do, or not to do.
Philosophy and Nonsense
(Thoughts about writing, education, and experience.) Presented by Forrest D. Poston
The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.
Think, I dare you.
|To be, but how to be.|
|The Dawn, the Dark, and
the Horse I Didn't Ride in On
by Forrest D. Poston
In the movies, important things happen at dawn, revelations come and battles begin. The time for thinking is gone, and “Damn the torpedoes” time has arrived. So why did I find myself standing in a deserted room of a dormitory waiting for a trace of dawn to work through the unwashed window panes, still wondering, still questioning?
Life doesn’t work like the movies.
Okay, I knew that, but somehow all the movies I’d seen, all the stories I’d read should at least help. I knew that folk favorites Rambo and Rocky threw caution to the wind despite the odds, while the higher-browed Hamlet pondered his way to death and Prufrock measured life in coffee spoons. I knew that he who hesitates is lost, but I also knew to look before I leaped, and even if I hadn’t read Milton yet, I knew that “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
I knew that my failure to act had started events in this direction, and later, poorly chosen actions had made things worse. I knew that this was my last chance. I knew that a wedding was taking place after this dawn, and it wasn’t mine.
In stories, the revelations and crucial battles come at dawn, come without question, without caution. Rambo doesn't hesitate. There's no time for cost analysis or considering the road not taken. It's simply "damn the torpedoes" time. Others have even done it without the automatic weapons and Godzilla-pecs, but what happens when waiting seems to be, just maybe, the right thing to do? Just where is the line between the better part of valor and becoming J. Alfred Prufrock? After all, it was self-restraint, what I saw as self-restraint, that helped get me into this mess. Then again, it was mis-timed action that turned a mess into a quagmire wrapped in a bog, boxed in an enigma.
So I stood in a small room, looking out through old, dirty panes as traces of color promised that sunrise was very near. There came no revelation, no battle that clearly must be fought, no certainty, not even torpedoes to damn. There was a choice between action or restraint, and I even think that time has proven the results were probably for the best. The problem is that I'm not sure whether or not I ever chose. To be or not to be is one thing, but to neither be nor not be, now there's a rub.
That night was almost half a lifetime ago, when I had barely qualified for adulthood by Dante's probably accurate standard of 25. I had finally gotten around to graduating from college but would be around campus a little longer to work at the radio station and delay as long as possible my entrance into the bigger illusion misnamed the real world. It was a small school in a small town, virtually a ghost town during summer, especially the campus, and most especially late at night.
The night shift at the radio station got me through until midnight. After that, I began walking. There was no one to go see, and only the Dairy Mart was still open, so I walked up and around, down and about. I considered heading for the highway and just walking until I dropped, but I knew that somewhere out there I'd decide to walk back, tired and feeling stupid. More so.
Fortunately, despite being an over the top romantic idealist just out of adolescence, I was not actually incompetent, certain opinions to the contrary not withstanding. I walked until I fully expected the police to stop and ask what I was doing. Such behavior is not exactly commonplace or approved of in the small, small towns, but no one passed, and no one stopped. Evidently, this night was all mine, the depression and the decision all mine.
Somewhere along the way, the roaming and sitting brought me to the edge of dawn, the expectation of revelation that would either show me how to alter this day or why I should let the day find its own way as others had planned. It was a simple story and one almost certainly repeated every day somewhere, but this time it was my story. She was getting married in a few hours. I was not.
So I stood in a small room in an old, almost deserted dormitory, not even my room, merely an unused backroom with no immediate purpose. Bit by bit, the colors and light of dawn crossed the treetops and worked through the panes no one saw fit to clean, and I waited for the revelation or the call to battle. Perhaps I should act. The car would probably make it there, and I still had time, hardly a hundred miles to drive.
Perhaps I could go past all reason and somehow rent a white horse so I could ride into the church so dramatically that no one could turn me away. Of course, given my limited experience on horseback, I would probably fall off and rather ruin the effect. Or perhaps the horse would give in to its nature and leave a tithing going up the aisle. That might not be so bad in some respects, symbolic at least. But through a quirk in the universe the wedding was taking place in my hometown, not hers, and the family already tells enough stories about things I've done. I didn't need the whole town getting in on the act.
Dawn became early morning, bright and clear, and utterly without a revelation to impart. The wedding, I guess, went as planned, and eventually I went to sleep. It was entirely anticlimactic. Since then I've had a variety of revelations, including a repeat of a sixth grade revelation to remind me of my direction and purpose, and I've launched battles won, battles lost. Still, not one has come at dawn.
I've seen many dawns, taken many walks, still many at night plus one down the aisle. I remain fond of the night, fonder still of dawn, and I revel in the revelations that come, still kick and squabble too much with some that don't. In my head full of rooms and windows, roads and doors, I still look out through those same dirty panes. There are some major experiences that I don't remember nearly as well as perhaps I should, and the total gaps are numerous since we can't be bothered with consciously remembering everything. Like most people, I have a list of times when I should have acted and didn't, and there's the list of times I should have kept my mouth shut and didn't.
What makes this memory somewhat odd is that I probably did all I could at that point, simply walk, watch, and wait, but the night remains filled with power, a potent symbol that is strangely more positive and more powerful as time passes. Perhaps this is my variation on the mid-life crises since a red sports car is financially out of the question. In theory, I understand the matter quite well. It's in practice that the answers become hazy and problematic.
As Robert Frost knew well, we never discover what would have been down the road not taken, only the road we choose, and perhaps it doesn't really matter whether or not we take the road well-traveled so much as whether we travel it well. There's the rub again. What does it really mean to travel it well? Do we pick between Rambo and Prufrock, or do we somehow embrace, embody, and otherwise integrate those two and others? There's a time for action and a time to wait, but is there also a time for neither, a time to let the moment pass utterly untouched, a null decision?
Dawn does not always come to us easily or with the answers we want, but at least dawn comes whether we act or wait or wonder, and that means we can continue to tell our story, still live in a world of possibilities. I still read the stories and watch the movies where dawn makes an entrance and a difference, and I'm still an over the top, if somewhat worn, romantic idealist. I still believe that someday, my "Eureka!" and dawn will get their timing right. Of course, it will probably be overcast that day, but the universe and I have come to share a sense of irony, so I'll probably write the revelation down, chuckle a little about the absurdity, and go take a nap. After all, it's a long story with more turns than the West Virginia roads I grew up with, so I'm going to need some rest.
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Writing and Education
Four Meanings of Life
Godot and the Great Pumpkin
A Major is More Minor Than
The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)
Thoughts About Picking a Major
Quick Points About Education
Quick Points About Writing
Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching
Using an Audience
What Makes a Story True?
What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)
Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)
Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma
Links to Other Sites
Other Essays and Poetry
Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume
Alec Kirby, Memories of an Earnest Imp
Being Like Children
Beyond the Genes (Dad)
The Blessing and the Blues
Bookin' Down Brown Street
The Cat With a Bucket List
David and the Revelation
The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)
Getting a Clue
Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone
The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices
I Believe in Capra
The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake
Roto, Rooter and the Drainy Day
Sadie on the Bridge
Trumpet Player, USDA Approved
The Poetry Process
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