Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Old Year Musings

Christmas Eve may be my favorite day of the year. The family traditions are few; growing up we would have oyster stew for dinner (a tradition inherited from my mother's family), we'd usually get to break into the homemade caramels and fudge for the first time, and at some point in the evening carolers from our meeting would stop by for a song or two. The routine most years would include (earlier in the month) one of the regular carolers asking why we never came along. "Somebody has to stay home to hear the singing," we'd usually respond. Not sure why it was such a big agenda to get us out of the house, but it never worked.

The Christmas Eve traditions have been slowly changing. A few years back after we finished our oyster stew, we all looked at one another and realized we didn't want to have it anymore. Mom was the first one to voice it, which was all to the good since she was both the chef and the person with the longest tie to the tradition, but all six of us seemed to have the reaction simultaneously. We've switched over to clam chowder, and couldn't be happier. As of last year we've moved locations too; Mary and Tony now host the dinner at Hazelthorne. Mary was clear that she was delighted with this arrangement as long as Fang got brought over to be a part of the festivities. The resident cat, Eddie, was less than thrilled with this intrusion last year, but since Fang is not a fan of stairs, he has plenty of uncontested territory for the duration of the visit. Our change in location also means we're no longer on the carolers' path, and they too seem to have modified things a bit, setting out on the 23rd so everyone can be at home with his/her families on Christmas Eve. All in all though, the evening feels improved for me. It's nice when 'traditions' can evolve that way.

I can never decide if December or May is my favorite month, but right now, by lucky coincidence, December is in the lead. My inner Quaker still pipes up from time to time about how no day, no time, no PLACE is any more holy than any other. He blathers on about how every day should be treated as holy, each moment should be made sacred (you can see why so many Quakers become Buddhists, and vice-versa, perhaps). I hear him, and thank him for his thoughts, but it is definitely my inner Pagan Celt who is in the ascendant at this time of year. I love the Winter Solstice and all the traditions that have collected around it: the birth of the divine child, the Spring God, the longest night of the year triggering a counter-intuitive hope as we begin Winter but anticipate Spring, all the spectacle of evergreens, holly, mistletoe, wrapping paper, ribbon, the smells of good cooking permeating every indoor space, I love it all. I even love the bleak outdoors, where sudden flashes of red from cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers shout exuberantly from the grey, brown and sepia landscape. I'll have to show you those photos later. It's almost fifty degrees right now, and pouring rain, but I love this kind of weather too. Walking in it for an hour gives one an inflated sense of accomplishment when one comes indoors to snuggle up with a cup of tea, and a Christmas cookie or six. The radio plays plainsong, or Bach's Oratorio, or Handel's Messiah, and even if I don't really share the theology underlying them, the sense of joyous celebration is one I can inhabit effortlessly.

And yes, there have already been a good couple of walks with Fang (herself a symphony of brown, grey and sepia, like fallen oak leaves), her galloping in big circles reminding me what total commitment looks like. Every fiber of her being is galloping at that moment, and loving it. A master of second-guessing and paralyzing self-analysis such as myself always benefits from seeing such examples of single-mindedness.

Truth be told, I am not looking back on 2008 with much fondness right now. Oh yes, there is plenty to be grateful for, not the least of which is the many true and wonderful friends I've made through this blog. There have certainly been plenty of good lessons learned this year, I won't deny, but let's not be too precious, I wouldn't say they were FUN. To be honest, I'm happy to see the back of this year. But this time of year usually brings with it a sense of renewal, of hope returning. I'm back in a place where it is easy for me to access feelings of serenity, artistry, purpose, community and love. This year I can feel some new thoughts brewing about how I need solitude as much as community, and how poor I am at filling either need in cities. That will be fodder for some useful thinking, I hope.

I've missed writing here. I'm letting thoughts come unedited right now, since my time in the college library is limited and I've been feeling like some internal censor has been preventing me from writing for a while. Father Tony asked an interesting question a few weeks back; he wanted to know why each of us blogs. I don't feel like I have a good answer for that, just yet, perhaps because the reasons are changing. When I started it nearly three years ago (!) I saw it as a way of staying active when I felt like I was doing precious little, especially of a creative nature. As I discovered, and was discovered by other wonderful bloggers, my sense of who I was writing FOR changed, and that certainly affected what I wrote. Entering into a larger conversation with people, most of whom I ONLY knew through the blogging, became a satisfying motivation. Then came the whole mess with Nicky; suddenly I felt I needed to write much more intimate, personal thoughts than I had before. I felt some sense of obligation to tell my side of the story. I had always wanted the tone of the blog to be personal, but suddenly it was taking on a level of intimacy I hadn't anticipated, and wasn't entirely sure I wanted.

