Skip to content

Pierian Borderlands

by on November 3, 2020

Pierian Borderlands

by Marco M. Pardi

His return repelled by the impermeable membrane which separated him from the “real world”, he drank deeply from the Pierian spring, treasured by the Muses of Macedonia.” Untold stories of Tonio.

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Alexander Pope. An Essay on Criticism. 1709

All comments are welcomed and will receive a response.

These past several months have undoubtedly provided us with unusual amounts of time to ponder our existence, and the continuation thereof. Those of us not given to “binge” watching of television may have increased our reading time, walked in the neighborhood more, cleaned and repaired things around the home, learned how to assist the kids in distance learning, or spent more time meditating about life.

Included in that meditation some of us considered the possibility that Covid 19 might eventually catch us and, especially for those of us older, bring down the curtain on the final act. What has our life been about? Has it turned out as expected, or did we learn to not expect? What little mysteries did we put off until “later”?

One rather minor mystery I’ve actually enjoyed is one I discovered very early. Most of the childhood time I was in my family home was spent alone with a wide variety of books, paintings, and a radio I could listen to. Somewhere in that time I became aware that photographs, though somewhat interesting, were not compelling. They were static, frozen moments in time. Worse, they presented me with immutable fact, leaving me with little or no incentive to wonder. On the other hand, paintings seemed kinetic, somehow living and speaking of a past and a future and encouraging me to ponder a choice not taken. In later years I’ve often said, The camera captures, the brush invites. For me, the camera presents a take-it-or-leave-it fait accompli, a demonstration of mechanical technology whereas a painting invites me to imagine the mind of the artist and how the image developed there and unfolded on the canvas. Would I have seen the subject that way? How might I have done it differently?

The radio programs of the 1940’s to mid 1950’s did the same. They compelled me visualize the characters, the settings, and the broad scope of the timeless context. Even after a tour through the New York studios, watching a man “clopping hooves” onto a specially made pan to produce the sounds of The Lone Ranger’s horse I was afterwards still convinced I was hearing Silver thundering after the bad guy. I had not been locked out of the borderlands of imagination.

Yes, radio. A device largely forgotten except by those who now listen to almost entirely Right Wing “talk shows”. But unlike the hate filled fantasies spun out by the talk shows of today there were engaging programs such as Fibber McGee and Mollie; The Shadow; Sgt. Preston of the Yukon; Amos and Andy; and many others. Some readers may recoil at my mention of Amos and Andy, thinking it impolitic to reference White men mimicking Black men for popular entertainment. I did not see it as prejudiced, and I knew prejudice from the daily taunts of WOP, DAGO and MAFIOSO shouted at me by “American” kids. Their claims of being half this and half that led me to think of them as mongrels, but I did not voice that as it would stoop to their level. But then, turn off the lights, tune the radio to The Shadow and slip across the border as Lamont Cranston stalks the evildoers through darkened streets. Sail the high seas with Horatio Hornblower as enemy ships close around you. Marvel as Tarzan communicates effortlessly with fellow citizens of the jungle. Return to Fibber McGee‘s cluttered but comfortable home as he struggles to outsmart Mollie.

And then television came along. As if movies – “moving pictures” – were not enough, they sought out delinquent theater goers in their homes. And brought us characters who obviously were not from the borderlands. That’s not the Lone Ranger. And “Tarzan” holding in his gut? Anyone who has ever opened a book or listened to a radio series, venturing deeply across the border knows that casting calls almost always miss the mark. Moving pictures, at 32 frames per second (film speed), to fool the mind into thinking it is seeing motion when it is simply seeing a blur of static, take-it-or-leave-it images. We are denied entry into the borderlands, the possibilities conjured in our imaginations.

But at least early television and even film studios were compelled by their primitive technologies to capture credible presentations of something passing as reality. Now we are so accustomed to “special effects” we no longer find ourselves saying, But that’s impossible. We accept unreality as reality.

Through those early years there was “education”, the deadening process of learning versus experiencing. Primary school, three in my case, was learning the correct answers. And learning how to escape into the borderlands without getting caught by the women in Black Robes and their ever present steel edged rulers. Prep school was better, but the men in Black Robes still managed to teach Religion classes as Match the Answer to the Question, not as experiment with a thought and explore your feeling. Static, frozen answers in time. They would still be there whether I accepted them or not. After all, they didn’t belong to me.

