Monday, September 30, 2013

Languages

Let's say one gets--well, you get--more or less a hundred years to figure things out, see where you fit into the scheme of things you are too young and unsophisticated at first to see as the scheme of things.

Getting the hang of the language, you learn, for instance that it can be spoken, then written so that, later on someone else can read it.  You learn in many ways how it is possible to read notes left by persons who lived out their more or less hundred years well before you came along, a discovery that caused you sadness when you realized there were men and women you liked, really liked, all because of things they'd written and left behind.

Then you learn about men and women who wrote things for which you had an intense wish to argue, but it was too late.  Then you learn that the fact of such arguments being impossible or your recognition of them when it seemed impossible to get any conversation going was a push toward your wanting to mess with time, a push that led you to wishing to tell stories rather than what seemed an unhealthy focus on dealing with fact.

Lot of time wasted while you played around with the notion of facts as equivalents of the blocks you played with and, later, with Erector Sets, and then model airplanes, all of which in their times seemed almost but not quite enough.  These things were not quite enough in the same way a recipe was something your mother followed to get stunning results, but you noticed how she always changed things at the last minute, which was how she got the stunning results.

Oh, the years you spent, wandering about, your pockets filled with notebooks and pencil stubs, watching, waiting for something to note that would fill those blank pages.  No, they were not wasted years, but they were impatient years, years of wishing to make things happen.  You were on your way to understanding the need to make story happen as opposed to looking at enough recipes that would make them happen.

The first time you read Don Quixote, you had the sense of its author trying to tell you something beyond the fact of its hero seeing things differently, his servant having a way of seeing things that differed from any of the more modern servants you'd read about.  A sensible neighbor, which is to say a man named John, whom everyone thought drank too much and had rather bizarre notions, something akin to those of Sancho Panza, and thus a neighbor most adults warned you to pay little or no heed, was the only person you could discuss this different way of seeing things.

Whereupon John recommended you read an old play, one he warned you was likely the oldest thing you'd have read, and which he might have to help you with.

How could anything with such a simple, intriguing name as The Frogs be difficult?  Ah, it was, but sure enough, there was another man, not so deluded as Don Quixote, but rather more like John--a distinction John liked.  This man had a servant, a slave, actually, who seemed to know how to look at things in that way you so admired.  

John explained to you how characters stood for things beyond themselves.  He also explained to you how, because he drank too much at times, he was not himself, which was in its way a different way of not being himself when he read too much.  "As you grow older,"  he said, "you will notice that there are differing ways of not being yourself, some of which are quite wonderful and others which will leave you with incredible headaches."

He went on to explain that either way was better than being the ordinary way.  Being ordinary and not having a headache was in its way, John suggested, quite a bit less desirable than having a headache and not being able to keep your breakfast from coming up on you.

Not all that many years later, perhaps ten or twelve, you went through a time where you had such headaches and the occasional inability to keep your breakfast or lunch or dinner down.  As John said they would, his words took on a greater meaning for you to the point where you came to see the ways of having headaches as ways against your own best interests.

You went on to attempt to learn the languages of such things as mountains and skies and why airplanes flew and why some colors seemed to advance toward you from a painting while others seemed to draw you into them.  You had an even more intense interest in discovering why music sounded the way it did and why it could so easily lead you to feel so many things that you had no language for.  In its way, music caused you headaches of another kind, headaches of yearning for a language.

You have more or less a hundred years to find and refine your language so that you can use it to define the worlds of both Don Quixote and his assistant.  You have more or less a hundred years to learn the language of your heart, so you can speak to it and ask it what it wants from you, and so you can tell it without the need for subtitles, "Yes, I see.  I see."

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