One thing about Roald Dahl’s riveting memoir Going Solo (discussed earlier), which is something I’ve thought, and have actually written about in this venue.
And if I haven’t, I am doing it now.
(Note: Sometimes, I forget I wrote something and I write it again. Sometimes, I think I wrote something when I actually didn’t. It is interesting to be me.)
When I turn from Page 79 – where he describes being ferried across an African river crawling with crocodiles – I discover that Dahl too has “turned the page”, moving from ravenous crocodiles to Zen-infused elephants.
Let me momentary digress to say this about writers.
The adept ones are more than able practitioners of particular genres. The standouts are quality writers who, for one reason or another, fell into participating in those genres. Donna Leon is a delightful writer who happens to write mysteries. Roald Dahl is a splendid writer, world famous for kids’ books. Others write mysteries and kids’ books, but you do not remember the writing. You may not even remember the books.
When a writer of Dahl’s abilities takes to penning a memoir, you can expect more than “I went there, and did that.” Two things jump out on Page 80 alone!
First, the way he describes the “big tuskers” he drives past:
“Their skin hung loose over their bodies like suits they had inherited from larger ancestors, with the trousers ridiculously baggy.”
You can imagine an excited illustrator, eagerly licking their chops.
“I can draw that funny!”
Dahl signals “I’ve got ‘Kids’ books’ in me” in his serious memoir. More importantly (at least for this post) is Dahl’s description of the pachyderm’s peaceful placidity.
“ A great sense of peace and tranquility seemed to surround these massive, slow-moving, gentle beasts… They seemed to be leading a life of absolute contentment.”
My mind jumps immediately to the deer that visit the yard of our Indiana log cabin, legging languidly across the street to lunch on the leaves from our trees’ low-hanging branches.
(As I silently watch from our adjacent screened-in porch, noting the same “peace and tranquility” and “absolute contentment.”)
(And the rest is about me.)
Here’s what people do to become grounded and “present” and stress-free and calm. Or at least one thing we do.
Meditation, at its best – which it always is; the fluctuation’s in the practitioner – soothingly settles the mind, banning the nagging agitation caused by worries about the future. Meditation helps you remain comfortably in the “Now.” At its best, if you think anything, you think,
“This breath is quite pleasant. And that is all that concerns me.”
Seeking to upgrade my meditation technique, I pursue “calmness” relentlessly. Which is the wrong way to pursue calmness. You have to pursue calmness calmly. Of course, if I could do that, I would not need to meditate.
You know who are blissfully free of this circular conundrum?
(I know. There are monkeys that fret and house pets that whimper. But overall, animals do not know what we know. That’s why so few of them acquire life insurance.)
Animals “meditate” naturally. Yes, “Flight of Flight” remains an essential “Go-to” in their survivalist tool bags. But those moments are isolated. Munching the foliage in our yard, the deer are not thinking,
“Should I be worried right now, or just munching? There are cars that can run me over, crossing the street. Roving bobcats could tear me to pieces. Who knows? These leaves could be terrible for me. Oh, yeah, and it’s ‘Deer Hunting Season’!’ And I’m supposed to say calm?”
(The preceding was a depiction of me, if I were a deer.)
On my desk is a printout of a photograph of a young deer, looking still – Of course, it’s a photograph! – groundedly “present and radiantly relaxed. I look at that picture when I feel suddenly jumpy, and it successfully brings me “back home.”
Now, for variety, Dahl has taught me,
I can add pictures of elephants.