Friday, February 11, 2011


I woke up this morning remembering and somehow simultaneously being grouchy about remembering. Memory is such a whore house -- lacking in intimacy of the present but full of inaccurate, fantasized delight -- and yet the delights of the present, the wows, dwindle into a kind of second-hand staleness as well ... all the news is old news ... the wars, the politics, the marriages, the accomplishments ... very been-there-done-that, seemingly second-hand in the very moment when they are first-hand. I guess it's a function -- a koan -- of age and yet memory grabs the attention now and then. It seems as worthwhile -- if flimsy -- as anything in the present.

This morning I woke up remembering an upbringing in which listening was a part of the landscape. There was no internet and there were no television sets. There was the radio with its afternoon soap operas and evening adventures ("The Lone Ranger," "The Green Hornet," "The Shadow" "Gang Busters" "Mystery Theater" and some spooky sci-fi shows). There was my mother reading to me before bedtime (she read me the whole of Mary Shelley's 800-900-page "Frankenstein" in addition to fairy tales and things she herself had written). And there were 78-rpm records ... the music of folk singer Pete Seeger in his socialist days with the Almanac Singers, the waltzes of Johann Strauss, and even the spoken tale of Robin Hood -- a tale in which the bandit of legend was fatally poisoned in the end by his love-interest, Maid Marian.

Listening meant attention. It meant the listener was required to paint the picture, to become involved in the creation of the story. At the time, it was nothing special ... listening, painting, imagining, becoming a part of something that was rich. It took you away and yet it required you to take yourself away ... through the tall trees of Sherwood Forest, out onto the ice when tracking Dr. Frankenstein's monster (in the book, the doctor was clearly the villain), swept up in the lilting melodies of a waltz, or scared witless by some grisly, imaginative radio show.

Listening. It was richer and more intimate than the Saturday-afternoon matinee movies precisely because there were no pictures to distract and limit the mind. The prowess or defeat of the tale were entirely up to the listener. Colors were the colors of the mind. The laughter and tears were my laughter and tears. And if by chance the tale described a man in a green hat, still, the height and strength and look of the man were up to the listener as was the color of the hat ... what shade of green was it precisely?

Listening seemed somehow important to me this morning as I basked, inattentive, in memory. I felt fortunate to have been instructed in that way. Listening speaks to limitlessness and a lightness of being and I like the woo-hoo of soaring, however inaccurate it may be. Like every other kid, I imagine, I would lie in bed at night and wonder (of the stars in the sky, perhaps), "What's beyond that? And what's beyond that? And what's beyond that?" until eventually I would fall asleep, questions unanswered and yet delicious in the asking.

Memory is never exactly accurate. It is a past colored by an ungraspable present and thus is suspect from the get-go. It is stale in one sense and fresh as a daisy in another. Wallowing in the past is like trying to wallow in the present ... a fiction, however delightful. Stale fictions.

But there is listening.

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