Tuesday, August 7, 2007

50 Ways (and then some)

Lesson Eleven

Call it superstition or projection. An obsession with the figurative. The sparrow’s nest outside your front door. Or it was your front door, until you walked out of it with your hastily packed bags of clothes, shoes and books. The nest is still there. The eggs have hatched. The chicks have died. The parents watch the house mournfully from the telephone wire. You could have told them that the nest was poorly built, the walls too low, the placement suicidal. New parents, they are still learning. They watch the first two fledglings fall, one by one, the bodies tiny and rigid on the porch. The third hatchling hides in her shell at the bottom of the nest. Weeks go by. Now she is here to greet you. A white strip of feather across each cheek as if painted for battle. She is. But you are uncertain which act would be the most brave. To leave or to return. She’s perched on the edge of a nest she has outgrown, weighing the odds.

Lesson Twelve

Hominins did not always survive with their hearts intact. In the Paleolithic period, the evolutionary process affected a rapid series of genealogical aberrations. Species came and went. Homo Habilis was short with arms sweeping past her knees. When her lover told her he was leaving her for Homo Ergaster, that bitch, Habilis whipped her arm around her lover’s chest and struck with such force it cracked his sternum and depressed his heart. Habilis found her own heart had turned to stone. In this way, Habilis survived, the mother of a stone-age species that existed another five hundred years.

Homo Antecessor was without any antecedents. She made herself up daily. The keeper of the first symbolic language, Antecessor carved the history of her species into the thick folds of her skin. It was the sweet smell of her blood that drew the others. She charmed them with the patterns of symbols she’d drawn in the recess of her chin. But lust cannot be quelled by ambiguous iconography. Antecessor was the word made flesh and the first to be consumed. It was her flesh that drove them, but her heart that they swallowed whole. In this way Antecessor became a part of the future. The riches of her literate body, the meat of her, gnawed from bone.

Homo Soloensis was that island girl who dreamed of something other than river valleys and oceanographic expanse. She was gracile and unusually adaptive. This would be her downfall. What girl can be greater than the collective fear of men? When Soloensis developed a sharper cutting tool, the committee of elders worried she would threaten the order of her species. They thought first to remove her hands, but she managed to use her feet so agilely they amputated other parts of her as well. It is hard to say what she missed more, the familiarity of her thoughts, which disappeared abruptly when they split her skull and took a meal of the matter that spilled forth, or her heart, its rhythmic arrangement of color. When her heart was excised and divided among the elders, the strips of muscle twitched. Each man took her trembling ligament into his mouth and in this way Soloensis, the dreamer, became the body through which fearful Homo Sapiens persist.

Lesson Thirteen

You have always been unlucky. Blame it on that selfish gene, the ruthless evolutionary protagonist. If you were male such a narrative would be compellingly productive. But you are not. You are a woman on a bench. There are children playing. A little girl grabs a stuffed animal from the arms of another child, a little boy who cries. How can you describe the girl as more relational, cooperative? The boy more objective? Do the antics of American children in a playground mean anything other than a moment in place and time? Social biology has a lot to say on the matter. You should too. Science depends on its capacity for extrapolation. Take your own case in point. You are woman who abandoned her family, slipped through the intricate network of interpersonal connections. Untethered. In the science of sex you are an aberration, a dilemma. In the backpack beside you is your broken heart. It has long since stopped bleeding. Now desiccant, it is the size of a grapefruit, a child’s ball. Toss it into the playground. If the little girl catches it, you will have a story about the nature of sex. Unlike the biological accounts of behavior, this little experiment tells us something different. We are ruse and artifice. In the ongoing staging of self, we can become anything at all.

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