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He eyed my pears and poetry and accused me of smuggling iambic pentameter into the states.
I became interested in the idea of bewilderment when I came across a writing retreat in the stages at the Omega Centre. The Omega Centre is a personal development spot where people hear the likes of Byron Katie and Wayne Dyer. They teach you how to play guitar with your third eye. There is a class called “The Zen of Tennis,” played with no racquets. There was also one called, “The Bewilderment of Memoir,” by the writer Nick Flynn (author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City– that eventually became a movie called Being Flynn with Robert DeNiro.)
Bewilderment is a word we need to embrace if are writers. We have to submit to not knowing where the story is taking us. It’s a curiosity about where our ideas are leading us. And on the page or in real life it seems to me that if we want to keep growing throughout our lives we need to embrace a little bewilderment.
Bewilderment is not confusion. Its curisoty and awe.
So I signed up for the class and decided to cross into the states at the 1000 Islands Sky Bridge, near Gananoque, just east of Kingston.
It was the July 4th weekend and was no one in line. The border guard was alone. I thought I will flash a passport and sail through. He leaned in the window,
“Where are you headed?”
“A writing class.”
“And where is that?”
“The Omega Centre.”
“And where is that?
“Rhinebeck New York. 4 hours from here.”
I was about to say, “It’s your country, don’t you know where it is?” when he interrupted me.
“What kind of writing class would you be taking?”
He hit the ‘you’ in the sentence hard. The way he said ‘you’ implied I was too old to be studying.
“The class is called Memoir as Bewilderment.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“We’re studying memoir and how we are bewildered when it comes to our memories. We are not sure whether they happened or not.”
“I am confused.” He said.
“Exactly.’ I thought he might see the irony. He didn’t.
“Are you teaching this course?”
“No. Taking it.”
“You are taking a bewilderment class at your age?’ There was that you again.
If anyone has a right to be bewildered, wouldn’t it be a woman of my age? I am still wondering what happened to my life.
“What’s all that paper you’ve got there?” He pointed to the pile of photocopies I have in the front seat.
“Oh, this? My driving instructions and some poetry.”
“I see. Let me see that.” He took the sheets and I was sure he was going to keep them. I should mention what I have had confiscated at the border: My knitting needles. An umbrella. And even my MAC lipstick: this happened sometime after the shoe bomber and before the 100 ml liquid rule. I had just bought a $27 lip-gloss, the seal had not been broken, but the woman at security informed me I couldn’t keep it. “You might have a bomb in there.” I’d said loudly, “It’s Mac lipstick. I would never use Mac lipstick to make a shoe bomb.”
This sentence did nothing to calm her. I strongly suggest you not ever use the words shoe bomb at any airport, unless you want the next two words to be, ‘bend over.”
After he finished the poem, he said; “So, did you write this poem?”
“No. No. It’s not my poetry. It’s my friend’s poem.”
“You’re taking a friend’s poem down to Omega to study bewilderment?” he asked.
Yes, sir, I am transporting illegal free verse and trafficking iambic pentameter.
He continued, “Bewilderment? What does this poem have to do with that?”
“We will be using the sentences from the poem as inspiration.”
“No. No. If you use a line from another poet’s work as inspiration, it’s called a Glossa.”
“A glossa? So are you a poet?”
“No. No. God. I am a comedienne.”
“Really?” Oh, you thick-necked idiot. I am funny.
“Yes, sir.” Perhaps he’d let me through faster if I had a rifle in my trunk.
The border guard paced, confused by my very being was now grasping at straws.
“Are you transporting any fruit?”
“Just a pear.”
“I’ll have to confiscate that from you.”
I handed him the pear, and he gave me back my friend’s poem and waved me through.
Border guards aren’t great with Bewilderment- but if you want to live your most authentic life, you need to get comfortable with it.
Do you have any funny stories about border guards? Or trying to get through customs? Comment below!
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Here is one of the stories a new writer Cathy Cleary wrote about her time in Africa: Baby Neema Opened Cathy’s Heart: