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Notes from open land
by Wendy Lewis

Creature Comforts

It's a grey, rainy Sunday morning. No one else in my house is awake. The refrigerator is humming absentmindedly and I can see the steam from the dryer wafting past the dining room window where I am sitting.

The last month was my most current example of that kind of craziness only Americans can create and pull off with such deliberate, important and exasperated panache. It's how we are raised in this country and it's expected of us as citizens, even at the risk of heart disease, anxiety attacks or the erosion of relationships. I can't believe how many times in a month I say or hear, "It's been so crazy!" Philosophically, I don't agree with any of it, but hypocritically, I find myself cursing at that slow driver in the left lane.

There are windows, however, that float by all the time. I see their frames everywhere. I was looking through one of them on St. Patrick's Day, around 8:30pm from a stage where my band was playing together with another artist for her CD release performance. The audience was 350-400 strong and filled all the chairs, drifting against the walls three to four people deep. It was a surprising mix of styles, colors, genders and ages. We had chosen to play a fairly quiet set, and half way through it I looked up and purposefully took in the breadth of the room. Everyone I could see was focused on the stage. Some were looking right into my eyes and other eyes were closed. Some heads were back or bowed, some mouths forming the words I sang, one woman in the second row was crying. The hum of humanity was palpable in the room, on my skin, into my organs and reverberated from my own mouth. I have been on myriad stages for many years and I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like it before - not that way. On what is considered one of America's infamous party nights, this theatre was filled to capacity with silent reverence. It felt religious.... and I'm not ..... but within those walls for a few hours, we all had chosen the oblivion of a dark, contemplative ride together.

For the days that followed, I felt haunted and buoyed by the surreal nature of that evening and wrestled again with the truth of life in the 21st century. The politic of America in bed with and irresponsibly procreating for mad consumerism; millions of automobiles on as many daily missions; gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, big box stores, office towers, malls, strip malls, mega malls; TVs, computers, cell phones and plastics buried beneath the ever-expanding girth of suburbia; the ringing of morning alarm clocks and the greasy Egg McMuffin packed into another nervous stomach; highways and byways and driveways and parking lots; the speedometer needle buried on the pace car of America.

This morning, two days late for deadline on this essay after somehow making it through another crazy week of sixteen hour workdays, I stand at this window looking out over the long easy slope of my lawn. The twenty-four inches of March snow, which roared like that proverbial lion across the Midwestern plains a couple weeks ago, is barely visible now. I'm thinking about the cumbersome old woman in a brown scarf loaded down with plastic grocery bags struggling to get on the bus as I sped by her on Wednesday rushing off in my little silver car to my next important destination. The rain has stopped and the romping dogs are covered with mud. The refrigerator has stopped humming. A small bird scavenges beneath the empty feeder.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers