Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"The Office" (workstation series) 109 (Days-of-transition edition)

There's a lot of damned suffering in the world. Some days that truism is brought home particularly directly and repetitively; say, by walking the streets of lower Manhattan or Haight-Ashbury, or seeing the news reports from Baghdad or Darfur or Georgia, or--closer to home--by the trials and sorrows of good friends. Part of my religious obligation is to acknowledge the inevitable present reality of suffering (and to dis-associate it from "guilt" or "sin"), and to attempt to practice compassion and alleviate suffering--largely through gaining and sharing insight--but that doesn't make it any more easy to bear.

Autumn has always been a transition time for me. Maybe it's because of the deaths in my past, or the simple reality that, in an academic context, fall is when the ends of things really hit home: when you return to campus, and people are departed, and the shock of the new crop of impossibly-young faces hits home, and you just realize that another year is truly gone. Used to be that I dreaded the fall--twelve years of graduate school in a snakepit will do that to you--but anymore, it just makes me feel older.

But, in that same academic context, you see an awful lot of transitional suffering around you, particularly among the youngsters who are maybe encountering these blows & buffets for the first time. This is the first year I've caved and decided to use the messaging & community tools the kiddos employ most frequently, which are not email and websites (those are all so Last Century) but rather IM and, particularly, Facebook. Dharmonia and I have both sucked it up and signed up--we have been assimilated--and I'm already overwhelmed with the amount of data, and just the sheer intensity of the experience, that these kids deal with. FB is mostly useful, from my ancient-of-days perspective, as a communications tool: if I can't reach some kid any other way, I can almost always get through via the "Wall."

I've avoided FB in the past, because, in the first few years of its massive popularity, there was way too much information posted that I didn't want to have. I didn't want to know, or see, all the health-and-sanity-risking hijinks the kiddos were getting up to. Nowadays, thankfully, they're a lot more circumspect with what they choose to post--as they should be--and so there are a lot fewer instances where I have to avert my eyes (though I still find it useful, when some punk-ass kid renter next-door acts in an un-neighborly fashion, to contact Mommy or Daddy directly and say "I have pictures of the bad behavior, and an Internet connection; now will you lay down the law to your offspring?"). And FB is invaluable just for banal things like matching names to faces, which, with entering classes of 100-110, is a very useful tool.

But it also brings me face-to-face (heh--pun) with what the kiddos are going through--because even they though don't so much anymore post self-incriminatory photos, they still bare their souls in prose. And, with the day-to-day and hour-by-hour updates some of them employ, and my own inability as of yet to modify what-all comes into my "news" (really--"friends' hour-by-hour drama") feed, I'm brought face-to-face with the heartbreak that some are going through for the first time.

And autumn is a tough time for them, for that: leaving home, moving away from 2 or 3 generations of relations, fear or anticipation of the unknown, frustration with the contraints of parents or dread of anonymity, and--particularly--romantic relationships ending. It's goddamned difficult to maintain a relationship at long distance. And that's if you have been through a separation before, or an adult breakup, or, hell, the deep losses that many people only encounter for the first time right around college. There's an awful lot of "we're soul mates forever" relationships that don't survive the looming departure, or return, to college, and the concomitant expanded, or shifted, horizons every fall.

And, goddammit, with this damned FB "news" feed, I see it all go down.

I'm already too parental to students--have to watch out for the boundaries--so I'm not going to respond with all the hour-by-hour "Wall"-based consolations and cheerleading they rightfully get from their friends. But, at this autumnal time, when the leaves are already falling even if the temperature hasn't (the trees know the turning season, even if we don't), I'm aware of their heartbreak.

Hence to the following. What I would wish for these young women, most of them artists of one ilk or another, is that they find ways to make art out of their heartbreak. Because that's what art does: it takes the hard realization of the inevitability of suffering--of loss, pain, horror, or even just the deep, deep reality that we are all going to die--and out of it, through the application of effort, time, and courage--it creates beauty. That's what Art is: creating beauty, out of pain, through effort.

Sort of like childbirth.

I met Beth Patterson in '98, at the very first Zoukfest in Weston MO: a curly-haired Boadicea with a bouzouki, a self-described "riot-grrlll" accompanist, a great singer and writer, and an absolute powerhouse stage presence. She was like Pete Townsend with a bouzouki, or, as an anonymous admirer said, like Donal Lunny with better boobs. One of my favorite memories of that first ZF is of playing some waltz on the oud from the outdoor stage, while out in the audience Beth pulled up some lucky middle-aged bouzouki guy to dance

For all the brave, beautiful, skillful, loving, heart-broken women I have known, without whom homo "sapiens" long ago would have disappeared in a welter of anger, aggression, and stupid fucking mindless violence, I give you Beth Patterson. As Dick Gaughan would have it, "strong women rule us all."

Now playing: Beth Patterson - Steer By The Stars (Beth Patterson)
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Dharmonia said...

Beautiful post!