Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Man Who Mistook Himself for an Acorn

Apologies to Oliver Sacks

All along the way, you had clues.  These snippets of information were like spilled pieces of the jigsaw puzzle you at one time enjoyed putting together.  You soon tired of such puzzles, opting instead for attempts at putting models of airplanes together, then building small, simple radios in cigar boxes.

The clues persisted to the point where you became compulsive about reading.  Omnivore.  Omnibus.  Omniscient.  Three conditions, perhaps standing in your way of putting the clues together.  But perhaps not.  Once you had enough clues to make the declaration to yourself, you encountered the most daunting task of all.

You've managed to trace your clues back to rituals you initiated when you were still at ages where supervising adults could tell you it was your bedtime.  The rituals arose when you found yourself not at all ready for sleep when bedtime arrived, thus simple enough devices to occupy yourself.  Books, stored on the floor under the bed, near the wall side, to avoid detection.  Books, flashlights.  

If you managed to read through your stash without experiencing the slightest tendency toward sleep, then you could try your hand at inventing adventures.  You did not think to call them stories, not then.  They were adventures, thus all first person narration.  This lasted until you reached a point of wondering what it would be like to be dead, then discovered by another person.  

Once you'd discovered your parents and sister would be truly sad were you to die, you began trying the discovery out on various teachers, salespersons you dealt with while on shopping errands, and one nurse whom you came to realize you had a crush on.

This was quite difficult, since there were any number of romance-related things where you were innocent to the point of ignorant, such as, for instance, you telling her in one such adventure narrative, "I suppose you'll want to start having babies," and her responding, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

That "conversation" led you to the awareness that you were aware of a tendency to blush in her presence in real life, leading her to tell your mother, "He [you] is a shy boy."  You were not shy.  You simply didn't want to discuss having babies quite yet, having heard your father expressing his belief to your mother that a friend of theirs was not certain the friend was ready to start a family.  

Of course you and the nurse went on to embark on a family, in which your version of fatherly support was to volunteer to "take them [the children]out for walks every day" and her response that you were likely to let one or more of them get lost.

You were living in what seemed to be the other side of the world when you asked a teacher if there were individuals who could actually make a living from telling stories.  She told you there were indeed such persons and that you had at least two of the qualities they had, which is to say a big vocabulary and a big mouth.  When you asked her about some of the other necessary qualities, she told you that you had a great deal of learning to do, and that if you were serious, you'd better pay closer attention to it than you were paying to the ability to produce accurate results in long division.

Some years later, three or four, a teacher of typing told you how unlikely it was for you to think of being a writer because your typing was so riddled with spelling mistakes.  She told you that touch typists of any worth could type over a hundred error-free words a minute, all without needing to look at the keyboard.

That was pretty much the time when you suffered a pang of doubt because you had no goal in mind of being able to type one hundred error-free words in a minute.  You in fact were becoming aware not only of your lack of skill as a typist but as a composer.

You were aware of another thing, an acorn had the built-in potential to become an oak tree.  You could have become farther along today than you have become.  You could have become something altogether unforeseen and other than what you have become.  But the thing is, the more you look back, you saw signs of how you were moving along the path of growth.  You've seen many oak trees in your time, some stately, well formed, radiating the sense an oak tree radiates when it is no longer a scraggly bush.  

From time to time, you do the equivalent of rustling your leaves, generating a hint of shade or a graceful limb, reaching out to grab at some unoccupied bit of space, taking in sunlight and oxygen, planning for more adventurous reaches, growing toward the point where you no longer mistake yourself for a shrub.

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