Life in Hypertext
willfulness and willingness
improvisation and the art of living
positivism, cynicism, and the artful essay
willfulness and willingness
between these two words implies an almost picayune sense of wordplay:
toys for the maturing mind. Yet so much is implied here that impinges
with a seriousness on all aspects of life. To the extent that life is
serious at all, that is, the difference in meaning between these two
linguistic siblings is profound.
By way of departure
and illustruation, I digress for a moment, if digression it is, to the
scene which brought the distinction to light again, this morning in
the kitchen with my new partner, call her Wilma. The strength of our
relationship, it occurred to us, is our willingness to do it and to
do it well. Commitment is a more charged equivalent, yet commitment
carries with it the taint of willfulness. With my
previous partner of fourteen years, commitment was always an issue,
whether talked about or not, and when brought to light was usually resolved
in a provisional manner through a quite arbitrary, yet grudging, act
of the will; as if to say: "I will commit, if it is required; I
merely expect this relationship to last." It didn’t make it past
year fourteen, of course, and now I’m left pondering the difference
in attitude brought by a partnership more grounded in willing love.
In this case I’ve been the one less willing, a reversal. Less willing
to give myself to Wilma, to surrender to love. With the growth of my
willingness has come the growth of our intimacy, our trust, our faith
in the future together to continue. Yet the issue remains a sensitive
one. I cannot, again, merely decide to continue in partnership, even
in love. The decision has to be rather a discovery, an
opening to love, an allowing: a continued and expanding willingness.
I digress yet again to remark on the appalling similarity between this
highly rhetorical, analytical prose, and the ironic novel On
Love by the brash young Briton, Alain de Botton. Couched in
its own, obviously self-aware archness, the narrator's discussions of
love are redeemed from philosophic excess and dramatic undercutting.
In my case, I must wonder then, it is a cold and heady heart indeed
which speaks in such language about love. To remedy this shortcoming
takes…what? an act of will? (I need to specify:) willingness, or willfulness,
My friend who returned
from his winter idyll in Thailand and Bali counseled me recently on
the basis of his new discovery, in hoary middle age, of Divine Providence;
and the futility (above all in matters of the heart) of a willful seeking
out, a trying-to-get. Trying to get needs met sounds so commonplace-sensible,
that it bears examining more closely, and I find that it makes all the
difference in the world to turn it on its head.
If I may be so bold
to digress still further, I find myself back on the loop I began, by
thus allowing the folds and turns of my logic as it writes itself to
find the way to the beginning, yet
further on. All this like the looping car track on the floor of Wilma's
house last evening, the coming together of our families there under
one roof, following a spontaneous visit by my daughter to my workspace
earlier in the day, an expressed desire for a further visit, a phone
call to clear a dinner invitation for later with Wilma…all of these
pieces like car-track falling into place, allowed with an openness that
might be said to match the more visible willfulness of acting on plans,
with the willingness to suggest an idea, to change existing plans, to
create life on the fly.
So here we are back
in the moment, breathing
again, you and I; it has come, as always, to this; and in our love
for truth and connection we hold the hands of these words we both understand:
willingness, willfulness. Neither is more important than the other.
Even the religious text states: God helps those who help themselves.
Which is to say, willingness plus willfulness equals results (if results
we are after), and results may simply mean grace.
Even to say "results"
means our bias is toward willfulness; as we are willfully using willingness
to get what we want. On the other hand, we can willingly use willfulness
to get what we want, but only if we expect nothing more or less than
thirst; I pause
to fetch water.
Relationship is hard work. It is stressful, as stress is resistance
to change, and change is the hallmark of relationship. Hard work does
not have to be stressful: it can be healthy and joyful. How? Through
willingness. Hard work generated by willfulness only leads to injury
and disease, and more daily stress (despite whatever material results
may be accomplished). It is the work of our civilization, of technological
culture, of modern times. Therefore it is familiar, and accepted as
the conventional way to function, still, even in the latter days of
the work requires willingness: openness: surrender to the process, in
faith that the effort of change is worth the grace received in abundant
loving. Why change? Because in honoring our precious differences, we
also honor growth. Growth continues as an impulse for us as individuals
as well as together, as an entity. Growth happens through furtherance
of our own nature, our own qualities, skills, talents and creative energy,
through the work that each of us is able to accomplish in our lives;
and also through our willingness to change, to discover new paths, to
evaluate our habits and behaviors and open to new possibility. The work
is one of acceptance; of gracefully loving what is different in the
other. Change is not cut and dried as in, I need to change this or you
need to change that. That’s willfulness that comes out of a protective
ego, which itself hates change, and wants to force change, if necessary,
on another rather than see its own domain and image disturbed. Change
that heals is willingness to offer change in one’s own perspective and
behavior, and such willingness is supported by the other’s like willingness.
