Friday, November 2, 2012

Quick Takes: Playground Procrastination Edition

1. After promising radio silence yesterday, here I am back again. Remembering how I blogged my way through my dissertation calls to mind how tempting distractions are when deadlines loom. So, in the interest both of feeding my procrastination jones and of trying to get some real work done during naptime, this will be dashed off in the form of quick takes.

2. Many of the playgrounds in my new city and its environs are beautiful in the sense that the equipment is new and top-of-the-line, and some are very nicely landscaped into the surrounding parks. Many of these parks, though, are bordered on all sides by expressway overpasses, busy roads, and dive bars, which gives you a jarring feeling when you look up from spotting your toddler and remember where you are.  I've written before about the weird emptiness of the playgrounds here and the metaphysical loneliness they call forth. Sometimes, however, we're not alone when we go to play. It depends on the hour and the weather. There is one park in particular where I often see children who appear to be participating in supervised visitation with a non-custodial parent. You can tell this because there will be a bunch of children with a feckless-looking dad, long sleeves covering his arms even in summer, and a woman who appears to have no relation to the family wearing a name-badge on a lanyard around her neck; she will later take the kids away in a mini-van, while the father rides off on a bicycle too small for him.

3. Sometimes in the playground I'll see a young mother sitting on a bench, her head bent over her hands, which are working rapidly before her. I'll think, "Oh, a knitter!" and have a warm rush of nostalgia for playgrounds in certain neighborhoods of New York, as well as for graduate school, the subway, and other places where women, including me, would knit when we had the chance to sit down. I move closer to see what she's working on, but as I come nearer, I realize that the mom in the playground is actually texting. It's a small reminder of the fact that very few people in our culture make things with their hands now, and that we spend inordinate amounts of time on the fleeting and the evanescent.

4. It's hard not to think of my new city as a troubled place. I don't mean just in the obvious economic sense shared by so many post-industrial cities in the Rust Belt; it also seems to me that people are unhappy here. The other day I drove to CVS to get a jug of milk, and parked my car next to another that was blaring hip-hop through the open windows. Inside were a preschool-aged white girl in a car seat and a dreadlocked black man clearly not her father. When I got into the store, I picked out the mother right away, in fleece pajama pants with her hair pulled back severely. Why is this an emblem of unhappiness to me? Because of the obvious rupture in the little girl's family of origin. Because so many poor women are on a chronic lonely search to find a man who will love them and their children, a man who will stay, and because that search so often proves fruitless. Because their children bounce from school to school as the women move in with boyfriend after boyfriend. Because this happens all the time here.

5. I want to bring something good to this troubled place, but I don't know how. In spite of the fact that the music I spent most of my career performing is intimate, beautiful, even healing, and in spite of the fact that I believe people here truly need that kind of beauty as a tonic for the soul, I'm also quite sure that no one here wants to hear it. So instead I'm writing this book that I've been asked to write, which a few people will read, but not the right ones somehow.

6. Nonetheless, I think about my book contract. I think about my children. I think about my house. I think about the fact that I can drive a car, which is no small feat. I think that, had we remained in New York, these things would all look, and indeed be, very different. We certainly wouldn't have Jude.

7. But still, I would like to give something beautiful to this place.


Anonymous said...

Here's the strange thing though; beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, so whatever you do give to that community will leave you by night and unknown to you.

I'm thinking of Dostoyevsky, knowing the world will be saved by beauty, and of Simone Weil, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament and eating with her eyes. To know and be known like that! May that be the shape of your days.

Pentimento said...

Thank you for that comment, Anonymous, which has given me riches for contemplation, and has staved off my quitting blogging at least for now.