I am not sure why the drive to San Francisco Airport was relatively effortless. Perhaps that journey was dwarfed by the longer and more epic voyage toward a mortgage. The latter has involved good chunks of a lifetime, the nature of the expedition so vast that en route one settles on continents, puts down roots, raises a family or two…before being roused to return to the docks and embark on the journey’s next phase. The mortgage industry, by the way, is run by manic-depressive binge drinkers, who in one phase of the waveform are issuing loans to anyone sober enough to sign their name…and then, having helped tank the world economy, are only lending funds to those of wealth and probity. In an effort to appear among the latter, I had spent the morning of departure culling information from the most obscure sources. In the end, by the way, I fully expect to be turned down. Never mind, for there we were, Jane and I hurtling north…in order that Southwest Airlines might fling us south.
And after much practice and preparatory anxiety, there I was, rolling up a small platform, in a performance space at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. The latter is a splendid room, by the way. And the way things are in this our very dispersed culture…for some reason Arizona’s liberal enclave is home to one of the most popular literary series…this evening’s show featuring me, and other writers from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix. It’s a warm and receptive house. People are there to hear live readings and primed for enjoyment. If one is going to do this sort of thing, there are probably few better opportunities.
Thing is, I am not exactly used to this. From the stage, the audience feels like something blank and amorphous. Responses are not what one expects…the intended jokes often getting no laughs, mild observations inspiring shrieks…the general qualities of stillness or restiveness apparent, but little else. People enjoyed the show. I don’t doubt it. Did I? Oh, yes, but it was also a lot of work. And was this really what I wanted? What came of all this? Why bother to perform rather than produce written words?
Certain aspects of a live dramatic reading like this do stand out. For one thing, there is the possibility of spontaneity. In performance, one can adjust things, responding to the moment. There’s something pleasing in this. Also, I enjoyed being part of a bigger effort. We felt like a team, the five writers and one musician who performed that evening. A welcome change from the writerly solitude, man at desk, eyes on screen.
But the real point…was to find the point. What is one trying to do? What path leads to the finest work? And what is the finest work? What is the work period? Having had some success, obstacles stripped away…I could see that the work is to get to the truth…or to what feels the truest…and here I stumble over “true.” The better word is probably “essential.” What gets to the heart of the matter.
And these days, perhaps any days, what’s very close to the heart has to do with decline and death. So there is a progression of thoughts. What matters…and what has been failing and how? I imagine myself falling off a diving board. I don’t say diving off a diving board, because it’s been a long time since I did any of that. But in my disabled career, didn’t I at least jump into a pool? I remember doing this, or I think I do. Falling into water somehow illuminates my changed body. Today, I would hit the water…and possibly sink. Having lost what? I would describe it as flexibility. Stamina. Some essential resources have waned. Isn’t this to be expected at age 68? Apparently. And how many trips like this one to Phoenix can I make? Should I make? What is worth the energy?
There was a pool at our Phoenix hotel. Noting the benefits of buoyancy on a disabled body, there would have been much to be said for getting in the water. But the sheer energy involved…in particular, the temperature shock…all this seemed too taxing. Partly the body’s response, in my case a tensing of the limbs…and partly fear of all this.
Which is the one indisputable benefit of my performance experience in Arizona. Nothing bad can come of facing fear. Problem is, the latter comes and goes. It came back at San Francisco, pulling out of the airport parking structure. A flurry of anxieties. First, will the automatic system really work, the transponder in my van paying the parking bill? That behind me, there was the issue of foot pain and controlling the car. Night, all darkness and headlights, not to mention brake lights. I slowed with plenty of warning every time. Still, the fear was back. The black night came rushing at me, Third Street, Ralston Avenue, the exits slipped by, the end nearing. Was my foot really on the brake? The accelerator? So it went down the motorway, all the way to Menlo Park, pulling into my parking space.
Gratitude. Both siblings had come to the reading and fêted me afterward. It was a rare event for the three of us. And Jane had been with me all the way, helping me feel connected, not alone. Perhaps it doesn’t get any better. Perhaps knowing this is all, or most, of what one can hope for.