In every love affair, no matter how lofty or diseased, there comes a time for subterfuge. What does this mean? My dictionary defines subterfuge as: 1. a statement or action resorted to in order to avoid blame or defeat; 2. a place to which a person escapes, a retreat, a refuge; 3. a thing which provides concealment, a cloak.
But isn’t love supposed to be transparent, all-revealing? Aren’t secrets to be avoided at all costs? My experience begs to differ. I’m not talking giant gaping secrets that rupture the foundation on which lovers stand. I’m talking tiny rebellions that sprout at one’s feet like errant dandelions or pop up in dreams as unruly fantasies, too vital to be puffed away into oblivion. These are the gems that one can channel into dance, poetry, music – covert arts in which the obscene serves us, obscurely, without obstructing our ability to coincide.
Of course, subterfuge can also be a call to action. . .
Well, at least if I need warmth, I can burn some books.
I remind myself – often I feel a sense of failure and despondency just before a time in my life when I embark upon something novel and transformative. It is almost as if the pain comes with shirking off the status quo. And all the stored-up complaints and deficiencies march out to air their cases and to rally against their obsolescence.
Despite the luxury of twofold renewal (totaling a span of 9 weeks!), today I found these two books unmistakably due. With no reprieve in sight I did what any laggard bookworm would do – I opened them!
Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, is a practical gem. In Part I, she urges aspiring writers to write every day without fail for 15 minutes; the value of staying in touch with one’s writerly obsessions is priceless. One can use daily exercise to work on sense observation, or to start on a draft. I liked her tips such as labeling journal entries for future gleanings, and making a point to type out a handwritten draft right away for potential revision. How often do superb first-takes languish between the pages of a journal until some impossibly late date? She also champions a healthy balance between free writing and writing into a specific structure to create a finished piece. She promises that in the course of her book, she will help the aspiring writer develop a strategy to find structures for his or her work.
In my other neglected tome, The Theater of Maria Irene Fornes, edited by Marc Robinson, the first essay opens with a story of Irene and her roommate Susan. The girls are at a cafe in Greenwich Village in Spring of 1961. They plan to hang around and see if anyone invites them to a party. Then Susan discloses that she is bummed because she hasn’t been able to start on the book she wants to write. Irene says, you just need to sit down and start writing! Then, determined to encourage her friend, she turns down a party invitation and insists they go back to their apartment and commence writing. The procrastinating writer is no other than Susan Sontag and her helpful friend, Maria Irene Fornes, changes course that afternoon from painting to playwriting. “I might never have even thought of writing if I hadn’t pretended I was going to show Susan how easy it was.”
Even if I don’t make it past the first essay in either of these books, my take-away is huge. The secret of becoming and remaining a writer is spelled out as clear as day. Write! I wonder what else lies in wait for me to discover in the final moments as my time for exploration runs out?
I love my personal library because it is always being refreshed and it is informed by the blurbs I read in magazines and books and blogs and the performances I attend. If a work or artist is mentioned which I am unfamiliar with, but intrigued by, it is brilliantly easy to place a hold, which means at some point in the future, that book will enter my stacks. From there it’s up to fate, whether I’ll open its spine to peruse its contents or not, though one factor increasing probability is what’s commonly known as the due-date.
Due-dates are desirable, because we’re all procrastinators, right? The due-date is the secret to life, or at least the key to busting open those musty volumes to see what’s inside. Every 3 weeks the bell tolls; and although there’s a superb chance of renewing, especially the more obscure tomes, it serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking and that one’s reading window is finite. Of course, there is infinite grace here; if a book simply must be returned before one’s time with it is complete, one can place a new hold on it as soon as it’s been put back into circulation. This is a perfect closed circuit, in which books are constantly placed in new hands along with the desire that accompanies an experience which is terminable.
A rent in the fabric of her serenity, luminous like the lake she drove past, surprised by its brightness on such a grey day, occurred at the estate sale where she went to collect a stove. She was standing in the nearly empty garage, surveying the wreckage, when a young man said to his companion, do you have a projector? From behind a rusting golf caddy he procured an aqua canister, the width of opened arms. Before her eyes, the man then conjured three aqua legs – a tripod! she said to herself, entranced – balanced the canister on it, flipped the thing 360 degrees, and unfurled a silver movie screen to the delight of his companion. The woman there to collect the stove stood, a witness to the event, dumbstruck by her sudden and desperate need to have this shiny object. The thought weighed on her that had she been in the room at the time of the couple’s discovery, that it could have been her to see it first, except that until that moment she did not know what she was lacking. It perplexed her to assemble the pieces of her desire; the tripod was mechanical, and therefore linked with her scientific father; the aqua-tinted metal stood for her murky, melancholic, water-loving childhood; and the screen itself, generous, a reflector of light like the lake she had just observed. And here it was, before her, but not to be hers. Such is life! She knew there was no changing the outcome, the couple would take the screen, at a bargain price, and she would collect her stove and pine for the unattainable, and thus, perfect item.
She drove home, the gnawing inside her now accompanied by the rattling of the stove in back. She put on the most cymbal-laden CD in her glove compartment and resigned herself to the crashing. She thought of how it had come to be that she was driving around picking up stoves on a Sunday when previously she had been practicing with a band. The dissolution of the band had not been her decision; it struck her now that the others had been laboring under the premise that the band was her brainchild. The band might have been preserved if members had determined that the band was their idea as well. It’s strange, she pondered, how switching one’s perception the slightest can shift things for good. When the option came up, she turned off the main road, and found a side road chock full of bumps and curves. The music caterwauling, and the stove clattering such that she thought it might collapse into a pile of rubble by the time she reached home, she followed the arc of the lake, imagining the banging metal as her rage, boiling unseen beneath her smooth, mirror-like surface.
It boils down to caring. It bothers her to think she is caring less about certain things she used to care more about. Yes, she is certain, there are things she is moving away from, and other things she is moving towards, in terms of caring, although the exact perimeters of those things she is unclear of. It strikes her that there are many things in life which she once cared an awful lot about, but now hardly considers outside of times like this, when a feeling of regret makes her contemplate her lack of caring and a caring is reborn in her. At other times a random thought or news item can infuse her with a new caring. At such moments she sees the ease in it; the minutiae of her caring are like waves in an ocean conveying her. Still she worries about the particulars of her caring, and whether or not she is caring or not caring and in the optimal proportions.
“We’re all fucked up because in English the phrase ‘to make someone happy’ suggests that’s possible.” Rachel Zucker, The Pedestrians
“Our need for security versus our need for adventure, surprise. I think of it more as a paradox to manage than a problem to solve.” Ester Perel, TED talk
“Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!” Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
A difference. You rarely drink alone, whereas I always drink alone. A similarity. We both feel destined for something transcendent.