Thursday, April 23, 2009

La Notte Scorsa

La Notte Scorsa means "last night." I think it's one of those perfectly lilting Italian phrases, and also, the past few weeks have been burned into my memory as a dense string of "I can barely believe what just happened last night's" recurring in such a way that I got overwhelmed with the idea of writing about it all.

I went to see Leonard Cohen at the Nokia center on Friday, April 10th. I'll count this concert as a watershed, pivotal moment in my life forever, because it was the night that began a new era of embodied living. I didn't even really know what that meant as I watched Leonard's angels (aka The Webb Sisters) whisper visions through shining lips. All I knew was that something was very, very different here. Anth and I finally figured it out, we think: these are people who are absolutely unafraid of their own bodies, unafraid of intimacy, unafraid of looking directly at each other for what most Americans would consider "too long." Too long for what? It turns out that direct eye contact is seductive, and that I have so commodified the gaze I can't even look long at someone, and have them return the look, without thinking they want something from me, or are even in the ACT of taking something. Something I may or may not want to give them--sex, conversation, attention, and so on.

But what Leonard wanted from those he locked eyes with was exactly what he was already getting: the very best and most beautiful expression of abject sincerity every person on stage had to offer. And this is what he inspired in us: a new commitment to speaking abjectly, and to living our art more sensually, more embodied.

What I've discovered, after seeing Leonard take his hat off to his musicians, is that I'm really, really, really fucking proud. I'm like a monster of ego. I'm supremely concerned with how I will be perceived, whether I'll be loved enough, and if I'm good enough for the things I actually want to do with my life. I don't think I would have been ready to do a whole show from my knees like he did, and that means I'm still living in a world where my ego/pride decides a lot of what I do and think.

Gross. I hate it. I felt I'd made a kind of triumphant breakthrough by discovering this issue in a new way, by having a new way to think and speak, and then a week later I saw Leonard Cohen at Coachella. Again I was transfixed by his perfect, Buddhistic awareness of each person, his genteel way of ripping back the layers of social posturing to reveal raw human love and lust and insanity and calm. Again I felt certain that my life was changing, that I was losing a certain performance anxiety and emerging from a chrysalis. But. That night I got stuck--I hated Coachella for its capitalistic bullshit and I hated the drunk Urban Outfitters kids sloshing around the awesome art, and I hated myself for having no really smart or creative thoughts about any of it, and I got nervous about jumping a fence, got conservative with my body and my words. Failure. Trying to speak abjectly about my own failure, to stay honest and quit explaining--I failed that too.

The answer, Len told me, is in the body. The answer to anxiety, the answer to fear, the answer to boredom, the answer to frustration, the answer to anger.

Those close to me have identified a certain face I make when I'm "composed." To most, it probably looks like I'm concentrating. To Anth, Linz, and Louis, it's a signal that I'm struggling to seem alright in a social situation that seems to call for it, when really I could cry or scream. What I'm doing now is not just switching behaviors to crying/screaming INSTEAD of composing. I'm actually eradicating the source of the fear that makes me want to cry and scream. Yeah, that's right--it's possible. And, I don't think I have a right to any of that anxiety anymore--it's not part of my personality or some precious bit of my psychology that informs my writing. In fact, it's the biggest hindrance to my writing, my dance, my being a good person. It's not Mine. It's a virus I picked up along the way that I'm letting people like Leonard Cohen rehabilitate me from. The result is that my face is actually more beautiful, says Linz.

I've had instincts towards this truth, needing to bring the body into my art, for years--why else would I love Susie Bright? Why else would I want to use Cohen's song Anthem as the inspiration for my novel? Why else would I struggle to integrate an intellectual (writing, grad school, teaching) with an embodied (dance, acting) career? But this discovery--that I was not always honest about the petty, stupid, insecure, fearful thoughts, and that this was reflected in my body--is big, big, really big. I had nice posture! But I was holding up shoulders that were wracked with tension through force of will. I'm sure I've seemed very tense in the classroom, even when I was enjoying myself, because of all the unconcsious concern I used to have about how I was being perceived by my students.

I want to find an erudite, organized, creative way to finish this blog, which is original, so that you'll all like me better and send my blog to your friends. I'll turn it over to Len instead.

Leonard says:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in


  1. You have obeyed a very important Cohen command here: "Let me see your beauty broken down / like you would do for one you love."

    Thanks for being everyone's girlfriend!

    I should add: the problem isn't people who want things from you. It's people who don't want IT ALL.

  2. brilliant ending.
    i'll let len comment:

    Give me absolute control
    over every living soul
    And lie beside me, baby,
    that's an order!

  3. What a tragedy that so few members of our generation can have the realizations you do, think the thoughts you do, live their lives as you do.

    Your students, for the record, never thought you were anything but amazingly intelligent, compelling, animated, at peace in your own skin and with your own mind. Even if that was your crafted illusion.

    We waste so much time -- so much time -- wrapped up in our own pride. We ought to swallow our pride before we choke on it, because time on this earth is too precious. Somehow too many of us are too weak. We weren't given the weapons you were -- the ones that allow you to think about the world so critically, to challenge yourself so fundamentally. I envy you, and your ability to live like this.

    Write more.

  4. "Let me see your beauty when the witnesses have gone"
    Outstanding, dearest V.