Monday, March 13, 2023

The Me in Meander.

A little more than a decade ago, I was reading something that led me somewhere else. In short order, that somewhere else led me somewhere else. So, as Billy Pilgrim so often said, it goes.

I had picked up this book, about a river in Turkey called the Menderes. The Menderes is where we get our word, Meander.

A glance at this map of the Menderes and you'll get the idea. The <er> meandering course of the Menderes does not exactly make for rapid transit. The author, who traveled the river in a small boat would sometimes have to navigate thirty or so miles to progress one mile downstream.


If you want to take a journey, you can think about wily Odysseus. It took him twenty years or so to journey a couple hundred miles from what had been Troy to his wife Penelope, his son Telemachus and his kingdom in Ithaka.

Today, Odysseus is best remembered for having been named after a highly-rated Honda minivan.

As we live now, we have apps on nearly every appendage counting every step, every heartbeat, every breath and every mile we traverse, we insist on forward motion, even if we're working out on a stationary bike or a treadmill. We consider going nowhere more valuable than meandering.

Yet to the ancient Greeks, to meander was to live. 

It's one of the reasons why so much of their architecture, their design pieces, their vases and urns were decorated with patterns like these. The classical 'meander' pattern served as a ubiquitous reminder to wander and wonder:

Even the prototypical New York coffee shop, before coffee got fetishized by billionaires, extolled the virtues of the meander.

Of course, as children we are taught that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. And we are also schooled at the altar of efficiency. We are to do our jobs, gain our educations, make our way in the world post-haste, toot-sweet and lickety-split if we want to beat the traffic going out to the Hamptons.

Agencies today have more people managing projects than they have creating the work. Taylorism is the creed of the publicly traded. And I'm not entirely sure I can remember an assignment, large or small, when I worked at an agency that wasn't done on some kind of crash-and-burn schedule. 

As Linus in the old Peanuts comic might have said, "the problem with crash and burn schedules is that when you're done you're crashed and burnt."

I realize, and I'm thankful, that many people probably find their way to this space as a sort of non-productive respite from the relentless productivity of life and work. Here, when my writing is decent, readers may find three minutes or six to leap this way and that, attempting to follow my cranial peregrinations that flit like a coked-up waterbug in a spaghetti pot. I think that's a good thing.

This weekend, I meandered twice.

I had described myself to a friend using a line from the great Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, song "Ol' Man River." I used this vernacular, from the Paul Robeson rendition of the song:

Ah gits weary
An' sick of tryin'
Ah'm tired of livin'
An' scared of dyin'
But ol' man river
He jes' keeps rolling' along.

(Trigger warning. This version contains language that today we find refractory. It wasn't considered wrong 87 years ago when this was filmed.)

In a trice, that led me to this 13-minute instrumental version by the Count Basie Orchestra, featuring an amazing drum solo by Sonny Payne.

I also this weekend watched a great Rene Clement movie, Plein Soleil or Purple Noon, with Alain Delon and the stunning Marie Laforet. Later, I found out Laforet was a chanteuse on the order of a Piaf. And I fell in love all over again. As I do so often.

The point of all this meandering is that meandering gets us to places we are richer for having discovered. Digressions aren't digressions. And getting lost is the best way to find. That's true in my life and it's true throughout history. 

You're finished with this now.

Give me a like.

Then go take a hike.

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