Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: "all sorts of benevolent irregularities"

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"all sorts of benevolent irregularities"

Many things happened yesterday.

Today, I sat on my couch, legs curled under me, blinds and windows down in an effort to block the 93-degree outside, the regular crank (at around 120 bpm) of the ceiling fan the only soundtrack, and I read it over and over, aloud:
Nevertheless the winter wears on and death follows death. I've tried it, and know how the narrowing-down feeling conflicts with the feeling of life's coming to a point, not a climax but a point. At that point one must, yes, be selective in one's choice if you see what I mean. Not choose this or that because it pleases, merely to assume the idea of choosing, so that some things can be left behind. It doesn't matter which ones. I could tell you about some of the things I've discarded but that wouldn't help you because you must choose your own, or rather not choose them but let them be inflicted on and off you. This is the point of the narrowing-down process. And gradually, as the air gets thinner as you climb a mountain, these things will stand forth in a relief all their own—the look of belonging. It is a marvelous job to do, and it is enough just to approximate it. Things will do the rest. Only then will the point of not having everything become apparent, and it will flash on you with such dexterity and such terribleness that you will wonder how you lived before—as though a valley hundreds of miles in length and full of orchards and all sorts of benevolent irregularities of landscape were suddenly to open at your feet, just as you told yourself you could not climb a step higher.
from Three Poems by John Ashbery

And I keep coming back to it, butting my head against it like some obstinate 3-year-old: I am terrified of the narrowing-down process. I want to remember the things - more than that! - I want to catalogue, make a record of the things that to me are somehow or other divine.

I find, as my panoply of experiences grows, that most often the concepts I thumb my nose at are the very ones that I come around to accepting sooner or later. I push hard against things. I interrogate them for as long as my endurance possibly allows and then they either break or I believe them. It's a sinister metaphor - but I am generally not very sinister at all, so I will allow myself this image. And I will push, today, against the idea that we must accept the choice to "leave some things behind."


Things that happened yesterday:

Connecticut sped by me (or I sped by it, really) in its high green glory. It is the green of these trees that I miss whenever I am away during summer. I missed it on trips to Kansas or Colorado. I missed this green in that greenest of places (or, at least, it's recognized for its greens): Ireland. The last significant trip I made on a bus was from Galway to Dublin in 2006. I rode that bus across the sparsely treed island immediately after an unhinged man spit in my face. He spit right in my face and it smelled like dip and whiskey-pickled rot. There was a teenager and her mother waiting for the bus, too. Later, they apologized for not trying to help me.

We arrived at dia:beacon and it seemed as though it was going to be rude to eschew the guided tour. So I went. I went with Barbara and our guests and I let Kirsten lead me.

It happened first when I stepped into the On Karawa room. I knew his work already; I had studied it - I had even handled it during my internship at the Wadsworth. It had never particularly effected me before. Maybe it had to do with the space they dedicated to the work at dia; he had an entire room (probably 600 square feet) with about 30 canvases. Maybe it was seeing that many of them together. Something clicked; my throat cinched; and I got it. Staring down mortality - a nice fit with Ashbery (whom I had started reading that morning).

We volunteered to read them out loud. As our mouths pressed out the Sol Lewitt instructions, our voices would sometimes overlap and sometimes synchronize. The instructions were absurd, specific, and ridiculous. And there was I, barely able to hold in my laughter at times. Our inflections lined up occasionally; other times we just missed each other.  There was a general tone of sarcastic school marm (how I imagine I sound when I read the instructions for the evaluation forms my students end up having to proctor). [Oh, Sol, we miss you!] The thing of it is, the fact of the fun of it never stops being surprising.

I climbed over and through and around George Trakas's Beacon Point. I stomped on it and splashed in it and abraded my knuckles against its sundry surfaces. I photographed it the way you might macro the skin of a new love, as if by desperate and magnified documentation you will not lose this feeling, this utter and speechless thrill of discovering new crannies and convexes. I didn't want to leave it, ever. I could have slept, curled against one of its posts, fingertips dangling into the grey-dove Hudson.

But it was hot and humid and there were other people (and my job) to consider. And so, I elected not, after all, to sleep with the pier, but to return to the museum. I thought I knew that the only way I really wanted to experience the Richard Serras was to be alone in silence, folded like some embryo against them.

Alone was not an option. I could hear other people and their sounds. I took to it anyway. I stretched my arms as close as I could to the steel. I stomped and tip-toed and listened to my own breath reverberating in the space. And when I got to the center, I laid down on the cold, cold concrete in savasana, the warmth and humidity of my flesh slipped away, absorbed into the floor. I sang - I really sang - for the first time in years. I let unfurl in pianissimo Se Tu M'Ami and it soared and swelled into the high ceilings of what was the loading dock of a Nabisco box factory.

Then it shifted. I finished the aria and just breathed. At the other end of the gallery someone started cooing a Mourning Dove's call. He did it thrice before I reciprocated, the inverted call. We repeated our respective positions, as much claiming territory as making overtures to each other. And before I realized I had decided to be complicit to improvisation, there we were, writing each other. Leaving only very temporary indexes of an intimacy anonymous and irreproducible.

I want it to be clear that by this point I had wept four times. If you have not read Pictures and Tears by Jim Elkins, you must.

As we drove east into Connecticut's center, I saw so many hawks. They soared and soared and played and wobbled. And I could not tear my eyes away.  I'm certain that the woman sitting behind me must have thought I had completely lost the plot. She did not stay for the group photograph we all posed for outside the bus. She smelled like Goldschlager - in a good way.

There's more:

I met Salman Rushdie - I will write more about this on The Absurde Round Table (I think it's a more appropriate forum for such musings), but for the moment I will describe the point at which I wept during his talk. He had just finished identifying himself as "crow number one." He was using it to suggest that the political situation that followed the release of The Satanic Verses was more signifier than significance.  In a manner not dissimilar from most artists I've encountered, he redirected the topic from biographical occurrences to the research he conducted for his newest book, The Enchantress of Florence. Much to my delight, he took his time describing his research and the way that sometimes the uncanniness of the real trumps anything we might invent. He cited an event of which he read when the lions (who were meant to be released in the square where they would cause an entertaining spectacle of gore) were too bored to maul anyone. And the people were upset. Not only were the people upset, but the historians were, as well, enough so that they recorded this upheaval in mass recreation into the bank boxes of posterity, just waiting for us.

And then, there was one last push to the day. I went for postcolonial literary giantess to retro badass babes. Real Art Ways was hosting the Connecticut roller girls and screening the documentary Hell on Wheels. I squirmed during the film. I took about a hundred pictures after. And then, I had that instant flash of heat and sweat and the next thing I knew I was gripping the green room toilet.

I'll admit it. There is a part of me that hopes my sudden illness was a kind of Stendhal Syndrome (something I promise to adequately describe in a future post - there's a surprising paucity of material on the web about it...). I think you should probably judge me for this and I think I should have been much more hesitant to so readily admit it.

I went home and swaddled myself in the familiarity of handed down silk pajamas and the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. What comfort was mine!


betsy q. bramble said...

Notice how Ashbery felt the need to write "be selective in one's choice if you see what I mean"

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

I know! There are so many areas in that book (which, I believe, is long out of print and fairly obscure at this point) where I really need to hold back from UNDERLINING EVERYTHING. Then I groan out of jealousy.