Monday, December 20, 2010

Suburbs of Our Discontent

"My father named me Autolycus; who
being, as I am, littered under Mercury,
was likewise a snapper up of unconsidered trifles."

(Winter's Tale 4.3. 25-27)

My sister called me today from L.A. to report that Mercury is in retrograde. (For those of you who mock all things alternative, this is when Mercury appears to be going backward and, since Mercury rules communication, everything starts going haywire.)

My sister reports this to me a few times each year, and always accompanies it with what she considers to be compelling evidence. Like today her garage door closed on its own and now won't open, and she can't get to her exercise class. (As my house, car, and body get older, this kind of "evidence" doesn't carry a whole lot of weight with me, but I can see how, for someone in L.A., this qualifies as a minor tragedy.)

I'm feeling reflective today about these things since tomorrow I turn a year older. And I'm thinking a lot about how much we can control things, and how much is in the hands of Mercury, chance, or that blond Mommy in the SUV texting as she drives.

I know I can't do anything about the fact that I have bed lines on my face a good three hours after I wake up, and that my 9:00am students probably think I just roll out of bed to teach them. And maybe Mercury is to blame for my furnace breaking and my son's betta fish freezing to death.

But I'd like to think that I can control most of the important stuff, like going after my dreams, and teaching my kids to be decent people, and doing my pelvic floor exercises so I can sneeze without fear. For me, a past lover of psychics, this represents a major paradigm shift.

My favorite two heroines in Shakespeare are Hermione from The Winter's Tale and Helena from All's Well That Ends Well. Hermione didn't take crap from anyone, and hid out for 16 years pretending to be dead to make her a-hole husband suffer, and to wait for her daughter's return. Now if that isn't about will power, I don't know what is. And Helena didn't rely on Fate to get her man, she used her smarts (granted, he was an a-hole too, but she did get him in the end.)

So, Mercury, do your damnedest. This year, I'm taking a cue from Will's willful ladies.

1 comment:

  1. I’ve been going through a reflective period myself this last week or so. It’s hard not to in these final wintry days of the calendar year, the rain pouring down over a lonely L.A. What were the highpoints of 2010? What were the low ones? Did I accomplish what I intended twelve months ago? To what extent? Was any of it creatively fulfilling? Emotionally rewarding? Spiritually enhancing? Did I get paid for it? Where did the time go? What did these last twelve months add up to? They’re questions that, if you’re at all human and not constantly high, set you up for some less than shiny answers. I knew what I was getting into, but still, like picking a crusty scab, I had to ask.

    2010 was more challenging for me than any year I can remember. “Challenging” is a kind way of saying it was shitty. Work was mostly great. Health was fine. The house got painted. The dog only needed minor veterinary repair. But my wife, who is 5 months pregnant, has been suffering from a toxic reaction to a fertility drug for 14 months now. I won’t publicize the awful details, but it’s been awful. And that fact alone has colored everything else, and makes for some less than shiny answers to my reflective questions.

    So that’s why, several days ago, I felt like I needed to read something profoundly bleak. Something really heavy and full of pain and beautifully crafted. This is what I found, from Macbeth:

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    I read it aloud, over and over. I even acted it out, using skills I haven’t visited since BEYOND THERAPY in my college dining hall. I kept reading it, and acting it. And after a few days, I was thrilled to discover that I had memorized it! I did it for my wife, who smiled and chalked it up to yet another quote that I had committed to memory. “Yeah, that’s super famous” was her response, as she turned back to her ipad game of Chicktionary.

    But something changed for me. It was as though this quote, this bleak observation Macbeth noted of an actor waiting to act (right?), set a back-fire against my melancholy. And without any heavy lifting on my part – I was feeling pretty good again. I felt inspired and dramatic, which is helpful since I’m a writer with a deadline.

    So I guess, like Hermione and Helena helped you, that bummer of a guy from Scotland has helped me, albeit sideways. Yay Shakespeare.

    And happy birthday!