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Frederic Edwin Church: Twilight in the Wilderness

"Another dichotomy bites some dust."

Many of my song lyrics describe apparent contradictions, where opposites might temporarily take the same side. I was always attracted to seeming paradoxes, relations that make no rational sense, but which could be resolved with a little perspective shifting. I have often been fooled when some opposite turned into something much more similar than I'd earlier expected. I might have been making war on dichotomies, trying to demonstrate just how simplistic and self-destructive classifications can become. Many of my lyrics register surprise at discovering another nature lurking behind the obvious one. I believe that this phenomenon represents real learning. When all the innocent and ignorant others disappear into similar forms, enlightenment will have occurred. Until then, good and evil continuously battle to nobody's obvious benefit.

BornToSee The Light

"I was born on an inland sea,
hard on an inland sea,
far away from the present shoreline,
uncertain of what I was present to see."

I also like to kind of play up my humble roots. I was not, unlike every U. S. President up to Teddy Roosevelt, born in a log cabin in pioneer times, but I might just as well have been for all the worldliness that greeted me upon my arrival. Preceding generations were much worse off than I ever was. Succeeding generations might not have been so fortunate. I was, in many of my stories, born confused rather than clued-in. I might have never been properly clued-in, either, so I am, or I certainly characterize myself as, an innocent. Not an Innocent Abroad, as Mark Twain characterized himself, but innocent of a more run-of-the-mill domestic variety, unworthy of much notoriety. I early on thought that my first album would be titled Songs Of Innocence, borrowing from Blake's characterization. I don't think that I ever successfully made the transition to Songs Of Experience, perhaps because I proved too resistant to absorbing the required learning. I remain remarkably innocent, even at my advancing age, and I've worked hard to maintain it.

"I was torn,
torn by the sights and sounds,
torn by the sights and sounds;
baffled by the apparent stillness
while everyone told me
this world spins around."

This dichotomy between how I was told it was supposed to be and how I honestly experienced it represents the fundamental form of the essential dilemma of my existence, perhaps also of yours. I experienced considerable pressure to conform, by which I mean: agree to believe what I had not actually learned. I was not always able to successfully sidestep these insistences. My saddest chapters followed periods when I had tumbled into conformance. My happiest times came when I was making it up as I went along. I was never a dedicated non-conformist, though I often questioned the purposes of conforming. Even questioning can get one labeled a non-conformist, or even a communist, depending. For some sorry reason, junior high schools were always organized and managed as cliques which specialized in pecking people into line, as if they were a society of chickens. Most reputations get forged under just such conditions, where opinions formed there might never be threatened by better information.

"I was BornToSee The Light
Born to stumble blindly all through the night,
I was born to raise a fight
and born to love my neighbor with all of my might,
I was BornToSee the light."

©1972 by David A. Schmaltz, all rights reserved

The resolution comes, as it often comes in real life, from the discovery of a big and juicy both/and. The contradictions coming into sharper focus seem to exist simultaneously within the same organism and so are not nearly as different as first seemed so apparent. The trance gets broken in a second, the strange distractor dissipated, perhaps only temporarily, but for at least that long. Songs like this make for a reusable discovery. I can just sing the song to reintroduce the trance-breaking message. When entering another Valley Of The Shadow Of, I can make such a song my mantra and thereby at least feel a little bit protected from the harsher elements that exist in such environments. Most learnings, I suspect, never really stick, but tend to need some reinforcement over time. Never learned, always learning, that might be the point of innocence as well as experience. Another dichotomy bites some dust.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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