Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Effects of Writing on Age and of Age on Writing

Age does not bring cynicism so much as it tempers the gaping idealism of youth.  You still experience idealism, but it is edged with the wariness of understanding how much of your early exposure to story was filtered through lenses of cultural and tribal propaganda.

You do not object to the happy ending, if, that is, the happy ending is plausible, earned, understood as a result rather than the promised reward of propaganda. You do not insist on the hard, grind-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out outcome of the system--any system--prevailing over some worthwhile effort at the artistry of change.

Along with many of the afflictions you've managed to dodge, age brings with it increased awareness of absurdity and the mine-field mentality.  What seemed perfectly prudent yesterday can transmogrify into absurdity of Beckettian and Ionescoian absurdity by next week.  

What seemed a splendid idea last night can turn into scenarios of poignant embarrassment the next morning.  The world of limitless possibility so easily translates into a minefield, gravid with devices from conflicts long since initiated.

How old were you at your first explosion?  Of the many characters you have created, how old were they when an event turned them from the almost pure awe and amazement of the everyday wonders about them to the suspicion that all was not as it seemed.  You reckon you were three or four when your father lifted you and spoke of illusions, then said, "Look, I will show you one."  

He held you  up to the concave display window of a jewelry store.  "How can a jewelry store leave such things unguarded in a window?" he asked.  You, who had no idea of windows other than flat-planed windows, were completely taken in by the illusion.  You reached for the display, shocked by the presence of glass.  Your father lifted you a bit higher.  "Can you see the curve now?  Can you see how the illusion works? "

You nodded to his question after making a few more tries to test the extent of openness suggested by the extreme curvature of the glass, but there were many times in subsequent years when you were reminded of that evening.  The reminders came when you reached for something you thought available, something where your own percepts were part of the illusion that your then goal was available.

In time, you were able to conflate your own reaching, achieving, and frustrations with imaginary men and women in stories you created, reaching, not seeing the boundary because of some illusion.  You continued to reach and to walk through minefields, on occasion thinking you understood how to walk minefields because, so far, there'd been no explosions.

By most accounts, you've live a fortunate life, neither overly privileged or overly burdened with misfortune.  Through curiosity, observation, and adventure, you became aware of those who were less fortunate than you, extremely less fortunate, and, in similar degree, more fortunate and extremely so.  In many cases, the haunted look in the eyes of children in years of browsing National Geographic warned you of potential explosions to come, taught you to search about you wherever you were for the haunted look in the eyes of children and of men and women of all ages.

When you program yourself to see out such evidences of haunting, you also understand that individuals of scientific and artistic yearnings have that look. Over the years, you have identified in yourself a vulnerability to this haunted look, caught up in the wonder of their and your inner landscapes and how to regard the physical and spiritual landscape you see about you.

1992.  The last year of your father's life.  You are visiting him in a rehabilitation hospital.  He sees you approaching, smiles, invites you closer for an exchange of kisses.  He points to the oxygen tube dangling from the nearby tank, informs you he has been judged quite capable, thank you, of getting enough oxygen on his own now.  Then he opens the drawer of the nightstand next to him, reaches to the rear of the drawer, extracts a long maduro cigar.  

In pictures you have seen of him before you were born, he had a cigar.  You were always aware of him with a cigar.  Although you have given up smoking, you are aware of the magnificence of this cigar and what its presence means to him.  Some months later, when he lay in his coffin, you placed two such cigars in his lapel pocket, discretely hidden by the folded pocket square your mother had placed.

The look in his eyes as he asks you in all earnestness if you, whom he knows has given up smoking--"How could you?  It is such a comfort."--if you have a match or a lighter.  You point to the sign above the oxygen tank and remind him, a lit cigar could cause an explosion.  He regards you for a moment.  "Ninety-three years so far and no explosion."

He regards the cigar in his hand for a moment.  "Tell me,"  he says.  "Which is worse, a man with a cigar and no match, or a man with a match and no cigar?"

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