Hope is not merely a belief — it’s a narrative practice, a performance, a lived orientation toward being. There is much to do. How shall we do it? Converse with everyone; visit and receive visits; canvas; rally. Read and discuss books with others. Sing songs, shake rattles and tambourines.
A beautiful afternoon — a time to celebrate after several days of rain. Though even those have been wonderful: F. sleeping in my lap, or with her head resting on my shoulder. Sarah writing thank yous as friends and family visit us, bestow gifts on us, and feed us, local friends and colleagues having established for us a meal train. A circle of giving. Freedom is ours when we join and grow these circles of reciprocity. Extend the giving outward through the polis and the cosmos. Support the Sanders bid for the presidency. Make the vote count. Correct the outcome of 1972. Participate, too, in the antiwar movement. Make its number swell.
Sarah and her sister converse in the next room after a joyful afternoon. Friends threw us a “Brand New Human” party, a baby shower. We’ve got some sweet people in our lives, thoughtful, caring, all of them happy to celebrate with us the start of this next phase of being.
Now that students have submitted written responses, my days feel crowded with text, words greeting me everywhere I look. Friends entertained Sarah and I last night by suggesting outlandish names for our daughter. Other friends from Chicago sent a beautiful art book modeled upon the Whole Earth Catalog (a publication about which I’ve written at great length, in many ways dear to my heart, expressive of my utopian and eupsychian ambitions), designed by one of their students. Unbuckled is the mail. I walk the neighborhood during magic hour, photographing spider flowers and clematis.
A bird sings to me, other birds and I chuckling in reply. This bird is a dear friend. I admire him for his zest and energy, his cheer, his radical tenderness, his sense of humor, his positive energy, his knowledge born — well, you get the picture. This friend inspires me. Perhaps I can dedicate myself to the craft of fiction. Sarah waves the crackers toward me: “More?” “I would keep eating them,” I answer, pulled in several directions at once. I must build a problem and then use the act of writing to solve it, as if I were opening a box filled with Easter candy.
I’ll be revisiting old friendships this weekend — high school friends, some of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in decades. How might I best characterize myself for them? By what terms might I achieve peace with these brethren, unburdened of unspoken rivalries? In the past, I may have been wounded and wronged by these friends, just as I may have wounded and wronged them in return. Yet as Laura Archera Huxley counsels in her book You Are Not The Target, “each one of us has a function to fulfill. It is when we spend our time and energy looking down in contempt or looking up with sterile longing that we lose sight of this function. Envy is comparison. He who is in the continuous process of being and becoming what he really is, directs his attention to real values, not to measuring other people’s achievements” (240). What I’m suffering is what Ralph McTell calls the “Zimmerman Blues.”
I traveled far from home, lost touch, saddled myself with unrepayable debt — but amid this impoverished wandering, I followed my heart, I found my partner, I learned how to love. Freedom outside in the sun of the prison yard. The country is not one where each person owns or gets enough on which to live. The fault for that lies with the country, not me. Were it otherwise, each could attend to the beauty and the glory of the earth. In the meantime, I break away as much as I can from “compulsions, ambitions, hates, vanities, envies”; I try to conduct myself day by day as a whole being.
Were I to lack the opportunity to escape a pseudo-totality, were I hemmed in by a false world-picture, I would nonetheless devote myself to peering beyond it. I would gaze out a small rectangular window near the ceiling of my cell. I would perform under the expectation that my performance could be rewound and fastforwarded at some later date. And everywhere around me, I would imagine signs left for me by a benign deity. I would suddenly find myself super high at a party in a basement among friends. I might worry for a moment about my heartbeat, an anomalous rapid fluttering in my chest. “At what point should I start to feel concerned,” I might wonder as the owner of the basement DJs for the group, lays the mood with some Junior Murvin.
Friends and I agree: “Drink or Treat” ought to be a new local holiday. Street parties. Radical hospitality. This is where one would situate a utopian novel. Here we come wassailing the neighbors; friends perform the role of hallelujah choir. Bring horns, bring dope, bring whatever. In our communist utopia, we’ll build trolleys running us house to house. In summer, we’ll pitch tents. Sometimes we’ll dance in windows. I’ll share with others the story of a time from my past when the Real intervened and posed for me a situation analogous to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I appear to myself as a drunken flâneur, wandering among the wires the city has strung among its towers, dedicated to something dangerous. In the event, I tell the others, the potential for tragedy subdued the Faust in me and caused me to flee. “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” suggests a friend. “Magda Szabo’s The Door,” suggests another. Alas, I am too narrow an instrument to gauge much of reality. But I welcome and appreciate the help of friends. It is one of the ways the world responds, leaves signs, invites study. In this case, it tells me I am but an individual with my own distinct subjective response to particular chemicals. Even if I could wake tomorrow morning to a “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” kind of universe, I would still be too ordinary and too weird in my particulars to represent for others some “new communist subject” of the future. Representatives of that sort need not exist in such a universe.