How To Remove Your Clothes In Public, and Why

The good news is that my novel is undergoing a revision. The other good news is that there is a lot that I am keeping.

The patient will retain most of her vital organs in this home surgery, but some long-term festering ulcers of lameness will be removed, and certain systems will have to be rearranged as a result. It's a procedure, an ECTOMY, with some resulting lateral alterations.

There will also be new organs added, which should give her more pep.

As the patient sits, noticeable white, on the table next to me, it occurs to me that to begin this surgery takes a lot of courage. And so does every other damn thing worth doing in life.

Backtalker inside my head says, "Not the dishes. The dishes are worth doing, but don't take courage."

Actually, they do. Because to have to do the dishes implies that you are not living alone, as anyone in their right mind would never wash a single plate if no one was looking.

Dishes-doing is part of the responsibility-spectrum of tasks associated with living in a community, even if it is just a community of two. And living with others takes courage, because it is making a promise that you will endure the company of others, and make yourself endurable, that you will take hold of the rope of cooperation and not let it drop, that you will be human and humane to a degree that you wouldn't need to if living alone.

But beyond dishes and revisions, I thought of this..what is worth doing that doesn't scare us? Relationships, marriage, yes. Scary and worth it. Having children? Scary certainly, and worth it. Art, yes. Social justice, yes. Speaking up, speaking out, yes. Providing help and aid to those in need? Even this can be scary, can take courage, and in many cases, takes a lot of courage. And is worth it.

All these precious acts and processes take courage, which can be in short supply. I often feel I'd rather clothe myself in familiar comforts than feel the chill of the new. But though it is a sad fact that I am no mathematician, the problem can be stated in terms of a Cost/Benefit analysis.

What does it cost us to take a risk? To try the new, over the old? To summon up our courage and leap? The fear of failure sits like an attentive and vicious dog, waiting for its cue to bite. So that is the cost.

What do we gain from risk? To leave the warm living room of Same and enter to cold basement of Different? Simply this: we gain the very thing that it takes to try: Courage. By exposing ourselves we learn that we are capable of much, including great acts of courage. Our very idea and notion of ourselves grows with new acts and risks. With practice, it may not take so much to leap each time we come to the brink.

But I will posit there is another cost. This is the cost of safety, of sameness, of the familiar. Without the courage to take risk, we are dulled and lulled. Our idea and concept of ourselves shrinks. It is this cost which is so deadly.

The third option, obviously, is to write about courage until you have enough of it to begin your task, to take your act.

Sometimes these things take a little warming up to. I think I'm ready now.


Anonymous said...

I visited the 'Occupy Wall Street' parks today here in New York. Plenty of risk fills the streets there, and yes- plenty of public clothes removal even in this not-so-sudden autumnal chill.

I roamed the area after the attacks all those years ago, also at night and hoping the adrenaline would have, by the filter of peak traffic- dissipated with the natural light at least somewhat.

Come to believe that Americans tend to romanticize what is central to the notion, or scale of- risk (though I am not one to speak when a little blonde I know- hellbent on saving the world and who possibly would if not by the decade between our ages, and thus the decade long lateness to save me- is the only thing worth thinking of this evening).

Risk is what the remainder of our human family lives with, and does so without much in the manner of choice. To this rule it appears we are the exception.

Or have I lost touch entirely?

"... if you can move through a house blindfolded, it belongs to you!"
-Michael Ondaatje.

As a young author, risk is that house. It is its darkness and light; the bitter cold and scalding heat; its solipsistic depth and distances.

And yes, the familar, near-physical comfort of knowing tomorrow brings more of this uncertainty with the next empty page; more of the forward-wading (notion of) risk in conflict with the ex-post-facto amalgamation of disappointment and debt lamented by the (nomenclature) reformists.

Is it then fair to ask whether under our American interpretation risk is the mirage separating (our) individual realities from (our) collectively encouraged arrogance; the irrational grandeur of a once youthful democracy at odds with the growing certainty of coming of age?

As always, Regards!


Anonymous said...

... or not!

Walked back there tonight, crossing the bridge.

The verdict? You are correct; "...speaking up, speaking out, yes... scary and worth it".

Risk is in the detail, of everything worth pursuing.

New York City is changing, though I'm not quite sure if this is for the best (or just this wild hog weather we've been seeing of late).

But something definitely is taking shape; your novel (long awaited now, what the hell's taking you so long?); the temperature; our political practices- who knows anymore.

Oh but I'll go there again, next time.