Lessons still glowing from the field
Strange and holy days… Passed Christmas with several young Brazilians living within the generosity of the John Joyce Estate. This offered a much-needed newness to our Classic American Christmas Experience… Dinner, games, chocolate, guilt-ridden polyannas… Time dawdled the way it should on Christmas Day. The way it did in childhood. The long days of jelly beans, toy assembly, and televisual rites-of-passage. Followed up with Portuguese lessons, caipirinhas, and a purely Brazilian Christmas Eve party off of Virginia Beach boulevard.
But, again, the Return Home always gives me that strong original energy, an upspring from beneath the Virginian Earth— along with other energy storehoused in family heirlooms. I couldn’t sleep for two days, and by the third day, when my mom and I drove out to my grandmother’s house for Christmas, I was delirious and doubled over in prayer. Out behind my grandmother’s house, sits a primeval forest that belongs more to my memory than it does the living world… An old garden shed stands as a dilapidated checkpoint to my mythic memories.
I strolled back there once more, wading into the mists of nostalgia. The thing about revisits to nostalgic things and places: you have to be careful not to replace them with cold, contemporary empiricisms. The Sun burns off the sleeping mists. You have to safeguard that mythos with a certain amount of ignorance, you know, especially as I get less sentimental with age.
When I was young, I would get teary about leaving third grade. Now, despite my addiction to anecdote, my heart peers only forward and clings lightly to the things around me. Looking down into that primeval gully, once occupied by Briar Rabbit and Robin Hood, I shrugged and turned around. Barely making it through lunch, I passed out in the car, with my sweater over my head, to avoid any fuss. No need for family liqueurs.
New Years Eve was a bit stranger, a bit uglier and flooded by some stark Aeschylean energies from which our personalities could not escape. Sienna was dressed as a beautiful silvery princess, but after some light gin cocktails at one party, our evening ended in a whirl of violence at the next. Sienna punched me in the face and bit my shoulder hard enough to draw blood. She was trying to goad me into hitting her in front of my friends. Instead, I slowdanced with her and, while going to dip her, dropped her cold onto the floor. A more gentile violence, right… bad, strained humor… Our personalities were at war— grating— as we looked on hopelessly.
Gin is not a social drink, first off. It’s a poison that quickly locates the recessive evil in any body. Too much in any crowd means high peril. Within five hours, everything will come to an end in blows and black clouds. The Fury unleashed on us burned for two or three days, until Sienna and I could come back into frequency. And I do mean Fury, as in one of the disturbing deities borne of the castration blood of Ouranus. I’m actually reading Aeschylus right now— the Oresteia— and thinking hard on oracle and the oracular. About the oracle as a hermeneutical absolute… So it fits.
Sienna could pass as an oracle… Cassandra maybe. And crazy as it might sound, the whole shitty sequence of New Years events was not the willing of any one person. It was something real and dark passing over us… A truth that unfortunately had to work through us…
In the Oresteia, the Furies went from being dubbed the Erinyes, the angry or vengeful ones, to the Eumenides, the gracious ones. After generations of vengeance, and a bit of fast talk from Pallas Athena herself, Grace finally returned to the house of Atraeus. I felt the same intervention with us, after all was said and done…. Grace given for we know not what. God, what was all that exactly? Did we go truly from pathos to mathos? From suffering to understanding? I wouldn’t have thought so, but yes, absolutely, only not in ways I can lay out in orderly words.
Language is a pisspoor approximation of the emotional field of strife and love. Or, I should say: all plainspoken, get-the-job-done language. When language jumps and kicks and blurts, as a spontaneous, koanic speech act that erupts from the deep, it works better to convey things with all their crosscurrents and contradictions. Language has then become a part of the barbed thicket and ceased merely to be its the gardener.
Word-lovers like you and me, beware. Ask yourself if you are using language to share yourself with another, to communicate profoundly, or merely to marshal things around… Staking claims and seeking petty victories… Hiding doubts or brokering bad compromises… You have to respect the complexity of whatever is molten and bubbling underneath our well-formed sentences. I’m not even sure we can speak plainly and confidently about places where language cannot easily travel. That is, I believe absolutely in the prelinguistic, but not always as something hard and Platonic that lends language sense. Rather, it’s often times messier, fluctuating, and in a way senseless. It is language, among other things, that which wrangles prelinguistic forces and shapes into sense. So we have to tread carefully, stopping to absorb certain vistas in silence…
At times, Sienna is nearly aphasiac in her inattention to plainspoken sense. Words appear in her mouth. Often pretty nasty ones. Sentences contradict each other. Reasons and promises matter less than gaze and gesture. Sometimes for better; sometimes for worse… “Language is bullshit,” she says. For her, a bubbling up. For others, used to dissuade and cover silences. And just as she has since learned much about the signifying power of language, I’ve learned much from her about its inadequacies, in a matter of a few short months of strife and love.
When I sit there trying to articulate myself, openly, with sweaty immediacy, it’s best to surrender to swells of feeling, and let them guide your gestures. Even if that gesture is a bite, hard slap, or bitter word. The slap is undeniable, incapable of falsehood. The Oracle is not speaking in riddles, as in offering something that needs to be unrolled into plain language. The Oracle speaks somewhat closer to the prelinguistic, to the polytheistic complexity of circumstance rather than as an undivided Logos.