Into the Rapture, Part Two

FROM THE START, I so needed to feel this thing called "rapture" that I misused it. I kept going back, a bliss addict, to the song or the band that at least for an instant had opened some door within me. I was nine, the first summer I had a transistor radio, and there were two songs that I waited in my room for the Top 40 station to play: "Raindrops Keep Fallin on My Head" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"--both huge hits, so the wait wasn't long. Except that once wasn't enough; I had to listen for the next play and the next.

I still remember the charming arrogance of "Raindrops," the way B.J. Thomas strolls through the lyrics, stepping lightly around pain and heading for the door. I still remember the clear curl of amusement in Dionne Warwick's voice as she pledges not to fall for another heartbreaker--she understands that the falling melody actually promises the opposite. At the time I clutched those songs close, my friendships depended on the shifting loyalties of a small group of quite ruthless girls, myself included. It would have been good to know at the time that lovers survive the loss of love. Perhaps that's the truth I was trying to hear.

I believe that rapture wants to be a state of transformation. The times in my life when I needed change, I became enraptured: with a song, with a drug, with a boy. It's as if I thrust myself at possibility, attempting to tune to a particular frequency until I got the code and could use it to transform myself. There's a scene in Jane Campion's lustrous film Angel at My Table where the shy, bookish Janet Frame frolics naked, laughing, in a turquoise Mediterranean Sea: She thinks she loves a man, but really she has fallen in love with the way her body unfolds when she is around him.

When the man leaves, Janet believes he has taken that feeling with him. Like my younger self, she doesn't understand that a rapture only provides a map, and then you have to work. Janet sinks into dreams of what was, what might've been. My own raptures were mediated by pop culture, so I just kept buying products, reopening a door that was already thrown wide. Both Janet's raptures and mine became ruts, cul-de-sacs, hiding places. But--and this is also what Campion envisions of Janet Frame--those degraded, misinterpreted ecstasies were necessary. They made me unsatisfied with who I was, and eventually pushed me where I wanted to go.

If such means are imperfect, I do not blame any of us for reaching for something we can't describe. Some years ago, poet Judy Grahn wrote a trippy web of a fantasy novel, Mundane's World, about a pagan, agrarian society. At the end of it, all the young girls who had begun to bleed were placed in a heated clay pot with "herbs" to spend days dreaming themselves adult stories. I admire Grahn for spinning that image, because it's ridiculously difficult to deliberately create rapturous rituals. (Maybe that's why even incomplete ones--like the speedball of sex, drugs, and rock & roll--linger so.) The conscious mind doesn't know where it wants to be transported: Even my stumbled-into ecstasies--through Burt Bacharach songs, say--were always smarter than my consciousness, or at least more honest.

I have not referred to religion, which, ostensibly, is in the business of facilitating rapture. I have not done so because I trust the choices my raptures have made for me. What do I mean? Well, I like Michael Ventura's phrase "endarkenment": I found my way to rock and roll & drugs because I wanted to be messed up, to be left less certain. I wanted to go underground, to have roots for hair, to feel my body quake. I don't want to follow pure light because I am not fashioned of pure light--I am not pure. So many creeds demand that you narrow your access to joy.

Or they demand that you forget about it until you get to heaven: The Rapture. As if there's only one heaven, and not a series of them, right here on this earth, leading you forward into the next stage of this life. And the next--if you're willing. So I'm looking for new forms of rapture, or rather, I'm monitoring where my need for rapture takes me. I can still dance myself into ecstasy, but I've stopped fetishizing the musicians who help me. Instead, I listen more, like Janet Frame might have, skin sliding through the sea, to what comes in through my movement. It has always been me that I've been trying to hear. The next me. Who I will then be charged to grow into, and out of. Because it's not time yet for sleep.

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