Saturday, February 6, 2010

irresponsible behavior

The gift of flight without the sister-art of landing, . . . that is always in doubt.

-- Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds

This is not a blog. It does not do things that blogs do. It does what blogs do not.

I do not keep current. I don’t respond to headlines. I don’t say “what I’m doing right now.” I don’t stay on the subject. I don’t confine myself to proper length.

Though I can’t stay always off the track of public events, I can’t stay on that track for very long either. By the time I speak of a thing, it’s no longer current – if it ever was. I don’t give rise to argument because, by the time I’m done, you can’t figure out which side, or what issue, I’m on. I take issues where others see agreement, and I’m bored by what others think are the issues. I have a penchant for, a calling to, irrelevance.

If I think I know where I’m going, I’m usually wrong. I’ve been in the air a while now and I don’t know where the landing strip is. Before I finish I might be gliding. I might have to land in the water.

This is of course entirely irresponsible behavior on my part. And I’ve spent sixty-two years learning to do it.

There’s a thing they teach the kids now, so they can get into a good college. It’s called the “five-paragraph essay.” Say what you’re going to say; then say it in three ways, or in a logical sequence of three steps; then say what you’ve already said. No contractions. No first person pronouns. No second person pronouns. No personal anecdotes. No sentences starting in a conjunction. No questions. No quotations from the Bible or any other religion. No talking to the reader.*

No surprises. No revelations. No turns in the road. No essay.

Once upon a time, a professor taught me to write “for publication.” He was very proud of his course of instruction. I learned, among other things, never to start a sentence with a conjunction, never to use a first or second-person pronoun, and never to let a reader take a logical step without holding his hand. Lead him across the river. Explain every transition. “Consequently, we can see . . . “ “Nevertheless, it could be said . . . “ And “in conclusion, there can be no doubt . . . “ Gloss and attenuate every image. “The poet metaphorically likens the state to a sailing ship . . .” And so on.

The professor hadn’t published anything for years. And neither, after I internalized his teaching, did I – I couldn’t even write. It was ten years before I published again, and in a different voice, a voice that had never taken the professor’s course.

And now, dear reader, have you noticed how my experience mirrors that of younger people? I fear however that that the youth will try to obey, as I did. They have extravagant energy, and a desire to please. It will take them a while to feel the void.

There are things that, the more you try to explain them, the more obscure they become. Amongst these are life, love and death. Which is why the best explanations avoid the mark. “Life’s but a walking shadow;” and of course, a great deal more. “My love is like a red, red rose;” and of course, she is not. “Death kindly stopped for me;” and of course, unkindly.

Reader, I respect you. I leave gaps between the stones. I trust that you can leap them by yourself. No handrails. Only by leaping can you find out why you would go where I am going. Don’t ask me, I certainly don’t know.

I’m still in the air, still in suspense, higher than before and liking it. I wish I’d known when I was young that this is my home. It’s a gift I’ve only recently learned to appreciate. I don’t know how this will come out exactly. It depends on the updrafts, and they’re not in the flight plan. You can’t do this by the instruments. That’s why they call it an “essay.” You have to get the feel of it. That’s what I’m doing “right now.”

Look, Ma, no hands.

*John Richard Stevens, “5 Paragraph Essay Format,” www.englishdiscourse.org

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