That Feeling


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Sometimes we look across the table and recognize — as Plato describes — our “own half.” The one we know without knowing. And dinner becomes a date with destiny.

For me that was Jon.

It was stirring, magnetic, happy, primal, telepathic and more. We just fit. Hummed at similar frequencies. Came from similar backgrounds. A sensible businessman, he, too, was experiencing things he “never felt before.” We both grinned a lot. I thought we’d found the X on the cosmic map, the crossroad of inevitability where we were meant to be.

We had a promising, whirlwind month together. But as powerful as our connection was, he and it vanished one night — in the time it took to drive the 101 to his house for dinner.

On the surface, it was about his ex-girfriend calling in tears just before I’d arrived and realizing she still loved him. But it was about us. Well, ending us. He wrote a letter stating his confusion and panic, something he also “never felt before” though what we shared was “real and strong.”

He said he’d call to explain soon, but didn’t. He just vanished; wouldn’t say goodbye and I hurtled back to planet Earth alone.

For two weeks, my soul hurt, something I’d never felt before. A throbbing like a headache, but in the outer extremities of — for lack of a better word — my spirit. Aspirin didn’t help.

My buddy Daniel dragged me on a forget-him mission to the Sierras. He shouted above the Cessna’s engine: “The soul is too wild, a place you should visit, not live.” There was mountain turbulence before Kernville and I was trying not to pass out so I couldn’t answer. Though what could I say? My soul has a mind of its own.

Even Mr. Zuckerman, my Yoda-like dry cleaner, noticed something was off in my normally glowy mojo. He listened sadly.

“True love is practical. Think rugalah, not kabbalah, it’s better,” he said handing my sweaters across the counter.

Practical?

Falling in love is one place where normally sensible people talk like Rumi. I’ve observed awestruck scientists, FBI agents, and moguls discussing synchronicity, intuition, destiny, timelessness and a sense of the divine. Though quests for mates might resemble Maxim layouts or Hoover’s CEO profiles, it isn’t so simple: deep down, most long for the one we belong to on some transcendent, mythic, inchoate level — that “feeling.”

Just when I detached and started to date, Jon vividly and relentlessly re-entered my thoughts and dreams. I sensed he was thinking about me, too. So I wrote him saying I thought we had unfinished business. He wrote back, thanking me and said he’d meet me. I left it to him to follow up.

He didn’t. The spectral soul mate did.

He/It became the phantom boyfriend, my ghost of beshert past. He even attended Thanksgiving dinner, invisibly toasting with my family and friends, relishing the caraway herb bread I’d baked.

I knew then — closure or not — I had to let Jon and our happy unlived life go.

The next morning, I left pans soaking and drove to Malibu where I got a latte at Starbucks, then walked across the bridge to the hidden cove where we first kissed and shared the stories of our lives and dreams. I emptied an envelope of torn-up notes and buried them in the sand. I whispered goodbye into the capricious wind. And with resolve I stood up, brushed off the sand, walked back across the bridge, back into my life.

I missed him, nostalgic for something paradoxical: that thing that always and never was. But it passed.

Who can say why one person is a familiar and another isn’t; why one stirs and moves us; why some we like but don’t love and some we love but don’t like; why some we think we just like and then fall madly in love with; what is beshert, pheromones, experience, right timing or simply it. How two people can see each other for five seconds and connect indelibly, while others live together for years but divorce as strangers. Why you forget one and another you can’t.

My psychic friend Jesse thinks it’s past lives.

My zoologist friend Mary claims physiology over metaphysics. That scientific research shows telepathic communication is a highly evolved sonar system all animals share for survival, to identify those in their tribe, flock, pod, pride, etc.

I think my rabbi has it right. He’s pragmatic — if it’s true soul mates, both know it, that “feeling” is mutual and recognizable.

One day, I dreamed about Jon. And then, just hours later, after a six-month absence, he drove past me in Santa Monica without noticing. The coincidence was striking, but not meaningful. More like a cosmic postcard from a place I once knew. Like a connection to the immortal parts of us that persist but can’t exist as grounded, ordinary, primal love. I watched his silver Lexus disappear and I continued walking in the other direction.

Reeva Hunter Mandelbaum is vice president of story research at a film and TV production company and is finishing her first novel, “The Lost Songs of the Cowboy, Jakob Boaz.”

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Endangered Species


Rachel Rosenthal, her bald pate gleaming withsweat and her stark features grooved like gashes in alabaster, lookslike a female Erich von Stroheim — who, let’s face it, could himselfhave been a woman in drag. Short, stubby, Teutonic, and with the kindof wracked expression one imagines Rimbaud wore after his season inhell, she could just as easily be the commandant of a Nazi death campas the most senior and compelling Performance Artist inCalifornia.

