It was so easy to go to Australia. It was so easy to go. Everywhere we've been. It's probably still easy, as soon as the decision is made. Then you go. What's ahead becomes all important. What is supposed to be loses all its power to frustrate; loses its ability to rub frictively up against what is. Tack-punctured sandpaper versus flesh.
So why is it so difficult to make the decision? Do we really believe that all the promises they promised are going to come true if we stay and endeavor and buy? If we invest properly? If we post cleverly enough on social networking sites, so that mediated living feels momentarily less mediated. Maybe if I squeeze my eyes shut tightly enough and believe harder than the next guy, maybe I'll come up with a great and stupid Sky Mall idea that I can sell to bored business travelers on planes. Headed to their next safely incubated destination. Something to send back to their friends and family to make up for their frequent lack of presence. Maybe I'll win the lottery. Maybe god will touch my brain with his old bony finger and grant me the capacity to be a business mogul. I'll have golden rays of light radiating from my every move that people won't see. But they'll feel them, and thus feel god, and they will inexplicably want to be involved in all my business transactions. Because god loves capitalism best.
That's not faith. That's competitive bargaining.
Faith looks more like going to Australia and living in a van when you get there. Faith is letting the tears slide frictionlessly down your cheek as you step – standing upright…not on all fours – to the precipice of the grassy Cliffs of Moher. Faith is striking up a conversation with humility and gratitude. Faith is allowing yourself to be moved in the presence of others. Faith's grandiosity is small. It fits into your heart, or into the fourteen lines of a sonnet. But it shouldn't be contained in either place. Because its containment will contain you.
It's so hard. It's so easy.
Out of the hundreds of books on my shelves, I wonder which ones I’ll ever read again. Over the remainder of my life, will I re-read more pages cumulatively, or travel more miles with these books in boxes? Will I re-read entire books more frequently than I rearrange them in their cases? Damn, they’re so heavy. I have visions of slowly migrating every bound volume in this collection over to a light, mobile e-reader. One by one they will evaporate into weightless bits, and I shall gradually reclaim space in my small home from these leafy bricks. It’s tempting, and yet I’ll never actually do it.
I’m perfectly happy letting my music and movies reside in those remote data centers we affectionately call clouds. As with books, I’m tired of dragging various forms of media and packaging around with me from hovel to hovel. And I don’t want to keep up anymore with the latest devices to play these objects in, or all the components that attach to those objects. I’ve made a deal in which that stuff lives somewhere other than where I live, and I borrow it when I need it. I can’t feel the same about books. And it’s not all that hogwash that people spout when they say they need the tactility of the pages; when they talk about needing to hold this thing open in front of them. Do these people also miss washboards and shoeing their horses? No, the material object is immaterial. My reluctance to disappearing my books – and I grant how suspicious this sounds – is that I don’t want to be left without them if for whatever reason…under whatever circumstance…the invisible cord that connects me to the place where all knowledge resides is ever snipped. I don’t want to accidentally lose the ability to access them, and I certainly don’t want them intentionally taken hostage.
So the next time I move, my biceps will get another rare workout and my back will end up sore from improperly lifting dozens of boxes of thousands of pages. But at least I’ll be comforted knowing I can go back to them whenever I want, even if I never do.
Today I began re-reading Maurice Kurtz’s biography of Jacques Copeau. Within seven pages I was reminded of why Copeau is such a hero to me. He dedicated his life to a theatre of integrity, and he forged numerous paths in an effort to materialize his ideal. As a critic, and a critic of the critics, he insisted fiercely upon theatre production that put human interests above commercial ones. Not that money wasn’t important. His family’s intimate relationship to labor taught him the value of a centime. Yet Copeau remained steadfast in his conviction that financial reward should be a happy accident of, rather than the motivation behind, the production of good and purposeful art. He edited the writing of others with the same vivacity and honest care that he applied to his own work. He opened Le Theatre du Vieux-Colombier as an article of faith in the power of theatre to transfix attention and transform lives. Finally, he retreated to rural France with a group of teachers and actors to imagine a form of performance that would be both new and old at once. Each of these endeavors reverberated in its own particular circle of society and art, such that no area in which Copeau’s brave attention lingered would ever again be the same. As Albert Camus remarked, “In the history of the French theater, there are two periods: before Copeau and after Copeau.” His legacy beyond France is deep and broad. Yet in his own time, Copeau’s achievements were perceived as mediocre at best. He remained undaunted. His heart beat with a level of courage that doubt typically erodes in most of us.
Is it already too late for theatre’s authentic investigations when it becomes about box office returns? Is artistic innovation stymied or propelled by financial gain? Can we satisfy patrons hungry for value at the same time that we feed those who need their souls nourished? And what about what the performing artist needs from the transaction? Is it possible to entertain and feel personally fulfilled at once? These are basic questions, though the contradictions inherent in answering them imbue them with the power of mystery. Maybe it’s as simple as: what is most important? And, eminently more complex, can you live with the consequences of making that choice, whatever they may be? Boldly open a restaurant to cook for others, but accept that you may go hungry yourself sometimes. Plant rows of grape vines, and be ready to live through the rainy season in a tent until their fruit is ripe enough to press into wine for all. Greet strangers with an open heart, and know that many of them will rebuff your attempt. For goodness sake, dance in the streets and let them all laugh with you. Some will certainly join your reveling. Is there enough goodwill in the world to support such personal and public adventures? Copeau knew that there always would be.
If you could know one thing about everyone you passed or encountered during your daily goings on, what would you wish to know? If one piece of information became available to you about everyone on the street, like an unintentional confession printed in mid-air above each person’s head, what truth would you be privileged to read? And what would you give up to acquire this knowledge?
My allowance would be specifically aimed at people with iPods – portable media players, smart phones, all those music-playing devices that people plug their heads into. I want to know what each person is listening to at any given moment. I want to know for the same reason that will probably disappoint me: where is all the expression? What isn’t provoking all of these people to laugh aloud, sob uncontrollably, and generally move their bodies in eccentric and pleasurable ways? Not all of these people – and really not even any but a few – can be listening to relentless ambient noise that petrifies their bodies into a mannequin-like physical condition. Perhaps they are moved to sturdiness! They are strong and unshakeable! I don’t believe that. What is really going on inside those ears?
What would I give for this information? What is it worth? Maybe an old stamp collection. No television for a month. Not much. I’m constantly curious, but I’m afraid I’d just find it sad. And really…if I want to know I should just ask.