…and away we go!

March 29, 2011 § 25 Comments

What do you see when you look at this carrot?

Me, I see Jackie Gleason in his famous, “…and away we go!” pose—or rather, my dad doing Gleason.

Having made the leap from carrot, to Gleason, to my Dad, I am back in my family’s living room in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.  My dad, who is about to leave the room, is standing on one foot, the other leg crossed over, as he delivers Gleason’s famous exit line.

All this from a carrot?  Do you mean you don’t see it?

Okay, chances are your dad never did Gleason, but I bet you saw something more than a carrot in this image.

Something human with legs.

A fat man doing an exuberant dance perhaps.

How about this one?

My husband and I, quite independently, gave this collection of tanks and pipes that sits atop the Rose Printing Company a name, “The old friends.”

Driving past it every day, for me they have become an old married couple.  The ungainly pair is walking slowly along together.

The one on the left is more bent, her head down as she walks.  Her jaunty companion has his arm around her.  They are growing comfortably old together.  Life is good.

Perhaps my story is more elaborate than is justified—or perhaps you are thinking, you are nuts, Adrian (If that is the case, feel free to say so in the comments).

But if you recognize this : ) as a human face, you do it too.

Because we are human we see ourselves—and those we long to see—all around us.  It is not surprising that Jesus appears frequently, and in such unlikely places as on some guy’s breakfast plate, the portrait amazingly lifelike on a pancake.  People flock to see such an incredible manifestation of divinity and wonder at the mysterious ways God chooses to communicate with us.

Why at breakfast, God?  Why?  At least let me drink my first cup of coffee before you show up!

The ancients found their gods and heroes writ large in the night sky, in collections of stars that had surely been deliberately arranged.  Seen from anywhere but earth, or by anyone not human, those constellations would be nothing but scattered points of light. It is our human need for meaning that compels us to connect the dots.

Four leaf clovers, black cats that cross our paths, horse shoes.   Whether smiling on us or dooming us, we look for signs that the universe is aware of us and that it cares enough to reward or punish us.

The chaos of an infinite in which we are no more than an ephemeral flicker terrifies us, so we come up with more bearable explanations.   We have not changed that much since the ancient days when the model of the heavens had earth at its center.  Belief in our own significance comforts us, but it also robs us.

Preoccupation with the importance of our human selves blinds us to so much of what goes on around us.

It is spring now.  Carpenter bees are everywhere.  They hover, holding perfectly still in the air.

I would love, for just a minute, to see the world as they do.  Not only to experience the difference between my vision and theirs, but to hone in on those things that would matter to me if I were a carpenter bee.  What patterns do a carpenter bee draw comfort from?

What do the constellations that rule the lives of the other occupants of this planet look like?

I will never know, but if I can quiet my insistent human self and observe, I may begin to understand–and so I try. But the moments when my human self is unobtrusive enough for me to do so are fleeting and brief.

I will always see Jackie Gleason in the carrot, the old couple in the collection of tanks and pipes.  I will see the humor and the compassion, the sadness and joy that make me a member of the human tribe.

And I will remain a perpetual outsider, respectfully observing the other lives that teem all around me.

In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

Henry Beston, American Poet and Naturalist

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§ 25 Responses to …and away we go!

  • I see Gleason – strangely enough, that was the first think I thought of when I saw the carrot!

    Perhaps, Adrian, we are of the same breed as Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who went to work on June 3, 1948 creating his 563 by 641-foot sculpture of Crazy Horse atop his spirited warhorse in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Or Michelangelo who saw David in a flawed block of marble.

    Or perhaps not. In any case, those artists had an eye that saw beauty and purpose in the unlikely. Perhaps that’s what we should all strive for.
    MLS

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  • I saw Jackie Gleason in the carrot too.

    For me it’s not so much that I want the universe to know I am here, it’s that I want to connect to others and grow a sense of the larger community. I open to each stranger I meet with the hope of reaching something deeper, something larger. We are all human. We are one.

    I must put off this vibe. My husband, children, and friends are always astounded when perfect strangers walk up to me on the street or the beach or a store and begin telling me their story, but it happens all the time. Most of the people I meet are searching for understanding. I find this heartening, because most often understanding is found in common ground, and this is something our world is desperate for right now.

    At this moment our cat, Angel, is walking all over the keyboard. I have to keep moving her, deleting what she types, fighting for ownership of the mouse. I could get frustrated, but she would still walk all over my desk making mischief. To solve the problem, I have to put myself in her place, understand what she feels. All she really wants is my affection. That’s easy enough to give.

    Little movements send out ripples that turn into waves. Some small kindness you do today and won’t even remember doing tomorrow could change a life just enough to alter its course for the better. All you have to do is smile at a stranger, and understand.

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    • You and I both have faces that assure people their stories are safe with us. Not that we won’t use them in a story of our own, but that we will be sympathetic to the tale (or tail), whatever it is.

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  • PS I was going to add that the same goes for bees and birds and plants and ants, that we only have to see and appreciate life from their perspective, but Angel stepped on the “post comment” before I was done!

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  • craig reeder says:

    i LOVED the “old friends.” they are so obviously human; they touch so tenderly. it makes me think of an enigmatic, but profound observation from “A Course in Miracles.” It says “perception is projection.” We create meaning in what we perceive, and artists like you, Adrian, help us to see those deeper, fuller meanings, that that reflect, perhaps, our own souls. Thanks so much for sharing that touching portrait of the “old friends.”

