Letter to J., 27 Nov 2009

Dear J--

You spoke of turning within for the winter. More and more it feels as though the real task, the main task of my world right now, is about opening my inner life until it matches, and becomes, the life I live outwardly.
I have, of course, no idea how to accomplish this, definitively. I only know, or see, the millions of little things directly in front of me, the petty things mingled with the profound--things like getting out of bed, or writing this letter, or writing that play, or feeding my cat, or, or, or, or...
My inner world is a mess of grand-scale things half-built; physical and emotional discoveries squirrelled away in readiness for something I'm not even conscious of; unfought arguments and lingering memories that don't want to fade away. This inner world has been pretty consistently so, for a s long as I can remember, only expanding in scale as time goes by.
Once, I was admonished by a soon-to-be-ex that, of all the people she'd known, I had changed the least--that in fact, I hadn't changed at all. At the time, I was much dismayed by this (I was a pretty miserable and unlucky boy when I first met her). Now, it actually makes some sense to me, even if I know she meant nothing comforting by that remark.
To a certain degree, my outward life already does reflect this inner constancy--my outward life is a kind of waking sleep, a continual process of waiting and holding my physical space in readiness for that which is next. Holding space in readiness has served me well thus far--it's like in those male-centric action movies, where the steely-eyed warrior concentrates on jumping-rope or disassembling guns for awhile, an aleaborate dumb-show that says, "Look at me, I'm a cold-ass motherfucker," which is invariably followed by scenes that are devastating or redemptive or humbling, as if to say, "Train by all means, but you'll never, ever be truly ready."
To be fair, I am not a cold-ass motherfucker, nor do I know how to disassemble a gun (and I'm pretty bad at jumping rope, too). But I really love, perhaps too much, that sense of deep inhalation, the coiling of the spring, the self-imposed discipline of calming, before storming. As a result, the performances I'm personally proudest of, and the things I've done that I believe I've done well, were none of them random, inscrutable flukes of fortune, but meaningful and intentional things that had to be cared for and nourished over time, that required deliberate attention and steady nerves.
But I can't say that this neat little story happens with any kind of frequency. In all honesty, most of my time is spent in that deep inhalation, physically hunkering down while my inner, emotional life tumbles and roils against itself, in spite of my repeated efforts to keep calm and sleep well. Maybe that's the real task of my life right now.
A piece of music, or a rare play, or most likely a finely made piece of writing, will cross my path, from time to time, sending me stirring and tumbling anew, hungry and fiercely inspired. They tend to prod me into an almost drunken, joyfully angry state, where I'm indignant that the rest of the world ignores so much loveliness or sacrifice or wonder. And then I get secretly, happily sick with my own ambition, to do the same but more, lusting for that righteous distinction of being unworthy of the world's neglect.

Happily Reading:
On the Shortness of Life--Seneca
What I Loved--Siri Hustved
Penelopiad--Margaret Atwood
The Developing Mind--David Siegel
The Harsh Cry of the Heron--Lian Hearn

Listening To
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
High, Wide and Handsome; the Charlie Poole Project, Loudon Wainwright
Madeleine Peyroux

These days I'm taking care of my Grandma during the day, and then teaching with PlayWrite at Portland Night High School. With winter, I'm always happy except I'm lonely--or lonely except I'm happy, it's always twinned like that.
I'm not taking care of my Grandma, so much as I'm studying her, so that I can recognize her ghost, which I think of as a joyful thing, though it may sound morbid; but also to discover her; counting her pills, tabulating her vital signs, the clinical facts which signify her earthly presence, while my head and my heart record her laughter, and the way she smiles at her grandchildren, and her fickle appetites, and her lonely sadness. Her confusion and her emptiness, that are themselves precious fragments--vital signs--of 74 rich and terrible years. I am studying her, for the time when, in every instance I say "I," I'll actually mean "We," and mean her as well as me, as I already do for my Grandpa, and my other grandparents, and every other person whose death I've witnessed. (No I'm not an axe-murderer.)
My cat Wendell has drawn in all his neighborhood friends to seek shelter in my apartment at night, and now their proprietary mien is so complete that I generally feel like an ill-mannered, boorish guest in my own apartment--clumsy, overbearing, smelly, and shockingly ignorant of polite feline society. I suppose they only tolerate me because I'm bigger, and I'm a soft heat source. Wendell is sympathetic but helpless.
I hope you're keeping snug and warm in your new home, and that your journey within is a fruitful one. Know that you are loved and missed--

ps--PlayWrite, in which I coach at-risk youth to write plays, and then they're performed by professionals, has a showcase on 14 and 15 December--FREE--call or email me for details...