Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the daring mind


The mind woke up this morning and, like a hundred brittle leaves blown down some autumnal street, tap-danced and delighted in one direction and another, refusing to curl up in one cozy gutter or another ... just dancing further and further towards who-knows-where.

If I had to put a facile headline on it, I guess it would be "The Daring Mind." It's a facile headline because the line between daring and cowardice is, of itself, a cowardly notion.

Being behind the cultural curve as I am, last night was the first I had heard of "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie due out a week from Friday. I immediately went into the other room and announced to my younger son, who likes movies with guns and noise and manly men, that we were going to see it.

This place of daring
The movie centers on the American hunt for and assassination of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi whose one-man vision cost the United States billions and billions and billions of dollars. A "terrorist." An "enemy." An accredited "bad guy." A guy on whom the United States has painted its own colorful versions of "patriotism." Bin Laden was assassinated in 2011 and his body (if you believe this, I will sell you a bridge in Brooklyn) dumped in the Arabian Sea.

Anyway, I immediately wanted to see the movie after I heard it mentioned on TV. I did not want to see it for patriotic reasons. I did not want to see it for the pure action-adventure of it. I did not want to see it as a means of boosting my own versions of nationalist fervor. I wanted to see it because the movie was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the same woman who made "The Hurt Locker," the story of a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq. For as little as I know of her, Bigelow seems to be a woman daring enough to address the human substance of things instead of just rolling over and playing dead for an applauding, feel-good, or watch-me-be-depressed audience.

I don't really care what Bigelow's vision is. I care that she has the daring to try to present it ... to winkle out the truth that lies hidden... to address the frightening edges of things, where what is vile is also tender and what is tender is undeniably vile. Bigelow, in my mind, fits nicely on a shelf with other really nervy directors, as for example, Peter Weir in his early movies ("The Last Wave," for one)... people who test the waters where the seen and the unseen crash into each other, enfold each other, and make mincemeat of more convenient views ... it takes balls to go to the edge of that cliff ... and risk all ... and perhaps fail miserably in the attempt to transmit that  vision.

A daring mind.

Whether myth or fact makes no difference: Jesus was said to have walked into the desert alone. Alone for forty days and forty nights. Such a tale, for those inclined, may encourage the onlooker to slouch ever more comfortably on the pew of marvels. So much courage ... wish I could be that brave ... wish I could be that daring ... but since I am not and cannot, well, marveling is the next best option. Look what someone else did! Me, I've got to go to work, raise a family, and tussle with a hundred mundane worries. I have time to marvel now and then, to acclaim the daring, but ....

The trouble with marvels, of course, is that what is marvelously bright is allowed to overshadow and blot out a plain and mundane and mixed-message reality. Jesus was a bright hero. I'm no hero. I take consolation and encouragement from bright-light heroes, but ... well, don't tell me that a daring peek over my own cliff is a necessity; don't tell me I have to come to a place where, just this once, my own daring is all I've got. Don't -- please don't! -- tell me that everyone walks into the desert and that the premise of that effort might roughly be described as "fuck the marvels!" Just let me kick the can of belief and emotion and intellect down this endless road where others are similarly kicking the can. The desert is a lonely place, a place of death, a place of daring without reference points. If a (wo)man dares and there is no one to acknowledge that daring, is it any longer daring?

A daring mind.

The American writer Ernest Hemingway was a man who put himself in dangerous situations in an apparent effort to find grist for his writer's mill and, more important, as a means of reassuring himself that cowardice could be overcome. War, hunting wild animals -- he did a lot of that and, because these marvelous bits of daring were not quite convincing or compelling enough, ended up blowing his brains out. Daring only seems daring to those who shrink from daring.

At the southern-most tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego is a place where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet and clash and enfold each other. It is a land of fire, a land of ice, an untamed and ruthless and daring place. How many ships have traversed these waters? How many have been lost? Some, like me, write it off and adore it as a place of marvels. Jesus-Joseph-and-Mary! -- how about them apples?!

But as others must sail such irrepressible waters, so I think everyone, just once perhaps, must sail their own sea of daring, into the realms where what is vile is likewise tender and what is tender is likewise vile; where kicking the can that others provide is simply no longer and option; where the only thing worse than shaking death's outstretched hand is not-shaking that hand; where half-a-loaf is no longer better than none; where maintaining a safety net that dilutes every effort is ... at last ... intolerable.

A daring mind ... perhaps in a sip of coffee or a passing smile.

No ... more ... marvels!

No... more ... daring.

On the path, no path, that leads here.

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