Monday, November 13, 2017

Meanwhile, during the unraveling...

What did we do? What are we doing? What are we creating?

Because create we must.

Yesterday I saw an intimate version of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" at an invitation-only performance at the Actors Studio in Manhattan. The great Estelle Parsons directed, welcomed us, spoke after and invited her actors' input in a post-performance talk-back. I mean, if you love theater...

I had read the play during a semester course on 19th century Russian literature back in my university days in Boulder CO, but had never seen it performed. I have long been attracted to the darkness and despair in a lot of Russian lit, though I cannot tell you why. I'm neither dark nor despairing. But I think I always picked up something that feels a deeply rooted part of the human angst - the struggle with meaninglessness, the psycho-spiritual version of entropy, the darkness that lies at the heart of Christianity with its body-loathing, belief in the power of some outside Devil always ready to draw us into the filth of the world, judgment and a wrathful God.

And in the vast Russian steppes, the bitter cold of the Urals and Siberia, the tragic history of that part of the world, the Czars, the Russian orthodox leaders in league with the Czars, the anti-Semitism that expressed itself in outbreaks of brutality, forced displacement and exclusion, and a vast diaspora of Jews who fled the pogroms - in all of that is some dark part of us, a darkness that lies deep within the human that we do our best to avoid at all costs, but repressed, not addressed as it needs to be.

Okay, all that. But what really impressed me in seeing the play, and in this particular version of it, was how contemporary it all feels - that malaise of despair, the inter-family betrayals (I mean, talk about dysfunctional nuclear family!), the internal oppression so fierce and painful that it made me want to scream, "for God's sake, break free!!", and Chekhovs remarkably relevant reflections on environmental degradation by way of the character of the doctor.

But also this - how even in the face of the desperate need to break out of these claustrophobic social relations, obligations, and repressive religiosity, the play ends in resignation and despair, in the inability of the characters to break from the repressive dynamics, to make those other choices that would set them free to have the lives they really wanted. And so we go through this whole exercise only to find in the end a resignation to this horrible psycho-spiritual status quo that makes you want to blow your brains out.

And I wanted this play not to feel so relevant to a culture that is stifling itself with the inability to break out of an oppressive economic culture that is killing the human spirit, disempowering us, and creating what some Buddhist writers (like Tara Brach) call "the trance," the trance of a world view that has tricked most of us in one way or another. We are headed toward 3-4C degrees of global warming this century, and the resulting climate disasters which will be at scales we can hardly imagine except in fantasy dystopic movies. We are slaves of the consumer "tools" of this economy, harnessed to ways of life and consumerism that are destroying the very interlocking systems and webs of life that made our evolution possible.

There is a malaise and despair in our times that are having real repercussions for us in terms of our ability to rise to the challenges before us.

I believe the role of the arts is crucial here, because we need to find ways to break through that malaise, to kick the chairs out from under us, to throw some of these screens in the trash - especially the ones we take with us everywhere, play with constantly, stare into mesmerized while all around us our world is actually falling apart.

I don't know if Chekhov had all this in mind, but I think he would be pleased to find this play still so relevant in a time and place and culture so far from his own. And it reminds me why we need theater and stories and poems and songs and essays and film and all the rest as a mission to help us perceive ourselves with some searing truth - searing enough to break the malaise, allow ourselves to be astonished by what we have missed occurring in our world and within us and, for god's sake, after the awakening, to get out into this world and do some serious shaking up, to add our part to crashing the illusions and delusions in which most of this world lives.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Writing in the 'End Times' - a comprehensive mission statement for this writer

No, not those end times, not the biblical apocalypse, not the extinction of humans that so many environmentalists predict is imminent, not the death of the planet (it will live on long after we're gone). No, the end of these times, the end of the US American era, the end of U.S. dominance in the world, the end, more than likely, of our political and governing institutions as we have known them.

Only for most U.S. Americans do we not notice that this is happening, so comfortable are we in perceiving ourselves within a certain way of being that we cannot imagine it could ever end.

But it's ending. As I have written elsewhere and repeatedly, Trumpism is not cause but effect. The collapses underway opened a huge vacuum in the culture into which these people could storm in. The destructive force of this rightist movement, ideologically rigid, uncompromising, and fully bent on destroying government as a service to its people (who merely pay for it after all), has been paving the way for this takeover for a long time. The vacuum was created when the 2-party system ended up fully bought by different factions of global corporate power, when more and more people realized that their lives had become irrelevant to the powers-that-be.

Okay, this is not a political blog. It's a blog about writing and why I write. But why I write, and what I write about, the things that most concern me and make it worth my time to sit with my journal or laptop, has a lot to do with how I perceive the times in which we live.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Losing focus - then trying to get it back

I imagine this is the plague of many a writer whose work addresses the times in which we live. I imagine it is also impact of the rapidity of change in our world right now, the intensity of events, and the intense connectivity and exchange of information with which most of us engage on a daily basis now as we try to understand our human predicament.

I've struggled as a writer this year - not because of who is in the White House (though that adds a measure to it) - but because of how clear it has become that we are facing a mixture of crises that are unfolding rapidly and which we humans do not seem to have the capacity to address, at least not in a way commensurate with the scale of the crises.

I've been working around themes of ecology, spirituality, and culture for some years now. But clearly they are not differentiated "themes" anymore. They are a nexus, a point of connection at which the true nature of the crisis is revealed -

Friday, April 7, 2017

Threshold or Precipice

A bit of a thrill ride, isn't it - the circumstances that lead to that headline?

Because we don't know which one it is. We don't know if we are on the verge of a major breakthrough or a complete collapse. I don't know if we have lived in such an unpredictable time, at least not since World War II.

I feel the uncertainty. Many, many do. Many feel it without knowing what it is they feel, and that, too is scary, makes the times even more unpredictable, because people don't always act rationally when they are both afraid and not clear about what it is they fear exactly. Easy to project onto "the other," then. Easy for the moment to sink into chaos and more violence.

Also to seek simple solutions and a savior, a strongman, to make their world coherent again.

We are sinking into a period of incoherence.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Distraction, suppression, repression - curses of our times

I don't mean that kind where you have a tough time concentrating, lots of little things to do, restlessness, email and social media, oil changes, paying bills, daily life that becomes excuse for avoiding the blank page.

No, this is a deeper plague, a stress on the psyche, near daily trauma. For me, to sit down to write, to look at that page and get set to begin the words - I am almost afraid at times of the volcano of emotion within, of what might pour out - grief, rage, fear, profound disappointment and disillusionment - I fear the truth within me.

Also the danger of penetrating, life-altering insight, the kind that disturbs, that something huge is about to shift. And this is not your own singular volcano. It is bigger than you, a force in the field, something trying to break through. And the fear it could therefore shatter.