Monday, February 4, 2013

Breaking Out of Expectations

Photo Courtesy NY Daily News
When I write in my posts to you about rebuilding our lives after a loss, I don't mean to make it sound as though I suddenly woke up one morning and decided "today is the day I'm going to try to put together a new life."
Instead, what I really mean to say is that the step-by-step process of figuring out what to do after your loved one has died is a much more subtle process that usually happens slowly, almost as though you were putting your toes into a cold ocean and getting used to the temperature.
There is a lot of trial and error and I still find it to be scary.  Yet, when I try something I have never tried before and it turns out to be a good experience, it is definitely a confidence booster.  There have been times when some financial decisions I made by myself were not exactly the right ones, but then there were other good and solid decisions which lead to funny experiences, such as giving a party by myself and driving from Washington, DC to Connecticut with my son for the first time.  I learned a lot about myself and my comfort levels.
It's a weird time because the person who you used to talk to about plans, ideas and dreams is no longer there and you are flying solo.  Out there pretty much all by your lonesome.  So yes, you can basically do whatever you want to do, but do you really know what you want to do?  Not really.
Do I want to stay in the house we shared?  Do I want to stay in this city?  Do I want to keep the person's belongings?  How do I want to spend my free time?  What do I want to do next?  These and thousands of other questions are spinning around in your brain which just feels like Jell-O.
Nine years later, it still is scary but not as much as it used to be.  It took a long time for me to land in this place but I think I have finally given myself permission to live my life; to try things that are new and to not feel guilty about enjoying good times.  The sad and bittersweet times still visit me but not as often as they did in the beginning of my grief journey.
Today I think I can truthfully say I'm daring me to be more of myself, whatever that may be.
And that's a good kind of scary.
As Joan Juliet Buck writes in the following essay that was published in the October 2012 issue of Harper's Bazaar magazine: be bold in your life choices because true audacity can never be overlooked.  (For background purposes, you should know Ms. Buck's father was the American film producer Jules Buck).
Marilyn Monroe
By Joan Juliet Buck
Harper's Bazaar Magazine
I was with my parents at Idlewild Airport when Marilyn Monroe came toward us, escorts on each side, a big coat over her arm.  She'd been in one of my father's movies, so she stopped to hug him and shake my mother's hand, and continued along her way.  As he watched her wriggle down the corridor, my father shook his head and said, "Christ, still no girdle."  The retreating bottom looked soft, uncontrolled, and very present, as if a cat was lolling inside the tight skirt of her dress.  In those days, women's lower torsos were carefully caged up in rubber mesh.  I was five, and I was shocked.
Daring is about shocking children while you set free something that was seriously caged up.  It's about breaking rules.  The first rule that everyone breaks -- in art, fashion and conversation -- is modesty.  (You don't believe that about conversation?  Try going without "I" for two hours.)  Marilyn Monroe could challenge the zeitgeist and perturb the composure of men by forgetting her underwear.  My generation challenged the zeitgeist in the name of freedom, but it was really to perturb men: political and social acts were secondary to our true work of raising our hemlines, ditching our bras, unbuttoning our blouses, neglecting to shave our armpits, and consistently failing to grasp what the word sheer truly meant.
It's harder to shock today, when the actual part of a body that a garment might hide is often a random choice, and the Brazilian wax had to invented to disguise any evidence of the bull's-eye.  In the past few years, shoes had to carry most of the burden of shocking, but by now the sight of young women six and a half feet tall holding on to walls and doorways so as not to fall off the Trump City edifices on their feet are no longer remarkable.  No herd animal is ever daring. 
Acts of daring are always committed alone; even if they lead you to another person.  Once I kissed a man who was just a friend.  The only reason was that I couldn't understand why he had not yet tried to kiss me.  It set off something that lasted for decades.  I haven't tried that again with other men friends; truly  daring acts only happen once.
The daring are angels and geniuses and demons and divas and clowns, and sometimes also patsies, stooges, and fools.  Daring is not safe.  The impresario Serge Diaghilev said to the poet and painter Jean Cocteau, "Amaze me."  He did not say, "Reassure me," "Tell me I'm right," "Admire me," or "Stay in line and you'll get a nice pension."  Diaghilev could have been speaking for every good agent, every real gallery owner, every disconcerting collector, every casting director, even, I hate to say this but we have evidence, every TV judge.
Art demands daring.  It demands the new, the untested, the unproven.  And if you try, you will at some point fall on your face, just like the first wearers of impossible shoes.  My fashion life was born from little moments of daring; asking a new acquaintance called Karl Lagerfeld, "What are those brooches on your lapel?"  Pretending I could speak Italian so John Fairchild would send me to Rome for Women's Wear Daily.  Saying, "Why not?" when I was offered French Vogue.  It was daring, also, to let go when I realized how little the job suited my character.  I had no idea that would leadd to performing in black-box basement theaters and telling stories on the road, though I could have guessed; I love the unknown and am not afraid of ridicule.
The moment of greatest fear comes just before going onstage, because an audience is out there, and shared time is real time, no rewinds or rewrites.  The tension between wanting to flee and needing to stay and pierce through the fear is one of the most uncomfortable and delicious moments I know.  There are pills against stage fright; I would like a pill to get stage fright more often.
I believe, like the Surrealists, that everything creative arrives without calculation, but you must be prepared.  You need the skills to transmit unconscious impulses, but you also have to be humble.  The moment I think what an ace I am, I'm lost.  This is not an advantage in New York; where modesty is not welcome.  Performing has taught me that the second time I do something the same way, I'm developing a routine, and a routine is just shtick, the performing equivalent of a pink-slime hot dog.
You cannot standardize the moment when you break out of expectation and biography into something real.  You have to be uncontrolled and very present.  That's what I learned from watching Marilyn Monroe walk away when I was five.
Marilyn Monroe

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