And so, retired, sequestered and withdrawn I hear that call, “Follow your dream” and wonder. Did I follow my dream, or someone else’s? What part of life was a dream and what part was just hacking through day by day? Was I even aware it was a dream, those times when I thought I knew someone and it became obvious I didn’t? If we can become distracted, are we ever tracted?

At times I think our culture encourages us to leave the thinking to someone else. It encourages us to accept what we are told is the proper way to react to the “information” we are given and to reject all interest in what may be a larger and truer reality just across the border.

Some years ago, in southern California, I observed a group of people interested in psychic phenomena. During one session the moderator explained a process of handling an object and “psychically” sensing its history. She then passed around a common piece of decorative pottery you would find in many homes and asked one after another to hold it for a few minutes and tell us about it. I knew the moderator had a good knowledge of its history. But as each person took a turn, some seemingly acting very “psychic”, she never betrayed any agreement or disagreement with what the person said. I felt there were several ways to assess the completed process, beginning with a rejection of the standard materialist claim that it was all nonsense. Yes, the moderator very likely did have a history of the object, but what I found more valuable than a “hit” by someone was the exercise itself, in some cases a cautious toes first stepping and in others a full blown stride over the border and into the lands beyond. I don’t recall any “rights” or “wrongs” or any grades given. The object was simply put away and the next topic introduced.

I came away from that with a sense that we do not do enough of active wondering, conjuring if you like, in our lives. We live in the “Information Age” as so many empty vessels waiting to be filled, drained, and filled again until one day we crack down the center and are swept into the discard bin.

As a child I loved museums, even those exclusive art galleries where my family shopped for significant finds. Remember that saying, Cut to the chase? In fact, the chase was the term for the backplate upon which type was set (by typesetters) in preparing newspaper stories for printing. To cut to the chase meant to strip off the stories planted there in preparation for a new story.

Want to take back your life? Cut to the chase, remove the stories other people have set on your backplate and write your own. Who’s to say you are wrong?

And while you’re at it, spend some time in the art galleries of museums near you, and the antiquities galleries. Cross the border, at least for a little while. And drink deeply from the Pierian Spring. Remember, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

From → Uncategorized

17 Comments
  1. Michael Stamm permalink

    In his introduction (“Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself”) to his 1978 short story collection STRANGE WINE, Harlan Ellison wrote about the importance of reading and the imagination:

    “Television, quite the opposite of books or even old-time radio that presented drama and comedy and talk shows (unlike Top Forty radio programming today, which is merely TV without moving parts), is systemically oriented toward stunning the use of individual imagination. It puts everything out there, RIGHT THERE, so you don’t have to dream even a little bit. When they would broadcast a segment of, say, INNER SANCTUM in the Forties, and you heard the creaking door of a haunted house, the mind was forced to CREATE THE PICTURE of that haunted house–a terrifying place so detailed and terrifying that if Universal Studios wanted to build such an edifice for a TV movie, it would cost them millions of dollars and it STILL wouldn’t be one one-millionth as frightening as the one your own imagination had cobbled up.”

    The advent of television has for many, if not most, made the imagination almost entirely superfluous, and the increasing domination of the smartphone is accelerating the process. We now have a portable device that–again, for many, if not most, and certainly for many more–makes the imagination unnecessary. Those of us enraptured by the pocket pleasure device will be unable to think, imagine or dream on our own. It will probably take a while for the results of this process to become clear, but the price paid by our humanity will be even larger than it has already been.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Mike for this wonderful contribution and analysis. I can’t hep but wonder if this same closure of the imagination is part of the growing rejection of science. After all, science is not merely the cataloging of what is, it’s asking the question, What if?

