Last night I watched a documentary about children with cancer. One of the things that struck me was the humor: the parents and siblings with their steady stream of comments that wouldn’t make sense in a transcript but conveyed such complex experiences- their purposeful weaving of lightness with darkness to make the experience more complex. To create meaning in every moment.

But another thing that struck me so many times was the gathering of families for birthday parties, for funerals: the blowing-out of candles, the hugging.

The touching.

I thought a lot about touching at the beginning of all this. But how quickly things become habitual. How quickly a culture can change. When a nurse on the tv screen reaches over to comfort another nurse with a hug: my body responds by tightening, “No!”

I wondered what this documentary would look like had it been filmed this past year. If the one doctor, with his arms tightly crossed over his chest while he talk to the family about end-of-life decisions would seem… unremarkable?


This week I have been thinking about how much I miss mentoring. I miss my job. Since March, my role has changed drastically. The physical distance has created a kind of objectivity and hands-off mentality that I get no pleasure from. I can count on one hand how many times I have been able to sit in a room with students and work on a scene – jumping up and down from the floor to interrupt, to find a new perspective, to coach: “Take it again, from your upstage cross” – when I’ve been able to see the learning process – or see that I need to come at it from another angle.

The conscious physical restraint has restrained me creatively.

It feels like I’m trying to teach a child to swim while sitting on the bleachers. I can’t explain why. Objectively, I don’t think much has changed in terms of my actual behavior. I wonder what one would observe comparing film clips of my work before and after the Corona restrictions. If I would seem “normal” now. In the classroom, in the conference room: now sitting across the table and down one seat to measure out a meter.

The students come into the room single file now, and we spray their hands with anti-bac. They leave the same way, and we mop the floor after every class. There’s no logical reason my relationships with the students should be different because of these little rituals. But they are different. I have a whole new understanding of what makes a “safe space” in a rehearsal room: where I am allowed to touch a finger lightly to a sternum and say: “Move from here,” reminding the student that the theater is where the imagination creates an alternative and shared reality through our physical presence. Our physical energy. Our physicalized intentions – whether or not they are followed through – whether or not they are played against.

Fear is a wild creature, that doesn’t respect boundaries or arguments. Fear is a great, gaping mouth that latches onto whatever it can to feed.

I try to get a student’s attention in the hallway. I lightly touch my finger to her down jacket and everyone’s heads whip around: shame.

In the rehearsal room, the students can touch one another. It has to do with the subject’s egenart, it’s specific nature. We’re still unsure whether instructors are allowed to touch the students. The logic evades us all.

A distraught student comes to me in tears. I find the appropriate telephone numbers, write the emails, help him make a plan to get through the next day or two. I reach out to touch his arm… isn’t this the specific nature of the moment?

My role?

Some habits are hard to break, and any acting teacher knows that playing against the impulse heightens the emotion of the moment.

Adds complexity – which seems to be the specific nature of human nature.

It is an odd project – to sit down in this little room every day and write. No matter what.

What comes, comes. Like dipping a bucket into a well and hoping you pull up a little container filled with clarity. Reflection.

That’s a shit metaphor. Sorry.

Some days nothing comes on its own. Some days my thoughts are taushetsbelagte, which (nearly) literally means shrouded in silence.

But what is gnawing at me usually finds a way out – indirectly. And it thrills me no end when I hear it speaks to other peoples’ experiences without speaking at all of a specific story. In some ways, it helps me remember the story itself is irrelevant – the (surely there is a good German word for it?)… the ambiance is part our shared human experience.

It helps me remember why I prefer poetry – or the poetry in a story that makes it more than a sequencing of events.

These aren’t the Drakes
you were looking for.

I ran this afternoon between classes, along the creek near the school. Two kilometres out, two in, a shower and back to class. It was on this little stretch of a green lung that I stumbled on a Mandarin duck I mistook for the wood drake I’d gone searching for on Saturday.

That’s how it happens. There’s no point in searching.

I just need to notice when the world turns towards me. And accept what beauty comes.

A Mandarin duck on a Monday afternoon between Theater Production and Theater History. Between a working session and a shower. Then a film version of The Glass Menagerie.

Not one of my students knew who the kjekkis John Malkovich is now. The young man is history.

Because the world is always turning towards us. Spinning under our feet imperceptibly. So stealthily we don’t even realize we are getting carried away with it. 1,000 miles an hour.

I suppose the truth of it would make us throw up.

John Malkovich isn’t relevant for my 2nd year students. Not for Being John Malkovich. But he is relevant enough as a good-looking young man who commands their attention to tell a story of what it is to be squeezed between what someone else wants from you and what you want for yourself.

That grasping –
experience
is always relevant.

My 3rd year students in that working session this morning? