Friday, March 17, 2006

What can any artist set on fire but her world?

This afternoon, I climbed in the car and made the hour's drive into Columbus for lunch with a stranger. As some of you know, I was feeling far from exuberant about this excursion; it felt far more like gritting my teeth and forcing myself into something than I'd have liked. But I did it in the interest of following through, of seeing whether I'm supposed to be doing the hard work of keeping my heart open, just in case. Having done it, I think I'm out of this game for awhile; I don't see myself finding the things for which I'm keenly sore, and which I was so giddily glowing to think that I'd found this winter, by going on in this vein.

There's a big hill one must climb on OH-229 in order to head west from Gambier. As my car plugged away up the hill, a hawk dropped out of the trees to the right and unfurled its reddish-brown and white tail, fanned it open and wide to catch a thermal. It was in my sightline for just a moment before its swoop and my plod separated us. I thought about that hawk during much of my drive. I see a lot of birds of prey here--hawks, mainly, but also the occasional vulture. Usually, I see them circling high above the woods behind my house; the other day, when the wind roared high even though the sun was brilliant, a hawk hung and dipped, apparently moving simply with the wind's motion, near enough to me while I took some pictures that I decided it was best to keep moving. This afternoon, more than ever, I reflected on the cruelty of their beauty, or the beauty of their cruelty. I'm not even sure which I'd call it. Their grace is absolutely purposeful; their purpose is killing; this killing grace is a breath-stopping beauty.

In another kind of life, I would now progress to the next stage of an analogy between myself, kitted up for a lunch with someone I'd never met, and this graceful prey-bird. But another thing I had time to reflect on, as I waited in the sun for my lunch companion, is the variety of lives I have not led and, because I have no interest in them, will not lead. For instance: the two twentysomething people sitting over my right shoulder were planning their St. Patrick's Day drinking strategy. It took me a moment to figure out what they were talking about, because they were throwing around high numbers--"I've got $60, and that's all I'm willing to spend," one of them said. They plotted shots and food intake, discussed maintenance and the possibility that earrings might vanish ("I really like this pair," the woman said to her male companion. "I don't want to lose them tonight."). I used to hate it when an old somebody used to declare things boring. "I just find it kind of boring," he'd say, sometimes about things that were, to my mind, in no way boring at all. But this afternoon I found his voice echoing in my head, as I eavesdropped on my tableneighbors. What am I doing here? was what I couldn't stop thinking. It was as though I were forcing myself to go through the paces of some bizarre dumbshow that is the life of some people my age but simply isn't meant to be mine, not least because I think I'm done having my social life revolve around a metropolis that's an hour away.

When it all came down to it, on a grand scale of terror to wonder, I'd put my afternoon somewhere firmly in the realm of okay--not something I'd want to do again, but not something that made me murderous. In the past two weeks, I've clarified for myself a great deal that I really wasn't fooling myself about wanting to leave an urban area (if a smallish one) to move back to a rural one. And when--because, I tell you, some people never learn--I managed to get myself into rush hour traffic on the northwest side of Columbus and started flashing back to when I'd pull that deft move on myself in Rochester, I realized that I was reconfirming yet again (can I stop now?) that if I can help it I'd like my daily life never to involve a rush hour, or an interstate. Or an interstate at rush hour. Even if I can get good wine by traveling it.

But: because I'd gotten out my camera to try and get a picture of what I don't want my life to look like (in the shape of a five-lanes-each-way beltway backed up at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday), I still had it to hand when the pictures of what my life happily does look like started to present themselves. The pay-off for the entire day--better even than getting some new Staedtler pens and a new plastic eraser (unparalleled for grading)--came when I realized I'd be driving home from the interstate through thirty minutes of my favorite light. And so, when I wasn't near other cars, I started snapping shots for you (and, who am I kidding, myself as well). My horizons are crooked, sometimes, sure, but keep in mind that I was driving the car--and that the ones that are really crooked or blurred are that way more or less purposefully. Here, at long last, are some instances of those barns I talked about months ago, and if you look closely you can see the green starting to appear in some of these fields.

