A large part of my every day is spent deluding myself.
I’ve been a bounty hunter and Santa Claus, a prostitute and a priest, a Jedi, an Ewok, and even a duck named Howard. Sometimes I’m a circus dwarf, others a young woman from 1860, and when I’m feeling really sassy I prance around like a homosexual Muslim running for president of the United States.
And though I love losing myself in books and television shows and music, I sometimes feel guilty.
After all, there’s terrorism and misogyny and Nazis and rickets.
What right do I have to put my head in the proverbial sand and pretend the world isn’t falling apart at the seams—which were most likely sewn by malnourished Chinese five-year-olds?
Of course, that’s the whole point of a story, right, to find a little magic in a world that’s too often unsympathetic and unfair?
I actually saw someone balk at that recently. I’ve also seen a couple places where people said literature is not life and life is not literature.
While I get what they’re getting at with the whole “writing is just something people do to express and entertain themselves” I also feel like what in the fuck of all fucks are you even talking about.
OK, so the stance that stories are super important to human existence isn’t exactly a brave one. I think most folks would agree on the power of the written word.
I was recently reminded of that power. And it all started when my son suggested I read All The Light We Cannot See. Unbeknownst to me, he was planning to bring his copy at Christmas. I also received a copy from my wife, so she took one and we’re both reading the book.
In ATLWCS, there was mention of some item strange to me called “lapis lazuli.”
Just a mention, mind you. Lapis isn’t any part of the story. Still, I fell in love with the name right off.
I had to, as I so often do, stop reading and go look it up.
According to Wikipedia, lapis lazuli is, “a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color.”
Then I looked at some photographs of it and was further blown away.
It’s the deepest blue stone I’ve ever seen. And many of the pieces have these white and creamy streaks running through so that a cube of lapis lazuli, especially the ones that have been polished, looks like the Earth from space.
Then, yesterday—now several weeks past the Christmas holiday—I was listening to a Yale lecture on, of all things, literary criticism, and the professor mentioned a poem by Yeats entitled “Lapis Lazuli.”
How crazy is that?
Perhaps you recognize these famous lines from the poem:
All things fall and are built againAnd those that build them again are gay—Lapis Lazuli by William Butler Yeats
The poem seeks to rebut critics who caterwaul about merriment during what are seen as dark times. Though, when has the world—moreover mankind’s world—not been blighted by conflict? (much more learned Lapis Lazuli poem analysis)
The unbelievably mercurial and difficult nature of life necessitates gaiety and celebration … party poopers and guilt be damned!
It’s why we celebrate birthdays and drink at wakes and laugh at gallows humor.
I’ll probably always worry my enjoyment is somehow cheating or slacking, because I seem hardwired to be suspicious of joy. That’s just the way I am.
But, I think my secret-secret long-held belief that art is merely aesthetic distraction from the void’s great sucking gut wound of nothingness can often—as is the case with the lapis lazuli trail I’ve been following—provide a deeper more meaningful connection to others.
Not only am I really enjoying the book, but I have to look forward to discussing it with my son and my wife, and I found a cool new poem, and fell in love with a beautiful blue stone that, up until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of.
Oh yeah. I also ordered a half-pound bag of lapis lazuli stones. I plan on giving a piece to my son for starters and to others with whom I might connect.
Who knows what sort of connections they might make in their own lives—literary and real.