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    • Tgumster says:

      Oh, Craig, “A Course in Miracles” of course, of course!

      Like

    • Seeing those two always gets to me when I drive by. Perception must truly be projection.

      Ray says that in addition to being a lovely aged couple the sculpture on top of the printing company is probably also a dust collection system, but neither one of us chooses to perceive it that way.

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  • joan ryan says:

    Adrian:

    When I read your blog about the carrot and Gleason, I realized how much I miss when I don’t visit “Slow Dance” now and then.

    How like you to see the humanity in old pipes and fat carrots!

    Joan

    Like

  • Tgumster says:

    I saw the “Jackie Gleason” words before I saw the carrot–such is the way of my email inbox–thus, I’ll never know which came first but as I am, admittedly, anthropomorphic, I suspect it’s Gleason. Already, that perception is my reality.

    Like Leigh, I share a keyboard with a cat, Emma Rose. She is a serious kitty and requires daily keyboard time. Every day, she knows just what to do: start here, end there, sit on the delete key.

    I can only aspire.

    Like

  • KS Kublin says:

    This is the best “you-know-what-that-reminds-me-of” post EVER. What a graceful way to characterize how we connect with each other in searching for and making meaning.

    The printing company’s dust collection system has always been a child-robot to me. It’s ready to stand up and toddle over to the railroad tracks, pick up a freight car and play with it. For a couple years now, I’ve had thoughts of taking that photograph and creating a digital animation of that waddling, metal toddler.

    Does the child-robot put me squarely in a different generation than you and Ray? Or maybe just half a generation removed?

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    • I like the idea of a child-robot picking up a freight car–if not the idea of being a generation older than you.

      I’m willing to bet that for you there was no Jackie Gleason in the carrot. Sad what you youngsters know nothing of.

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  • G.H. Edwards says:

    Have I crossed generations by seeing Jackie in the carrot and the toddler robot in the Rose Printing dust collectors?

    Like

  • Sheila Merlau says:

    I don’t remember my father imitating Jackie Gleason, but boy was his show show a mainstay in our house at 8 pm on Sat night. And how Daddy loved the June Taylor Dancers! The carrot is a definite replica of Jackie and his bigger than life exits. Actually it could probably sell on e-bay to a TV Land fan.

    Television in our house was a wonder to my father who had been raised on an Iowa farm. Wildlife shows, westerns, football, and certain other variety shows were daddy’s choices, and no one thought of changing to one of the other channels. (I think there were 3). My husband and I laugh about the fact that each of us lived–prior to air-conditioning– in a household with one electric fan that was moved from the kitchen after dinner to the tv room for the evening….and then when our fathers went to bed it was unplugged and carried to their bedrooms with them! And we never thought it was a bit unusual. We can’t imagine our grandchildren tolerating such an “injustice”.

    But back to the original thread, when I young my mother pointed out to me that the moon’s markings created a picture of Jesus with a child. I could see it then and I can see it now. I don’t think I’ve convinced another adult of the legitimacy of the illusion, but since it’s there for me, it doesn’t really matter to me.

    When I worked with young children one of my greatest joys was gathering used materials that the children could use to create something new. I thought it was important that they learn not only about recycling, but how to visualize new uses for common shapes, forms and colors. So often the children’s creations surpassed anything I could have dreamed. This, I fear is what is being lost as testing has insidiously crept down to the lower grades and even preschools. The time for such building, visualizing, whatever you want to call it, is no longer available. Will the children of the future see the whimsy of Jackie Gleason in a carrot?

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    • In my home the only fan was in my parent’s bedroom–and after that, the only window AC unit. On hot nights I used to sleep in the bathtub. The porcelain was so cool…

      I have the same fears about modern children, but I’ve noticed that imagination is hard to kill. My library kids have plenty.

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  • Amy Schoch says:

    My first reaction was gratitude that you didn’t see Jesus in that carrot. And then gratitude again to be reminded of Jackie Gleason, a love I shared with my father. I sat and cried the day Gleason died.

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    • In my mind my dad and Jackie Gleason are bound together. I can’t see a photo of Gleason without immediately remembering my father. It’s nice that you and your dad shared Gleason as well.

      And don’t worry, Jesus will never appear to me as a carrot.

      Like

  • Carl Fogelin says:

    I’ll admit that when I saw that carrot I thought of a dancer, but your reference to Jackie Gleason and dad imitating him I can “SO” see in that lively root. I haven’t thought about dad and his “Gleason” routine in years – it brings a smile to my face now. When I was a kid, I might have thought he was Fred Flintstone though… 🙂 As to the old couple, yes, although I see the guy leaning over to whisper something in his wife’s ear.

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  • I saw a mis-shaped carrot and a bunch of metal tanks on the top of a building.
    I won’t go so far as to say that I think you are nuts. You are obviously a “writer.” But then again that might be saying the same thing.
    As with beauty, I suppose, imagination is also in the eye of the beholder.
    Obviously, I am not a mystic.
    It is interesting to note: you look at things and see people. I often look at people and see “things.”
    One last question: Did the carrot or the metal on the top of the building say anything to you?
    If the answer is affirmative, this could be a more serious symptom.
    I’m just kidding … Amy. Have a nice day!

    Like

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