So maybe in recent months I've been experiencing a delayed sense of over-exposure. Don't misunderstand me; none of you have pried into my feelings. I haven't felt pressure from you; no, whatever sense of over-sharing I had is purely internal. The humiliation and pain caused by the Nicky nonsense had more repercussions than I expected it to. I guess these sorts of things always do, especially such lack-of-precedent ones as this. Recently though I've begun to feeling a funny sense of lack. It seems as if something here has become a valuable tool for processing my life. I've been writing three pages of long-hand almost every morning since 1992 (a la Julia Cameron) and my day will feel off if I miss it. A similar sense has kicked in with this blog now. A different need is being filled; I suppose I write here for myself at some level, but your thoughts and reactions have been a wonderful part of the process for me, encouraging in me at least some rigor and structure (though it is obviously sorely lacking in this entry). One thing I will credit Nicky for; because of his (sic) blog I chose to focus on gratitude when writing here as much as possible. I've spent a lot of the last thirteen/fifteen years complaining, and it doesn't seem to translate into anything interesting in my life. Maybe some have found the writing here excessively pollyannish (as so many did at Nicky's blog), but it was a good exercise and provided me with a useful challenge. It may have run its course, that exercise, but I remain hopeful that any venting I do in the future will still have some structure, at the very least faith that solutions are possible. Ah, there we go, that seems key; so much of the venting I do in life (ask my non-virtual friends) can become self-indulgent and defeatist. I might be very funny while I'm doing it, but I'm denying any possibility that something can be done. In the past year the blog has been a venue for me to push myself. Believe it or not, seeking out reasons for celebration and thanksgiving is challenge for me, and one that I benefit from taking on. Maybe the blog is about to test me in other constructive ways.

I hope you're all with people you love, feeling the desire to celebrate rise effortlessly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Three Sundays

Has it really been over two weeks since I last wrote? In many ways it feels like it's been an action-packed time, even if much of the action has been some high-powered rumination. For no particular reason this entry has photos from the last three Sundays. It just so happens that all three Sundays, whatever else occurred, I also took a really nice walk. Birds figured significantly in all three too. No real point I'm trying to make, I just noticed as I looked at the photos, they were heavy on the birds.

Once again I'm writing in an attempt to articulate thoughts that have largely eluded me. So far the best I've been able to do is identify certain themes that keep popping up. One of the biggest has been gratitude, and I don't think it's just because of the recent holiday. That was wonderful, don't get me wrong, a day spent cooking and dining with loved ones whose views on the good life I always find inspiring and invigorating. It was a great day. Other reasons for gratitude were the performances of Blueprint. Setting foot on that particular stage, I felt a surprising sense of homecoming; it's a big space -11 ft by 30ft- with a 40 ft dome overhead, yet the audience feels very close. This gives it a magical blend of intimate and grand, and has inspired my work on more than one occasion. I was thrilled to be back in it.

Both the producing companies, Six Figures and Kinesis Project, are additional reasons for gratitude. For nearly six years these two companies have provided me with many opportunities to explore my own work. Generally the offer has been something like "we have some free evenings in a great space coming up, ya got anything you want to do?" I'm sure even people outside the nutso world of New York City know just how rare such offers are. Getting to work with both companies at once was luxurious. It was also great that these shows gave me a chance to introduce some of my blogging friends to some of my theatre/circus/dance friends. My worlds got woven together just a bit more.

