Saturday, December 19, 2009

I am sitting here in the kitchen of my relatively new apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. As I look out the window, I see snow pouring down with a backdrop of naked tree limbs and the outside wall of another apartment building across the way. But there is plenty of space between me and that building, because I live right next to the tracks of the Franklin Shuttle S train. The wall of the other building is brick, mostly painted over but some bricks can be seen through where the weather has worn the paint. The windows in the building vary in size, and most have little ledges painted in a lovely shade of blue-green. Down below are the tracks, surrounded by dried leaves long since fallen from the trees, since it is now December. Snow is starting to accumulate on the street to my left. And I am cooking oatmeal.

This is very satisfying to me. It is possibly not the cheeriest visual scene one could imagine. But it is timeless. And I am noticing lately that that really turns me on - timelessness. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say what turns me on is when something looks or feels or sounds like it could be happening in a previous era just as well as it could be happening now. Actually perhaps timeless is the accurate term, because it's likely that for decades to come, perhaps even centuries, some of these scenes will repeat. I'm not sure. I don't pretend to predict the future. What I do know is that looking at this scene strikes a chord in me. It makes me feel somehow more content, more in my rightful place, the same way that walking down the streets of London makes me feel - the streets where the buildings are old, that is. I particularly adore the little signs on many of the buildings there, which tell you what historical figure lived in that house, and for how long.

Soon after I began college at Yale, I walked through the University Theater, which houses the undergraduate dramatic society as well as a number of activities of the Drama School, including many of their productions. I was aware that Meryl Streep, among other notable artists of theater and film, had spent many hours in that building, and I breathed that in as I walked, feeling the significance of standing in the same places she had stood when she was only a few years older than I was at the time.

I love how Tom Stoppard paints the nature of time in Arcadia, with action occurring simultaneously in two different eras. Sometimes I really think that's true. Things will just hit me in a way that doesn't really make logical sense if I have only lived this one life and am only living this one moment at this one time. Maybe it's a past life thing. I don't know. Speaking of Stoppard again, the first play I ever saw in London was his Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre, and when my sister and I walked into the house, I nearly burst into tears. There was something about the energy in that theater, and the aesthetics of it . . . I don't know what it was, truly. But it hit me to the core.

I wasn't a great history student in school. I found it really hard to keep track of the dates and things, and to this day I confess there are times when people mention historical events that I know I should understand very well and I don't because I crammed the information into my head in a rote way in order to pass the tests, and then it exited my brain fairly promptly. Because it didn't really feel relevant to me or my life. What stuck with me more firmly were things like the events in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or Number the Stars. In books like these, I was experiencing stories -- stories of girls like myself. Whereas the story I was expected to swallow hook, line, and sinker in my history class really felt like the story of men and power - white men and power. Which is important but leaves a lot of blank spots, if you ask me. I can even remember a tightness in my chest when studying this stuff. At the time I was very studious and not particularly tuned into my body so I just pushed through. But looking back, I can see what that was.

So my identification or resonance with that which is historical is more visceral than factual - it just feels historical. I feel infinitely more at ease in a setting that feels connected to history in some way than in an ultra-modern one. And I have friends who feel the opposite. And I'm aware that something ultra-modern is connected to history in its very departure from it. I get that, on an analytical level, and I get the value of it in the progression of architectural design or whatever medium you're operating in. That doesn't mean I want to live in it. I wonder what makes us have these preferences. In any case, I'm glad to know it, because it helps me put myself in situations and settings that work for me, and in my artistic work it's useful to know what strikes chords and what doesn't. I'm also grateful that my connection with history is more visceral than anything else, because that is also helpful for my art. That being said, I'd like to have a better handle on some of the basics of our historical timeline. And maybe I'll design a way for myself to ingest that information so it sticks. I have some ideas on that.

For now I really appreciate looking out the window at that scene, or washing my face in the morning with cold water and feeling momentarily transported to another time, as if I'm living in Little House on the Prairie. I guess it somehow makes me feel more firmly rooted here as a human being in some way. Which, as you'll know if you've read previous posts here, is important for me. I welcome your responses about this. Do you feel more instinctively at home in certain types of settings? Do you feel a sense of multiple times happening at once? Why do you think that is?

On another note, you have GOT to read White Hot Truth's best list ever post. #38 brought tears to my eyes.

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