The Timeliness (and Timelessness) of Books

My friend Jenny says, a book comes into your life at the appropriate time.  She, mother of three-year-old twins, is reading Moby Dick.

I.

This summer I rode down (or is it up?) the Nile with Cleopatra and Caesar, paying homage to Isis and sacred crocodiles. I sailed across the Mediterranean with my retinue of ships laden with gifts for Rome, including a giraffe and golden cutlery. I partied in the ancient city of Tarsus, reveling in excess, and I explored fabled Alexandria with its Canopic walkway lined with colonnades and wide enough for six chariots to ride abreast. At the end of this stretch I saw The Great Lighthouse in all its giganticness.

Before I embarked on this journey I knew nothing of Cleopatra, apart from a vague sense of her beauty. I hadn’t bothered to absorb any of the floating rumors because Stacey Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, hadn’t yet fallen into my hands. So I didn’t know that, as a young woman, she disguised herself and wrapped herself in papyrus to sneak into her palace, under siege by Rome. I didn’t know that she bore children to both Caesar and Mark Anthony. And I didn’t know her fate, though I had forebodings. So for me, the book was a fabulous page-turner, a delight, a chance to embody a time and place lost, and celebrate a woman who lived and loved in epic proportions.

II.

Leaving for an early morning flight to Bozeman, Montana, I grab a book off my shelf. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It’s an odd book, a series of soliloquies, and the cast – Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, Louis –  start off as children, then in a few pages, come of age and embark on youthful pursuits. I’m en route to Montana State University, to see my son launch himself. The book reads like a post-modern opera, with each character declaring their perspective in a rush of poetic intonation. It’s mesmerizing, incantatory. I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge, as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day to break open. I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend. I have not yet broken into my hoard. This is the beginning.

Was I waiting until this precise moment to crack open this tome, to let these words spill over me in this transformational moment, with a new set of realities beckoning, hurtling me into the unknown? How did Woolf anticipate my state of mind?

III.

Another early journey, this time to ride various conveyances (train, ferry, bus), to meet my mom and dad at a meeting with a heart specialist. For my commute I grab A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I know everyone’s read this book long ago, when they were children, or seen the movie with Oprah. Well, not me! I remember, as a child, feeling that this was an important book, but being exceedingly stubborn (like Meg, the protagonist), I refused to open it, despite loving books, because my sister, Beth, had read it and enjoyed it, and because it had something to do with science, or, at least, space, and I wanted to make a statement (to myself, to the book fairies who keep track of such things?) that I would not be so easily pulled over to the other side.

Recalling all this as if it were yesterday, I open the book (it is my sole selection) and read. I’m sucked in instantly. Amazing how 40 years of resistance can be broken: It was a dark and stormy night. I turn pages, emboldened. Would my life have been different if I’d read this book as a child? Would it have helped to see my own father as fallible, to not feel betrayed by him? Would Meg’s anger have released my own rage, so that I didn’t have to hold it in?  She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. . . She was frozen and her omnipotent father was doing nothing. She teetered on the seesaw of love and hate.

Or is this short minded of me? Is it better to focus on the themes: the parent/child dynamic (I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple. / But I wanted to do it for you, that’s what every parent wants.) ; fate vs. self-determination (You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.) ; and love as the ultimate answer – themes that resonate with me at this particular point in time? There is never a wrong time to wander into the worldly, wondrous pages of a well-worn and ever-patient book.

 

 

 

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The Man Who Can Forget Anything, a response to a performance by the same name

Preface

I do not trust my mind to remember anything. Thus I incessantly scribble ideas down on whatever I have on hand. A passport. A handbill. A ticket stub even.

Lofty beginnings

They took a very small boy and put him on top of a high high ladder in the old Eagles Auditorium. That was my son. And he sung a song from up there. It was a very long time ago so I can’t remember exactly what song it was, although it was a song from the musical Suessical.

A brush with the divine

I was trying on a dress in the vintage shop Mike’s Old Clothes, in a version of Seattle no one remembers anymore. The dress had a peculiar sash which I found myself frankly at odds with. I emerged from the dressing room with the two ends akimbo. A man leapt out from the shadows and tied it with a flourish. I recognized him as the dancer Mark Morris. I was too timid to tell him it was I!-the girl-child he had dedicated his solo Jealousy to at Bagley Wright some 5 years earlier. I was aware of the irony of needing more time to pull myself together when it was my inchoate state he had found so refreshing in the first place.

Diminutive yet stong men

I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov not in Moscow but here, on this very stage, dancing to Ivor Cutler. From the front row where I gratefully sat, having procured a ticket from a stranger, he appeared quite small in stature though wonderfully expressive. His face above all was a superbly malleable instrument which crowned his divine proportions.

Waistcoat and angel wings

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Outside of Seattle’s new opera house, I shot Kepler and Charlie in a candid pose before a performance of the ballet A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The balancing act, with children, is not being too strident in passing on one’s own predilections or occupations. Thus, the pitter patter of my heart when my son choose the donning of a costume free of my suggestion.

Snowman

The dancers filing out of Cornish gathered around to watch my boy-child nimbly mold a snowman. The way their giggles rushed out of them, only to be squelched by the frosty air, reminded me that though young, they had little knowledge of, or time for, the pursuits of childhood.

Nothing but regrets dept.

I am remorseful that I failed to see the production of Three Sisters when it came recently despite reading glowing reviews. I am contrite.

More of the same

I would also like to express regret for failing to see Ezra’s site specific dance piece exploring mental health and mother – son relations. I sensed the value of his work with every pore and yet failed to get my sorry ass to the street where it unfolded. I am ashamed and unabashedly penitent.

In case anything should happen. . . . .

We ought to have the manuals for every obsolete technology we’ve ever used to articulate our ideas uploaded into a chip and inserted into our skull cavity, to be removed upon our demise.

Memory palace

One day my son came home and said that they had learned something extraordinary at school. They had been taught they could remember anything if they hid it away in a crevice born of imagination.

The Entr’acte

Silence. Foot steps. A scuffle. The world is created sound bite by bite, each stab or slap or stomp or shuffle or shove another layer of scaffolding, the culmination of which is the tinkling of a grand piano and a man in a hat saying enjoy the show.

Time passing

The train is pulling into the station. My son boards the train. From the viewing platform I see him moving about the dining car where as a minor he is required to exist. I am a voyeur, drinking in his autonomous form as it readies itself for the exhilaration of travel. I am also gazing into a time capsule, reliving my own rail adventures from my stationary post. “All aboard!” the lady cries deafeningly as time rattles on for us both.

My heart is like an expensive piano

Two words overlapping inscribe something new. Two distinct time frames interposed jolt the audience into accepting the murkiness of the time-space continuum. Sitting in Room #608 and watching the high jinxes of silent film unfold as the clatter of feet – at first faint – grows in volume until, at last! the characters from the film are made flesh and burst into the room with the audacity of time bandits!

Concluding comments by two Vladimirs

“Memory is repetition.” Those words were spoken by my character Vladimir in A Warehouse Dream. Beckett’s Vladimir said, “Habit is a great deadener.”

Disclaimer

I apologize for having seemingly used the space here to write about my life, instead of reporting on the show as expected. In some sense, the performance was a blank canvas which I utilized for my own memories, some of which had much to do with the show, while others had less.

Epilogue

My son and I traveled the long route up Denny (unhampered by snow). Our fellow bus passengers (including a man carrying a dustpan and a pickaxe with bike locks hanging from his pockets) enhanced our understanding of our fellow man while the revolving floor tested my sense of gravity. We arrived home safe, greeted by the smell of apples, with the work through the night before us.