Oct 1, 2006

Autumn melancholy


I love the change in seasons. But I grew up in Southern California, where those changes are very subtle. So I am attuned to the imperceptible shifts. My my favorite season is Autumn. Autumn here can mean little beyond the lone maple tree on a street meridian losing its leaves. The subtle change in light as the sun hangs lower light in the sky. The temperature dip. And that splendid melancholy.


I think I know why school the Jewish New year takes place now. Of course in an agrarian society, you just finished the harvest. You are truly reaping what you've sown and having to count it out. Btu even now it's a perfect time to take emotional inventory as well. I heard fasting cleanses are best to do in the fall and spring, right around the equinoxes. So it all works out. Equinox, school starting, Jewish new year.

I've been feeling the urge to take stock and look back. Today the sky was gray most of the day. Larry and I were going to meet with friends and pray, but they're down in Long Beach. They had writing deadlines and so did we. So we sat in our respective homes and wrote.

The autumn melancholy is hitting me. Friday night I wrapped my work on a film Change Your Life. I had had a great time. I really liked the cast, crew and our directors. We had such a great time. And ended, so there was a loss.

Saturday Larry and I worked all day in the garage and we were exhausted. I got into an argument with a friend and was left feeling hurt and angry. Saturday night we watched a documentary called "The Flight From Death" directed by Patrick Shen, who co-directed Change Your Life. It was about how humans' awareness of death affects the way they deal with others. (okay so I was asking msyelf to feel bummed)

I had one of those existential angst moments; What if it really does all end at death? It makes this life ridiculous, and sad. Ridiculous for those in Dafur or Haiti who barely get to live. And for those of us who have it pretty good? Why would we be built with these longings for things beyond survival: for meaning and significance, for love? Why would we love things that are destined to die? Why would we love the weak and vulnerable? Why would we be possessed to help those who are less fortunate? If this is it, then so much of my life is sad. Then this is all I've got with Larry, all I've got with my family and friends. And when it goes it's gone. And that loss is astounding.

I remembered in 2003 my life fell apart. I was so depressed I didn't want to keep living. at least I didn't want to live as if I'd be around in a couple of years. When my mother was selling her house and giving away her nice things, I declined most of it. Why do I want a set of Revere wear pots and pans? I don't want to cook, let alone eat.

But I got a certain kind of freedom out of it. I got free from the things that used to hold me hostage: the tyranny of success, the tyranny of other people's opinions. And with those out of the way, my priorities changed. What really mattered?

When things got better (maybe in part to my changed priorities) I realized I needed to always ask myself that question: If this were the last year of my life, how would I want to spend it? What would I want to accomplish, or just do for the sake of doing? With whom would I want to spend my time?

Not surprisingly, I got a lot more done, because didn't make time for unnecessary things. One of the biggest tyrannies ruling my life had been the tyranny of success. Ironicaly, when I finally gave up at succeeding in that career, I did my best creative work.

My friend Ann Randolph told me that had been her key to creating her best work. "Forget it," she told herself. "I've failed at this career, so I might as well do what I want." As a result she wrote and performed two award-winning solo shows, one which Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft went on to produce.

I'd like to go back to living like that: live like this was your last year on earth. Get free from the tyranny of other people's opinions or expectations. Live life in light of my own death, and an eternity on the other end.

It's Yom Kippur and I have some sins that need atoning for. I have some amends to make: to God, to others and to myself.

I love autumn, I think I also love having a good cry. It also makes room for new things.

In several places Lewis has referred to "melancholy" as Sehnsucht . . . the German word has overtones of nostalgia and longing not to be found in any English word . . . It may appear in different forms (melancholy, wonder, yearning, etc.), but its underlying sense of displacement or alienation from what is desired. (Carnell, 14-15) "Melancholy" was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? . . . Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. … It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and as before, the experience was one of intense desire. … It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, 'in another dimension' . . . [it was] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy . . . anyone who has experienced it will want it again . . . I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955, 16-18)

1 comment:

sparkylulu said...

