I’m rethinking peace today. It is a very grown-up thing to desire, isn’t it? I mean, once you get beyond the “wishing for world peace” trope.
But I am not longing for peace and quiet. Not for peace as an absence of stimulation. Not peace as restraint.
But peace as something else.
Something rowdy and joyful.
Maybe peace is the sturdy framework for creative disorder?
I think of the fortunate children who are “at peace with themselves” – noisy as hell, but secure and daring.
I want that peace: that tether, or trust – the emotional security – that allows children to explore the top of the jungle gym, the scary cupboard in the garage, and the range of inhuman sounds their vocal cords can mimic.
I want a peace that is not still, not restless, but curious.
How about peace as freedom from expectations?
Peace as freedom from judgment…
Or at least from the fear of judgement. That one is up to me.
Our guide says the intention for the day is to contemplate persistence. And though I know it’s not at all what she intends, my immediate association with the word is the Persistence of Memory.
Dali takes an odd perspective on persistence: but it feels true to the warping that can occur when we press something, either into – or from – our memory, or press with the physical insistence of our body while moving through a landscape. We make our marks on the world. Cairns. Graffiti. Our DNA.
We leave footprints wherever we go, because the only alternative to persisting is to be pulled into the flow of events and information – wherever they takes us. And while that can be a wondrous respite, the thrill of the grab-bag prize, most of us have a very human need to make sense of things. And by make sense, I mean make shapes: we outline the shadows into boogeymen or saviors , we map the dramaturgy of our stories.
We persist in our desire to reach a specific destination, or to maintain the status quo.
Heraclitus said change is the only constant in life. So persisting in the effort to maintain the status quo, digging my heels in, will bring me deeper into the earth – whether or not I allow myself to notice. There is no status quo. And as for a specific destination – sometimes I think the only way to reach a goal is to come at it obliquely. Persist, yes, but move without blinders or a cow-catcher because there is so much to take in, and take on, along the scenic route.
A lot of my ambivalence is a matter of choosing to persist, or to relinquish.
I like the word relinquish. There seems to be a will involved with the letting go. It isn’t a true synonym for submit, at least not in my mind. What I can relinquish I can take up again when I’m ready.
Maybe there is a natural rhythm to persisting and relinquishing. Like breathing out and breathing in. And a pause of consideration: What have I learned now? What do I want now?
Do I follow-through for the sake of the having-had-followed-through? I know there is a value in that. A lesson. A praxis.
But at some point, I have to ask myself what the little medals-of-completion are for? Do I need this lesson, or is persistence rooted in the desire to put something in the trophy cabinet on display?
I have committed to the vitual Camino de Santiago. There are so many reasons to walk the Camino. For the physical challenge, for the religious rite, for the quiet contemplation. Or – let’s be honest – for the bragging rights. And – to be honest – I have wanted to take the month-long trek for many reasons.
But there’s be no stamp in a passport to conspicuously leave lying on my coffee table. And my hamstring issues aborted my attempt to physically recreate the pilgrimage here in the Jæren landscape. That leaves me with the time set aside for contemplation.
Today I contemplate persistence. And admit to myself that I have two projects I neglected this year. I did not relinquish them. I did not persist. I simply lay back in the stream, and submitted to the flow of days, pretending I didn’t have a choice. I was too busy. I forgot.
So as I make this trip, I will focus on the breathing in and the breathing out: the relinquishing (inhale) and the persistence (exhale). This is how the mind gives up “busy” – and does not forget. It is how the spirit persists.
A long and difficult day filled with things I cannot talk about. My students, being drama students, are often people of few words and large gestures. Office Teams chat with its limited GIF selection is not particularly helpful, and a terse hyperbolic is unsettling.
Pinteresque text only really works on stage.
I had a good cry. And I will never really know if it was necessary. I always choose to err on the side of compassion – and hope it isn’t the side of melodrama.
