There’s no room

She sat there, listless, yawning, waiting for her daughter’s violin class to end.  Her eyes were unfocused and there were bags under her eyes.  She seemed incapable of taking another step.  She could have curled up and taken a nap right there on the carpet of the waiting room.

I commented on her tiredness, told her she looked ready for bed.  I was waiting for her daughter’s class to end as well because my own class started next.  On Tuesdays I do have an elevated level of stress because I need to time things perfectly: leave work at a certain hour, catch a certain bus, pray for flowing traffic etc.  But I wouldn’t dream of giving up my violin classes because of this.  In fact if my class was two hours long instead of 30 minutes, even if it started at 8 PM and ended at 10 PM,  I would still love it.  I would prefer it longer.  It’s the only time of the day when I am doing something good, something that enriches my life, something that is so far removed from what I do to earn a living.

Our conversation went on.  We started talking about Route 206 and how clogged it got during rush hour because of all the construction and the long stretches of one-lane traffic.  I experience Route 206 on Friday nights or Saturday mornings when I go for my Hindustani classical vocal lessons.  I told her my reasons for traveling on this route on certain days.  That’s when she told me how impressed she was with my efforts at taking classes, my desire to learn new things.  She said it wasn’t possible for her to absorb anything new at all at this point in life.  She said there was no room.  She said she was crazed enough at work and all she wanted was to relax with a glass of wine after work and not do another thing that involved getting off the couch.  Just bringing her daughter to violin and soccer and basketball was an immense strain.

I told her I would get crazed if all I was doing was my work, that moving numbers around in spreadsheets would cause early brain death for me if that was all I did with my time.  I mentioned I would be bored out of my mind if I wasn’t finding ways to learn new things.  I said that it was difficult for me to find inspiration in number crunching.  She said her work inspired her everyday.  That there were new challenges everyday.  Each work day was different for her, there were new problems to solve, new opportunities to explore creativity, to get absorbed in her work, creativity was rewarded, employers cared.

Hmm…so where before I was feeling mildly superior for having interests outside of work and the energy to explore them after a fourteen hour long day, now she had swiftly turned the tables and backed me into a corner, forcing me to the recurrent exploration of the “where did I go wrong” theme.  How did all my choices lead me to a place where all I do is move numbers around? Why am I so singularly incapable of finding something exciting to do to keep body and soul together in fine functioning order, without craving newness? I click open all my files, review everything I have on my plate a million times, trying to find something new, something exciting, a different way of doing something, some way to find enchantment and contentment in what I do and I continue to draw blanks.

If a hammer is all that is “officially sanctioned” to perform all necessary tasks in my role then all my problems do take on the morphology of a nail.  I am not allowed to stray.  I am not allowed to emerge from my straitjacket.  So I stay put.  I smile and take pleasure from the wide-eyed looks of wonder that I get when people say things like, “Wow how do you do it? I couldn’t.”

Poetry

I have been hanging out with poets and people who want you to believe that what they are writing is poetry, for many years.

Identifying that which deserved the tag of poetry back when studying language and literature was a requirement, in ones school years, was not so challenging.

I didn’t much care for what it entailed. I never liked learning all those lines by rote and then being asked to recite it in class. None of our teachers delved any deeper into the subject. Studying English was generally fun because textbooks came with stories, but poetry was like a bump in the road, something for which one did the bare minimum required in order to get by.

I am certain many of you would say that it wasn’t so in your schools and that your teachers made the study of poetry meaningful for you. That is entirely possible but it wasn’t the case for me.

We studied a lot of poetry in school. We were asked to read it, learn it by rote, recite it and perhaps answer a few questions about it on exams. Nothing more, no painstaking exploration of ideas. But despite its resemblance to an onerous chore, identifying what set poetry apart was never a problem.

One noted rhyme, rhythm, meter and an exploration of thoughts an ideas within those bounds, as though these explorations were endlessly possible, in infinite combinations within these bounds, as though these limits, these external constraints didn’t even exist or impede. In the final product one sensed that which differentiated prose from poetry.

Beyond those student years, life ensured a rigorous and methodical schooling for me in the prosaic and mundane non-arts. I fell headlong into soulless pursuits. Poetry was a distant memory. But it has managed to become a part of my history in recent times.

I came in close contact with writers, many of whom told me they couldn’t express themselves in prose and preferred poetry as a means of expression. Many of the folks I met were close in age, so they were probably schooled in the same manner, in the same era as me. So I marveled at their love for poetry and their distaste for prose.

I started reading what they were writing. Later on I graduated to asking them why they called what they were writing poetry, their works were nothing like the thing that neatly slid into the exalted slot reserved for poetry in my brain. These so called poems came without form, without structure, without a spine. They resembled words slithering around on a page or a screen in rather messy configurations where a few lines were longer than others, nothing rhymed and no ideas other than yearning, loneliness, lust and longing were ever explored. They appeared to be journal entries that were being aired out with line breaks and mushy language.

I wasn’t criticizing, I was just puzzled. Perhaps this indeed was poetry and ideas like consonance in recitation and adherence to meter belonged in the dark ages. Perhaps poems were supposed to be like yawns or tears or other impromptu ejaculations, delivered in the moment of their creation.

But with so much wondering and seeking going on I was bound to run into a poet who has kept up quiet but sustained efforts at telling the world that poetry wasn’t a yawn or a tear. Rather it almost always needed to be a wondrous alchemy of words, observation, metaphor and structure and that sacrificing linguistic excellence and elegance was never an option.

I now sought poetry where a larger thought, a larger idea could be explored even through the casual observation of the most mundane. Poetry could now be found in ink drying on paper, in waiting lines, in waiting rooms, in hospitals, in cafeterias, on buses, on ferries, in the spaces between things. I didn’t need to accept longing, yearning, loneliness or, at the other end of the spectrum, the verbatim description of recent events as poetry. It was liberating.

I tried writing some of my own poetry. The streets of New York City glitter at night, have you noticed? In the day time Lincoln stares up at us out of pennies embedded in the sidewalks, homeless people push their lives around in shopping carts, no one looks at anyone in an elevator, there’s a certain air of desperation in interviewees and an air of extreme discomfort in interviewers, there are people who draw smiley faces or baby’s feet on misted up bus windows when they are stuck inside a bus with steamed up windows on a wintry night, all these things make for poetry in the truest sense because there is that which the eyes see and that which can be attributed to what one sees.

The key to poetry lies in this attribution, this is the realm where the concrete and the sublime come together seamlessly.

There are those who write about world events and natural disasters. They want to tell us about the people who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and they reproduce news reports in rhyme. This is not poetry. You cannot describe an earthquake and the resultant loss of life, limb and home and call it poetry. In these instances the poetry lives in the aftermath, in between that instant when one was whole and contemplating one’s things to do list for the next day and the instant when one’s home was reduced to rubble, rendering all such lists extinct.

And when poetry is all of these things, when it explores all that’s interstitial, that’s when it becomes irresistible food for ones soul.

Sunset

This was prompted by someone’s picture of a sunset.
***

As the eastern seaboard ascends into darkness in golden hues of slanted light,
I squeeze the sand between my toes and let the water cover me up to my knees before it recedes again, taking with it the sand I was trying so hard to hold. I feel the gentle brush of the breeze add another layer of gold to my hair and skin.

A lover would taint the moment. Words would be as unwelcome as the misplaced applause between two movements of a concerto. As the sun glows brighter each second and as the expectation of darkness starts building up to a crescendo, I feel a disintegration of all that was me. In that one moment I am nothing. I am insubstantial and I perceive no boundaries, no endpoints to my nerves, my skin, my limbs.

There are clouds now that offer pink and purple streaks across the orange orb of brilliance and darkness is at hand.

There is a frisson of fear now, darkness is the impending denouement. I lift up my camera. I want to capture the divine in its final moments and share it with virtual friends who would be awakening to brightening skies on the other side of our planet. I intend an image that defines the pleasure, the sensuousness of an ephemeral moment of sensual absence and divine presence.

I expect a copyrighted image that tells of the keenness of my eye and boasts of my aesthetic. I am all perverse humanity now as the growing darkness devours the divine and I start the long walk to the boardwalk and the blinking neon palm trees, scrolling through my camera roll for that one image that would set my social networks ablaze with appreciation.

First Principles

When I started this blog I was looking for a tag line; an overarching sentiment that expressed what it was going to be about.  The line from U2’s – One – said it all.  I do come here to find insight, to search, to look through the tracks being laid down in my brain.  Others could see this as more navel gazing but I felt as though I need to live my life as well as be the resident pathologist or forensic expert that resides within.  I have to be the one who goes in to play Jesus to the lepers in my brain.  There are many.

So…cleansing, detoxifying, purifying…these words are tempting.  The notion of deconstruction, a return to first principles and a building of something new, something beautiful, is tempting.

There isn’t an iota of order in the way I live my life.  I don’t live well.  I don’t air things out often.  There are years of sediment, years of accretion of things.  Sure my slate is cleaner than most, perhaps I haven’t even lived enough through it all.  But I probably need to break this slate and start afresh.  Either way, a deconstruction and a getting back to first principles is called for.  Or so I feel.

I headed on over to a retreat where we were going to be on a system cleansing raw food diet while we explored cleansing and purification possibilities in other areas of our lives.  I wanted to emerge from this experience scrubbed fresh, blinders removed, ready to go at the world in a reasonable and precise manner.  I wanted to reject this overwhelming notion of absurdity that shades everything, clouds every judgment in a fog through which I am finding it hard to emerge.

