My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Tiger in a Cage

In visiting Thailand, I go to the zoo and find that my visit is rather peaceful and aesthetic and harmonious -- until I get to the tiger exhibit.  Here is something entirely different -- a masterpiece of a predator in a cramped enclosure, pacing back and forth, back and forth, marking his own kind of animal time.  On some level, he knows there's a life filled with wild adventure and the green, green jungle and a type of earth-shaking hunt that eludes him entirely.  Occasionally, a cricket or a field mouse wanders into reach -- and he bats it about.

But the truth is that he's terribly bored -- life-threateningly bored -- because the days he experiences are so stunningly small when compared to his capacities.  And there he is in his glorious gleaming coat -- with his eyes that shine like jewels -- and his mind that turns and weaves like the most beautifully complex maze you can imagine -- and he's trapped behind the bars.

I watch him all afternoon.  His inferiors sweep out his cage and throw him a steak now and then.  Sometimes I think he may have been held captive so long that even if the door were to be held open to him, he wouldn't leave his enclosure.  He likely feels safe with the daily routine, the predictable schedule, the institutional rules. (And yet I know instinctively that he has a hatred of all rules that are not his own.)  He may have relinquished his bold spirit altogether, and if so, there's nothing to be done for him.

But it's a tragedy to see the wild ways extinguished in such a beast.  It's a crime to see his beauty undone.  And if I were given the master key to the zoo and I could free any single creature from his fate, the tiger is the one I would release into the limitless jungle he constantly craves.

As I turn to leave, the tiger interrupts his unending stare to give me an intense predatory look.  I have the long legs of a gazelle and he is appraising them from his cage as I stride past.  His golden eyes have fixated on me like a double laser, and when they do, I can feel the boldness and stealth that define his spirit.  He is filled with envy of my form.  He loves me -- he hates me -- and he would like to consume me all at the same time.

I can feel his hunger invade me as I walk out into the wide world.  It's a bit hypnotic to combine his ravenous will with all that is fierce, luminous and pure in my own.  But I like the feeling as I go about my day.  It's potent, mysterious, unquenchable, driven, untamed, silent, self-possessed -- all of these.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright -- I've stolen the wildest piece of your spirit, and I'm not giving it back.

13 comments:

  1. I hate to see tigers confined as you describe. I've heard that it's not unusual in Thailand for a town to have its own caged tiger on display.

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    1. I think the government is trying to protect tigers to a greater degree than they used to -- but yes, it's very concerning to see the conditions of their captivity.

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  2. Do you know of a piece of music that sounds to you like the tragic life of the tiger you saw?

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    1. Hmm, interesting question, Xavier! Let me mull it over. I can think of a piece of music that reflects a tiger in a state of freedom. Would that suffice?

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    2. Sure, I'd love to hear it!

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  3. Tiger, tiger burning bright. How does the rest of the poem go?

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    1. Tiger, tiger, burning bright,
      In the forests of the night;
      What immortal hand or eye,
      Could frame they fearful symmetry?

      Here's the link to the rest of the poem:
      https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43687/the-tyger

      William Blake at his most brilliant!

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  4. Honestly I feel like a tiger in a cage just reporting to my office job every morning.

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    1. This is true for so many, JR -- the quiet desperation imposed by a restrictive routine. I hope you're looking for a setting that grants you more freedom! Life is too short to accept less!

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  5. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.

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    1. So was I! According to Chinese wisdom, we are supposed to be adventurous, warm-hearted, benevolent, passionate and imaginative -- with a rich emotional life. Amazingly accurate!

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  6. What happened to the post about the meaning of life?

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    1. I'm working on it, Sara! Thanks for your patience!

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