Niagra Falls by Annie Leibovitz

“Going to the source.” I’ve been thinking about this phrase ever since reading an article by Annie Leibowitz about her new book, PILGRIMAGE, for which she visited and photographed the homes of some of her favorite artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Dickinson, and Ansel Adams, as well as other famous sources (if you can consider a home to be a sort of creative geographical source point), such as Niagra Falls and Freud’s couch. The project is not sexy. It was not, agents and friends told her, money making. But it was what she needed to save herself.

“I was having a tough time,” she writes, “and needed to clear my mind and fill myself up again with what I care about. I have learned over the years how to look after myself and my work, and know that at a certain point it’s good to go off and find a different road. It is a matter of stopping and refuelling, filling yourself up again before you lose all feeling. Bringing yourself back.”

“Where is my source?” I’ve been wondering. Is it a place. A feeling. A stack of books.

I picture a well, cool and deep, seemingly endless, full of fresh water with which to revive and refill. But where is this well?

It exists near the pasture on the back forty of my subconscious.

Last week, my kids were gone. In the silence, I was able to glimpse the well, to feel it out at the boundaries. It exists near the pasture on the back forty of my subconscious.  A sigh of relief:  It’s still there.

This week, my kids are back. My job is hopping and dashing with deadlines. The dishes are encrusted with eggs and hummus. My partner has a look of  mortality on his face. The school board is making shitty decisions. And the well is out of view — round the bend, down the mountain, and lost in some woods. Well? What well? I hope … I trust that I’ll see it again.

Tonight I went to see a really amazing production of Hamlet. The play is abbreviated but so cleverly that I can’t even tell you what’s missing. I’ll be getting out my giant mustard yellow Shakespeare tome tomorrow in order to revisit the original — the book that  has “TOM” written in bubble letters in different colored ballpoint pen on the pages, helping me to remember who I was dating when I took Miriam Gilbert’s Shakespeare class my junior year. Although this production has the barest set design and costumes, it is clever. When Hamlet reminds his mother of her former husband, he does so by showing her an image on a cell phone, then scrolls to the next to show her her current incestuous choice. At one point, annoyed by his “friends,” Hamlet pretend shoots the pistol he ominously carries about and declares “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead!” I chortled out loud at the reference to Tom Stoppard, but then wondered if that line is actually in the original play but so emphasized here that I heard it anew. (Over wine with a playwright friend afterward, she said there were a few embellishments, such as this, for humorous affect.)

At the top of one page he’d jotted LAY-AIR-TEEZ.

The young man next to me, however, did not chortle. In fact, he looked over at me a bit startled, completely unsure as to why this could possibly be funny. He had been furiously writing notes throughout the play, no doubt assigned by a class to provide a blow-by-blow analysis; “Ophelia is distraught.” At the top of one page — probably trying to remember a character’s name that he couldn’t quite decipher — he’d jotted LAY-AIR-TEEZ.

Hamlet was new to him. Entirely fresh. THIS was his source. Katie Consamus, the actor playing the lead (and the reason I was at the play — she is a student at the yoga studio where I teach, and when she told me that she was completing her MFA thesis in the next two weeks in the form of playing the lead in Hamlet, I had to go) will forever be this guy’s source for Hamlet. Hamlet played by a woman. Hamlet in Doc Martens and tight black jeans. The bit with the cell phone — well, I assume he’s smart enough to know that this bit wasn’t in the original, but even still, it will be in his original.

Hearing the actors deliver the lines tonight, it was probably my sixth or seventh time through the play.  In some ways, of course, it’s old. Ancient. Arguably thread bear. “To thine own self be true.” “Brevity is the soul of wit.” “Frailty, thy name is woman.” On and on the lines keep coming like a Casey Kasem New Year’s Eve show. And yet not only are they inarguably genius in that they remain fresh centuries after they were written, but also my hearing of them is, of course, different because I am different from the last time I heard this play. I have kids. I’ve lost my dad. I’m divorced. Different.  There is a speech about living in the moment that I’d never noticed before and another line about every father having seen his father’s death which meant something new to me this time.

We go to the source and the source shifts.

The source is, of course, us. The source for me is my yoga mat. The blank page. The woods. Swimming. Anywhere and any time that I can breathe deeply and dive down into that water. So why do I lose it so quickly in the daily jumble and  mess? And why am I often so sure that if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t become so disconnected from it? The fucking annoying and amazing thing is that it’s in our kids. The source, I mean. When they’re making that racket and turning their noses up at the breakfast I just made and UTTERLY forcing any creative thought out of my head … they are the source. I haven’t quite unraveled how this works, but I know that it’s true. As much as they deplete my work and make it hard for me to so much as remember that I have a well within me — that I sit on a goddamn aquafier — they are filling that well.

And the opportunity to visit it, to dip down could come at any time. Don’t count the days when it was there in the past; don’t enjoy thoughts of future visits. Go now. Prepare to bow deeply.

There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.  ~ Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2