Friday, July 29, 2011
A story in three words
It doesn't take a paragraph for you to see the sorry road ahead. You can point to the moment when illusion triumphed over the clear knowledge of throwing it all away and seemed like a reasonable option. "Took up with..." guarantees folly. If one has a first step on the road to hell, these words are surely etched there. There is little chance that taking up with will end well. Once we hear that James Taylor's Millworker "...took up with a no-good millworking man from Massachusette..." we know not to hold our breath for triumph.
A snippet from Google: Interesting Facts about World Writers ... Catholic mother's death, James Joyce took up with a chambermaid, Nora Barnacle. ...
It may be that we only take up with someone during a fugue episode or a failure of self-esteem or a reckless lack of caring about the future, even as close as tomorrow. The whole noir genre is fueled by bad ideas which often involve being dazzled, seduced, misled, fast-talked or come-hithered into dangerous liaisons with persons of the opposite, though not exclusively, gender.
But I suspect - though it could be, by loose definition, a bewitching - some of us have been sent into the world with key mechanisms in less than good working order. There is no difference between having arrived on earth that way or having been substantially, almost fatally, altered by circumstances of abuse, neglect, trauma or loss. Bad experiences turn some of us cautious and others of us indifferent.
When I thought of the phrase as one which has not been replaced, let alone improved upon over possibly a few centuries, give or take, I wanted to throw my arms around it as a model of verbal shorthand. If I sat and pondered, and my pondering skills right now seem at low ebb, I could possibly list other examples as succinct as these three words, but possibly not.
We will leave it that it is not only as a student of fiction that I know the nuances of "took up with." Short term, longer term, being the taker or the, very seldom, one hopes, takee, this is life as an object lesson. When your parents, who played a significant part in the origins of such heedless behavior, point you out to younger siblings as the creature they do NOT want to grow up to be, the cycle of defeat is nearly concluded.
But what surprises life holds, what redemptive nets somehow appear beneath our most dizzying falls. That some of us survive our worst ideas, or complete absence of ideas, is surely miraculous. I am ever drawn to tales of rebirth and transformation, of what was lost being found, the missing restored, what was broken repaired. Whether I escaped through luck or providence, I know how close I came to being trapped by all those words foretell. When I read or hear them, I know to cross my fingers and wish for good sense or rescue to arrive in time.