More on the retreat later.  Before I go there I need to take an archaeologist’s look at what lies within.
***

There are many themes worth exploring in this bird’s nest of a mind.  Even as I try to keep my thoughts linear and coherent they come unhinged, wanting to digress and bleed tendrils everywhere.  I’ll be better off pinning them down as they appear.

There was a clearly marked point where things started unraveling for me at a rather fast clip.  I remember my amateurish attempt at poetry several years ago.  The sentiment I had tried to express then was of an eerie calm, eerie because it carried within it a hint of dread…a sense of hurtling toward a dreaded destination.  I have reached that destination now.

In 2010 I turned averse to everything my life was all about, starting with the job.  I found what I did at work absurd beyond description.  Perhaps my aversion became apparent in my work and I was the recipient of some harsh words from a boss.  I went on a vacation to India after this exchange.

I went with my parents.  I spent many hours telling them about my discontent.  I met my cousin’s friend.  I saw the spark of fulfillment in her eyes.  I sensed a freedom in her soul.  I craved that.  But all cravings aside, I didn’t know how to get to the same place where she was effortlessly present.  I still don’t know.

I spent some time with my relatives in Indore.  My uncle and aunt. as welcoming and as cheerful as ever, their pain and their anxiety about their child’s future never evident in their interactions with us.  I then felt ashamed at myself for my petty, almost nonsensical anxieties.

I visited a few temples while I was there.   I felt absolutely nothing in the presence of idols and thousands of other devotees.  I was ashamed at this lack of “shraddha”.  I felt out of place, strangely attired, larger than others, more well-fed, uncomfortable, in pain and discomfort at being barefoot on the burning marble, brushing flies away, ignoring beggars.  I felt like Frankenstein.

I was out of place.  I am always out of place.  No matter where I am I feel as though I don’t belong in this skin or on the firmament on which I find myself.

I returned from the trip determined to try and get more comfortable with myself.  I was determined to examine the roadblocks to this feeling of “fit” even as none of my clothes fit anymore after the sweets and other treats at every host’s place in India.  Landing at EWR in a state of bloat didn’t make fitting in any easier.

I returned to work where every absurdity was reinforced.  I was always angry,  always frustrated.  I was angry when cost-cutting eliminated the half-and-half I could use in my coffee, I was rabid when they took my local printer away.  I foamed at the mouth when the workload smacked of redundancy and illogic.

Several times during those months of ferment I came to the conclusion that I had to let go of expectations.  I couldn’t expect any happiness from work, any happiness from my disordered home, any improvement in my financial condition, any deep connection with friends real or virtual.  There was a targeted, conscious effort at cultivating detachment.   A detachment that only made me feel less connected and less of a fit.  There were weeks of expectation-free success followed by several weeks of wallowing in dashed expectations that always managed to creep up again.  I was on a yo-yo diet of letting go of expectations.

The one expectation that always stood its stubborn ground, however, was the expectation I had from myself.  Somewhere along the line, through all these years of growing up, I’d convinced myself that I was capable of much more than I had achieved.  This notion is perhaps all in my head.  Maybe I am really only capable of what I have achieved so far.  It plagued me nonetheless.

Perhaps it started with my mom taking a picture of me by the statue of John Harvard, thinking I might end up at Harvard some day.  Perhaps all my friends and relatives who encouraged me when I sang or wrote were just being nice to me.  Perhaps I am not capable of excelling at all. These doubts never leave me.  They are like the little demons I must now fight.

But before these little demons emerged I did believe I could excel in the arts.  This belief was never supported by my inherently lazy temperament and so I drifted in and out of misery at wanting to be someone and then thinking it could never happen.

Through it all, I couldn’t stand the tone of defeat in any of my friends.  If they ever felt they were slipping away into failure I would offer them words of encouragement and tell them that they needed to just get up and do it.  Sadly, I was never able to take my own advice.  I didn’t think and I still don’t think that advice would work for me.

I think fate tried to intervene toward the end of 2010.  I was on the phone with my husband one Sunday while he worked (or played?) in sunny California.  I asked him to say the word, to tell me I could quit.  I wanted him to tell me that I had the green signal (keeping in mind our precarious household finances) to walk into my boss’s office and say, “I quit”.  He laughed it away.  The next day, at work, I was summoned to the Human Resources offices and told that my job was being eliminated from  NYC and shipped out to Florida.  I wasn’t offered a stint in Florida.  I was in shock.  It was almost as if the universe had acted on my behalf when I wasn’t prepared to act.

I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t upset, I didn’t even feel worried about our future even though I had every reason to worry.  The severance pay was going to last for a month.  The average job search these days is an 8-12 month long affair.  I should have been catatonic with rage and anxiety but I wasn’t.  All I could think of, in that instant, was how I was talking about wanting to quit the day before and how the next day I had my answer.

Over the next three months I spent a lot of time with my daughter.  I tried to introduce into my life the things that I thought had gone missing.  We played together, read together, experimented with cooking, spent time at the bookstores, at the library, for the first time in my life I was a real mom…in the hours when she was home.

The hours when she was at school were strange.  They were spent refreshing contacts, sending résumés, learning that many of the contacts who could have helped me find a job were themselves jobless.   I exercised like a maniac, for hours, then I slumped down on the floor in a “shavasana” state for an equal length of time.  I read a few more chapters of my book after emerging from that state.  I then showered and got back to the task of searching for a job or exploring our bank statements for areas of cost cutting.  I laid off my own laundry and cleaning lady.  I ridiculed my search for a job because I was once again seeking the absurdity I so despised.

Two blank canvases, oil paints, brushes stared me in the face for all those months.  Never once did I pick them up.  My mind was such a blank I didn’t know of a single thing I could express in paint.  I have always been excellent at copying things but did I really want to turn out more unoriginal art? I suppose the answer was no.  I practiced all my ragas, scales and études in violin, I tried writing.  But I don’t think I have lived through a more uninspired phase.  I felt like an empty shell or a deactivated robot who only experienced motion or animation upon the return of her daughter from school.

Around that time I decided to start volunteering my time.  I answered several requests for volunteers and ended up with three organizations who wanted assistance sans remuneration.  They all did good work.  One was an institution for adults and children with developmental disabilities, the other was doing some work on diseases of the brain and the third was doing some wonderful work helping less fortunate people.

I ended up on my hands and knees putting together dreary employee manuals and filing invoices for the institution that helped kids with disabilities.  I had to photo copy hundreds of pages and then learn how to use a machine that bound pages in a spiral book.  A new skill learnt, a cause for celebration!  I laughed at the lines in the pages that asked paid employees to be nice and considerate to the volunteers.  Once again – absurdity underscored.  Even my volunteering yielded absurd results.

I tried to assist the other two organizations enhance their social media presence.  That was somewhat satisfying until I learnt of their fears and trepidations about having a vast social media presence; they weren’t willing to post videos or photographs, they didn’t know what to blog about, what they said on their sites had to be censored on many levels, they couldn’t understand Twitter or Facebook or the essential why of it.

Before I could get them to understand it all a job came along.  Since the prospect of a year long stint at unemployment was starting to scare me and since I am only able to drag my heavy shackles around when I have some money coming in, I decided to stick an arm and a leg out of the poverty sack and go for a much downgraded job.  These people needed me to do all the things I had ever done at all my previous jobs, they just weren’t going to pay me as much.  I decided that would be acceptable.

So I experienced unemployment, poverty, self-pity, joys of motherhood and amplified feelings of inadequacy all under the umbrella of absurdity in the space of three months.

Could I have started a writing project during the time I wasn’t working? Could I have envisioned a better life in those moments of leisure and taken a first step towards it? Perhaps.  But something always keeps me glazed over, numb and inactive.  What hinted at being latent in the days of my youth has started feeling stale.

I’ve noticed a marked shift in my attitudes over the last several weeks.  A few things happened in the weeks leading up to my cleansing, purifying, detoxifying retreat.

I had visited my sister-in-law’s home in NY.  While I was there I had pulled down the Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” from my brother-in-law’s bookshelf.  I was absorbed and fascinated by the book.  I couldn’t finish reading it nor did I borrow it.  I probably just left it sitting there on his nightstand or some unusual place.

Back home I got deeply absorbed in another book.   I am still only halfway through it because reading time is in short supply these days.  This is Alex Ross’s second book called “Listen To This”.  It is about the history of music.  The theme of it is that all music we call classical now didn’t use to be so.  It was perhaps considered licentious, was perhaps banned.  He talks about other things as well.

The chapter about “laments” was fascinating when he explained the concept of a ground bass line; when he talked about the studies that show that when people mourn, when they grieve, if they express this in sound it’s always something close to the same four descending notes -A, G, F, E.  Many pieces of music incorporate this ground bass line also known as the “basso ostinato”.  Beautiful music often gets woven around this ground bass – the constant.

When an idea hits home in this fashion, I often put the book face down as I think about all the other associations that get triggered.  I ponder, I contemplate, I dog-ear the page of the book at the bottom.  The reverse dog-ear tells me that there’s something on a page I must revisit.

I was in this state of pondering when my brother-in-law emailed me to say that he had noticed I had been reading Carl Jung’s book when I visited.  He told me he found what was within horrifying and reassuring.  He said C.G. Jung re-envisioned western religion and philosophy for him.  He also sent me a link to site that had listed Jung’s Seven Sermons To The Dead  from his Red Book.

