Monday, December 16, 2013

So Much Depends

Although the observation speaks to animals, theories abound over its origin, which contains an acute observation of the human condition.  "It all depends," the observation would have us believe, "whose ox is being gored."

There is some discussion of this behavior in The Book of Exodus, and some speculation that the term was introduced into spoken and written language by Martin Luther, who in effect gave us the Protestant Reformation.

You went racing back to "The Pardoner's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales, but there was nothing you could see, although in his description of The Pardoner, who was selling his phony relics and indulgences Pre-Reformation, we do find animals used to indicate sexual orientation:

No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have;
As smothe it was as it were late shave.
I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.

The wisdom inherent in the observation about the gored ox holds well in reality and in the compressed, manipulated reality of story.  Our involvement in an event or condition is in direct proportion to our risk or vulnerability.

We want characters who are first seen at risk.  Whether they are yet aware of it or not, we are; that is, we are if the story is well told.  We foresee consequences the characters do not.  Thus we read on to see how right we were to be alerted and how pleased to have the risk obtain to others instead of us.  

We've been blindsided before, and although we resolved from the experience not to be blindsided again, something tells us we are not as experienced or immune as we might wish.  If we examine our experience with care, the best we can get from it is the knowledge that we might be prepared for incursions and invasion, but by no means immune.  

Those of us who have a history bent or who are of a particular age will recall the so-called Maginot Line, erected by the French in the 1930s against possible invasion from their German neighbors.  The Maginot Line was an impressive and well-designed fortification, which led the French to think they were safe from serious attack.  So convinced were they of its effect that they erected something similar against the Italians.

We know how those dreams of invulnerability worked out, to the point where we are now able to use the term Maginot Line as an actual reference or a metaphor, either one as drenched with irony as a stack of buttermilk pancakes drizzled with maple syrup. 

We want our own defenses to be impenetrable and to the same degree, we want the characters we invent for our own stories or those we read about in the stories of others to be at accelerated risk.  In this way, our passion for reading stories will, we hope, repay us beyond ordinary levels of enjoyment to the extent where we feel we've reinforced our own defenses, shoring up our ability to cope with the disasters and destabilizing activity Life leaves for us in the same way outdoor cats bring their humans gifts of lizard corpses and decapitated rodents.

Mark Twain observed, "Put all your eggs in one basket.  Then watch that basket."  Your own take here is, "Put all your oxen in one corral.  Then watch that corral."  Same basics apply.

You are able to say such things after a life of reading, observing, speculating, and, of course, taking risks.  The unexamined life has been called into judgement as not worth living.  Prudent management of resources, including such resources as risk and enthusiasm, is a difficult calculus to arrive at.  The tendencies to be a spendthrift or a miser are extreme, each a recognizable character and personality type, aspects of each visible close to home, squatting right inside your own sensitivities.

Thanks to your American Express account and the ease with which you can transfer funds from your savings, some aspects of life can seem quite like a Monopoly game.  No "real" money passes through your hands.

Thanks to your sense of confidence, of being relatively able to cope with the urgencies of citizenship, adulthood, and the hoped for enlightenment of political savvy, you can feel safe against temporary onslaughts of destabilizing risk.  You even have a Plan B, a plan of digging in, existing on the contents of a stock pot that begins as, say chili or lentil soup, then grows from the addition of a different nutrient every day, keeping you well-fed on the cheap, equipped to devote your efforts and enthusiasms to combating the attacks on your confidence and ability to focus on your work.

These are the exact elements you must be able to see beyond, to create worst-case scenarios that go beyond your inner Maginot Line, in order to keep you on the edge of such ability and insight as you have.  Somewhere along the way, you made a choice.  In all this time, you've only lost one animal to coyotes.  Others in your care, you might say members of the same pack, often charged the coyotes, drove them back, and in one dream, at least twenty years old, but not at all dimmed by distance, you were surrounded by a pack of wolves, who were advancing on you.

From the far reaches of your dream came the sounds of a much beloved tenor, a Bluetick hound, your own Edward Bear, charging the wolves with his insistent bawl of challenge, dispersing the wolves, then coming to you for a moment to have his head scritched before retreating back to the shadows where he dwells.

You awoke excited and thrilled from the reunion, safe for a time from the wolves, of a mind to get on with the day.

So much depends on whose ox is being gored.  

Speaking of dependency, William Carlos Williams, a poet you much admire, wrote "The Red Wheelbarrow:"

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

So much also depends on how you go forth in the world, arms spread wide and palms up to receive signals from your surroundings, or clasped tightly over your chest, your head down, where you might possibly miss the intentional glory of a November sunset.

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