Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trail versus Trial


Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a very good speller. I attribute this to my left-handed non-linear mind.  At any rate I can't spell.  And no one knows this better than my husband, Larry.  At times he will laugh outloud at the spelling errors I make in my manuscripts.  And I will laugh at the spellcheck errors that my students make.  "Taught udder," "wearing a new shit," and "delayed by frog" are among my favorites.  And then there's always that confusion of genital and gentle or gentile. 

The other day I was typing away and I wrote trial instead of trail.  The sentence was something like
"While making my way along a difficult trial."  And then I started to think about this.  Dante, of course, understood that the journey we take in the dark woods is of course the journey of our life and as we follow a trail we are faced with a trial.  Not the legal kind.  And not in the Kafka kind.

Rather in the sense of a test.  A trial run. 

Trails and trials.  For me they are somewhat one and the same.  Journeys aren't about seeing sights or having "experiences."  (My daughter has banned the notion of going on an adventure from her vocabulary.  You can't go on an adventure.  By its very definition it is no longer spontaneous.).

Larry and I are going to Spain in a couple of weeks.  We are returning to a place we love and know well, San Sebastian in the north, but we've never been to Bilbao which is only a couple hours away.  This morning I said to him well maybe this time, our third visit to that part of the world, we should go to Bilbao.  And he said, "I'd rather go to Pamplona.  We've never been."

This is one of the reasons why I married this man and why I love him.  Not that Pamplona is the Amazon jungle, but still.  He wants the road not taken, the surprise.  Maybe we'll get lost or find a fabulous little restaurant by the side of the road.  Maybe we'll fall in love again or find some out of the way little street that we'll follow for hours.

Maybe.  Anything could happen.  The trail is a trial.  It's a test, a dry run, a maybe, perhaps.  It's what might happen.  A maiden voyage.  A crash dummy's story.  I'll take my chances.  As Samuel Beckett once said, "I have never in my life been on my way anywhere, but simply on my way."

I never want to know exactly where I'm going.  But I never back track.  In a sense every trail is a trial run where nothing is certain and anything might happen a
nd probably, hopefully will.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On getting lost in a familiar place...


A few weeks ago I had a strange experience.  I was upset about something - I can't recall what - and Larry and I had gone for a long walk with our dog, Thurber.  We were in Prospect Park when Thurber, a hound, heard or smelled something and he took off into the woods.  We followed and called to him and after a while he caught up with us. 

But I found myself in a part of the woods that wasn't familiar to me.  We were on a path that I didn't recognize.  Looking out, I saw far ahead of me a winding trail, more woods, and a lake, but none of it looked even vaguely familiar.  For a moment I was truly frightened.

I said to Larry.  "I've  never been here before."  And he replied, "Yes, you have lots of times."  But no matter how much he tried to convince me I was certain that this was a part of the park where I'd never been.

I recalled Dante's Inferno, its opening lines - "In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.  Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the thought of which renews my fear!"

I'd studied Dante long ago in graduate school, but these words reverberate for me still.  And they have often.  I once had a dream in which I entered a cafe called, "Leave Hope Ye Who Enter Here" which is, of course, what is written above the gates of hell.

Whatever I was upset about, wherever we were going that morning - everything seemed lost to me.

We kept on the path, descending, until suddenly we arrived at a place I know very well.  A small bridge that passes above a waterfall.  And suddenly I realized that I had been on this trail often, but I had never come at it from this direction.  We had always climbed up from the waterfall, never walked down.

It seemed to me to be a metaphor for whatever ailed me - my daughter, my work, a friendship.  It wasn't that the situation had changed but rather that I needed to look at it from another angle.  I was on one track and stubbornly seemed unable to view the problem any differently.  Yet it seemed to me that the message of this brief journey was the need to approach our lives from a different angle.

It was interesting to me that day to find that I could get lost in a familiar place.  And just as interesting to see that I could find my way again.