There were, however, heroes at Antioch, and they mostly occupied the position of instructor. One in particular made an imprint on me that was so vivid it changed the course of my life--I kid you not. This instructor introduced me to a way of thinking that proved to be so powerful in its simple challenge that it drove the final nail into the coffin of my "spirituality". The way of thinking was Existentialism, and the instructor was Lila Karp.
Lila was a mess. She was brash and impatient. She wore a lot of purple. She nearly always showed up in class wearing some sort of floppy hat that didn't so much work with her scruffy blond hair as much as it argued with it. She wore a mix of boldly colored drapey outfits that gave no indication whatsoever of whether her body was being hidden or accentuated. She made no effort to hide her distaste for certain students (they usually deserved it), or broadcast her admiration for her favorites. Fortunately, I found myself in the latter grouping.
Lila was an existentialist, and if I remember correctly, I had her for a course on Existential Philosophy. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the nuts and bolts of this philosophy is that life is meaningless until meaning is assigned (Existence precedes Essence). There are four "ontological concerns", or basic tenets, and they are Solitude, Death, Freedom, and Meaninglessness. The philosophy proposes that there is no escaping these four concerns, so why try! Accept that they are going to create a certain level of appropriate anxiety in one's life, and this can be viewed as proof that you are alive! (So much of the art of psychotherapy is seen as the practice of trying to eliminate the fear of these four concerns--rubbish I say!) I won't go into a detailed explanation of the four concerns in this post, other than to say that they encompass fears that we all have until the day we die, and since you can't avoid them, the goal is to decide what our response to our fear is going to be. Nietzsche suggested, rather brilliantly, that we merely live life, fully, which is, in my opinion, the most perfectly simple piece of advice I have ever heard. An example of this can be found in this wonderful clip from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters:
In this clip, Woody's character confronts all four of the ontological concerns, and comes out of it deciding that, since you can't get away from them, it would be best to "live life, fully"! His embrace of that idea begins once he starts to enjoy the Marx Brothers film he is watching in the theater.
This was the tenet that Lila lived her life by, and the tenet that she passed along to me. This was around the time I was in my mid-forties; I had left not only a twenty year performing career to go back to school, but also a four year relationship. I was renegotiating my life and heading into middle age, so meaning was being reevaluated right and left. It was also during this time that I began to completely let go of my belief in god, as I began to understand the oppressive building blocks of world religions and their ties to the governing bodies of the time. Needless to say, my world was being rocked. Lila introduced me to a way of thinking that embraced, rather than avoided, the uncertainties, fears, and randomness that emerged from the dying gasps of my fear-based belief systems, and she presented it in a way that emphasized the joy and engagement available once you stop hiding from the reality of life. In a word, I was alive in a way that I had never been before.
Lila died in 2008, as mentioned above. But what she left behind was a legacy of courage and wisdom. Her own journey out of the binds of feminine roles was ignited by the emergent Women's Movement in the 60's, in which she was in the front lines. Her only book, "The Queen is in the Garbage", was a novel exploration of the politics of the body as told through a pregnant protagonist. She taught at many American universities and challenged the male-dominated status quo up to her death. She did this in floppy hats and with a searing disdain for laziness or arrogance. What many students had difficulty seeing was that she was an undeniably passionate woman who LOVED life and literature, and perhaps loved even more the act of sharing that with students. She just did not love Madonna!
I will never forget her or diminish the impact she had on my life. I miss her.
If, in life, you are offered an opportunity for freedom from an eccentric person wearing completely inappropriate primary colors and hats that threaten to completely overtake hairstyles, my suggestion is that you jump head first into the experience. They are the seers, the faeries, the true philosophers; the true lovers, the re-storytellers who bravely step outside the dominant discourse in order to propose a more inclusive one. Lila gave of her time and her life so that others could step into an experience of themselves that was not dictated by straight men in positions of power. I pity those who crossed her, but to be honest, they got what they had coming to them. I am happy to carry on the work, and I am overdue in giving honor to a life well lived, fully.
|Lila Karp: 1933-2008|