Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Uninvited Guest, The Keepable Page

This day has always been one of your favorite holidays, in large measure because of it's absolute secular nature, so far as any cultures with which you have passing familiarity are concerned.  Where ever you are, whatever the circumstances, this day has shone through with some special awareness or the simple luminous glow of circumstance.

Writing these words, you see a stream of family gatherings, beach or desert retreats, and varying circumstances of financial comfort or its lack, including one glorious time when instead of turkey on the platter, the prognosis was for wolf at the door.  Yet, the eve of the night before, a special delivery letter arrived with a payment for a story you'd forgotten about.  And what about that time when the traditional Thanksgiving feast was slated to be a can of Franco-American spaghetti, mistakenly picked up in a shopping frenzy by either you or your late wife.  No matter the culprit, either of you could have been reaching for tomato paste.

You have all these memories, including your recognition that 2010 was to be your last with your wife, and you asking her if she'd like to have a gathering of those dearest to her, only to be thanked and told she'd be happiest with you and, of course, your cranky, notional dog, Sally.

You were born into a culture where, at a major Thanksgiving-type ritual combined with a sumptuous meal, a chair and place setting were kept for the so-called uninvited guest.  He was not uninvited because he was unwanted.  Rather, he could and should be welcomed at any Passover seder--without invitation.  He being the prophet Elijah.

This year you are perhaps a thousand miles away from your normal landscape, the northern New Mexico home of your eldest niece, being joined by other family and friends, some of quite different cultures, reminding you in a wonder way of a Passover Seder depicted by Michael Chabon which featured a group of native Koreans who conducted the ritual in flawless Hebrew which the narrator, a Caucasian, was unable to join because he, of the entire group, did not speak nor read Hebrew.

The uninvited guest at this gathering is Los Angeles.  With the exception of your youngest niece, the entire kit and caboodle here have in common that we no longer live in Los Angeles.  We speak of it--at least you speak of it--as a bittersweet memory of what was once so accessible and nurturing and now clotted, unsteady, off its stride.

All things change.  You hope for some changes to appear as uninvited guests within yourself, changes such as wisdom, a finer year for the magical sway of a sentence, the ability to build the literary equivalent of a fire, which is to say to ignite a smolder of passion within a dry paragraph.  You are not the best host to such evidences as the greater amount of time necessary for you to perform an act you once performed without a second thought.

Any number of the guests here have Los Angeles stories.  The manager at the seafood restaurant where you dined last night confessed being a Los Angeles expatriate.  "Dorsey High School,"  he said, proudly.  Not to be outdone, your nieces both confessed the same alma mater.  A school cheer.  A gratis flaming desert.  Expatriate hands across the dining table.

We all of us have found other places to be in and to care about, but as the subject of Los Angeles creeps into the conversation, you are reminded of the text and title of that piercing short story from Raymond Carver, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love."

Not long ago, as you poured yourself a second or perhaps third cup of coffee, you observed how even your return route to Santa Barbara was charted to avoid driving through Los Angeles.  Rather, you'll take the back door, avoiding most of it, being funneled out onto the 101 in that northern part of the San Fernando Valley where the suburb cities have names that reflect history of others who even in the past, sought to avoid the real Los Angeles.

The real Thanksgiving is the key here; it is the holiday where, in that splendid, non religion way, you take stock of yourself, enjoy with that temporal sense of the earth transiting, of you transiting, of Reality moving, moving like electrons past a specified point in that energetic force we call electricity.

You see it with such clarity, your sense of thanks, your great relief at having survived so far, even at the loss of some things, the acquisition of others.  Some many years back, you made a choice to attempt to capture such passage in written narrative, flirted with filmed and televised versions, but came back to paper and the computer screen.

How difficult it is, trying to capture the vision of the thanks, the parade of growth and movement.  How hard to capture it in a way that will sustain revisiting.  The best you can do so far is reach for a slab of the pie you have not yet tasted, top off your coffee, and wonder where you will find the opening line that will lead you to the opening paragraph that will lead you to a keepable page.


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