Sunday, July 12, 2009

my vision quest


At lunch the other day, a friend and I were talking about theater and ballet and books (and what else is there, pray?), and he brought up two of his favorite works: Waiting for Godot, which he had just seen on Broadway, and which I know well, and Don Quixote, which was the subject of a print that he had just bought, and which I’ve never read but am familiar with thanks to the ballet and Man of La Mancha* and general cultural osmosis. “That’s an interesting combo,” I said to him. “You must like the idea of the quest.”

“You’re right,” he said, surprised. “That always appeals to me.”

“You’re into the journey,” I said.

Journeys, quests, progress, process… These are subjects that have occupied me quite a bit in the past few months. For the past year, I’ve been in between – in between homes, in between jobs, in between any sort of settled routine. I haven’t had the kind of well-defined life where you can easily answer questions like, “What do you do?” or “Where do you live?” or “How do you spend your time?” This is a tough state to be in – or rather, it’s a tough state to stay in; my impulse is to find something, anything, quick; to arrive somewhere and say, “Here it is; here I am.”

As I write this, I’m sitting in my friend Rachael’s home in upstate Connecticut. She and her husband and their two children are visiting family on the West Coast and very generously offered to let me stay here in their absence, along with their crazy cat, the aptly named Bongo (who just came tearing into the house with a feather in his mouth, looking incredibly satisfied with himself). It’s a lovely spot – quiet and green and remote (no cell phone signal!) – and I’m hoping to get some writing done during my week here.

The past two weeks, I was staying in another borrowed home, this one a gorgeous apartment on West 72nd, taking care of (i.e., being highly entertained by) two adorable kittens and enjoying being in New York. In fact, I kept thinking how nice it would be to be back in the city, right smack in the middle of everything, with theater tickets and sushi delivery and plans every night.

Then again, on the drive up here, I found myself looking at For Sale signs, wondering what it would be like to live a quiet life on a river in Kent, preferably in a small old house with a porch and lots of trees, having people over to dinner and watching old movies and enjoying the seasons.

But the truth is, neither of these visions is an option right now, and if I focus too much on that blunt fact, I can pretty easily spin out into “Oh my god what am I doing??” territory.

Instead, I’m trying to truly understand that being in between isn’t the same as being nowhere, that in fact I have a lot of momentum in my life, and a lot of possibilities. And more than that, my quixotic quest feels infinitely more fruitful and rewarding than much of my adult life to date, where I’ve had the good job and the nice apartment and yet felt stuck and stagnated.

Because really, when do we feel most alive? I’ll answer that: At times of change and movement – a new job, a new home, a new love, even a crisis. These are the times when we peel back some layers, find new aspects of ourselves (good and bad), make new connections, perhaps feel closer to what might be called our essence.

Right now, what I’m trying to grasp is what I told my friend at lunch: It’s all about the journey. There is no destination, really. I’m not going to arrive somewhere and set up camp and be done. Or at least, I hope not. By living my life very much day to day right now, and trying to enjoy what’s going on without looking forward with either dread or expectation, I feel much more settled than I have in the past, even though, on the surface, there ain’t nothing much settled about my situation. I’m trying to experience the moment, rather than trying to capture it, or replicate it, or fret about its passing.

This train of thought brought to mind a passage from Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, where Clarissa is looking back on a youthful summer of romance and possibility. The gist of this passage has always stuck with me and reminded me (when I let it) to pay attention to what is right in front of me, right at this moment. Because, ultimately, my friends, that’s all we got.

“It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book…. There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”



*In fact, maybe I’ll take Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “The Impossible Dream” as my new call to arms.

Top: Don Quixote with Sancho Panza, by Gustave Doré; bottom, my upstate welcome committee, tonight, 7pm.

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