Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Primacy of Silence

I am rationalizing as fast as I can.  Without a goal, though, it's much like treading water, no rescue of self or others the end point, just lactic acid weighing down the legs and my uselessness made manifest by drowning.

At camp one summer, I qualified for the final exam in a Red Cross Certified Advanced Life Saving course. The elite bunch of us candidates were given instructions on what to wear.  Jeans, a leather belt, a button-up long sleeve shirt, a short-sleeved tee underneath, lace-up shoes, ankle-length socks, and a hat.  I remember how unspecified the hat seemed.  How color did not matter, how function trumped style.  We all had on, as a final layer and defense against pubescence, one-piece bathing suits.

It was early morning and there was fog on the camp lake.  We took our final exam off the end of a rickety pier.  The examiners seemed matronly, an odd remembrance, since I am sure they were not matronly. Maybe everyone looked a little heavy, given the extra layers we had piled on.

So all candidates jumped into the cool, slightly stinky pond water, and tread water for a specified time.  Then we were to take off the jeans, shirt, tee, belt, shoes, and socks.  I suppose we did something with the hats, but I cannot remember what.  Some of these items were to be transformed into flotation devices.  Some of them I saw fit to let drift to the slimy pond's bottom.  I lost points for giving up on my lace-up boots. Perhaps, if I had saved them and made it to an illusory desert island, they'd have supplied sustenance enough for the whole class, for a month, at least.

Then we showed off our proficiency by floating a bit, hanging on to those inflated blue jean legs, for example, or resting our heads on pouffed out tee shirts.

That's when I began to have cramps in my calves, as I was more treading water, still, than honestly floating with confident reliance on my deflated jeans.  Still wish I could visualize the hat.  I keep thinking that it was some sort of oddity, like an old lady's gardening helmet, and not what you'd expect, like a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.

I long ago decided that I was not going to trapped inside my family's predilection for silence, and its awful predatory and coercive ways of underscoring the primacy of silence.  This blog, every email I write, most of my conversations -- they all honor that long ago decision.  It comes off as narcissism, as a form of anti-socialism.  It reads as an inability to edit, not just my verbal production, but my private thoughts, as well.

I am reminded of how Rothko, Picasso, and many "unknown" artists would occasionally allow rancor under their skin, and be coerced into producing the finest of representational art, in some unexpected and banal medium.  To prove that they were classically trained.  To prove that they could draw intricacy like nobody's business.  They usually managed to achieve something reminiscent of the best boy or best girl in the final year of prestigious art school, a something or other to promote their impressive portfolio.  Especially fun are the naive artists, the primitives, when they break into some Parisian metro near-photographic pen-and-ink brilliance. Everyone feels secretly foolish after these displays.  "See, I can do what you think I cannot.  I simply choose not to, I choose another way.  Which I have now, of course, dirtied and demeaned for wont of proving this silly ability to you." We like to blame the other for our pricked pride, our mainlined production, our betrayal of ourselves.

My hat was of woven grass and had a plastic flower, something approximating a yellow mum without the fragrance.  I guess it was supposed to float up side down, and perhaps serve as repository for my boots, spare keys to our dorm, a cabin-without-a-lock, and my pyrography award plaques.  Next time, a fez, or a Stetson.

One of the instructor's had to save me, and she went all out -- "for the sake of demonstration," she whispered in my ear.  My chin ensconced in her palm, to both keep my head above the pond's water and to maintain control of my body, should I decide to panic and, as the drowning sometimes do, attempt to take my rescuer with me to my watery grave.  I am glad she did not decide on that scenario, as a firm grip on my hair would be the next step.

With a smart scissor kick and a modified side-stroke, she brought me successfully to shore, or, in reality, to the slimy ladder on the side of the pier.  I scrambled to my feet, and rejoined my classmates.

It wasn't an ego-destroying failure, but it stung.  Had I passed, I'd have been part of the group swim from the cordoned safe-swim area for all campers across the lake to wild waters and a very famous rope swing. As it was, I ate ice cream and watched two of my compatriots forget to let go of the rope whilst safely over open water. Ouch.

© 2013 L. Ryan

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