In Sermon I Jung says:

“Not your thinking, but your being, is distinctiveness. Therefore not after difference, as ye think it, must ye strive; but after your own being.”

This and many other things he says in his sermons which can be found here reminded me of the Bhagavad Gita.

I am a non-religious person with a very limited understanding of the scriptures and wisdom of the religion into which I was born.  What I’ve gleaned through the tales my parents, my grandparents and those wonderful illustrated gems called “Amar Chitra Katha” are the bits that give me some succor in moments of confusion.

I’ve absorbed some fractional essence of what is being said in the Gita.  Arjuna was struggling with absurdity, with the notion of war with his near and dear loved ones and Krishna set him straight in conveying to him that he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing in this life.  He was fulfilling his karma.  Krishna revealed his all-encompassing monotheistic form, he talked about the inverted aswattha tree with its roots in the divine and the branches spreading in our world.  Carl Jung’s vision of Abraxas jogged my memories and drew me straight back to whatever limited impressions I have of the Gita.

The absurdities in which my perceptions see me drowning are all just a part of this flow.  They are a part of this journey that will end somewhere.  I feel as though I lose my way a little bit every time I question it or react to it in ways that breed doubt and confusion.

By this time my thoughts have all converged into three points of a bookishly acquired harmony – Basso Ostinato, Abraxas, the notion of striving after YOUR OWN BEING and another thought – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

I have talked about the last one before in another post.  It is a very compelling picture for me, of the lotus flower, holding its own, flourishing in muddy waters, just like a ground bass that holds it’s own as other music happens around it, my own being – a constant, my trials, vicissitudes all a constant as I see my journey in a new light, a journey of being in the world, of the world and finding a way to flourish.

If I was to pick up that canvas now I could probably create something of beauty that reflects these thoughts.  Perhaps the right medium would help the thoughts coalesce into a philosophy.  It hasn’t happened yet, as you can see, but I feel as though I am on to something.
***

So we now return to the retreat. I went to a “Goddess Rejuvenation Retreat” in the Berkshire Mountains.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew some of the people who were going to be there.  I liked them.  The first time I had met them I came away with the impression that they had a firm handle on living this thing called life to the fullest.  I was hoping that a cleansing, purifying, detoxifying retreat such as this would help my thoughts coalesce further.

I was looking forward to the solitary ride up to the Berkshire Mountains, absorbing the brilliant fall foliage while immersing myself in my music.  I wanted a break from thinking and wanted to relish a smooth ride up to the mountains without grasping at searches and thoughts or reliving past mistakes, failures or successes.

It was all going very well for me until this song called “Arziyan” came on.  About halfway into the song tears came, unbidden.  They were streaming down my face uncontrollably.  I didn’t want to control them.  I relished being washed in them, they signaled a breakthrough of some sort.  I wasn’t sure what it was but the lyrics that triggered the lachrymal response were about complete surrender.  In the last part of the song, throughout the song, but especially in the last part, there is the expression of a sentiment that in a prior life the poet strove for success and glory, had dreams and ambitions and went about it with a certain chin-up audacity that yielded scant results.  He didn’t find fulfillment of any sort until he came forth in total surrender:

Sar utha ke maine to kitni khwahishein ki thin
Kitne khwab dekhe the kitni koshishein ki thin
Jab tu rubaru aaya nazrein na mila paya
Sar jhuka ke ik pal mein maine kya nahin paya

It was this message of humility that got to me and stayed with me as the song built to a climax.

By the time I pulled into the driveway of the retreat I felt washed clean.  I felt as if there was a lesson for me.  A lesson that hadn’t sunk in in its entirety but was there for the taking; reaching for it was up to me.

There were many beautiful souls at the retreat.  That is a statement that isn’t very likely to come from someone like me.  I feel as though the part of my life that I haven’t lived in a self-absorbed manner, I’ve lived observing others.  I am a human camera.  I observe, I absorb, I collect impressions.  I go about it with the detachment of a collector.  I don’t say things like “beautiful souls”.  I am fascinated by my collection but I have seldom felt any emotional attachment.  That wasn’t the case this time.

I studied the faces of the people I was meeting again and I saw some new ones.  I was stunned by the beauty in some, the radiance in the others.  I hugged people with genuine warmth.  I wanted to convey that I really liked them and that I was thankful to be in their presence.  There was a dog there, Daisy.  She felt like a bundle of love walking around the room, spreading warmth with every lick, every shake of her tail.  I haven’t felt these emotions so deeply before and I don’t understand why I haven’t.  Where was I lost?  I felt every emotion coming up to the surface.

My daughter wasn’t there with me.  I thought of her, I conjured up her face and I smiled.  Someone asked me why I was smiling and it was because I had suddenly felt as though I love her so much that my heart could burst.  She brings me so much happiness.  How could I ever feel angry or frustrated or in a state of ferment when she is around and being who she is?

