who'd kicked me out of therapy for smoking marijuana
'It's happened', I panted, 'there's a Lion in my room'.
'I'm afraid that any discussion would have no value' he hung up"---Allen Ginsberg
Tonight I've not slept, although I'm not suffering yet for the lack (though the reader may judge otherwise). I've written a description of the wonderful, mystical Gurdon Light for the Roadside America website, which features wacky and offbeat tourist destinations world-wide. The Gurdon Light, for those not in the know, is a "ghost light" which regularly appears above the railroad tracks near Highway 53 outside Gurdon, Arkansas. The legend says that a headless railroadman walks the tracks with a lantern, not unreasonably hunting said head. I've seen the light many times--it hovers in mid-air, like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind,, proof positive that life is more strange and wonderful than the movies. I also looked up and posted information on the International Concatenanted Order of the Hoo Hoo, the railroadmen's fraternal organization satirically formed in downtown Gurdon, where stands to this day the statue of the black cat with its tail curled up in the shape of the number 9. I believe deeply that science gives us mysterious lights and that society gives us the Snark of the Universe of the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo Hoo for a reason. This is my lesser justification by faith, if you will.
I went to Amazon.com and wrote a review of Jane Hirshfield's essay collection, Nine Gates--Entering the Mind of Poetry,, an intelligent, capable attempt to explore why poets write, and what is the "mind" (or "spirit") of poetry. My own view is that poetry writing is as practical a hobby as raising African violets, and requires far less care not to water the leaves, lest they burn away. I am nonetheless attracted to Ms. Hirshfield's analysis, which addresses the problem of the poet's search for meaning among chaos. She writes:
"Shadow plays no larger role in contemporary life than it did in the past--but out of the trenches of World War I, a new awareness emerged of such forces as shadow, as an uncontrollable thing unleashing itself into the world. Flaring from the poems of Wilfrid Owen and, later, from Picasso's Guernica is a changed understanding of how utterly war fragments the human spirit. Modern consciousness no longer conceives of a noble cause that is not haunted,nor of a beauty that is not terrifying. We have learned that every gift carries its price".
Lately, I am drawn over and over to the idea of choice. Choice is such a curse. Choice is the only salvation. The motivational guru Tony Robbins appeared on my late-night cable sales channel tonight, trying to induce me to choose to buy his CD on the topic of choice. For only 170 dollars, I can hear the whole seminar, in which a very tall engine, sporting a rather hip beard these days, will assure me repeatedly to invoke that mantra "I think I can, I think I can". I did not phone the 800 number. I take my motivation in book-sized doses, usually, which are much cheaper, because motivational books are so successful that their readers feel compelled to sell them to used bookstores at very cheap tariffs, freeing them up for my scrutiny.
But I must confess that though I have read how to help myself, each tomorrow still seems like a new door to open. Frank Stockton's short-short story "The Lady and the Tiger" expresses the dilemma well. A gardener's son dares to love the daughter of the king. He's promptly imprisoned for his troubles by the John Ashcrofts of his day. Ultimately, he is sentenced to a strange punishment. He must choose two doors. Behind one is a lady he must marry. Behind the other, the tiger who will eat him. His princess, though, helps him out. She motions to a door. But which door? We don't find out.
I worry that I suffer from a complacency that causes me to imply that I know what lies behind the doors. Nothing could be further than the truth. My insight tonight stops at looking at the 2003 "Texas State Travel Guide", a wonderful book which features colorful cowboy boots on the cover, which provides a town by town recap of minor and major things to see and do. I live in the "Prairies and Lakes" region. I look at random at Athens, Texas, which boasts the East Texas Arboretum and the "freshwater fisheries center". Calvert, just southeast of Waco, has "Annie's Doll House Museum". My insight into what is next runs as far as "if I drive there, I might see this". I do not know where the tiger is hidden; I have not met the lady; the princess confuses me altogether.
But though I find the power of choice a slender reed, I know of no other power granted to me to deal with the distraction of the unknown. I've come to admire people who take action for what they perceive as good, because I trust action as a manifestation of that thing I call the right spirit. But how often I've failed to heed my own advice on this point! I spent so much of my life in one form of paralysis or another. It doesn't help to know it's all psycho-somatic (and often, even self-diagnosed). Somehow that break-through still requires a choice. I feel that I've become better at making choices, but there are so many doorways I've not yet opened.
Perhaps this is what poetry can do--help me experience the knife's edge upon which my decisions perch, and not just "think about it". Tonight a rerun of the show ER came on, in which Dr. Greene passes his waning days of brain cancer in Hawaii with his daughter, trying to help come to grips with death, this senseless, necessary, appropriate thing.
I cried when the moment came when the viewer is given two hints that the daughter "got it", and could live with the choice to live on. But how many choices do I need to make without this picturesque death-in-Hawaii prod?
I will sleep in a few minutes, and hopefully rest. I will hike tomorrow, so that I can think long and drink deep of air and silence. But amid my uncertainties, all I know is how much I do not know. That may be my only saving grace. A raging beast stands before me, and even the doors may be an illusion. What will I learn? What will it mean? How will I acquit myself with honor, and not merely be the proverbial deer in the headlights? I feel that I need to learn every day what insects probably already know. But I want to make my choices. I want to try.