Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Many Would Tell You

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

On Nov. 1st, the New York Times ran a theater review by Charles Isherwood His review, titled “Her Life Coach Comes From Another Lifetime,” starts this way: “Barbara, the heroine of ‘Spain,” a new play by Jim Knable at the Lucille Lortel Theater, has an unusual pest problem. She’s got a conquistador infestation in her living room. A real, live Spanish adventurer from the 16th century has plopped himself down on her couch – battered armor, blood-spattered sword and all – and he won’t take his grimy boots off the coffee table.”

I haven’t seen the play, but I know it really is hilarious to think about the costuming we do as we show ourselves the hidden memories we constantly live with in our internal worlds. We don’t know any other way to live with them, or explain them, except to display them theatrically. And what fun it can be. Isherwood goes on – “Barbara is played by Annabella Sciorra, a likeable actress who spends too much of the first act shouting. This is to some degree understandable since Barbara has recently been dumped and now finds herself playing unwilling host to that messy houseguest in a quaint helmet.” Well, I have played unwilling host to a messy houseguest in a helmet, dour sisters cloistered too long, raucous pirates with a lust for more than gold, a painter with a mind addled by colorful fumes, a giggling schoolgirl playing with her schoolmate hours on end, a soldier weary of battle and entombed in the sense of hopelessness that battles will never end. The list goes on.

Those who know me are often surprised when I say such things. Those who know me well, beyond the trappings and customs or borders of certain times and frames, are not surprised but amused or intrigued, curious. We each live our own memories, more and more easily unfolding our own personalities as we know ourselves. We are learning what it means to be infinitely energy beings, habitats of our own making, universes within, all for one and one for all. Life as the ultimate “finishing school,” and beginning school. I am walked to the door by my mother or father the first day of school, that intrepid walk down the sidewalk (or, in our case, my brothers and sister and I, to the converted carport) to the entrance. From that day forward, the feeling changes. Nothing is ever the same, although more is familiar.

Now what comes to me more often are the images of men and women in long robes, with endless conversation into the night, wine flowing, tears sometimes falling both from laughter and sorrow that passes on into the night air. Glimpses of little children running, fully free in their glee. Characters stroll through my internal and external plays, too, and I am learning to enter and exit on cue. The structure of the day’s plays, the nighttime flights, are becoming more familiar and free-flowing, and the vistas are opening up to me in ways that arborists have described biographies of trees, and one ecologist has explained her motherhood. Pilots describe flying, acrobats have no words for their flight. I feel their words anyway as I swim through my life, remembering, diving.

I think of Nabokov writing about his Blues, that widespread group of small butterflies known today as the Tribe Polyommatini, called Blues even though many of them are other colors. His passion for these creatures, his joy in pursuing, collecting, categorizing, studying them is exquisite, obsessive, joyful. He never learned to drive, and he estimated that between 1949 and 59 his wife Vera drove him more than 150,000 miles all over North America, mostly on butterfly-hunting trips. Nabokov obviously relished his pleasure in this study, which he was committed to as a boy, and his personality also appreciated the humor in this character of a man strolling through towns and fields with a small net. He trained himself as a scientist and wrote specialty articles for a few appreciators. The rest of his literature does not show this aspect of the man, but the seriousness, the winks, are still there, along with his precision of language, his seriousness of tone. This is an example to me of a man who gave full rein and focus to that memory stream that was so strong in him, and he created this in the stream of his “other” life, though with great nudging and support from his wife, Vera.

Examples abound. And what fun it can be.

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