317: “A Paper Boat” (Sapardi Djoko Damono)

“When you were a child you made a paper boat and sailed it
on the river shore; the stream flowed gently, and
your boat swayed its way towards the ocean.”
                -Sapardi Djoko Damono, from “Paper Boat” (trans. Hasif Amini & the author)

                When I started writing Uproar, I often felt like I had a contained thought to share. Or at least something resembling a contained thought: I’d read someone’s bright insight, and I wanted to chase it for a paragraph or two. For the last weeks its felt different. Instead of having a specific “something” to say, a what if this or what if that, I find myself more curious (and sometimes overwhelmed) by the wash of all these different somethings coming together.
                Your boat swayed its way towards the ocean.
                That change I’m describing sometimes feels frustrating, but it’s also one of my favorite parts of this project. I’ve been thinking about how I approach myself, how I go closer to my emotions and experiences. I think I often try to “understand” them. If I’ve made a paper boat and set it on the river, then I often try to understand how I folded the boat (and how I might have folded it better), and where in the river to put it (so to catch the current). I try to throw my mind way up above the river, so I can look down and chart the course this boat will take. I try to see the whole picture. In all of that there’s a lot of planning, a lot of directing, a lot of assessing. There’s a lot of attention as a microscope or a telescope, “getting things right,” pinning them down with light.
                The stream flowed gently, and your boat swayed.
                I’ve done that so much that sometimes I’ve started to believe that looking and directing were the only ways to interact with my paper boat. But they aren’t. Reading Damono, I can see the boat and the river for a moment. The little thing I’ve made, and the world around it. If I remember the boat’s on its way toward the ocean, I’m less worried about how many miles that might be. If I’m knee deep in the water, watching the boat sway on the currents, I’m less worried that they’re taking the boat away. Maybe going out can be a kind of coming back. I’ve had that thought before, but watching my paper boat on the river it stops being a thought and becomes a place I stand in for a moment.

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