When the will to change is mutual, both as individuals and as a couple,
change occurs, growth happens, love flourishes as its own reward.
Willingness is listening.
Willfulness is talking, on and on, with a purpose, an explanation, an
Willingness is opening
to the expression of what lies within.
Willfulness is deciding not to share, not to change.
Willingness is being
ready to see what happens next.
Willfulness leads to the carrying of burdens, the grudging effort of
living through hardship and stress.
breathing, relaxing, slowing down, and knowing that everything is happening
in perfect time.
Willfulness seeks escape,
capture, solitude, revenge.
space, tears, time and the lightness of understanding that the world
will get on just fine without our personal cares, without our solo list
of things to do, without our refusal to play. We come full circle and
awake to a new day, seeing light in our lover’s eyes.
improvisation and the art of living
There seems to be
a choice to make: either following the flow of feeling in the moment,
or settling in for the long haul, with its own virtues--dependability,
loyalty, commitment, steadfastness, focus, perseverance, willingness
to work through obstacles for a lasting, more primary goal. Following
the first path, the details arrange themselves, as if by Fate; or are
chosen arbitrarily, as if for the sake of experiential learning: "Oh,
look what happens when I do this…that’s interesting"--a constantly
renewing process of engagement. The forms change; yet the process continues.
Changes in such a spirit are wrought in partnership with stability.
master musician will offer a dynamic balance of free improvisation and
solid groove: Jimi Hendrix or Mamady
Keita, for example. Each takes the tradition (rock and blues, village
dance) and does it to a tee; but as a master, as a baby with a toy.
Each knows it perfectly but bounces it playfully around, adding so much
twist and embellishment that the material provides only raw form to
mold in the character of the artist himself.
If art is to add
anything relevant to life, it must be fully life-like: which is to say,
spiral in form: coming back around, but adding something new. Otherwise,
endless outpouring, like blood on the street: or endless sameness, like
fashionable schools of K-Mart "literature" which never finds
the exit door and dies flourescent death forever.
The creative principle
can be applied this way: It's not necessary to create form out of nothing;
rather take the given form and use of it what suits you; let the conventions
serve as springboards to go your own way (and come back again), to be
in tune with that central pulse and spirit of the foundation song or
genre, and let it serve as the very body with which the flying spirit
Easy for artists,
maybe, to play with forms. What about the rest of us? Daily life is
full of struggles, challenges, conflicts. What can we do? Work with
it, together: "I promise you I won’t blame you; if you let me feel
and express the hard time I’m having right now." Or alone...cooking
the pancakes, washing the dishes. Last night a big, shiny black bear
unscrewed the lid on the parmesan cheese jar, and also ate Wilma’s pre-packed
lunch. We survived. To be together I left behind my comfortable working
office, trucked everything up the hill to her house. A computer didn't
really belong in her bedroom. So now I have recycled fiberboard on my
new study walls--a renovated outhouse. Even so, there is always a tweaking
to be done: a waterline or printer to fix, another sinkful of dishes.
Emotions come and
go: elation, expectation, ambition, frustration. It must be the kids,
the neighbors say. Life in the working-schooling mode leaves no time
for clear and full relation: between times hectic and scattered; bodies
passing in small circles, abrasive noise of rough edges and private
explorations. Why is this boy so sad? He comes home crying from school
every day, has to be dragged out of bed and refuses to eat breakfast.
But at 7:25, he and older brother burst out the door like buckshot,
to the yellow bus.
