Chicken Flight

Messing with my students’ heads, keeping it real or whatever it is you’d call what I do, I asked classes the following question:

Which of the 5 senses is the greatest threat/enemy to the illusion of time?

The answer, of course, is smell.

It hit me when I was walking down Bravo Murillo one night and listening to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse 5 on the Ipod. In the (audio) book, the author seems to milk the metaphor of memory as time travel enough to warrant the category of science fiction. To be fair, he does throw in some flying saucers and aliens, though sparsely. Vonnegut, like Frank McCourt and many other writers, puts a high premimum on personal experience —on memory —as fodder for fiction. It’s a good way to steer clear of the great common mound of cliché and rehash, if nothing else.

And there is a time travel element to remembering, to be sure. So it was kind of ironic that it hit me while I was mentally traveling along that particular narrative. My feet, meanwhile, were carrying me toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had won out amid several roughly equidistant competitors in a complex calculus of taste, price, healthiness (imagine the competition!) and portability (Metro eating, ideally).

The thing is, I’m walking and listening, minding my own business on a crowded Madrid street, when I must have caught a tiny whiff of that KFC chicken. Instantly, even before registering the smell, I was rocketed back to Shattuck and Virginia, in Berkeley, at the age of 8 or 9 –maybe even earlier –and to the KFC that used to be there. Though the space/time dimension of this teleportation was keen, overriding it was another feeling. Or rather a feelings mix. All in the same micro instant came a layering of feelings from several visits to that KFC, from many times and thus from no particular time. Continue reading

The Virtue of an Open Mind

Growing up in Berkeley in the 60s & 70s, a with-it young dude could hardly point to a more laudable trait than open-mindedness. It was as if all the previous generation (hip oldsters excepted) and their occasional brainwashed offspring had to do was shrug off the square traditions and prejudices that were the root of all evil, and everything would be possible: utopia, the Garden regained, the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to overstate the power of that open/closed-minded dichotomy, maybe the closest we came to a good vs. evil worldview. As a teen I lofted it up, or back, a couple of generations for consideration. My Kentucky grandmother exclaimed “Your mind is so open, sometimes I worry it’s gonna fall right out!”

I took that as a compliment, as far as I could grasp its metaphorical logic, or, if you will, get my mind around it. I later put it to my step-grandfather on the other side in some context like how good or important it was to find, perhaps at the university, equally open-minded friends. This had probably come to me as a sort of obvious litmus test. Jo, a conservative Republican whose past had led him from a Polish palatial childhood to a professional life in the biology lab, replied that as he saw it the real friends one found were not open-minded, but close-minded in the same way as you.

That sounded wrong, very even, at the time, as I took it to mean a kind of ideological partner in crime, someone sharing the same messed-up prejudices. Reflecting now though, I wonder if he wasn’t onto something.

After all, who is the most open-minded among us? Babies, certainly. But knowledge and experience gradually encroach upon that openness, and who would have it any other way?

Judgmentality gets a bad rap, while judgment is wisdom, just as we may seek to retain some child-like freshness without being childish. To what extent does glorifying open-mindedness amount to exalting intellectual immaturity, a kind of ignorance is bliss bs? To regain the garden then, but knowing what’s what.

Dreams, Pipedreams & Daydreams

or Growing up & Growing Old

Gotta love the lyrics on the Allman Bros’ classic Dreams, off their 1st album:

 Sometimes I hunger

for the dreams

I’ll never see

Who can’t relate (FF alert!) to that? And how cool a verb is hunger?

Then there’s the powerful line In Clint Eastwood’s late-era Oscar-winning Western The Unforgiven. When explaining to the young wannabe gunslinger that killing actually is a big deal, the seasoned Eastwood says something like: “When you take a man’s life, you take away all his dreams.”

Now it strikes me that there are different types of dreams, as everyone knows and as my title here suggests. Beyond the obvious awake/unconscious dichotomy, a line can be drawn between aspirational dreams and other ones. By aspirational, I mean those that we aspire to fulfill or reach —our goals, ambitions, etc. Daydreams, meanwhile, have the rap of mere free-time fillers, while pipedreams are daydreams mistaken for aspirational ones.

I’d like to see if this breakdown holds together once we break it down, however. Aspirational dreams are clearly definitional when it comes to humans. Art, technology, organized society itself can only germinate and have germinated from dream seeds. Indeed, the root of aspirational, like inspire and expire, has to do with breathing, with life itself.

But who’s to say that those other kinds of dreams are less life-sustaining? Can a person without a rich fantasy life be said to have a rich life at all? How can we discount the power of early fantasies in the later organization of one’s life, in terms of love, work and the rest? How many inventions originally spawn in the fertile clouds of daydreams? How few, or depressingly few if you prefer, of our aspirational dreams actually come to fruition as we grow old(er)? And does that lack of eventual reality (real eventuality?) make them any less life-sustaining? I’d say not, hence the power in the lines from The Unforgiven and Dreams.

Intro Ditties

Many of these ditties were originally used as dictated gapfills for my students. Some, like Dreams, turned out to be nearly impossible, even for the most advanced students. For notes on how texts like these might be used in class, please see the Intro in Gapfills. Meanwhile, I’m hoping some of these little snatches (resonant term?) will stand on their own without having to be bent into exercises and force-fed to captive audiences.