Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer Vacations, Part Two

Summer Vacations, Part Two

Cove in Summer
Vacation from an American Dream
Vacations can be dangerous. Vacations are marked by degrees of departure from everyday routines, routines about which most of us nurture a gnawing hunger to escape.

Type TGIF, short for Thank God it’s Friday, into a Google search and four and a half million hits pop up instantly, many of them involving a popular restaurant chain and others referring to what ABC television once called it’s Friday night line up.

That pervasiveness is possible because so many of us spend entire weeks hankering to get out of whatever it is we’re doing. We even call Wednesday “hump day” because we’re halfway there. Vacations are accented versions of culturally embedded escapism.

What does it say about us that a persistent cultural desire is to get away from ourselves or, more accurately, the costumed selves we put on to fit in the communities we’ve built, to get into a bottle of beer, to sleep a little more, to take our dogs on longer walks? Why is pleasure the exception, not the rule? What are we building here?

We build structures separation tells us we need. The beams and scaffolding may be moral, social and vocational, of any material available. Wood and metal aren’t necessary when fear and inhibition do just as well.

We put up frames that hold us back from the steady gravity of nature. Some look like churches, some like Big Blue’s headquarters in Westchester County. Others don’t look at all, but invisibly are. Manners and customs vary, but they exist mainly to patrol the distance between us and the lush, less predictable lands of our animal cousins.

Avoiding Ultimate Reality

When I managed a crew cleaning buildings, the public areas set apart by dubbing them “restrooms” were the most sensitive. Not only did these tile and porcelain echo chambers need to be visually cleaner and more odor free than others, they also had to be closed off for servicing.

My crew could roll through office spaces with vacuums and dust cloths or swirl buffing machines in a hallway any time, but the restrooms had to be first on the schedule, before most of the workers arrived. One memorable woman foiled us occasionally by bursting through a closed off entrance, singing, “Nature’s calling,” before settling over porcelain in a dim area behind a swinging door. Nature does much more calling than that. We deny it when we can and paste up wallpaper when we can’t.

Sex is a good example.

Why Sex?

If you spend a significant segment of your waking life developing ideas and observations to write about, you probably ramble through the curiosity of our resistance to sex for what it is. Sex, simply put, is what happens between people who are driven by anticipation of its well-known pleasures to do what humans and many other species do when they create babies.

Only speculation is available for explaining the evolutionary leap we took into separate sexes that screw themselves together for continuing the species, but a certainty exists that we didn’t initially know the ultimate reason for doing it any more than we knew why we chewed grass or meat off bones. The distance between the act and it’s occasional result was too remote in a reality dominated by now.

So, who needed a reason? Really, do we even today?

Reasons are for later. Nature called and keeps calling. Men and women merged and came away happy. Well, mostly men came away happy, but being bigger and stronger, it was their turn to drive. Enough time elapsed between the conjugal event, the “humping,” as some prehistoric guys I grew up with called it, and a result that probably took centuries before some early Einstein connected the dots.

One plus one eventually got three, but only some of the time. The idea that, modern exceptions aside, we must plunge temporarily stiffened parts of men into lubricated parts of women for a community purpose must’ve been a tough sell. Selfish acts promoted as communal altruism always are. Lust can loose its spice when it becomes good for the team.

Hanson, Pamela
35.375 in. x 26.25 in.

Children are still told bizarre stories about the creation of babies by lazy, reluctant parents. Days can be wasted speculating about the origins of weird tales about storks delivering infants to expectant mothers.

An uninhibited child might wonder why a bird bothered to provide uncompensated delivery services, but a civilized child, accustomed to people doing all sorts of things for ridiculous reasons, might see it as holding down a job, just like Dad. All that to distract us from openly knowing what we all know we do and what comes as a sometimes result. Keeping a distance from nature demands strange, unsatisfying acrobatics.

A main theme in evolution, a sort of schism that remains unresolved, may have put us on a difficult path, out on our own first limb, long before the dinosaurs or other creatures emerging from oceanic slime to crawl ashore.

An early event near the base of our evolutionary tree was cell division. Primitive communities of energy enclosed within lubricated skins multiplied by splitting into pairs, a favorable result because their DNA or whatever replicating device they had doubled. Made up of related individuals now, communities became complex and larger. Nature likes that and rewards it with a desire for more of the same.

So, Why Do We Have Sex?

The first dividing cell had a tremendous numerical advantage over those that stayed intact, and it’s progeny probably shared the proclivity by inheritance. You can run that string out in your imagination to the present day, but I’m getting at something else.

Is it possible–rather, isn’t it likely that the early separated cells felt a hollowness on departure, a sense of something missing, and might this, all this way down the road, explain our inherited confusion over love and sex and all those unoriginal songs about longing that saturate the airwaves?

A necessary carelessness in terms prevails. Primitive cells didn’t “feel” or “sense” anything in the way we know those words, but here was the genesis. A connection was broken. How does that play out, all these millions of years later? Our instincts tell us a broken connection has negative implications when, objectively, it has no such thing.

Snap a twig. Tear a piece of paper. You’ve broken something. Your innate comfort with things that are whole signals a need for repair. Put it back together. Fix it. If you can’t, then you may be on to how our most distant ancestors “felt.”

When that irresistible desire to return to an initial state showed its versatility by becoming the popular and world famous “urge to merge,” evolution set the stage for humping vertebrates and, among the separated from nature, love and marriage, our modern, cleaned up renditions.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand, in other words, was code sung nicely by mop heads we understood intuitively as teenagers. We all did, it seemed, before social changes made such sweet songs jejune. Nature pushes back, always.

Bahner, Bertram
22 in. x 18 in.

Of course, none of us are separated from nature in any true sense. The phrase is a convenience to describe a situation we believe to be true.

Our entrenched beliefs on the subject are about as practical as those of a cat imagining his cattiness sets him apart from everything else.

Cats may be individuals, but they are individuals seamlessly within nature, not dreaming about being parked outside of it. None have ever voluntarily put on costumes, for example, the imaginative efforts of pet merchandisers notwithstanding.

We’ve become less flexible within unsettled nature than cats. We hang on rigid frames.

Objectivity keeps telling us we’re not only separate, we’re supernaturally separate. All we need to be guided by that wisdom is ignorance, which is, happily, in plentiful supply.

 David Stone

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