Saturday, October 20, 2007

Meeting the World - Notes from out there

Well, first of all, try not to meet the world. it's everywhere, shouting, Look at me! with its bright lights and forests of steel and glass pointed at the sky like missles. There is neon flashing and music and huge heaps of stuff that we can use to insulate us from feeling uncomfortable about:
- the fact that we are not as beautiful as Giselle Bundchen and
- the way that our children are little fun-house mirrors, reflecting us back to ourselves--stretching our faults, widening us in the places we would rather conceal under a loose-fitting top, and
- the cold, hard truth that... we are going to die.

Now, of course, there is that other world: all damp and squishy-warm under our toes. If we'd just take off our shoes.
We've been hearing about it for some time now from our artsy friends and some of the people on TV. But we can't go see that other world, not even for a little visit... and we certainly can't take off our shoes. It's too chaotic and we don't know our way around and anyway, we have too much to do.

"If it's not on my GPS system, or endorsed by the AMA or Oprah, well then, it's not worth thinking about." Everyone knows that.

But then that pressure starts to build inside of our chests, that urgent, uncomfortable feeling that seems to be pressing us to get out of the car and stand in the sunlight and breathe.. and all we can think of doing is racing home, turning on the TV and numbing ourselves with organic red wine or rubbing ourselves out with the soft, pink erasers of Zoloft, Tylenol PM, Dancing with the Stars or a creamy decaf, Venti Latte--vanilla shot, two packets of Splenda.

Still, you can't escape the world. As every mystic has patiently explained, It's in you, a little time-bomb of intuition, a pottery shard from the ancestors, a spoonful of loamy soil, pressing outward. It's only a matter of time.

I hold out my hand, palm up, arm extended. I feel the air move around it. I feel the muscles pull from shoulder to elbow, the effort it takes to simply hold it there. And the moment when, for some reason, my muscles seem to panic and pull it back. Resisting the ache in the elbow, the joint pinging with electricity--alarms from my brain warn: Red alert. This is much more than the usual use of this arm. My body pulls it back, my will presses it back out. It hurts, meeting the world.

That is where electricity comes from. Friction, one thing pressing against another. World meeting world.

The place where my ankles cross feels solid, warm and firm. My back in this chair is supported, the soft pillow under my tailbone, my feet wrapped in lambskin boots.

Comfort.

This is the clue, the secret to the great unraveling; this is the truth. Come closer (I will whisper in your ear).
- We cannot control the trouble in the world--all the pain and hand-wringing, war, disease, floods, storms, famine.
- All we can do is this one foolish thing - Comfort ourselves.

A pair of lambswool boots, purchased at Costco to cushion the feet, a glass of Merlot, aged in an oaken cask. A cigarette buzzing through the veins. A cup of tea with cream and wildflower honey.

There, there. It's nothing to worry about. Draw the curtains. Come back to bed.

We are just trying to be comfortable, safe and warm. A chicken in every pot. Seven acres and a mule.
All of our technology, all of this effort and toil toward this single end: The eliminatation of each twinge of pain, each fearful wrinkle, each moment of hunger, of self-doubt, of (Heaven forbid) boredom.

The problem is that as each of these challenges is taken from us, we weaken, we "virtualize", becoming less and less substantial. WIth nothing to push against, our muscles go flaccid, our minds grow dull. We are more comfortable, certainly, walking on our cloud bridges of ideas and drugs and lambswool boots--walking toward the illusion of Heaven on a bright flickering screen. But are we, cloudless and blue, better off. Soon, I imagine, we'll be able to see right through us.

How do we meet the world? Awake, alert, in bare feet, feeling our way across the river, toes gripping the stones, one step at a time.

(This next part is a little stream of consciousness in which I meet the world in a little girl's eyes. If you are easily upset, go comfort yourself and skip the rest.)

Oh, despair
(Don't give up hope)
But, oh, they are cutting down trees, troops are massing at our borders, children are being dragged by the arm from public places to be beaten in private.
(What? I was trying to buy something.)
Oh, how can I meet this world?

I ran to the police station. I made my report. "I have the license plate number," I said, tears running into the collar of my coat. "I wrote it on the back of my shopping list. Here it is."

Sponges, lettuce, eggs.
Child with straight black hair hiding between racks of second hand blankets. "Are you safe?" I whispered, shielding her from view. She nodded, bit her lip, ducked out of sight. How can I meet this world? I think as he comes searching, tossing back winter coats, a terrible giant pushing aside trees, stomping toward a cowering village. "When I find you...!" a snarl hurled like a weapon. She skittered out to the street. I saw her, he did too.

Yes, the officer says, taking the numbers from me. Yes, we will follow up.
And then, I panic. Wait, I say, grabbing his wrist. What if the father blames her? What if she gets it worse because of my report? He pats my hand. I remove it so I can wring it together with the other one, the way my mother did.

Then, I did what I always do to comfort myself. I went out to lunch. I sat down in a pricey restaurant and ordered a chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side and an iced tea, which I sweetened with a packet of Sugar in the Raw from my purse.

Maybe it was all a mistunderstanding, I begin the process, pushing the worry aside. This is not mine. This is not mine... as I wait for my meal. Maybe she was taunting him. Maybe she'd driven him to such a level that he snapped, went archetypal (you know, the father turning into the bear at the top of the stairs, the giant stomping villages, the big bad wolf). Maybe.

"Im very concerned about the erosion of the physical world," someone says at the table nearby. Ice cubes clink against glass.

"I'm designing bridges," a woman at another table, begins. "Oh," her companion says. "I used to design handbags.".

Me? I'm designing a world where... I can't finish that sentence.

"People drive over a bridge having no sense of what it is," the bridge designer holds her water glass to the light, looking into it like a crystal ball. "What it really is, I mean, as a physical object. They tangle us up with permits, design bids, paperwork..."

At the other table, erosion. "The sea moves closer every year." The levees are breached. The Berthen's house washes into the sea. I pull a piece of paper from my pocket...

brown rice, sprouts, tofu, tamari
A girl, eight, with wide eyes like river stones looking up at me.

A bridge to somewhere else... I bite into my salad, salty, creamy, crunchy, meeting the world.

2 comments:

Cindy Breninger said...

Hi Amy,
You are such a wonderful writer! I hope to some day be even a smidgen of how great you are!
Cindy Breninger
(Yep, it's me this time!)

Amy Oscar said...

Thanks so much Cindy. You ARE a wonderful writer. Keep at it. One of your gifts, besides your ability to capture the hilarity of parenting, is your honesty. Your writing voice is very compelling. I look forward to watching YOUR blog develop--and I suggest my readers check it out, too!