Saturday, October 29, 2011

Smaller in Scale than I Remember

Myth is born of the urge to name what’s nameless, to convey enormity  between finite covers, to describe one end of the Brooklyn Bridge to the other, even if it was really the Verazanno-Narrows. Myth describes something, or some people, or some event, or some place, that makes contact with vastness. Beyond my Saturday afternoon allowance sagas, my incidents as a wandering child may have been fewer in number, smaller in scale than I remember—would I really leave the store where my mom was shopping to wander, or am I conflating other visits to the plaza that I took, later, on my own?  If I’ve elevated little journeys to mythic proportions—if I’ve told tales—then I must need them, to explain something, a religion of youth to have faith in, to justify my embrace of seclusion, my unsatisfied wanderlust, my dubious joy in solitude, which diminishes in value the older I get.

In A Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud argue that myths are linked closely to religion, yet “once this link is broken, and the actors in the story are not regarded as gods but as human heroes, giants or fairies, it is no longer a myth but a folktale.”  And if the human is not heroic, but simply human, what’s his link in the narrative? Folklore is made of legends, of stories that the common person passes along orally. When we share family yarns around the table, or tall tales at the bar, or, alone in bed or in front of a mirror, mouth along silently as memories tell their own stories, we’re all folklorists of the highest order, each of our accounts embellished, sweetened, dramatically thickened, adding pages and chapters to the books we write, or want to read. I covet my adolescent wanderings, play and re-play them as origin stories on memory’s immense screen. I become—in this private theater—an icon, the wandering child.

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