Tuesday, November 20, 2012

371) a disciplined kiss

Poetry & Food 11/19/12

Sometimes I'm not sure what to read.  I pick up a novel, get through fifty pages, then suddenly decide I don't want to finish it.  This happened to me the other day with Andre Dubus' House of Sand and Fog.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to linger much longer in the book's bleak atmosphere, and my attention began to wane.  The funny thing is, I've read the book before, but this time around the characters felt so real, so troubled, so downtrodden by themselves and the world at large, even their moments of hope seemed gray.  I felt like I should've been holding an umbrella as I turned pages, so I put the book aside irritably and switched on a chick-flick instead.  This helped, but then I felt the urge for something different:  I wanted to go to the ballet.

I think of the ballet as something that might soothe.  When my thoughts grow soft, I feel tenderness.  And tenderness helps me connect with the beauty of being.  I've only seen a ballet once, back in college, and I don't remember it well.  I'm not even sure if I enjoyed it.  Still I'm drawn to its calm intensity.  It feels good to acknowledge people who have spent years perfecting a skill----which is why I feel guilty about not finishing Dubus' book!  I mean, there was some impulse inside that made me pick it up.  Yet a part of me craves literature that is more spirited.  This is what inspired me to begin writing in the seventh grade.  My English teacher, Ms. Kronstadt, required us to keep a year long journal, and I started writing poems.  And my very first poem ever was titled, "Ballerina Girl."  I still remember it now.  It went like this:

So gracefully she turns,
so gracefully she dances.
She's a natural
with her bewitching prances.
Her pink tights
and matching top.
The array of ruffles
that never stop.
She points her toes
and performs her shows.
With lovely steps
she comes and goes.

A poem on an elegant subject coming from the likes of me didn't make sense.  I was the immigrant middle schooler who wore cherry lip gloss and smacked bubble gum while singing along to Gloria Estefan. Kids picked on my semi-fobbish dress sense.  My nails sported chipped red polish, and I watched 21-Jump Street instead of doing homework.  I was already preparing for prom by collecting pictures of bridesmaids-like costumes from magazines, and I wanted Johnny Depp to be my date.   Yet I secretly filled my notebook with poem after poem, reckoning life was something to be ecstatic about.  At the same time, I found myself drawn to dark literature.  That year I read Stephen King's Misery, hooked to the horrors it conjured up.  I'd take deep breaths before I fell asleep at night, afraid I'd find Annie Wilkes hovering over my bed at 3am.  And when I read Carrie, I wondered if prom would end up setting my world on fire.

The point is, I view my seventh grade year as the start of a contradiction, when different tendencies began to emerge from within:  the chipper valley girl; the sensitive poet; and the brooding pessimist.  Even as an adult, I drift between this triad of selves, never sure which one will rear its head more strongly on a given day.  Never sure which one is truly myself.  Reading Dubus, my inner valley girl balked, making me toss the book aside to watch Ms. Congeniality.  Then I thought going to the ballet would placate my inner poet, but my brooding pessimist felt betrayed.  And I feel guilty for betraying.  The universe thrives on paradoxes, and there is something luminous about embracing them.  At times I wonder if I should privilege one self over the other.  But I think accepting contradictions is a form of love.  The goal:  to keep all three presences alive without judgment.

I read a quote recently that quietly provoked:  "Discipline is doing what is right, even when you don't feel like it."  This is something I've struggled to put into practice when I lose sight of the big picture.  I feel tender towards the messiness of the self now.  Contradictions matter.  To understand day, it helps to know its opposite, night.  So though my chipper valley girl might resist, I'm going to give The House of Sand and Fog another go.  Kiss & make up.  Before I get tickets to the ballet, I want to hug the last page of Dubus' book.


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