Monday, October 26, 2009

I didn't sleep well last night, and got up early to see sunrise. Thick painterly smudges of gold and purple and mauve. A hummingbird in the guava tree. I sat there for a long time on the couch by the window, coffee cup in hand. Watched the world wake up, the deserted street begin to stir. A guy on a bicycle, wearing a florescent yellow vest, cycled slowly up the hill. My neighbor warmed up her car, then left for work. It's impossible to catch the exact moment when the sky changes from mauve to tea-colored to clear daylight.

Now I'm at work at my desk. Love Shack is complete and I'm sending it to another contest, only I've changed the name to Tiny Paradise. I spent the last week obsessing over a long poem I was building called "Cathedral." Besieged poor Christopher with drafts the moment he walked in the door. Sent drafts to Ruth, to my other friends. Nailed my butt to the chair revising and revising.

Now I think it's done. Done enough. It could always be better--everything could always be better--and there's always more to say, but comes a time to let things go. I realize this is the job of an aging artist. What's your narrow place, what is your Red Sea, what's your Promised Land? The narrowness for me is ambition that is too small, an overly tight focus on just accomplishing and achieving. I'm addicted to striving for that. I'm not proud to say it but it's true.

The Red Sea I have to cross is the wilderness of the work itself, surrendering to the process, really letting myself go as deep and far into my subconscious mind as I can bear, as I have courage for. That is scary but exhilarating.

The promised Land I used to imagine was publication, minor fame, making it onto the radar screen of the general culture, earning a seat at the big kid's table when it came time to discuss the interesting questions. That's what i wanted. I still want that, honestly--I do. But I'm thinking that perhaps the Promised Land is something quite other than whatever my ego imagines it to be. Perhaps the Promised Land is just a feeling of connection to all people, something that, ironically, success might prevent one from feeling. Success could be great, but it could also be isolating. Anyway, success is success. Connection is connection. They are not the same thing.

I am still figuring out what the Promised Land is to me.

I told my essay writing students to take themselves on artist dates, a la Julia Cameron, but I haven't done that for myself in ages. I've been waiting around passively to see Bright Star, the movie about Keats, which Christopher doesn't have time for, instead of just taking myself to the movies the way I used to do when I was single. So today's the day, reward for a task completed.

This last weekend Wing It! had a series of three concerts where we performed for the 20th anniversary of the company. It was very sweet and deep. Beautiful things happened at each concert, and each one was completely unique, being improvised. I feel so lucky and grateful to be part of the company, to have so many people to love, to be able to be in long-term relationship with such fine souls. Despite--or maybe because of--our differences.

None of my closest relationships have been conflict-free. Christopher and I are a great pair, but we're so different in our styles, temperaments, strengths and weaknesses that it's funny. One of the things that unites us is mutual sarcasm, stubbornness, and fiestiness. Also, he told me last night that he spent a year immersed in Bach, thinking of little else. This was a propos of my asking him about the influence of church music on his composition.

This relates to Wing It! because for so long I've had such a hard time accepting that I am indeed nestled into a group comprised mostly of church-going Protestants, a surprising number of whom are or have been ministers. I just could not wrap my head around that. Now I'm married to a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and I so appreciate the virtues he has which come from that background; he's hard-working, humble, idealistic, and has great boundaries. I married my greatest teacher. Go figure.

So too, with me and Wing It!--it's not perfect, but it's very good. I'm glad even for the painful parts which shove me right up against my most alienated Jew self. I'm grateful for the opportunity to play and keep playing, to move through states, to keep getting a little better (hopefully,)to keep stretching and growing.

Today the lead story in the New York Times is about homeless youth. Kids as young as 11 and 12 are out on the streets because of the recession. Families are stressed and losing their homes; there's not enough space or money or food. Domestic violence is on the rise. The paper said perhaps the most tragic thing is how hard the kids work to elude capture by social workers whom they imagine are seeking them, when the sad fact is that parents often don't even report the kids missing. No one is even looking for them. They are truly invisible.

I think about the people I know and know of who are trying everything in their power to get pregnant--who are doing IVF and hormone treatments and investigating surrogates and buying other women's eggs in order to have a baby. How is it we live in a society in which one part of the population idealizes parenthood to such an extreme degree, while at the same time unwanted children starve or sell their bodies on the streets? How come millions are being spent every year trying to get menopausal women pregnant while there are real live born babies dying around the world of malnutrition and neglect?

C deals with those kinds of homeless and broken kids every day. Juvenile Hall sucks, but it's often the first place some of those children have ever experienced three meals a day. He brings home stories that are completely heartbreaking.

I can feel both sides of the issue; the longing for a pure unspoiled baby, a fresh start, a little bit of Heaven. The damage gets done so early, even in the womb. There are kids in the Hall who were crack babies, or have fetal alcohol syndrome. Who wants to take that on?

On the other hand, what happens to us as a country, as a world, when we prize the offspring of the affluent, and allow the children of the poor to die miserably in abandoned buildings?

We have been watching the HBO series Rome lately; C says he likes it even better than The Wire. I like it too but I don't know how much to trust the writing; were the ancient Romans indeed so similar to us? In their decadence and egotism and sexuality and sadism and voyeurism, they seem like a mirror of our own world, some of the least attractive parts of it. In the extremes of their classism, I think we are a bit different; at least now there is some lip service to the idea of universal human rights. At least most people nowadays agree that slavery is wrong.

But what do we practice? If someone doesn't have access to a warm bed, food, or medical care, does it really matter so much that he or she is not a slave?

One surprising thing that watching Rome is doing for me is in softening my attitude toward Christianity. I used to think that the Christian religion was a scourge on the earth, the cause of many of our current ills. But seeing the blood lust of Roman society before Christianity even arrived on the scene, I understand more how it was a kind of evolution, an improvement. Of course, once Rome got ahold of the religion, they turned it into something that was culturally close to what they had before; the Pope was just another kind of Emperor. The Crusades were another chance to rape and pillage. But the ideals of forgiveness and mercy, even if expressed as "We're better than you because we're Christian," were a step in the right direction. Even if we're not there yet. Even if we never get there.

Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, is said to have answered, "I think it's a very good idea!"

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1 comment:

David Shearer said...

I like the way you think. You seem willing to constantly examine, and then re examine yourself. To constantly reach for an understanding of what drives yourself and your society.

Regarding society as depicted in "ROME," I suspect that individual cultures have always held themselves above all the others around them. We certainly have a tendency to do so. And I think there is some truth to your observation that as a species we are ever so slowly getting better. But the pace is so damn slow. And it is a sad fact, repeated again and again throughout history, that every advance we have made has been made on the backs of others.

On the topic of homeless children, broken families, and what Christopher bears witness to in his work each day, there is reason to despair, and reason to hope. Despair, because the poor always have been, and always be, with us. I suppose is not possible for us to all be equal, because we are not all identical. And reason to Hope, because there is a simple way to ease the suffering of those around us. Put plainly, it is love. If we took a moment out of each day to do a suffering person a simple kindness without any expectation of being rewarded, whatever is within our power to do at the moment, we would be doing our small part to make the world a better place. It is not the role of a government to relieve suffering. I don't think it could even if it wanted to. So don't waste time looking for an institutional solution. It is up to each and every one of us who is aware that others suffer. In fact, it is our responsibility as human beings to take care of the person standing next to us. This is the only way...

Your writing, and the way you live your life is testament in itself to the healing power of love. An example would be of the time you have invested in your Little Sister. Another example would be your character Makendra in "Prodigal Daughter." It is people like you that give humanity hope. Keep it up Alison.