Friday, January 30, 2009

I Can't Make You Love Me

The resignation in Bonnie Raitt’s voice as she sings those words and, "if you don't...can’t make your heart feel something it won’t..." causes me to ask how long does it take each of us to learn that lesson. A friend has quoted Kurt Vonnegut for years, his expression about, "...tap dancing and farting," and we reach a point when, clearly, that is all we’re doing. There is no pay-off.

What holds true for romantic or familial love is just as valid in this world of mixed media artists, a universe, really, densely populated with such a diversity of styles, talent without limit, energy and invention and, I think it could be called determination. In my small boat I cruise the waterways of blogland, one stop sending me on to the next, that one leading me to a new resource; frequently enchanted, feeling what is very akin to relief that there isn’t discretionary income close at hand or there could be trouble. But I do wonder as every day my little journey takes me to destinations I can only describe as fabulous - you may think you’ve seen it, whatever it may be, but are there surprises ahead, and how. Can we possibly know when we’ve reached the top?

And with this abundance it becomes clear, at least in my version of processing information, that not everyone is going to be everyone else’s new favorite thing. There are stars in this universe, the status is easily quantifiable by comments or sales or visitors and by the richness of content, generosity of spirit in sharing ideas and information and stunning visual support. A comparison (odious, at best) that comes to mind is the actual world contains Paris, France, and Dinuba, California. And I know, I can hear, the thought - "Well Paris, duh?" And yet...Dinuba (pronounced Die-new-bah, accent on "new") was where my grandparents had their farm, my grandmother’s paint-by-numbers landscapes on the walls, each of which was papered in a different pattern, as was the ceiling in several rooms.

After more than 60 years Dinuba is still peaches and everything heavenly that can be made from them; it is breakfasts in the not-quite-dawn which include biscuits and gravy; it is collecting the eggs, picnics among the redwoods, learning to shoot the BB-gun, riding into "town" while having to stand in the back of their Ford coupe, praying my mom won't actually make me a dress out of the feed sacks Grandma saved for her.

We put our art and our hearts up on these (I still wish we could agree upon a word of greater fluidity or grace or some recognizable aesthetic) blogs and at least a part of us wants people to find them and love them and by extension, us. And that has never been, nor will it ever be as far as my imagination can stretch, the reason to do anything. To be found, praised or purchased is to feel ourselves catapulted into the dance of joy. It is a challenge to write the words that demand to be expressed, to draw and color the goofy or cheerful eccentrics who have somehow selected our hand out of all the others to bring them to life. And life as I experience it is work. It is showing up as best we can, allowing ourselves to be a conduit for greater visions presented with a unique flair, and letting go of the rest. Bonnie Raitt sang in a way that told us she knew the words were true. What the song didn’t tell us was that we had to be happy about it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dream Sequence

Not-quite apropos of nothing, a couple jobs in my (as they used to call it) checkered past, were in the employ of a man who went on to be a story editor, then an Emmy nominee for writing an episode of MOONLIGHTING, shot in black-and-white, called "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice." One of our shared agencies served several entertainment unions from an office on Hollywood Boulevard, in the very building where Raymond Chandler had set his private investigator, Philip Marlowe, in practice. So we are already waltzing along the edges of dreams, riding factual elevators with the screaming mad woman and wheeling my baby boy along the streets in his stroller, down at eye level with the gleaners, discovering he can say, "Hi," and thus beginning many a conversation with thrifty salvagers of abandoned cigarette butts.

There are dreams from which I awake with such an acute sense of loss when I discover the visions of the preceding moments were, alas, not real, that I weep. There are dreams which inform me, visitations without the seance circle, that someone who has been gone for years is happy to report all is well. Some dreams employ a play on words, things which sound the same but are spelled differently and I manage to catch the little joke. The dreams, unlike that one from MOONLIGHTING, are always filled with color, pattern, texture and dialogue. Since I have spent much of my life writing (but only in my head) all the words I wanted other people to say, there is an easy pleasure to the sleeping dramas in which the only thing that is required of me is showing up; everything else has been taken care of.

