Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Midway Upon The

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

- D. Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 1

* * *

Memory is not to be trusted. It swerves along slalom paths, gliding easily to deliver the exact shade of color to match one's mood, predisposition, unfailing belief that this is how it was, that this is what you did, this is what you learned, and is now what you carry with you as talisman or lodestone or albatross.

Eyewitness testimony is the feeblest because what is remembered is filtered by expectation, experience and the million unseen, automatic choices the mind makes in order to navigate the sensory world. Memory is shorthand only. The trials you suffered were real in the moment and are echoes in memory. You suffer them twice when the memory replaces reality. Your joys, the same. If memory cannot be trusted with the worst in your life, it cannot be trusted with what has brought you happiness either.

So, what then are the uses of memory? Is it only a self-soothing lullaby, or a Promethian wound that never heals?

For the fucked these are the two broad options, but there is a third use that does not apologize for memory's limitations regarding fact, but instead uses memory to describe the truth of a moment: memory is story.

* * *

Dante's "forest dark" in Italian is selva oscura: sybalent, foggy, thick. Is this not what it feels like when your life is fucked? Selva oscura is the challenge each of us face by sheer dint of being alive. Getting lost here is why we are here. For scores and scores and an infinitude of scores of people they don't recognize or acknowledge the selva oscura. Life unfolds for them in an orderly manner; they matriculate from point to point along their time line and end their days happy, or at least content, never noticing the difficult love all around them. Rituals of birth, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, career, decline and death are steady drumbeats. And those who live this way are blessed. Their desire never exceeds their grasp and they know nothing of the dark wood around them.

For others this tangle is all they know - their desire unmatched by ability or sacrifice. They have eyes that see, but hands that refuse to work, that fear it. These are our brothers and sisters in fuckedness. It is a half gift to know you are lost but lack the faith to embrace the journey. We want to be like the others: happily dozing in our graves.

Memory codifies and ossifies both versions of the selva oscura.

But there is a third answer.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

You can tell your story. You can be Dante. You can be Virgil. You can be as you are and use the memories you've accumulated to tell another story. There is an endless array, endless combinations available to you to use the stuff of your life to carve meaning out of the stone of your existence. The forest dark is not hell. It is your source material. It is quarry, motherlode. Treating it as anything other than the gift it is diminishes and fucks your life.

Hell is inaction.
Hell is indulging your fears.
Hell is denying the selva oscura.

Listen, you fuckhead, the forest dark is a grace beyond all telling for it is here your living is done.

* * *

Enough of your lip. Get to it.


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