“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.”

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