So Day One of Winter Break is probably not the best time to start planning next semester’s lessons, but I came across this poem by Rumi (it’s actually the beginning to a longer poem) and thought it might be a nice introduction to the selected readings for next semester since they involve worlds that are alternately mythic, old, and ineffably terrifying, (Homer, Shakespeare, Wiesel’s “Night”).
Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.
Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say ‘The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.
At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’
You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.
Listen to the answer.
There is no ‘other world’
I only know what I have experienced.
You must be hallucinating.
I was recently staying with one of my closest friends, Daymon. He lives in Seattle and he and I have enjoyed (and endured) many journeys together. We have been friends for over twenty-five years and when I look back on the time when we met (different Los Angeles) and the time when we lived together (different New York) and the time we spend together now (different Duncan, different Daymon), I encounter the ways in which we have changed and grown but also how the terrain, physical terrain, of the world that we have traveled across has changed too.
Daymon’s guest room, well-appointed and comfortable like a sanctuary, has a giant map rising above the head board of the bed. He actually has maps in different points throughout his house and although we’ve never discussed it, I assume that cartography is something that fascinates him. (At least I hope so because I’ve sent him a small book, an atlas, as a Christmas present and token of gratitude for the love and care that descends from him whenever I visit.) I started thinking about maps when I was last with him, in the aforementioned room. Maps used to frustrate me. All the unfolding (and I could never refold them properly so they began to fluff up like an ill-used accordion over time), all the spacial coordination (“it says that where we need to go is in section ‘G4’ but I can’t find it!”) all the land that was labelled and useless for whatever purpose the map has been opened for in the first place.
Maps traditionally represent adventure, treasures maps, “Heart of Darkness,” but freedom is also achieved cinematically and metaphorically when some character screams with excitement, “let’s just throw the map away!” I have never been intentionally adventurous in this way. I’m too much the planner, overly anxious about getting lost. Now, like most people, I just use electronic maps, smartphone-enabled apps, GPS devices, things that tell you the quickest route, the fastest way, the method that eliminates any and all territorial distractions. This is the “give and take” of modern technology. It gives you the convenience of surgical precision, but takes the remaining landscape away.
I’m about to embark on my third trip across the country by car. The last one was exactly thirty years ago, when I moved a friend from her home in Boston to my apartment building in LA. Now I’m moving my sister-in-law, from the home we currently share in LA, back to her childhood home in Philadelphia. She’s taking my nephew, her son, along with her. (He’s actually flying back east with my niece the day their mother and I hit the road with their collective belongings and two white hyenas dressed as dogs.) My nephew and I explored Alaska and Washington together along with my family, his cousins, our friends. I have taken him to soccer games and trips up the coast and we’ve jumped at more horror movies together than I can count. Since I’m sonless and he fatherless, our connection runs deeper than most uncles share with their nephews. Consequently, his departure will represent a considerable loss, one that I haven’t had the heart or the time to tally. It will represent new territory for me and I don’t have a map for that, physical, virtual, emotional.
“Life is a Journey!”
I hate that cliche; it’s both mawkish and glib simultaneously. Life is a series of journeys, sure, right, check, but the overarching journey comes to a dead end, literally and even when it’s mapped out, it’s unpredictable and you seldom end up where you intend. Life is uncharted and any map always proves unreliable. Still, I suppose the best way to understand uncharted territory is to chart it, so that’s what I’ll do. I’ll start a series of posts, of impressions, of the stops along the way from LA to Philadelphia. I don’t know what there is to write about in Oklahoma–it’s “undiscovered country” for me, unreal, one of Rumi’s embryo’s hallucinations–but I’ll give it a shot and share it here. Maybe there will be pictures too. I need some practice because I’m doing all of this again when Miles, my partner, and I go to Italy this summer prior to our wedding. (Now that I’ve done before, but the map my ex-wife and I shared will be useless for my marriage to come for all sorts of reasons.) For the upcoming Italian voyage, I’ve been studying maps, real maps, and trying to figure out what they mean and why so often I always read them upside down. I suppose you just set off in the direction the maps tells you to go and hope that whomever made it is better at creating them than you are at reading them.
I just hope where ever we end up, there won’t be any dragons.