Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lightning in a Bottle, Words in a Story, Images in a Poem

Not long ago, you were in a conversation with a person who spoke with some verbal equivalent of italic about having stepped over a line. In context, the speaker meant going beyond a cultural or personal boundary, entering a terrain not often visited under ordinary circumstances, imparting a sense therefore of trespass.

Tresspass in this sense implies a wrongful presence as well as an awareness of property.  And see how easy it is to associate property with a personal set of guidelines and limitations, a territory of self, even an acute awareness of self to the point of wishing to protect the self.  In yet another context, self is the most precious property one has; it is the terrain of attitude, a sense of integrity and more, an integral awareness of the self's own root values.

Depending on our origins and background, we learn of boundaries and terrain and self in multifarious ways, perhaps a room of one's own or a portion of a shared room, with rigorously observed boundaries.  For a time, you shared a room with a sister, then came your own room.  Boundaries were the names of specific streets which you were instructed not to exceed.  Even when you walked to school, your route was mapped out for you, with specific instructions about using crosswalks and underpasses.

For a portion of your sixth and seventh years, you spent time at the borders of places where boundaries existed, watching the activities of life on the other side of the border.  Then came a memorable trip from your home in Los Angeles, across the continent to New York, where you crossed borders of states, entering terrains you'd only read about.

It did not occur to you that in dreams you were crossing borders, variously those of reality and imagination or the conscious to the relative levels of subconscious.

Borders were territory markers rather than barriers, even though you understood the duality of fences as a medium to keep things enclosed as well as to prevent entry.

Some borders were cultural, as the time you were yanked with some severity by the collar, away from a drinking fountain in Washington D.C., where you were told that you were drinking "their" water and that naughty boys such as you were preventing "them" from taking a drink, should "they wish."  Shortly thereafter, you saw signs in front of buildings in Miami Beach, Florida, where it was your job to enter as part of your chore of home delivery of the Miami Herald.  The signs spoke variously of restricted clientele, and No Dogs, Negroes, or Jews.

In your process of attempting to acquire an education and a personality, two things not necessarily related, you discovered outher boundaries and restrictions.  One teacher you remember with the most kind of regards, drew a diagram on a blackboard depicting a border between convention and originality.  She urged the trespass.  You to this day remember her saying, "Convention, over here, is comfort and agreement, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you look over here to originality, the comfort begins to vanish and a number of persons are going to think there is something wrong with you."

There are borders between seriousness in the sense of gravitas and humor, which you have begun to see as a sterling candidate for trespass because you seem to yourself to become funnier as you attempt gravitas.  You have nothing against gravitas; it does, however, seem more conventional.

With some regularity for much of your life, women for whom you nourished some romantic interest have told you you were funny.  With the lovely potentials inherent in the word funny, these wonderful persons could have meant funny, ha-ha, or funny, odd.  They could well have meant both.  Your impression, to this very day, favors funny, ha-ha because being funny, ha-ha, suggests to you a trespasser, one disregarding the boundaries, and yes, you were grounded more than once for crossing Fairfax Avenue when you were enjoined from doing so.

You became interested in gravitas for a number of reasons which turn out to have, in your judgment, been wrong or at least wrongheaded.  Any number of adults have asked you when you were going to get serious, but an equal number have suggested you lighten up, in either case posing the conundrums of boundaries.

In your vision of things, there are no stories without crossing boundaries or at least one boundary.  Even such a remarkable thing as love begs for you to cross a boundary or two lest the love be rooted in the comfortable and conventional, both paths in your judgment to boredom, apathy, and atrophy.

Among your favorite stories are those of individuals who are in essential agreement, somehow beginning to argue about the fact.  One of the many things you learned on that fateful trip across so many state boundaries, is one you witnessed in a delicatessen you much favored in the lower East Side of Manhattan, where you witnessed a customer attempting to order a noodle pudding, known as kugel.  "Kiegel,"  the waitress said.  "You want kiegel."

"No,"  the customer said, "I want kugel."

The matter is as basic as the changes in European languages, spelling, and pronunciation.

Every time you were returned to that delicatessen, you made it a point to ask the waitress for kugel, simply to witness her response.

Sri Ramakrishna, a nineteenth century Hindu prophet who spoke of the harmony of all religions, said there was a word for water in all languages, but the substance was the same.

In a practical way, your version of story is a meld of the kugel versus kiegel and Ramakrishna's aphoristic vision of the oneness of the godhead.  Story is a number of persons insisting they are right about something.  The something can be anything. The story is the percieved difference.

Who are you?  What do you see?  Where is your horizon?  That's not a horizon; you call that a horizon?  That's a boundary.  Stand over here and you will see for yourself.

When you were a boy, you had to ignore the restrictions of some boundaries because, when you crossed the forbidden street, you were in the neighborhood of houses with splendid, detached garages, adjacent patches of deep, spongy grass.  Clambering to the roofs of these garages, you could jump to the spongy grass.  For moments at a time, you were airborne, free, not bound to anything as you fell, fell, fell to the grass, which seemed to embrace you with a green, welcoming hug.

Later, years later, when you were truly fortunate, you found romantic relationships in which you could do the equivalent of becoming airborne for a moment or two before you fell, fell, fell, often to the sleep of post coital drowse from which you awakened with a sense of having been out of yourself with someone other than yourself, which you knew without being told was part of the process called love.

During those years of falling, you also learned how, from time to time, there would come into your vision a sentence or paragraph or stanza of a poem or idea for a story that lit your heart like a Fourth of July sparkler for the moments before you tried to capture it with words, when it broke your heart by telling you it would not recognize your affection for it in public.

This is the way it works.

With words and leaps from heights, you reach out for words to mend the heart.

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