Thursday, August 26, 2010

When Screaming and Scolding Fail

“Oh! If to dance all Night, and dress all Day,
Charmn’d the Small-pox, or chas’d old Age away;
Who would not scorn what Housewife’s Cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly Thing of Use?

“But since, alas! Frail Beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since Locks will turn to grey;
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a Man, must die a Maid,
What then remains but well our Pow’r to use,
And keep good Humour still what’er we lose?

“And trust me, dear! Good Humour can prevail,
When Airs, and Flights, and Screams, and Scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll;
Charms strike the Sight, but Merit wins the Soul.”

Esdras Barivelt, pseudonym used by Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, 1715

In my never-ending quest for the prime metaphor, a sort of grand unified metaphor of everything, I can never go wrong with hard-boiled noir detective fiction a la Raymond Chandler. To me, elegant metaphors are the hallmark of intelligent writing - sort of like writing full of wisecracks and irony metaphorically cut a path of death and destruction through good writing like that left in the wake of a turbulent hurricane cutting across an Oklahoma countryside.

I recently read a mystery story that began with a big mistake in a workplace, followed by a ranting boss, threatening that his workers better clean things up, or more heads would roll than cabbage in a cole slaw factory. I have absolutely no recollection of what the rest of the story was about, so taken I was, by the visual magic of that metaphor.

Meanwhile, back in the actual world, the faux pharmacist Esdra Barivelt (aka Alexander Pope) says it’s better to have a sense of humor than good looks because the former presumably remains shiny and bright, while all beauty fades. Wrong.

A sense of humor is, I think, subject to the normal wear and tear of a human life, and is just as subject to being slowly worn down as youth and beauty. Imagine how smooth and round Sisyphus’ rock must have become from being rolled up and down that hill all those years. One’s sense of humor may end up rubbed down by overuse, nicked and scarred by the slings and arrows of ennui, the attempted suicides, the bad hair days, court-ordered anger management classes, and the failed gardening ventures of life. Good metaphors encapsulate a life of love and loss without the overt anger and bitterness of an exhausted rant. I’m just guessing here, but if he was writing today, I suspect that pharmacist Esdra Barivelt would run a meth lab.

Gardening in this season is like watching an aging beauty refusing to go gently in that good night of old age and early bird specials at Golden Corral ("We deep fry every buffet dish in lard, so you don’t have to!"). Unfortunately, knowing this and practicing this are fish of two different kettles. I’m not ready to give up and accept that screaming and scolding may fail to make my garden thrive. Regardless of what this may imply with regard to my gardening/parenting/hairdressing skills, I continue to hope that once my boy gets out of jail, and my daughter finishes her community service, they’ll give up their own attempts at cooking meth and take their places beside me and Pa as jugglers and clowns in the circus. After all, if life is but a joke, at least we can use our powers well to make the punch line worthwhile.


Weeping Sore said...

The pseudonym Edras Barivelt feels like an anagram is buried here. I Googled an anagram decoder and here are some selected meanings:
Verbalise Darts, Versatile Bards, Eviler Bastards, Lab Advertisers, A Varlet’s Debris.

Perhaps the name is just an anagram of somebody else’s real name: Rev. Salad Biters, Sir Larvae Debts, A Bald Reservist, or merely some Drabs Relatives.

Martha in Michigan said...

I used to make it through interminable staff meetings by making anagrams of the participants' names! No wonder my creativity has ebbed since I've been working from home.

Were you being ironic in speaking of Oklahoma hurricanes v. tornadoes, or have you just been on the Left Coast too long to remember? I'll forgive you, though, because of "Good metaphors encapsulate a life of love and loss without the overt anger and bitterness of an exhausted rant." As a ranter par excellence from way back, I know how ultimately unsatisfying that is — doesn't change anything, doesn't really bleed off the angst as advertised. Unfortunately, I think crafting a good metaphor takes more intelligence and creativity than fashioning a good rant. Not sure I've ever been up to it.