In the past years, close to 40, the casting has held some surprises, usually when the mind ropes in some famous faces and poses them in my frequently architecturally-rich stories. Often the dreams hold no clear meaning; at times I think they are a way the mind shows off, putting on little plays as Bobby McClay and I did when we were in the first or second grade. We also believed we could dig a hole to China and build a rocket that would actually fly. Mostly we jumped off his back porch, catching hold of the poles which held up the roof, and swinging around; we ate apricots when they ripened and once had a rock-throwing fight between our yards. I was the one who broke a window.

Christmas calls me to watch MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, primarily to hear Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to Margaret O'Brien whose character resides in that enviable child space where waking and sleeping dreams are really not separate. Her buried dolls, her comic/tragic songs, the snow people, her Halloween prank and its cover-up, are recognizable as the blurry territory of wish and imagination. At what I can only call my advanced age, I still hold title to some real estate there. Too many years were spent in daydreams (escapism would be the more accurate term) and it is not difficult to return, the greatest difference being that now I don't have to go there; I don't need a place to hide. But sometimes there is joy in allowing my brain its dervish dance, a brief visit to an altered state where I can call up the dream visitors I choose, have those self-scripted conversations and find a sort of resolution or a few glowing moments with those who have left these shores, or me, to take paths where I am not invited to follow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Out West

Today I moved the CD player from beneath a table and behind lumpy containers of Christmas wrapping accessories to the top of a table beside my bed. To celebrate this emergence I dug back through music, overlooked or misplaced, to find Nanci Griffith's "Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful)" on which she and many pals of the folk persuasion (of which I am an unrepentant fan since teen years) celebrate classic, traditional songs of the genre.

Many of the selections, like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" and "Darcy Farrow" not only conjure visions of our country as it was but paint for me scenes known mostly from film but partly from life, perhaps some from dreams.

Portions of my childhood were spent in the shared backseat of a series of Ford stationwagons, trying, as were both of them, not to have any human contact with my brother or sister, pulled entirely into myself, body and mind. I can hear my sister shriek, "Mike's shirt is touching me," and see the hand reach around the driver's seat and begin swatting blindly with a bunch of maps or newspapers to make us shut the hell up.

These journeys were sometimes called vacations, though I suspect there was always a business aspect, for mostly they were embarked upon to fill the columns our father wrote for various regional travel magazines. He shot his own photos, did on-the-spot interviews, collected history through research - this was way before computers, probably before electric typewriters - and compiled information on highway conditions, tourist destinations and anything one might want for a recreational drive around the less-traveled roads of California.

Something in me responds to aspects of the American western migration, especially when it involves mining. Our first visit to the Mother Lode, land where gold was discovered in 1849 which started a world-wide frenzy to find a treasure-filled spot of earth or stream, felt for me like returning home. I cannot say just what it is in those rolling hills or visions of panning the waters, ghost towns and their names, that resonate for me but the response carries over to movies that edge on that sort of life, like MC CABE AND MRS. MILLER, even THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (both of which are made all the more atmospheric by their music, the first by Leonard Cohen, the second by Nick Cave). I have almost stopped puzzling over a connection that can't be reincarnation or cellular memory, at least I don't think so, but must be more alligned with what lived in the hearts of those seekers and dreamers, those with the vision of, as Cohen writes, "...the hand so high and wild you'll never have to deal another." I have never felt that I possessed an adventurous soul but it seems I must share the impossible visions, pipe dreams even, with the foolish and daring from stories real or invented.

So I listened to Nanci Griffith, songs filled with longing and lament, wonder at how it could have gone so wrong in spite of such good intentions. I was left with more melancholy that I wanted to handle this afternoon, so chose, instead, to write about it. Perhaps all our experiences are mystical, we only mistake them for ordinary since processing them seems beyond our skill.