Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain

Strength returns slowly, after long trial. Bit by bit, slower than the tower first fell, we rebuild it, and we rebuild it hand in hand. For once, though I was my usual unconscious self falling...I am trying to be very conscious of whom I'm choosing to help me rebuild.

To help me rebuild myself. The self I want to be.


(Flying buttresses at Rouen, in northern France.)

So you don't want to hear about my good song?
You don't want to hear about how I am getting on
With all the things that I can get done
The sun is in the sky, and I am by my lonesome
So you don't want to hear about my good day?
You have better things to do than to hear me say...

When I was younger, there was a class I took. Walking through what felt like a museum, looking at examples of how people build, what they use to build, how things get from flickers of ideas in someone's head, then out and planned, then rising and built.

Examples. Affixed to the walls, the floor, behind glass. Carved wood. Carved stone. Glass, concrete, stranger things.

And everywhere, everywhere, images of what we build, what our hands could do. Temples and trains and churches and courtyards and small homes and cathedrals and houseboats and treehouses. Thatched roofing, how it developed. Mud-chinking, how that had come about. The making of bricks, basic shapes that could be wrought from basic materials.

Flying buttresses.

That was the one that stuck with me.


(Flying buttresses in Chartres.)

God, it's been a lovely day!
Every thing's been going my way
I took out the trash today, and I'm on fire...

The concept of the flying buttress is something odd indeed for architecture. For one, it was nearly entirely used in religous structures. For two, it depended on inherent weakness in the main, to work. To wit: to have walls that can contain large sections of separate materials (stained glass, or the negative of construction, arches containing empty space), these arching supports were developed that would use the very curves that formed them to redistribute needed weight to brace.

Were they strong in themselves? To a point, yes. And they would be supporting strong walls, save then they wouldn't be necessary. They become necessary, when the insert of glass, the carving of the stones, or the carving out of arched space, is considered desirable along that wall. They allow the walls to reach higher, they allow towers to be built, because they are, each by each, taking part of the weight of the whole on themselves.


(Flying buttresses lining a wall in York.)

So you don't want to hear about my good friends?
You don't have the guts to take the truth or consequence
Success is in the eye of the beholder
And it's looking even better, over your cold shoulder

I remember standing there, looking at the example, the faded photographs, turning to the small glass case with a scale model of a cathedral, and the flying buttresses that lined each large ornate wall. And I remember nodding to myself. Thinking, that's me. That right there. That structure.


(Flying buttresses at Winchester Cathedral.)

I'm not suggesting you get to line me up for questioning
But Jesus, think about the bridges you are burning
And I'm betting
That even though you knew it from the start
You'd rather be a bitch, than be an ordinary broken heart

I'm not always good at it, I admit this. I need people more than they need me, and I'm the only one who seems to know that, mainly because I don't act like it. And it takes so long for people to wear me down, chip away at me, carve me into some more understandable shape. But I let it happen, much as I can. Because those I consider my true friends, they're my supports. For my walls that have weakness built into them, weakness as part of the design. My friends are the ones that hold me up.

Knock too many of them aside, the structure I am collapses. I've seen it happen. More than once.


(Shadow of buttresses along a side wall at Marlyebone.)

The total reliance on flying buttresses in terms of Gothic cathedral architecture is now viewed as a quaint thing, an affectation, by many architects now. We have other ways to support ornamented walls, they say. Poured concrete support, staggered internal columns, even constructing the walls differently...which works, for a more modern, less ornamented world. Everything the same. No need for differentiation save for shape and form.

Art, they say, is reserved for decoration. And perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps that's why I cling to this image so--because I believe the functional can be artistic, and vice versa. The most elegant piece of stemware is just a reformed bubble of glass, if it looks like nine hundred other glasses. Things of use can be ornamented and functional. We lose nothing by integration of art into life.

So go ahead and talk about your bad day...
I want all the details of the pain and misery
That you are inflicting on the others
I consider them my sisters, and I want their numbers--


(Buttresses supporting Bath Abbey.)

Am I saying I'm a work of art? Well, if so, my artist has gone mad long since. I will say I am a work of thought, and it's important to remember that. Moreover, I am a work of concept, and this was mine, remains mine. To be stable--to be able--I cannot stand alone.

It is the hardest thing, for some of us, to say that, to see it, to acknowledge it openly. I need you. I need your help. Simple, so simple words. I cannot exist on my own. Terrifying words.

God, it's been a lovely day!
Every thing's been going my way
I took up croquet today, and I'm on fire

I picked up the pieces of my broken ego
I have finally made my peace, as far as you and me go
But I'd love to have you up to see the place
I'd like to do more than survive
I'd like to rub it in your face....


(Flying buttresses support the major wall on Strasbourg.)

But necessary words, nonetheless. And I need to remember, I am not diminished by this reliance. I need to leave that concept, that curling fragment of poisoned thinking, behind at long last. That I need people makes me no less; that I need people does not mean I have failed at this construct, this concept that is my life and me.

Hey! It's been a lovely day!
Every thing's been going my way
I had so much fun today, and I'm on fire
God it's been a lovely day
Every thing's been going my way
Ever since you went away
Hey, I'm on fire....


(The flying buttresses for Notre Dame.)

No one gets out of this alive, after all. The first breath we take will lead us to death, all of us, no exceptions. Sooner or later, everything dies--people, plants, stars. Universes. Everything breathes its last and is gone...to rise again in some other form, learn other lessons, and die again. Spin the wheel, take your chances, learn new lessons, start again.

I'm on fire...
I'm on fire...
I'm on fire...
I'm on...


(The flying buttresses of Il Duomo in Milan.)

And me, perhaps I'm learning this lesson later than most. It's no less important for the lateness of the hour. I don't stand alone. I rise--or fall--with others. My structure of self needs a good foundation, yes, which I'm going over now, relearning the weak spots, reinforcing where I can, accepting help. But I cannot do it by myself.

And this is not a bad thing. This is not a failure on my part. This is even--if I may be so bold--a strength. After all, what is friendship but a joining of hands? What is community but those joined hands building together?

I am more than what people see. So are my friends. So are their friends. So are our communities. Caledon itself, after all, could not exist without the cooperation of its citizenry, their commitment, their diversity. Individuality joined into activity.

The love of the thing, and the support we all bring to it.

Perhaps the conceit of flying buttresses doesn't just apply to me.

So you don't want to hear about my good day?

("Good Day" by Dresden Dolls, would be the song quoted for this one.)


Baron K. Wulfenbach said...

Fraulein Orr,

This reminds me of my long-term plans for my lands, for my son, for the students on the Castle - mutual support, mutual trust, friendship holding up a unified peaceful Europa and protecting it against threats internal and external.

The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, whether the current parts like it or not. The peace did not survive the disappearance of Bill and Barry Heterodyne; I will ensure it will survive me.


Klaus Wulfenbach

Seraph Nephilim said...

As ever, beautifully written.

Emilly Orr said...

Baron: sometimes destruction must precede great change. Such turbulent times are viewed with disfavor, but oft looked back upon as the highest reflection of necessary justices.

My Queen: I thank you.