He Had His Lunch and I Had Mine
Representation is worn down by repetition. Memory is worn down by the memory of memories. An endless series of imitations mutate, reform and repurpose what was once viscerally present into a revision of itself. Only a smell of the original remains. To wade through the memory-layers to the original experience is practically impossible. The form loses its function. So, in an act of compromise, to be kept alive, memories are re-made in tangible form.
The first kinds of memories often surround home: the rooms, the people. These memories change. The rooms shrink. So do the people. We leave. They leave. And the original sensations are lost. The old home is recreated and revised in the new. Yet, with what is lost, recreation is not enough. So, to fill both the speakable and unspeakable [but in either case ungraspable] gaps, stories must be told.
My mother told me about tragedy and comedy. She said tragedy mourns humanity’s weakness in the face of uncontrollable power, that it lives in the universal pain of the human condition. She said comedy celebrates what makes us human: a set of grievances that are not so tragic that we can’t go on. Jokes are a form of cultural memory, passed through time, body, and space. The comedy and joke genre of storytelling builds itself around community-specific mutual understandings. It shows what makes ‘us’ and what makes ‘not us’ [them]. Mocks them, celebrates us. Mocks us too, but as long as you know what makes ‘us’ that’s alright. To get a joke is to get the person telling the joke: silent recognition. Feelings of alienation are to be expected but are not to be solved.
Comedy is harder to pull off than tragedy because, at an essential level, it must unsentimentally convince the listener of an indifference between success and failure: that in either case it’s okay in the end [often it’s absurd to begin with]. In the face of tragedy, my family tells stories of the shtetl, of how our ancestors got by and how we can too. Or close enough.
Language carries in each letter and pause an implicit history, community, and future. In each re-telling the speaker is exposed, identified as a part of or an other. The same can be said of objects. Through the generations of a single community, there is the risk that the meaning will slip, that intentions will change; something not too different, or maybe entirely different, will form. But swapping is better than loss. Anything is better than loss. Even in doubt, hold on.
He Had His Lunch and I Had Mine (2017) (pp. 13–14). Lyric essay (PDF).
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