Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Blank Pages & Telephone Poles

I enjoy blank-page days, when there is nothing that absolutely has to be done, no specific obligations to be filled, nowhere I have to be at a certain time. I’m writing this on such a day…a pensively overcast day during which snow is promised but is unlikely to be delivered. Even if it is, the prospect of the forecast 3-6 inches pales beside memories of snowfalls in northern Wisconsin which can easily bury a car to its hood. (One winter shortly before I left, a row of garages fronting the highway were completely buried under the combination of accumulated snowfall and drifts pushed up by passing snow plows.)

And very much like blanketing snowfalls, the beauty of blank page days doesn’t last very long. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, man seems incapable of leaving a blank sheet of paper or blank computer monitor blank. Just as we seem to have a compulsive need to get out there and leave our footprints in the snow, we seem driven to fill up any pristine white space with words with black squiggles and strokes to show we’ve been there. A blank-page day seldom stays blank very long, and having crammed as much into it as possible, we turn to the next blank page to repeat the process.

Looking back upon the reams and reams of my own once-blank-page days, now far more black than white, I sometimes wonder how many of them I would go back and either rewrite or erase if I could. Quite a few, I’m sure, and with far more rewrites than erasures. But unfortunately, time is a one-way street and we only move through it in one direction…physically, at least. (You may have noticed my fondness for metaphors and similes, which I tend to treat as ingredients in a tossed salad.)

The classic cliche of the forest and the trees is, however, apt here. We seem incapable of things clearly until they are past and cannot be changed. Perspective requires distance, which the state of “now” does not allow. The fact is, as—duck! Here comes another—that on the train of time, all seats face backward. Days, like telephone poles, fly past the window, and can only be seen in detail in the time between their passing by and their rapid retreat into the past.

It would be nice if we could take more time, with each blank page, to consider more carefully what we’re going to write on it, and the way we write it. But we don’t. And inevitably, as we look back on what we’ve written from the perspective of two or three intervening days or years, we too often tend to shake our heads and think “Now what in hell led me to say that?”…or “Why did I say it that way?”

We rush through our days as though we were being pursued, and then spend far too much precious time backtracking and either regretting what we’ve done or trying to redo them. A friend used to joke: “I always have to take you everywhere twice…the second time to apologize.” All too true, I fear. It’s the same way I feel about “Born Again” Christians: if they did it right the first time, once would be enough.

But we are seldom allowed—or allow ourselves—the time, opportunity, or the luxury, when faced with a new blank-page day, of preparing what we will write in advance. Life just comes upon us and zips past us by far too rapidly, like the telephone poles outside the train window. But it is to the credit of the human spirit that, even as we know we will not do so, we face each new blank-page day with the hope of writing something great, or at least of posting an interesting note on the passing poles.

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1 comment:

jean said...

This post gave me a lot to think about, Roger. I love the idea of a day being a blank page and this inspires me to "write" mine a bit more carefully.