Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hilda the Hippopotamus

Here's a thought experiment, of which neither part is precisely historical.

Let's say that I find myself in a period of creative drought. (Okay, that small part is precisely historical, although not current.) In my frustration and sadness over this, I go looking for a culprit. Who can I blame? The obvious answer is my children. The babies are the thing that is new, this must be their fault -- or, rather, my fault for having them. Motherhood is an intense distraction that has made my thinking less clear and therefore affected my ability to make good art. And motherhood is important to me, so I choose to prioritize that over the art, with which it appears to be in conflict. Either way, I'm going to have to starve a part of myself. I can't have both.

What if I believed that babies are a normal and unavoidable part of the work as a creative being with ovaries -- maybe even used that big word, "necessary" -- but that the internet was optional, and a distraction? What if I heard people saying, "Lots of people who do theatre do just fine without internet. There are things that you just have to give up in order to make it in this very competitive profession, and internet may be one of them. You need to concentrate, and you may have to clear your life of distractions like internet. It's your choice, of course, but if you're going to go and have internet, then you just have to accept that it might be damaging to your career."

I'm going to rename this blog The Question Binge, because, apparently, the only thing I like better than expressing myself in long form is asking open ended questions and then changing the subject.

My husband told his office yesterday about our plan. I didn't hear about this until after bedtime -- what you might call pillow talk -- and I was fighting sleep to hear him talk about it. Actually I found myself thinking, "is he still talking? does he really have more to say about his feelings right now? Because I'm going to have to get up with the kids in about five hours."

And I have to share it with you just like that (no offense, Nick) because these are the revelations that become available to us as women become equally prominent as dramatists, storytellers and social critics. We find that the experience of wanting to selfishly fulfill your own physical needs at the expense of your partner's emotional needs is not associated with masculinity. Women do it, too. (I know, right?) I can only hope that this sort of revelation can wear gradually at the Mars/Venus map of mysterious, planetary-sized gender differences, which I find leads us in all directions away from the hard slog mix of accountability and forgiveness that it takes to actually succeed in our relationships.

But that's a side note. The story is that my husband was proud of me. As I was fighting sleep, Nick was telling me that he was proud of me. He told me that his coworkers had been impressed. They had assumed that this bold feat of A Year Without Internet was something we were attempting, and that we would discover on the way whether or not we could actually pull it off. Nick had corrected them to the effect that when Esther decides to do something, it will get done.

Thanks, honey.

Now that it's morning -- and I am exclusively a morning person, yet another reason, I'm discovering, why theatre directing maybe isn't exactly the best career for me -- I'm realizing that the kind of conversation that my experiment sparked in Nick's fast-paced, high-stress work place is precisely my goal. I do have a real desire for personal growth. There's nothing like having a couple of kids to let you know how much growing up you have to do. But I also have a strong impulse to publicize this experiment, and in that, I'm asking one great open ended question. One person says to another person, "I know someone who is going a year without the internet." The other person asks, "Why?" Mission accomplished. One person says to another person, "I know someone who is going a year without the internet." The other person asks, "How?" Mission accomplished.

Those two little questions, given even a tiny bit of real attention, can have more impact than all the meandering explanation I can possibly do here on this blog. We are such powerful creatures, we humans. We transform our environment. We make moral decisions. It can never be a bad idea to remind ourselves of our strength.

During our usual Tuesday library date this week, Milo brought to me a book by Richard Scarry, in which an unusually large playground monitor named Hilda -- I think she's a hippopotamus -- learns how to manage her own very special gifts. However, she doesn't gain this wisdom until after she rips down a couple of doors and sends the playground merry-go-round spinning down into a hole in the earth.

And, you know, it is a riot here on this spinning merry-go-round. It's going very fast. But I am not the first one to suggest that it is helpful, every once in a while, to see out of the corner of one's eye that someone else is trying to get off.


Brian Collins said...

"... it is helpful, every once in a while, to see out of the corner of one's eye that someone else is trying to get off."

Yes. YES!!!

Anonymous said...

K... that last comment was me... don't know why Brian's name came up... Amy C.

Esther said...

Hi, Amy!! Sorry, my comments have been weird for some other people, too. That is not something I really understand. Thanks for stopping by!

Kiki said...

This morning before my class started a student had some FLOAM. Her mother had given them away to trick-or-treaters and she had a bunch and was thus handing them out to college students for fun. We were discussing what to do when the FLOAM gets hard - how to re-hydrate it. I suggested water, works for play-dough. The girl sitting next to her said, "look it up on your phone. All the answers are on the internet."
I mentioned your experiment. There was a look of horror followed by a look of wonder as I saw her trying to figure out what she would do without being hooked up.
Its very interesting that these college kids don't remember a time before Internet.
Someone asked me the other day if you could still get a typewriter.

Esther said...

I'd love a typewriter. Think about the discipline it would require, to not be able to change every word as we type it. That would be different.

Kiki said...

The guy who works in the front office was trying to unload a IBM Selectric earlier this week. If I had more room in my little cottage, I would have taken it.