Monday, July 21, 2008

A Busy Weekend

We do not often stay in town for the weekend, these days. We love the serenity of our Laguna retreat, and we so much value the Sunday morning session of our sitting group. But this past weekend was a particularly busy one, and there was much to keep us here in Los Angeles.

There was, first of all, the party I have mentioned earlier on The Buddha Diaries: I learned a while ago that there are twenty-nine men and women in the Southern California area who graduated from the Cambridge college I attended in the 1950s. They are mostly men, I have to say, since Gonville & Caius College did not admit women until the latter years of the twentieth century, well after my time. I have only recently begun to fully appreciate the privilege I was afforded, as a young man, by that experience, and it was with that sense of debt--and with a certain curiosity as to what the experience of others might have been--that I reached out to all twenty-nine in the hope of bringing us together for an evening's celebration.

That evening came around on Saturday. There were a number, of course, from whom I never heard in response to my initial contact. There were a number who declined because of other commitments. But quite a number did in fact show up--men only, regrettably, though with their wives; I would have loved to have met some of the Caius women on my list--and we enjoyed a splendid summer evening out on the deck.

Our group included men of all ages, including one who had matriculated in 1948, seven years before I myself arrived in 1955, and one who was my exact contemporary--though we did not know each other at the time. Then a number of younger men who had matriculated in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ellie and I had laid on wine and a generous table of hors d'oeuvres--too much, it turned out; we have quantities of left-overs to dispose of in the next few days, and we all spent a while chit-chatting and comparing notes until the last of the late-arrivals had showed up. Then, not least to satisfy my own curiosity, I arranged us all in a large circle and invited everyone to check in with the brief story of the path that brought them from their Caius days to living here in Southern California.

An extraordinarily diverse group of people we all turned out to be. Not only the Caius men, but also the women spoke about their lives, and I was impressed by the quality as well as the diversity of the paths we had chosen. What I found particularly striking was what seemed to me something of a common trope, a shared sense of redirection toward a less conventional set of values and beliefs. There was one who had devoted the better part of his life to a traditional medical practice, turning now toward alternative medicine; the lawyer turned software engineer turned hypnotherapist; the production designer returning to her original aim to be a painter; a neuroscientist applying his skills to the study of art and the imaginative work of creating special effects for film; there was the computer specialist turned yoga teacher; the corporate business woman now devoted to nation-wide charitable fundraising; and the philosopher pioneering efforts to promote mutual understanding between the world's great religions. As one who quit a conventional academic career to devote myself exclusively to writing, I felt not out of place. (By the way, if I have misrepresented any here, I offer my apologies: chalk it up to the fact that our time together was too short to offer more than a brief sketch of fascinating and productive lives.  Then, too, my memory is not so sharp as it used to be...)

Is it a natural part of the aging process, I wondered in retrospect, that so many of us seem to be looking for something different, something perhaps more meaningful as our lives progress? Or, possibly, as my sister often argues, is there some radical change taking place on our planet--indeed, as she would have it, in the universe? A movement away from the bad old, primarily Western goals of material comfort and individual success and toward a greater understanding and respect for the one-ness of us all, and our unity with nature? On the political front, is our Barack Obama at the forefront of a new wave of global cooperation and resolve to save our planet and people from the ravages of the misguided human ego? Or am I simply projecting my own desires and understandings on the world around me? It's fun, at least, to indulge in some innocent--though perhaps idle--speculation.

We invited our Caius guests for 6 - 8 PM. The last of the group left after midnight. Everyone was grateful to have been invited, and several specifically requested a repeat performance, even an annual reunion. We felt that the party had been a success! So much so that I protracted it, in dream, for what seemed like another few hours after falling asleep, and awoke in the very early hours with the impression that our last guest had left at five past two.

A morning, then, in bed with the newspaper. I did my morning sit out on the balcony, missing our sangha. Then off to brunch at the home of our friend Gina Stepaniuk (here's a 2006 painting of hers; it's called "Petite Mort"--"little death", a French euphemism, by the way, for sexual climax...)

We found ourselves in the company of other artists, some old friends, some new, enjoying good conversation, good humor, a glass of wine, good food... Our mutual interests and shared dedication to the creative life inspired me to think that my speculation might not be quite so idle after all. It's hard, in such company, to bear in mind that there are vast numbers of American voters, still, who do not share our enlightenment!

And then, to cap off a rather hectic weekend in the rarefied atmosphere of creative minds, we managed to stay awake for long enough, on Sunday evening, to betake ourselves to a dingy dive in Echo Park, on Sunset Boulevard, where our daughter's band, The Pickup Sticks was playing a gig. A tiny space, packed with young people and filled with the deafening sounds of hard core rock music. Sarah is a drummer and backup singer...

Her friend, Ed, is the lead singer in the band.

Our unprejudiced opinion was that they were great! We loved the energy and passion of the performance--though I personally wished I'd had a song sheet to be able to follow the words. As Ellie says, I'm "such a word person." The only ones I got were "cookie cutter." Still, I have to say that much of the emotional impact was delivered despite the lack of words. I've been hoping that The Pickup Sticks will soon get around to finishing their CD. They're good enough to deserve a bigger venue than this tiny space--appropriate though it was for their style and energy. It was great, too, to reconnect with many of their friends, and be welcomed by them with such warmth and interest.

Another late night, then. And a slow start this morning for the week to come... But much gained, over the weekend, in terms of the imaginative juices and the confirmation that there are many good people in this world, doing many good things; along with a salutary reminder that the encounter with creative minds is a healthy antidote to the woes that all too often afflict us.


TaraDharma said...

sounds like a perfect weekend, Peter. your gathering must've been electrically charged with all the stories of journeys and where life takes one....

Echo Park...I only know this neighborhood from mystery/crime novels by Robert Crais! Good on your daughter and her band - what fun.

I think there is a change afoot, though I see history runs in such circles...but maybe we're entering a more enlightened time. I sure hope so.

Doctor Noe said...

Great post, Peter! From the sublime (Cambridge alumni) to the ridiculous ( le petit mort) -- ridiculously sublime, that is -- to the surreal (your daughter's gig).

All in all, if not exactly Le Weekend in the Godardian sense, then one filled with truth 24 times a second.