Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Building blocks of narrative

Is narrative is a building, a shape established and carried out for a given set of materials? Can we even assume a given set of materials? Perhaps as the building is coming together, the tools in my hands keep changing, the materials feeling more weighty to the touch as I realize what I have... or as what looked solid now with closer examination seems to be hollow.

The materials might be flimsy, but they might be put together to maximum advantage, offering harmony and shelter. The materials might be shaped to keep out inclement weather or to deter people who wish us harm.

The materials might be top-notch but the design might be so unfocused that it provides no shelter or sustenance — even with great material, the narrative might be basically useless.

Sometimes, in describing our realities, we can lock ourselves inside an unhelpful narrative. I talked to a friend this week who was in incredible pain. He described himself as a car whose battery had run out, who needed a jump from another car to get going again. If he accepts this car narrative to be true, how can he possibly help himself? No matter how well the stalled car as an icon describes what he feels in this moment — tired, out of juice, in need of inspiration — this metaphor as a governing narrative is limiting. I would argue for changing the metaphor before hoping to change anything else.

Still, it must be acknowledged that there is some redemptive power in saying "I." Building narrative is power, regardless of materials or skill. Build the structure and see how it works. Change it if you need to. Tell your story. Even if he or I or you paint any one of ourselves into a corner, we can always paint ourselves out again.

In trying to shape a narrative, any narrative, I convince myself and others who may be listening that I do in fact exist — I am a thinker, an actor. I am voicing a present. Whatever may come after, I.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Waiting for snow

Here the days are clear and cold as we wait for snow to arrive. The city seems to feel a mix of dread and anticipation, like what it was like to be a twelve-year-old girl waiting for puberty. We all know the change will be uncomfortable, terrifying, harsh but probably kind of fun, and whatever the hell it will be it's awfully slow in coming. This is the sky in Boston Commons. Impossibly clear. crisp. blue.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thoughts on a Young Rilke

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in our heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. —RMR, "Letters to a Young Poet"
Rainer Maria Rilke was, as a young man, intellectually gifted, sensitive, and an appalling sentimentalist. He was concerned with cataloguing moments, with creating pristine frames for the scenes his eyes witnessed, with drifting through nature appreciating natural beauty, even as his sharp critic's mind analyzed the avant-garde in arts and letters. He studied Russian, met (and was cowed by) Tolstoy. Rilke was enthusiastic, and sometimes a nuisance to himself and others, who respected his persistent insights but sometimes wanted him to go away. His enthusiasm could get in the way of their work — he craved connection and worshipped at the temples where he found it. His adoration threw off at least one friend's writing schedule - as she wrote chapters of a novel, Lou Andreas-Salome fought Rainer for the time to pursue her own ideas. On at least one occasion she asked her maid to pretend she was not at home when he came to call, so she might spend time with the characters she was creating, rather than being drawn into the forests around her home, walking barefoot with Rilke. These details I have learned by reading some of the letters they shared.
Rainer's early indiscretions comfort me. This must be how he knows, for certain, that "young people are not prepared for such difficult loving... Young people who love each other fling themselves to each other... They don't notice at all what a lack of mutual esteem lies in this disordered giving of themselves... They must not forget, when they love, that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love - must learn love." Rilke's abiding friendship with Andreas-Salome, as they grew older and left behind the sexual nature of their relationship, is also a comfort. Their love affair shifts into a deep friendship, of which intellectual support and friendly interest between them are key components. Their genuine interest in each other, their dedication to hearing and sharing ideas, their mutual hope for health and growth, all these qualities remain strong, though the sexual element of their relationship had gone.
I can imagine Lou, married, intellectually mature and curious, diving into the pool of this hot-blooded young man fourteen years her junior. I can imagine her calm, world-wise countenance as he vents his spleen, perhaps gentle amusement as he tries feverishly to capture moments she sees with a more seasoned eye, as she pets this boy genius she must have contemplated the blurring of the line between mother and lover. Perhaps she was more comfortable in one role than in the other - perhaps she saw the roles knit together into a sensual, intimate, forbidden, primal mantle. Perhaps this is why Rilke's early letters rail against her patience, her wisdom. He doesn't want her to be a mother figure, but an equal.
I love Rilke's assertion that love is difficult and requires substantial study beforehand. "Whoever wants to have a deep love in his life must collect and save for it and gather honey." To make one's life sweeter, to increase the depth and breadth of one's experience, to order one's life, these are such pleasures, and I happen to believe (as does Rilke) that they make us better lovers of other people and better lovers of ourselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sleeping Slantwise

I often sleep slantwise on my bed. Mostly this is fine, but sometimes I wonder if I am truly, deeply, irretrievably contrarian.
Could it denote some kind of medical or mental disorder? Uncertain.
Most likely it's because of the papers where my feet should be.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why I Love the T, Part 2 - All Kissed Up

Coming home on the red line, I saw these ladies, ready to rock. I saluted them. Wait, that's ACDC.
I hope neither of them ended up in front of the mad pee-er.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On the Bus

Coming home from work exhausted, dizzy from the noisy, creaking city bus, I look up from the book in my lap and see a boy and his father. They both wear baggy jeans and sweatshirts, they are the color of au lait coffees. They sit next to each other on the bus.

Soon, the boy's father stretches out and rests his head in his son's lap. The boy curls over his father's shoulder and puts his head on his father's chest. Their familiarity is intimate, practiced. They touch with the casual, proprietary air one saves for one's own pocketbook or a jacket carried over the arm. My heart swells; it is as if I, too, am being touched in this familiar way.

When this position gets too uncomfortable, the boy (curly-headed and observant) sits up and puts his fingers on his dad's face, playing with the way his father's eyes close and the way his forehead wrinkles. His fingers are neither gentle nor rough, but insistent, inquisitive. The man doesn't brush his son's fingers aside, but waits until, on their own, they finish exploring.

The boy takes an envelope from his pocket, and studies the two Red Sox tickets inside. He asks his father a question, maybe about the seats. I don't like to overhear.

We are headed south into the city from the suburbs, and the bus jangles like a woman's heavy costume jewelry or an aluminum can filled with concrete dragged, without mercy, behind a bicycle. It takes the potholes too seriously. I call my brother first and then my father. My brother is in the middle of something but my father answers with a fond "Why, hullo there!" and it is as if I can touch his face with my fingers. We talk all the way to the bus station and I walk out into the street where it's raining and we keep talking, even though we make mistakes (He thinks I was born in 1975. I wasn't.), we are both unwilling to let go of the connection.