Tuesday, July 7, 2009

as for living, our servants will do it for us

oscar wilde showed great foresight when he wrote those lines in 'the importance of being earnest', for it has come to pass.

it's with sadness i watched videos of michael jackson after the marx brothers in 'a night at the opera', one of my favorite memories from childhood.

not being of jackson's generation, i didn't understand him as a phenomenon. not only did he show energy and talent, he made strong statements against racism of any kind. that certainly helped prepare the way for things as they are today.

alas, as an icon, he couldn't be allowed to grow old. andy warhol and marilyn monroe had to vanish before the wrinkles and trembling set in. what a rush, to be celebrated. yet a cause for fear as well.

what i mean to say is, we need stories. rather than wearing a uniform and being blown up, we need to watch 'a night in bagdad' and live that life as well as our own.

there's perhaps a certain melancholy we all feel from not being able to experience a dozen lives at once. luckily, we've the movies, novels, heroes, performers, to do that for us. it's much more fun to watch 'devil in tahiti' than to be bitten by sandflies.

yet we need our own life too, a sense of its trajectory. albert camus stated every life has a shape, no matter when it ends. he also said, 'there's no substitute for a long life.' he should know, surprised by death at fifty-one, sitting startled in the back of the car that had hit a tree.

in the don juan books carlos casteneda declares, 'erase your personal history.' supposedly, that will make you free. i've found the opposite to be true. when i listen to the three and a half hours of audio my mother made about my early life, i feel reborn, in a strange way.

it seems important to revisit your personal history every once in awhile. each important event in the present affects everything that has gone before. when it became apparent my friend berta would soon die (you can see her pictures here: www.pbase.com/wwp/berta ), her sister sat her down with a map of the world. they stuck pins in every place berta had travelled, and the earth covered with them. a lesson in recovery of memory.

a few days ago i strung a series of personal snapshots together, myself as the subject. and afterwards i again felt refreshed, as though i had confirmed something, grounded myself, and let something go. as vague as that sounds, it felt good.

revisiting your life

usually, i'd say it doesn't pay. why glean the old fields with the straw all gone? i try not to repeat a wonderful experience. for example, in kandy, sri lanka, i stumbled into a tree ceremony, lots of beautiful hangings, incense, elaborately dressed women chanting buddist sutras. like all travelers who go to asia, i felt i'd been transported to shangri la. alas, i was dumb enough to go back a day later. the whole scene appeared burnt out, dead, like the day after an lsd vision and transportation. suddenly, the heavenly world turned to ashes.

i did have similar experiences in kandy, the windows of the english church blown out by a terrorist bomb (they were actually after the buddha's toenail in the temple next door), the pathetic elephant being examined for weapons by the police, and so on. yet, i do remember the place with affection, thinking, 'a civil war creates stable power structures, especially when it last longer than 20 years.'

yes, i'm rambling, but it has a purpose: to re-arrange my memories. this is actually a happy practice. for example, a couple days ago i put all the snapshots i could recover of myself online. and i thought, 'yes, i have had a life."

before my friend berta died, her sister sat her down with a world map. they put pins in every place berta had been: china, rwanda to visit the mountain gorillas, borneo. her sister demonstrated berta had had a full life. true, only afterward did i find from the sister a mysterious black hole in berta's history when she'd left home at 16 to escape an acoholic father. that piece of her life remained her's alone.

you can see pictures of my travels with berta here: www.pbase/wwp/berta strange, we never know which person in our life we will miss most. it will certainly be those who keep our stories.

the most amazing thing can happen when a neighbor, now grown old, suddenly reappears and says, your father, that horrible man! and your memories confirmed. a little bit of self-knowledge goes a long way.

my mother once transcribed three hours of my childhood. she's long gone, but the voice and anecdotes remain. each time i listen to them i feel refreshed. in 'the tales of don juan' carlos castenada mandates, 'erase your personal past.' however, my experience refutes him. if you remember enough of your life, you realize how full it's been.

my snapshots at www.pbase.com/wwp/snap