August 2, 2016
"The poet is isolated among his contemporaries by truth and his art, but with this consolation in his pursuits, that they will draw all men sooner or later. For all men live by truth and stand in need of expression." From ... "The Poet", by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Journal Entry No. 1 - Of Mice and Melville
I have been thinking of late about the "consolation" in my pursuits and wondering whether it is real or imagined. Yesterday I leaned out the window of our loft to check. Except for an odd assortment of pine needles pushing and shoving near the doormat I saw nothing to suggest the need to rush out and purchase a take-a-ticket dispenser. Of contemporaries seeking my expression there were none. That tells me something, though I am not sure what.
I have no doubt that Ralph (few folks read Emerson anymore so those that do are entitled to a certain chumminess) had it right about poets being isolated. Don't mistake me. I do not mean to suggest that he equated isolation with loneliness. Not at all. Early on today's poet comes to the realization that the frontier he explores is as distant from settled America as the Rocky Mountains were from Thomas Jefferson. He learns to value his lot in life, which is pretty much that of a coyote yipping at the moon, though occasionally drifting into town to see what's up. Upon finding that what is up does not interest him much he will, after reminding folks that they live closer to the edge than they care to think, high-tail it back to the wilds where his lament may be heard most any night that you are not watching late night television.
Although Ralph and I agree more often than not it seems to me that his "sooner or later" is more plaintive than consolatory. The phrase suggests the inevitable, a word that to me has always seemed poor in solace. I find neither comfort nor satisfaction in the thought that one day Becky or one of my sons will read over my coffin something that I have written. There is no more obligatory audience than that which mourns.
Perhaps you begin to see the dilemma. All men need expression, yet the art of expression isolates. A gulf develops, or a least a divided highway if the engineers are allowed a say. How to get across? We return to the coyote.
The coyote is considerably more nervous than the wolf and thus can only take so much of the deep woods before things begin to close in. As suggested, howling helps, but it only carries so far. Pretty soon his voice begins to give out and he thinks, "The heck with this, I need to get a real job, or at least a drink." In short, the coyote becomes a commuter, a fact which should not be construed to mean that he has necessarily given up on isolation, as anyone who finds himself seated next to one on light rail can attest. As with the poet, he keeps his distance by taking it with him.
Now that we seem to find ourselves on mass transit it is probably not a bad time to let you know that we are about to set forth on a journey. I know that sounds like something you find in a fortune cookie dropped on your plate at the end of a full day but there is, at least, this to it. A fortune cookie smiles. (It will also frown but only if you are of a mind to turn it upside down, a pattern of behavior suggesting chronic, philosophic indigestion, a malady that Herman Melville, author of 'Moby Dick', assures us can always be cured by travel adventure providing a whale does not swallow you first, in which case Jonah, who was something of a pill, is generally prescribed though relief usually takes three days.
Although there are no whales where we are going do not let that stop you from worrying if you are dead set on it. You will be in good hands. Rather than Melville, who takes his brooding seriously and so can only be cured by a voyage around Cape Horn and into the jaws of the Pacific, we have Thoreau for a guide. Henry, though well if not as far traveled as Herman, will, at the first whiff of worry, strip down to his altogether and bathe in the first, cold stream that he comes to, leaving to God and temperature the shrinkage of whatever might be ailing him.
I like Henry. He is keen on observing, a craft he elevated to an art form and one that suffers so much during change that crowds. Listen for the space in his oft quoted but rarely heeded:
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats."
If that is not a call to the mouse in each of us to run out and enlist in something expansive then I have no idea what is.
Grouse (formerly RMW)