Catnapped and Doggone
Limitations. I really hate that word. I suppose I shouldn’t waste energy hating it since I’ve dismissed it from my vocabulary, both personal and professional. Limitations are nothing more than potential that hasn’t been reached yet. Maybe it’s hubris or one of the many delusions for which I have not yet received adequate pharmaceutical intervention but if I believed there were barricades to my ability, I’d just be looking for a shovel or a ladder or, let’s be honest, a Claymore mine. I’ll admit I’m not the only one who shares this correct point of view. If those two poets running the Oxford creative writing program saw all the places I can go instead of the road more travelled by, they wouldn’t keep rejecting my application. Instead of talking about these phantom limitations, I think it is much me more productive to talk about Yeats’ pilgrim soul -- the part of myself that has to go over the next hill, to push for something more, to relentlessly combat my so called limitations. I’ll call it Operation Literary Horizon.
Let’s start with poetry. It’s not a ploy to get those darn Brits to welcome me to the club and it’s not really about poetry at all. It’s about the resplendent lyricism with which some writer’s seem naturally gifted. Cadence, tempo, rhythm – the musicality of the well written paragraph, the three-dimensionally illuminated dreamscape. Ironically, it’s not Whitman or Dylan Thomas or even Ogden Nash with his stuck in your head Barney song poetry that sets the bar for me. For this I look to a translator. Seamus Heaney. Beowolf in translation. He didn’t even write it. It’s based on a centuries old myth with fantastical creatures and a cultural identity that is nearly unrelatable by today’s standards. Yet, he took the story, and staying true to the words, he wove (in a foreign language) an unmistakable patois around the ideas so the entirety reads like a symphony. It doesn’t matter that every word isn’t defined. It’s irrelevant that the historical context may be unknown to you. Read aloud, Beowolf not only makes sense, it becomes a song your heart can hear. That’s an upper rung I hope to reach.
Next up is history. Real history, not the one’s of fantasy or science fiction although I greatly admire the people who can start with nothing and reimagine everything with unnerving brilliance like that creepy George Orwell and 1984. For this not yet reached skill, I need look no further than our own Rebecca Cantrell and Kelli Stanley. First, Rebecca in Germany in the mid-thirties. I know what’s about to happen. You know what’s about to happen. Yet, we’re there with her. Feeling the Germans relief at resurrection from the devastation of the first war. Experiencing the Pied Piper who seems to be leading us out of the rat infested Hamlet to… It’s real. And to me, it helped generate more sympathy for the Germany that accepted the only hand up they were being offered. I can smell sausages and hear the guttural German in the alleyways and squares of Berlin. Even knowing how it turns out can’t keep me from wanting to cry out in warning. Add a few years of actual historical knowledge and a few thousand miles and you get Kelli’s 1940’s San Francisco. With its multi-cultural population and isolationist American political pull, it’s almost hard to imagine both Rebecca and Kelli’s worlds are near contemporaries. And yet, I can feel the salt air on my skin and see the woman already bucking the gender barricade. Miranda didn’t believe in limitations either. While I know what’s coming, the opportunity then the demand to return to stereotype, the seeing of the previously unseen migrant population and the fear that brings, I can’t stay in my living room when I can be there with them. Cheering, spitting mad or tensed in panic, living the real history on the pages of a book. Not a non-fiction recitation of facts or recounting of events, but the real history as taken in through the pores of imaginary characters. All I can say is these women have serious game and I want to be drafted into the league. Of course, to do so I must practice, practice, practice but that’s okay. It’s only a limitation if you can’t figure out a way around it or can’t see people on the other side of the fence so you know, deep in your heart, it’s possible.
Finally, there are the writers who tackle the important issues of the day and then go further. They aren’t reporting the news. They’re relating the issue and offering possible solutions. My old boss used to say don’t bring me a problem unless you’ve got an answer. Problems with no answers are a resource drain. But for the Mambisa Doyo’s of the world, you have to spend the intellectual capital to put together a plan. She wrote a book called Dead Aid about how America is actually undermining success in desperately poor countries by its foreign aid policies. This book had me thinking so much, I made a bunch of my smart friends read it so we could talk about what we could do. In her newest book, she discusses the economic mistakes the West is making that are contributing to the global financial meltdown. Then, she uses the last third of the book to give ideas (some of them crazy on the surface) that might reverse the trend. That is a woman with cojones and a sense of responsibility to a global community. Not all the writers tackling the big ideas are economists. Look at The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It’s a memoir. He didn’t just come up with an idea to bring electricity, and therefore education, to his village. He built the darn thing from the local dump then provided the world with the specifications for their own DIY world improvement project. Or there’s Eric Singer, a screenwriter who wrote The International. Debt as a warmongering lever. Given the number of conflicts going on today, the movie gave me chills. But the explanation of the behind the scenes world of international banking and the manipulation of global debt gave me enough insight to see what I didn’t know which is step one in figuring out what I need to know which leads to what I need to do. And Singer didn’t cut himself any slack. His protagonist tried something no one else had tried to address the issue. It didn’t work. Like many proposed solutions, you’ve got to be prepared for failure. It’s how we learn. So the prize here for me is to think bigger, imagine in 3-D and sneak an idea or two for positive change onto the pages of my writing. It will take all my little grey cells but it’s not out of reach.
In the end, unless I quit which, frankly isn’t in my DNA, nothing is beyond my limits. Or yours. Or anyone's.
Thanks for reading.