Sunday’s episode of Mad Men (“The Better Half,” a title that belies the dual motifs of doubling and division that ran throughout the hour performance) created its meaning through repeated “twinning” of characters, actions, and words. From the antimetabole of Bobby’s camp song (“Father Abraham had seven sons/Seven sons had Father Abraham”) to Megan’s portrayal of her soap opera character’s twin character, to the two doors shutting on Peggy at the end of the episode, a constant doubling seemed to me to be the primary rhetorical device, suggesting themes of dual-natured characters, and how meaning itself depends upon not just a single signifier but two or more signifiers in relationship to each other. Without relationships between or among objects, actions, and people, perhaps there is no meaning. I thought this was the best episode all season.

And it was a fitting episode with which to begin my week of intentional layering and practiced doubling.

How do we create meaning and purpose in a life that may be filled with so many elements out of our control? Fate and free will—I am not sure they matter, though I spent a good portion of my 20s giving them both their due thought. Perhaps what matters most with respect to a contented life is the narrative we write after events have occurred. If people like to say “Everything happens for a reason,” then I would suggest that reasons reveal themselves in the narrative process we apply to memories. We make reasons. It is an art.

We have choices to an extent about what memories, events, characters, and signifiers we set up for ourselves. Sure, there will always be the moments (both triumph and trial) that we cannot foresee, and then we must work especially artfully to integrate those moments into our life story. Despite this axiom, however, we do have daily choices about setting up purposeful storylines and memories. We set up the scenes and characters as we write portions of our lives everyday. We are writers, I believe, all the time. We are artists in how we move about our lives and in our scenes. To be aware of life’s performance is not, I think, to indulge in the modern connotation of “artifice”: fakery and inauthenticity are not requisite to art. We can be authentic performers—I strive to be. We’ve all heard Shakespeare’s quote about this from As You Like It (“All the world’s a stage…). The spaces we occupy make our composite stage, and before we die we need to leave all our energy here. This is the performance of a lifetime.

Or in the words of rapper Eminem in his song Lose Yourself as he remembers the intensity of a rap competiton:

“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment

You own it, better never let it go

You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow

This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo…”

Leave it all on the stage. Make the performance count here in this life.

Lindsey Buckingham, whose intensity is like magic to me, joked at least twice about dying on stage at the Fleetwood Mac concert Bill and I attended on Tuesday night. Fleetwood Mac is my favorite band, and I have been fortunate now to see them twice. Seeing them twice is an intentional move, not just because I love their music, but because it is the juxtaposition of those two experiences that gives me purposeful points of comparison for my narrative. I often read books twice, or more. I found joy in comparing their current set list to their set list in 2004, the year Bill and I last saw them and before we married. Changes to songs, their obvious rhetorical awareness of how to use their history as a band as part of their performance (one of the only bands of which I know who so consciously do this), and my own evolution as a listener and reactor to their songs have given my mind fodder for enjoyable thought for days. And of course there was dancing, the moving experience of the whole theater singing along to “Landslide,” and the poignant knowledge that, for any number of reasons, this may have been the last chance Bill and I will get to see them in our joined lives.

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Off to see Fleetwood Mac!

Also this week I was fortunate to reunite in person with a lady who was very much my 6th grade counterpart:

sarahs

Here we are, Sarah L. and Sarah M., from Mr. Kressin’s 6th grade class at TMS. Both serious students, both in the same friend group, both in love with writing, and both in many of the same classes. We even share part of a name! It is to our delight that our two children now share a similar coloring (fair and reddish-haired) and that we are both teachers by profession. I cherished our time catching up, and I hope to see Sarah again when she is next in the state.

