Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carla was wonderful, composed, engaged, and fully present, speaking with the help of a microphone as her voice is weaker now, but still clear. In the midst of her presentation she paused and said, "I can hear the sound of the babies"--there were a lot of young babies present that night--"and their parents soothing them, and the sound of Megan's respirator." Megan is another young woman who is dying of ALS. "And all of those things are life. It's like a symphony," Carla said. And she herself has gone from being a lover of poems to being the poem itself.

Later she went on to quote Rumi, "In the slaughterhouse of love/They kill only the best." She recited the whole poem from memory--it is in what Kim Rosen would call the fourth chamber of her heart. Maclen was there and he acted seamlessly as her voice, taking questions and being charming, informative and thoughtful. It's as if she has transferred all her considerable powers of articulateness and wit and grace over to him, and young as he is, he has picked up the mantle.

Meanwhile, the tiny little flame-tips of green on the tips of the fig tree branches have opened into delectable fans, the color of the inside leaves of Romaine lettuce, a tender light green. And little tiny hard green fig fruits have also appeared--when did that happen?

And we finally finally have a health care bill, not a perfect one, but a huge step nonetheless. Why did it take so long and so much fighting? Was it because it galls the Republican "base" so much that Obama is a competent president? A black man, in strong alliance with some powerful women (Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi) and a gay man (Barney Frank)? Is that what has made these senseless attacks so vituperative?

That's one hypothesis put forward by Frank Rich of the New York Times today at any rate. I can't think of any other reason to be so vociferously hateful about a President trying to take care of uninsured vulnerable people who live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and can't see a doctor when they need one. I just don't get it.

Meanwhile, I confess, I've been following the story about Sandra Bullock's marriage imploding. Okay, I know this is not about serious literature, but maybe it is--bear with me. I know other beautiful strong generous talented admirable women whose faithless partners betrayed them. I have also been betrayed. It is one of the most insidious forms of pain; you grieve as if for a death, but you are also wracked with self-doubt--why didn't I see this coming? What's wrong with me that this happened? How will I be able to recognize it in the future? How can I protect myself?

(And of course the answer is you can't. You can't protect yourself and still stay open to love. You have to open to the possibility of getting hurt, even that badly, all over again. The only thing you can do is build up your arsenal of self-love, and love your friends and family and animals and the world as hard as you can in the meantime.)

I can't help thinking of the title of her movie The Blind Side. How she herself was blindsided while making it--the metaphorical resonance of that is just too much. You couldn't make this shit up. (We saw The Blind Side the other night. Bullock was very good--I wouldn't have given her the Oscar for it, but she is immensely appealing. The movie was disturbing, though. The young black man was like a formless piece of dough who could be molded to the desires and needs of the white family. There was something more than a little quease-inducing about the way he was valued for his football talent and not really given the chance to be a whole person. And there were virtually no functional black adults in the film--they were all drug addicts and poor and hopeless. The only people with any wholeness and power and strength were white. Yuck!)

I don't know what this latest infidelity scandal has to do with anything, really, except that the cruelty of the way people can and do hurt their intimate partners is breathtaking. I have cried a river and carried on about men who wandered off to sleep with other women after a few months of dating, men who technically owed me nothing. Now I realize they did me a huge favor by showing their true colors early and allowing me to cut my losses and move on. And my losses were nothing compared to what they cost the women who married these grown-up babies and took care of them for years.

In its own way, I think this story has the proportions of a kind of female Shakespearian tragedy: the need for self-protection vs. the need for love. The need to be able to trust vs. the very real disincentives for doing so. This is the story of so many brilliant women. It has been telling itself for centuries. Maybe the problem is not only with men and women, but with marriage and monogamy. Maybe the majority of people--the majority of men anyway--aren't cut out for it, and shouldn't do it. Because you've got to wonder, looking at James, at Tiger Woods, at Bill Clinton, at John Edwards--why did these guys even get married in the first place? Was it for image? For fantasy? What did they imagine they were agreeing to when they took their vows? Were they thinking anything at all?

I'm immersing myself in Sappho these days--rereading her through the eyes of Willis Barnstone's translations. I love her opening prayer to Aphrodite. I want to memorize it. I'm borrowing words and phrases from her and using her as a 2700-years dead collaborator. It's wonderful and a little scary. She has so much power, her words just burn on the page.

