Easing nighttime insanity.
Easing nighttime insanity.
"Well look who I ran into," crowed Coincidence.
"Please," flirted Fate, "this was meant to be."
I’m reading the great and inimitable Moby-Dick by Herman Melville for the first time.
This American classic never made it onto my Australian childhood literary list, and so now, called and compelled, I find myself diving into a strange and splendid world, the weighty star of which, is not the Leviathan himself, but perhaps the most extraordinary assembly of words I have ever seen.
I submit the delight passage below, a scene from Chapter 34, The Cabin-Table, as evidence of this verbal riot:
"It was a sight to see Queequeg seated over against Tashtego, opposing his filed teeth to the Indian’s: crosswire to them, Daggoo seated on the floor, for a bench would have brought his hearse-plumed head to the low carlines; at every motion of his colossal limbs, making the low cabin framework to shake, as when an African elephant goes passenger in a ship. But for all this, the great negro was wonderfully abstemious, not to say dainty. It seemed hardly possible that by such comparatively small mouthfuls he could keep up the vitality diffused through so broad, baronial, and superb a person. But, doubtless, this noble savage fed strong and drank deep of the abounding element of air; and through his dilated nostrils snuffed in the sublime life of the worlds. Not by beef or by bread, are giants made or nourished. But Queequeg, he had a mortal, barbaric smack of the lip in eating––an ugly sound enough––so much so, that the trembling Dough-Boy almost looked to see whether any marks of teeth lurked in his own lean arms. And when he would hear Tashtego singing out for him to produce himself, that his bones might be picked, the simple-witted steward all but shattered the crockery hanging round him in the pantry, by his sudden fits of the palsy. Nor did the whetstone which the harpooneers carried in their pockets, for their lances and other weapons; and with their knives; that grating sound did not at all tend to tranquilize poor Dough-Boy. How could he forget that in his Island Days, Queequeg, for one, must certainly have been guilty of some murderous, convivial indiscretions. Alas! Dough-Boy! hard fares the white waiter who waits upon cannibals."
Despite the stirring in my heart caused by grand words on a page, I haven’t made it past the second page of Moby-Dick. The same song plays in my ears on repeat, repeat… repeat. Hoping the echoes of a single, soulful tune will haunt me like a friendly ghost of someone we wish was still here.
I’m distracted, a walking, traveling contradiction. What journey is this in the past two weeks, you ask? In the past year?
Well, it’s back to the motherland, if you think it important. Back to the West coast, the Left coast, and maybe, the Best coast. No, it’s not for new love that I return, but for the loss of the old.
My godmother died just over a week ago. In losing her, my mother’s best friend, the feeling should have been immediate: grief.
But what can I say about grief when we make no time to grieve? This is not an ode to time and the scarcity of it, but I can’t help but shake my head. A whole week has passed and we just haven’t had time, or made time, to be yet. We willingly put the myriad of life duties, work, errands, arrangements in front of the time needed to sit still in a quiet, green place and weep.
On the move, I am fast, nimble, numb. Don’t let me be still, for it’ll all become clear, crystal, and I’ll feel the weight of it.
Perhaps it’s that ancient protest in the face of death. The need to keep time with the beat of my own heart, pounding in the deep. Put your head to my chest, hold me tight, please, and you’ll hear it: life, life, life, life.
Of course there is the difficulty of saying of the word itself. Death. Died. She died. I can do it now. But mostly it has been “she passed away”, “she left us”, like she’s just stepped into the next room.
Why are you going back to California?
Because someone died.
Oh. Ugh. Well now this conversation sucks.
And what of the setting of death for the aged in this society of ours? Nursing homes. Hospitals. Assisted living facilities. The nicest surrounds, the friendliest, helpful faces do little to diminish the purview of death. When visiting, there is nowhere to breathe in and prepare; on the way out, there is nowhere to cry but on quiet, leafy streets, nothing to do but shoulder your bag and find the nearest Starbucks and wait, for coffee, then wine, to do its thing.
