they're selling incense on the corner, the sweet smell fills the airremember the story of daedalus and icarus? i think about it a lot, partly because of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I read at a formative stage of highschool, and because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's annual Daedalus Project, an AIDS benefit. daedalus and icarus, father and son, are imprisoned in a high tower, and daedalus creates wings for them of wax and feathers. they need the wings to escape. they also want to fly.
the Krishna punks are dancing and ringing the bells down on Tompkins Square
the beautiful and the broken, the ramshackle and the rakehell
I'm drinking down on 11th and A with all my favorite wastrels
We are the city, we are its pulse and its beat
We are the city, see us tramp the street
icarus is so excited by his flying ability that, ignoring his father's warnings, he flies higher and higher until the sun melts the wax in his wings and he crashes to the earth and dies. so daedalus and icarus represent two ways of being an artist: icarus crashes and burns (picture
janis joplin), and daedalus is careful of his craft, and doesn't fly as high because he takes fewer risks.
the lyrics above are by Casey Neill, a song that i love for its icarus energy. the exhiliration of twentysomethings with the world before us, sailing and swimming and splashing in the best and the worst of our social/cultural stream:
most of the time i squelch and dismiss my inner icarus, but sometimes he comes out when i'm traveling. this morning i took an hour-plus urban hike, racing against the clock to get to the 22nd street caltrain station under highway 280. i don't have one of those nifty SF bicycle coalition maps to help me plan a route from point A to point B that avoids steep hills. so i walked the length of 22nd st, through SF General Hospital. i was propelled by a power not entirely my own, and i was gambling my ability to get some exercise and get to work on time. i discovered a foot bridge over 101 right where i needed it. it was not on my map.
steam rises from the iron grates, the smoke it fills my lungs
you can hear the sounds of all the world sung in a thousand tongues
the subway mariachi, the arias dying strains
and the busker in the station singing of escapades out on the D train
We are the city, in all its joy and pain
We are the city, our sins washed away in the rain
it occurred to me it would not be wise to travel this way if i were responsible for anyone else. just yesterday i took a group of twelve young adult pilgrims from the Camino gathering through SoMa, and failed to find them lunch until well into the afternoon. i'm used to traveling by myself, so i was on icarus time. being a good leader requires some daedalus, for leading everyone together is more important than reaching too high and failing them. and if you crash and burn, there's no next time.
this morning, by myself again, i was joyfully in icarus time. i climbed, with coffee and map in hand, all the way to the top of 23rd st. i looked back over noe valley and the mission and it took my breath away. then i rounded the hill and saw the bay, container ships from china at their anchorages south of the bay bridge, and the cranes at the shipyards. i saw clothes on clotheslines in the foreground, in the aparment buildings on missouri st. (i wondered how those folks get to work or the store). i was captivated by the san francisco-ness of it all, what writers call "sense of place."
good storytelling, good art, and good mission require that you know the ground on which you stand and with whom you share it. that's why i love, even though it's about a different city, Casey Neill in this song calling NYC both "Gotham" and "Gomorrah." he knows the city deeply, he's tramped the streets in joy and sorrow, and he sings boths its gotham-ness (mysterious and foggy and technological) and gomorrah-ness (sinful almost beyond hope):
We are the stars dead but still shining, we are the constellations
high above the rush hour crowd down at the station
the lunatic asylum on Roosevelt Island, GO in the park in Chinatown
and the Loisaida poet, Molloch he's calling it down
We are the City, it all its joy and sorrow
We are the City, a prayer for all tomorrow