Thursday, April 17, 2014

teaching your children to improvise

gosh, just watched a talk by a woman raised on dr. spock. hah, that was me. my mother didn't know how to boil eggs when she go married, seriously. and she said i was a 'book baby' and there was one tome. 'leave them to cry alone, sleeping in their own room. this teaches independence.' one night, when i was less than one, i wouldn't stop crying. my mother found me with the blanket wrapped around my neck and my face blue. no wonder i had my first asthma attack when she died.

and they used to have corporal punishment in school. a principal paddled me with board full of drilled holes in front of the fifth grade class and then promoted me into the sixth, where i spent a year being embarrassed by my faux pas, critically behind everyone else. here's a picture of that time, and of course i had a terrible crush on the blond in the middle of the second row, judy wyrick. sixty years later i even remember her name.

i did move thirty times by the end of high school, including several traumatic indiana months with two of my father's brothers, one a suave alcoholic, the other a boy who went away to college for one semester, to return home and live with his parents the rest of his life. one of them even got called into the school office because of the way i combed my hair: duck tail, 1956. i know i drove those uncles crazy, at the same time the constant pressure from the drunk changed me into a more furtive character. my mother said the transformation made her cry, and i never recovered.

the lecturer above showed the modern parents' bookstore shelf of advice. amazing, how to teach your kids to live on spinach, to be the best they can be, to not hide in the closet during class so you can listen to the chatter, invisible, and stick presents of gum and candy into the hanging coat-pocket of the girl you loved. (fourth grade). in other words, parents don't have a clue, not what the future will bring or how to prepare their children for it.

ironically, the speaker rejected at the very beginning what kids really, really  need: how to improvise. for better or worse, i had to do a lot of it, and i still enjoy it: travelling, writing, photography, creating art pieces. and i suppose i arranged my life to have time for it. were i growing up now, i'd be inevitably be attracted to a tech profession. hah, done that, tried that. mother said i could take things apart and more remarkably put them back together. "you want to be a writer but you have to make a living. try engineering." that first year of college (Valparaiso University) one of the most bizarre i ever had

in the end i realized i'd never get through college if i didn't study literature, transferred to california. luckily, it was cheap, 46$ a semester. no, i didn't leave a hundred thousand dollars in debt. at eleven i'd visited my first fire lookout. how that stuck, i don't know, but i wanted to sit alone on top of the world and talk to everyone in it on a ham radio, as that fellow did. it worked out, not quite by accident, but mostly. i lept to improvise. my suggestion: train your children in it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

every dancer dies twice

i always fear my space will be invaded.
this has certainly made me love art, literature and music to escape from the terrors of the mundane. as a preacher's kid, i feel god may strike me dead at any time. as a child of world war II i constantly envision bodies being dropped from ships at sea. of course, instead of the general, i could mention the particular. when i had a room of my own, i seemed to be doing illegal things on the other side of the door. and when i didn't have a door, as when i lived with two uncles at sixteen, the drunken one encamped by the roll-away bed in the living-room, telling me tales of prostitutes and gambling. 

four-one-act plays directed by college students this week took my paranoia into the next generation. these twenty-year olds imagined a murder next door, the plight of a mother whose son killed in afghanistan, a girl who derails a professor on a rainy, dark road, and scares the hell out of him, even while turning him on. the fourth play an echo of camus' the stranger. a fellow confesses killing an arab (his sister dead in the pentagon): i knew the face of the enemy. 

terror, of course, no stranger to us. gunshots come from the next apartment, action movies with high-budgets sell in foreign countries, so we've a steady diet of them at home. i confess i hate television. the stories, the commercials, constantly hype me up, deliver a crude and powerful shot of adrenalin, deadening my ability to empathize. billboards, neon signs, nothing lets me rest. when the angels of aesthetics came for me, i said, i go willingly. 

i'm no different than schopenhauer, who ultimately regretted giving up human love  for the ineffable and perfect products of the imagination. yes, i did attempt to mix romantic love with adventures in foreign parts. each a fairy-tale of its own which did not, like the real thing, end with a return to everyday life, simply the next quest. odd, this journey put me in rather degraded situations. say the night i spent in a winnipeg salvation army hotel, a loud fellow in the hall banging on another door for half the night, "let me in, talk to me." or the night riding a rattle-trap bus from bali to jogjakarta, stalled in the jungle god-only-knows where, me the only passenger.

yes, i've definitely seen 'lonely men in rented rooms' while passing families in new zealand parks and thailand restaurants. even as i walk through the university campus these days, i watch the girls living into their cellphones and think, they too think someone will break into their conversation, the shock of the present would cause a cry. i thought long ago, we won't be totally where we are, for then we can totally die. unfortunately, an eternity of form, color, and sound keeps my feet off the ground. and a poem like this from Osip Mandelstam makes me swoon:

When Psyche - life - descends among the shades, 
Pursuing Persephone through half-transparent leaves, 
The blind swallow hurls itself at her feet
With Stygian affection and a green twig. 

Phantoms quickly throng about their new companion, 
They meet the fugitive with grievings, 
In her face they wring weak hands, 
Perplexed by bashful hope. 

One holds out a mirror, another a phial of perfumes - 
The soul likes trinkets - is after all feminine. 
And dry complainings, like fine rain, 
Sprinkle the leafless forest with transparent voices. 

And uncertain what to do in this tender hubbub,
The soul doesn't recognize the transparent trees. 
Psyche breathes on the mirror, slow to hand over
The lozenge of copper to the master of the ferry. 

                                                                       (trans. by james greene)