You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss you had was years ago. You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives. Only churches are kept up. The jail turned 70 this year. The only prisoner is always in, not knowing what he's done...
---Richard Hugo, Degrees of Grey in Philipsburg
And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there has come a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return. Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region, off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then the night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, an hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came into a fantastic kingdom. Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly at the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.
---Antoine de Saint Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars
Giants, wizards, and dwarfs was the game to play.
Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the social hall and explained the game. It's a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won. Organizing a roomful of wired-up grade-schoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity--all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go. The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out: "You have to decide now which you are--a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF!" While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?" A long pause. A very long pause.
"Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.
"Yes. You see, I am a Mermaid."
"There is not such things as Mermaids."
"Oh, yes, I am one!"
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category. Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where. Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the "Mermaids"--all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes? Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it. What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I. (Yes, right here by the King's Fool, I thought to myself.) So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray. It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.