And I'm continuing to slowly add layers to the essay on war and violence. Once I'm done with it I'll send it out and turn again to the play.

More cultural things: We saw Humpday, which is a hilarious, sweet, brilliant little film. Rent it! The actors improvised the wonderful dialogue themselves. I'd be interested in following anything director Lynn Sheldrake does. Her approach is fresh, innovative, relaxed, intuitive. And the results are so dead-center honest.

I went yesterday and saw my friend Colleen Tane Nakamoto's show "Soft Tissue" (along with four other solo women performance artists of color.) I've been following her one-woman show for four years watching it get better, deeper, richer, more powerful as she grows along with the material. I've been privileged to have a front-row seat to observe the blossoming of art and artist. Yesterday's version was the most realized yet. And the process continues.

I also just finished reading Nina Wise's book A Big Happy Free Unusual Life or whatever it's called--wonderful book. Just confirms stuff I already know, but I got a couple of good ideas for teaching writing from it.

I also read a memoir Falling by John Taylor who is married to Jeannette Walls who wrote the bestselling book The Glass Castle. Taylor's book is about the demise of his first marriage. He's a good writer as far as description goes--I copied out the opening paragraphs to several of his chapters in order to use them when teaching essay writing--but as a narrator, he comes across as selfish, bigoted, arrogant and unlikeable. I think that's interesting--flies in the face of what we're taught in creating memoir, that we should always make ourselves out to be an appealing narrator. And of course most writers, like most people, want folks to like us. But you know, when you tell the truth, you run the risk of people not liking you. And from the way Taylor presented his side of the story of his marriage in his book, I conclude that I don't like him. But he can really describe a New York neighborhood.

I did feel like I liked Jeannette Walls, very much, after I read her book and google-stalked her, so what does that say? Another brilliant woman with another less-perspicacious man? Or maybe he is better than his book would suggest.

It is the calm before the storm right now--a lazy Sunday morning with Christopher, the cat and The Times. Trixie always tries to steal food off his plate, and sometimes has to be locked away in the kitchen so that he can finish his toast. I am enjoying this peaceful weekend because it will be disrupted soon enough: I'll teach a weekend workshop in Pleasanton, and then go to the conference in Colorado, and then come home and then go to the writer's retreat in Michigan, and then come home and go to another conference in Massachusetts.

And all the while, a trip to Haiti--a long trip, three weeks at the very least, and more I hope-- is simmering on the stove of the possible. I have feelers out to two non-profits, both of which are possibilities. I'm much more excited about the idea of being in Haiti again and doing something, however small, that could be helpful, than in going to all these writing conferences.

And a propos of The Blind Side again, I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog. I named it after my book which just came out this past September. It took years of sending it out before it finally became reality. Now I'm feeling superstitious about the power of a name. At its best See How We Almost Fly suggests not getting off the ground, not soaring. At its worst, maybe crashing, which, since I'm about to fly around the country in the next few months, is a little scary. The poetry manuscript I'm sending out now is called Love Shack. Maybe I should change my blog name to that...


Maggie May said...

A very interesting post. ALS is a terrifying disease. It's hard for me to read about even in the most removed circumstances.

I absolutely loved The Glass Castle. I read voraciously and it was a book that stayed with me, long after many a memoir has been forgotten. I still have my copy on a bookshelf.

Sandra Bullock..I just feel sick for her. The entire story is totally heartbreaking. She must be in emotional agony.

Anonymous said...

I am very aware of the aftermath and effects of the misery of infidelity. those damn men who need to 'go there' should be hung out to dry.

having said that, how 'bout a simple change of title for your blog to: "see how we fly"; note: i don't connect this at all to infidelity, rather to the wings of greatness! you are so there...

Anonymous said...

if people are not meant to be together, eventually one or the other will break away. either that or they will become the silent, apathetic couples we all have witnessed dining next to us in restaurants. i, for one, do not want to be with someone who would rather be elsewhere, even at the expense of a heartache. Sandra Bullock will grieve but she will someday realize why this breakup/infidelity happened and be glad of it. She will find a better life - one that is already waiting out there for her.