Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Yesterday is Not Today

I haven't been posting much here, in part because I don't have as much free time for musing, let alone writing, with a new two-year-old around, and in part because the demands of quotidian life have been more pressing lately than this blog. I've noticed something similar with the other blogs I still manage to read, which number far fewer than they used to for the same reasons.

There are also other vaguer and more existential reasons I've been blogging less. One is something that gradually occurred to me on one of my now-daily drives through the place that I live. I don't enjoy driving much yet; in fact, I keep myself up some nights thinking about the places that I have to get to the next day and planning routes to them that will not involve having to make a lot of left-hand turns. I've also found, curiously, that though I'm inclined to profanity in my non-driving life, I've been uncharacteristically restrained in the car: I find myself uttering "Please get off my tail already" under my breath rather often, and, if someone cuts me off, which is frequent, I might let loose with a mild epithet like "Oh, man!" I think that swearing is usually inspired by a kind of self-righteous indignation, and I just don't have the confidence as a driver to assume that I'm right in any driving situation.

But anyway, it dawned on me as I was driving my kids somewhere how much driving changes a former New Yorker's life. I don't mean the obvious facts of greatly-increased mobility and independence, but the fact that, in a car, you become a sort of secret agent. In New York, your agency is out there on the street.  In New York, I was accustomed to being looked at -- not because I'm particularly stunning, but because everyone there is looked at. There's much more of a sense, there, that one's life is lived openly in the public square. In New York, after all, to get to where you're going you have to ride on a subway or bus with many other people, and then walk down a crowded street with many other people. There are many daily functions, including eating and making phone calls, that you're constrained to do in public each day (in my opinion, clipping one's nails, applying full-face makeup, and shaving do not fall into that category, though I've seen people do all of these and worse on the subway). if you're an extrovert, you thrive on this sense of shared purpose, even if it's shared only by virtue of circumstance or necessity, and if you're an introvert, you develop a coping strategy, a game face. I suppose I was a little of both, but I never went to the bodega without lipstick on, I dated a couple of men I met on the subway, and I went to and from my bread gig in high heels, no matter how painful they were by the end of the day (though I stopped wearing high heels after 9/11, just in case I ever had to run away from someplace really fast; one of my friends who lived in my building did, in fact, have to limp eight miles home in stilettos on that day, since the subways and buses had shut down).

This is a different place, though, and in a car, no one sees you. For a former New Yorker, it conveys a tree-falling-in-the-forest sort of feeling. It doesn't matter how my hair looks, and it matters even less what I am thinking about. Most people are just trying to pass me illegally, which is fine with me. I put on the classical-music FM radio station and play guess-the-composer, a game I've always enjoyed, and I have the sense that I'm creating my own little pod which keeps at bay the pervasive sense of lassitude and purposelessness that I see in the jobless men and the women in their pajamas and the boarded-up buildings that I drive past each day. Since my car has no air-conditioning, I sometimes wonder what effect the music that escapes through my open windows might have upon the denizens of my new city. What does it do to you to hear unfamiliar Schumann or Beethoven on a relentless summer day? Do the thrilling strains of the Seventh Symphony act as some kind of cooling agent, or some sort of rising agent, on the system? Can they change the heart?

Sometimes I sing along. Sometimes I turn off the radio and do vocal warm-ups. It doesn't matter what I do. And that is the crux of the matter.

A few years ago, on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, I had a dream that Christ ascended into heaven on the cross. We know that's not what happened, of course, but I think the message in the dream was that we ascend by descending, as it were -- that is, by accepting humility. Indeed, the more I drive around my depressed little town in my hot little car with three hubcaps missing blaring classical music, the more I get the sense that, as John the Baptist said, I must decrease. And for someone who's used to being looked at that can be a little hard.

I noticed that my last post, the poem "Skyscrapers," went up on the five-year anniversary of my very first post. This blog started as an online diary, and, in writing it, I have written candidly about some of my sins and obscurely about others. I have tried to excavate my own memory in the hope of transmuting it into something beautiful, of spinning refuse into gold. Sometimes I still think that might be possible, but more and more I'm beginning to feel that I have to stop living in the past. God will transform bitter, devastating memory according to His own purposes if I let go of it and give it over to Him; it's not up to me. As Saint Ignatius's "Suscipe" prayer says:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

Perhaps I need to stop mining the ore of memory in order to be able to go forward into a new kind of smallness and quietness, a kind of fruitful unimportance. So much of my memory is the memory of sin, and, as someone who knows a lot about these things once told me, you don't need to tell people about your sins, because your sins are lies. In fact, as this person said further, your sins are shit, and you don't go around showing people your shit.

Since a great deal of this blog's content has been an exploration of my past sins, I'm not sure how much longer I'll be keeping up with it. I also have a big writing project coming up that's going to take up most of Jude's naptimes for the foreseeable future. For now, though, I will continue to check in here when I'm feeling inspired.

