Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Life, and Art, In the Balance

Juuuuuuuuuuuuust as I was skirting down the pitiless infinite chasm of complete and utter self pity and doom, I found out that one of my colleagues has a really serious illness—and there are small munchkins involved. I saw her in tears in the elevator last week and I knew—I just knew—that it was something serious. I have hypochondria for others, in additon to myself, as it happens. It was a very sobering moment that was preceded by...

Self pity—The Ballet

I was hit in the side of head by this tremendous wave of overwhelmedness as I stood at the kitchen sink last night. Are all women doomed to feel that crippling break with sanity while clutching the chrome outlace of a sink? It seems like it.

I just felt my knees buckle—it was all sideways and the tears just came, from nowhere—tears of complete and utter loss—like please sir, make the merry go round stop, will the merry go round ever stop? Will I ever have an unfettered uncluttered undemanded moment? Will another moment in time ever be mine. Ever? Again?

I think what I miss the most about my former self—before children—is my ability to concentrate. The biggest affront to my mind and my spirits has been the loss of that lovely, seemingly simple, function. The time to laser in and think, to contemplate, to course through subject matter—shit, just to walk through a grocery store with a list in hand and logically pile one product into the basket after another and come home and stack ingredients on a counter and make something.

Or to read a book.

Seriously? People recommend books to me all the time and I cry inside. I know! I too have no patience with people who say they have no time to read! But when I tell you I don’t have the “time” to read a book, it means I don’t have the time and concentration and solitary moment to actually sit down and read a book the way I need to read a book.

Read books! I am JANE BOOK. I am all about The Book. I used to go on vacation and read 9 books. Real books—lengthy lovely classic timely literary books. I don’t read “beach reads,” not because I’m a snob, but because I commit myself wholeheartedly to a book. And I want it to be good and worthwhile.

SO, the never-ending dilemma of my life is this: I have an artistic temperament and certainly an artistic bent in life, but I was blessed and cursed with an ability to manage, function, nay even succeed, in the “real” world.

These are conflicting sides of my nature that I have always been able to manage, after a fashion, by supplementing the creative side with plenty of books and museum trips and theatre and movies. Lots and lots and lots. I mean the ballet, plays—at Arena, the Folger, the Kennedy Center, the Studio theatre, New York!—and then my life became supplanted with obligation and a lack of “extra funds.”

I don’t know. My father was a cultural attaché in the Foreign Service and so my life was filled with events—happy events. Taxis, lunches out, plays, foreign films at Dupont Circle, museums, books, so many things.

So I guess when it is ingrained in you and then you wake up morning after morning to face only the mundane in life, it takes a crummy toll. Because art is the celebration, the explanation, the analysis, the interpretation of life. Art is the side of life I want to inhabit. Even though I can navigate the waters of the mundane so swimmingly.

As I get older I find it harder and harder to reconcile with myself. I never wanted to be one of those people who just read books in college and then that was it.

I think what I am saying is, I NEED TO GO TO THE BALLET. And maybe finish f%$#@ Kite Runner that has been sitting on my bedside table for two years. Under a scrim of steadily increasing dust.

I am locked in a semi permeable membrane of life.

I read the New Yorker and the Washington Post like a religious fanatic. Why? Because the only time I have for culture has been whittled down to what I can practically inhale from those two publications.

That’s sad.

But it’s not as sad as getting a really bad diagnosis. Or being a starving child in…

Americans are really good at perspective. What I want to know is, at what point do you get to bury the Puritanical guilt of actually feeling sorry for yourself because you want your life to be a little better—even tho you are so incredibly blessed with so many things? When is it OK to say, I think I am really depressed because I don’t get to the ballet QUITE enough?

Answer: It is never OK to say that. Just because.

However, I feel a shift in the plates of the earth (internally). Some portion of life—the cosmos, the universe, the inside voice of my insanity, is telling me that something has got to give. Something has got to give.

I left the house absolutely dejected. Dejection: An Ode! (that’s one of my favorite poems). I was driving down my street and the tears just spilled—damn f%$# tears.

The street was packed with walkers, commuters, joggers, while I coasted down, with the Cocteau Twins trying to aurally anesthetize me.

It’s OK. Life is good.

It’s also OK, I think, to ponder, to wonder, to want a little bit more. To break out of the relentless never-ending cycle of being on time and showing up and being dependable and working hard and pitching in and being available.

Jane is going to have to figure it out. Carve out a wee pocket of time in life that is my own. Hire a cleaning service. Start to augment the second act of my life with some pockets of what I was gently trained and guided to love—the ephemeral gauzy artistic reflections and recreations that mirror our daily struggle through a lens of compassion and perspective and stories and laughter and dire news.

Art. Mirrors life. I want the reflection, the chance to consider, concentrate and bask for a little bit.


Excerpts from Dejection: An Ode, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

III

My genial spirits fail;
And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze forever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

IV

O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud!
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the Earth -
And from the soul itself must there be sent
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

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