I’ve realized lately that there are just times when I need to be alone and creative. It sounds corny or pretentious or whatever, but it’s really true.
When I have moments like this, sometimes I put on this documentary I watched about New York City by Ken Burns, from about twenty years ago. The documentary has this quiet, somber tone to it, with this gentle music and these sepia toned pictures of the city.
The entire last episode is about the World Trade Center, which had unfortunately met its sad fate a few months after the documentary had gotten made. In the documentary, they interview Philippe Petit, who I have written about before on this blog.
Petit is a guy who probably could use an entire documentary all to his own. A person who would just hang a tightrope between two towers or buildings and just walk between them, for fun, well, this is definitely a person who is worth getting to know, at least in my book. In the documentary, they trace the history of the construction of the World Trade Center. A man named Guy Tozzoli appears in the documentary. He’d spearheaded the building of the trade center and was a character all his own. He talked about having to fill 2 million square feet of office space when the towers were built and a guy with a French accent who kept visiting him, posing as a journalist, who asked him how much the towers swayed in the wind. Tozzoli recounts how he got a call on his police radio that a man, who turned out to be Petit, was walking between the two towers one day in 1974. “If he doesn’t fall off, don’t arrest him.” That’s my favorite quote from Tozzoli.
Petit speaks in the documentary in this absolutely incredible way, recounting his experiences during his walk. He intellectualizes what he experienced but in an understandable way. He married the two towers. It was an intimate performance between him and the towers. The elements were getting annoyed at his persistent vagabondage. Whenever other worlds invite us, whenever we are balancing on the boundaries of our limited human condition, that’s where life starts. I absolutely love those words.
My friends always say that I am adventurous. I don’t agree. I don’t jump out of airplanes but Petit’s quote sticks in my head all the time. They are almost words I live by. Other worlds invite us. We are frequently balancing on the boundaries of our limited human condition. When we enter these other worlds, life starts. I think about this a lot when I’m skiing. Skiing is this complete other world. Complete. We are as humans bound by gravity. We seek reasonable temperatures. We do try not to hurtle ourselves down sloped ice surfaces, attempting to as fast as we possibly can. But this other world invites us and while I’m skiing, I do feel like I am balancing on the limits of my limited human condition. I’ve said many times that I have a relationship with each of the mountains I ski at. I really do feel like I’m married to some of those places.
Last weekend I attended an event that I consider one of the most sublime things that a person could ever attend. The Red Bull Cliff diving tour is back in Boston after a nine year absence. The divers dive off of an eight story building into the water below, doing flips and twists along the way. Heady stuff. I looked at the divers during the event and thought — you really are balancing at the boundaries of your limited human condition. You really have accepted an invitation from another world. Do you feel like you actually marry the places you are diving off of? Those people absolutely amaze me. I often wonder if the diving really is an intimate performance between them and the thing they are diving off of, in this case the Institute of Contemporary Art. How do we all respond when other worlds invite us? Do we go or do we remain in our limited human condition. I’ll say one thing. I would go and I’d do some flips on the way down.
The brave diving souls from cliff diving. Enjoy: