What We Take Into Account

Insomnia. And waking wet, and checking online for blood test results. This is life, and I keep telling myself not to fight it or resent any part of it.

My back snaps when I twist in my chair. Arguments that haven’t happened and will never happen run through my head like a polluted river.

But even this is a privilege. I know that now.

Deep breath.

All this memory work and the synchronicity of loss and recovery is a slow squeeze. Yesterday I was thinking about how few good memories I have. Or rather, how few good memories I have allowed myself to keep on hand. I realized this has been a choice I’ve made to protect myself from pain. It has been a way of minimizing loss. Nothing is all bad, but a broad brush can make things easier to deal with. Can justify difficult decisions.

Even in the earliest literature, exile is a fate akin to death. A man without a community will die a slow death of some sort.

(Romeo does return from exile, but that wasn’t really a great decision.)

But how long can a blind man wander the desert in exile before he stumbles onto something venomous? But Oedipus didn’t go it alone. His children led him through it – to another town, where he was accepted. Then the earth swallowed him. Sophocles didn’t write about the years of wandering. He wrote a happy ending: death in the bosom of a community.

Maybe I will write about the desert years. What dies out there, what doesn’t.

I will write about what and who we bump into out there. How we can reach out to people we once knew – but, now feeling the contours of their faces with our fingers, we know them intimately for the first time. It is possible.

There are hundreds of movies about the people who meet one another during a “time out” from their normal social configurations. The teenagers in different cliques who bond, then go back to their normal lives with only a private wink between them. The midlife office worker who finds joy on an island vacation then tucks it away as a buoyant memory and goes back to their desk.

I have always found these movies depressing. Claustrophobic.

What about choosing not to go back? Not in a Shirley Valentine kind of way, but choosing not to go back to a community at all?

Schechner said that we had to get naked to leave our socially-prescribed roles and acknowledge one another’s humanity. It is an interesting metaphor that didn’t work well as a stage practice. The problem may have been that stripping the clothing, stripped the individual’s specific identity in a hierarchy, but it reinforced and magnified the socially prescribed roles of our bodies in the community. What is a female body in a community that commodifies sexuality in terms of product and consumer? An asymmetrical body in a community that commodifies a particular kind of beauty in a hierarchy of desire and influence?

Artaud said that it is the community that rots the individual (loosely paraphrasing). He thought there might be a way out. Beyond. But it never really worked out.

Maybe the problem is that life isn’t art. There is no way to will it/shape life into a pleasing dramaturgy. We can only tell ourselves stories with the material life gives us.

We choose our stories. We choose what we take into account.

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  1. L’enfer, c’est les autres. I’d say “We choose the stories we tell.” I don’t think we can entirely choose the stories that make up our life. That would be to blame ourselves for the things done to us when we were children.

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