You guys know I’ve been writing a new short piece everyday inspired by a word—these words have been taken from this moment we’re in—masks and distance, solitude and patience. I fear today’s word might inspire a rant.
Dan is one of my best friends. He’s an actor and has worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for many years. This year he got cast to play Bottom in Midsummer, a highlight in any actor’s career. They had finished rehearsal and just begun previews when the show closed. What happens to a play that is put on hold? It doesn’t float in the air—for all of its strength, art is fragile. The live arts are particularly fragile, they rely on so many factors coming together to really work.
Reopening makes me think of wounds. A great word, wound. Out of context, you might think it’s wound, like a clock. To be wound tight. Like many of us, tense, waiting for something—for some of us this waiting is laced with dread, we fear the hastiness of our government, our fellow citizens—many of whom think that what we’ve been doing for the past eight weeks—staying in, keeping our distance--has been some kind of foolish exercise.
The answer for them is reopening. I find this hasty.
We’ve been making a solution together, those of us who’ve been staying in, collaborating. And making things takes time—like with ceramics, the moment to reopen the oven must be right or the thing will collapse or shatter. Drastic changes in temperature can be fatal.
This morning I thought, really today’s word should be fear. But this is the problem—many people aren’t afraid, they’re only impatient for things to get back to normal.
Normal is a mirage.
Everything is singular—we might say, oh, it was just a normal day but really? Something unique happened, even if you didn’t notice it. Normal is about perspective, I guess.
When I was in art class, 8th grade, our teacher taught us how to do forced perspective. Pick a point on the paper where the line would begin, then pick a point off the paper where the line would end. We used rulers to draw the lines ending at the vanishing point. My drawing was a street in an old western town with a row of old style wooden storefronts on either side—a saloon, a blacksmith, a barber. The buildings at the front were bigger than the buildings beyond them and the last buildings in the row were small little triangles, the vastness of the American west stretched out beyond leading to low hills in the distance.
This is the America that haunts us—the frontier. Our notions of freedom and rights, our love of outlaws, our desire to be seen as rebels. “You’re not taking me alive, sheriff!”
Originally the word for today was going to be STUPIDITY, because it seems to be everywhere—remember the commercials for Palmolive dishwashing detergent? A woman in need of the manicure would rush in to see Madge, the manicurist, sitting there with a big green bottle of Palmolive on her small table. “Ooh, look at those hands,” Madge would say, putting the woman’s hands into a small bowl of sudsy water, “It’s all the dishwashing.” The woman said. Madge: “Try Palmolive.” “Palmolive?” “You’re soaking in it.” “Dishwashing liquid?” The woman would recoil, horrified, and begin to pull her hand out of the bowl but, oh no, Madge would grab it and force it back down. “It’s mild, it softens hands while you do the dishes.”
I’m like that woman realizing there’s stupid people everywhere. “Stupidity?” I cry out, and try to pull myself out of the murky water of our current situation but, no, not so fast, “Stupidity? You’re soaking in it.”
I used to have this friend who said about people he had a hard time with, “That person reveals my lack of humanity to me.” I guess that’s what this moment is doing for me.
A virus that has killed more American people than the Vietnam War is rolling across the land, creating hot spots in Nebraska and South Dakota, Kentucky and Florida. But those who’ve died from this plague have received much less honor than those who believe it’s all a hoax. A moment of silence for those who’ve died.
I have a theory, one of the reasons so many parts of the country are resisting the reality of this virus is because it really took off in New York, home to Jews and homos and artists and liberals and people of color and immigrants--folks who are somehow not considered American. Others. We don’t want to see your kind on the sidewalks of our nice old western town. Get on outta here, ya hear?
Here’s what all of this has reopened for me—my feelings of unsafety, that being an American makes me vulnerable. I’m a vessel made of clay in an oven that at any moment might be flung open by someone who has no understanding of what it takes to make a bowl or a vase.
Maybe today’s word should have been rage but I fear bringing out my anger, probably because I fear it. It’s like a wound I don’t want to reopen. Yes, it’s natural to want to protect our wounds, but wounds need air to heal. And cleaning.
I don’t know, maybe the word of the day should have been: resistance or unwilling or closing. I have loved this closing. It’s been like a long, beautiful Sunday that I don’t want to end. Or maybe the word should have been complicated, because I know reopening isn’t simple; but neither am I. Nor is my desire to stay in. It’s as complicated as everything I do and feel. It’s mine.