I've been seeking reality with a single-mindedness of purpose that borders on obsession, lately. My conviction that “It's a Real Embrace” is some huge mind-blowing truth and all you need to know about tango has spread to what it means to really embrace life, in full as well as in part.
I wanted to write a piece about my time in Switzerland, for a while, because I thought it was the most “real” place I had ever been. But now I realize it was just the most wholesome place I had ever been. I stayed there one Christmas with a schoolteacher and his family (all supported very nicely by one public school teacher's salary), we all spoke Italian and French and Schweizerdeutsch, I warmed my feet by a stove with blue and white enamelled tiles. The snow crunching underfoot as we walked to the village church to sing carols with the community of well-known neighbours and friends. The bright red train wending its way through the white-snowed Alps. The mueslix and yogurt in the morning at the inn where I stayed briefly. The hiking through the woods, the picnic lunch on the grass by the sparkling stream. The epic failure of capitalism there, the mass tendency to buy or make one very good thing that lasts forever and ever and never buy another, the way people ate just a little bread and cheese at dinnertime at home instead of having a restaurant culture, the stupendous bathtubs. Sharing fondue with beautiful young people in Chur. Skiing in St. Moritz. Visiting a friend in Zurich and Schaffausen. Discussing the comparative merits of Glenn Gould's early and late recordings of The Goldberg Variations in Italian with a music buff who invited us over to his white apartment full of books.
Switzerland was very real. It was completely sincere and emotionally available and nutritious and I loved it.
But when I sat down to write, I got stuck: by saying that Switzerland was realer than other places, I was saying that those other places were less real. And that was not true. Switzerland was not sexy, it was not glamourous, and it was not passionate. But did that make my surrounding time in Italy less real? Even though the time I lived in Italy was mostly spent glamourously and dramatically, it was my life, and it happened. In Italy I learned how to dress in tailored wool suits and how to buy black leather gloves. I learned how to drink wine, I saw enough art to last me the rest of fifty lifetimes, I went to the opera, I saw commedia dell'arte in the open air, I heard Vivaldi in many old churches, I drew pictures, I bought (and even read) a lot of Italian books. I had a lot of sex with a lot of genetically blessed men. I had a disappointing love affair with a gorgeous Calabrese medical student who called me la Dottoressa because of my love of learning and books. I discovered that happiness is not a right. I grew up. These things happened, and even though they were a lot more exciting than my visit to Switzerland, they were no less real.
Alejandrito me dijo que, “siempre que algo pasa es real,” and that is almost too much to wrap my mind around, almost too much to bear. How can we stand the pain of that truth? Even if it also allows for all that is beautiful and wonderful in the world?
When I was in high school they taught me about Existentialism, and because I changed schools a lot, I managed to catch the Existentialism fad more than once. Also so many books in French that are conveniently short and easy are Existentialist bibles. Entonces, I eventually felt that I had the phrase “encounter with nothingness” tattooed on my brain. But now that I grow up, I feel its opposite. Everything is real. Oof. That's a hard one to handle.
I just saw my new favourite movie, Her. It felt Real. But then I thought, “I didn't go to a real milonga where I could have one boring but real embrace with So-and-So and have some limp but real chitchat with people I don't really feel like seeing, just so I could instead go to a movie and watch an illusion of reality?”
But art is real. It's the realest thing there is. Spike Jonze absolutely shared his heart and his mind and his soul with us up on that screen, and got us to feel, question, wonder, think, and share. So did everybody else involved. Even the ones who didn't have bodies....
It was all about what's been plaguing me: real feelings, real connection between people, real relationships. If one person is a computer, is it a real relationship? Are we ever really with anyone? Are we ever really not? Is sharing an illusion or is it “real”? Can people stay together? Should they? Personal growth happens, and it's wonderful, and it ends relationships, and that's the way things go. —I kept thinking, this movie is completely fictional! What a contrived and far-fetched suspension of disbelief, to ask the audience to buy a man who has feelings and wants to bond with people and connect and share and build something. But then I remembered that they do exist.
Are my own relationships real? Who knows?
The more happiness people bring you, the more pain they bring you too, but by now I'm steeped in enough Buddhism, yoga, and life experience to at least pay lip service to the notion that maybe pain is not necessarily “bad” so much as it is “educational.” (Although sometimes it takes us an awfully long time to learn its lessons.) ....I long for peace, instead of pain, in my relationships, but perhaps the coexistence of the two is what it means to be human. And to long for the good in people and the redemptive power of love...is only natural. So is the desire to say “screw them all.”
The hope I feel is real. The hopelessness too. How can they both be real?
When I first came to tango it outsized my hand that everybody could be embracing all these different people. Doesn't that get very painful and don't people get horribly jealous, I wondered. And found out for myself that the answer is, “absolutely yes!” And, at the same time, “it depends!” And, again at the same time, “no!” All these answers are real. They are true on the pista to the precise extent that they are true off of it.
Perhaps because of the antibiotics I'm on, I've lost my sex drive, which may be why these days I'm thinking, “yes, sex is what it is, but it's only the most preliminary and least interesting of connections. The real stuff happens after that level of the iceberg of the heart.” But if everything is real, then desire is real too, even though it's “not very important,” according to me and my minocycline. For that matter, casual chitchat is real too.
“It's just a dance,” “it's simple,” “once you figure it out it's easy.” “It will take you the rest of your life,” “you will never come to the end,” “all my friends who are real milongueros are philosophers.” It's about where you put your foot. It's about where you put your heart. It's about energy. It's about the moment. It's about the real embrace. It's about scratchy Biagi records and cute shoes and disappointment. It's beautiful, it's unbearably painful, it's no big deal. It's about basic body mechanics, it's about bonding with others, it's public, it's private, it's a lens, it's a custom, it can only be danced by Argentinians, it can be danced by anybody. It's a fad, it's forever, it's spiritual, it's a social pastime.
The problem with reality is that there's so much of it. This is also its glory. If anyone figures out how to believe in this impossible thing before breakfast, please let me know.