Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Edifice, Complex. Stupor Mundi.

Today I got a polite e-mail from Scotland; my 8000-word essay was "too academic," "too hard" for the anthology under assembly. Not the first time nor will it be the last, but this editorial setback reminds me of what I have been learning lately, better late than never. Change is our only permanence.

I spent the better part of my free time last month on crafting it, after earlier months of diligent research and frequent percolation. My wife noticed that I tend towards what she also sees in her friend who's an award-winning architect: a drive to create that must shut out even loved ones in the midst of the completion of one's vision, the scaffolding erected and then, the structure in place, the taking down of the way we got up to such heights. The edifice, complex, must stand or fall on its own.

When I was growing up, the scanty adoption information told me that I was an architect's son; he'd been schooled on the East Coast. I imagined me the scion, if once removed, of some Ivy League (on Jeopardy the other night in a really difficult final question, I found out that the term had not been in print until the late date of 1935) bold visionary out of, I hoped, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin or the Gambles closer to home-- rather than some twisted Ayn Rand-Herman Kahn megalomaniac. While the enigma remains to date as to my maternal seminiferent (thanks Alexander Theroux, who once taught at Harvard, then at Yale for that helpful noun), I have been informed by a presumably primary informant that my father was no architect. More rejection lurks in my genetic past and her lived one. On the other hand, that gap in my begetting better explains my inherited lack of mathematical acumen, perhaps.

Layne also tells me, late relatively in our relationship-- as in twenty years in?-- that she has the hots for firemen (as does the married lesbian Margaret Cho), and architects. She says it has to do with a phallocentric (not her word choice, but when my friend Colleen once told me that my [gay, au courant] dissertation advisor once gushed about her dissertation as "non-phallocentric," I had to insert that giddy adjective) admiration. Men raise great monuments, obelisks, towers, spray them and paint them and fondle them, and then, perhaps, climb up to keep them up or hasten to tear them down in a fiery gush.

You can blame my own prose on the fact I am sick with hay fever and on a bad night's sleep's noon-day stint. I never get allergies like the rest of the family, but never say never. I had to wash my car yesterday and my head hit a fluster of flower blossoms, tiny as burrs, that filled my hair, my trunk (automotively), and my person with their bursts of pollen. The incipient sniffles soon turned into burning sinuses. I cannot recall when I last suffered so. Layne had to take both boys to the doctor today, as they too endure whatever floral doom permeates our hedges and trees.

So, back to the things that grow tall around us and cause us to bow low to their unseen but formidable power. I will trudge on, working even in my fuzzy mental state on reading about Buddhism as I prepare another research project that spins off from mother's land Ireland, another bizarre juxtaposition of the personal quest with the academic adventure that marks my tenure as an never-to-be-tenured independent scholar, always cobbling together what I tinker about with words until a work slowly rises. The stimulus for my current blueprint, historically, rests on the imagery that fascinated observers in 1835 who sought an Oriental explanation for Hibernia's round towers. They interpreted stupas not as crumbling, if rigid, fortresses left by the usual bickering clans, but as stupendous feats left behind by budding Buddhists on Erin's far shores. From that association, a riot of others followed that I pursue.

My latest verbal construction may be dismissed, it may be relegated to the outbox by others, but I keep on thinking and seeking and pondering, as I must do. I leave a few models behind me, and a few may find they direct their own orientation. In my own sketchy scribblings and tentative tappings, I try to smooth my own small stepping stone. Maybe I lengthen an ancient road of knowledge that many before me have designed and many after me will extend. Enough metaphors today; I'm stupefied.

Here's what's claimed (you know the type) to be the world's largest stupa, at Boudanath, Nepal: what the Tibetans call "Chorten Chempo" or "great stupa." Stupor mundi="wonder of the world," although I think the Latin's lost a bit in translation, given our cognates.

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