I will close now with a poem by Paul Bowles, which in many ways evokes the way I feel right now (Bowles, a composer as well as a poet and novelist, wrote a fine art-song setting of his own poem, but I couldn't find a decent performance on Youtube).

Once a Lady Was Here 

Once a lady was here.
A lady sat in this garden,
And she thought of love.
The sun shone the same,
The breeze bent the grasses slowly
As it's doing now.
So nothing has changed.
Her garden still looks the same,
But it's a diff'rent year.
Soon the evening comes down,
And paths where she used to wander
Whiten in the moonlight,
And silence is here.
No sound of her footsteps passing
Through the garden gate.
No, nothing has changed.
Her garden still looks the same,
But yesterday is not today.

15 comments:

Melanie B said...

I understand what you are saying about the past:

"to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know."

And yet if you did close up shop here I would very much miss your voice.

Dare I hope you might find it in you to occasionally share pictures of the present, glimpses of things as they are now-- I enjoy those just as much as your stories of the past. What you write about driving in the car, the encounters with the mother in the park.... And the poetry and music that you share. Those have very much been something I look forward to here in this space.

Melanie B said...

Oh and I love that poem. So haunting.

Darwin said...

I've always really enjoyed your writing over the years. If you stop writing for good, I shall very much miss it.

MrsDarwin said...

Interesting that you should mention Paul Bowles; I just read a piece about him in the WSJ. He scored the incidental music to original stage production of A Glass Menagerie, back when stage plays had original scores.

I'll also miss you if you stop writing. Along with Melanie, I encourage you to keep writing about the present. The loss of your voice would be a true privation.

MrsDarwin said...

Oh, this is the Bowles article.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, friends. I don't think I'll shut up shop here, but probably just post more occasionally. I'm working on my scholarly book, which is taking my "free" time, and, also, I often feel as if my past were more fragrant, so to speak, than my present; it gives me more material. But I'll see what unfolds.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for the link, Mrs. D. Paul Bowles also collaborated with Tennessee Williams on a short song cycle called Blue Mountain Ballads, whose four songs are really beautiful and deceptively simple. Your sister might know them.

ex-new yorker said...

It is strange that we have both dealt with attachment to New York City but you've missed being visible and I've missed feeling invisible there. But I guess if either of those things is an attachment in itself, they both need to be detached from... I actually don't really want to reread the older Pentimento posts about pain and sin that I think helped in my own letting-go-of-the-past process, because it was a painful enough if necessary thing the first time around, so I'm glad for you if you've moved into a new era, but like Melanie, I like your writing about the present just as much!

Maureen said...

I hope you will continue to blog. Have you ever considered writing poetry? Music? Songs?

PS: You will get used to left hand turns

Pentimento said...

My driving teacher said something cool: that right-hand turns are rock and roll, and left-hand turns are ballet.

I don't know about writing poetry, but unfortunately I'm much more of an interpretive artist in music than a creative one.

BettyDuffy said...

I know the blogging ambivalence of which you speak. I keep wondering if my online life has run its course, and I sort of look forward to knowing that definitely it has. I keep coming back though, even though I have less and less to say. I'm not sure humility has anything to do with it for me, though. I think I remember hoping to get famous when I started writing online, but it's the kindred spirits I've met here--of which you are one-- that are the true reward (and the little recognition my writing has received has been less enjoyable than I thought it would be).

Anyway, I second all the above comments. I enjoy just about anything you write.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, Betty. Maybe that's what it is -- an online life has a certain number of good years, and then runs its course. When I first started blogging, I had four readers, and that was awesome. I could be very frank, and we used to have discussions in the comboxes where no one had to explain everything, because the four of us had been friends for a million years. Then this blog got more attention, and started being regarded as voice in the "Catholic blogosphere" -- and, as you know yourself, woe to her to whom that happens. But as much as one's online life may run its course, readers also get bored, develop new interests, and move on. I think that's a good thing. I sense (and hope, actually) that readership here has waned somewhat, which makes me feel a lot freer to write from my heart.

And yes to the kindred spirits part. Absolutely.

MrsDarwin said...

We've often had the discussion about shutting down at our place, but our blog has become mostly a way to keep up a conversation with far-flung friends rather than any attempt to reach a broader audience. I find, now, that when I write, I think of you or Betty or any of my familiar readers might say rather than what general "witness" I'm providing. I hope that you (and Betty!) will keep up the conversation with friends -- your voice is so clear and honest and blessedly free from affectation that the blogsphere (or my corner of it, anyway) would be the poorer for its demise.

Pentimento said...

I can't help but marvel and thank God for the true friends I've met here, among whom I include all of you. And of course there's Otepoti, who is sui generis.

JMB said...

I will miss you in you stop writing! My kids take up most of my free time in the summer so I don't have much time left over to read and comment on blogs (just trying to explain my absence).