July 13, 2005
TT: After you get what you wantI spent Wednesday in Washington, D.C., attending two closed sessions of the National Council on the Arts. All fun, all interesting, and my fellow council members are as collegial as can be, but it was still a long, hot, humid day, and when it was over I knew I'd be coming back to a hotel whose air conditioning has proved unequal to the demands of Washington in July. (I've also been having troubles with the hotel's high-speed Internet service.) Hence I didn't care to spend the evening in my room, and it happened that all of my Washington-based friends were either busy or elsewhere tonight.
What to do? I treated myself to a good dinner, then went looking for a movie I hadn't seen, which turned out to be Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know. On my way to the theater, I tried to think of the last time I'd spent an evening watching a movie by myself in a city other than New York. When I go out of town, it's usually to visit a friend or cover a performance, so I tend not to be faced with the problem of what to do after dinner. At length I recalled that I'd seen Audrey Wells' Guinevere in Washington's Dupont Circle six years ago. I liked it very much, and I liked Me and You and Everyone We Know even more, but a few minutes into the film, it struck me that (A) I was watching a sad little comedy about the loneliness of postmodern urban life and (B) nobody in the world knew where I was.
Sitting in the sparsely peopled theater, alone with the characters and with myself, I thought of a remark A.J. Liebling made in my favorite of his books, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris:
Granted that in later life a man will have to learn to get along with other people--I learn with horror that the knack is now taught in high school as a "social study"--that is all the more reason there should be a period in his life when he has to get along with nobody but himself. It will be a sweetness to remember.
I think there's quite a bit of truth in that--up to a point. I don't spend too many evenings by myself: I'm in the company of friends far more often than not, watching performances or just hanging out. Sometimes I find myself hungering for solitude, and there are occasions when I'm almost painfully grateful to spend a night with my prints, my CDs, my iBook, and my trusty TV, watching What's My Line?, keeping my own counsel and staying up as late as I like. I've recently discovered, much to my surprise, that I even like vacationing alone. At the same time, I'm no hermit, and like most singletons, I find there are other times when being alone is no fun at all. One is when you finish watching a really good movie and, instead of chatting about it over a drink with a friend, retire to an empty hotel room in a city far from home.
My solitude, fortunately, will only last a single night. Tomorrow morning I'll be meeting my v., v. cool friend Ali for breakfast, after which I'll head over to the Old Post Office for one more NCA session. At twelve-thirty I'm lunching with a fellow newspaperman, then taking a mid-afternoon train to New York. In the evening I'm taking Bass Player, one of my favorite people in the whole world, to see Pilobolus at the Joyce Theater, after which we intend to have a late supper and talk until the waiters start giving us dirty looks. Friday and Saturday will be much the same, and by Sunday, when I fly home to Smalltown, U.S.A., I'll probably be thinking wistfully of my solitary trip to the movies.
Would we all be happier if we were capable of always enjoying to the fullest whatever we're doing at the moment we're doing it? Probably--but then we wouldn't be quite human, would we? Such contentment is not in our natures: we keep one eye on the horizon, and sometimes both, which leaves neither free to see the moments that pass before us in review, each one crying out, Look at me! Aren't I pretty? George Balanchine knew better. "Why are you stingy with yourselves?" he used to ask his dancers. "Why are you holding back? What are you saving for--for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now." But, then, Balanchine was a genius, while I'm just a middle-aged critic, whiling away an idle hour in an overheated hotel room in Washington, hoping it cools down enough for me to get some sleep.
Posted July 13, 2005 10:27 AM