Sunday, March 27, 2011

Table d'ho ho ho

Quite without intention, a thirty-inch by forty-four-inch table has become a revelation both of serendipity and need for you.  To begin, it did not start out in life as a table.  You have no idea what it was intended for and now, there is no way for you to find out.  For some years before you moved from Danielson Road to Hot Springs Road, it began achieving its identity by serving as a coffee table adjacent a long-gone sofa.  Before that, before it came into the more active centers of your memory, it was merely "around," which is to say not in immediate use, a thick slab of redwood you connect with having had origins further up the coast at BigSur.  Somehow, a set of legs, about one foot high, came into your possession, probably from the so-called King's chair your father rescued from the time of his auctioning off the assets of the famed Pasadena Playhouse.  Imagine yourself sitting in this chair, he chided, being any Shakespearean king you chose.

As it so happens, the redwood slab fit well on the legs, its first step toward tablehood.  Somehow, it acquired a thorough coating of black wax shoe polish, imparting a grainy gravitas, to which even more wax was applied, giving it now a dignity.  It has survived the move from Hot Springs to here, residing against what is more or less the west wall, under three windows facing out on a garden.  On this table are arranged in some semblance of neatness a combination tape deck, CD player, FM radio, two speakers, a pre-Columbian terra cotta doll, a stack of books ranging from late Victorian fiction to contemporary, a Hopi kachina doll with an arm needing repair, a Miwok basket filled with potsherds from the Second Hopi Mesa, a stack of things published in my undergraduate days, wanting placement in the nearby bookshelf, a stack of literary journals, another pile of books, and a small bag of dog snacks for Sally.

If this arrangement does not speak to the concept of the polymath, little else does.  Thanks to the weekly ministrations of Lupe, the maid, this table, which for all its disarray, does not appear cluttered, is the most chaotic aspect of the apartment; it is also a monument to polymathism which, you maintain, is the entry ticket a person needs for admission into the tent of the writer.  You acquired the pre-Columbian doll because you thought it beautiful.  Could you write about it?  No. but you'd know a number of sources to consult so that you could write about it.  Don't get you started about Hopi kachinas because you not only did publish about them, some unscrupulous sort out there on the internet has pulled a number of the pieces from a magazine and is offering them for sale for something like twenty-five dollars.  Do you stand to make anything from the transaction?  No; it is the only publication of yours you know of that you hope does not sell.  But that is another matter.

The matter at hand, thanks to the table that did not start out to be a table is that the writer who did not start out to be a polymath needs to become one; you need to pursue your way toward becoming one, every writer needs to open up to the lure of the curiosity of every and all things.

This goes well beyond the mis en scene of a clutter-free desk; this goes to the forgotten element in the writer's tool kit, every bit as vital as enthusiasm.  Curiosity.  Get there.  Once you think you know, you're screwed.

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