Monday, October 10, 2011

It's the Little Things That Count

The moment a noun—person, place, or thing---captures your attention, you are kidnapped into an alternate universe where that particular noun holds you hostage while it sends out ransom notes.

You were not always so susceptible to the smaller details, favoring what your culture spoke of in high faluting éclat as Thee Big Picture, a universe of facts, sound-bite explanations for those facts, and in one way or several others, implicit faith in the cultural cannon.

At the time, you were of a particular age where your cultural sisters and brothers appeared to you to be on the equivalent of a tenure track to a happiness of undifferentiated and specific goals.  For them relationships, intellectual and artistic adventures beckoned encouragement. Included in the momentum of fulfillment were the promises of potential in matters of the individual essence, the Self, with whom the aspirant could forge a lifelong companionship.  All one had to do was believe in the cultural equivalent of transubstantiation, take a number from the ticket dispenser, then wait until your number was called.

After some extended displays of patience on your part, you realized your number was not going to be called.  This marked the beginning of your real education, your first dip of your oars into the waters of the autodidact.

The graduate school with the best offer, given your credentials at the time, was a series of jobs with a traveling carnival, where you were exposed to the nuances and machinery of illusion and explication.  “Of course those milk bottles are lead.  Of course they have weights in the bottom.  Two pounds each.  You mean to tell me someone with your arm couldn’t throw a baseball hard enough to knock over a two-pound bottle.”

Such courses led you for a semester or two to the absolute bottom run of television experiences.  Here, you learned among other things how to cue a laugh track, that lovely device that seduces you into thinking something notoriously unfunny is in fact hilarious, while at the same time not thinking anything overly sentimental or treacly sincere were not funny, even though you had difficulty not laughing.

With no difficulty at all, including no need for copies of your undergraduate transcripts, you enrolled in a graduate program with a series of pulp fiction publishers, riding the keys of a red Olivetti portable typewriter to a mock heroic replication of the works of Victorian Era novelists who earned their keep writing for the magazines and journals who published their stories in installment form before they became books. One of your contemporary role models, a poker buddy, Gunard Hjersteadt who took the name Day Keene, and wrote as much of everything as it was possible to write.  He wrote at least a novel a month.

Hell, you could do that, you reasoned.

Well told.  Doing so became on-the-job training.

While everyone was looking for the Big Theme, you looked for the volunteer flower or tree that got its start in a crack in the sidewalk, in the look of absolute mystery in a baby’s face as it watched the clamber of kittens or the swift flash of shadow from a branch borne into motion by the wind, the sudden anomaly of tenderness stealing into a redneck’s face as he helped his arthritic wife into a chair at a coffee shop.

You are crazy mad for the pull of the small, the things that seem insignificant at first blush, but on further study they reveal—even betray—tenacity you recognize as family.


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