Saturday, August 27, 2005

According to my Funk and Wagnells dictionary, an alley is a narrow street. It comes from the Middle English word "aley" which means "walk". It's true that most of the alleys I've been down are narrow. Some are wide enough for for a single car. Some, like the alleys that exist between two buildings are only wide enough for a single person to travel through. But an alleyway implies more than just a narrow steet. Alleys usually take me around to the backside of things. When I travel down the alleys in my neighborhood, I find myself traversing between backyards, seeing not the front porch face people put on things, but their more private selves: where people play and don't always pick up their toys; where stuff piles up if there are stuff-piles; where outdoor dogs live when they haven't jumped the fence and are roaming the neighborhood chasing people who unwisely wander down alleyways.

If I make the word into a metaphor, I come closer to a meaningful definition of it. If I talk about getting lost in the alleyways of life or love, then I'm saying something about being pulled off track, drawn into the hidden side of things, diverted away from the mapped and known experience and into the unknown. It seems important that I have both options. I like both ways of seeing the world, staying on the well-lit, familiar path, and then sometimes slipping down the weedy alleyways.