Just Keep Living, Just Keep Living

Finding Nemo was never my favorite movie, but I must admit that I loved Dory.  There was something so genuine about her embrasure of the moment.  Surely no one else can claim to live so “in the now”!

Her little sing-song phrase “Just keep swimming” came back to me today as I watched my gourami, Rochester, picking through the aquarium rubble for his dinner.  He’s battling a pretty serious bacterial infection at the moment, one that his species is particularly susceptible to.  It attacks even in the best of circumstances, with ideal water parameters.  That’s what happened to Rochester.

But despite the agonizing medicine baths to which I’ve been subjecting him, he’s hanging in there.  He just keeps living.  Animals are like that: they don’t just give up.  Life is the imperative, the absolute before which everything else must bow.  They have to silly pride to hold them back from being fully invested in the simple 60 seconds of a minute.

Dory and Rochester just keep living–and that clear, perhaps sentimental, idea is what makes it worth coming home to an aquarium at night.  I will get up in the morning and just keep living, just keep living…

Living for More Than Profit

On Facebook today, the Shakespeare Tavern drew my attention to a recent article by Susan Booth, artistic director of the Alliance Theater.  (And there you have some of the most important hyperlinks you’ll ever need, all in one sentence 🙂

In her article, Booth articulates that funding for the arts has largely failed since we’ve moved to a consumer-centered capitalist bottom-line ideology because the arts are not about profit of a material kind but about profit of an essential, unquantifiable human kind.

The supply-and-demand question isn’t really about a supply of cultural organizations and a demand for the arts.

And as long as we keep arts-funding relegated to that small definition, we will always have cries for financial help and imperiled institutions.

But were we to acknowledge that our shared need for introspection and empathy flows through every facet of our daily lives and is therefore essential for us to support, then perhaps we’d stop talking about arts funding and start talking about humanity funding.

I think that Booth has not only diagnosed the cyclical nature of the annual funds and desperate direct mailings that theater-lovers receive on an ever increasing basis, but she has also discovered how America has impoverished itself.  Defining our lives by the cruel rigor of supply-demand excises us from the source of life.  

My seventh grade science book defined life as the ability to:

  • grow
  • respond to surroundings
  • reproduce
  • extract energy from the sun (or food)

In my marketplace mire, I often see death:

  • one routine that never changes or offers incentive for improvement
  • inability to react to people, events–internal or external–in deference to the “professional” determination to ignore everything that doesn’t contribute to scanning at a register, checking out online, or sealing the deal
  • strict limitations on how much or how little of another individual’s ideas, personality, etc. I can incorporate into something new that combines with my ideas, personality, etc.
  • discouragement to engage with spirituality, Nature, feasting, partying, dancing, laughing, music, or other food for body, mind, soul, and spirit

So I take up Booth’s challenge and snowball it into my own: I WILL LIVE!  Not only will I make it through the day, but I will decay a little less.  A plant or animal expends all its energy on those four characteristics of life; I will quit hoarding the precious little I have in the hope that it will suddenly expand into a never-ending, self-sustaining supply for which there will be eternal demand, but I will give my time and energy to growth, reaction, reproduction, and sustenance.  Like Booth explained, communities that are culturally impacted by the arts are compassionate and vital (alive).  Maybe America would have more personal improvements, more interconnectivity, more happy babies and creative masterpieces, more girth––all because of a little more of a fiscally silly thing: funding humanity.

Life should be a crazy ride that you just hold on and enjoy.

Life should be a crazy ride that you just hold on and enjoy.

Responsibility and Reward

I’ve been contemplating–crazy, I know–the difference between facing life as if it is a responsibility and facing life as if it is a reward.

I recently got to travel for a long weekend, and even though I was very busy throughout my vacation–even waking up earlier than I get up at home!–I felt immensely refreshed.  Each day was like an exquisite gift; I didn’t mind expending my energy on it because I knew that I would never have another day quite like it.  And although I “earned” the reprieve by my hard work and frugal planning, it was also something made possible only by the generosity of those around me who opened their homes and wallets to give me a fantastic holiday.

And honestly?  Each day that I work hard is made possible by the generous support of the One Who loves my soul.  (And, no, He doesn’t do it for a cute tote bag as a thank you for His donation.)

Life isn’t easy, and there are strings tied to every fiber of our being that the world around us likes to pull and stretch, sometimes until the line just pops and you know a great thing is gone forever.  But each string doesn’t have to dictate the way I move; I can muscle my way into a dance, a rejoicing in the day that fills my soul with delight and liberates my heart from the oppression of puppeteering.  And with each struggle to find the giggle (or grimace) that my heart feels in each dawn, my strength will grow and my dance get longer, more fluid, and more sure.