Even the end of my street was lit up when I got back to Gambier, as if to welcome me home. Only, I knew that I was the one doing the welcoming. This light and these trees are here whether I show up or not, and so, at least for now, here is where I show up. Here is where I live.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Dr. S,
I found you through Grumplestiltskin, and here I am distracting myself from work with more musings and such wonderful ramblings.

Anyway, two thoughts as I read your blog:
1) Taking yourself out of the game is such a good way to go; I recently decided to take a solid year off of dating, and already I'm enjoying my life like I haven't in a very long while. and also giving my own heart time to heal. It had begun to feel as though I had become quite careless with it.

2) I grew up in rural Indiana and Illinois, and we were always driving through the country, speckled with wonderful and abandoned farmhouses. Every time I saw one, I would take a mental note of its location so that when I ran away one day, I'd have a splendid abandoned barn to live in. (I never ran away, I just liked the idea of living in an abandoned barn). anyway, I had compiled a mental list of my favorites--just in case. (MeWho)

7:39 PM, March 18, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Hello, MeWho--

What's funny is that my heart has had lots of time off; I just started being a little venturesome after a long time of having been very careful indeed, which is part of why I'm smarting and stumbling a little right now.

Where were your barns? It would be funny if any were near where I grew up (also in rural Indiana). There was a certain covered bridge that I used to cultivate, for instance, though not as a potential dwelling place.

7:50 PM, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous MeWho said...

And hello, again, Dr. S,
To answer your question: I spent the first ten years of my life in Cerro Gordo, Illinois (near Decatur--population 1200). then we moved to the thriving metropolis of Auburn, IN, near Ft. Wayne. But my father was firmly against the idea of air travel, and we traveled every summer, so I've been through most of the midwest at some point, and have probably mentally mapped about 65% of the abandoned barns. They always seemed a bit sad to me--just reminded me of the demise of small farmers, and a romanticized way of life. What was life like when they weren't abandoned? Hmmm.

And back to the other subject. Well, I suppose that if you're going to 'go for it', you have to throw your whole heart into it, and suffer the consequences or reap the's finding someone to whom you'd like to throw it that I've always found difficult. But then, the last two years I've spent throwing it at a couple of gents, all of whom had their hands up, ready for the catch--encouraging me, even. Then they all mysteriously stepped aside when it reached them.

I'm working on developing what I term "multiple heart disorder". It's similar to multiple personality disorder, only I'll have two hearts; one for me, and one for games. Actually, it's more like fine china and chinette.

Wow, that's a long and winding comment. Of course, the title of my blog is "Conclusion free since 1978", so...



8:38 PM, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous stepanova said...

It's the tedium of it all that got me down on dating. After a while everyone seems the same, the interactions are the same, it's all so predictable. Beh.

And I never even had to drive anywhere.

Saw a lot of hawks and barns today from Cincy to Indianapolis.

12:10 AM, March 19, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

That's a nice drive, from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. Long, and often pretty starkly rural, especially at this time of year, but nice. You passed about a half-hour from my family.

Welcome home!

2:03 AM, March 19, 2006  
Blogger slickaphonic said...

I think I actually just got burned out on looking. And when I say looking, I mean trying to find someone who stood out a bit from the endless sea of "insert witty comment here" headline-writers and backward-hat wearing ex-but-not-too-ex fraternity brothers and the tsunami of engineers who, albeit explicably (minored in math), flocked to me. I think I got so worked up when I found people that satisfied those meager requirements, that I just flipped myself out a bit, and forgot that I once had much higher standards then "Not a loser in most dimensions."

So, dear non-dating compatriots, I have sworn off dating until my eyes recover from the excessive strain and have rebounded into the warm and comfortable embrace of my new mp3-player. (MeWho/Slickaphonic)

9:53 PM, March 19, 2006  

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