The title of this blog comes from a poem called “Work, Sometimes,” by Mary Oliver. She writes, “What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map, or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work ongoing.”
Most of the time, I love my life. I have dropped out. I stepped off the ladder of success, untied myself from networks of meaning, freed myself of hierarchy, status, income, and achievement. I have no deadlines, no quotas, no measures of worth. I decide what is good work and I either make it ongoing or I flounder and blame myself. What is the good work? Sometimes it’s lying in the grass on a summer day, breathing in stillness and breathing out amazement. Sometimes it’s walking in the forest in a rainstorm. Sometimes I drive two hours to the Pacific Ocean and do the work of watching waves and mist and blown spray. Sometimes my good work is service or activism, going to meetings and being useful. Sometimes it’s photography. Sometimes it’s writing a poem or a story, connecting with my kids or my friends by email, or writing a status update on Facebook. Sometimes the work is being present with the great sadness: the suffering. Often the work is listening to the person who sits on the park bench or the streetcar next to me and has some grief or triumph to tell. I think we are all flotsam and jetsam and our main work is to touch each other, to pay attention, to be in THIS moment. Now. With whoever shows up.
I will say a little about who I used to be and what I used to do. I worked my way through university, going part-time, going at night, going in the summers, dropping out and going back for over twenty years. Finally, with borrowed money and perseverance, I earned a PhD in theatre history, specializing in the Queen Anne era. I taught at Smith College and was Chair of the Drama Department there till I went to Africa as a Fulbright Scholar. I was a full professor, a department head, a dean. I taught drama, Queer Studies, and literature. I ran creative writing and drama workshops for prisoners. I once had two bookshelves full of books I had written, edited, or contributed to and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase full of videos of performances. I let it all go. I gave my furniture to an organization that helps victims of sexual trafficking, I gave my kids what they wanted of my stuff, I listed all my “read” books on Goodreads before I gave them away, I put my pictures on Flickr and threw away the prints, and with only what would fit in my car, I moved to Portland, Oregon–where I knew no one and had no identity or connections.
I chose Portland for the weather (I love clouds and rain), for the library, the rain forest, some proximity to the ocean, great public transport, a progressive vibe, arts and green and gay communities, and most of all for subsidized housing. As a result of a series of life-wrecking choices, I ended up with very little money, so that needs to be said: apart from a subsistence income called Social Security, I have no money. I had a little saved, but that is almost gone now. I have astonishing privileges, if I survey the planet as a whole. I have a car, a Mac laptop, two cameras, a TV and DVD player. I turned 65 in 2010, so now I have Medicare. And best of all, I have an apartment in subsidized housing with electricity, water, and off-street parking in a beautiful neighborhood in Portland. I get by, I have all I need, and I no longer work for a living. That frees me for the good work.
According to those who have known me best, I am ornery, rebellious, bone-headed and willful, but I have a sense of humor, a good mind, and a warm spirit. According to me, I’ve made terrible mistakes, I’ve caused harm, I’ve let people down, and for that I feel deep remorse. But I’m not a total fuck-up. I’ve done a few things right. I have a passionate nature and I’ve often fallen in love, but I’ve never sustained a love relationship.
I gave birth to two sons and adopted two daughters and reared them all as a single mom with a series of partners I didn’t stay with. I was not a good-enough mom; they deserved better. I was preoccupied with making a living, making art, making love, changing the world, and creating adventures. But I love those four people fiercely and continue to stay out of their way, to be present when they want me, and to cheer for them. Each is entirely himself or herself, each is independent and proud of it, and I admire them. All have carved out a way of life that suits them, gives them pleasure, and pays the bills. I find that triumphant.
I want this blog to be part of the good work, ongoing: a place for writing, pictures, stories, and chronicles. If it attracts a few people who comment and add value, hooray. If it amuses a few people, or touches a few people, that’s good enough. I’m not into stats, hits, or competition. I’ve had enough of that. This is just for good work, ongoing.