Monday, September 07, 2009

Swimming today I hit that blissful spot where the swim itself took over. I was no longer hauling myself through the water, rather something was swimming me. Performers get this sometimes, I think--when the song starts singing them. And writers. Artists, athletes, everyone. The hard part is just putting in the miles to get there. Once you're there you can't conceive of being anywhere else.

Today it came after about twenty-five lengths of solid work and didn't last that long, but it made the whole effort to get to the gym worth it. The only "problem" is that afterwards I'm so relaxed and slow that I'm not good for much else. It's hard to work up the requisite driven anxious intensity that fuels a lot of my writing and sending out frenzies. I can write, of course, but through a haze of feel-good endorphins, the material is different. It's like everything has a lazy shit-eating grin on it.

Last night we watched Man On Wire, about Philippe Petit, the crazy Frenchman who strung a cable between the Twin Towers and walked across it. I have such a fear of heights that I was sitting--no, writhing on the couch, screaming, as the camera panned down, down, down to the tiny ant-cars and people below. Just thinking about it now sends waves of feelings through my body; nausea, and fear and vertigo and excitement and longing.

I was a kid who could barely make it across the balance beam; my ankles would shake uncontrollably as soon as I stepped on it. But Petit stepped on that wire as if it were made for him, as if there were a magnetic force pulling him along.

It was an awesome feat, a dance in the clouds, a dialogue with death, a pas de deux with God. A crazy thing. He enlisted a whole team of impressionable young friends who were willing to risk arrest just to help him pull this stunt off.

Watching him, I was reminded of my old French boyfriend Maxime, who was playful and bossy and arrogant like Petit, and also like him, romantically attached to the notion of living with passion and intensity. (It took a small army of self-sacrificing individuals to help Petit achieve his goal, but that, I guess, was not his problem.)

Like Petit, Maxime was constitutionally against authority. Rage against the machine motivated him. If he heard of a rule, he would break it. He almost felt morally obliged to break it. Like Philippe Petit, he was annoying and inspiring, narcissistic and childlike and inventive. Petit is still alive, wizened in face but lithe and slender in body, still practicing daily on an outdoor tightrope. Maxime got involved with drugs and committed suicide at the age of twenty-two. He's been dead for almost thirty years.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ali,
I've been wanting to watch that movie with Eli, as he is familiar with Phillipe Petit's story and is fascinated by it. Do you think that it's an appropriate film for a 9-year old?

Anonymous said...

i was saddened by the story of maxime. thank you for sharing that, however. it brought life closer.

be well and at pool peace.

Alison said...

Yeah, I was going to bring the movie East when we come and give it to Eli. There's nothing inappropriate in it, although some of the interviews are in French with English subtitles which might be a good challenge for him. There's a tiny reference to him having sex with a smitten fan, but it's pretty minor. It's mostly about all the scheming and preparations they had to do to pull off the should watch it with him, so you can translate and clarify. It could be a good history lesson too, about the Towers.

Anonymous said...

If you can bring the film east, that would be wonderful--maybe I could set it aside for Chanukah. He already has a sense of the history of the towers and Phillipe Petit because we have a terrific children's book about it called "The man who walked between the towers." It's a family favorite.
Love, Em