Tuesday, April 5, 2011

riding the rails

The daring and curious and ranging mind cannot be expected to receive a warm welcome in a world that has its own fish to fry. And yet everyone has a daring and curious and ranging mind. How else would we explain the lock-down opinions and beliefs exhibited in one way or another?

In Washington on Friday, a 53-year-old woman attacked a painting by Paul Gaugin because, as she explained, the artist was "evil," the nudity displayed in the painting was "bad for the children," and the painting should be burned -- it was "homosexual."

The mindset may be brushed over by those who have busy lives to lead. Clearly the woman is deranged or crazed or ... well, her imputations made no very good sense or did not accord with a world that hangs Gaguin paintings in its prestigious galleries. Those with busy lives may pass by the story with a hope, perhaps, that there is a rubber room somewhere for such lunatic behavior. Clearly this was a mind that had gone off the rails.

Off the rails. Rails provide direction and destination and security for our lives. They run from Phoenix to Chicago, from childhood to old age, from one job to the next, from spiritual persuasion to vise-gripped cult and back again. The rails were laid with purpose and care. Destinations are important and there are better and worse ways of riding the rails.

Out the windows of the passenger car, the landscape zips by. Plains and towns and oil depots ... but this train, like others, is headed for our version of Chicago or Phoenix. Lots of people go to Chicago or Phoenix -- from one job to the next, from one opinion to the next ... it's human. And yet all of that landscape out the windows beckons. What if we went off the rails? What would that be like? Usually there is a willingness to cling to the rails: This is the best course, the safest course, the course that will not create a train wreck. And yet the landscape beckons and the heart and mind are aware of their own daring and curiosity and, perhaps, insanity. A few inches left or right and, voila! -- a train wreck or utterly new vistas.

I'm not saying that anyone might want to exercise the daring that might lead to a train wreck or some whirlpool of insanity. But I am saying that looking out the window and recognizing possibilities that are not limited by our chosen rails means that the rails we have chosen are likewise just possibilities. "Possible" means there are other possibilities and that the choices we have made are open to revision. And in the end, they are simply not that astoundingly important. Possible, yes; astounding or worth clutching in a death grip, no.

Carson McCullers wrote "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." What a good title. What a nutshell of observation. "Lonely" is such a challenging word as we ride the rails. No doubt it forms part of the epoxy that glues us all to our rails. The hunter is ranging and daring and quite at home. But "lonely" leads him down the beaten paths, the rails that others can applaud or at least not denigrate.

The hunter looks out the rail car window and in the distance sees ... well, anything at all. It is all possible, just like looking out the window and riding the rails. Sanity and insanity rest like lovers after a wondrous night, relaxed and breathing and ... just possible.


  1. If you are inclined to ALWAYS jump off the train and cause the proverbial train wreck . Then just once stay on the train and ride till it comes to a full stop . If on the other hand you always stay on the train , then just once jump off and go chase the possibility's in the distance . The trick is to keep learning .If you are inclined to be lonely or insane it won't matter what train you ride - because as you have said so many times before "where ever you go , there you are" Anita

  2. Great post.

    You may have turned me into a Carson McCullers fan. :)

  3. Yesterday while waiting for my meds at a local pharmacy I was accosted twice by a man in his late 20's or early 30's. He was extremely hyper and beside pacing manicly he would say something then laugh in an hysterical manner.

    The second time he did this I was consulting with the pharmacist and asked if his behavior might not warrant a phone call to the authorities to take him to a psych ward, but she was inclined to leave him alone and I deferred.

    "Crazy" people do crazy things and some of us react differently as to how to deal with the craziness. If I were the proprietor I would have or had a worker make the call. She said the he was somebody's child and did not want the police involved.

    But what happens when "normal" people do crazy things. You talk about a dementedly self righteous person getting derailed what she "got" out of that Gaugin. IMO the governor of Maine is crazier than the guy in the drugstore and the woman who attacked the Gaugin.

    See a version of that story here:
    Maine governor removes labor mural.

  4. IMO the governor of Maine is crazier than the guy in the drugstore and the woman who attacked the Gaugin.
    I don't know if crazy-crazier-craziest can be measured or compared, but the Maine governor does seem to have been sniffing glue or something.

  5. I believe it was attorney general Ashcroft who draped a sheet over the bared breasts of the justice statue, because nudity is offensive to god. Of course, this god didn't create us clothed and I wont argue that fashion is the province of a snake. But it does seem to me that a denial of life is an embracing of death, and that's pretty old testament stuff.

  6. The post and the excellent follow up comments remind me of a few things about exposed breasts and some American’s reaction to the infamous orbs. Bear in mind that an average night of US television leaves little to the imagination and yet the infamous super-bowl exposure (?) caused indignation at the highest level in Washington it was if one of the icons (American Saints!) on Mt. Rushmore had suddenly developed a penis, at eye level! The director of a recent movie (European naturally) of “The Merchant of Venice” was asked by a watchdog who authorizes films for viewing for grade 11/12 in some state high schools advised that unless the background frescoes (it was filmed in a 15th century Italian villa) showing nymph’s breasts were digitally blurred it wouldn’t be shown in the US schools. Oh yes American youth grade 11/12 students’ innate sensibilities must be protected at all costs. The Bard’s ideas of tolerance, greed, loyalty emulated in the play must be ignored as a 15th Century painted breast may, nay! IT WILL corrupt them…. WTF? Thankfully the director told them to get lost! When are we as a country going to grow up?