We’ll all go through and leave this life of ours. Change, the only constant. Death, the only certainty. It was cancer. Breast cancer that she fought, defeated for a time, ‘til it came back, spread to her spine. For so long breast cancer was all air-brushed supermodels and pink waterbottle caps, and now it’s emaciated, painful, undignified, personal.
Her role as ‘the best friend’ and ‘sister’ to my mother, makes this death, for me, less about raw sadness and more about my own gripping, worst fear: losing a dear girlfriend before we’ve had time to realize the rest of our full, fabulous lives together. But above all, it’s pain for my mother who is living that loss right now.
Dinah, my ‘fairy’ godmother, was magic. She was precise, thoughtful, considerate, and punctual. She loved words and flowers, notably Tolkien and ducks. She had a gift for gifts, and my birthdays and Christmases were marked unfailingly with her hand-written notes and gorgeously wrapped, carefully selected treasures.
And now, I don’t mean to eulogize. It’s just that the sun broke a cold, grey, rainy Friday, and in the midst of a sun-shower at a service held underneath a heart piercing rainbow, we heard that how to remember and honor a life, is to live by their example.
As November slipped by, I grieved a little for my life in advertising as the sense of finality crept up beside me.
A couple weeks ago my new wool coat wrapped up the suit I bought years ago: basic, crisp, black: an emblem for everything I had once aspired to. I watched myself on one of the last big days—presentation day—motoring around our spiffed up, open-plan office, thinking audibly, “this is the last time I’ll ever join this huddle”, as we crowded around our creative director’s computer, swapping suggestions and jokes. For just a moment my comments were useful and I was a part of the team. I helped shape the united front we presented to the world.
And as we poured out of a cab onto the crush of Madison Avenue, no metaphor, Madison-fucking-Avenue, my ego kept pace with my jaunty stride, being all like girl please, you worked for this.
Sigh. You can have anything, but you can’t have everything all at once.
There are still a few more days to go. Knowing you’ll be replaced, knowing that you have to sit down and pen a letter of resignation, all of us reluctant to see the truth on letterhead, you’d have to be made of stone for that not to move you.
Luckily, it’s going very well and the parting is peaceful, understanding.
This ending is weak (the post, not my life or the world, mind you). And that’s because before I trumpet in a new day, I wanted to distinguish that the ending of one thing and the seeking and beginning of another are actually entirely different things—although of course like in any good break up, it all feels inseparable.
"…something told me to run, and honey you know me, it’s all or none."
As I write this, typing and deleting in rapid succession, I’m fighting my way past a tangled garden of bright, poisonous distractions, past the lure of a lazy day in the shade, ignoring too the rows of well-kept plots whose fruits are ready for harvest again and again.
As always when I write, I’m hopeful that a little light will be shed, for you and me. Maybe de-tangling this knot of thoughts and laying it all out in orderly sentences for you might help me make sense of what only the heart truly knows. If we’re lucky, we’ll all get a stiff shot of inspiration, too.
In plain English, I’ve given word that I’m quitting my job, and by way of explanation, stated that while there are (always) many factors involved, I’m ultimately weary of the advertising “account manager” role. As someone who has facilitated projects and other people for the better part of the last five years, I’m very ready for my own work to be the bulk of my day. Most of all, I want to be a bigger contribution… directly making a difference to anyone that needs it. It’s time to discover and test what strengths and skills I really have.
This might come as a surprise to those who know that for a long time I loved my job and indeed ran down this career path with puffed-up pride after graduating from my Bachelor of Business: Marketing and Advertising degree. I fell in love with the like-minded camaraderie of the agency world in Australia, and the glimmer of the advertising industry was an undeniable draw-card of my coming to New York, long before Mad Men was a thing.
The tangled uncertainty lies not in making the decision, but in the inevitable “so what next?”, “what do you want to do instead?” My lack of specificity here is proving problematic - no one likes vagueness and it’s obviously difficult for others to help find if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
I became somewhat withdrawn in my introspection, frozen in the headlights, looking for ways to boil down the excess and find the essence of who I want to be professionally. An objective, a tag line, an elevator pitch! WHO AM I?!
