Friday, February 10, 2017

Recipe for Grok

Any ducks you might have are not in a row. Neither are such p's and q's you might have what you or anyone else would call minded. Although you have the occasional bird in hand, most of your other potential birds are still in the bush.

Speaking of birds, you're also well aware how, in metaphor and the absolute, one robin does not make a spring.

Or does it?

These matters of concern you rattle off with such ease are metaphors for the conventional wisdom of the times in which you were born, and for wisdom born generations if not eons before your arrival here. Thanks to a reputed slave and storyteller dating at least five hundred years before the Common Era, you understand at the very least about the sour potential for grapes beyond your reach, and the actual and metaphorical strength needed to bell the cat.

What you did not know when you were first introduced to the conventional wisdom of the reputed slave/storyteller was the potential for him being a pure invention, a made-up source to whom practical suggestions for survival and polite behavior could be attributed without revealing the truer source.

On the day of this writing, you had occasion to examine and assess various translations of two major works from a single, blind poet named Homer. Many scholars whose expertise of the times and languages of what has been called Classical Antiquity are light years beyond your flickering understanding continue to argue that Homer was more than one--possibly several--individual.

Also on the day of this writing, a number of British actors whom you respect for their acting abilities and intellect cast serious doubts into the longstanding contention that the individual known as William Shakespeare did not in fact write all the plays and poetry attributed to him. Their arguments leave open possibilities that there may have been a number of Shakespeares, perhaps not as many as Homers, and then again, perhaps not as many as potential Aesops.

In your examination of the times and places into which you were born, you've looked behind you at past times, through the filter of various individuals who had  a need to record the minutiae of their times in letters and memoirs. In some cases, thanks to the imaginations of such writers as Ursula Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, Samuel R. Delaney, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury, you looked to the future for conventional wisdom.

You were a scant thirty years old when you encountered the Martian word grok, which its author, Robert Heinlein, brought back from his own imaginary time on Mars and the insights of a being born on that planet. Through the wonders of fiction and extrapolation, the verb grok has entered the English dictionary, appears in nearly every responsible dictionary. Your contemporaries and generations to follow have received conventional wisdom from the past, the present, and the future.

You still aspire to grok or understand on the deepest levels of understanding and empathy Heinlein intended when setting his novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, in motion. As such an aspirant, your washable clothing, when it goes to the laundry, will have no green stains, no traces of moss because you are, according to the sources of wisdom at ready availability, not a rolling stone.

And yet.

You are a product of your times. Beyond such submerged memories of trauma as birth, itself, and circumcision, your earliest awareness were of such scary things as the emerging Great Depression and the Anschluss, or annexation/unification in 1938 of the political forces that allowed fascism to extend its tentacles. 

Mixed into your readings of boys' adventure stories and narratives with historical clashes came writers such as Remarque and Svevo, which pushed you to edges of boundaries that pushed you beyond fabulist propaganda and into a growing sense that fiction meant a step or perhaps two beyond mere romance or adventure.

Science fiction broke you free of orbital constraints. You wanted details to matter beyond setting forth a platform for conventional wisdom. You wanted fiction--because no other medium was truly going to be able to do it so well--that led you beyond the no-man's land of conventional wisdom and common sense.

You wanted to learn from observation how to grok.

Take one relevant detail, then expand on it. 

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