Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To be Alive

Merce Cunningham, the greatest living choreographer in the world, just died, age 90.
When he was 80 he danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov. When he could no longer move his arthritic feet he would make up dances in his head. And so eloquently he said this about dance: 'You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscript to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.' I think of Charlotte when I think of him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fur, Feather, Flesh

I love animals. That seems like such an obvious thing to say. But the more I observe human behavior towards animals I know it’s not. Many people think animals are just fine. You can look at them. Occasionally touch them. You can feed them. Admire them from a distance. Own them. Dress them up in sequins and faux fur which is both redundant and insane. Give them up or throw them out when you've outgrown them or they've outgrown your children or the couch or the TV room. Because you know, they're okay, they're fine. Then there are others who honestly see almost no separation when they compare the way they feel about an animal and a human being. But when push comes to shove a majority of humanity still believes animals – domesticated or not - are ‘other’ and therefore less than us. And I think this has to do with our need to keep them at a distance so we can use them. As beasts of burden. As fabric. As a food source. As experiment. As killing sport. As the thing that can’t speak our language so can easily be made slave.

Most humans would roll their eyes at Albert Schweitzer's creed about animal life and slaughter: Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.

And then I observe the rancor that comes when some people find out my charity extends almost solely to animal rights groups, refuges, sanctuaries. When I explain that as donations go, humans charities far, far exceed the number of donations that animal groups do, they don't listen. For them it's abnormal, and a little pathetic to put it frankly, to put other animals anywhere close to the throne we occupy. We are their gods. They are lucky for the lives we have allowed them to live.

And it’s all so incredibly odd to me. As humans, we are but animals. As humans, we no doubt evolved much later than most of the animals we treat so deplorably. But because we won the evolutionary jackpot and were blessed with the capability to both torture and revel in it, we get to hold dominion over them. Sometimes it’s the most humane, kindest type of dominion. But most often it’s so far from any definition of kindness.

When I read anyone claiming that humans who love animals to a greater degree do so because animals are ‘easier’ than human beings to interact with, I shake my head. And when in the mood, laugh. They purport we’re obviously wounded or shy or insecure around people, and animals allow us to hide with them, or behind them, or ask less of us. But nothing could be farther from the truth. My companion animals expect extraordinary things from me, just as my friends and husband do. I let them all down quite a bit. Human nature, I suppose – Hah! But I do not love them as equally as I love human beings because they ask less of me. I love them equally because quite often they give more. It is as simple and true as that. - Janet

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Oh heck.

Clearly, the ex-Governor Palin does not read our blog. There I was rambling on about the merits of not quitting, and she does her damnedest to prove me wrong. Maybe that's why Janet and I don't have many readers: WE'RE NOT INSANE ENOUGH. Oh well. I'm sticking with sanity. If Ms. Palin tries to head to the white house, I think it'll be a worthwhile camp to sit in. (Did anyone notice the loons making a guest appearance during her announcement? Birds of a feather...)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I (would like to but can't) QUIT.

Sorry. So sorry. I've been "absent" lately. Not physically (who's ever physically absent in the world of the internet? Wow, that's kind of a depressing thought. Now you never have an excuse for not being there. Heavy.) Anyway, no. I've been mentally absent. Or preoccupied. Or whatever you want to call it.

So let's call it what it was. Crisis-ing. Yes, sad to say: I was in a panic, a tizzy, a "state" about the state of my career. I.e. that thing I do when I'm not raising my two beautiful children. Over time, it's begun looking like a hobby instead of a career and that's part of the problem. I want to excel and be brilliant and be "all over it" but I also want balance and time to watch the flowers grow (I include my daughters in that category) and time to smell the coffee, not to mention brew it. But the crisis wasn't about balance, it was about whether I'd "lost 'it'" or not.

I suppose this happens to all creative people every now and then. (Let me clarify something before going on: I think most everyone is creative, although there was that accountant I had so many years ago that maybe wasn't, but I use the word to refer to people who rely on their creativity to make a living and/or a reputation.) Anyway, I hit some sort of wall a month or so back. An internal wall. Something. I just felt like I was going nowhere. Had no more good ideas. Dried up. The economy wasn't helping of course, but that "high" I was on a while back in which I actually claimed that the slow economy was "okay" because it gave me time to get my life in order, well, let's just say that was over. And it wasn't just the lack of jobs, it was the lack of some spark in if my reserve of gunpowder had been depleted. It was a really frightening feeling. Like my soul had changed or something.

Simultaneously, my mom, who is 77, was taking a class at NYU about modern Russia, in which she had to write two papers on the subject of her choosing. Mom is a professor by trade, still teaches at Pace University, but these assignments threw her. She too hit some sort of wall simultaneously. Teaching writing was one thing, but researching and writing on an unknown topic was something else. She began to doubt, to waffle, to wonder...she began to feel "old."

So here we were an ocean and three decades apart feeling over and done with, spent, and extremely unsure. My mom took the first leap. She decided to stick with her course, write her paper no matter how long it took, no matter how out of shape her brain felt for this specific task. She dug in and just did it. She wrote and rewrote and rewrote until she got it right. And she did get it right. And her professor's comments reflected that. Her conclusion at 77? "I'm going to do this every year. When I finish this course I'm starting another one." Ah, so that's how it's done?

For my part, I started to design something on my own. The going was slow...but it helped to shift the doubt ever so slightly out of the wallow it had created in the pit of my stomach. But the real kicker was a job that finally came alone. And it was a good one, a perfect chance to prove myself wrong. So I followed my mother's example. Dug in. Did it. Re-did it. Kept at it. You might say you don't have a choice when someone's paying you...but you sort of do. You can do it well. Or you can do it not well. Give your all. Or not. This time I did, or at least I tried, and it massaged out the knot of doubt...I'm not calling myself a genius by any means, but at least I don't feel paralyzed anymore. I feel like someone who knows her profession. Who's good at it. Who's not in the least ready to stop. (What was I thinking?) I feel like someone who just got through a bad patch. What's that line from the Speedo ad a gazillion years ago? "What doesn't kill you just makes you stronger"? Yep. Close enough.


So. As they say, "Quitting is not an option." It just isn't. True for my mom at 77. True for me at 40-something. And true for my daughter who is struggling through her first two weeks away at summer camp. She wanted to go. I paid (and paid and paid). Now she's there. First night: "I wanna come home!" (Sob. Sob. Wail. Wail.) "Come get me, puh-leeeeeeeze."

As much as it felt kind of rotten to say it, it also felt kind of right: "I'm sorry honey, I can't. You'll have to stick it out." And she will. And she is. And I'll bring her home this weekend. She'll be happy, in her comfort zone again...but little does she know that this is just the beginning. Of humps and hills and mountains to climb, icky stuff to get through with a stiff upper lip, experiences that ask you not to give up. Being unable to quit...and, in the end, being glad you didn't.