I’m fortunate not to be moving through these days alone, though. Husband-hugs, and dog … what-do-I-call-them? Suspension flops? There is little in the world that can be likened to a 30-kilo hound who presses his forehead into yours for two solid minutes, then flops onto your rib cage with a sigh, trusting you aren’t going anywhere for another chapter or two. Leonard is the master of the micro-dramaturgy that makes up my days.
I am loved. And am grateful for the hugs and the presssssssssssss-plops.
On the virtual Camino today our guide takes us past ruins, which I suppose have a particular resonance in our imagination these days. I love ruins. It’s easy to romanticize when the darker ages become concepts we can wear like heirlooms. Vicarious courage? Maybe a more generous perspective would be a connection to the hopes and fears of previous generations?
It’s funny. This plague. It does not feel like a “dark” age. It feels plastic and slick-yellow.
Ah, but the sky. Yesterday the blues were soothing. Today the grays are varied, dark as stones – and still soothing. A variable constant.
I grabbed the mail at the beginning our walk around the block. Silly, but a book in the mailbox will override common sense. The cardboard of the package soaked through by the time we got home. Leonard shook a cup-full of rain over the walls in the entrance hall while I opened the package. I don’t care. It’s a book written by a friend from long ago, whom I’m grateful to have reconnected with recently.
I have thought about gratitude before on this virtual Camino. How sometimes it doesn’t come honestly to me, and how I choose to open myself to delight instead – and let gratitude come. This, if I find easier. Small delights. Dog-flops and hugs, and the I-don’t-care-if-my-house-needs-vacuuming-come-in moments.
The we-don’t-have-any-furniture-yet-but-come-over-and-let’s-kose ossmoments.
I think there are a myriad of ways that people define friendship. Mine is rather simple. And it is also rather one-sided: I don’t see friendship as an agreement. People who delight me? I count them as friends.
Ah, but don’t get me wrong. I am delighted by a wide-range of things.
Honesty delights me. Intention delights me. The fundamental goodness of people delights me.
The delight in ruins? No one built those cathedrals, bathhouses, or amphitheaters alone. I clutch at the heirloom of every community that ever was.
May we never forget the crippled, wind-beaten trees, how they, too, bud, green and bloom. May we, too, take courage to bloom where we are planted.
– BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST
I go through times of not recognizing myself. Sometimes it’s because I feel broken, and starting again takes a kind of acceptance and faith.
When I was sixteen I had to have a molar pulled. A cavity had destroyed the tooth so that a filling wasn’t an option. The dentist said my wisdom tooth would move in and replace the molar so: “no harm done”. But I felt differently. Harm had been done. My neglect – and soda pop, and pixie sticks had rotted a part of me beyond repair.
It felt profound. I remember thinking that I may as well have “lost” my virginity. I’d been careless – and there was no way back. My body was forever changed. At the time I thought I’d disappointed God by being a poor custodian of this flesh. Ungrateful, horrible person.
No doubt I’d experienced self-destructions on a small scale before. I remember cutting my own bangs once (and the disorienting mirror image that looked nothing like me). I was probably 6 or so. I remember the inconsolable weeping that followed. (No doubt as much about my wounded pride as my bared forehead.) But hair grows back. Teeth don’t.
It’s odd now to think how traumatizing it felt to lose a molar, considering all the irreparable damages I have accomplished since. It was a rite of passage, though: the sense of failure, the acceptance of the inevitability of decay, the certainty of such a thing as a point of no return. “Not playing around this time.”
But we learn, don’t we? We learn to let go of that particular perfection and aim at something else. We accept that weakness and search for new strengths. Our sense of self is as resilient as a tree growing around an obstacle, or dropping a branch, and sprouting a new one.
But sometimes I don’t recognize myself because I see myself too clearly. As though – like Dorian Gray – I stumble upon the honest portrait where every ugly thing I have ever done to others is etched on my face.
This takes another kind of acceptance to live with. Another kind of resilience.
This, I haven’t mastered: accepting ugliness without demanding absolution or redemption, and finding the strength to bloom anyway.
Friday was a day of diversions on the virtual Camino, which gave me a day to catch up. It was a day to enjoy.
