As soon as we learn to communicate, someone devises a way to miscommunicate. Maybe a cave painting depicted the way to kill the largest meat source. Not long after, some jackass was probably using cave walls to lure weary travelers into a trap or libel the women who’d escaped his hairy paws. It’s always been like this. Probably always will be. Junk mail, spam, cold calls, phishing schemes, official-looking documents, etc., etc. But the wisdom of time is starting to break through again. The spirit of the universe is speaking to you through this ephemera. What masquerades as bait to illicit information/response/attention is harboring enlightening gems if you do nothing more than ruminate on the message. Just the other day on the subway an advert transformed into a zen koan: Keep the burger in the bag. I had no burger. Or did I? This morning, an e-mail appearing to be from a Mrs Patricia Chandler in Hong Kong advised me: If you are honest and Charitable, I have something for you. If this is not the reverse transubstantiation of digital body into intellectual bread, than call me a cab.
“Let us all pretend that our lives are a very long book. A story.”
He had them. The complete and malleable attention of every single one of them. Timing and delivery were everything but his gender and height certainly added some gravitas.
”You each have a different story to live. Many parts you know ahead of time… the parts where you’ll eat or sleep or brush your teeth.”
It was so easy to lose them at this point without the right transition.
“But what about the unknown parts? The surprises!”
They always perked up at that word no matter the size of the audience. He took a deep breath as if it took courage to go on. Their pupils were dilating. He had them in the palm of his hand.
“Where will you be in the future? What kind of house will you buy? Who will you allow to live with you? What will scare you the most?”
These were not easy questions for them to answer. He tugged in a practiced way at the full windsor knot of his tie. He shook his head slowly as if he too shared their doubts. First days made it so easy and the older he got the more seriously they took him. He allowed them to stare at his back for just a moment more before spinning about-face with such speed as to make his short jacket tails audibly smack his thigh. Then an arch of the eyebrows with a little more prominence given to the chest.
“But you all know how this story ends! Whether you are a long book or a medium book or the slimmest of selections… All. Our. Tales. End. The. Same. Way.”
Some comprehend immediately. Their faces such bright skies quickly clouded over. Most wait for the explanation. He looks each and every one of them in the eye before answering in a slow, hushed tone:
The bell rings and they scatter for recess. That beautiful tension released like opening a pressure valve.
It was this speech alone that kept him coming back as a substitute kindergarten teacher. That, and the novelty of never having worked in the same school twice.
Wittgenstein was I think wrong when he said that about that which we do not know, we should not speak. He closed by fiat a great amusement park, there. Nothing gives me more pleasure than speaking about that which I do not know. I am not sure whether my ideas about various matters are correct or incorrect, but speak about them I must.
–Donald Barthelme, “Sea of Hesitation”
‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.
Tennyson wrote this in 1850 as part of his poem, “In Memoriam: 27”. Probably, it served as good advice for most of the next century. But we’re in the 21st century now. Times have changed. The next generation faces stuff. Big stuff. Would not a more timely update of this sage advice read something like this:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than to have been tied up, tortured, and cut into pieces by your lover, and then have your life turned into a direct-to-DVD movie.
If you, too, “believe the children are our future”, don’t just teach them well, show them the necessary survival and evasion skills that will be required when the insurrection is fabricated online.
Give them organic poetry for breakfast.
Grill them fresh, local literature for lunch.
Prepare them dinners of free-range prose.
Tomorrow is always too late.