Saturday, June 23, 2012

Head in the Clouds

How many dear readers spent lazy summer days as children watching billowing clouds pass by, and identifying animals and objects in their morphing presence?

How many dear readers continue this practice?

I occasionally spy a bird or a plane or elephant or, much more rarely, a country or continent (ahem, yes, I am a geek). Spotting those are always treats: veritable pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. It's as if the gods are paying fleeting homage to earthly constructs.

Summer surely invites fantasy, for our minds are about the only thing active when the body is oppressed by heat and humidity. Hence we adults find refuge in our juvenile antics.

Something about the "game" is suspect in my mind, however. What does it signify?  Is it really an exercise in imagination and fantasy? Or does it simply compel us to impose upon the world available, existing constructs?  Are we hence locked into the same patterns of behavior, confined by the same constructs, inhibited by the same shapes, wed to the same styles? Are our language, our thought, our conceptual categories preconditioned and arrested?  In the clouds do we not see alternative universes and modes of being--or are we enjoined (and condemned) to recreate ad infinitum that which have come to know?

Our course, the "rules of the game" dictate that we "see" existing categories and concepts and shapes and things into those clouds, and so the act of reading them onto those amorphous, ever-mutable entities is by definition one tethered to our human experience: not possible experience, but existing experience.

Yet the game teaches us how to see; it teaches us to see. How many times did we need to explain to our friends as we lay on our backs staring into the sky how we saw what we saw, and how many times did they need to reciprocate? The "a-ha!"  or "lightbulb" moment was always a thrilling one, and remains so.  Perhaps it is that latent creativity of sight, of interpretation, and the sharing of those multiple interpretations that fragment, however minutely so, all those available, existing constructs and modes and patterns in ways that inevitably help emancipate us from them.

Sometimes we just need to be less beholden to that which we have come to know in order to imagine alternative futures--all the while keeping in mind that those alternative futures are always borne from existing orders. There is continuity, and must be, between the various orders of our existence. (Could it be that I channel less Karl Marx and more Edmund Burke?!) I sometimes see morphing configurations of land in the clouds, millennia passing by in a matter of seconds, as inner lakes disappear when land masses collide, and continents are violently ripped apart. I see things I cannot identify--precisely because our conceptual languages do not yet contain their possible existence.

When I look at the clumps of flowers on Nandina, a.k.a. Heavenly Bamboo, or Oak Leaf Hydrangea, I can't help but think of ice cream cones and my summer ice cream parlor job about which I wrote a long while ago. I strain to find any other shape or concept or language in them. Perhaps grapes.

Yet I photographically traced their morphing shapes, their growth, for this is what biological life dictates: seasonally, it is a linear process.

Yet perennially, it is a cycle.

See?  It's all about how we see, and the frames and optics through which we see.

We simply need to learn how to so.

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