There are no new ideas, but sometimes it feels like there are.
My friend Ben once told the story of a day when he was alone at his home in Pittsburgh and his appetite inspired him to re-fry some leftover re-fried beans. Thinking that the meal could use some substance, he added some ground meat to the sizzling stuff on the stovetop, which seemed a bit dry, so he searched in the 'fridge' and found some sort of tomato sauce and he stirred that in with a wooden spoon. And just about the point where he was jazzing it up with some onions and peppers, in a moment where we can pretend that he said, "Eureka!" a bigger understanding dawned upon him which he explained by saying that it was then that he realized, "I just invented chili!"
Last Tuesday I was standing in front of my stove, cracking eggs into a pan and thinking about the Mayans. I was thinking that though I don't think any them thought that the world was going to end at the end of their calendar, I was glad that it didn't. Then I got to thinking that I should chop up a turkey hot dog that has been lingering in my icebox and fry it with my eggs.
I am not an expert on the Mayans. I don't even have PBS. But what I do know, or at least what I believe to be true from what I have learned from random reading, hanging out with philosophy majors and watching TV, is that early civilizations probably knew a lot of things that we have since forgotten. And then I remembered that I had a couple of slices of cheese and I dug that out from behind my almost empty olive and pickle jars. And, what if I chopped up a couple of olives and fried them too?
I may be wrong when I say that there are no new ideas. It is like when you say that there are no new songs. Two thirds of all great singles are just the same three guitar chords rearranged beneath slightly different words being sung to similar tunes. Or so somebody who is trying to act smart might say until someone like Willie Nelson comes along and fills sixty albums singing a different story every time.
But it is awfully difficult to come up with new ideas – things that no one has ever thought before. Try and tell a joke that is not just an old one recycled. And science is just about to the point that it knows almost everything. Or thinks it does, anyway. So if there are no new ideas, there needs to be new ways to consider the ones we presently believe to be true.
I don't think that the Mayan end was meant to be seen as one as much a new beginning. I am keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of an age of enlightenment. I think that we are ripe for new insights that allow for new ideas. Perhaps some new truth will become evident that will inspire science and religion to quit butting their heads and together learn to believe.
While I was out digging through my glove box looking for a packet of Taco Bell hot sauce I let my eggs over fry and it is reassuring how little smoke it takes to set off my fire alarm. I did not get to say, "Eureka! I have discovered the omelet!" I did make a loud dramatic exclamation, but is not suitable for print.
Then with my ears ringing and the frustrating and embarrassing meaning of the moment sinking in I held that frying pan like a mirror and had a minor epiphany. Looking deep into its burnt tones and textures, its swirls of yokish yellow and its strange crispy state somewhere between steaming and smoldering, I saw my failure in the kitchen as a low level work of expressionism, a public service announcement and a self-portrait in a skillet.
This is what your life has become. This is your mind nearing middle age: a cheesy and charred overdone dinner for one.
There are no new ideas. I ripped that off that frying pan thing from an old anti-drug commercial and even the Mayans probably knew about chili. But somehow I feel like I've created something here, even if it is only just another way to laugh at myself.
It would be convenient to end this thing with a Mayan end of the world joke, but at this point we have heard them all before.
(Staff Photographer Roger Vogel can be reached at email@example.com.)