‘The spirit comes to guide me in my need, I write: “In the beginning was the deed.”‘
That’s a quote, as best I can remember it, from the first few pages of Faust, Part One. It’s one of those things you carry around with you for years, decades, a lifetime. You turn it over in the bean, mull over it periodically, mainly because it accords with something struggling to rise up from inside.
Here’s another, which I’ve already had occasion to use, but what worlds of Truth lie simmering in its seemingly trite brevity!
“Thought is the distance between the desire to act and the act itself.” Again, that’s as best I can remember it. The book is Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson. There’s a copy down at the Cafe and one upstairs on my shelf, but I’ve no intention of checking whether or not the words are accurate. What would be the point? That’s simply how I remember it.
A distance between the desire to act and the act itself? I’m contemplating that distance in regards to how we go about learning something, on an individual as well as communal level.
For seven years now I’ve enjoyed the privilege of watching my son learn, primarily through play. From physical dexterity to walking to learning to talk and learning to read, it has all been built upon a foundation of play. To this day my wife and I marvel at how and when he actually did learned to read. It was as if one day something clicked and it was just there. Very little to no instruction, though lots of books, and then Bango! he was reading.
And soccer, for his age and diminutive size he’s consistently one of the better players on the field. Did I teach him anything? Not that I remember. But what does a father do with a child when television isn’t an option? Why not kick around a little ball? How many hours of play that little ball afforded!
I’m ruminating on learning as the flower of play.
Years ago now, sometime after leaving university sciences, after beginning my journey into the world of books, after first stumbling upon the Omphalos Cafe, I foolishly thought to return to the classroom in the Liberal Arts. Literature, History, Philosophy, Art, everything I was reading on my own. However, It didn’t take long to realize my mistake.
They did take me to New York City for the first time though, I’ll grant them that. I walked everywhere. Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. The Central Library and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where I sat watching a wedding. I jogged the Park in the morning, that’s what New Yorkers do, don’t they? Everywhere I went I met people. And everywhere I went I was carrying a can of beer in a jacket pocket. The Metropolitan Museum and the opera at night, where I missed the first half drinking in a bar across the street from the Lincoln Center. Inside, I cracked open another pocket beer in the upper tier and after ten minutes needed to pee. That was it for me. But what to do? Why not go see the Statue of Liberty? A subway ride and fifty cents got me on the Statten Island Ferry. I fell into conversation with an African-American (God I hate that correct way of putting it—a black man.) When I showed him my opera ticket stub he said: “Man, I go there to rob people!”
Later, back at the hotel, he and I are scrounging for money to buy another six pack. It’s two in the morning and my classmates are sitting around the rooms with a few professors discussing culture and literature and art. Naturally all my female classmates are beautiful and they are pairing off with the guys. I am a drunken oaf, a clod, unsophisticated, and I read the wrong books. My new found friend chucks Fiona, the coldest, most sophisticated, under the chin, purring “Ooh, Fiona!”. The look of aggrieved revulsion on her face is priceless. Roaring with laughter, we head back down to the street.
A week or two later I know I’m done with the classroom. Whatever I needed to learn wasn’t there, it was out in the world. The last day I sit right up next to the professor. It’s a conference table and he must be wondering what the hell is going on. “You pipsqueak,” I’m thinking. “You pencil neck,” filled as I am with love for the ladies and loathing for everything else. His comments in the margin of our papers are chicken scratch. His words are chicken scratch. “Can anybody tell me if this guy ever finishes a sentence?” I would ask my classmates. They’d say stuff like “but he must be very smart.”
So as I said, the class begins with the professor’s stammering blather. Right next to him I’m reading a book, I forget which but it had nothing to do with his course. Ten minutes in, just when he seems to be getting a head of steam, I make a big show of closing up my bookmarked volume, neatly stacking my things, stowing my pen in my pocket, deftly pushing back the chair, standing up, rearranging the chair beneath the table, and wordlessly walking out on his class and school in general.
Thought as the distance between the desire to act and the act itself?
I guess some of us just can’t be taught.