Let the wind move through – give over, and do not brace against the tern’s sharp trill.
Maybe the key to really enjoying life is to keep a beginner’s mind: to approach everything – or let it approach you – without a preconception of whether it will be something that will be – or should be something – “enjoyable”.
After all, isn’t a large component of delight the surprise?
I remember when goosebumps were unfamiliar and mysterious. And something that thrilled me.
The 13th leg of the virtual Camino. And our intention today is to focus on community.
The message written on the rock is “Be Positive”.
So the worn joke naturally comes to mind: “Oh, I am positive… this is horrible.”
We are slowly opening this week.
The country, that is, is opening incrementally. New guidelines, new contradictions – and new ambiguities.
Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.
I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.
I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me. I knew that would put my health at risk.
Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.
It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.
Being with friends, with good food and good wine was nourishing. Witnessing the process of a theatrical artwork even more so.
Even respecting the social distancing guidelines, there is something fundamental about physical presence: in my mind, it is as essential to theater as paint is to the painter.
I know a lot of people equate “theater” with actors, and that actors can just as well act on film. But – for me – there is a difference. While the modernists went to great lengths to rediscover the theatrical in the face of new technologies, I think: that really wasn’t necessary. Like Grotowski, I would rid theater of actors before ridding it of presence.
Another lesson I have been teaching this week is Stanislavsky’s circles of awareness. Normally the students meander in the black box and try to become aware of their own circle of personal space. How it varies from one situation to another, from one posture to another. And how we respond differently when different people invade our personal space.
Usually the difficult thing is allowing – or deliberately encompassing – strangers in our personal space. But last night, it was difficult keeping people I love outside of my personal space.
Theater creates community. If I ever had a shadow of a doubt, it is gone now.
And it explains why, during this virtual Camino, I’ve been increasingly drawn to return to a play I’d put aside. I understand now it isn’t the play itself calling me, it’s the prospect of doing my part in creating an ephemeral community. That is what theater does: just as my beautiful friend proved yesterday.
It takes nothing more than intention and presence to create a meaningful “journey”.
The 12th leg of the virtual Camino, and our guide tells us our focus is to use our imagination – and just keep going. Apparently this leg of the trip is rather dull.
And so is the day. In a way. I have been moving through the day at a steady gallop from seven-thirty to five. Mentoring students, tweaking assignments for individual needs, conference calls and documentation. I’m grateful the students are patient with me.
We pilgrims are 1/3 of the way along this trail. Though everyone’s destination is slightly different. Some are imagining the actual trip. Looking at photos, reading up. Some are mimicking the hiking – racking up the kilometers. I had planned on doing that.
Best laid plans.
I am using my imagination to see things new. To notice the details here on my daily walks in the way I notice details when I travel. I was going to write: to unknown places. At least that was the familiar phrase that wanted to run out of my fingertips. But the truth is that so much of this place – this environment I move though daily – is unknown to me.
What if? Today I have been mentoring acting students – some of them working with Stanislavsky’s “Magic If”. Finding the simplicity difficult to grasp. It seems too simple.
Child-like make-believe: What if? What if I were a brown rabbit moving through this tall grass?
The idea is to give up preconceived ideas and rubrics you might have for the world. Approach it new – from the inside – by using your imagination.
With my imagination, I can fly up and approach again from another perspective. I can observe the world moving with varying tempos. I can alter the passage of time with my breath.
What if I had never seen this building before? The one I can see now through my living room window. How would I know what it is for? Who lives here? Who comes to visit, and why? When the visitors leave, why is their posture different from when they arrived? Just a bit more stooped. Their tempo, just a bit more legato?
Earlier this week I looked out the kitchen window, and I noticed the wires running through the glass of the back window of my husband’s car. They shone red in the clear light of the sunrise. Such an odd thing not to have noticed before.
Maybe not. Maybe our lives would be too full if we were to notice everything. We’d go mad.
Or maybe, just maybe, our lives would be… satisfying, just as they are.