Tonight we should be able to see the aurora borealis. There is a website with the forecast, but this part of the country isn’t included there. We are too far south of the arctic circle. Today, however, there is a solar flare and the sky is supposed to dance all over Europe. I’ve got an eye on the window. Watching the clouds. The sun sinking.

Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.

After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.

She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.

She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.

Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.

Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?

The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.

I write. Glancing towards the window occasionally. One thought for next week’s doctor’s appointments. One reminder to pull my shoulders back and lock the root – mula bandha for a moment. Breathe. Hum. Ah-men. So be it.

A new thought: L.’s mother-in-law is 72.

Duncun did not dance at 72, her bones were bare in the grave by then. What we get – what we leave from this life is so arbitrary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: Who tells your story? And whose story do you tell?

There were about forty people in the audience last night. And when invited, about a third of them took to the stage to learn one of the dances. To make it theirs. As usual: I observed. And I found myself close to tears at this play-acting of what used to be the transference of memory – long before film, before Laban notations. When memory was a living entity that evolved in the physical, metaphysical transference. When it wasn’t faithfully preserved as a single story mediated by the cognitive abilities of a single brain. When gods were greater than humans. Myths greater than fame.

Maybe that time never was at all. Maybe this is my pathetic recognition of mortality, a pathetic still-longing for a union with something lasting.

Meanwhile, I prepare for this year’s production, an adaptation of Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird. I am trying to stay in the moment of flow. “Yes, and…” I say to myself, acknowledging all that washes in (the doubts, the obvious) without becoming overwhelmed. Trusting. Wondering at the Blue Bird‘s diamond hat that allows the children to see the living soul of everything on earth. Water’s wantonness, Fire’s temper. “The soul of sugar is no more interesting than the soul of pepper”, says the fairy. But what of our souls, I wonder?

There is a line from the original Blue Bird just as the trees of the forest, and the animals – domesticated and not – distraught and desperate move to kill the humans in an act of vengeance and self-defense, Light advises the frightened child: “But, my poor boy, didn’t you know?… Turn the diamond! They will return into silence and obscurity and you will no longer [need to] perceive their hidden feelings.”

In other words: Walk backward into the future.

But no. I’m going to look. Even when the darkness comes – with the aurora borealis, whether I see it or not.

Every story ends, is picked up, and reborn.


photo: Ren Powell

Last year when I was trying to market books, I added to my Facebook friends list anyone who hit that button to request. And since then I joined a few groups with huge numbers. Both were a mistake.

The world-wide-web may reach the world, but there is no universal context, there are no cultural norms. Many Americans assume everyone posting is in America. (I am actually kind of grateful for this continuous little nag because of what it has taught me about my own privileges and cultural myopia.)

When I posted a while back about my acute complex grief, I received dozens of private messages from other people about their own grief. Weird how that personal contact – which feels like whispering – can make one feel simultaneously less alone & more ashamed. It was overwhelming.

I have been sorting out what I wanted with that post – why I chose to reveal so much on Facebook and not here. I think it is because of the illusion of anonymity on Facebook – the inconceivable number of posts. It is something of a gamble – to slip out a word and see if anyone catches it.

This past couple of months one of the people whose posts are in my feed (no doubt because I have hit “care” often – though commented only once) has been going through unimaginable trauma. And with a kind of Aristotelian dramaturgy. We’ve reached the high point.

When this person’s posts appear in my feed I have to remind myself that this narrative is real – in real-time – and I am thinking to “unfriend” because in a real-life situation I would note the actual friends kneeling next to this person, comforting and I would know that I needed to take my empathy elsewhere to put it to good use. I would know the social context and respect my place in the community.

But then – to “unfriend” or even unfollow – to look away – seems wrong as well. This isn’t something that hasn’t been talked about before, I know that. But it seems people often fall on a “side” of blaming “oversharing” or judging one another in other ways – for their lack of mastery over the cultural norms on the world-wide-web, according to their personal understanding of the norms. Or there is… pity. Assumptions of ignorance, naivete, or helplessness. Either way – a rubric that one holds to for one’s own comfort.

If I remember the pop-science correctly, the average person has 5 good friends. And the capacity for about 150 names and faces that are meaningful to them. And an insatiable need for renown.

It seems like I used to see my friends’ posts in my feed. Now I see every post a friend comments on in my feed. I see sides of these people they may not wish to show me. I see new names and faces and opinions that are fed through in exponential numbers. I am thinking of the old Organics shampoo commercial: “…and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…” I am thinking of the exponential element of outrage, contempt -and the distortion of information (that I have participated in so often it is difficult to admit to myself). About the human nature to judge – quickly. About the sense of urgency and speed and the need to stay “relevant” culturally, even when that means jumping the gun in terms of facts.

One of the classes I teach is Theater Ensemble. The various organizational models – hierarchies and flat structures. And my personal belief is that as primates we can never move away from a hierarchy. If we are lucky the hierarchy structure shifts continually in the social process, but we are not The Borg. (Yeah, most of my students have no idea what that is a reference to because we do not have a common cultural inheritance. But I haven’t heard of a truly flat structure in nature.)

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.