Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Capt. Ahab, Eating a Tuna Sandwich While on Watch for the Whale

 Works in progress can and do have predictable side effects such as insomnia, grouchy responses to cheerful conversation, revision while sleeping, and either a lower or increased attention span. All of these have visited during the current project, along with an unexpected visitor who appears without warning.

The work in progress is a protracted study of novels you recognize as having a significant presence in forging you, your responses, your expectations, and the coming-to-terms awareness of the difference between your earlier dreams and the later reality of what can be best described as Now.

Much of your formal learning has come in the context of the classroom while not having come directly from within the classroom, which is to say you recognize how many times the learning took place after you were banished from a classroom and into some circumstance where some life-altering awareness came into being.

Example: You took for granted the wisdom and scholarship of Jacob Sonderling, the head rabbi of the congregation to which your parents belonged, who presided at the bat mitzvah and wedding of your older sister, and indeed led the congregation when you reached the status of being ritually considered a male member.  

"Why is it I am seeing you here? he asked of you, who stood in his study, aware of an enormity of books written in Hebrew, German, and English. His heavy-lidded eyes scanned some note before him, without doubt an account of why you'd been banished from a class on The Talmud which, among other things had been described as the interpretations God gave Moses for the study of the written law or Torah.

At the time of the offense, you were no less a smarts than you are now, the difference between the then and now being a matter of sophisticated degree. In your memory, your offense was to refer to The Talmud as the equivalent of case notes and scope notes for your culture, from which premise you developed the scornful riposte of the Torah being law books which made males of your culture almost by cultural definition wannabe lawyers. You believe you in fact described the grieved mother, pacing the shoreline below the Santa Monica pier, wailing, "Help, help, my son, the lawyer, is drowning."

Dr. Sonderling was among the first to plant the seed: We are all of us characters within our own drama. On other occasions, when you'd been banished from a classroom, you were given a sheet of lined paper and a letter from the alphabet, say a d of a g, then told you were to stay where you were, which was either the principal or the boy's vice principal, or someone in charge of that one course not on the curriculum, Detention, where you were to remain until you could supply fifty legitimate words beginning with that particular letter.  

Thus you learned that a zarf is the ornamental receptacle for a demitasse cup or the stand for that glorious s-word, samovar, as in a tea maker urn, a skiandoo is a small, single-edged knife, worn with Scottish dress kilt on the same side as the dominant hand..  

You were building chops for future ability at Scrabble where, at a penny a point or even a nickel, you were able to secure beer money in later years. You were also building a nodding mechanism with reading fiction and nonfiction and within those two presences, the ability to become immersed in the text.  "Why," Dr. Sonderling asked you that day in his study, "do you think in our argument is such a key factor? It is our nature to ask, to question, to argue."

And so you have, with much of what you have experienced at first hand, have read, or in some way listened to. But without knowing it, for it is your nature first to trust, then to question, you have become the dramatis personae of your readings, taking on for a time, their characteristics. You have become Capt. Ahab, eating a tuna sandwich before pursuing the whale. You have asked, questioned, and argued, but never enough for the time. 

Revisiting the you who was first influenced by the materials you are now reviewing has made you aware of a major theme in your life, the editing and revision of past experiences and opinions, hopeful you are reaching the point of a reliable and substantial narrative.

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