always choose the tightrope

Posted by on January 25, 2008

Whenever I read the humorous writings of my fellow bloggers (i.e. Ser, the Miles), I feel embarrassed of the serious nature of this blog. I seem to write strictly about struggles, punctuated by the occasional funeral. The truth is, I do dwell, mentally and emotionally, in sensitivity to human suffering. I’ve always leaned toward the melancholic, but my theological education then sealed the deal by immersing me for two years in the pastoral and theological and cosmic problem of suffering. Plus, it is just a tendency of Orthodox spirituality to keep the old dial of mirth turned to the lowest possible volume. Save the annual burst of unbridled joy at Pascha, rolling on the floor with laughter, drinking yourself silly, and otherwise ducking out of constant mindfulness of one’s own sin and the horrible effects of sin in the world is not, as it were, recommended.

However, I am genetically inclined toward laughing– hard. I come from a family of people who tend to laugh until they cry, and it took me a good many years and hard lessons in reality before I realized that there are people walking the surface of this earth who simply do not go in for that kind of laughter.

A once-heard scrap of hopefully scientific information which I have no reference for tells me that laughter and crying are physiologically similar. It makes me wonder if the melancholia and hilarity I can experience are, in fact, not that wide of an emotional range. One time, in church, while singing in choir, in fact, a friend and I started laughing so hard that she had to stand in a corner and I had to go sit down somewhere else until we gained control. A friend, a man who had once spent a lot of time living in St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai told us later that this often happens to monks in church. Perhaps it is a release of the nervous tension and seriousness born out of trying to live life correctly, trying to have a spiritual life, failing most of the time, of course, but relentlessly trying.

I’m not saying anything about my paltry spiritual life here. But the truth is, I do feel a sense of spiritual obligation to be attuned to all the ills of the world. Therefore when I listen to NPR and absorb the news about how polar bears are soon to be added to the endangered species list, the Netherlands are going to be underwater due to rising sea level, and the Midwest is running out of water and looking for ways to pump it in from the sea, I ponder, ponder, ponder. When I hear about the mother of a two-week old who was arrested because police determined that she caused the death of her baby, I take it pretty hard.

It’s no wonder that I sometimes want to plunge into the world of little youtube boxes containing the comedic archives of Mystery Science Theater, the farting preacher, or A Bit of Fry and Laurie. I want to laugh, even if it may be not spiritaully recommended. Maybe what I really want is to cry. I can’t be sure.

Oh NPR, how I both love and hate you. You spare my winter day from feeling as cooped as it could be, but you take my mind in a thousand directions that it is not smart enough to synthasize in a twenty-four hour period, REM sleep included. My toddler likes to dance to the snazzy scraps of music you play in between your programs. I keep listening dutifully to all the updates about the campaign trail(s)– trails that swerve and crisscross, like the three-prong footed tracks of hyperactive sandpipers on the Florida beaches of my childhood. This is what I compare the pool of candidates too– spastic sandpipers negotiating the frothy tide. And the more I follow their antics, imagining that the information will bring me closer to conclusion, the more the whole thing feels like an opaque concoction of rhetorical soup with too many cooks in the kitchen, NPR journalists included, however lovable their voices. Who can claim to see through all of that broth and decide who to vote for? And even if we vote “rightly,” who’s to say that another bullet fired in Dallas won’t send the whole mess spiraling into a “political situation” none could forsee.

Well, this is why I like literature and hate politics. I think that politicians are crazy for thinking that they can weild one iota of control in the cosmos. They should be ashamed of themselves for the way they talk. And this is why my emotional duty is to sympathize anonymously and privately with the suffering things in the world, and also, probably, why I need to laugh really hard once in a while, even though I have no talent for writing comedy myself. Garrison Keeler, on the Writer’s Almanac, quoted something from Edith Wharton the other day. She said that life is either a feather bed or a tightrope, and she preferred the tightrope. I think I do too, and yet, I am really looking forward to the spending spree that the government plans to dish out this spring to stimulate the economy. I guess we are all full of inconsistencies.

The picture above is one I took after being trapped indoors all day due to freezing temperatures. It doesn’t relate to this post in any way, but I had already uploaded it and decided to leave it.

Posted in: Uncategorized
  1. anna j
    January 26, 2008

    i LOVE the photo, Julia! You are a gifted photographer, always, and this one serves as a reminder, as if I could ever forget it 🙂
    I was intrigued by your thoughts here, thinking about how I tend to think of you as more easy-going than I am. I feel like your laid back nature complements my more stress-prone tendencies, as far as our friendship goes. So it’s interesting that in our writings you tend toward the brilliantly serious philosophical, where I lean towards goofy blurbs: I often find myself wishing I could be as eloquent as you!

  2. Ser
    January 26, 2008

    Oh Julia, I think we are not so different. Just like you say, laughter and tears are very similar. I often feel a pang of guilt that my blog is so silly. But I, too, can lean toward dwelling in the land of worries and sadness, and when that layered itself upon being in charge of the well-being and emotional health of two children, it simply became too much for me. So I must laugh. But I like your more serious writing very, very much.

  3. Katya
    January 28, 2008

    Julia – in response to your comment on Jenny’s blog – that is my all time favorite poem by e.e. cummings. I think of it often when I am with my children.

    Where did you see pictures of A&C in crowns? I’m dying to see.


  4. Jamie
    January 29, 2008

    I am always glad to read your ponderings, Julia. And I especially appreciate how sensitive you are about serious things- when so much of society, myself sometimes included, has become very de-sensitized. Keep up the balancing act, you do it so beautifully.