Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wait for no man

Yesterday marked the one-month annviersary of my return to the United States!

Oh, you thought I'd stop talking about time, did you, now that I'm out of Korea? You thought perhaps I would stop counting weeks and months and years, stop noting fractions and segments completed, stop observing the passage that is undaunted by anything we do? We can kick and scream and tug and beg and pummel time with our fists of outraged procrastination but it just keeps moving, shrugging off everyone equally. So indifferent. Mary-Chapin called time the great equalizer. Or, wait? Was that sex? Love? It was her album Time*Sex*Love...oh, hold on, now I've got to go check.

I had it wrong! What a bad Mary-Chapin Carpenter fan! "Time is the great gift, sex is the great equalizer, love is the great mystery." Her bandmate/guitarist/co-songwriter/ producer/musical partner/lifelong friend John Jennings originally said it; that is the full title of the album Time*Sex*Love. Hmm. Well, now, time is the great gift. That part I agree with. I think it supports my point about time: that after Korea I'll never take it for granted again. Therefore, I continue to notice it.

Now let's talk about titles with asterisks in them. There's Time*Sex*Love and there's -- the big one! come on! you know it! -- M*A*S*H. Ahhhhhhhhhh, sighed the girl newly returned from Korea, as she promptly logged on to her roommate's computer and rejoined Netflix.

Here's a great thing that happened: Netflix kept me in its system, waiting patiently, just knowing I was bound to return from Korea and reactivate my membership. And it was right! I think that was one of my first acts as I settled back into this Medford house. The 200+ movies in my queue were right there waiting to be sent to me in succession, just as I'd left them, but I added all of the M*A*S*H discs in order and moved them to the upper echelons of the queue. That was a lot of DVDs. Each season is three discs or so, so now my queue is basically M*A*S*H after M*A*S*H after M*A*S*H. I've been out of town a lot this past month, but last week I watched Season 1 Disc 1 and it was -- well, it was what I thought it would be: strange.

That disc had the first eight episodes of the first season, and as any M*A*S*H fan knows, the first season is nothing to write home about. It was largely movie-derivative and as far as my Korea-ruminating purposes go, these particular episodes were too Vietnam-esque, to the point they were making any statement at all, but there were some Korean moments. There was Young-Hee ("I am also beautiful!") and that resonated much differently with me than when I viewed the show in my youth. I now see the whole honor/dishonoring the family thing matter-of-factly, instead of exotically.

That, I believe, is the first of many lessons I'll learn by watching the entirety of M*A*S*H in order as a post-Korea project. By living in another country, no matter how beautiful/wacky/grueling/ unsettling/enlightening, you enable yourself to look at it matter-of-factly instead of as some exotic Other. Agreeing or disagreeing is not the point of living abroad. Understanding is.

Speaking of living abroad, on Sunday I happened to go on an artist's date (The Artist's Way -- that's another post for another day) in the late afternoon to the beach in between the Wood Island and Orient Heights stops on the blue line. I wandered a bit and then sat for quite a while on a bench, watching the planes take off from Logan Airport. This, of course, made me think of "Winthrop," the Indigo Girls song that begins like this: When we get back to Winthrop, a few miles from the airport, on a plastic chair on a deck where my friends live, I watch the taking off airplanes, I watch the ocean waves crashing, and with all of this movement something's got to give. Down at the high tide, passed down through the family, the fisherman gather to complain about the catch. They talk about time and they talk about tides...I listen to them, and I listen to you, and for someone there is something never coming back.

So I sang it, and then I sang another Emily Saliers song, and another, and another. Just me and my inner artist, on a bench, singin' in the glorious light as the afternoon waned. I mixed in about one and a half Amy Ray songs but I kept going back to Emily: "Closer to Fine," "Love Will Come to You," "The Wood Song," "Watershed," "Mystery." It was rather nice, and passers-by didn't even seem to much care that I was just sitting on a bench singing by myself (but I wasn't by myself, you see, I was on a date with my inner artist).

Just then, Italy won the World Cup. There is no shortage of Italians anywhere in Boston, but I was in a particularly good place there. Cries of joy, honking horns, people spilling onto the streets waving Italian flags and biking along the sidewalk adjacent to the beach crying "Italy!!!" An Italian couple, maybe in their early 60s, joined me on my bench. They spoke mostly Italian with some English mixed in, but even with my extremely limited Italian skills (read: I speak French and Spanish) I could decipher that they were talking about the game and discussing the 1-1 score ("una a una" - that was easy) and the penalty kicks and so forth. When the jubilant cries started, I'd used my cell phone to get the World Cup update from Google text messaging, so I knew what was going on, even.

Other Italian friends of the couple happened by and they greeted each other "Viva l'Italia!" and talked about the game for a while. One couple joined them, so they four moved to the next bench over to all sit together, but I could still listen to the lovely mixed language conversation. They basked in the rapture of their country's glory, and I basked in their rapture, and the beach, and the moment. And I sang Emily songs, like "Galileo" (he was Italiano!): How long 'til my soul gets it right? Did any human being ever reach that kind of light? And "Virginia Woolf": Did you hear me say? Each life has its place. And "Winthrop": I hear the dim roar of the last flight out, and for someone there is someone never coming back.

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