When I was a teenager I saw myself in New York City. That was it. After a childhood on the wrong side of the tracks in the OC (yeah, no one called it that), in the searing heat of Vegas, in the middle-of-nowhere Bakersfield, in the cold isolation of Kentucky… New York City was a metaphor for having it together. I’d wear fitted, linen dresses with suit jackets and dangerously high heels. I’d stride down the streets.
I made it to New York City in my early twenties. I put on a pair of dangerously high heels and I strode down the street. A homeless guy whistled and told me I had nice legs. I turned to smile and he said, “Too bad your face is so ugly.”
When I was about 8 or so, I had a babysitter for a brief time who had a house that I thought was a mansion. She had sliding glass doors, and flowing drapery – and a player piano. She played show tunes for me every afternoon after school. She knew all the words to all the songs. Her family had season tickets to the theater. It was all a metaphor for having it together.
“Putting it together, bit – by – bit”.
My grandmother took me years later to see my first actual stage production at a local university theater. Major Barbara of all things. By then I had been saying I wanted to be an actress for a couple of years. This was largely due to Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson having it all together on the big screen when I was a kid – all those films where everything went right .
I’d become thoroughly convinced that I was meant to be an actress as a tween, when I’d read Helen Hayes’ memoir/anthology Gift of Joy. I’d felt an uncanny kinship with her based on her fascination with the spoken language. (It never occurred to me that she was an extrovert and I am most definitely not.)
I only understood two-thirds of Major Barbara, but I was fascinated. My grandmother asked me if I could imagine myself on that stage. I said, yes. But I know now that I wasn’t imagining being on the stage – I wanted to be part of it all. Somehow. This make-believe space where we could create, recreate and watch the world from a safe distance, – and watch it all work out.
I still think there’s something magical when everyone already knows the words, but the performance makes every word immediate and raw nonetheless: when a room is filled with the breath of a hundred strangers, and the energy of every body preternaturally focuses on a single point of experience. Shared experience.
We are all children clapping for Tinkerbell.
How did I wind up here?
So very far from New York city. I haven’t put on a high heel in years. Instead, I have three pairs trail shoes, and two pairs of mud-encrusted hiking boots in the small “dog closet” in the entrance hall. I have four Stanley thermoses, and at least 5 foam squares called “sitteunderlag” to keep me from getting a bladder infection when we pause for coffee at any of the nearby mountaintops looking over the Jæren landscape to the North Sea. A far cry from glamorous. Who even knew about the cold stone/bladder infection connection?
Who even knew about the magic of reaching a cairn?
My instragram account is filled with trees. And more trees. On a bad day I go to the woods to listen.
This life is unexpected. I accepted long ago that I’ll never be able to dance like Lesley Ann Warren. But I also remembered that I can run.
I didn’t do a very good job of designing my life. I’ve become something of a beachcomber who collects what washes up with the tide and arranges it on the windowsill.
Where I live.
“Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that’s what counts…”
-Sondheim, of course.
Yeah. I know all the words. Maybe I do have it all together, after all.