As the weekend unfolded all the women got to know each other well.  We learnt of each other’s hopes, dreams and deepest fears.  We learnt about our pasts our hopes for the future and we all probably spent a lot of our Sunday crying.

I remember feeling shaken to the core by some of the stories I heard.  Once again I was filled with shame at my seeking, striving, grasping, reaching, permanent anxiety when my life is relatively charmed.

In the last part of the retreat, our brilliantly intuitive host, L, gave each one of us an assignment.  We all had to do some role-playing and enact a scenario.  Each scenario was designed for maximum impact, maximum honesty and catharsis.  Mine required me to take on the role of a drunk woman who had lost all meaning in life.  I was required to select a few participants and recreate a bar scene where I walk in drunk and proceed to tell the bartender about my feelings on anger, desire, lust and confusion.  I was also required to flirt outrageously and act promiscuous with the guys (girls pretending to be guys) at the bar.

I was stunned when I received my assignment.  The part L wanted me to play was indeed me.  Or perhaps it was me from before my tear-washed journey to the retreat.  I generally find it all absurd in the extreme, I have been angry, I have been confused and about desire and lust the lesser said the better (or perhaps that’s where the most needs to be said, don’t know).  As for acting drunk, I haven’t experienced a single drunk moment in my life.  I have never sought inebriation.  I have been asked why and have felt annoyed when people assume it may be for religious reasons.  That is not the case.  I haven’t felt a desire to lose control.  I have always wanted to be in control of myself.  Perhaps L sensed that as well.  Perhaps total surrender and control don’t go well together and pretending drunkenness may have been a way to send this message home.

I gave my assignment a lot of thought.  I read it several times and during my reading as I hit upon each note therein – anger (hit a key on the piano), confusion, lust, desire (play a triplet) – I felt as though I was on the verge of tears just leading up to my part.  I told the others, “I really don’t need to act drunk to talk about these things.  I could write a book.”  But when it was my turn I got into the role, I came into the bar singing a drunk song, I staggered, I hiccuped, I slumped forward, flirted with the “guys”, danced and kept repeating how my life was all about putting little numbers in little boxes and how it was all so absurd.

I got through my assignment, I was told I made a wonderful fake drunk who danced really well.  E invited me to a dance party and I said, “Sure, just make sure you have my fake booze flowing”.

But at the end of it I felt as though I had shut down inside.  That I hadn’t really used the opportunity to share the things that tend to eat me up inside.  I felt like I had escaped and wasn’t happy that I had.

In the very last bit, before we said our goodbyes, L, for fun, brought out these “goddess” cards.  The eighteen of us, shuffled the cards and picked one up.  Each one got a message that appealed to them.  Mine was loaded with irony.  It was the goddess Coventina and she said to me, “Your soul needs cleansing, detoxifying and purification.”  I said to L, “What?? Wasn’t this what the last three days were about? There’s more?”

L said, “More? There’s a lot more!”

I know there may be more, I am just surprised she knows this too.

