The Amy apologist

Last year I was in a production of Little Women, the musical with book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and music by Jason Howland, adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott. Admittedly, Alcott is an author I’ve never read (with Senior year English Lit possibly being an exception – I don’t recall), though her contemporaries and acquaintances I’m quite fond of – Emerson, Thoreau, and Longfellow. In the show I was Professor Bhaer.

There is a scene in the show where, after feeling left out by her sisters, Amy burns a story that Jo has been working on. Most people feel revulsion at the act, and Amy’s excuse that Jo has everything and she has nothing comes across as spoiled and bratty.

From my view, though, Amy is nearly a middle child, and shows very little talent of her own. The youngest (who later dies from illness) is loved by all and a budding pianist. Jo writes, and Meg is a proclaimed beauty. Amy therefor feels out-of-place in her own family and thus acts out. It isn’t right for her to do so, but it can be understood.

So, I was labelled an Amy apologist and have been trying to defend my stance for nearly a year. Then I saw a production of Little Women: The Musical just last month, and I thought Amy was a complete brat.

I wish the real world would just stop bothering me

Getting out into the world is a lot different now then it used to be. I think.

I didn’t really get out into the world much, until I reached adulthood. Sure, my family took me on vacation. I ran screaming from a log cabin (with no bathroom – it was housed in a communal facility down in a common area); went on cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico (and when I was a teenager, drank way too much); saw Niagara Falls (Canada side); and went fishing, clamming and crabbing in Long Island. I did some great family and travel stuff, but it didn’t prepare me for… well, adulthood.

There it is again. Adulting. Something that I think about now, in mid-thirties, much more than I did in my twenties. Life was going along swimmingly, at least until the year I turned 27.

That was the year of two car crashes, one causing anxiety attics that prevented me from driving for a time, and one taking a loved one and leaving me emotionally traumatized for many years. Six months after the second collision, a mysterious illness came on, and over four months I gradually lost mobility at an alarming rate.

January, the following year, it was diagnosed as RA. I drove my ex-girlfriend (very recently broken up) to Boston to live with family, and I returned to be laid off from my job.

I’d call that a low point in my life.

Picking myself up by the bootstraps (or, writing a couple of essays and going heavily into student loan debt), I enrolled in a Master’s program. The Doc put me on all kinds of meds, with some odd side-effects. (Drinking while on the medication resulted in extreme cases of aggression, where I thought it would be good to fight bars full of people. I also had liver enzyme issues, and was often pulled off and placed on new prescriptions.)

I’ve since forgotten what it was to feel in sound body, but at least I’ve not taken medications for over a year and still feel alright enough to move around. I travel now, not just the week-long vacations but month or more-long immersion. I love camping. And that moving around is bringing me to the question of what I should say no to.

Finding this bit of text in Tim Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors led to this post, and I think I’ll be adapting it for my use:

“…the more clear I am about what my goals are, the more easily I can say no. I have a notebook into which I’ve recorded all sorts of goals, both big and small, over the last ten or so years. When I take the time to articulate what it is that I hope to achieve, it’s simple to refer to the list and see whether saying yes to an opportunity will take me toward or away from achieving that goal.”

-Samin Nosrat

Said another way, “Will this get me closer to my mountain?”

Back to nature

When did we develop such hubris as to tame Nature? To say that we knew best for our wild Mother?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the conveniences of modernity. But knowing that all of these are mere constructs of our claim of superiority over Nature, I feel that we are in for a cruel surprise when the forces we think we know show us their full potential.

We humans are still so new. So inexperienced. And yet we walk around so certain of ourselves. With all we know, are we any more fulfilled than the wolf, or the boar, or the elk?

The thing is, it’s not enough to know facts – if for these facts we sacrifice our animalistic aspects. We are smart. We are clever. But we are not the Ultimate Power. If we were, we wouldn’t stay locked inside what we view as a protective place (home, office, car, etc.), ensuring only what we let in could pass the threshold.

No Ultimate Power has ever feared an intruder. Only those with delusions of power. And being delusional is seemingly a very human device. For the wolf knows it is a wolf. The boar, that it is a boar. And the elk, an elk.

To tap into one’s humanity is to release the ego – this inflated sense of self that man has come to identify with. I’ve heard time and again that facing one’s own mortality is what teaches us to be alive. What it means to be.

Until we let down these walls of sense, and reconnect with the wild, natural world, all we can be are pretenders.

At the end of the day

“…you’re another day older.”

I love Les Mis. Have since I first got the symphonic recording back in 2009. Obviously I was late to the party on that particular musical.

But what I’m thinking about is aspirations. At the end of the day, we only have what we want to be tomorrow. Who we want to be. That thing that we’re aspiring to.

Sure, we may replay the day in our head, or the past events that have been nagging us for however long. And trust me when I say this, I am a keen accountant of nagging thoughts. It’s one of the primary reasons I decided to keep a blog in the first place. To muse a bit, as it were.

So as I lay here, at the end of the day, I’m working through the things that I want to see happen. I’m stretching my legs out, because my hips are a little sore from yoga this morning.

At the end of a yoga practice, the practitioner lays in savasana, or corpse pose. Death of the ego. The Buddhists would call this the principle of “no-self,” or the release of attachments. You’re allowing the ego to pass away, letting go, and coming back into the world a new creation.

All this dances through mind as I think, “What will tomorrow bring?”

So ask yourself:

What are your aspirations for the coming day?

Philosophical Art

Been on a brief hiatus, as I reoriented myself in a direction I’m comfortable with. Coming to terms with losing love, the balancing of material and spiritual, energizing my thoughts and, finally, discovering what it means to break life down into manageable segments.  

“It’s not the destination, but the journey.” – Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Years ago I conceived Michael’s Musings to be a political soap box for my thoughts and views on the happenings and going-ons of American politicians. I was, and remain, an ardent Obama supporter, and remain convinced of his merits as president to this day. I’ve been non-vocal on my views following this past election, partly because I’ve been preoccupied with my own crises. Though not a major factor in the lives of most Americans, my dark night has been the Matterhorn looming in the foreground of my consciousness, waiting to claim a life. My life. 
It’s this mountain, this hard time in my life, this period of reshaping, that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech. In it, he implored the graduates of the University of Arts in Philadelphia to find their mountains. Make decisions that put them closer to reaching it. To achieving those goals. 

Thing was, I had long ago lost sight of my mountain. in my proper job, with a desk and office and chair and computer, I put a little sticky note on the monitor. “Will it bring you closer to your mountain?” I wrote on it, using the Japanese character for mountain (山) rather than the word. And every day I would sit there and look at it. I’d wonder whether I was getting closer to it, not even remembering what I had planned for it to be.

Then, after so long spent wondering, the damn mountain came and crashed on top of me. I guess it got tired of waiting for me to figure out that I was supposed to be climbing it. Figuratively, I was crushed. I was now facing decisions that I had no clue how to handle. And only over the past couple of weeks have things began to once again come into focus. The mountain, now looming large in my vision, is calling to me. Beckoning me to come climb it. So I take the first step.

“1837. Oct. 22. “What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.’ – The Journals of Henry David Thoreau.