Of course getting to set foot on a stage again after more than a year (I didn't know I was taking a break, but let's pretend it was on purpose, 'kay?) was... well, the image that comes to me is one of spacious, joyful exuberance. I felt like my parents' dog Fang, when she's been let off the leash to gallop in big dizzying circles. This is not to claim that everything I did worked, mind you. I was trying some new things with some old material (basically trying to move it from bar to stage, and from NC-17 to PG-13), and there are some big problems to be addressed. But just getting to DO the work... yup, big dog running in a field. In the funny way of the universe, doing these shows seems to have triggered some divine network to send other work my way. So far it's only been short scenes with film grad students, but these have come with their own peculiar satisfactions, not the least being the chance to work some creative muscles in danger of atrophy.
But gratitude is not the only word I've been considering lately, sad to say. Another one that keeps cropping up is entitlement. I think this comes from my inner adolescent, the one who still believes the world is supposed to be FAIR goddammit, and says "I've earned my stripes, done my time, I shouldn't have to be starting at square one, or minus one AGAIN!" My inner Buddhist tries to soothe him, saying "remember beginner's mind, all worthy endeavors start from a place of innocence, doing the work is all that matters." My inner Puritan smacks the adolescent with a switch and bellows "you didn't do squat for a YEAR, and it's not like you've been burning up the place before then, what do you expect? There are no guarantees, people work themselves to the bone and STILL might not get 'what they deserve', you've been sitting on your ass for 12 months, you little pipsqueak, what is your problem? Stop sniveling." For good measure the inner critic usually chimes in about now, saying "if no one wants to see you work, then does it really matter how much you feel like a big dog running in a field? Are you doing this just for yourself? Does the world really need that?"
At this point my inner slacker usually notices that The Simpsons is on the TV.

So, gratitude, entitlement, and a whole lot of kvetching. Good times. Actually, it's not so bad, once I identify who is talking. Right now I'd say gratitude -and my inner Buddhist- seem to be in the ascendant. That just seems like the path with the greatest number of options. I like options.
These first few photos are all from a walk I took the afternoon in Riverbank Park (two blocks west of my apartment) before the final Blueprints Show on November 23rd. It was a beautiful sunny fall day, brisk, but still comfortable enough that I could lie down on the grass (in my winter coat) to take the photo above.

It's not just people, my camera really doesn't handle interior shots all that well, especially not in a dark theatre where we only had work lights on. I decided to post some of them anyway, because they cracked me up. This one of my darling Melissa, for example. Like any good dancer, she knows the power of stillness, but you wouldn't know it from any of the shots I took of her that night; in all of them she is a moving blur. This one is wonderfully misleading in another way; she never looks this wicked.

At one point all five of us were doing handstands. I like this shot because it looks like Madeline is standing behind herself.

Here again is lovely Madeline. Though it's dark, this was the only shot I got of a person that was in focus, so I had to include it.

This is friend Jeff stretching. I just thought it was cool. I actually rather like what the camera did here, even if I had no say in the matter. Very expressionistic, no?

This squirrel marks the first photo from my walk on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in St Nicholas Park, two blocks east of my apartment. This little guy may have been waiting to see if I had any goodies, or he may have been staying close because of...

these hawks. You'll have to enlarge this photo to see them, but there were three, count'em three hawks sitting in a nearby tree. Actually none of the squirrels in the area seemed too concerned. I was just thrilled to see the birds. I never got a decent shot of any of them flying, unfortunately. In this photo there is one in the lower right quandrant, and two in the upper left. The lone bird appeared to be trying, very casually, to join up with the other two, but it never seemed to go well. Families during the holidays, you know how it is.
Another brilliantly sunny day.

This tree full of starlings went into a bit of a tizzy just after I took this photo, probably because...

of the hawk flying overhead. See that little dot just above the pair of towers? That's a hawk. See what I mean about no decent flying shots?

This was sunset on December 7th, my third Sunday walk, once again at Riverbank Park. The temperatures were in the 20s and there was a wicked wind coming off the river from the west. A flock of Canada Geese (or as you call them in Canada, Geese) I first saw on 11/23 (see photo above) had now more than doubled, half of them choosing to sit on the freezing river, in the bitter wind, riding the choppy waves. Maybe it was some sort of arctic amusement park ride.

Periodically a portion of the flock would decide it was time to practice migrating, so they'd take off, circle overhead, then land again, honking all the while. Eventually they all were on land, and began grazing purposefully, one goose clearly leading a loose V.

Good friends, a little work, the natural world if I just pay attention, yeah, I'm sticking with gratitude for now.