Endless Mountain Zone

I know I won’t remember the year 2011 at all when I am an old lady in a rocking chair, mentally traversing the same roads I travelled in my past.  It has been just such a year, uninspiring, uneventful with expectations lowered to the point of flatlining; no spikes up or down.  Which doesn’t really make for a bad year or for unhappy times.  It just feels a bit like the stretch on Route 81, en route to all points north and slightly west, where the sign says, “Endless Mountain Zone”, somewhere near Steamtown, Scranton, PA.  The area in question is endless enough even if it isn’t quite mountainous.  The satellite radio loses its signal, the cell phone enters a dead zone.  All one can do is drive and hope that road hypnosis doesn’t set in.
Yes, that’s what 2011 feels like.  It’s an year of feeling resigned.  It could have qualified as placid contentment if one was more mature, less restless and more enlightened.  A year of no plans, no expectations, no excitement.  A year of being resigned to a lowered salary and rising expenses, no vacations, not even
“staycations” because one has grown traffic averse in the extreme and somewhat conscious of gas expenses.
The things I used to enjoy in 2010 have receded into distant memory.  Reading, loading up all my electronic gadgets with music or books, lunch hour explorations of midtown, east side, finding something new and exciting every day, watching people in all their quirkiness of attire or mannerisms, their classic unconcern with what anyone thought or felt and every now and then an amazing glimspe of sartorial elegance.  Those who know me well, through what I wrote then, would also remember that I used to whine a lot.  I was always complaining about the bus, the train, the hours lost commuting and about the dull nature of a very routine job.  I did go on and on about that to anyone who would care to listen.  There is some truth to the grass being greener on the other side, it seems.
The truth is that I don’t miss the old job and I don’t miss losing four hours of my day each day… but I do miss New York City with all my heart.  For the last 15 years New York was an exciting second home.  I loved having a connection to a wonderful city that’s really like no other.  A city that’s more like a living, breathing organism pulsating with contagious and life-giving energy.  When I spent time there I was inspired and alive.  I had more days where I felt as though anything was possible, as though expectations never needed to be lowered to the point where they were a flat line.  The city embraced me, I returned the embrace and sensed a oneness.
Now the commute is an hour shorter, even if the hour is spent crawling at speeds that often make me wonder if I could get to work sooner if I walked! I sit there examining my aging face in the rearview mirror in the long spells when the car just doesn’t move, each additional minute spent in traffic adding another line around my eyes or my lips, asking myself if this is how it’s going to be from now on? There are no discernible crow’s feet yet unless I squint a certain way but the grey hairs are certainly threatening to explode into the likeness of a powdered wig.  As the car lurches forward again the maudlin thoughts give way to a realization that these thoughts are bringing one down and that one needs to crank up the radio.  But then the radio plays something horrendous like, “She was a fast machine/she kept her motor clean…” seemingly for the fifth time in five listenings, reminding one that one’s own “fast machine” is going nowhere in a hurry, it’s just sitting there rusting.
That’s when the iPhone comes out with it’s voice recording feature.  Singing all the songs I know, I lurch forward some more.  And so the ride goes, all the way until we exit at a nondescript exit and into the parking lot of a nondescript building with no surrounding points of exploration, no lunch hour excursions.  No lunch buddies since everyone is either on a diet or working straight through lunch.  We saddle up for a day of intense, focused work, telling ourselves that this is what the Bhagwad Gita preaches.  Work, work, work, no expectations, no distractions, just an intense focus on one’s work.  This time the cubicle at work has no personal affectations, no pictures, no collection of jackets, sweaters draped over the chair or shoes under the desk.  It’s work in all its purity except when I take some time off to tell my virtual friends that Gladiators, cactii and creeds are the things on my mind.  They probably think I’ve lost it when they read something like that from me.  But my reference points are not entirely random.  I conjure up the image of Russell Crowe playing a gladiator in the movie “Gladiators”.  His character has a family back home, he is enslaved and he just does what he is required to do as a gladiator, unemotionally and with immense detachment.  I think of the proud saguaros lining the Arizona landscape, self-sufficient in an arid climate, their inner resources intact and then I summon up the question of creed after having read, in an article about Clarence Darrow, that life is intolerable without a creed.  We all have a creed, we need one to get by.  What’s mine, I wonder.
The evening drive is similar to the morning’s drive.  Fiddling with the radio, listening to the phone recordings of one’s own voice, making phone calls (handsfree, of course) wondering about dinner and whether the rest of the evening could be effectively parsed into the things that I need to do to tell myself that I am intelligent and alive and have interests that just won’t quit, quitting them would be like quitting on myself, driving the flatline of life even lower if such a thing was possible.  So we practice our scales and études on the violin, we fire up the electronic tanpura and sing the longer notes, we do what needs to be done for dinner and then watch the family members disperse to their own separate spaces of the house.
Then it’s just us – me and the bright screen in front of me…demanding…something.

Fiction hasn’t done it well, yet!

