OtterChristmas 1.10-Absence

Who, which one of us, speaks with authority about absence? No less of an authority than the Roman poet Sextus Propertius provided an early explanation in his Elegies, insisting that, "Always toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows," or, in modern translation, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Not everyone agrees. Some insist that absence encourages the heart to wander. To whom does this heart increase its fondness for, the absent or whatever stepped in to fill the void?

The Grand Otter hopped on an airplane yesterday, which took her away, leaving what behind? The Muse drove her out to the airport. I begged off with a nasty cough, watching them drive down the road from the front porch, feeling rather hollow inside, as if hollow qualified as a feeling rather than as an absence inside. A missing tooth of a tooth, one my tongue recognizes by registering a hole where the tooth used to be, prominent not by any presence at all.

An old thought experiment invites me to not, whatever I do, think of an elephant. What do I find myself doing? Yes, almost compulsively thinking of that danged elephant I was invited not to think of. Such is the subtle power of the negative space. The harder I try not to, the more I seem insistent upon doing exactly that. Absence seems to focus the mind upon imagining what used to fill that blank space rather than experiencing what's not there, prolonging an evaporated status quo.

My life overflows with such injunctions. I'm told, in no uncertain terms, that I should simply stop doing something without receiving any clue about what I might do instead. I'm never starved for alternatives from the forbidden behavior. My tongue could choose to probe anything at all. It inevitably pokes around that space where that absent tooth used to be. Eventually, it might find other attractions.

I initially experience absence as a heightened experience of presence. Short-term memories project themselves into my present experience space, blocking out what I might see as right before my eyes in favor of recollecting what has recently fallen out of my sphere of experience. I am temporarily blinded not by the absence of sight but by the flooding presence of what recently departed from the visual plane. I find myself delving deeply into my head again.

I cannot report what I did after The Muse and The Otter drove away. I seemed busy enough working through John Grisham's latest, knowing that the library wanted it back the following day. I usually cope with absence by distracting myself with some ginned-up imperative. Suddenly, finishing that novel became the primary purpose of my life. I never have had a clue what to do with absence.

I explain most of my ignorance as being the direct result of a day of school I missed in the fourth grade. I must have been absent the day this glaring omission was explained, since everyone else in the world seems to understand, while I, quite glaringly, do not. I remember returning to the class the following day feeling like I might have missed more than a math homework assignment, something critical to my future, but nobody clued me in. I had no idea what I had not acquired and never once, until much, much later, realized what I'd been missing all along. I felt no sensation of missing anything. The absence of a sensation is not a sensation.

Later, once The Muse had returned, the house felt cold. Supper seemed unnecessary. I could not seem to feel hungry or sleepy or enthused. I could not quite manage to feel, so imperatively in my head had that novel left me. I was, until long after The Muse had fallen asleep, up and actively thinking of an elephant instead. The sudden absence of even Christmas magic is not any kind of magic at all. Wondrous, indeed.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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