Or maybe it's me:
the case of the new Dad moving in. Styles of parenting, of loving: how
long to stay with whiny, cross whimpering….Is it against me, or in need
of further expression? Today we hold to nothing but the willingness,
the together-spirit. Funky two-burner hotplate, fan-blown space heater:
my study, your bed. We need equal time, to stay in that center. But
not today, it’s Thursday. Except tonight…and tomorrow flying to town,
before the blessed Weekend (kids away to real Dad).
Either way, it's
a parade of forms in the human image. Tears rain and love shines, and
the trees to one side and the stump and old boards to the back all conspire
to frame this home, like any, in uneasy glory. Bees cover the raspberries,
mountains have taken on that Hereford look. Where is this going? It’s
just life. Let the clouded glass break and the knots unravel, so we
can write our script for Hollywood-not.
What goes wrong?
It’s the suction from the spinning world, that spins us off our axis.
A vortex of whirling energy, collective and cumulative, that brings
us no peace but through its own explosion to stillness, and simple breathing.
The stillness gives vision to new form, and in the giving, new form
comes to be in the world. Its being in the world whirls new circuits
of energy into the spinning hole, taking us from the stillness
to chaos and confusion along the way. When the blur reaches its most
unbearable intensity it breaks apart…first fuzzy…into clear space: a
fireworks of incendiary mystery. We are left to breathe
This motion is continuous:
a bottom line definition of self. Into the world we jump again, children
all, craving relationship. And so the form we desire comes into play:
our lover, our mate. In fond embrace we shape all the energy we can
muster into a rounded welter of passion and bliss, until the air clears
and a seed takes the ball under its wing and begins to run with it:
kids are like that. What can we do?
When they cry, sit
down and soothe them, teaching them to talk.
When they rage and nag, teach them manners.
We choose the chores
we take on, call these children and walls into being. My sermon says
Willingness is key. I go along for the ride: from patient stillness
(centering together: mornings long in bed) to random adventure (midnight
networking, afternoon dump run along the dusty highway with mixed cloud
and heat), finally into fuzz of transition: willing to take the leap
the cliff again, and sail.
positivism, cynicism, and the artful essay
There are those
(I’m thinking of William Gass) who shun the content-based essay or article,
because it falls into the trap of assertion, while arguments and so-called
facts can always be refuted. At the other extreme, past where Gass lays
claim to an intervening territory I call "the artful essay,"
lies the camp of the cynics. These old boys mutter dry witticisms about
the failings of this or that or all philosophies, ask for another beer
and settle grimly in for the third period. So I come quickly to that
middle ground, a world apart, and ask what remains to be said, or rather,
how to say it.
It’s about trusting
beginnings; trusting the process; trusting the integrity of the creative
spirit. If this too becomes a dogmatic rhetoric, a religion or polemic,
I say I must then still go beyond to the form itself. The vehicle or
messenger, this too is held to security or scrutiny, is blamed: a smoking
gun, the soldier who wielded it, even the general who gave the orders;
all begging immunity, all guilty or faultless as the jury of peers may
determine. The form is worshipped or condemned on its own merits, and
rightly so. My quest, then, is to assist in the manifestation of form
which is beyond reproach in its effectiveness (even when carrying out
a predetermined mission), while also remaining free of idolization.
What, no fame, no
features in TV Guide?
It’s rather about
uniqueness, which every form as every person demands from the inner
core of fire which creates life by life, word by word, day by day. The
mission may indeed be predetermined—like this very subtitle, finding
its way forward; or, an evaluation can be made, after the performance…and
so lead to subsequent renovations. Yet the proof is in the making, in
the generation of matter suited to the energy from which it is transformed.
Empty forms, wild
verbiage and mumbled mouth music--that’s no answer either. It can be
a clear lucidity, a white light shining on pure observation or logic
presented simply, in fact or fiction or even feeling; neither rainbow-colored
positivism nor murky nihilism, not even black humor. Objective clarity
in one school of arts and sciences is itself a proud illusion; leaving
commensurate humility to temper the playful confidence with which each
creative act is finally accomplished.
We come to rest
at last in the single being we are, microcosm and macrocosm. We rest
not as on a throne but as in a dance, pausing for breath. We find our
hands feeling the music again, and moving in time...
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