In fact, she is the latter and, for some 40 years,has been experimenting with a mix of Dada, surrealism, Artaudianmetaphysics and social activism. A photo of her in 1963, before sheshaved her head and wound gold earrings into her brow, reveals anattractive, lantern-jawed young lady with sensuous, devouring lipsand large, mesmerizing eyes. The updated Rachel Rosenthal is clearlyan artifact consciously designed by the artist for public consumptionand intended to be an amalgam of all the esthetic influences thatshaped her over the years. A kind of animated abstract ofpostmodernism, she combines the grittiness of Brecht with the maniaof Artaud and appears to be permanently impaled on the cutting edge.(On April 13, she will be receiving a Career Achievement Award fromL.A. Weekly, and, in June, there will be two performances of herlatest work, “The Unexpurgated Virgin,” at UCLA’s MacGowanHall.)

She is a rare bird in Los Angeles. One couldn’tbegin to conceive of anyone more un-American. Drenched in Europeanesthetics and committed to performance — dynamics that radically goagainst the grain of conventional theater, she plies her trade likean industrious mole groveling away inside the body politic. Like allindividual artists, she too has had her NEA grant withdrawn butsoldiers on in a small loft space off Robertson Boulevard, surroundedby a loyal and talented cadre of performers who have clearly beeninfected by her brand of rabid counterculturalism. She should be onthe Endangered Species list because there are so few like her around,and once they disappear, the performing arts will be severelyimpoverished. People such as Rosenthal inhabit a tiny, usually remoteinlet where alternative practices challenge the pounding surf of themainstream offering that rarest of all virtues: an estheticalternative to mob culture. It is an inlet previously inhabited byartists such as Baudelaire, Joyce, Jarry, Picasso, Artaud,Rauschenberg, Cage and Cunningham, and is invariably where thefreshest and most dangerous ideas are incubated — the ones thatsubsequently influence and ultimately transform the mainland.

One of her more recent works, “Tohubohu,” a Hebrewterm denoting chaos, confusion and hubbub, grew out of loose patternsand a few fixed musical rhythms, but entirely improvised andimprovised differently each night. The subject matter was ecological,social and philosophic and most effectively so when language was keptto a minimum. In it, Rosenthal essayed a short piece in which the69-year-old artist alluded to a recent fracas at Highways, aperformance-art venue in Santa Monica, where Joan Hotchkissscandalized an ostensibly hip audience by discussing the sexualcravings of sexagenarians. Rosenthal played off that mini-scandalwith fantasies of her own, which forcibly reminded us that, thoughtheir contemplation is anathema to the mainstream, the sexual organsof people in their 60s are still wigglingly alive. The uniqueness ofher company lies in the fact that, out of a well-lubricatedmechanism, Rosenthal has created a living organism and one which,with practice and support, could turn into something quiteextraordinary. That brings us back to the subsidy question.

The puddin’-headed conservatives of both partieswho view all art as a threat and all subsidy as a handout aredirectly responsible for extinguishing the exciting potentiality ofartists such as Rosenthal and her company. Monster musicals andstraightforward commercial plays are not dependent on subsidy and maywell be able to make their way through the quagmire of themarketplace, but small-scale, experimental activity, which ultimatelynourishes mainstream art, must always be helped by patronage –private, corporate or governmental — and every civilized country inthe world except the United States understands that.

Rosenthal’s venue at Espace seats about 40 people.The subsidy it requires is a moiety of what is annually raised forthe Music Center or the regularly hyped, invariably tedious L.A. ArtsFestivals. She is involved in the kind of research Bill Gates wasdoing in college before he came up with Microsoft, and althoughperformance art will never dominate the culture the way computers do,it may well influence the direction that all the performing arts,particularly dance and theater, may take in the future. To turn anartist such as Rosenthal into an endangered species is to negate thewhole conception of a cultural environment. You don’t back researchbecause it is spectacular or successful, but because it is thedevotion out of which spectacular and successful work of the futureevolves.

Fifty years from now, people in Los Angeles willbe saying: “Did you ever happen to see the work of Rachel Rosenthal?”And octogenarians will fondly compare indelible memories. It would bedisgraceful if, in that surge of nostalgia, they also said: “Yes, andisn’t it sad she was never really supported in her lifetime. Whatmarvels could have come about, if she had been!”

Charles Marowitz, a regular contributor for InTheater magazine, writes from Malibu.