Jul 30, 2007

So I got stuck in Portland for a day and spent the night at a La Quinta Inn, and am flying out tonight on the same flight I was supposed to get yesterday. Even though I really needed to be at work today and even though I had to fork over for a hotel and even though had I known my flight was cancelled I would have spent more time with my friends and those babies... I still cannot possibly describe the elation I felt yesterday as I entered my hotel room. I love hotel rooms with my whole heart. I love being alone in a hotel room in a strange city where I don't know anyone. A couple of my favorite days I've ever had were like that, as I think I've described, being 18 alone in Denver and 19 alone in Billings, Montana, just sort of suspended for a day before heading on and the feeling of freedom and weightlessness that comes with it.

Anyway, here are things I've been meaning to mention:

1. Devotchka. Last week Joi and I saw Devotchka again at the Spiegeltent downtown. For me it was just completely transporting, the most estatic, full music. We were tired, I was hot, we had to wait a long time to get in.. my shoes hurt.. a few times I wondered if we should just bail out, but then when they started I was just swept into it.. I remember feeling like all music should feel that way, make you feel ecstatic and heartbroken and just like everything is contained within it. I think Devotchka might be the most romantic band I've ever seen, too, with the singer in his red shirt holding his bottle of wine, the tuba/cello girl with the flower behind her ear and long dress, the accordion player/violinist in his suit. And then near the end a tiny sparkling girl comes out and does this whole aerial act on silks hanging from the center of the tent.

2. Sculpture. I don't know if I can sum this up at all, but my friend David's friend Chris was having a viewing of his sculptures and I went down with them to see before the event started, and when I walked into the room all I saw were blocks of cement, some odd shapes with colors.. I wasn't even sure if they were the actual sculptures. Then I walked around them for a long time, just looking at them, and the more I looked the more they started to have some life in them, for me. David and Chris left me alone for a while because they were making me self conscious.. so then I could get down and peer into them and touch them... The thing is I have never been moved by sculpture, except maybe something like the Pieta.. it's just an art I don't really get or have access to, I am probably way too hooked into language and story and recognizable imagery... And then when they came back I asked Chris if he could explain one to me, just how he made it, how it felt to make it, what he felt when he made it, and so he started talking and he's this open, expressive, emotional, brilliant guy, and as he spoke I was able to start seeing the sculptures through his eyes, and the room slowly came to life, all these forms shifting around me, and I started to understand his passion and his vision, and the sculptures, as I looked, started to work their way into me.. and it was just this intense, amazing experience of being made to see something you couldn't see before and letting an art that works in more unconscious ways start to have its effect on you. So some day soon I'm going to visit Chris in his studio to see more, see how he works, etc.

3. Year of Magical Thinking. I saw this play a few months ago and was blown away, as I described, but then last week I saw it again. And was just as blown away. But now I have much more of a sense of how many people were not blown away by this play, how many people think that Joan Didion's writing about her own grief is somehow suspect, or feel that the way she writes about her own grief is too cold and emotionless, as if a howl of pain would be more authentic than this need to catalogue and master it, and to me.. I just feel like this has more to do with grief and death, our discomfort, than anything else, tho I may be wrong.. and I feel like what she is describing, in the book and the play, is the very act of surviving grief, just raw obliterating grief, by attempting to catalogue it and make sense of it and note every phase of it... and the strength of this need seems to me to speak to the power of the grief itself rather than her own coldness, her mind set against the overwhelming despair inside her, and I just think that play is the opposite of cold, and of emotionless. And I think the very act of creating a book and play out of such despair and loss, actually finding the language to communicate it to other people, is as life affirming and important an act as there is.

4. Ellen M. Taylor. I should mention also that Chelsea and I, on Saturday, went to the gorgeous gorgeous old time farmhouse, way out in the country, of this poet, who served us lemonade in her yard near the mulberry trees, next to her garden and the long grass the babies played in, and she showed us this room between the house and the barn that was filled from floor to ceiling with chopped wood, and the smell in there! The wood smell with the breeze and the flowers moving through the open doors just spoke of country and cold nights with fires burning,

and we walked out over this wide field to the pond, a pond they own and swim in during the summer and skate on during the winter, and.. it was all just about the most perfect way to live I can imagine. Then on the bus back into Portland yesterday I read her poetry, which is the kind of poetry that just tangles itself around you. Look:

among hills spotted with cattle,
valleys of leafy silo corn,
I return home
to the scent of salt, the grit of sand,
the songs of gulls and sea pipers,
to hum to the snails.

Did you know
if you hold a snail in the palm of your hand
and hum, stopping only to breathe when needed,
the snail will crawl out of his shell
and visit you? Stop
the hum, and he will slide back into his home
leaving you only the reflection
of his winking eye.

This I learned from my mother,
and how to count the age of seaweed,
the bitter taste of beach mustard,
where to find a mermaid's purse.
How to parse the grammar of the sea
and the syntax of her shore,
the symmetry of a mussel shell,
so milky blue,
so pure, so fine.