Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wonder Boys (and Girls)

Last night I was watching one of my favorite films, Wonder Boys, based on the novel by Michael Chabon.

It stars Michael Douglas, who has left behind his roles as sex god and warrior cop, to become the rumpled, often stoned professor Grady Tripp, a novelist who teaches creative writing in Pittsburgh. Unable to finish his second novel, which has grown into a vast meandering tome of thousands of aimless pages, he is in the middle of a divorce, and is having an affair with with his boss's wife, who is also the Chancellor of the university. His chaotic life becomes further complicated by one of his talented, eccentric students, played by Tobey Maguire.

Towards the end of the movie, a car door flies open, and Professor Tripp's manuscript flies out, a white snowfall of typed pages, into the Allegheny river, hopelessly lost and fluttering nicely downstream. That part always gets me..........I usually rewind it. It's a moment of commedic loss, but also a kind of amazing grace. After that, everything else falls apart as the dishevelled professor ultimately finds his
way into a more authentic life.

I read a fabulous quote by Laurie Anderson recently in which she described herself as an "anthropologist" after a journalist asked her why she had chosen to work at MacDonald's and at an Amish farm. She explained that she was always trying to learn about new ways of living, new cultures, and found immersion the best way to keep her creativity and curiosity enlivened.

So.......I guess I'm leading up to something here. I'll indulge a ramble until I find my way.

I’m sitting at borders bookstore in Tucson, the only coffee shop I’ve found that does not have a piped in rock and roll station. I resent background noise, and find what is usually offered harsh, angry, ugly, screaming, painful, complaining, or hyperactive. These energies are constantly broadcast. Is there a restaurant or coffee shop that plays Gamelon, or Chopin or even "easy listening music" anymore? Nope. At any rate, you can think here. It is also beautifully air-conditioned, and since it’s 108 outside (a reasonably pleasant June day in Tucson)……….

Every time I come back to Tucson in high summer, my higher functioning seems to immediately cease. I become stressed, irritable, unable to think clearly, and I tend to enjoy venting as much road rage as I can get away with, probably because I lack both a radio and an air conditioner.

Good fore-giveness practice

Listening to my coffee clutch pal rant this morning didn’t improve my mood. J. is a true contemplative, who meditates daily, has a PhD and lives a very simplified life in a van that runs on biodiesal. Which is probably uncomfortable in the summer, and may be why his usually fascinating discussions about religion were today punctuated with denunciations of what he considers the hypocrisy of just about everyone, from Muktananda’s sex addiction to Sai Baba being a pedophile to Joseph Smith’s 50 wives to what he considers the Dali lama’s fake smile. Whew. That was exhausting. I hope he feels better tomorrow. I've had such rants myself.

Good fore-giveness practice.

I’m about to take a 6 week intensive course that will end with me receiving an ESL teaching certificate. This will be grueling, and no doubt I'll be twice as old as everyone else there. I'm doing this because next year, Great Spirit willing, I want to do volunteer work, and this would be a useful skill to take to the table. I'm also unemployed now, so some means to earn income is a good idea. I'm even applying to the Peace Corps. I'm also considering asking Dana Dakin if she can use me in Ghana in some way – and I am also considering volunteer opportunities in Morocco and Nepal.

All of this, of course, scares the hell out of me. I've spent so much of my life alone in studios, within the self-absorbed life of an artist. What if I get malaria? What if all there is to eat is yams and overripe bananas, or worse, monkey jerky? What if they have a revolution, and no one believes my story that I’m really a Canadian (should I get maple leaf earrings and a matching hat?) What if I have to share a dorm room with a Baptist missionary who aggressively worries about my soul? What if there are really, really big spiders? Would that test my own faith?

What if I get to meet aids orphans, what if I get to teach girls how to read or draw, what if I fall in love with a whole village.……and never want to return to this life? What if ……….

You see, I’ve had this dream about joining the Peace Corps, and going to Africa, for 30 years. If it’s ever going to happen, now is the time to put it into motion. And perhaps, to be candidly honest, sometimes I am weary of living in a "facebook world", a world where friendship seems to mean you share one paragraph group emails with 500 people, a world I've become increasingly out of step with. I say this as I sit here surrounded by laptops and cellphones and earplugs. Everyone is going a thousand miles an hour. I can't touch anyone anymore at that speed.

In some ways, I'm not unlike Professor Tripp. My magnus opus could flutter into a river somewhere, on the Camino to Compostella maybe.........and I'm not sure I'd care all that much, or if anyone would notice for that matter either. Impermanance. I really don't know who I am anymore.

Which might not be such a bad thing. There's a big world out there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would notice...

And I say step into the center of your longing - the world is holding its breath - waiting for you to fill the one place that only you can fill (with gratitude to David Whyte for that inspiration).

Have you read any James Hollis? From Misery to Meaning in Midlife is a powerful piece about the potentials that are unleashed in midlife when we are able to navigate the swamplands of despair.