Things are not what they seem. Who am I now?
Depending on the day, my world can range from slightly off balance to pretty much skewed to completely upside down. All the talk about a life in balance and taking care of oneself, that’s all well and good – in theory. But taking care of even one “self” is a challenge (I’m supposed to say) or pretty flippin’ impossible if you ask me, what with the job (paycheck), the job (freelance work to fill in the paycheck gaps), back-to-school assignments, and figuring out how to catch up in my 401(k) when I can’t even catch my breath. Never mind the caretaking responsibilities (are Mom’s memory glitches dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s?) or counting all those servings of fruits and veggies. Meditation would help me (or maybe yoga) (or might Pilates be better?) plus that 30 to 60 minutes of strength/flex/cardio exercise (a day, for cryin’ out loud), and my personal life (long-distance relationship), and finding time to learn Spanish, and oh wait, I’m not done – when it comes to politics, global warming, gang warfare, the recession, the recent win of Blu-ray over HD DVD, the possible repeal of Roe v. Wade, the certain sinking of Venice, the rise of illiteracy, the spread of poverty in general, and the future of the planet in particular – all I can say is I can’t keep up with everything I’m supposed to be outraged about. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have time to fix any of it.
On the other hand, things could be worse.
Even on my most challenging days, I can be glad I’m not being harassed by bilious-wallpaper beings. I can breathe a sigh of relief that my conversations (even with Mom) don’t consist of the ritual posturings that pass for the real in that tilted, twisted apartment inhabited by a supremely dysfunctional family. (Maybe it’s unfair to imply that the Mommy and Daddy characters are always posturing – sometimes they’re committing unspeakable acts.)
I’m grateful my life is nothing like those lives. That’s something that can be found on my list of things I didn’t know two weeks ago. I also found I read The American Dream and The Yellow Wallpaper from very different perspectives. I had to, in order to cope with the poles-apart styles offered up by Gilman and Albee.
My identification with the narrator imprisoned in a 19th-century room was strong and immediate in a way that’s less to do with her circumstances and more to do with the way her story is told. Gilman gives her a sympathetic aura and a voice that resonates across time, building a bridge to this century and to me. Maybe this is a little disconcerting. Does it mean I’m crazy too? I’d rather take the half-full viewpoint and say no, I’m empathetic, instead.
I wasn’t able to make this kind of connection with Albee’s menagerie. This is comforting, given the weirdness of the characters, settled in their absurdist world, devoting their energies to convince us that all life – not just theirs, but mine too – is meaningless. Okay, I got it! I understand the technique Albee is using, distancing us from the life we’re watching on stage by ridicule, inviting us to choose deeper and more relevant conversations, once we leave the theatre.
Should I even be trying to find answers then, to think there’s some meaning or shred of humanity in these people? Or is it best to acknowledge the unreality, enjoy the voyeuristic aspect of it all, and feel superior? My hectic and out-of-balance life is still a better choice.
How have these authors led me to this conclusion? How have they made me react in such different ways? The use of emotion, intimacy, and language are all crucial in bringing me along; stringing me along, perhaps. In my own work (the kind that feeds my spirit, the kind I don’t have time for), do I want to distance my audience? No. Do I want to write Hallmark cards? No. What are the devices I can copy or adapt here? Where is the balancing point between too much and not enough?
So who am I now? Do I know something now that I didn’t know two weeks ago? I know there are a lot of questions, questions that need answers that can come only with experimenting and with doing. At least, it seems so.
This is one in a series of learning exercises, in tangible form, imperfectly recording my journey towards my own writer’s voice. See my introduction to the response papers and read the next in the sequence.