It must have been six in the morning and I was in the kitchen with Naomi, and we were trying to figure out if the party meant anything. This always happens to me. Probably it’s because I’ve ended up at some very good parties. This one involved poets and a hundred black berets, and fresh-baked cupcakes for breakfast. Naomi looked fabulous and she really was Danger Girl that night, and we were trying to understand whether that amazing energy, that vortex of possibility that surrounds any truly good party, whether that could save the world.
If we just… all these people… all this energy… why can’t we live like this all the time? It’s the old vision, that 4:00 AM glimpse of utopia, surrounded by friends and new friends and peace among your kind which makes you forget that there are other kinds. It means something, it has to, and you’re sure that this dawn among all others represents a new beginning, if not for all humanity then at least for the people who were lucky enough to be there. But it’s never that simple. The party absolutely depends on temporary suspension of disbelief. For example: this party was in Bayview and the few local kids who turned up — black kids at a white party — they didn’t fit in so well. It was hard for many to agree when they rapped “fuck the PO-lice!” Not that we wanted the cops to show up, to be sure, but it’s just, it wasn’t, they weren’t…
The party is its own reality, that’s the seductive pleasure of it. It plays by its own rules and does not mix well with racial tension or economic complexities or genocide. At this party, I did not perform a poem about genocide. I’ve been working on one, based on my experiences in Cambodia. Genocide + Party = bummer, Naomi observed, and she was right, and I suddenly couldn’t explain to her what the hell I had been writing about and why I wanted to do a poem about PEOPLE FUCKING DYING at a party, other than the fact that this was intentionally a “happening” with lots of experimental art. I made out with her instead, which was absolutely a good idea.
And then the french toast was ready and Evan was on the decks playing the most amazing sunrise set, and this woman I’d never met named Molly was standing behind me giving me the most amazing massage. And many of the people I love were there, and I thought — yes. This is life. This is what I want.
It is. It is what I want. Moments like this, I live for them.
Except for riding across the desert on top of a truck. Or having a woman beam with pride as she shows me how her one goat she bought with the loan is now three, how she thinks her future will be better and how she suddenly believes that she is the one who can make it so. Or showing Wikipedia to an Indian journalist. Answering my young friend when she asked me what a polynomial is. Understanding something, finally, and writing it with passion, near to tears that I was able to get even a hundredth of what I felt onto the page. The party is a mere flirtation compared to everything beautiful that I’ve ever seen or done, every tiny spark I may have planted. Some of those sparks were very hard to strike, and many more times I utterly failed to make anything better at all, but I wanted to be there just the same, just to know. I have walked through a bombed-out city, and I am glad that I did, because that is just as real as this fabulous french toast.
There is the party, and there is the work. I defer to The Beatles here. “Sure we did lots of drugs,” said Harrison in an interview years later, “but we never let it get in the way of making music.” The party and the work. The things you do because the thrill of the moment propels you to, the aerial somersault in the free fall towards the crystal blue water and you are seven years old and nothing else matters; that kiss and watching 200 people show up and have a mad great time at a happening that I helped create; this is the flight of life. But there is also the work, the slow and much longer runway. It often takes immensely more planning, months or years, and sometimes you can’t plan at all and you were just lucky you were there to help. Even more often you don’t know if you helped at all. So we do the work. At our party was a physicist, a handful of doctors, a man designing a genome sequencer, several linguists, a kindergarten teacher, a therapist, a pair of international aid workers, a civil rights lawyer, and perhaps a future politician or two. Oh, and some artists, I gather. We were all there, and what we do when we are not there also makes us live.
The party and the work. They are the yin and yang, each could not exist without the other, and this is what I was trying to explain to Naomi messily that laughing morning. The party is a focus of intention, it is a coming together, and we desperately need that. But is it not the only thing. Now matter how glorious the dawn seems, the party will not branch out to save the world (and this is where the Merry Pranksters failed.) Most people aren’t invited, for one thing. So we will go home and get some sleep and then get up to create the world we want to live in, because we have to. Because we want to. The same thing that drives us to want french toast with friends at dawn is the thing that lets us understand that the rubble of war is a travesty. And when we are willing to walk through that rubble — to stop imagining the rest of the world and see that it is real too, even the genocides — we see where our efforts are needed. I cannot see that throwing the best party ever (and it really was the best party ever) is any different, in spirit, from swabbing the infected eyes of Ethiopian children or campaigning for finance reform or being a foster parent or however it is that we each choose to take care of the rest of existence. Attending to either of these poles makes me weep equally that I could bring something good into the world, however meaningless or small. The party is never the work, and the work must be done, and sometimes the work kinda sucks. But we do it anyway. I must have both– I will fade away somehow without both. Both are the creation of a more marvelous existence.