02/11/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Errant Messages

"Errant Messages" : Sculpture by Lynn Whitford

The word "errant" in modern times connotes delinquency, a straying from the proper path or program. Romping through history, however, "errant" in its archaic form suggests a wanderlust driven by the search for adventure. Did gallant curiosity become deviant somewhere along the way? And what of "curiosity" itself -- does the word signify the same thing to all souls in time and space?

That's the thing with language: context allows for wide variations in pitch, purpose and predilection. I tend to echolocate along a literary beam. I will always want errant to conjure up the spirit of Don Quixote or Sir Galahad and curiosity for me will forever mean more than looking things up on Wikipedia or watching TED talks on YouTube. Mind you, I do both of these frequently and with appreciation. Both are passive forms of inquiry, however. At best, they spark or complement deeper study. At worst, they replace it.

With so much access to information - so many words, written and recorded, so many ready digital responses - and all available to us at the click of a button, where do our questioning minds go to wander with wild abandon? Do we risk losing the range to recognize that facts are not the full truth, that the actual is always partially shaded by perception?

Human beings are thinking creatures. That a visionary gift, but only when we stay self-aware enough to remember that dependence on a fixed and finite reality can be a Trojan Horse. Perhaps that's why the ancient Greeks bestowed the power of clairvoyance to blind prophets. There are times when the only way to clear barriers or expose pretense is to shut one's eyes to the surface story.

Certainly much knowledge is based on facts. But the most profound kind of knowing is based on a leap of faith, a suspension of allegiance to convention. Thus, perhaps the older and more modern forms of the word errant are really one and the same. Abandonment of the proper path or program may be the most commendable course for a seeker of higher purpose. To "live the questions" - that's the Holy Grail that has elevated noble wanderers from Socrates to Rainer Maria Rilke.

Facts, legends, words, and philosophies are all best when filtered through the feeling heart, as well as the thinking mind. We do a disservice when we attach and hold too dearly to labels. The compulsion to nail truth to the wall never ends well. There is an elusive, radiant fluidity to human experience that defies definition.

Think about what is most genuine, most singular, most beautiful, and most tender within you. Could you diagram, diagnose, or delineate it with precise certainty? I hope not. Yet you might glance trace elements of it reflected in the gaze of someone who recognizes and cherishes the smallest part of you. Or you might hear snippets of that inner personal truth echoed in a line of verse. These sensations, when they happen, reach deep, like a lost, but first, remembrance.

It's in those connected moments when our everyday masks slip and the light shines through. In his play "The Real Thing", Tom Stoppard speaks of: "Knowing, and being known." His context is romantic love. It occurs to me, however, that we can't really experience the kind of carnal knowledge that Stoppard so lyrically describes, until we first learn to see and know ourselves. The first people ever to give me a glimpse of what it might feel to be "known" (even to myself) were poets.

Dana Gioia's "Prophecy"touched me in this way.

The gift is listening / and hearing what is only meant for you.

Poems like this are less mirror and more reflecting pool. Imagine my thrill then, in discovering Lynn Whitford's "Errant Messages" -- a sculpture that gives habitation to fragments of "Prophecy" and poems from H.D. and Boaventura DeSousa Santos, seemingly submerging them on floating bottles, etched from the inside out.

If a poem is how thoughts feel, Whitford gives those feelings physical form. In a sense, she illustrates the way a certain poem can find us and take possession of us. Carnal knowledge, indeed. It can feel like the miracle of a message in a bottle traveling vast distances to wash up at our feet in the sand.



Know thyself.

Be known.