Monday, May 6, 2013

Destinations

Destination is an abstraction when you set out.  Even if you've made repeated trips to your destination, each venture represents a new potential.  By the most conservative of estimates, you traveled from Santa Barbara to the downtown part of Los Angeles known as University Park at least twelve hundred times.  Each event was different, your expectations, passengers at times, driving conditions, and prevailing weather having some effect on the outcome.

You've ventured to places where you were not certain of the exact location of the destination, adding an aura of mystery or anxiety or frustration or a combination of all these elements to the experience.

A few instances remain in your memory where destination was more than an abstraction, rather a disaster in which you became lost, confused, or otherwise diverted.

Suffice it to say in this context that even when you arrived at your destination, the result was not what you'd imagined when you set forth.

Writing is, in effect a journey to a destination.  Sometimes all you have is a word length as a hint of destination.  Talk about abstractions, you may delay your start while you seek a route or mood or reason.  The book review you sent off today is such a case in point.  You'd thoroughly enjoyed the novel, Snapper, an engaging first novel about a bird watcher in lower Indiana, but you had no idea where to begin it.  You knew your destination in the abstract sense of knowing you'd best not get too many words beyond seven hundred fifty and you knew you liked the book.  You were not in the least prepared for Moby-Dick to enter the calculus, but it did, having an effect on the overall shape and route the review took as you sped toward the destination of seven hundred fifty words.

Destination becomes more than an arrival, it becomes a manner of arrival; it becomes in essence a discovery.

In the more physical terms of travel and reality, you depart for a destination with expectations.  Perhaps you're driving to Art's Deli in Studio City.  Perhaps you're driving to one of the two Peet's Coffee Houses in Santa Barbara.  Perhaps as you're driving to Los Angeles these days, you become aware of a Peet's in Thousand Oaks, more or less at the corners of Moorpark Road and Brazil Street.

Destination becomes heavy with unexpected and sometimes unanticipated consequences.  In a current course you teach, "Adventures in Literature," you set forth rereading something you'd read before, with the specific goal or destination of making the work seem meaningful and relevant to persons who might never have read the work.  As you re-read, looking for discussion and observation points and for comparisons between this work and others, the equivalent of Moby-Dick as elements of Snapper caused you to realize, could arrive, unanticipated, welcomed distractions.

The sad-but-true joke of youthful impatience, as in "Are we there yet?" reminds you of how various ages beyond youthful impatience add distractions, associations, lookout points to the journey to the destination.  The there of your first reading of a book may differ measurably from subsequent destinations.  When you first came to the final segment of Huckleberry Finn, you were of an age to welcome the appearance in the flesh of Tom Sawyer who, after all, got you to reading Huck Finn in the first place.  Later journey to that destination caused you to have a different regard altogether for Tom that became cemented in place when a motion picture producer named Hagopian asked you to read and comment on a script dealing with a meeting between Huck and Tom thirty years later in their lives.

Destination is a tricky business at best, even with a GPS device at hand.  You'd not given conscious thought in your thirties and forties about how your professed interest in the writing life was having such an effect on your life in general.  Without articulating the equation to yourself, you were beginning to appreciate the notion of not being able to get there, wherever there was, from here, which was the point of departure.  You were and are enjoying the concept of destination as a discovery, not of mere location but of location of self with regard to your surroundings.

Using your theory of the self as really a multiplicity of selves, a congress or parliament of selves, attempting to put through various agendas such as self-interest, career, making a living, civic responsibility, achieving skills in your chosen craft, educating yourself, discovering what all these previous goals mean, is no less tricky a business.  You are a metaphor for a tour bus, lurching through the countryside, your multiplicity of selves variously wanting to know if we're there yet, when we eat, when we stop to pee, why we took this route instead of a more promising one.

You variously want to be the driver, the guide, and the you who gets to sit next to the one interesting and intelligent woman on the trip, impatient and irritated with any and all digressions not of your own making.

Aware of your own ultimate destination, you work to contrive as many ways as possible to forestall that arrival.  Give up smoking.  Give up the quantities of booze you once drank.  Ease off on red meat, watch the intake of fats.  More veggies.  More et cetera, in particular more reading, more writing, more exercise, all things that will contribute something but more than likely the contributions will appear as surprises and associations you'd not planned.

Destination has long ago become more than "Are we there yet?"  It has become an amalgam of Dig here, read this, write that, listen to this.  It has become the instigation of ambitious projects and projects you cannot possibly hope to complete, your way of arguing with the factors related to your lifespan, your unrealized hopes, and the reappearance of those ambitions that filled your heart with dreams when you were still too young to know you had anything resembling limitations.

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