Than a Tree
sun slid down the sky like a yolk in a bowl.
Or, the Earth predictably completed its diurnal cycle while
I observed the apparent—though illusory—solar motion, preserving
it in memory with metaphorical language.
Well, I know which I prefer.
Of course, realistically, I know that the sun and an egg are
about as alike as the sun and a moose, or me and a handful
of carpet tacks, or the 1968 Democratic National Convention
and soup. These things are truly alike only if some clever
observer, some word-tinkerer, likens them convincingly. If
he or she does so, though, it can be surprising and enlightening
in a way that a more analytical explanation, say, a breakdown
of an item’s chemical composition cannot—at least for me.
Can there be any uncertainty when T.S. Eliot invites you to
go with him “when the evening is spread out across the sky
like a patient etherized upon a table”? Or when P.G. Wodehouse
writes that a woman charged up “like Lady MacBeth coming to
get first-hand news from the guest room”?
If you’re at all like me, you can see that sickly sky, you
can see that mad, avid woman. Those descriptions settle down
in your brain, fitting naturally into place and sparking an
almost full-body understanding—as opposed to the purely cerebral
understanding you have of, I don’t know, heavier-than-air
flight. In all candor, you find the “big, shiny bird” explanation
as easily digestible and convincing as any involving wing
shape and area, air pressure and propulsion.
A plane can fly because it is like a bird, which can fly.
Got it. It’s just shinier, ’cause we thought birds would be
cooler if they sparkled. Makes sense to me. Therefore, a bird
is a small, dull plane.
See, isn’t this fun?
I mean, I’m all for scientific rigor; I’m all for progress.
Engineers and mechanics and lab coats of all types have my
full approval and appreciation—if not always my ear. The world’s
got its component parts, and those parts need greasing from
time to time, and if we can jazz it up while we’re under the
hood—with plastic, WD40, drive-through windows, fluoride,
ibuprofen, viticulture, the Fender Precision bass, the wheel,
magnetic resonance imaging, nail polish, moveable type—all
the better. Yay, humans! Go, team! Three cheers for the opposable
thumb and the cunning use of tools! The Scientific Method,
he’s our man! If he can’t do it . . . etc.
But for me, the world is more poetic than clinical or mechanistic.
I’m not boasting—it’s probably an impairment. I’m not claiming
for myself some faux-Keatsian mantle. What I mean is that
I don’t understand things in themselves, but only in relation
to other things, by a process of analogy. I process information
via simile. For me, at a fundamental cognitive level, there’s
little difference between metaphor or poetry and truth.
And I can prove this scientifically.
I took one of those personality-type tests online recently
(not while at work when I should have been doing other things,
I swear). It was one of the Myers-Briggs spin-offs that tags
you with a four-letter code, like NASA or INRI—something like
that. What was revealed was exactly what I suspected, exactly
what I just told you.
Basically, that I am completely detached from reality.
See—as the test results verified—no thing or concept has any
inherent value or meaning to me; it is only in relation (opposition,
juxtaposition, congruence, dinner and a movie, whatever) to
some other thing or concept that meaning takes shape, solidifies
in my mind. It’s like a conceptual codependence: Without you
I’m nothing. A rock is a rock because it’s not a marshmallow,
which is a marshmallow by dint of its not being Paul Michael
Glaser—if you see what I mean.
Or phrased as a more positive illustration: My friend B.—as
mysterious and multifarious a personality as any—is completely
comprehensible when you realize that he is a pool cue; my
friend O., by comparison, is a switchblade. I, for the record,
am a wax impression of a key to an only probable lock. Is
This really is the way my—and if you’ve got that same four-letter
code, your—brain works, and still I’m able to drive and vote
and grocery shop all by myself.
There are people who rely more on empiricism and logic than
on these flights of fancy, I guess; people I imagine to have
more direct and practical relationships with the world around
them. More, dare I say it, objective relationships. People
who can pin reality down like a bug in a box. I’ve got a question
Robert Burns tells you that his love is like a red, red rose;
scientists tell you that Nutrasweet contains the amino acid
phenylalanine, which produces the neurotransmitter dopamine,
which is believed to contribute to feelings of pleasure, emotional
attachment and love. If Burns’ love is like a rose, is yours
like a Diet Dr. Pepper? Is it all muscular twitches and glandular
squirts, to you?
I’m not baiting you, nor am I judging you. I’m really curious,
and, hell, you may be right. My own system seems pretty rickety,
overly reliant as it is on . . . well, everything. It seems
to me that there’s something precarious about my way of thinking,
that my intellectual construct is frighteningly Jenga-like:
Take one crucial piece away and the whole thing collapses.
In its favor, it’s got an appealing Eastern unity to it, but
it’s also got a kind of inclusiveness that smacks of conspiracy
theory, a suspicion of a master plan, a cosmic plot.
It is just possible, though, that I only mean that figuratively.