Paring knife

The older and wider I become, the more I think about narrowing. How do we pare our lives down to what make it sustainable, meaningful, and enjoyable? When I was young, skinny, and feeling invulnerable, my goal was to become more open, to widen my world, to accept all random stimuli, and so I accumulated images, articles, memories, colored papers by the boxfuls.

My octegenerian father dreams of planning and preparing his next breakfast. My twenty-something sons aspire to experience the wide world through study exchanges, study abroad, internships, and (hopefully) challenging jobs. They don't tell me their nighttime dreams, and that is probably a good thing. I dream of packing--packing for trips, packing for moves, packing without any assistance against impossible deadlines--too much stuff. I wake up exhausted after working all night to sort and pack everything in my dream house into boxes to load into a lifesize Fisher Price Schoolbus. I stuff the stuff of a real life alongside sequined dresses for unattended proms, place-settings for unserved dinner parties, and files of maintenance records for cars I never owned.

A collage is not art unless considered choices have been made by the artist. We can take in so much stimuli, and stuff it into our memories, our file cabinets, our garages, and our computers. Meaning and art do not come from amassing, but from chosing and narrowing the material.

Last evening I attended a preview for a play written by an actor whose performances I've admired. The subject is obviously precious to the writer, who wants to share his enthusiasm for the life and music of Jimmie Rodgers with an audience. Unfortunately, the result is not drama. The show is educational, in the same way a filmstrip was educational in 1960's junior high social studies classrooms. It had the excitement level of an overwarm classroom with the venetian blinds closed after a cafeteria lunch of fish sticks and canned peas.

As a third or fourth grader my son read a biography of Marco Polo. He was so excited about Marco Polo he convinced a drama teacher to have his class make up a play about the man. The class play may have interested a few kids and parents in Marco Polo's travels across the known world, but it suffered from too much material and too wide a scope.

Jimmie Rodgers and Marco Polo could both be the subject of an interesting hour on PBS or the History Channel. For live drama, both need to find the single relationship and dialogue, the tension of a single conflict, that exposes the core meaning. I found myself wondering most about the relationship between RCA Victor and early recording artists like Jimmie Rodgers (but not like Marco Polo).

I'm not critiquing or preaching this to anyone but myself. What needs to be pared away to find a meaning for this blog with its all-over-the-map subjects? What needs to be narrowed and harvested from the masses of material I've accumulated in my life and my file cabinets? Maybe then I would have the focus to write a play about my dad's relationship with his next breakfast.

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