Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Revenge Richter Scale


Some many years ago, a chum gave you a copy of a collection of essays by E. B. White, The Points of My Compass, as a birthday gift.  Ever a fan of White, you fell upon the book.  In those days, you did not merely read a book; you attacked it greedily, as though you had the ability to be nourished by its contents, as though it had information you needed to know in order to survive.

Thus nourished and informed, here you are.  You could attach a time line of fifty years to the transaction.  Fifty plus years have elapsed in which one sentence of the White in particular has resonated through the creaky hallways and nooks of your psyche.  “Whoever sets pen to paper writes of himself whether knowingly or not,” White wrote.  The sentence attached itself to you like a limpet or barnacle to the piling of a pier.  Even the metaphor is apt because of the way it allows you to visualize submerged foundations, subconscious foundations as well as the conscious.

In all of the times of your writing activities, those kept and those evanescent ones, those published ones and these viral ones, you have whether consciously or not been adding limpets and barnacles to the pilings; you have been writing of yourself, one potential result being a memoir, a thing you had never thought to do, with the possible exception of a time early into your teen years when, newly returned to Los Angeles, the place you’d begun to fear you’d never see again, you undertook an autobiographical essay for a class in social studies.

You’d dreamed of this junior high school while a student at another, the Ida M. Fisher Junior High School of Miami Beach, Florida.  At the time of your residence at IMF, the name seemed bland, undershot with the seriousness that seemed to surround everything when you were that age.  In subsequent years, as now, all you need to do is think the name Ida M. Fisher, and you are rewarded with a menu of potential genotypes of individual, all of them progressed in stereotypical seriousness to seem wildly funny.  If you were going to name a fictional junior high school, you’d pick a name with the same resonance as Ida M. Fisher.

The name of the junior high school in Los Angeles has a different sort of resonance for you.  Named after a naturalist and writer of some reputation (John Burroughs), there is no hint of humor because even though it was in Los Angeles, where you longed to return; there you were, enrolled in it and two years of acute misery.  Not all the misery was from the teachers, their attitudes, or the curricula; some of it was from your own adolescence, your sense of social comfort and discomfort, your internal battles with hormones, self-image, and such degrees of self-awareness with which you were equipped.

You chose as the title of your ramble of an essay a title you’d encountered in the work of a chum and sometime collaborator of E. B. White.  Your title called out your recognition of and admiration for a man whose humor seemed to be as important for you to reach in your own attitudes as returning to Los Angeles (and John Burroughs Junior High School) was in actuality.  By your reckoning, James Thurber had thirty-seven years advantage on you.  My Life, you printed on the title page of your essay, and Hard Times.  Asterisk.  Bottom of page recognition of asterisk, followed by a citation, listing the1933 publication date, publisher, and city.

How fortunate for you that you can not remember much of that document, in which you attempted to match Thurber’s tongue-in-cheek bewilderment with your account of being moved across a continent to the East, which in large measure you hated, New England, which amazed you, and Florida, which seemed a cruel parody of the California you’d found so to your liking.

Your relief at not having relic or memory of the specifics of that manuscript is a founding father, as it were, of your awareness that history is not always the reliable tool it might be unless there are at least three corroborating accounts of an event or interpretation of a time. History is even less reliable when it is autobiography.  Writing about some past incidents in your life, particularly in these blog notes, you have in handsome fashion forgiven a number of those whom you believe to have trespassed against you and/or led you into temptation, even to the point of hoping they have forgiven you any of your trespasses against them.

Of equal truth and importance, the awareness in these vagrant pages of trespasses against you that you had not realized at the time.  The son-of-a-bitch was patronizing you and you’ve only realized it, and so you are not in any rush to be forgiving, an awareness that reminds you how nice it feels in some ways to nurse a grudge, to construct revenge fantasies to which you have attached numbers of intensity.  You might call this your Revenge Richter Scale, remembering that this measurement of the intensity of earthquake has exponential progression rather than mere arithmetical increase.

A 10 on your Revenge Scale would be what you call the Fortunato Effect, from Poe’s short story, “A Cask of Amontillado,” wherein Montressor exacts a splendid revenge on his imagined trespasser.

You will observe how careful you have been throughout to imply how subjective your vision is, how things you long regarded as a tort against you were potential non-events.  In the same spirit, you spell out the fact in any autobiographical material you have written or may write in the future bears the same idiosyncratic relationship to event.

History is a drug, a medication; it may have side effects of idiosyncratic nature.  You in effect work your ass off in attempts to provide a complete picture, but you have blind spots.  There are things you do not see.

Only this morning, a friend remarked that you have ready access to a complete scenario built around the merest event or comment.  You could not bear to remind her you have been building scenarios for some time, in a real sense practicing every day of your life from about age twenty onward.  Nor could you bring yourself to estimate the success rate of these scenarios, your literary equivalent of a batting average, particularly when you’d begun to get the sense you were impressing her.  You’d not, in fact, been showing off, but you were willing to be impressive.

Shortly thereafter, she said, “We can’t go on meeting like this,” which caused a flutter of disappointment and impending disaster.

“The sun,” she said.  “Every time we come here, it gets in my eyes. I have trouble seeing you.  We’ve got to find another place.”

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