Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Horse on You

This is the time of year for lists.  Publications and web sites are offering the "Ten Most" lists, which means the ten most wonderful or, in some cases, the ten most awful.  Motion pictures.  Stage plays.  Books.  Performances.  Political speeches.  Politicians.  Places to go on a honeymoon. Places to go to become divorced.

Some years back, you watched a good friend make a list of ten points he would focus on when he, a teacher, gave a lecture, or was called upon to introduce a featured speaker at a lunch where the guests chose their meals from a list of three options, meat, fish, or vegetarian.  

Your friend, who was also--surprise--a writer, knew something you already understood.  He probably would not get to use all ten of his points because he would become connected with one or more of the earlier points to the extent of gaining access to an entire level of enthusiasm and connectivity that would take him well beyond the allotted time.

Subsequent to this discovery, it fell to your lot to introduce a speaker to a group of individuals who'd been served a banquet dinner, a fact that wraps around itself with irony and the possibility for humor.  "I have ten things here to convey to you about tonight's speaker,"  you began, "but I am going to stop with the first two.  She is a writer of enormous narrative gifts, and her books are more substantial and satisfying than the dinner you have been served."

This introduction did not go well with the caterer, but the speaker thanked you after she'd finished, and a number of persons in the audience, who'd eaten the banquet dinner, commended you on your accuracy of description.  The overall reaction convinced your mounting suspicion that audiences begin to go bored with lists as the lists go on beyond the first two or three points.

If you have to rely on lists, make sure the first two or three points include information that will convince your audience that something provocative is soon to follow.  Often the best way to do so is to take aim at some elephant in some nearby living room, thus your own barb at the banquet supper, along with a potential reminder of how a banquet supper or lunch is a potential candidate for "The Ten Most Prevalent Elephants in Every Living Room."

In your opinion, speeches or lectures presented in connection with a banquet lunch or dinner are questionable in the first place, their text having been concocted in much the same way the caterer has presented the banquet host with a potential menu from which to chose.  You mean by this that the speaker is going out of his or her way to wrest your attention away from the tomato aspic in front of you with an anecdote or bon mot or another offering common to banquet speeches, a riposte.

You already know that a riposte is an answer, often barbed and/or humorous, to a question, so yes, you also know raising such a question in order to give it that arresting and tantalizing edge is a process described by the word "prolepsis."  

In a larger sense, you know all you need to know about lists for the same reason, having new, titanium hips installed to replace the older, worn ones, you know about using crutches and canes.  Lists are a device to help you edge your way to a podium or a table at a coffee shop where there is a note pad, or your work table at home, where there is a computer.

You lean on lists in order to be able to push off for engagement with ideas and connections, which are, in metaphor, the bucking broncos and calf-roping equivalents of composition.  The metaphor is apt because the acknowledged professionals in rodeo and roping are those who stay astride their mount for the longest time.  The calf-roper works as a metaphor because the roper does leave the horse, but with deliberation,  just as the writer leaves the theme in search of an unseen connection.

Many seasonal lists or simple ad hoc lists stop at best or worst performances.  Your purpose here is to give recognition to lists of failures, things you attempted for one reason or another, and botched or came within that range of closeness known as close but no cigar.  Although at one time a great fan of the cigar, you do not attempt things for the cigar, nor for any award.  You could make a list of awards that seem on the surface to be worthwhile.  It is your good fortune that you would be stretching probability to think serious thoughts of yourself in connection with any of them.

No matter.  You are not out of the market for awards, in particular those for lifetime achievement.  Ah, the glorious failures.  That is one horse you can still sit.

Back in the days when you lived in Mexico City and one of your neighbors was a midlist bullfighter named Enrique Torres, you played cards most nights, drinking dry Mexican pilsner.  Each time Enrique won, he'd say, "I have one horse on you."

A willingness to fail is a horse you can still sit.


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