Sunday, March 15, 2009

how to be humbled

a british lawyer once told my friend jeff, 'american children are spoiled but they become fine adults.' and that statement has led me down many a pondering path. is it true? how true? what's the mechanism of change, if there is one?

okay, it's an exaggeration. we all know plenty of meatballs under and over 40. but the seed of truth can't be avoided. we definitely live for the new and our kids in their strollers kings of the earth. when was the last time you were chauffeured and given an allowance, just for being you?

yes, a time of transformation arrives. it's not easy or even short. once out of the house and school, you're faced with paying your own way. bills, bills, bills, hamlet might have said in this day and age. do you really want to pay them, or even have them? many a child has decided living on the streets and under bridges more appealing. (discounting the completely unlucky and mentally unabled.) cellphone? cable? who really needs them? they just fill up the day with obligations.

okay, say you've chosen the more popular path: job, house, kids. getting to that point from graduation poses a terrible test. you have to accept a certain humiliation, a descent from your grand dreams into what's achievable. do you give every fantasy up for security, the enemy of art? perhaps you wisely do. after all, most of those grandiose plans were planted by parents and the media. we all want children we can brag about. saying, 'my son's in a mental institution and we're hoping our daughter finally off drugs,' is not what proud mamas and papas would like to offer after church.

i suspect our real motives fairly simple. for example, walking on the beach makes me as happy as i can be. or participating in theater. or staring off a sailing ship at a foreign shore. it's the pleasure of moving and seeing. throw in music and poetry for hearing as well. these are not expensive habits.

however, you have to make time for them. and much gets lost in the transformation to self-sufficiency. we can lose our sense of how important the moment is. and reality certainly hands us lots of despair. we're troubled with no one to bail us out.

at barnes & noble i observed a young woman i used to know as a student. at first i wasn't sure it was her. her cheeks had lost their baby-fat, her blond hair, now cut short, had darkened, and most disturbing of all, the expressions that passed across her face. no, no longer the perky person who had all the answers, who didn't choose to become a nurse for she distrusted the modern and shopped at the co-op. finally, she grabbed her soda, pulled herself up, and went to look for books, probably ones like 'life is a gamble you lose.'

she may very well come out the other end a fine adult. (i couldn't tell if that was a wedding ring she wore.) once past thirty - and she must be close if not already there - she'll find a satisfactory way of making a living. and in the end, doesn't it all come down to that?

we live in a free-fall society, each of us rising and falling until we reach our level. at some point i had to accept i was a middling poet. i had to tell myself it was okay just to be in the game. the same with theater, not the famous playwright i expected to be. last week watching the last minute set being hammered together and taking pictures, i glowed, happy as a bug in a rug.

you can see the pictures here: