Friday, April 26, 2013

The Splendid Torch

"It was just dreadful.  But it was precious, I tell you.  It was my art."
-Barry Hannah

Dear ones,

Do you remember when I got really into Barry Hannah's total devotion to his friends?  That was kind of fun.  I still don't know enough about his fiction, and still gobble up whatever Oxford American wants to dish out about him.  The above quote comes from a piece they published online recently.  If you have time and a bit of tolerance for wide open compassion, and for Hannah's full-on acceptance of his responsibilities as a writer, you can read it here

Speaking of devotion and acceptance of responsibility, I've been musing on accountability lately.  It's not a word I've ever been fond of, but I find it running through my head multiple times a day.  Accountability has to do not just with accounting, as in, exacting some judgment - where you fall in or out of some right space.  It has to do with being seen, I think.  A willingness to stand up and be seen.

Thinking about accountability has made me recall the Leprechaun Trap Cake guest post I wrote for Amelia's blog close to two years ago (gasp, on many levels).  I'm not sure why accountability and a massive baking project are linked in my mind, except that I was practicing being really honest with myself at the time.  Being honest is a helpful practice at all times, but there are periods when honesty's call is louder than others: the inner alarm ringing, to wake from the watery dream. 

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying the following:

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die...Life is no brief candle to me.  It's sort of a splendid torch which I've got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

The first time I read these words, they sort of lit my mind and heart and some weird part of my hamstrings on fire.  They were embedded in Page 299 of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which, you might remember, I could not effectively get through.  But that is what serendipity and copy machines are for, and now I wish I had either read or photocopied more of the book than this one page, because the end of Page 299 says, "We can choose to reflect back to others a clear, undistorted vision of themselves. We can affirm their proactive nature and treat them-"

Treat them how?!?  Well, we will never know.  Unless one of us picks up a copy of the millions of copies of this book and reads it.  I probably won't be the one to do this, but godspeed to anyone who is.

Unfortunately, while Stephen Covey's writing style and publishing success are somewhat fascinating topics, they were not my original inspiration for writing about community, accountability, and honesty (although maybe they should have been).  Rather, I find myself deeply in love with certain aspects of friendship and the magical support it affords me lately. 

There was a period in my emotional life when I had to paddle out to a mental island far away from everyone I loved, or more weirdly from everyone who loved me, so I could get very still, and meditate on some core issues that were bothering me, and that were preventing me from progressing in my life.  It was lonely work sometimes, digging into the solitude, listening to the waves of my mind.  My prayers departed endlessly from the shore, and while periods of expansion brought their salty tongues crashing my way again, other times they went silent with departure, sliding away.

Somehow, I felt the desire to isolate myself in certain ways, both physically and emotionally, to learn skills I needed to fully enter adulthood.  Now I wonder how necessary all that solitude was. 

I'm proud of what I was able to do: the fears I was able to cure, and certain traumas I've overcome.  I'm stronger for what I have learned about myself over the years, especially what I have learned about my weaknesses.  Transforming searing events into vehicles for greater understanding is a practice dear to my heart, and equally essential to my success as an artist, but I'm glad it's time to be around people again. 

It is perhaps the greatest feeling in the world to offer kindness to another being - perhaps because we are all connected, or perhaps because how we treat one another is a reflection of how we are able to treat ourselves.  I believe we are here to get things right, but patiently - one languorous day at a time. 

Speaking of friends, I currently have the supreme pleasure of developing a podcast with my very talented friend, Lukis Kauffman of The Storied Commute.  We are busy recording some very silly episodes now, and I can't wait to share them with you.

And, since I (obnoxiously) linked to my own writing a hundred times above, I now offer you a passionate plea for sanity from the insanely talented Steve Almond.  Here is a New York Times Magazine article he wrote last year containing a call for community that may still take us decades to embody. 

Let's start now.

To the sun-drenched wisdom in each of you I bow, and to the wandering ways you take to find it.
With love,


P.S. My sister-in-law just launched a new website featuring her wild, rollicking poetry.  I wish everything were as pretty as her site!