How different life is now than it was then: yes, still in Newcastle, same job, same apartment, still living alone. But the inner world, and my memories, expectations, hopes, feel so different...
I suppose I feel more... I don't know. More aware of the past, of places, of various people – without being quite so attached to them. Anger and fear at daily trivia fade into mere irritation; I recall and connect differently to the past (55 years! Four continents, working and living on each! A number of cities, a number of homes – the places I loved most I remember; at some point it would be interesting to make a list of every home I've had). And somehow people seem both more transparent and more whole, in a way... obviously a shift in my perception of them.
There is of course the reserved coolness of being on sabbatical: at times a bit like one of those ancient Chinese or Roman exiles, to a country villa – everything is slower and calmer, the cities are far away.
Admittedly there have been points of contact: last week our students performed David Lang's Are You Experienced?, a post-minimalist work for electronic tuba, narrator and ensemble. Our tuba player, the wonderful Alex Dawson, organized the performance at my suggestion (after all, how often do you discover that there is a virtuoso tuba player among your students). His solo, a burst of amplified, melismatic madness, was quite wonderful.
As for me, I did the narration. In rehearsal, I had discovered that, even after spending time on it, the text doesn't come into clear dramatic focus. It's not really a character so much as it is a collection of composed feelings – compare dreams, hallucinations, where identities flash into and out of being.
(I suspect, in fact, that the entire work tends to be composed in terms of moods, of feelings – rather than the closely focused development of a them (Reich), shifting key signatures and harmonies (Adams), or the subtly elided expectations of the best Glass. It would explain the success of Lang's more focused tour de force, Cheating, Lying, Stealing, a remarkably uncomfortable work based on painfully irregular rhythms; when I teach it in class, I talk about some of the disturbing darkness of the late 1980s and 1990s, of a world Adorno would have recognized.)
Which meant I could focus on performing feelings: the visceral, the highly charged, the not entirely conscious. Overlapping scenes and lines and musical moods shift from panic to anger to a creepy sort of reassurance – but the kind of reassurance a serial killer gives his victims. (I didn't say they were nice feelings, mark you.) My miking – excellent tech by our department technician (who incidentally just won a well-deserved University award for being fabulous) – was very responsive to closeness and breath; I realized I could really chew on the mike for the last movement, which becomes slow and dark and dreadful. Most remarkable was the sense of abandon in letting the final growling whispers grind through the speakers. As I told a friend, I was channeling Vince D'Onofrio – a far, far better actor than I'd ever hope to be; but a powerful model of a big, dangerous man with enormous energy and focus, all of it held in reserve.
Quite an experience: and I probably did a better job than I usually do of letting the visceral out – all of this Jungian work has reoriented some of my sense of where parts of myself are living.
This week there was also a memorial puja for Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, the guru who made such a difference in my life when she visited Los Angeles and San Francisco in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She died thirty days before this ceremony, in mid-April of this year; she was the kind of person it is hard to imagine dying – that boundless, generous, almost preterhuman energy. There is an odd resonance with my mother's death last fall, as with my eldest sister's several years ago; I suppose, finishing this at the end of Mother's Day before I post it on the day after, it is indeed true that everyone has several mothers, and several fathers.
Ma had some of the elements of that tradition of 'mad' Buddhist teachers – unlike the usual Hindu or Buddhist or other Eastern religious, who tended to act calm, quiet, reasonable – cool – Ma was one of those who exploded with a chaotic, sensual, often hilarious energy. She tended to toss insight, strength and advice at people so fast and so hard that they would lose their footing almost immediately, and have to listen.
Not polite, not reasonable: but utterly real... hmm, maybe I could learn that from her. Yet again.