“in america,” susan sontag

started reading ‘in america’ by susan sontag a bit ago.  picked it up somewhat on whim, barely knowing anything about it except a vague recollection that it was supposed to be good.

very timely.  the premise concerns a polish actress (based off of helena modrzejewska) who at the height of her fame decides to emigrate to anaheim in the late 19th century and become a farmer.  she is tired of her life, of the pattern it has fallen into, and has the resources and commands the loyalty to make such a change possible.

this is timely because with great expectations closed i face the question of ‘what next?’ and i don’t know the answer.  i don’t know if i want an answer.  i do want to finish this full-length, and i am letting it take its time – i am just realizing that i don’t want to find another project exactly, i don’t want to enter again into the social anxiety that working with actors and rehearsal entails.  do i want to do theatre anymore?  is this actually what i want to do with my life?  and i do not have the somewhat flippant reply some actors give when answered that question – i can actually do other things, i do have other marketable skills.  i just don’t know what i want.  i don’t know what to hope for or work for, so i have no direction.  but the thought has been in my head, for at least a year now (last new year’s eve was when i remember thinking it first) of just leaving everything and moving to the southwest and lying in the sun forever, letting all the darkness and anxiety and disconnect and bullshit just baked out of me.  being free of all that meaning.

it seems so impossible to believe that america was considered the place to start over, to reinvent.  maybe it’s just gotten too old.  the optimism that fueled us for so long worn out.

some quotes from the book:

“To be done with mourning!  To live in the present!  In the sun!  She was soaking up light.  She thought she could actually feel the desert’s glare sealing her skin, drying up tears shed and unshed.  It was almost palpable, the receding of the immense anxiety in which she had thrashed about for so many years, and the upsurge of vitality… How easy it had been, after all.   Henryk, are you listening?  To change one’s life: it’s as easy as taking off a glove.”

[of course it turns out that it is not so easy, and the protagonist eventually returns to acting on the american stage.  i haven’t quite gotten to that point yet.]

“His own love for Maryna had become an endless, unfinished story he was constantly revising, embroidering, sharpening, finding more fluent ways to describe to himself.”

“Here every story emerged freestanding, without roots in long genealogies of concern and obligation.  The sudden drop in the volume of meanings in the new life worked on her like a thinning out of oxygen.  She was feeling giddy.”

“Like the bride who, standing in church beside the groom, realizes that while she does love this man and want to marry him, it’s not going to last, it’s going to prove a mistake, envisages this before her finger receives the ring, before her mouth shapes the ‘I do,’ but finds it easier to banish foreknowledge and continue becoming wed, Maryna thought: It is frivolous to interfere with what has been so ardently conceived, so wholeheartedly undertaken.  She had to go through with it, because everything had led to this.  How could she be standing anywhere but here?  And skepticism can coexist with confidence.  With all this character-building hope and exertion, how could they not succeed?  Hope and exertion, like desire, were values in themselves.”

“The defect of keeping a diary is that I note mostly what ruffles my temper.”

“Happiness depended on not being trapped in your individual existence, a container with your name on it.  You have to forget yourself, you container.  You have to attach yourself to what takes you outside yourself, what stretches the world.”

(sorry for this, free write)

where does it hit you first?

for me these days it is the stomach, and really it is remarkable how fast it happens, how easily the body betrays.  i feel it in my throat next with nausea and then sometimes it starts with the knees and my legs go numbish and my head doesn’t feel right.  balance goes off.  not always, but sometimes.

the biggest problem is that it hangs around for a day or so after, at least.  even if the moment of exposure was just that, a moment.  the panic hangs around fizzing a little, and then it is very easily stirred up again, by something as light as a thought.  some small recollection dropping suddenly into disquieting context.  the land still settling.  aftershocks.

this is what we get when you build on a faultline (whose fault? mine? his? only 30% mine? who says something like that and does not explain?).  forgive the imagery.  i walked today by the alaskan way viaduct that the mayor wants to tear down due to earthquake risk (he had wanted to tear it down before anyway).  in seattle there is no contingency plan for the Big One we are due for or for mount rainier.  we have not built for either.  the viaduct would simply collapse.  a little more than a week ago i heard rather than saw a noise while crossing under the flyover next to the viaduct and the person with me realized it was an accident, just out of sight – the rider hit water on the street and skidded and hit the curb and we started to run to him, and my phone was in my hand and wouldn’t unlock but finally i dialed 911 (it seemed to take forever (time dilation)) by the time we reached him and seeing the man lying there (others gathered around him faster, people who knew first aid) don’t take his helmet off one person said to another who had started to do so – i never saw the driver’s face through all of this, the helmet stayed on, and the driver was moving and talking?  moving for certain, i remember that others were speaking to him, telling him to stop moving, if he could feel his feet, and 911 wouldn’t  fucking answer the phone, there was liquid around him, my friend said it was the water he had skidded on but i had in the moment assumed that he had pissed himself, a car key had fallen out of his pocket and was beside him on the pavement, and i saw his feet.  the shoes had been ripped, one clean off a few feet away (lying before the accident, as it were, space equaling time), the other still half on his foot split cleanly from the inside of the ankle to the sole and his foot was torn up and i saw the blood, the open flesh and when 911 answered i could only give the intersection and had to ask what the entrance was TO (i-5? the viaduct? i don’t know highways here) of the people trying to help the driver, my friend had helped stop traffic to the entrance and first 911 transferred me to the highway patrol because i spoke incorrectly and then switched me back and then they said someone was coming and i gave my name and number and hung up, and my friend stood beside me and for a moment my legs did not seem to work but they were fine, really, and he held my elbow

we forget about blood, it really is a vulgar garish liquid that is so much brighter than you expect, it is a prop for cheap slasher films, and it is inside us always.  we forget about the faultlines that we live on, that we build on, we build our lives on.  we forget or we trust against emergency, because no matter how much you doubt and plan it isn’t enough.  the body betrays.  it happens in an instant.

some people are talking about japan and others are calling them alarmists, but these days even some of the anti-alarmists are saying i should start taking multivitamins, that the body will accept radioactive iodide into itself more readily than clean iodide.  betrayal again.  gullibility.

it is a betrayal when it is inevitable?  that the earth will shift no matter what is built on it, or how, or what it is built to withstand.  but the accident was not inevitable, was it?  or maybe it is just the working out of the equation of the specific texture of water on pavement and the velocity of the bike and what kind of pressure it takes to rupture human skin.  and my body in an instant responding to a specific stimulus is my gastro-intestinal medical history (india, two nights of over-drinking) and history of anxiety and then the consequence of building on what i knew was a faultline, this stupid narrative that i am tired of being mine, that i keep thinking i am past until the moment comes and i feel like i am going to throw up.

what the body remembers.  breathe deep.  someone described treating her body mentally as a well-loved dog now old and sick – the necessary patience for its failings, the kindness you must give.  i need to remember that.