Waiting for Approval

I’ll know by Monday whether I can leave for India after New Year. I’m waiting for funding. For permission to take a very short leave of absence.

I haven’t been excited about it. I have sent emails. Checked to see if my vaccinations are up to date. But I haven’t hoped really. I’m still waiting for approval. Waiting for someone to say: this is a good idea; this you should do; this you can do. I am trying to sort all this out in my head – how my suppression of enthusiasm is related to everything else in my life.

I blame all those mailers I got in college saying I was “pre-approved” for credit; a kind of freedom/privilege and a god-awful pressure to meet expectations as a consumer. A glowing letter of recommendation opens a door but demands a tap dance.

What if I don’t learn anything in India? What if my head just keeps spinning and I interrogate every bit of inspiration to root out potential cultural appropriation as an exercise in avoidance?

I just gave a brief lecture to the students last week about procrastination and the theory of immunity to change. How we would rather take an incomplete than a failing grade. Even when failing is the only option for a second chance to pass.

That is the daily dose of naval gazing.

The Process Journal

I have six more scenes to write for the students. We did a read-through of the first two acts yesterday and I’ve never had a class so skilled at improvisational translation. I’ve never had a class approach one of my scripts with such trust. The characters they created are my puppets at this stage. I am very curious about how this project will turn out. We talk about working outside/in or inside/out as actors. Which (in my opinion) isn’t a real thing anyway. Here the students and I seem to be playing a game of tennis to make the characters come to life. They give, I give. I am not sure why this year, this project, seems so different. More collaborative in spirit, though not in fact.

After New Year, they’ll begin to work to embody the characters. Some scenes will be Brecht-inspired (as is the entire play). So embodied in the way that a sock puppet is embodied by a hand. In other scenes, I will ask them for an abstraction of the character’s movements where the essence of the character is disembodied. And in some scenes, I will ask for more. I will ask them to invest in “physical action” until it they begin playing the way a professional tennis player handles herself on the court. Flowing seamlessly between the mind and the body. Maybe one could say in this case the minds and the body.

That’s a lot put on their shoulders.

The thing is: how you do give someone pre-approval without creating daunting expectations?

Between Trust and Distrust

We change.

At least that has been my experience of the world. Everything in it changes – even if our conceptions don’t change accordingly.

We cling to our understandings. Even when they are destructive. We know it of others, railing at our parents for not seeing who we have become when they see us as a six-year-old child, when we are sixteen, or 26. Or 50.

Every seven years I am a new constellation
wearing a hand-me-down
story that so easily slips off
in sleep – in the moment
of perfect attention
to the naked truth

But I find it difficult to question my own filing and labeling system that helps me orientate myself in the wild. I find it difficult to let go of the illusion of control that it gives me. Security.

When I know that I’m often wrong about my own motivations – how I can catch myself by surprise but rationalize a “meaningful” reason for a behavior – it’s ludicrous that I can for a moment believe I know what is motivating someone else. I think we each create our own mental matrix. Not in regard to events and phenomenological cause and effect in the physical world, but in terms of our understanding the how and why of it all. The wills.

This is how I am coming to understand the illusion of self, of illusion in general: within a great paradox of consciousness. The ouroboros of logic destroying itself.

I’ve been thinking about swimming lately. The water here is so cold I never wade past my knees. So it’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to lie on my back and float. It’s a thrill that I miss: the simultaneous terror and relief of relinquishing control. Or the illusion of control. I miss that brief moment of quiet, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. This for me is an example of being in the moment. But for me, these fearless, fractions-of-seconds interspersed through the years are as rare as astatine is on this earth.

You don’t have to work so hard, I tell myself. But not working so hard takes a ridiculous amount of effort.

How long can you lie on your back will the swells rising and falling under your body before the stories creep in? The toothy creatures rising from the deep – as though seeing it coming and bracing for the bite would make any favorable difference to the experience of being eaten alive.

Can you let go for a second? Two?

I find it fascinating that these moments for me have probably never lasted a full second, yet are so significant to my life experience. I don’t think of them as moments of “trust”. I’m not trusting in a supernatural being to protect me, not trusting in the earth’s compassion or the ocean’s goodness. I am just… being in the world.

When I think about this I think about those moments of being newly-in-love. The high that falling in love gives us and makes us utterly and deliciously reckless.

Is wanting more of these moments a grasping? Another paradox. Another lesson in coming at the truth at a slant?

It’s funny that trusting someone is always a matter of trusting one’s own judgment of that person. Trust is a narrative. A fiction. And how helpful is it? When I say that someone betrayed my trust, I’m assigning motives that are very likely non-existent. I’m trying to shift the blame. Trying to assign blame. Then I’d have the power to forgive. To feel righteous. To feel a sense of control.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about a sociologist who studied a culture that he claimed had no practice for trusting one another. Conflicts arose and then fell away. Relationships continued.

I was thinking that this was possible because by not needing to trust each other, they didn’t need to cling to preconceived identities for one another: prescribed rules of conduct that – when not followed – would be interpreted as personal betrayals requiring some kind of moral compensation – some kind of ethical capitalism.

It seems to me that a society without trust may well be a society will more room for loving compassion.

I wonder what it is like to truly be in love with the world instead of coming at it speaking softly but carrying a big stick.