Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wait 'Til They Hear about the Chirimoya

Every time you compose,  you are in effect asking persons you don't know and may never meet in person to trust you.  Thus the irony begins, because you are composing in the first place in order to discover things you know but didn't recognize, things you thought you knew and yet did not, and things that collide before you as you work, forming elements beyond your scope of imagination.

There is some honesty in this ironic search.  You do hope to discover even more of the things you do not know, in order to maintain some sense of parity between you and the unknown.  Would be nice as well to discover more details about things you can be said with some degree of reason to know.  Would be spectacular to have many more of those life supporting ah-ha moments, where you not only have greater cause to trust things about you but are able to have faith--a form of trust--in the expectation of more to come.

Composition becomes an act of trust in another sense, one of you believing you will find your way out of the maze you have constructed for yourself, then entered.  The entrance is, of course, done on faith; you've been here before.  You know the risks.  You are ever alert now to the presence of canaries in the mine shaft openings.

Composition requires of you the need to paint yourself into a corner, run on empty, not rely on a spare tank.  The key is risk, which must be engaged lest you cheat by cribbing from your own notes.

Once, years ago, you were a student in a school on the wrong side of the tracks of the small towen in New Jersey where your parents were born, grew up, met, and married each other.  The part of town in which financial and social circumstances placed you seemed of a perpetual gray, smelling neither of cabbage or onion cooking and yet causing you to observe, even then, that the surroundings did not smell of cabbage or onion, when it might have smelled in a more emphatic way of, say, Polish sausage, back yard livestock, or poverty.

You were in the principal's office because of a recent test given you and your classmates. With you was Thomas, who sat at the desk directly on your right.  This was not by any means your first lesson in irony.  You were there for getting a wrong answer on a question the principal and your teacher believed you had sufficient reason to know the right answer, but instead chose the wrong answer because you did not like New Jersey.

Thomas was in the principal's office because he copied the answer you gave, because he did not like you, and because his not knowing the answer to the question was seen as an affront to the grammar school learning curve.

After all these many years, you remember the question:  What is the capital of your state?

Wanting as little to do with New Jersey as you could manage, and because you were born in California, you wrote, Sacramento.  A combination of your lousy handwriting and Thomas's need for furtiveness led him to misread the S and to substitute in its place L, a fact that was to lead to you showing up to class the next day with a black eye.

"We know you know the capital of New Jersey," the principal said, "because your uncle works there from time to time and also because your teacher says you are doing well in geography."  You were advised to be more open minded about circumstances about you, and to take a more realistic view of California, by which you supposed he meant the time you were heard to laugh out loud in class at the notion of a grapefruit being an exotic, tropical fruit.

"Exotic,"  you said, "means from another country."  And of course the principal had the last word, which was "contrary."

Later that day, before blackening your eye, Thomas had two words for you, one of which surprised you when it came from him.  "Arrogant bastard."  When you thought about it later, you understood how your awareness of irony was fast catching up with you as an ingredient of humor.  The way you recall it, your response to him was "Arrogant?"

These events seem as vivid to you now as those long years ago, which is one of the reasons the entire processes of recall, invention, elaboration, and dramatization beckon you to investigate.  Things in retrospect grow.  Do they grow in meaning?  Importance?  Significance?

As you scan your notes and memories, you still see traces of a boy anxious to fill blank notepads with tales of adventure, where you are transported to exotic terrains and caused to deal with locals who, for all you know have the friendliest of intentions.  These are notes and memories of a boy, eager to be back in California, where exotic things had some gravitas about them instead of the familiar skin of a grapefruit.

Back in that day and that exchange over grapefruit, you recall thinking even then, "Wait until they hear about the chirimoya."

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