Friday, August 31, 2012

the life inside a day

Saint-Séverin, Robert Delauney

I once remarked to myself that sleep deprivation is like a ticket to a very interesting state of mind. (Actually, I think I remarked that about NaNoWriMo, but they're basically the same thing.) Today I was given opportunity to explore said remark. It held true.
        The day began approximately four and a half hours before it ought to have, with one of those frenzies of the sleeping mind that wake one up but seem impossible to totally wake from. My mind was forcing me through a sort of assembly-line algorithm of the world, a wordless web like whip-driven clock-work welded together from the worst bits of rote calculation, mercilessly logical argumentation, and desperate politicking. I was inside a sickly-red-green-colored problem, working frantically to solve it, to line up things that ought to be lined and stick this here and that there, all at a terrible pace and with no solution in sight. My eyes opened. I groaned. I got a drink. I tried to shake myself free from the insidious tangle. I looked at the clock. It was 2:15. At least I had four more hours to sleep.
        I tried to fill my head with organic things-- trees and the ocean and sunshine, perhaps. Sleep was still thick around me, and I struggled to clear the fog without dispersing it, to fend off the monsters in my head while still in my mental pajamas, to wake from the nightmare but not from sleep. Not long after, the half-conscious crescendo of a bit of music found its way to me like the wet nose of a snuffly dog through the covers. I listened for a while as it pulled me slowly to the surface, where I realized it was my clock radio. The second, no-nonsense, instant-adrenaline alarm that sounded a few minutes later snapped me out of my drowse.
        The day began with Bible study and a mug of rich-brewed coffee. After this auspicious beginning, however, the punches started coming. First class of the day: Humane Letters. After an also-tired struggle yesterday to collect and express my own thoughts in discussion while tracking with the conversation as a whole, and being... helped in that attempt by the, er-- smack-downs of a teacher whose similarity to myself is going to be a good iron-on-iron sort of thing (but whose humor and intelligence will make it work), I was seriously worried about how today would go. Would I again trip into the humorless force with which I waged my wordy (and subsequently silent) war the day before? I engaged a friend to signal if drastic cut-off was needed, but, miraculously, it wasn't. When I spoke, which was less often than I'd feared, it made decent sense, and such necessary confrontations as arose over Augustine's treatment of sin and free will were handled with rather more grace than of yore.
         So passed the first two hours.
         Nearly the whole time, though, still, I was back on roller coasters in my mind, walking in a sort of waking (and happily un-sinister) version of my mechanical nightmare, a tangle of brightly colored, ultra-sharp, hyper-speed observations flinging themselves to my notice, whizzing past bearing carloads of noisy possibilities.
         Lunch was a welcome oasis. I thank my friends for unasked questions, yes-or-no questions, and forgiving unanswered ones. Three of us went outside and laid on a hill. Here, sweetly, I was in the real world: grass beneath me, sky above me, sun warming, breeze cooling, and gravity doing all the work. The garish colors were gone and I could close my eyes and just be where my body was, resting.
         Next was French and that, somehow, I knew I could handle. No one expected me to express complex thoughts--or anything in coherent words--and the tactile stimulation of listening and repeating and rolling soft French r's promised (and delivered) the happy occupation of an hour.
         Math was an hour of digging through mechanical mazes of exponents, but as the threads consistently untangled into neat piles, it was the antidote to the Tartaran, never-ending dream.
         I finished my left-over lunch after school, leaning against my open locker door and devolving into fits of helpless laughter (never was a cliché  more aptly applied) over nothings with one of my companions-on-the-lunchtime-hill, as chum after cheery chum walked past and bade us good weekend.
         The drive home was organized and classically musicked. When I got home I did nearly all my homework immediately. I read Anne of Green Gables to my little sisters before they went to bed, and lingered to chat in a pleasant and sisterly manner.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
-Robert Frost

        When my unfathomable Father is writing the story, not a day is wasted. In days of weakness, he teaches me dependence. In days of brainlessness, he reminds me not to take sanity for granted. In technicolor glimpses of a more textured and untethered imagination, he reminds me how big and deep this world is, and how much yet bigger and deeper is He.

        As I said to my mom at supper, it was a weird day; it was a bewildering day; but it wasn't a bad day.
        It was a ride on a rickety roller coaster. And, thanks be to God, a lot of my friends had tickets, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

type, O Writer.

I bought a typewriter a week ago last Saturday. A lovely older couple was selling their 1950s Royal Aristocrat for a modest sum on Craigslist, and my mother and I tromped out to their pleasant suburb to snatch it up. A few things I noticed immediately upon bringing it home: It is very heavy. It is very loud. It wafts a musty scent. It is sublime.
     To give you an idea of the effect this most mechanical of machines has had on me, I now quote from the first serious piece of writing I composed within its metal jaws:

So began a (thus far, brief) sort of ongoing chronicle--one of varying purport and often interspersed with absurdly long excerpts from my weathered red dictionary, each successive sentence serving me up dizzying possibilities for the next one, until I would dig myself into a pit of wordy nonsense, from which it would have been impossible to dig myself out again, if it weren't for the fact that no one was listening who didn't live in my head, and all I really had to do was notch the paper up a line and move on. When I sit before the petite grey-iron beast, I never feel short of words. There are all the letters, sitting there in front of me on their smooth green keys, positively pleading to be arranged and rearranged, plucked and plopped together into acrobatic routines of verbiage and sense.
    Oh, dear.
    It's been a wordy summer. I've read and written absurd and refreshing amounts, making up for the relative silence of my unschooled seclusion. The one book I must mention is a very long one, in an abridged edition of which I have gnawed a scarcely respectable chunk. I discovered this book via another book, which is often the way these things happen. H. L. Mencken was an American newspaper man during the first half of the twentieth century whose witty criticisms found their way into William Bennet's America, the Last Best Hope, vol. II, and so into my consciousness. I promptly--oh, the blessed public library--acquired some of his other writings, and became engrossed in the early chapters of The American Language: The Fourth Edition and the Two Supplements of the classic study of American English, abridged, with annotations and new material, by Raven I. McDavid, Jr. with the assistance of David W. Maurer. Here is a book that plunged me into a new world, as Terence Conran's Design did years ago, and has affected my eyes and ears. I had no idea that the divergence of American English from English English bore so much baggage and contention! Here are reams of undiscovered rantings, lodes of angst and amusement that I'd hardly known existed in my country's history, facets of my native tongue I'd never stood far enough away from to notice! Blurred lines of parts of speech, suffixes galore, cliche, idiom, mistransliteration, accident, coincidence, Latinization, de-Latinization, scholarship and slang-- the language of our land is as much of a melting pot as our culture. Which, of course, only makes sense.