      Like

      • From Mike: I think that’s part of the problem. But I think it’s also a wilful abdication of personal responsibility in favor of received wisdom (regardless of how unwise that “wisdom” really is). They also place great faith in books whose contents were confusing to begin with and have been “interpreted” and re-interpreted and “translated” so often as to lose most of whatever meaning they once had. Part of Ellison’s thesis (as I see it) is that many people go to great effort to avoid thinking for themselves, refusing to interpret, to analyze, to do anything but serve as passive receptacles, on the grounds that this refusal means that they are not going against God’s will. That’s God’s will as interpreted and conveyed by other people, of course–and those other people’s motives are invariably questionable as well as self-serving. This rejection of personal responsibility strikes me as not only profoundly ignorant but profoundly primitive as well…and it is horribly dangerous for those of us who don’t think along similar lines. There’s something ingrained in the human psyche that says that faith and belief trump (heh) everything else. But the universe just doesn’t work that way.

        Like

  2. Dana permalink

    Marco, as I write this I’m alone, exactly as I was four years ago on a Tuesday night.  The television is on although muted.  I spend a lot of time alone, so I’m not surprised on this Presidential election evening here I am once again.  I’m really glad to have something else to ponder besides a red and blue map of the U.S., and I thank you for writing and sharing.

    I spend so much time in my own mind and am fully content being there now that I know exactly who I am.  For as long as I can remember I’ve pondered my own existence and generally enjoy thinking my thoughts and permitting my imagination to wander.  I did this while acting as a front door greeter in a busy retail store – a task many people might find utterly boring.  It did have its boring moments, but I used it as an opportunity to meditate and stare out the window at the sky.  No easy task with an inordinate amount of noise and distractions all around me. 

    If I were to think of a dream I might follow, since early childhood I dreamed about writing.  So here I am doing that.  Sometimes it actually does feel dream-like, especially with my misgivings about doing anything publicly permanent.  I also dreamed about being a scientist – geology ranked at the top of my list of sciences.  That dream wasn’t fulfilled, but I’ve lived a pretty interesting life regardless.  And I can always explore the outdoors as I did when I was a child hoping to “grow up” and become a scientist.  My early childhood was often immersed in art because of my paternal extended family, and I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated museums and galleries.  I don’t get to do as much of that as I’d like.  One day, as “they” say. 

    I’ve read your opening passage from Tonio’s untold stories several times.  It’s deeply imaginative, enigmatic and mystical.  As I’ve said, you’ve perfected the art of leaving others wanting for more.  Hopefully you will be developing and sharing a little more in the near future.  

    Like

  3. Thank you, Dana. I feel privileged to have been in your orbit these years as you have shared your insights with us. I speak for many in saying I hope you resume your writing.

    Like

    • Dana permalink

      Thank you Marco. The privileged feeling is mutual. While I wish I felt moved to write, I just haven’t lately. It will always be there, though.

      Like

  4. Pam permalink

    Marco, I loved this piece…I began jotting down forgotten memories as I read. Dang, I wish I had the writing talent and writing confidence most of this group is blessed with because I do have some juicy back stories! Twenty five years in the media (starting off as a courtroom illustrator) has given me a few stories to share at dinner. Besides being on a first name basis with three serial killers, I count driving in a demolition derby on a segment for Ted’s Good News show on TBS as a thrill – to prep we were taught how to drive defensively and react in an on coming crash. That experience saved my life in a real accident years later.
    So, thanks again, Marco…love your writing,

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Pam. You’ve given us really neat glimpses of the life you have led, and you have me pleading for more. Please do write with us!

      Like

    • Dana permalink

      Pam, please share your juicy stories!

      Like

    • Steve permalink

      Pam, How did courtroom illustration treat you as a career? I’ve always been a bit curious about it. There is a great deal of emotion to capture with balancing likenesses in a very short amount of time.

      Like

      • Pam wedding permalink

        Hello Steve, looking back, my career path has been a quirky series of synchronistic events. The short hand version is I started off as a landscape architect…married a guy who worked at a tv station, hung out there to see the “stars” who visited. Happened to be there one day when the news director was frantically looking for a courtroom illustrator and a voice channeled out of my mouth saying “I can do that, Steve.” I was terrified. The court case lasted a week so I got better each day.kinda. I loved it. Left landscape design and became a graphic artist, then An art director for Another tv station. The Wayne Williams case was my last big trial. I found out my gift was hiring talented artists. I ended up in the production and executive producer end of the biz. Apparently, an artist type person who can budget large projects, maintain a bottom line, and hire amazing talent was Much more lucrative for an “alas“ single mom.

