Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Storyteller's Toolkit and Anti-Boredom Devices

This is about tool kits and how they have helped you stay one or two steps ahead of that dread monster, boredom.  Thinking the matter through from some of your earlier years, you note a comforting and remarkable connection between who you were, squinty little kid with horn rimmed glasses, and the present day you with contact lenses and an ability that has remained through all the years you just discovered in a ten-dollar pair of drugstore reading glasses.

With one or two notable exceptions, the present day contents of your pockets are much the same as they where when you were of younger years.  Pocket knife.  Check.  Keys.  Check.  small compass.  Check.  True, the one- or two-inch stub of a Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil has changed to a fountain pen or the occasional ballpoint, but the purpose is the same:  to write down important things, which is to say things of interest to you.  Notebook.  Check.  Where else would you write down things of true interest and/or importance?

A notable absence:  years have elapsed since you carried licorice cigarettes.  These, by the way, are not to be mistaken for cigarettes made from tobacco that has been infused with licorice flavor; these were small, pocket-sized cardboard cartons, holding hollow tubes of perhaps a quarter inch diameter, with a length of two and a half or three inches.

Yet another absence:  one or more marbles.  This might suggest a skill in any of the boy's marble games which become the equivalent of lagging or matching pennies, but no, these were kept close at hand to look at, marvel at, have occasion to use the marble as a substitute for a magnifying glass, because you could never tell, when you were that age, when you might have the notion to direct a few of the sun's otherwise not occupied rays into a conspiracy whereby you would burn a hols in a piece of paper.

If the licorice cigarettes suggest an affinity for that dark, musky flavor, you'd be right, thus on some special occasions as much as an entire pack of Black Jack chewing gum.  If the weather were chill enough to merit your favorite sweater, a brown cardigan style, with suede side panels and pockets, you'd likely have a spinning top, certain to be red, and of course the necessary strand of twine necessary to set it spinning.

With such items in various pockets, you felt properly armed, ready to go forth seeking your own personal adventures, all of which were sure to be of an improvisational nature, all of which, although quite sincere in intent, were in complete innocence of the fate awaiting you perhaps twenty years down the road, when you would be writing a television program called I Search for Adventure.

Some considerable years down the line from the licorice cigarettes and Black Jack chewing gum, you began editing material for an archaeologist of considerable reputation (a process that has extended to the immediate present), who, when speaking of our earlier forbears such as the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, addressed the technical advancements each species had made, and did so by referring to their tool kits.

This got you thinking of the weaponry and tools you carried, much of it on a contingency basis because you could never tell when you might find use for a lump of chalk or a wad of tar, in addition to the aforementioned things you carried.  And when you read Tim O'Brien's magisterial The Things They Carried, once again you were aware of the range opf survival tools you had with you.

Were you in fact in any danger?

Of course you were.  The danger was that great malaise that afflicts so many of the species--boredom.  The one or two times you'd been bored were so painful that you took pains to insure you'd never be without devices to tweak and braid your imagination with a set of circumstances beyond your control, such as being brought to events by one or more parents where you had no interest or hope of interest.

Those splendid, precious years before the worm of puberty begins its subtle gnaw are times for the imagination to take you to places where you would be free of boring lectures or events.  At one time, your toolkit included a pocket-sized atlas from Rand-McNally, publishers of maps and atlases,  There were any number of places on the maps, circled by the stub of your #2 Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil, but none were so emphatically circled as the two major cities in Mexico, respectively Mexico City and Guadalajara, whose very names removed you from potential boredom.  True enough, you were at an age where you were memorizing such unuseful arcana as sports statistics, but as a youngster, you knew the average yearly rainfall in Mexico City and Guadalajara, the names of many of the neighborhoods in each city, and current population figures.

You were well into your twenties before you were able to visit either city, and when you did, in both cases, you felt as though you'd entered the equivalent of the gates of Heaven.  To the extent you are able to Speak Spanish, it is because of those childhood atlases and imaginary visits to places where magic prevented boredom.

Indeed, in Mexico City, you lived in a rented room directly over a firecracker factory, where new batches were tested each morning a las seis en punto, and where a street person played the song "Tit Willow" from The Mikado on an out-of-tune flugel horn, and yet another accosted individuals on Isobel la Catolica, in aggressive question of their regard for Pancho Villa.  Si no le gusta Pancho Villa, he would say, entonces, chinga tu madre.  And that was that.  Well, no, it wasn't.  A bullfighter named Enrique, noting your interest in his sister, demonstrated with his killing sword to a horsehair chair what he would do to anyone who would dishonor his sister.

You carry an array of writing instruments, a key to your apartment, another to your office at the university, and of course one for your car.  You discovered--in a moment of boredom--that you could use the lenses of a ten-dollar pair of reading glasses to effect burning holes in any papers that might offend you, and we will not bother here to detail the number of applications on your cell phone except to note there are at least two of them that turn your cell phone into a flashlight.  The more mature description of that feature would be to help you find dropped keys in a darkened theater, but you know better from your long experiences with tool kits.  The flashlight applications in your cell phone would provide you at least three hours of light by which to find your way out of a darkened cave, should you discover yourself in one.  If you are in a situation of particular dread, such as a faculty meeting, or forced to listen to a boring book proposal, you can use the flash on your cell phone to effect temporary blindness on an adversary by shining the device in his eyes or, if he is a cyclops, then in his eye.

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