Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Dense fog warning.  That’s the “special weather statement” through the late night to mid-morning.  That’s the Special Whether Warning—whether or not the light will get through.

Yesterday’s special insight flashed by so fast, unplanned, of course, for how else would in-sight appear.  It must be like the apparitions at the peripheral edge, creatures not especially shy, but insistent on special sight, demanding an attention worthy of gold.

I did allow the fragment to voice.  For she first flitted by pretty inarticulate, in the dark drive to work, light rain falling.  Driving well in advance of the morning rush, my mind rehearsed the tale of “Golden Water,”* the feature for class a few hours away.  (See footnote for background on the story.)  As brainwaves carried recollections and associative connections, the frame of Alf Layla Wa-Layla, also known as A Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights, brought in the wonder about Shahrazad, more about the Sultan who put to death each previous night’s wife.  Ah, yes: the monstrous opportunity.  That’s the genie in the bottle.  Oh, right—the cynical voice tosses aside genies and reaches instead for the alcoholic beverage or an equivalent tranquilizer.

But if we stay sober enough, focused enough, we can look into the twilight zone, into the fiction for the true.  When a story gifts us with a shock that says “outrageous!” we have the whether-warning: whether we can enter the symbolic space that makes new meaning or not.  Most times, it’s not.  The opportunity gets shelved until we make time and space to wonder.  And life easily fills with distractions, the “news” that’s really not enlightening, the shows that are only showy, superficial.

Consider taking a wonder off the shelf.  Like this one about the Sultan & Shahrazad, like the Genie in the bottle; for the bottle can be seen as holding our insatiable soul  and “the killing of spirit is happening every day,” not just in fairytales.  Teaching stories invite us to wonder about the Sultan-Shahrazad drama inside us.  The quotation marks just above mark what I said in class., but don’t worry—it zipped right over the heads of all of us, including mine.  After all, it’s not something that will be on the test.  Ha!

I wonder.

And if I wonder long enough, asking for more than the temporary fixes, the spirit in the bottle bubbles up with the effervescent proof that the water of life is no fairy tale; the Golden Water story tells the truth.  The truth about hiding in Bud Light, about lies forthcoming in the Big Debate, about undecided voters who ask for falsehood rather than look at the costs of war, of big oil, of choosing clan and comfort and certainty over the flickering scary conscience. 

The Sultan woke up from his living-nightmare after hearing enough stories, after living with love, after passage through the underworld and coming out anew.  The renewal we want comes in shedding the caterpillar skin of egomania into a radical realization of our interconnections.  See—that doesn’t even sound like news; we’ve heard similar words before.  Perhaps what we haven’t realized, like the Sultan, is that we have more than newsprint; we already have children.  Shahrazad has borne them; but like the Sultan in “Golden Water,” we don’t see what’s right before our eyes.

Our litany of stories hold secrets about the gold in life, and when we wake up from living the nightmare, we’ll see them.  Well, we may have to enact them, but the creative insight is already here.  This resonance we’ve worked for gives the glimpse of magnetic light; in order to “get it” we have to articulate, to view from multiple angles, to gain perspective.  Rilke** likens this to circling round the ancient tower, at least his poem helps me fancy a way to take a next step from sensing resonance (no mean task in itself) to personal enactment and that probably means also social identity, in other words: peace and justice.

* Google Books has a record of Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp 1887 that tells of Galland’s hearing the story of the “Two Sisters who Envied their Younger Sister” [the basis for McCaleb’s “Golden Water”] (May 29, 1709) as recorded in Galland’s diary and “The Enchanted Horse”(May 22, 1709) from “a Maronite scholar by name of Youhenna Diab, who had been brought from Aleppo to Paris by Paul Lucas, the celebrated traveler and with whom he evidently at once broached the question of the Nights, probably complaining to him of the difficulty (or rather impossibility) of obtaining a perfect copy of the work; whereupon Hanna (as he always calls him) appears to have volunteered to help him to fill the lacune by furnishing him with suitable Oriental stories for translation in the same style as those already rendered by him and then and there (says Galland) ‘told me some very fine Arabian tales, which he promised to put into writing for me.’”  p. xiii-xix
Hanna did not write out the two noted but Galland “composed the five remaining tales contained in his eleventh and twelfth volumes (i.e. Ali Baba, Ali Cogia, The Enchanted Horse, Prince Ahmed and Pari Banou and the Two Sisters who envied their (p. xxi) younger Sister,) upon the details therof taken down from Hanna’s lips and by the aid of copious summaries made at the time.” xxii

“The genius of the Nights and the secret of their appeal lie in their reconciliation of opposites.  Whether they are fables, fairy tales, romances, or comic as well as historical anecdotes, they interweave the unusual, the extraordinary, the marvelous, and the supernatural into the fabric of everyday life, in which both the usual incidents and the extraordinary coincidences are but the warp and weft of divine Providence, a fabric in which the sacred and profane meet.  Their meeting place is in the details—the unabashed, straightforward, matter-of-fact details that secure the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief and open the way to a mysterious yet immediate world of wonder and wish fulfillment.” p. xvi (Husain Haddawy, The Arabian Nights II, Norton, 1995).

**  “I live my life in growing orbits. . .” p. 13 in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Robert Bly.

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