I read this blog in The Guardian today and agreed with the author in that I couldn’t think of any fiction with a description of childbirth that sounded real to me.  The descriptions almost always were from the point of view of expectant fathers or midwives or someone in the story who was the only one around when a childbirth was imminent and had to direct the whole “warm water and lots of towels” operation.  No one ever writes about how it is for the woman giving birth.  And like Emily Cleaver says, women often tell her how wonderful it was and how one forgets the pain.
Well, not all of us forget the pain.  I can never forget that pain, nor will I forget the sense of accomplishment, the sense of having walked through fire and emerged stronger, gilt-edged and transformed forever.  I remember the first dull pain.  It felt as though someone was scooping out a small part of my insides with a spoon.  And then the pain subsided completely.  I walked around the hospital corridor waiting for the next one because they told me the pain would come again and would keep coming back with greater intensity.
And then it started.  The next one had me doubled over until it passed, as did the next one and the next one.  It went somewhat like this:
Pain……………Calm (play Solitaire)…………….Pain…………….Calm (more Solitaire)…………..Pain………Calm (a few moves of Solitaire)…….Pain…..Calm….Pain…Calm…Pain…Calm (don’t worry, the anesthesiologist is coming)..Pain..Pain..Pain..Help..someone help me..where are they..where are the anesthesiologists..they’re late..Hubby says, “Where are those idiots!!” I say, “Stop it, shut up, HELP, HELP ME, SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!!” Nope…too far gone, no epidural possible…Pain.Pain.Pain.Pain.Pain.Pain.UNBELIEVABLE PAIN.  A sense of breaking apart and splitting in two.
And then somehow it was all over.  The baby was out.  I got a glimpse and then she was taken away to be cleaned and swaddled.  All the family members trooped out behind the nurse carrying her.  There was no one around me.
I was no longer the picture and was not yet the frame.  The spotlight had moved away with unquestionable finality.  Things would never be the same.  The lights, perhaps, would only hit me as slanting rays and with partial incandescence from now on.  I was just someone who appeared to be no one’s concern at the moment. No wonder not much fiction about childbirth gets written from the perspective of the woman giving birth, she (an important part of the thing that was “she”) ceases to exist, a new one takes her place.
Hubby was gone, the doctors were gone, the nurses were gone, the baby was gone, the TV was on and still showing the smoking rubble of the Twin Towers and I was all alone in a hospital room, listless on a gurney, staring at the ceiling to avoid staring at the television and wondering why I was so very cold.  I felt the bed shake with my shivers and my teeth chattered like they never had in the worst of winters.  This frightening state of solitude probably appeared more pronounced to me in that state.  Perhaps it lasted just a few short minutes.  But it felt like an eternity.  Eventually a nurse came in to do some things to me, sew things up, take out stuff that no longer belonged inside me and then asked me to rest and take a nap.  I asked to see my baby first.  They brought her in, I held her for awhile and then slept for several hours.
In the days that followed I felt as though I had moved.  As if my mind had sold its old familiar home under some kind of duress and now inhabited a place that would take some getting used to. Things didn’t look as I remembered, things didn’t work the same.  The mirror reflected a different person.
The times with the bundle of joy were immensely rewarding most of the times but often one just felt like food.  The bonding was instant on some levels and not so much on others.  There appeared to be a short-lived tug of war inside.  One that the baby finally won and continues to win day in and day out.

Pinky Promises, Cats in the Cradle etc.

I had picked up the 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear while idling in the fiction aisles of my local Border’s bookstore.  I read the back of it and thought it would be an interesting read for both me and my daughter.  I brought it home and handing it to her said we could read it together or take turns.   I told her I might read some pages while she was at school.  And that was our deal.  She started it last week and finished in about a week, reading some parts of it aloud to me.  I couldn’t keep my part of the bargain.  I couldn’t make the time, even in this current state of extreme leisure, to start reading the book.

Yesterday she sulked for hours because I hadn’t started reading the book.

“Start reading it now!”

“No baby, I have other things to do, I can’t right now.”

“What do you have to do?”

“Stuff.  Stuff on the computer.”

“What kind of stuff? Lexulous?”

“Well…that too, but I need to try and write something.”

“I don’t think you’re going to write anything tonight.  Just read the book.”

“No, not today, I’ll start tomorrow.”

I thought I had had the last word on the subject until I noticed that she was not talking to me anymore.  She was answering my random questions with monosyllables or shrugs.  I can’t say I am ever immune to the feelings Harry Chapin generated in Cats in the Cradle and so I finally had to hug her and offer up the solemnity of a pinky promise.  A promise that can never be broken, come what may.  I promised that I would wake up on Sunday and start my day with two chapters in the 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear.

So that’s how I started my day today, with the first two chapters of Walter Moers – 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear.  I read it while imagining the parts of it that made her chuckle as she was reading.  The book wasn’t found in the kids’ section of the store.  It’s meant for an older audience and has some phrasing and some words that I am sure are not familiar to my nine year old.  But she raced right through it.  She loved it so much that she wants to see it made into a movie.

Captain Bluebear is a poor, lost, orphaned bear who grows from the size of a walnut to a gigantic bear and by his second life has acquired the invaluable skill of crying on demand.  He has elevated the act of crying to a performance in fine arts .  I could have gone on reading to see what other skills he acquires as his life progresses but I was dragged down by an insane fluttering of butterflies in my stomach.  I was paralyzed with anxiety, not into a state of immobility but into a state of meaningless mobility, I was pacing, worrying, picking things up, putting things aside, removing lint, straightening things that didn’t need straightening, all in an effort to calm myself down.

I felt like a lost soul.  I haven’t known what to do with myself for the last several weeks but I’ve tried doing some things.  I have made plans, I have cultivated detachment, sown the seeds of zero expectations and tried to welcome the blackness and bleakness of the cipher in which I find myself at present.  It has been a lot of work.  I have had to push my worries aside and deal with each problem as it presented itself.  But it was as if I suddenly didn’t want to be so brave anymore.  I wanted to howl like Captain Bluebear who always found a strange sense of calm and detachment after every emotional enactment.

Well, I quieted the butterflies in time.  I showed her my bookmark at the beginning of Chapter 3.  I had kept my promise.  Now it was time for the other standing promise that every Sunday I take her to brunch at the International House of Pancakes, where she never orders pancakes – always chicken fingers and fries.

Now we’re back home.  She’s doing her thing and I am doing my nothing.

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