Friday, October 24, 2014

covert and sudden laughter

One piece of advice I received during this past summer, (among the many, many pieces of advice given. Advice is the primary gift given to a recent college graduate.) was given to me by a friend who said: girl. all you need to rock the Big City is a good bag. A big, structured bag.
Bag as in purse, of course.
So I did.
I went into mission-mode, and found the exactly right bag. I dragged my mother through shop after shop, and rejected one bag after another:
too small
too big
too baggy
too tall
too square
too light
(how fast would a beautiful cream-colored bag get smudged with dirt as it's brushing against NYC subway walls? 
Way too fast.)
too much.
too bland.

Finally, I found it. I found the right bag.
This may sound silly and inane, shallow and trite to put so much effort into finding a thing. But I don't really like things until they become old things (the Bible I got for my confirmation was probably valued less than the volume of Lord of the Rings on the shelf, but now, with its highlighter marks, underlinings, and pencil annotations, with the love letters and notes and poems stuck in the pages, with the worn cover and faded gilded pages has become something more precious than the gold etching that has been worn and sweated off the cover). So, I look for new things that will stand the test of time to one day become well-loved old things. And when you find things like that you just know it: you know it in your heart. (It's like falling in love with someone. Except it lasts longer.) 
And when I saw this caramel-coffee bag, sitting on the shelf, with sleek synthetic material just dying to be mistaken for leather, I just knew in my heart that this was The Bag that would see me through the big, bad city.
I found it. This was it. I came. I saw. And I bought.
And let me tell you why this bag is something worth blogging about:
It has structure. That is the secret of this handbag: it has more structure than the Eiffel Tower.
This is a great thing: I stuff it full of tupperware for lunch and books to read, and letters to respond to, and all of the things I think I'll need or get done over the course of the day, and still the bag never looks overstuffed or lumpy or out of shape. It is perpetually slender, delicate, and sleek.
Structure. That's the key.
Because of its strong structure, I can forge my way through rush hour on the subway with relative ease: one slight rotation on my part, and the bag, its edges stiff, it's corners sharp and square, it's faux-leather taught and pristine, swings through the crowd, mowing them down like a field of ripe wheat.
This is an unexpected benefit of this bag, but it's definitely a new metric by which I will measure the desirability of handbags from now on.

On the surface, my friend's advice may seem trite, simple, not really the most important concern among the many concerns that moving from the happy bubble of my college campus to a chaotic new city.
I have slowly learned, very slowly, since self-knowledge is so puzzlingly elusive, that I am naturally a very structured person: I love to-do lists, I love rules, I love routine, I love knowing what to expect, experiencing the expected, and then finishing it as expected (and then checking it off my to-do list).
This is surprising to me, because I would have described myself, without a doubt, as free-spirited, serendipitous, and spontaneous. Which, of course, I am.
I am the jumble of joyful nonsense and chaos that's inside my bag: Bath and Body Works lotion, small mountains of bobby pins, snippets of half-finished correspondence and letters to be mailed, a Karl Rahner treatise, my library cards, an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and my handy-dandy-can't-go-anywhere-without-pepper spray and CSC Prayer Book (paranoia and prayer make strange bed fellows).
But I am also the rule of life that allows that joyful jumble to rumble around in the leopard print lining of the faux-leather bag, but to never puncture or tear the fragile structure.
Although it would be nice if our lives were full of heroic moments, or transcendent moments, or a series of dazzlingly artistic and aesthetic moments all the time, if we didn't have any sort of structure to support those moments, then it would all fall apart at the seams.

But soft--an example comes to mind:
 recently, my roommate (in a beautiful foray into unknown territory, exploring for participatura terra) asked me a question about method acting, and what I thought of it.
And, using rusty language that I haven't used in about a year, I described my Philosophy of Acting.
Which is, of course: how nice those moments are when you feel the story. When you feel the character's feelings and think the character's thoughts. When your imagination, digestion, and body's temperature conspire to make let your imagination take over your entire body, and you feel as though you are in the story, living what the character lived through. How very nice those moments are.
But your work is not the work of those moments of deep union with the character--the make-believe person in your head and in the words the playwright put on the page.
Your work is to tell a story.
Not by feeling feelings, or conjuring up colorful moods like a synesthetic playing a piece of Debussy, but with your words, with your body, with your voice, with your words and with what you don't say.
And telling a story is usually filled with feeling, but more importantly it has a structure: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It moves, in logical fashion from point a, and point b, to point c, with of course, much drama and emotion along the way, but without the structure, the lovely emotions and grand expressions have no meaning.

All the things most worth achieving in our lives require a bit of routine in their pursuit.
The loftiest career, the purest form of service, and the most edifying work will include routine, and perhaps, even, a little bit of drudgery.
After all, I'm sure even the Pope has to use Excel sometimes.

We shall not be asked to do more than the Mother of God; we shall not be asked to become extraordinary or set apart or to make a hard and fast rule of life or to compile a manual of mortification or heroic resolutions; we shall not, most of us, even be allowed to do that. 

 What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood--our daily life--our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows--to God. 
To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world--that is what we shall be asked. 
--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

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