between chasm & crest

Photographer Teresa Nabais writes me about her growing attration to the world's troubled places: Afghanistan, Israel, and her note prompts these two replies from me:

It's an interesting problem about being attracted to places of conflict or despair. How do you think you will resolve the attraction? By spending more time in places of danger and hopelessness? Or by refusing to be confused or frustrated and withdrawing like a lobster into a safe cranny? It's tough. The rewards of family and routine sometimes leave me feeling a sort of loneliness I cannot describe except to say that something feels broken. I refuse to get drawn into this safe life, and would rather be dreaming out loud in Beirut, but why am I so shy and hesitant among infants in parking lots in the suburbs, shuttling between supermarket and pizzeria? I have begun to feel more and more like an intruder among families. And the weird thing is now the families immediately identify me as an agent of change, as an inspiration to push someone from the nest, and I can't help but be bedazzled by the comfort.

There is a story I think by Maupassant, about a poor urchin who walks by the mansion of the rich kid every day, and stares at ll the toys on the lawn. The poor kid's eyes are always wide with wonder, until one day the poor kid walks by the mansion with a rat in a cage, and the rich kid drops everything and follows the urchin along the fence, unable to stop looking at the treasure the poor kid carries: a trapped rat.

Do you think your journey to both sides of Israel was a comment on Israel, or on Montreal? Or on yourself? I've checked out your blog a couple of times and come away with overwhelming sensations of looking for identity. Not the kind of identity so many people obsess about, of how we look to others, but about how we look in the mirror. I'd love to see a "report" or memoir or whatever on your trip there. The last time I went I was determined to make a short movie about 13 Israelis and 13 Lebanese, and show them all listening to the same music, same worries, same clothes, and then mix them all up for an American audience and at the end of it ask the audience, Which was which? But I never got to Israel. My sympathies were hammered into me in my childhood in Lebanon, but there are two problems that I cannot ignore: the lack of women's rights, and the inevitable repetition of history, reversed, where now the Arabs wish to do to Israel what was done to them in 1948. If that was so bad, 1948, who would wish it on anyone else?

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After Teresa's response, I write another note, moving away from danger and its magnetism to passion and its cures:

I think of all life's adventures, the biggest thrill of all is feeling passion. Some people are hardly aware of this sensation, since they fell it all the time, or never. For some people, passion is a tide or a swell that cannot be explained or linked to any action or structure in the world. I fall into the first category, and am aware of my passions mostly because other people tell me or remind me about them. I am always surprised when somebody takes the time to appreciate that I feel strongly enough about something to screw up my life (or other people's lives). I always think: But doesn't everyone feel the same way? And it is this innocent mistake that allows other people to glimpse what I feel or to carry the feeling themselves for awhile, to get inspired or motivated. But too many people simply recede into the tide or the ticks of a clock, and accept comfort without surprise as the road best taken.

You know all of this, of course, and I am simply reinforcing your knowledge of it, but with the intention of adding that of course i look for passion and think I recognise it when I see it, and to me the sensation of looking casually through your blog and pictures was very much like standing on an airport tarmac beneath jet engines revving. You're full of feeling and probably unable to do anything with your life but exactly to try everything, because passion bottled up eventually seeks release as curiosity, and I can't see somebody like you denying your interest in anything. The trick may be to accept your interest in everything as a constant condition of your existence, and report from it, as you do already, for the benefit of people who look to you for inspiration and confidence. And who is the most confident? The person who admits confusion, the traveler who admits she is lost, the friend who admits her feelings are frayed or broken or stolen or blasted into smithereens with no hopes for recovery. Confidence comes from failure and fear, and is always accompanied by these sensations, or it is not confidence but arrogance. It is enormously gratifying and very very calming to see your words admitting to confusion or wonder. If she feels this way, then surely it is okay for me to feel the same bewilderment.

I feel much better about tomorrow, reading these little letters, and thanks for giving me the chance to write myself up into a thrill about the next few days and what might happen, and how I might be pulled to chasm or crest, equally dangerous and equally enthralling.

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