One of the things I love about stories – particularly myths – is that they can grow inside your mind. They’re expansive and engulfing, leaping off the page and turning into something full and exciting as you put them into your mind. Writing lets me take that experience and leave behind a record can reawaken that story if ever it goes dormant.
But there are lots of experiences for which this isn’t so easy. You can’t really capture the experience of a live performance in a recording. You’ll watch it later or look at photos and it won’t be the same. You can remember the ephemeral experience of a particular dance, the delivery of a line, or a moment of harmonization, but you’ll be grasping after a fading image, elated for a while, but eventually, mourning its loss. It’s not impossible to keep a hold on it, but it’s harder.
These experiences can be hyperbolic and transcendent precisely because they are so brief. Like the flash of colorful foliage that makes autumn so delightful, like sandcastles doomed to wash out to sea, and like dancing to a live band, these experiences burn a little brighter for their ephemerality. They demand that your full attention be given the moment, because there’s no coming back to it another time. Feel this now, they whisper, holding your mind as you try desperately to take in as much of the moment you can.
The past two years, my husband and I have made Gingerbread houses for the Christmas season. The first year, we spent hours of time over the course of several days over the course of two weeks designing, baking, shopping, decorating, constructing, and landscaping. There were long sessions of doing geometry, most of which was abandoned when we realized that gingerbread doesn’t bake to precision, visits and revisits to multiple candy stores, and moments of agony when the pretzel reindeer I’d been holding for an hour while it dried crashed to the floor and I had to start over.
And then, after just a month or so of enjoying this incredible labor of love, we dumped it in the trash. Gingerbread houses don’t last forever, and it’s devastating to see them go. All that careful construction, the hours of placing individual strands of shredded wheat to fill out the thatched roof, the starburst masonry, all gone in an instant of post-holiday cleaning.
It was worth every minute. The limitations of the material are freeing because the constraints force me to be more creative as I make it, and more unrestrained in my experience of it.
I think this is the case for all ephemeral arts. They don’t just shine brighter because they’re about to flame out, they shine brighter because we see them more generously. We have to. If we don’t drop our filters and open ourselves wholly to them, they won’t take hold of us, and we’ll miss them when they fade.
This includes snowmen, too.
They really don’t last. 🙂