Awesome post,Susan. If I may, might I address some things, since they have been foremost on my mind lately?
I don't agree that life would be ridiculous or sad if it all ends here and now.
I understand your sentiments regarding Darfur and Haiti, et al, and I am loathe to echo the statement "Things happen for a reason" because it's often misinterpreted. "Things" don't happen for a reason. Things "happen" and we ascribe meaning to that to make sense of our world. But, that aside, it is those things that happen that give others the strength and power to change it. Or those events define a person by how he or she responds to it. Are you inured to it? Does it make you angry? Angry enough to do something? Does it make you feel selfishly happy about your own life? These events help us to define ourselves, because they "happen" and we ascribe meaning to them.
Are we really built for "love"? I mean, I am joyously in love with my wife. I LOVED my daughter. And I will love my new one. But, are we built for it? Didn't that article you sent me talk about what our true responsibilities to our children are? To help them get on with THEIR lives. That's propagation of the species.
While I love Beth and want to be with her forever I also recognize the possibilty of marriage failure. So many people decry that as a failing institution ("back in my day......") well, I submit to you that Back in the Day people were only expected to live to about 47. As they started to live longer, perhaps it was natural for them to move on to another partner. So, do we need "love" or companionship? Friendship? Someone to talk to? Someone to validate ourselves when we have lost faith in our selves or need someone to prop us up? I know, it's cynical, but, it's how I am built. I prefer to de-mythologize and see everything as pragmatically as possible. I understand, too well, how the more dramatic approach to life can spin out of control and destroy the very fabric of lives.
We love things that are destined to die because we all know, in our very dna, that all things die. Even cockroaches eventually die. Life is linear and has an end point. Like a road. Or a story. It isn't death we are really afraid of, it's closure. I think that might be why so many people start projects but don't finish them, or are "afraid of success" as the cliche goes. It isn't success they are afraid of, it's what to do after that scares the shit out of them. Starting over. So many people stay in bad relationships because they just don't a)want to be alone and b) don't want to go look for anyone new. It's a lot of work.
We love the weak and vulnerable......well, I don't particularly care for the weak or vulnerable. I pity them, have empathy for them, but I don't want to take care of them. (And sometimes I really do want to, and that change of heart is also what makes life grand) Loving the weak and vulnerable sounds great, but doesn't it just empower the people that do it? Doesn't it just make them feel a wee bit superior? Anytime someone says, "there but for the grace of god go I...." there is the stench of superiority that surrounds them. I know that I am guilty of it. And I know that when I say it I am saying, "whew, I am so better off than that wretch and I feel better about myself now. Thank you, homeless person, here's a sandwich. I can afford to buy another one. And, although I know that I am helping you for the time being, I also am feeling pretty darn good about myself now that I am doing it. It's ego.
It's interesting that you refer to the "less fortunate" because when I was in telemarketing we were told not to listen to anyone who said they were "broke". "Broke" could mean $10 to one person and $10,000 to another. In fact, I know that, if I have less than $80,000 in liquid equity I am "broke". And, I have friends who live quite fine with just a couple grand in the bank. It's subjective. Someone who is "less fortunate" may think that you are less fortunate because you are tied to...I dunno, let's be arbitrary and say, the Internet, your apartment, your ideals, whatever. I'm not saying the poor aren't in trouble, but I am saying that, after years of living in the 'hood, some of the disenfranchised really don't think they are and some of the "less fortunate" pity me.
It's subjective.
I understand the "sadness" of "if this is it", but, here: Liz, while she may have believed in Heaven and God and the like, had no real concept of death. She wasn't cognizant enough of death to truly understand and be scared of it. That usually comes with teenage years but she didn't get there. She understood it, but she didn't GET it. And, yet, knowing that her time was limited, she accomplished SO MUCH. Is it a waste that she is gone? I don't think so. Because I have seen the impact she has had on others. I have seen how she has changed lives just by being herself (and she was no saint, she could get quite pissed). But,it's what we do with the time we are here. It's not about altruism for me, maybe it is for you, and that's great. But I love my life and I don't want to be on my deathbed and have any regrets. While I would LOVE it if there was a heaven and I get to go on and on and on, I can't believe it because there is no proof, so I have to live my life for what is here and now and enjoy what I have. Just a simple bike ride to the Rose Garden at Exposition Park for an hour. The memories of my daughter. Performing with my band. Listening to new music. Getting fired up about the political scene. Driving cross country with my wife. Zoe.
Because that's what it's all about. If there is an afterlife, whoopee! And I will happily spend eternity being the recanting valet for everyone who enters. But, until then, wow....what an amazing world we live in and what a great life we have. Just being alive. Perpetuating the species. Giving comfort to those who need it, giving comfort to ourselves. Finding homes for children who don't have any. Life is such a great adventure. When it's over I want to be sure I rode the most exciting roller coaster. What was that in Parenthood? The Ferris Wheel just went round and round....boring. Gimme the Cyclone.

Well, this went on and on......sorry bout dat.

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