Saturday, May 17, 2008

Swamped Buddha as Rorschach

I am sitting on my porch with my legs stretched out in front of me into the sun, listening to an album by Lucy Kaplansky. I have a headache making its way around my eyeballs in spite of the previously mentioned Saturday breakfast of cappuccinos and Excedrin. The opening song, "Tides," is very powerful, or perhaps it only echoes the thoughts that have preoccupied me of late. I thought long and hard about actually reporting the song I was listening to when I began this entry because of the potential for misunderstanding the coincidence (and it is) for a pun in bad taste with the photo also posted here, which is, of course, an AP photo from Rangoon. These past weeks have seen earth come to life this spring in such violent ways: Burma, the earthquakes in China, the tornadoes ripping through the midwest. And here, I won't keep you in suspense for your Rorschach: what do you see in the photo ? Ruin or something spared from it ? Rain, flood, and temple roof all around it, the Buddha, still upright and apparently unharmed, seems to offer its gaze of calm to the landscape. Perhaps my interpretation originates in some deeply founded psychological premise I have about life. Perhaps it is how things look at the moment. I have, after all and somewhat inadvertently, done something that has left the outcome of my circumstances precipitous (that is, dangerously balanced between one extreme and another). No bodhisattva, I am unfortunately at one with the forces that threaten to both rend and repair my life, by which I mean the life I lead, and not, thankfully, my physical self. I have never been one to toss it all for something else if there is to be a gap between the former and the latter. It has been convenient, though, to construct a narrative that might sound that way, say, to an interviewer, to explain certain sudden movements. In other words, I can construct a narrative of myself that makes me seem like a risk-taker. Not an overly bold one, mind you, but one enough to: a) be apparently convincing and moderately impressive; b) make me wonder if it might not be the true way to see things.
On the other hand, when I did these things I never except for once consciously described it to myself as risk-taking behavior (unless one counts my profession in general, which, trust me, is not usually described in this way). No, I thought, and do predominantly think, of the things I did as being compelled by circumstance. Not that I did not have choices within those circumstances, but the circumstances themselves were not what I would have liked or made. Attribution theory has its limits. So here I am (not). I wonder if, as we approach or enter into middle age, that a biological craving for security begins to make its way into our consciousnesses, much as the urge to leave home and get out on one's own predominates in one's teens and twenties. Perhaps it is simply the calculus of age and time: at forty and beyond, there are only so many fresh starts and do-overs left. That sense of the infinite possibilities of lives that could be led has diminished somewhat. But certainly not courage ? People who know me well, those onto whom no narrative of my life need be foisted, have often called me strong. Perhaps the circumstances that have made me so or seem so (my first thought is often what choice did I have) are akin to the overtraining of an athlete: now, as I await the outcome of certain possibilities, a phone call or an e-mail sets off in me a feeling I never really had before: a weakness in my chest (not the rapid heartbeats many talk about, but a feeling as if my heart has suspended its work for a minute or so), weakness of the limbs, a quick-gripping, all encompassing sweep of fear. Knowing that there is action that can be taken always makes me feel better in any circumstances, so it has been a strange time of generating even more possibilities "just in case," pondering, with seriousness and a profound sense of the finite, the possible lives that still may be left to led. While I pursue them, I have realized that I begin to ponder how logistics for taking care of what I now hold dear (people, pets, precious things) would make possibility x or y or z hard/less appealing/impossible/tough. Talking yourself out of it, in layman's terms, but so far, I have not., at least, completely. I was reading the blog of a young diplomat (here), who at one point says that he felt that when something wasn't going his way, he would only have to wait it out, and eventually, the tide would change. Of course, from what I read of the blog, this sentiment is not coming from someone who simply lets circumstances roll by or over him. But it gave me pause: I have no such confidence in tides, so to speak, or to put it more plainly, I have no faith in a predictable rhythm of fortune, or, as I said many entries ago, that we get what we deserve. Earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes as proof. Randomness is a bitch. I must admit my hand in creating my current condition. I set this in motion and now am left to wonder if I will get through what I have wrought. It is a strange time: the sun is out, the music plays, my refrigerator runs and is well stocked. I eat and am warm at night and in comfort under the sun. The cats play and sleep under the covers. Worry, not tragedy, consumes me. For that, there should be some candle to light, some small flower of thanks to place in front of what is unmoored.

For those who would like, here are the lyrics to "The Tide," but you need the voice behind them for the full effect. I can't say I identify with the little girl the narrator was, but the first two stanzas with their chorus are another story as are the last:

There are demons in the water
There are devils in the sea
There are dangers in the current
When the tide goes out of me

I could drink you under the table
I could drink you out of town
I could drink you off the planet
Drink myself into the ground


And I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you

I was made to be a good girl
Carried buckets made of stone
Full of envy, full of sorrow
On a tightrope all alone

And all the time I was on fire
I burned with every stride
And now I see this anger
Is the horse I choose to ride

Now you say you want something nice from me
Well if you find it, take it, it's on me
In the meantime don't bother me
The tide has washed the nice from me


In the nothing are the voices
And the pictures of my life
In the nothing of the sky
Is an ocean made of light

In the nothing of my silence
Is a sad-eyed little girl
On a tightrope she is singing
As she passes through this world


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