Friday, February 28, 2014


When you were first confronted with things in your range of experience, they often did not make sense to you. In consequence, you began to pester your parents for answers to a range of questions that most young persons of your age pester their parents with.  

Lacking the ability to read was a disadvantage for you and them. Thus your father's ultimate conclusion. "How long before they start teaching him in school?"  He did not take kindly to my mother's belief that "they" already had--that is, had begun to instruct you in steps that would have you able to consult books for information.

There was considerable help at hand from the fact of you having an older sister who, unlike some siblings you were aware of then and have experienced since, more than tolerated you.  In fact, on this day, an anniversary of her birth, you recalled the time she led you up the stairs of the main library in Providence, Rhode Island, where she oversaw the process of you, obtaining your first ever library card.

Reading quickly became another source of issue, as in the credentials of the authors, but for most practical purposes, you were on your own there; your parents were at last off the hook, and your reading-related activities with your sister turned into the splendid game of each of you trying to top the other in the presentation of birthday or holiday gift books.

Once you were past the initial stage of Dick and Jane and that awful dog, Spot, who seemed to do nothing beyond an occasional run and jump, never resorting to dissembling or equivocating or anything else so recondite, you were off on the adventure of which you write here, which is to say you had sources to consult in order to help you make sense of your surroundings and then, later, as the thoughts occurred to you, to make sense of yourself.

In this last quest, you read a great many philosophers, many of whom seemed to you to be every bit as puzzled about the way things make or do not make sense.  On some level, you've probably known for some time the simple answer to the question you'd never thought to ask until you read George Orwell's "Why I Write."

You were smug in your belief that you wrote because you felt the need to, because the process added another arrow to your quiver of self-knowledge.  Like so many kinds of smugness, yours bordered on the supercilious.  This fact was borne home when you read of murderers and other criminals rationalizing their behavior with the same explanation, because I had to.

You wrote and continue to write to make sense of yourself and things, either one or the other, preferably both.  You needed some time to recognize the simple truth:  No matter how accomplished or its polar opposite, say clunky or incoherent your writing, you were relatively happy.  The more you were involved with a project, the happier yet you became.  

Your most unhappy times were those associated with your not being able to make sufficient progress with the project at hand and, thus, with some aspect or aspects of yourself in need of better definition that the information you had at hand.  Another degree of unhappiness would be the state where there was no project in the works, no cosmic or personal misunderstanding you felt required to understand.

Such a state of events and their consequences are your lot in life which, now that you mention it, has not been so bad.  Since it is your sister's birthday, you are aware how much better it would have been to have been able to call her, to wish her a happy birthday, or to descend on her with as large an angel food cake as you were able to secure accompanied by copious amounts of a no-nonsense chocolate ice cream.  And some mischievous new book.  There is a great likelihood that the book for today, to go along with the cake and ice cream, would have been the new collection from Lorrie Moore.

That introduces the theme of loss into the essay.  You've lost any number of things you held dear.  Writing about them enhances the fact that you had these things for significant periods of time and in fact can relish their memory.  You would be less than you, less sensible, less funny, less alert to mischief than you are if you'd not had all these things.  The consequences would make you less than you are, which, given your present state of happiness, would diminish you to an even greater extent.

True enough, there are times when loss makes you wary about gaining things.  But if you gain things with a sense of partnership, where you become a part of it and make it a part of you, the risk of loss balances itself out.  Of course you will lose it.  But even in the grief of loss, can you imagine how bare your life would have been without.

Flowers have been important to you for some years because of their individual personality and their way of reminding you of the nature of things.  Every week, you toss last week's flowers.  Ah.  Farewell, old friends.  Can you imagine a life without flowers?

There were times when you did not make as much sense to yourself as you do now.  These were not your best times.  These were times where you felt isolated, no mischief in sight.  Through writing, even writing of marginal quality, you were able to determine what it was you felt isolated from.

The answer to that should be clear, but how could anything be clear when the writing was marginal and you were not pleased?  The answer, of course, is you; when you are isolated from yourself, the writing hasn't a chance.  Neither do you.

Happy birthday, Sis.

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