Thursday, July 5, 2012

Controlled Burn, for the Win

Two of my favorite pastimes on this Earth are both events that I've given up trying to capture in photos: fireworks and parades. I vividly remember our oldest daughter's first parade almost eight years ago: on Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, which we took in from a hot sidewalk near the jazziest pharmacy I've seen, in downtown Las Vegas. (The store's logo is bedazzled in perpetually chasing neon. Even the foam beer cozies on sale within have a holographic sheen.) Occasionally looking through family scrapbooks, these are pictures of silent strangers, reducing the extended sensory pleasure to a flat, two-dimensional memento. All photographs necessarily compress our memories, but this desire to capture the momentous and celebratory rings especially hollow when it fails so starkly. My images of the teenaged drill team members are blurry, the fire trucks are muted and dull without their attendant sound effects, and the only photo I treasure among the forty or so taken is of baby Vivian's profile, ensconced in a rainbow feather boa. I've read tip sheets from professional parade photographers, shown up early in order to get a good angle, and shot with perspective in mind. I've turned the pictures black and white. It doesn't work.

In this way, the process unfolding before us, and the resulting sensation within us, are the attraction. We'd do better to acknowledge its fleeting nature and value it accordingly. Wanting to possess, contain and control it --- even for the sake of art and posterity --- reveals an underdeveloped sensual nature and fear of vulnerability.

Just like premarital sex and the San Diego fireworks mishap. Stay with me. All of the anticipation and physical pizzazz was there, but released in a brilliant and fizzling burst. The brilliance and the fizzle are so thoroughly enmeshed, it almost equals security. No wondering if each combustion is the finale, no time to worry about this experience being one of consequence or mutual value. In fact, in the sexual sense, the utter lack of trust between two parties becomes its own reductionist bond: we are simply animals.

I had another photo-based catharsis after effectively missing an epic fireworks show in Singapore, because I was distracted by the task of capturing it. Picking up my little camera, then putting it away and trying to re-focus and drink in the revelry, only to grab it again at hopefully the right millisecond. (Incidentally, who is interested in amateur photos of fireworks? Not even my best shots stir anything in me, years later.)

This, kids, is courtship:  a burst of light flashes and recedes before we realize its strength. Was that eye contact? Others build, with crescendoes that physically rock us: we held hands! I asked him his last name! I like his last name! The staccato sadness of an unreturned phone call is where the depth of feelings can get scary, and thereby meaningful. Likewise, the dark spaces between fireworks contain much of the show's dignity and power.

It strengthens us to exist, in the early stages of love, between high marks, with breath held and hopes pinned --- my fate resting in the Conductor's baton. Please God, let this be authentic. The accents of courtship are made meaningful because of their rarity. He kissed me!

We are not built to sustain the razzle dazzle. The ferocity and uncertainty of human love has a place so precious within us that to hold the note cheapens the tune considerably. Take the near-constant barrage of text messages which I presume to be a part of many adolescent and perhaps even adult dating rituals. The poignancy of contact is all but gone, with a need for increasing stimulation dooming us to cynicism. What, as the radio anchor posited this morning when reporting on the half million spectators assembled for the 4th of July in San Diego, was left to do "for the remaining nineteen and a half minutes?"

We are wired to experience ever-new dimensions of trust, disillusionment and thrill. It will not break us. The courage to see what's around the corner is the essence of life. Nothing is to be gained by treating virginity as a simple milestone to be overcome. Sexual life has an eternal weight that we can't diminish, regardless of our opinions on the veracity of natural law. Breaking a window and running away might change our view, but the universe, including our space in it, has been impacted.

And for every girl like me who tossed it away, may the right soul stick around and dedicate his life to your private jubilee.


  1. Thanks for a brilliant and painful take on this. The comparison to the failed fireworks exhibition is particulary apt. Where do you find the mental space to write with all your beloved bundles?

  2. Thank you Sarah! This felt like a jumbled wreck, but I knew I wouldn't make it back to edit ... Early a.m. coffee is my mental solitude. Husband's days home give a bit of physical space, but lately I only write when I'm compelled by inspiration. It's a terrible plan!

  3. I hesitated before a public reply, but decided that I want everyone who reads this to know that I think you are correct. And brilliant. Inspired, too.
    Thanks for putting your thoughts down; many people benefit!

  4. Nice post, well written. It made me think of this article.

    I've always felt the rise in premarital sex has less to do with moral choice than with our (futile) attempt to hoodwink biology. Fave quote from said article: Sex is the sugar coating on the drive to reproduce, and that drive is nearly overwhelming. It’s supposed to be; it’s the survival engine of the human race. Fighting it means fighting a basic bodily instinct, akin to fighting thirst.

    And at the same time we need more and younger marriage, the culture and law are stacked against it. We will see more premarital sex and less children in the future. And when raising my own children, I try to prepare them for the sexual world as it is, a harsh and dangerous world where traditional religion offers the only semi-safe haven.

  5. Tiffany, you are an extraordinarily talented writer. I keep coming back to Lox Populi looking for new posts... "Controlled Burn, for the Win," as wonderful as it is, was posted in July! Write more! Your audience awaits!