11 August 2008

Pink Moon

It's a pink, pink, pink, pink mooon.........

Oh, I could listen to that song all day. That line seems so light and carefree--so uncharacteristic of Nick Drake--when you first hear it. It lifts and lilts, but the "p's" and "k's" synchronize with the low notes on his guitar, lending a psychic weight.

Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all.

Imagine putting Milan Kundera in the same room with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda. They'd probably come up with the fictional equivalent of this song. All of them--and Nick--saw just how complex the light that becomes all things, and all people, actually is. It's rather like a dream, or at least some of the dreams I've had, in which the light flows into, and fills, rivers and oceans and takes the shapes of rooms from early in my life: ones to which I can return only in those dreams.

Nick (Drake, not the person I used to be) died at the age of 26. Yet, this is one of the most mature and sophisticated songs I have ever heard from anyone not named Bob Marley. It's the antithesis--or perhaps the inverse--of how people like me see the world when we're young and think we know better than everyone else.

At that time in my life, all I could think about was the heart of darkness inside every smile I saw, the hypocrisy that constituted "nice" people and the bones that became the dirt in which the flowers grew. I thought that I, like other people who saw the world this way, were the sensitive artists, the tortured souls or whatever else you wanted to call us. I made friends--or at least partners in self-torture--who shared this view, and sneered at all those people whose ambitions consisted of picket fences and such.

We were right--as far as our ideas went. Yes, I realize how much blood was spilled in la Place de la Concorde, but I now understand that reality has a dimension beyond and within this. What made all that blood possible? Human beings--ones who had gone wrong, perhaps, but human beings nonetheless. What was Randy Pausch before the cancer took hold of his body? A vibrant, healthy man. Much to his credit, he retained as much of those qualities as anybody could under his circumstances.

And when we realize that we may not be who we believed we were, what is there when we get past the disappointment? Well--this has been true for me, anyway, and hopefully for others--there's the knowledge that there is something greater, if more terrifying, than the realities we had constructed by believing in them.

That's one of the better answers I can give when someone--like my neighbor Angela--asks why I am undertaking my transformation. I realized that I am not merely my body, what other people--or organizations--said I was. For a long time, that was a horrible realization for me. I was someone in conflict with every way in which I had been defined, whether by schools, the government or even my friends and family. That is why I identified with Caliban of The Tempest more than any other character I'd come across in literature or any other art or medium. Yes, the one who tells Prospero, "You have taught me language/ And the profit on't is, I can curse."

I was more intelligent than almost anyone I knew. (Or so I thought.) I had some talents, and I had a body that could be made fit--and, to some eyes, even attractive--through all of the exercise I used to do. And what did it get me? Alienation and isolation. All the qualities that people complimented about me were the ones that caused those same people to completely misunderstand me and to treat me as someone I wasn't.

In other words, my pain belay their pleasure. And it never could be any other way, at least from my world-view.

But, later in the play, the monster Caliban gives us some of the most beautiful lines in the English language:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,

The clouds me methought would open, and show riches

Ready to drop on me, that when I waked,

I cried to dream again.

How did he get from "You have taught me language..." to that?

Wanna know what I think? Caliban's servitude makes Prospero's life possible. And Caliban's resentment, which is really the force of his deformity, does indeed make others seem, if only in contrast, more noble than they actually are. But even within Caliban there was a beauty, a force vitale, that--paradoxically--was the basis of his resentment and, simultaneously, the potential key to his freedom from his addiction to his own bile.

Someone who finds that light within his or her darkness may find it unbearable, at least at first. When your screen is a gray drizzle, the sun and a bright blue sea and sky can seem too intense, at least until they become your window. And that happens when you realize that light allowed you to see the grayness, the clouds, the darkness and the rain.

It's still important to see the storm, or any other inclemency. But they're easier to see, and more bearable, by the light. Unhappiness never goes away; the joy--the force of love--within makes it possible to negotiate and navigate the turbulence of discord.

By the same token, I cannot--and have no wish to--destroy that person I was complicit with others in creating in order to placate them. (At least I thought that's what I was doing for them.) But all along, the person I really am kept him going long enough so that I could reach, and seize, the power within him. She is the one writing these words, which, I hope, may mean something to you.

The pink moon is here and on its way.