Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reprieve, from the Catskills

A reprieve is the cancellation or delay of a scheduled event.  In its most literal sense, the object of the sentence in which cancellation or delay appears is a punishment.  In more immediate, personal terms, a reprieve means you have been spared, let off the hook of responsibility for something you had little appetite in the first place.

Some reprieves are only temporary, but their appearances often remind you of the ongoing discourse between you and the society of which you are a part.  As this discourse unfolds within your awareness, you consider the interior and exterior degrees of wiring already in place within your awareness, the latter forming circuits of cooperation, empathy, sympathy—that humbling sense of being a drop of water that recognizes the ocean.  The former wiring apparatus has its own dialectic in which—as if to deliberately mix the metaphor—the id sets his agenda before the unabashed curiosity of the tumler.

Funny you should use that word to describe you.  But maybe not so funny—as in ironic—after all.  It was your father who introduced you to the word, which is Yiddish, associated with the activities manager at the famed Catskills resorts where so many comedians and actors got their start, a few generations ago.

The verb tumle is onomatopoetic; it suggests stirring up, tumbling.  When you hear the word, you think Marx Brothers; you do not see sitting still, lounging about.

Your father thought tumbling was what persons who did not have access to the Catskill resorts did instead—they stir things up, which seems a most agreeable thing to be doing, and which becomes the thing you hope to do the most when you have been granted a reprieve from attending to some duty you might under ordinary circumstances tumeled as a means of palliating the boredom or dread or simple distaste.  Your father was himself a gifted tumler, a man who could make seemingly ordinary or dreary activity seem somehow touched with a whimsicality that turned against  

All this altruistic stuff, this conscience-driven stuff, is part of the wiring the cultural unionists installed in you when you were wired and set out into the world to work and, it is to be hoped, to care about and have some small effect on.  Being from the particular social strata of your origins, some of your ethic has been formed by those who, although they themselves do not work, nevertheless are suspicious of others who also do not work. Their suspicions are focused on the working classes, for whom they have developed a remarkably calculated ethos and inherent suspicion.

As a consequence, you are sometimes moved to states of discomfort for having experienced so much pleasure from what you do.  How, you reason, can it be work if it is so much fun?  From this comes the need to distinguish between work that is fun and work that is drudgery.  And from this comes the resolution to keep Sisyphus and his task out of your work and the drudgery out of it.

You have not always, as a consequence of this attitude, done well with certain of your employers or, for the matter, department chairpersons; there are indeed editors who, when they see you coming, roll their eyes heavenward.

Your reprieve from these individuals, now that you think about it, has been a succession of stories you did not think you had.  If then, you are any account at all, the results were from the resources you did not think you had until you needed them.


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