Here we have a little seedling of an idea, so tremulous in its growth, so susceptible to the rains and beating sun, so easily mistaken for an unwanted weed, that I beg you to stay with me:
Of course you’re going to go off and “be a photographer” if you only have a year of good health left to live. Or if you’re one of the lucky ones whose talents and passions are aligned and evident from an early age, you know just what to pursue. Or perhaps you are suddenly called to your life’s work.
But for those of us for whom the ‘what else’ is less obvious, there seems to be little incentive and an awful lot of risk in pursuing the unknown. When you consider doing ‘something that matters’ or ‘something you love’ it’s very easy to get bogged down in the cliche, and in the very daunting, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and in the deeply entrenched, highly flawed systems that we’re seemingly enslaved to. And the fear of bills and personal responsibilities is no laughing matter. As we experienced in Hurricane Sandy, keeping the lights on often feels like priority number one.
What I want to suggest is that “purpose” and our life’s work is not about pursuing one specific thing. It’s the general sense of going and doing something else that matters to you.
It’s about trying and changing, shifting and growing, giving and contributing, failing and learning until you are not just withstanding the currents, but that you too are a force to be reckoned with!
It’s a little terrifying being this upfront: deliberately making the rationale for my professional choices, made not out of sheer necessity but by my own free will, in the cold light of day, available for scrutiny. My professional sensibilities are prickling at being overridden by heart and emotion. The account manager (and the woman) in me wants to take on every last project, even though my plate is already over full.
And yet being honest hasn’t let me down before. I opened up on my journey about moving from Australia to New York, about not accepting an awful sales job in the city just because of the expectation that you should take what you can get and quit later, about being relentless in making a life here and never giving up, even when unexpected hurdles reared their heads and others might have turned around and gone home.
I know the reward of being candid and following your heart, and I’m betting on that again. Full self-expression is tough, but I think deliberate self-censorship is tougher.
I’m sad about leaving advertising (for now) because, as a thing it’s one of the most potent, influential vehicles we have for mass communication, information and persuasion, and as an industry, its people are some of the most relentless, dedicated, insightful, passionate and ridiculously hard-working people around.
At present, we find ourselves frequently creating false wants and needs (to feed a culture of greed and insatiable consumption) when so many true needs already exist. There are literally millions of hungry mouths to feed - and this is not just the ‘starving children in Africa’ hyperbole, it’s our fellow Americans and Australians too.
But I digress.
It’s time to join my generation, to start channeling the entrepreneurial spirit, to embrace the digital age like never before, to read and write and research, to network and engage in conversation. It’s time to find a new way.
I’ll be posting updates here. I love to chat, so lets continue the conversation! You can find me at @ariaintrepid And thank you, so very much, for all that you do. I am nothing less than floored and deeply grateful for the amazing people who abound in this life.
P.S. Newston’s 1st Law of Motion reference paraphrase:::Everything in the universe is moving and resists that which attempts to stop it. This defines the nature of inertia.
—Who Will Save Your Soul
An Idea ran about the world
screaming with the pain of the mind
until it met a child
who stopped it with a word.
The Idea leaned over those newborn eyes
and dreamed of the nature of things:
the nature of memory and the nature of love;
and forgave itself and all men.
Quieted in a sea of sleeping
the Idea began its long return –
renewed by the child’s sea-colored eyes
remembered the flesh, smiled and said:
I see birds, spring and the birthplace
unknown by the stable stone.
I know light and I know motion
and I remember I am not alone.
The Idea voyaged nearer my breathing, saying
Come balance come
into the love of these faces and forces
find us our equilibrium.
And the child stirred, asking his questions.
The Idea grew more fleshly and spoke:
Beaten down I was
Down I knew very long
Newborn I begin.
And the child went on asking his questions.
The Idea journeying into my body
returned, and I knew the nature of One,
and could forget One, and turn to the child,
and whole could turn to the world again.
Until the pain turns into answers
and all the masters become askers
And all the victims again doers
And all the sources break in light.
The child goes alive, asking his questions.
Muriel Rukeyser in The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser
Song: “Who Will Save Your Soul” by Vitamin String Quartet