So, here’s to tomorrow: may it be a joy set before me!

Snail Eggs!

Ok, I’m not gonna lie.  This post is gross—especially compared with my theatrical contemplations.

But I think it’s funny how even the mundane things can occupy your mind: such as the fact that my snails have laid eggs!

Yes, nice gooey bunches that look like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.  But, so applesnail.net tells me, in a few weeks (or less, thanks to this recent heat wave), I’ll have dozens of tiny miniatures of my adult snails foraging through the mire of my five gallon tank.  In preparation for their arrival, I’ve been instructed to encourage algae growth, so the little guys won’t have far to travel for their first few meals.  It makes me think of Charlotte’s web and all the disgusting and yet strangely beautiful spiderettes floating through the air on their silken parachutes.  They’re a lot cuter than my snail eggs at the moment, so you can look at a picture of them while you read this post.  I’ll leave the ugliness of invertebrate reproduction to your sordid imaginations.

When the cute baby snails are ready for their ‘welcome to the world’ portraits, you’ll be the first to know.

Correction: Here’s a picture of the parents-to-be, since I can’t find a good image of Charlotte’s babies.

Hikaru and Kaoru, my apple snails (yes, I named them after two boys, their true identities unbeknownst to me at the time)

Hikaru and Kaoru, my apple snails (yes, I named them after two boys, their true identities unbeknownst to me at the time)

Much Ado About Everything

An Open Letter to the Shakespeare Tavern Cast and Crew of Much Ado About Nothing

I wish I were a count in Florence, perhaps a Medici (although their life style may have been a bit too full of espionage and intrigue for the likes of me).  If I were a count—or countess, I suppose—I could lavish funds and favors and general wealthiness on the artists of my choosing, that they may practice their art in prosperity and prestige.

However, in the absence of any ducal status and all that that entails, I am left with mere words of praise.  May they bring prosperity and prestige in their train somehow.

open handTo Benedict (Andrew Houchins): You actually made me like this character!  Before your performance, I didn’t really ever believe in Benedict’s transformation.  There was always a hint of irony in the players, a refusal to give themselves wholly over to the fact that Benedict embraced love—which refusal betrayed their belief that love weakens a hero’s temperament or dilutes his better qualities.   It’s as if the many actors that have played Benedict were so excited about the role, that they built up an aura of coolness about him that was impenetrable—as if to say, “I am playing a man in love, but only because he’s the hero, and that’s me.”  But you understood Benedict and introduced him to me in his true self: a strong man who is all the stronger for laying down his arms when he discovered a force greater than perpetual self-defense.  Benedict only gains heroism as the play progresses because he tethers his strength those who are weak and layers nobility upon his skills by employing them in the service of others.  And you accomplished this trajectory with verisimilitude by allowing Benedict to be a bit ridiculous when he plays the part of a serious soldier and entirely serious when he invests in the role of a lover, which people untouched by love view as ridiculous.  The awkwardly funny laugh, the sputtering tantrums, the quiet tension when Beatrice shared the stage—it all added up to a fascinating new vision of manliness.  Shakespeare’s portrayal of masculinity drifted too near the tyrant in Taming of the Shrew and too near the effeminate in Twelfth Night; but you’ve finally proven that he worked out the simultaneous giddiness and grandeur of humanity in Benedict.  I thank you.

to weepTo Beatrice (Erin Considine): Finally a heroine who’s real!  Beatrice has long been savored as a remarkable female role, but, just as in the case of Benedict, the actresses too often delight in the quick wit and forget to wound that goads her into such obstinate deflection of affection.  Your choice to let her weep—sincerely and utterly—gave such depth to her soul.  And when you had finished tongue-lashing Benedict, you retreated to the side of the stage with an expression of pain and confusion.  That is exactly what many women feel when they shore themselves up with wit; they fear anything less sharp would make them too vulnerable and anything more sincere would make them sentimental or negligible.  But all the while, they wish they could meet their companions on the security footing of mutual help and admiration.  Beatrice’s character reminds me much of the modern push-and-pull of expressing femininity—many times we wish to be a ‘man’ and regret that we must die grieving as a ‘woman.’  Or, in being a ‘man’ of action and arms, we sever the tight human bond that makes grieving worth the price.  Watching your Beatrice interact with Benedict brought sharp clarity to the layers of one of Shakespeare’s most mature–and therefore interesting and inspiring–women.  I thank you.

swordTo Don Pedro (Matt Nitchie): I confess I’ve always dislike Don Pedro—until now.  He seemed too cocky, too proud, too meddling, and too rash.  I’ve always read his proposal to Beatrice as self-congratulatory, the kind of offer that someone makes simply because they can, because no one expects their success, and because they are secretly self-assured they will win.  But last night you made me believe Don Pedro for the first time!  To see him as a sincere and noble person whose honor runs hot and whose purposes are as sure as they are swift—what a treat!  It lends an entirely new depth to the ensemble surrounding Beatrice and Benedict, and I was truly sad when Beatrice rejected him.  But, at the same time, she was right: he is too costly for everyday wear.  It’s almost as if Shakespeare could have written Don Pedro as the hero but decided that audiences would think him too good to be true.  Well, I think he is truly that good.  I thank you.

