Cleaning the Pipes

“He awoke to the sound of a flood of tears washing away the banks of the river on which he’d drifted aimlessly for a lifetime.”

Salt water produces a loud chorus as it carves new channels in solid ground, unlike the gentle lullaby sung by fresh water. Now that’s a distinction he had never considered before: salt water versus fresh water. Why “fresh?” Why not “unsalted?” If unsalted water is fresh, is salt water stale? But I’ve allowed the thoughts ricocheting around my empty head to take me off track, haven’t I? My intent was to describe the dissolution of the banks of the river…no, it wasn’t. My intent is impossible to discern. The impetus for the words I interrupted so early on cannot be described in words. Only emotions can describe what we call emotional experience, but our only descriptive currency is language, so the effort to put into words an experience that is beyond words is fruitless. Yet tunes, songs, tones, noises, sounds…those things convey emotions as if they were water and strong feelings (my poor descriptor for that state of mind that we call emotion) were almost weightless mental rubble, the detritus of a shipwreck that wouldn’t exist without the fury of the waves.

The sound of salt water might be compared to a gasoline-powered chain saw, while I equate fresh water with the almost silent work of a finely-sharpened steel gouge in the hands of a skilled woodworker.  Again, though, I wonder, why “fresh?” That question will derail my attempts to explore and explain his awakening to the sound of tears eroding the banks of his life. When will I be able to set aside this invasive question long enough to address the water? Madness! That’s what it is. Madness robs us of the ability to differentiate salty tears from the distillate of life’s experiences. A poet with whom I’ve been modestly familiar for almost my entire life once wrote:

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.

Madness risen from hell. And so answers to unanswerable questions begin to form in the mind. Salt water swallows the banks of the river that once contained it in the same way tears over-top the emotional dams we construct to keep them at bay. There’s another opportunity to pursue a rabbit down a hole: why “keep them at bay” and not “keep them at inlet?” We chip away at dams until they collapse in a violent shudder, turning emotional rivers into oceans.

Some mornings cry out to be renamed mournings. I remember, when I first heard a teacher (or it may have been my mother) speak of O’Neill’s play, Mourning Becomes Electra. It seemed like nonsense to me; I heard “morning” and assumed “morning” turns into Electra. It’s odd that I remember that confusion and, for some reason, anger at the name of the play and I remember little else about it. I know I read it and I may have seen it on stage, though I doubt I saw the entire play on stage. I doubt I would have had the patience to endure it. I tried to plumb my memories of the play just now but failed, so I resorted to Google. I may have seen the film based on the play, but I doubt I saw the original film. I learned from Wikipedia that the original film ran more than three hours. So, it wasn’t any surprise to learn that it did poorly at the box office. It was a surprise, though, to learn that the filmakers edited the three-hour film down to 105 minutes. How could it have made any sense with so much of it torn from the original? I vaguely recalled that the play was a retelling of a Greek tragedy, but nothing beyond that vagueness. Only through this morning’s online education did I come to the recollection or new collection of knowledge that it was based on The Oresteia, by Aeschylus. I can say with definitive certainty (as opposed to doubtful certainty?) that I never read The Oresteia. Perhaps I should, though. Perhaps a reading of Greek tragedies would offer explanations unavailable in my limited experience. And here’s where the renaming comes in: some mornings reveal to me that I’ve lived my entire life without reading things readily available to me but which I judge as requiring more effort than they are worth. I mourn the fact that I did not come to the understanding early in life that humankind’s history offers lessons we would be well-advised to learn and to which we would be well-advised to pay heed.

Anyone who might read this incoherent screed will know that I’m in “random array mode,” that is to say I’m writing for the sake of transferring words from my brain to the screen. My fingers are merely tools controlled by a twelve-cylinder engine that’s running on two and a half cylinders. The excess fuel pumped into my internal combustion engine does not combust. Instead, it simply coats the valves and cylinders and such with oily residue. The residue stains my fingers and dulls my mind even more, resulting in a diatribe that merits only a half-sneer and a glance in the telephone directory at listings for “mental health professionals.”

I believe my pipes needed cleaning this morning, hence this unintelligible mist of frightful madness. Believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. Today’s randomness is not really random. It’s actually not even slightly random. But that is not to say it is cohesive, nor is it coherent to the casual observer. Thankfully, I am no casual observer. On the other hand, would that I were. One day, I may return to this apparent waste of words and spent energy and mine the bits of costume jewelry from the waste bins.

For now, though, it’s almost 7:30 a.m. and I am ready to enjoy eating what could have become baby chickens but didn’t and won’t.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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