by Stan Ridgley
I wonder at the source of inspiration.
And in this, I am not unlike every other person who presumes to compress a week’s worth of intellectual power into a scant 10 paragraphs. Or a year’s labor on a novel into three quick nights’ reading.
Why sometimes, the words tumble out faster than my keyboard can catch them, while at others, the yawning silence and my stiff aching fingers combine for a stunningly inactive interlude. Inactivity of the immediately forgettable sort.
But the peripherals of those sans inspirational interludes are sharply drawn. Everything is sharply drawn save what requires it. The ring-fingers ache from bones broken long ago in a well-remembered football game in 1983 and a rugby match in 1987. Both in Germany, and both on those typically wintry cold, frosty teutonic nights.
My cleats found uncertain purchase on the frozen ground, my hand stabbed out to fend off a block, and it was snapped sideways as I went down. I stood up, looked at it dumbly, my breath coming in labored puffs of white. I grasped the finger and snapped it back straight.
Yes, there was a snap.
Not quite straight. It still sits slightly askew. It ruined my salute.
The other finger, other hand. Snapped as well in like-fashion, caught in the terrible synthetic mesh of some unknown brute’s jersey in Frankfurt. Now, these wretched fingers ache when I least expect it.
We seem never to notice the absence of pain, you know. I appreciate that absence more and more as the pain comes more frequently. Those slightly crooked, slightly aching ring fingers serve to remind me of frigid German nights, back during the Cold War, when our enemies were clear-cut, ideologically despicable and yet rational. And they strutted about in the open, medals on their chests and stale ideology on their lips. Those were Francis Fukuyama days.
Fukuyama was the philosopher who famously proclaimed the “End of History” in his 1989 essay of the same title, positing that we’d reached the triumphal era of liberal democratic capitalism, and that all competing ideologies had been defeated.
He was wrong, of course, and it was Sam Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” model that more clearly defined the new era, predicting the rise of radical Islam and the increasing divide between the democracies of the West and the theocracies of the Middle East and Asia. Sam is a distinguished professor of politics at Harvard and the advisor to my own PhD Chairman/advisor, and so I am biased and the lineage is something I’m proud of, having not much else in which to exhibit pride. Save my kids.
And so I type with aching fingers, the fingers I used to slip comfortably into the handle of a mug of Guinness Stout in the Speakeasy pub in West Berlin, raising that dark brew to my lips more times on more nights than was prudent in the fall of 1983. But what does prudence have to do with a young soldier in a foreign land, given to profanity and fisticuffs borne of too much testosterone and not enough common sense?
The British did not like us, you know.
British soldiers were given to a drunkenness and brawling unlike any other people I’ve witnessed, surpassing even Russians. Perhaps they recruit their soldiers from the winners of the brawls at their famously violent soccer matches. Surely it is best to have them on our side in a fight against a common enemy. I just want them pointed in the right direction.
If I could crack the knuckles of these aching fingers, perhaps I could relieve some of the stiffness and I could eke out a few words of merit. I used to take a blade of grass in these same fingers, a proper sliver betwixt my thumbs.
The grass would act as a reed, and I could pipe a tune through the little gap formed by my love mounds pressed together and my fingers steepled. The blade had to be appropriately thick and long and the angle had to be exactly right . . . otherwise, how could the music possibly be sweet?
I could play auld lang syne, piped between my thumbs, and did so many times, but I recall a particular time at a UNC versus University of Virginia baseball game, lounging on the grass outside Boshamer Stadium, watching the game while lying in the hot sun, rays scorching my untannable body, empty beer cans scattered around the small coterie of fraternity brothers as we popped the tops on full ones. But that was years ago and years ago, when gasoline was still cheap, the girls’ smiles were genuine, and I worried not at all about tomorrow.
Years ago and years ago
We worried about nothing, except who was next on the basketball schedule and how to get tickets. Elvis was in the midst of his comeback, Earth, Wind and Fire was a young band on the rise, all of the Beatles were still alive, and Coors was a hard-to-find gourmet beer. My fingers certainly didn’t ache. And cholesterol wasn’t in my vocabulary. And life was ridden hard on the surface, a desperate race to prevent even the hint of a root taking hold.
Roots mean responsibility. Ties.
Investment in people, places, things. Screw all of that and pass me another Old Milwaukee.
So I fret over inspiration and wonder at its source. What compels us to write and what propels our fingers across the keyboard in patterns of words that purport to mean what we think, what we imagine, what we dream?
You know, it’s never as good on the page as what’s in the mind. That, at least, is my experience. A tremendous energy is lost in the translation in spite of our best efforts to contain it, to bottle it, to keep its power on the page in all its blazing glory.
I cannot write fast enough to capture these ephemeral thoughts that blaze across the mind, crackle wonderfully, and then are gone before they can be corralled. And so, only a portion of the energy is bottled. Just a bit, if we are lucky.
And sometimes that is enough. Maybe not tonight, but sometimes.
Perhaps aspirin can help these fingers tonight, for the ache is about to win this round and cast me, mercifully, off the keyboard.