling chocolate sauce, the results of you having done things that pleased you and quite possibly others in the bargain.

Past experiences, while a delight to recall or a horror to recollect nevertheless tend to metaphorically kick us out of our own accommodations, forcing us to sleep on the metaphorical sofa as they yank us from the present moment, kicking and squealing into the past, or perhaps taking bows at banquets we have arranged in which we were the principal speaker or one being celebrated.  Past experiences keep us from a full encounter with the present which we are, as a consequence, experiencing only at about one-quarter or half intensity.

Overcrowded experience in a sense deprives us from a fuller appreciation of the present moment.  When you were in your teens, each kiss with each new young woman was an adventure of unspeakable wonder because as a result of it, something either happened or it did not.  Now, it is no remarkable thing to kiss a woman for whom you have great-but-not-necessarily-romantic affection, which in itself is all to the good because it is after all a contact with someone you admire.  But now, when there is an occasion, indeed an opportunity, for a kiss with a romantic intention,  there hovers the famed Ernest Dowsen poem:


Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
   Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
   When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
   Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
   Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee Cynara! in my fashion.

Not only am I other than I was, but perhaps, just perhaps, the kiss, delicious as it is, is reminding me of someone else.

Ah, you say; men!  All alike.  Perhaps so, but nevertheless, how splendid for us that all women are not.


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