While I could go on at length all the way down the cast list, for the sake of my readers, I’ll confine my remarks to a few closing comments.  I’m not enough of an uber-geek to trace with scintillating brillance all of Shakespeare’s progressions throughout the course of his canon.  But! I must say that Much Ado About Nothing really packs a wallop.  Shakespeare uses a lot of finesse in this play to develop the themes that he draws with broader strokes, almost caricature, in his earlier works.  Here he seems to boil down love and marriage to a desire for both mutual respect that appreciates the fire in each man’s soul and mutual generosity that appreciates the dust, the clay of each man’s nature.  We want our strengths admired and called upon, our weaknesses realized and covered o’er.  We long for truth and honor and sincerity in all people, most especially our comrades at arms, the ones who help us fight the elements to make a livable world (whatever vision that may be)—we long for this tried-and-true purity of speech and action so much so, that we will kill a sweet lady in the blind hope that a man’s yes is yes and his no is no.  And in the end, maybe it’s the ones we take for fools that help us realize that all we want is for someone to know that we are an ass!  And for all our glory, we are frail.  The Mediterranean sense of inviolable chastity and unmitigated honor is so high an ideal that it forgets we are but men.  And Much Ado About Nothing outlines the voids that plague us: our hunger for affection, our starvation for loyalty, and our deep sense that we have been wronged and must never be so again.  That’s what makes the solace of Beatrice and Benedict’s love such a comfort, such a welcome relief, such an outstanding hope.  Yes, it’s too good to be true.  But for those three hours on the stage, it is true.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare Tavern

Winter’s Frog

It’s frustrating how little occasion there is to be serious.  Life would be unbearably heavy, people think, if we gave real weight to every situation.  But I think it’s unbearably heavy when there’s nothing in it.  When there are no moments of solemn reassurance, no ritual of real experience, no ties that bind.  We’ve struggled so hard in the West to extricate ourselves from the entanglements of other people.  Each individual be praised.  But there comes a certain point when you’re all alone in your little island, and there is a force field of privacy that keeps people at bay.  It’s unseen, unspoken, but oh so very real.

 Perhaps that’s something about the East that is gloriously necessary in the wide and empty fields of grain and purple mountains’ majesty.  There is a short film currently touring the festival circuit that speaks of death–the death that we die and the death that creeps into our silence about that death.  It’s called “Winter’s Frog” and stars Gerard Depardieu and a darling Asian lady whose name I wish I knew but not really because then she’d be a person not an idea that I could chew on incessantly.  The story is about how she saves the old man’s life by giving him symbols and signs, rituals and rites to guide him through his wife’s passage into another realm.  His wife died.  Died when they were all alone, the two of them, in a huge winery and empty vineyard.  The Asian lady arrives at his door for a tasting.  At first, he refuses.  But then, inexplicably, he relents.  And by the time the last frame fades away, you’re left with a charming hope that the significant moments of life will not die silently one by one unnoticed.  There will be eyes to see and ears to hear.  And together, they can pass through the fiery ordeal.

So here’s to the winter’s frog, the sign of eternal life, and the hope that someday the West will learn how to say the words we feel and take hold of the unfathomable meanings by the tail.

Art from Ashes, edited by Lawrence Langer

Read the intro in this book for more on the importance of words and symbols to carry our collective gaze and although us to approach life's abyss.

2:37 a.m.

toss at the moon

Sitting alone at night makes me tired

But there’s energy for the taking because no one else is there to steal it away

Sap at your reserves and make you pay

Through the nose for something you didn’t really want in the first place

But couldn’t say.

 

I lay awake waiting for the time to come when all last pages fall to the ground like bits of over-soaking algae wafers.

Have I fed my fish today?

Streams of rain run down the glass inside but I know it doesn’t melt with age.

Discovery Channel told me so.

 

Dreams come and go quickly and I’ll admit I hate the word

That says something immaterial can describe something real.

Together they are made for each other but never as one.

It won’t work.

 

Why do the paper airplanes fly?

I wish I had a kite or some other symbol of man’s lost sky to toss at the moon of a lonely night.