Essay: Why Mind the Gap?

Who said, “We’ll leave the light on for you?” Most adult Americans probably know who (Tom Bodett) and why (Motel 6 ad). It’s a famous advertising end tag.

I don’t advertise, sell, or profit from either of my blog sites. But I do use the static intro taglines feature of WordPress themes for both blogs. You can’t see the intro tagline on Our Literary Journey because this page is a clean and sanitized theme. While the menu icon brings up more info, it does not display the tag line (Driveling twaddle by an old flapdoodle). Maybe I should create something less self-effacing.

However, the intro tagline is front and center on the Dispassionate Doubt theme. I do not use an end tag there; usually it’s just a relevant meme or quotation.

On September 4, 2016, a few months after I started Our Literary Journey, I began using the Look both ways end tagline. I change it slightly each time to relate to the post. Seven weeks later, on October 21st, I added a second end tag, Mind the Gap (or gaps), also changeable.

Both end tags are philosophically metaphorical phrases for living life—staying alive and healthy. They suggest considering all sides (pro and con), hearing people out, looking for answers (or for questions), discerning danger, being careful and taking risk, learning and remembering lessons, and trying new and different things. Although, consistency and longevity are credible virtues.

Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the word gap (retail clothing notwithstanding) and how we use it. For a three-letter, one-syllable word, it can mean so many different things. To the degree that gap is synonymous with crack, I find much meaning in Cohen’s song verse.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen, lyrics from his song, Anthem

Gap has several definitions. It could be a break in a barrier (such as a wall, hedge, or line of military defense), an assailable position, a mountain pass or ravine, a separation in space or an incomplete or deficient area. A gap can be a break in continuity, a hiatus, lack of balance, or a disparity such as the gap between imports and exports. It could mean a wide difference in character or attitude, such as the generation gap, or a problem caused by some disparity such as a communication or credibility gap.

Mind the gap comes from the warning on the British Underground/subway. So, when I say mind the gap or gaps, it is a cautionary plea to protect oneself. It is also a suggestion to be careful and pay attention to your environment, particularly what you might not see. Yet, it is more than that. There are gaps in our knowledge, gaps in scientific explanations, gaps or figurative holes in our lives, or maybe gaps growing in our relationships. There is even a god of the gaps.

In my opinion, the biggest gap is between human imagination and reality.

This TEDx talk is about minding the gap. It’s what sparked me to write this post.

And yes, look both ways, into your imagination and toward reality.
And mind the gaps, those eternal infernal spaces
where the light gets in and shines upon mystery.

Literal Thinking; Ironic World

“The literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

Once we perceive something and it gets into our brains, the confusion begins. We communicate by employing methods or techniques to stimulate the senses of others, intentionally or not. Face-to-face, we can bring out all the best guns. Teachers employ every conceivable technology to get students to learn by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting.

ironic-mind2

I doubt that our individual minds are exclusively either literal or ironic. I suspect that some of us have trouble communicating, especially on the receiving end, because we lean one way or the other. When the ironic mind works with the literal, caution and precision must be applied. The reverse seems to be less of a problem.

I recall a conversation with my daughter about a man who, in my opinion, was an irresponsible pet owner. I forget the details of his transgression toward the pets, but I used a rather common and innocuous phrase regarding what she told me: “He should be shot.” Julie became upset with me (he may have been a boyfriend at the time). It was quite a while before I knew the reason. Apparently, she took what I said literally. Even after our discussing and my explaining the idiom, she never quite seemed to grant me a full pardon for promoting the demise of her friend. While this may appear extreme, it’s not uncommon.

Another example involves a writing quote I like from Steve Almond.

“All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.” ~ Steve Almond

When I posed this quote to another writer, she asked, “Is that how you see it?” I confessed agreement before I realized the problem with the noun lies. What makes this even more interesting is that at the time, I was writing historical fiction (an oddity in its own) and my friend was wrestling with a memoir (a quest for truth). Her efforts were focused on discovering the truth while mine were based on developing an untrue story in a true, but flexible, setting.

Fiction is only a lie when it is not presented as such. While neither of us set out to deceive anyone (truth is not in every memoir), her goal was fact with interest. Mine was interest with a false story based upon fact. My friend’s literal mind-set related to her concern with the accuracy of her project. Mine was based more on fiction, which is not the truth, thus figuratively can be called lies.

ironic-mind4

I enjoy the humor of sarcasm and irony. Without awareness of the intended humor, harm is frequent. Furthermore, if someone does not share another’s sense of humor regarding irony, even more so, sarcasm; the exact opposite of the intended communication is inevitable. Damage control using a follow-on explanation never seems to completely mend the fence, “I can’t believe you thought that was funny.” My personal sense of humor gets me into that sort of bind on a regular basis.

ironic-mind3A humorous book I enjoyed was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. The book is full of tongue-in-cheek humor, innuendo, sarcasm, and other forms of witty humor. It even has an angel who is so literal as to be the best heavenly straight man I can imagine.

I (somewhat proudly) wear the label snarkastic to fit my fondness for being both snarky and sarcastic. But, I’ve learned that how I communicate makes a difference. In writing, I am advocate for a sarcasm font (we need one). In person, I exaggerate facial expressions, gestures, and voice inflection so that I can give others the opportunity to get it right. I don’t enjoy the struggle of trying to explain my humor to someone who I know will never get it, but I try. And, I’m watchful for things not turning out as planned after I shoot off my mouth.

ironic-mind1Sometimes I don’t get it either. Like when I say something and someone bursts out laughing and yells, “Bill, I love your sense of humor.” I smile and nod, then lean to the person next to me and ask, “What did I say that was so funny?” Literally?

We live in an ironic world.
Love, laugh, get wet, look both ways,
and mind the gap.