Thursday, December 27, 2012

Abstract vs. literal vs. real

Reading about 30 knot gusts registered by a weather station just a mile away is abstract. Federal funds maintain my local station, and I read it religiously.

CMAN4, at the Cape May ferry dock (photo by NOAA)

Thinking about the wind and clams and life as I drag my rake through the mud is literal.
The real happens when the words fade away, when  "I" (never real) dissolve in the salty mist of the strong breeze coming off the flats.

What is real is as unknowable as the shiver of life felt when a rake's tine carves a line in a quahog. I find the line later, as I wash the mud off the clams under running water, like blood from a deep cut, reminded (again) of the violence even in clamming.

The strike of tine against clam is real.
The clam knows something at that moment, as I know something, but words serve neither of us as I curl three fingers under its perfect shape, a tinge (literal) that my imperfect state (abstract) requires eating (literal, again).

We take mammals made for running under the sun and the stars, made for climbing and dancing and singing and playing, and (literally) make them human (abstract) at the cost of the real. Show me a child who loves schooling, and I'll show you another lamb who has lost her way.

1921 classroom, by Lewis Wickes Hine, via Shorpy
Clamming reconnects me to what is real. So does gardening. And stargazing.
You have your ways, too. We all do, or did, anyway, before we let the abstract get in the way.

All the words and pictures I seek, the ones I share, are useless if just reading and looking are the goals. The goals remain wordless but not unknowable.

But sometimes all we can do is point and hope.

And try to assess that on a standardized test, Mr. Coleman.


Jenny said...

It's quite possible that we define schooling differently but I believe it is possible for a child to love schooling and not to have lost their way. That may also be a result of differences between first grade and high school. At first grade school(ing) is pretty well focused on a student's interests and needs. It's one of the beautiful wonders of teaching that age.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

This was one of those odd, free-floating posts that confused even me by the time I was done, and your point is well-taken. I was thinking in terms of Clay Burell, who I love--

If every school focused on students' interests and needs at every level, we'd be in a lot better shape.

I'll need to edit this at some point. I apologize if it looked like a cheap shot at teachers.

Jenny said...

Not a cheap shot at teachers to me at all. Just got me thinking about the differences in how school looks at different levels. I've got a lot to learn about high school and middle school. I tend to live in my own little bubble quite happily.