Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Change


Change hovers about us wherever we go, a panhandler or mugger, lurking in the shadows of a parking lot, wanting from us the personified equivalent of spare change or the entire wallet.

Never mind that our hands are already full in our ongoing relationship with gravity and its cousin, friction.  They are measurable and predictable to the point where we can determine the probability of an object standing or falling or slowing down or speeding up, depending on its center of gravity and/or weight, which are both measurable.

Although change is in some ways as inevitable as forces of gravity or friction, it is more difficult to pin down, its rate and degree of progression often in open defiance of any but idiosyncratic measure.

You have changed in ways you are not even aware as well as those ways in which you are.  Over the years, you have parted company with items you were issued at birth, the most noticeable being the thick, curly tangles of hair that once romped with freedom where now only scant sprout-like growth resides.  As your father once observed, you are presenting more forehead to the world.

You have given up some habits you wrestled with over the years, not the least of which was smoking.  As well, you’ve sent certain attitudes off packing, but here the measurement of change becomes subjective; perhaps you are in fact the only one who can tell, a fact which has the potential to cast suspicion on your overall reliability quotient.

The fiction and nonfiction you write and now have in progress are of an increased resemblance to the things you wished to write when you’d found yourself moving beyond the first gear in the metaphoric transmission of the writing process.  The change brought about with time and practice and the adjunct activities you perform such as editing and teaching is also subjective in nature, yet in reading things you’d written years ago, you can see places where the gears did shift to some useful ratio you’d not been aware of before.

In earlier times, you gave scant thought or attention to change, taking it as an inevitable, perhaps even to the point of regarding it as you’d regarded death—something you’d get to in due course, but, not unlike St. Augustine, not just now.

This is not to suggest you’d believed you could ignore change and death, with the result that they’d move on, leaving you to change and die on your own terms.  This is to suggest that both qualities are hustling you from time to time, hands out, palms extended, clever, companionable pitches coming forth from them, reminding you of the top-tier sales persons you’ve known or seen in action, in effect doing you more good than harm because of the ways you are now able to look at change and death, with a touch of insouciance.

You do not take leave from your temper to the degree you used to nor with the regularity of earlier years, but you do lose it often enough, and over trivial enough things to remind you once again of the differences between perception and reality.  Losing your temper over a triviality, you argue, should be one of the first things to be sent off to the thrift stores when their truck is in your area.  The clue word here is should.  Ought.  You give yourself lower marks for losing your temper over a triviality than over something of greater consequence.

You have only in recent days lost your temper over an incident that has led you to resign from an association of over thirty years duration.  Your loss of temper and the resignation were done in relative sang-froid.  The issues and schism were so clear that you first thought then felt the need to resign.

A week earlier, you’d lost your temper over a matter of childish insignificance, then gone storming about for several minutes, an alpha gibbon shaking his fists at the heavens, hooting, bellowing, using a favored expression at such times, “I can’t believe you did that.”  Such an expression of feeling is often thought to apply to the object of lost temper.  In a sense, it is, but not yet.  The failure to believe is in fact directed at you.  You are in actuality complaining that you did or said whatever it was that triggered toe outburst of reaction.

There is some comfort resident in the awareness of you doing such things with less frequency than you did in your early years, yet you are aware of not wanting to get by on that kind of comfort, nor that type of results.

Your attention draws you back to the subject at the center of gravity of your being, which is your relationship to story.  Through story rather than introspection, you attempt a closer, clearer understanding of the juggernaut that is you, careening through the marketplaces and universities of Reality.

Story is more hospitable to you than introspection because of the way story forces issues, does not leave your side any more than change abandons you or leaves you free of its tantrums and stratagems.   Story, too, has undergone changes, in some quaint ways impudently metaphoric of some of the more physical changes wrought upon you.

For a planned work to be called Guilt Literature, you are looking with care at works from the eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century Western canon.  Talk about high foreheads.  There has been a swirl of Darwinism, Jane Austen-ism, change, and gravity turned loose on story, yet it is still recognizable for what it does to us and for us, whether we read it, write it, or both.  It has changed, but you can still recognize it by its smile.

You have changed, but you are still recognizable by the laugh lines in your prose.


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