Friday, September 27, 2013

Rock and Hardplace One, You, Nothing.

Last week at about this time, you were at a writer's conference held in a small, picturesque college campus between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.  You'd been to this conference several times before, knew a number of the principals, and were looking forward to reconnecting with two individuals on the cadre of speaker/instructors.  

One had published a longish essay of yours, "How to Write the Shirt Story," in a lively book called The Portable Writers' Conference.  The other, a former student, had become a front-rank poet and is current chair of the writing program at a California State University campus.

There was a word on your name badge that did not make immediate sense to you.  Turns out, it had something to do with a sandwich you would be served at lunch the next day, but for a long moment, you feared it was a judgment call.

Yesterday, at a working breakfast with two colleagues in a publishing venture, you sat at a pleasant, outdoor table in a small enclave of restaurants and shops called Victoria Court.  As you were discussing something with your colleagues, a waitress came scurrying over to move a large pot of flowers in the center of the table.  "Excuse me,"  she said.  "Let me get this out of your way."  She moved the flower pot well toward the unoccupied place at the table.

Ten minutes later, she was back, this time to move a French milk bottle with a cap held in place by a metal clamp, now converged to use as a dispenser of cold drinking water.  "I couldn't help noticing,"  the waitress said, "you use your hands a good deal when you talk, and you make pronounced, dramatic gestures.  Are you an actor?  Should I recognize you?"  These questions delighted your colleagues.

You were enjoying your breakfast meal and the interaction with your colleagues.  When the waitress moved two objects out of the potential sweep of your hands, you were, for a moment reflective.  Then you returned to your enjoyment of the moment.

The word on your writer's conference name tag was HAM.  Could there be some connection, if not of a cosmic nature, then for sure of a personal one.

Robert Burns's excellent poem, "To a Louse," has the magisterial lines:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us!/ 'T'would from many a blunder free us /and foolish notion.

You write with some frequency about made-up individuals who have misinterpreted the agendas and behavior of other made-up characters.  You also put some efforts into interpreting the intentions, potential meanings, and hidden agendas in the words and behavior of those about you.  In the process, you take considerable time shining the light of inquiry on yourself.  

There is, among the ensemble cast of selves that comprises you, at least one ham actor, which is to say one who is known in the business as over-the-top.  As a combination of penance and a wish to hang onto the tail of the comet of learning curve, you watch actors you consider to be low key.  You marvel at the way they are able to convey the types of information you wish with a single word or perhaps a gesture such as a lift of an eyebrow.  

Your eyebrows are not to be trifled with.  They resemble elderly caterpillars, pausing to digest some delicacy found along the way.  They were your hope of appearing low key.  Thanks to hours spent before a mirror, you are pretty gifted at the eye brow shrug, that facial equivalent of the shoulder shrug.  You can and do shrug one or both shoulders, hopeful of sending forth a message of sang froid or sangre frio, or insouciance, but you still have a way to go.  Often such shrugs have caused the individual you were shrugging at to ask you if you were all right.  One waitress thought it meant you didn't like your brioche.

When you trot out the quotation from Burns, you are in all probability questioning your tendency to bull-in-a-china-shop, which is not all that far removed from ham, or over-the-top.  This is the rock.  The hard place is the opposite end.  Scylla and Charybdis will also do; you are frequently caught between them.  

Phlegmatic is a word sometimes directed at you.  Would you believe monosyllabic?  And not to forget interior to a fault.  Your own offering of contemplative does not earn you many brownie points.

Burns was talking about putting on airs.  You do no such thing.  You put on enthusiasms.  You see this much about yourself.  And as you told the waitress, "Move the flowers all you wish, but keep them on the table."

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