        And yes, you are so right about Capturing the emotion and likenesses of subjects- there are some artist who capture the realism beautifully – my sketches were more caricatures but because of my architecture background I excelled with items like flags, recording equipment, guns, etc,😉

        Like

        • Steve permalink

          That’s amazing. It sounds like you made an excellent choice making that leap. The Wayne Williams case is definitely a historic event but what a tough one to have to listen to all the details of.

          Like

  5. Steve permalink

    Marco, I agree that imagination is a most fertile playground for thought. This is why so many viewers end up disappointed with adaptations of books. I loved Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy but when they developed the first book, Annihilation, into a film it only had a small percentage of the wonder and none of the essence for me despite hitting many story beats.

    However, I don’t feel like film and television is a totally empty pursuit. I dare say Star Trek and Star Wars were the seeds that caused many to dream about what could be in space. I think it’s more the reliance on effects (especially CG) to sell a story that is flimsy hoping effects will carry it and that our little pocket based distractions, as Mike said, aren’t helping.

    I’m happy to hear you’ve spent recent days ruminating a love art, literature and things that make you question why. Does this mean you might attempt some painting yourself? There is no harm in trying as long as you do not put too many expectations on yourself from the start.

    I often get to it late as I’m trying to maintain the balance of making art for my own sanity and rarely have anything particularly astute to comment but I do enjoy reading all the writing presented here.

    Like

    • Thank you, Steve. Your comments are always invaluable. I agree that some television and film (theater) productions have stimulating value. And, some have deeply personal value – such as Saving Private Ryan, and the tv series Deep State and The Americans. I could list some others but you see I agree. BTW, I stopped trying to watch Game of Thrones as it just seemed idiotic to me.

      I’ve often thought about trying to paint, especially since my childhood efforts were severely criticized. I did do some touch up on a painting which was done for me in Saigon, obviously years ago. I think I would like to try it.

      Your mind as an artist has so much to offer. I look forward to your thoughts.

      Like

      • Steve permalink

        I encourage anyone that is curious about making art to give it a try. Most everyone is capable of making marks, we do it every time we write. Drawing and painting is a natural enough extension of that. If you decide to take it up, I’d be happy to pass what little insight I may have to get you going. Plus, plein air painting sessions would be fun to do together when we get a handle on COVID.

        Never gave Game of Thrones much attention. I still highly recommend The Wire. Same author/show runner as The Plot Against America you touted in a previous post.

        Like

  6. Being painfully shy as a child, I spent much of my time alone with my own imagination. I always thought I would do something wonderful with my life; alas, this was not to be. Still, I dream of what might still be possible. This many years past losing my most recent dream, I continue to imagine what it would be like to don a backpack and make that walking journey across Spain.

    Books were my escape from a lonely reality; there is little time for their enjoyment of late, but I am making a recent attempt to rectify this problem. I do find that movies made from those books I have read seldom live up to the picture supplied by my own mind. It was a book which first told me of the pilgrimage of which I dream; I will never give up hope until I have given up breath.

    My sister is the artist in our family. She is highly skilled with paint and brush, but she can only draw or paint what she can see with her eyes. In this, I feel sorry for her; how sad to lack the imagination to create wondrous images seen only in the mind.

    I am familiar with the poem which began this piece, but have only just this day done the research to know what it meant. I wonder, is this perhaps the source of the phrase to “thirst for knowledge”? We can never learn enough about what interests us most, and so I thirst, and I thank you once again for helping me to quench that thirst; I will come always to the well that is the knowledge you share with all who join me there.

    Like

    • I remember your deeply felt drive to complete that walk. I’m sure it’s still possible, and that you will do it someday. I don’t recall any ambition to do anything wonderful in life. My drive, from my earliest memories, was to quietly escape, even if I died in the process.

      I’ve found in writing, as I’m sure you have, that putting a few sentences on paper somehow stimulates the mind to produce more and more. I wonder if that same process might work for your sister: draw a few lines, sit back, and let the images come.

      I had not connected the poem to the saying, but you may well be on to something. Perhaps in the same way that eating alone is less satisfying, learning alone also is. A fundamental part of me craves the satisfaction of watching others experience an epiphany.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: