Sunday, March 30, 2008

I did go to Tirzah's memorial at Kehillah Synagogue, and was surprised and pleased to see many old friends and acquaintances from the East Bay Church of Religious Science there, including my old pastor, Reverend Elouise Oliver and my prayer practitioner and friend Sharon Cross, and my old friend Michelle Jordan, who sang "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills" as a pure divinely channel.

Tirzah sat on the border between a couple of different cultures, a richly alive and sometimes challenging place to sit. Ask me how I know. That was why I went to her memorial, even though we were only acquaintaces; as two of the dozen or so Jews at East Bay, we shared an intimate understanding of how both religions contrasted and complimented each other.

It was right and fitting that at her memorial both of those religions came together in love and respect--Reverend Elouise took turns with Rabbi Burt and Rabbi Diane in conducting the service, Jewish prayers sung in Hebrew alternated with "Wholly, Holy Love" sung by the East Bay Choir, and testimonials from different people in Tirzah's life. When her 80-year-old father, who had flown in from israel, led us in saying Kaddish was when my tears came. That prayer of praise, issuing from a broken heart.

That's what Judaism is for me. It's real; it's broken. The shattered covenant, the truth of our mortality and our suffering, the unknowability of God. All clothed in the most beautiful music and poetry, minor melodies so gorgeous they take my breath away.

Religious Science is the other side of that coin; joy and triumph. God is not unknowably distant, God dwells inside us, intimate as our own breath. The African American gospel songs, so direct, so confident in their knowing. Michelle's lovely voice swooping over and under, emphasizing, declaring, affirming truth.

I need them both. Tirzah did too, and I was happy for both of us, that they came together so beautifully at Kehillah the other day. Rabbi Diane told a story about her--on the day before she died, Tirzah struggled, in her bed, to describe the wonderful flavor of a certain kind of freshly-pressed juice. Rabbi Diane said she marvelled at a person so connected to life that she could recall and want to share this life-affirming experience even in her last hours.

Our party turned out small and intimate. There was an adorable baby who crawled around, giggling and clapping and just being gladness itself--we all kind of ate up her radiant baby aura. C made his peerless meatloaf, both with and without mushrooms, and I made my brussel sprouts with slivered almonds and lemon juice and Parmesan, which is awesome, and everyone ate a lot and drank some and sang some.

Then last night we went to see Stop-Loss, which was one of the strongest movies I've seen in a long time. It's about the war in Iraq and the position many veterans are finding themselves in--after coming back from a tour of duty in Hell, prepared for discharge, they are told they have to go back. We went to see it in part because of the play we had conceived together about military recruitment, but walking out of the theatre we both felt humbled.

"I'm not sure I should even try to tell a story like this," C said. "I don't think it's my story to tell."

"I know what you mean," I said. "I'm not from a military family. I've been spared this whole ordeal. How could I even talk about it." We walked a little further. "But we are Americans," I said weakly. "This war is happening to us too. Or people like us. Even if I can't relate to the soldiers' experiences, I can imagine what their parents are going through. I think I could say something about that."

"I'm sure you could," C said. "I just feel like it's not my place."

We left it like that, unresolved. I hate to abandon a project mid-stream, especially since I've got some good pages, and characters I like. The thing about war and violence is I believe it has infected every aspect of our culture--I am a violent person as well. Maybe I don't act it out physically--and I know that for people who come from homes where there is really full expression of violence it's another order of magnitude--but still.

Gertrude Stein said "Nothing human is alien to me." Was it Gerturde Stein? Whoopi Goldberg said, "I'm an actor. I can play a man, a woman, or a speck of dust." My favorite artists don't let themselves be limited by race or gender or class--or lack of experience. In fact, I was very proud that this movie about war, Stop-Loss, was made by a woman, Kimberly Pierce, who is not a combat veteran. She gets so deeply inside the minds and hearts of her male characters, and gets such fierce, physical performances from them, during an ambush and a firefight, that my credulity was not strained.

(I don't think it was a perfect movie. Some of the scenes seemed s bit cliched to me. But it was strong and imperfect and political and gutsy.)

I am mulling over this question of chutzpah and writing. How dare I? How dare anyone represent anyone else's experiences? I have a good friend who believes white people should never write black characters, men should never write women, etc. I challenged her, "Does that mean that Tolstoy shouldn't have written Anna Karenina? What about Shakespeare's Othello?"

"No. They shouldn't have. Black people need to write their own experiences. Women need to write their own experiences."

I understand her point. And yet, my experiences spill over into other people's experiences. Their experiences spill over into mine. I have been writing about Carla a lot of this blog. I don't, at present, have a physical disability. I'm not living with ALS. There is one level on which I can't know what she's going through until I go through it myself.

But on another level, I am connected to her, not just by friendship, but be enrgy, which knows no form or boundary. There is no Carla. there is no Alison. there is just this all this energy swirling through the masses we know as "our" bodies.

And, to be a bit less woo-woo about it, there is, was, and has always been imagination. Shakespeare was neither a beggar nor a king, yet he wrote both of them--and queens and fools, and witches, and soldiers too. Some of the most satisfying, fresh, surprising writing I have ever done has been when I took on a male point of view. One of my favorite playwrights, Lorraine Hansberry, an African American woman, wrote beautifully and movingly about a Jewish man in "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window."

Kimberly Pierce did a phenomenal amount of research for this movie--research that is available to anyone with Internet access. There's lots of blogs and Youtube clips about soldiers' experiences during this war. I'm glad I'm intimidated by the movie--I should be intimidated. The topic should not be undertaken lightly.

If C decides not to go ahead with this project, we can find another one to do together; I'm not worried on that score. But for myself, I'm thinking I'm still in. Humbled, yes, intimidated, yes, thinking this may never see the light of day--yes. But in. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. If I fail, I fail, and if I make an ass of myself, so be it. It won't be the first time.

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