I am reminded of a passage from the “Introduction” to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh:

So when Christopher Robin goes to the Zoo, he goes to where the Polar Bears are…and we wander through dark passages and up steep stairs, until at last we come to the special cage, and the cage is opened, and out trots something brown and furry, and with a happy cry of “Oh, Bear!” Christopher Robin rushes into its arms. Now this bear’s name is Winnie, which shows what a good name for a bear it is, but the funny thing is that we can’t remember whether Winnie is called after Pooh, or Pooh after Winnie. We did know once, but we have forgotten…

I can longer recall just who I was as a thinker, reader, and perceiver before I met a professor in college whose course and academic work absolutely opened the world—not just literature, but the whole of experience—to me as a reader and participant  and creator/author/maker in that world.  Although I had many professors in college who gave me something I carry with me to this day and although I hesitate to play favorites, I will say that the combination of Professor Seth Lerer (an English and Comp. Lit professor) in my sophomore year and Dr. Robert Sapolsky (a neuroscientist) in the last quarter of my senior year was a remarkably powerful combination. I credit those two professors (and the way their seemingly different work—although I am not convinced it is all that different philosophically—managed to come together in my mind) with giving me the pieces I needed to become who I am today.

Not only was Seth Lerer an amazing teacher (for which talent he has been widely acknowledged numerous times), but also he was necessary. Those necessary people—those who came along at just the most crucial moment—are such gifts in this life. There are others for me, some of whom I see quite frequently or am in written contact with, and some of whom I am almost certain I shall never see again. I’ve managed to keep track of Professor Lerer mainly through his scholarly work these past many years. He stayed at Stanford for awhile, though he is now down in San Diego rockin’ UCSD as its Dean of Arts and Humanities.

So when his most recent book, a memoir entitled Prospero’s Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater, came out in April, he naturally began a series of book readings in the area. I re-read parts of The Tempest, read his book twice, and decided it was time to honor his influence in my life and pay my respects at his reading and signing in Riverside on Tuesday night.

prospero 1 prospero 2 prospero 3

Concurrent to Seth’s reading—I have to tell this part of the evening—my own little people were in the vicinity with their Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma. Bill came with me to the reading, and this is the first time that our kiddos have been watched by anyone other than Amie and Boppa. They have not stopped talking about what a fun time they had with Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma, who live right next to UCR and very near to the bookstore we were visiting. After having dinner, my kiddos took a walk with Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma, and periodically I would see Eric in his Peter Pan hat passing by the bookstore window playing follow-the-leader with Katie, and Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma right behind. It was the most surreal thing to see that little red feather bobbing along, to think about who I had been as a 20-year-old in Seth’s History of Rhetoric class, to think about how old his son (who is an important character in his memoir) must have been at the time, to ponder my professor’s scholarly work on children’s literature, to hear him reading passages that came in an era before I was born and then passages that occurred around the time I was beginning to teach and then beginning to have my own children… Time seemed both expanded and compressed.

Of course that night, Katie and Eric wanted to hear another episode of “The Grand Adventures of Katie and Eric” (our nightly oral tradition after we read). I had my storyline for the evening, but they wanted to hear theirs. So I began the Grand Adventures and they accompanied me on the telling. I heard all about the events that came before and after my seeing the little red feather in the bookstore window, and those parallel storylines and their intersection became another doubling and layering in and of themselves.

The next morning we headed toward the coast to spend time with my youngest cousin Kd:

yellow delu

She took us to The Yellow Deli in Vista, a favorite place of hers. I have read about her time there with her best friend on her blog, and so to be there with her yesterday was to enter her story. When we consider what gives life its meaning, surely we must think about the ways in which we enter the stories of those we love. Before Kd started at her new college this year, I took the kiddos down for a visit and asked her to take me on the Kd tour of her world. Before her world changed in college (as it always must), I thought, let me know it now. Let me know her story at every point, so that I can intuit and understand its layers. I think there can be no greater expression of love for someone than to ask her, “Please show me who you are and let me be part of your story with you. Let me see what your story looks and feels like, and please know I want a role in it, however major or minor.” I adore my Kd and my time with her. She is so easy to be with. I cherish that about her.

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We also frolicked at the beach. Beautiful day.

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After the beach, we visited my other cousin and her husband and daughter. Nothing on Earth could be better than the narrative we make as a family and watching how the next generation thrives. I am so thankful for these cousins-like-siblings in my life. Where our stories are shared stories I find the most joy.

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