“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
– Hannah Arendt
One morning before school, I sat crossed-legged against the wall outside my 4th grade classroom, no one else in sight. I’m not sure why I was there so early that day, but I do remember being very aware that everything was unusually quiet and still. I was waiting. For the other children to arrive. For my teacher to come and unlock the door — with one of keys on the lanyard around her neck — and welcome us to class. And while I waited for the familiar sights to return, I doodled other ones on a notebook in my lap. I traced shadow boxes around puffy stickers with my multi-colored click pen. Pink, click. Purple, click. Turquoise, click. Orange, click. I drew little daisies and 3-D boxes on the cover.
I looked up at the bright orange door to my classroom, not knowing what time it was or when someone else would arrive. I studied the peeling paint on the metal. I noticed that the orange color covered many other layers of colors. As I looked at the top-coat, I wondered about the color orange. “Orange,” I repeated the word over and over in my mind. Was the color I called orange the same color as other people saw when they looked at the same thing? Was my orange their blue? I wondered about colors and people. Then, I heard voices coming down the hall, and I gathered my things and stood up.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that such an experience — wondering if someone else perceived color in the same way I did — was fairly common (and that such an awareness of perception occurred most often right around the same age I was at the time). And, as it turns out, there’s a whole field of scientific research devoted to digging into this type of childhood wonderment. Perception, it seems, is at least as complicated as memory and always woven within the fabric of individual experiences and identities. Patterns and colors. Scars and stripes. There are whole fields of studies to dig into, to leave fallow. And so many people out there in those fields, forever harvesting the new.
As my son and I walked in the foggy April afternoon, we looked at the trees framing the road, pointing out to one another new colors. Newness even since the day before. Whites and yellows. Pinks and reds. All surrounded by a lot more green poking through…yet spring’s full brilliance still shaded by its early misty air. And I remembered last spring and being so excited about seeing our backyard in full bloom in May — the first time we had experienced the bright explosion of colors in this place since moving in after the peak bloom the previous year. Spring is a time for the senses. Everything is “in your face” — colors, smells, textures, sounds. You have to take them in.
We walked in light showers, and I felt that same intense awareness of presence as I had many years back exploring the peeling paint on the door, the moment all the while being captured by a filmy lens of new thought — the distinct “making of a memory” in real time. This time the scene back-lit by a soft-orange glow from the remembrance of things past and past and past. Layers and layers and layers, all colored over by the most present. Everything in that “just about” to spring forth moment. The buds before the blossoms — with all the springs, from all the times folded within. The showers before the flowers, as so often versed. We puddled jumped towards the park. Later, I would remember my favorite Frank O’Hara.
VLADIMIR: What do they say?
ESTRAGON: They talk about their lives.
VLADIMIR: To have lived is not enough for them.
ESTRAGON: They have to talk about it.
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
My mind has been lost in thoughts of words. Pages and pages of text. Remembering the texture of some pages under my fingers, missing it for others whose print will only scroll ever on a screen. I am already election weary. I am always so relieved to get back to the body. Yesterday morning, I loved the patterns of paint and nails on the warehouse ceiling in class, legs-up-the-wall. I absorbed the vibrations of sounds into my breath. The beautiful release of the backbends created space. I wondered about the destinies of Sanjaya and Pozzo. I thought about crossed lines. I remembered awakening in the dark in the small, college theater so many years ago. Arriving out of anesthesia so many times that I feared I wouldn’t. Memories mixed and folded into one another. Everything taken in, in turn. And then let go.
I texted Carlos, a brilliant friend of mine who’s a scientist, a too long, run-on question one night about the capacities and limits of the human mind, the intentions of scientific inquiry into discovering absolute truths, if science was only considered one lens we had to look through. I had a bad cold the night we were supposed to meet up when he was in town a few weeks ago, and I missed seeing him in person. I fell asleep and woke up to his answer the next morning.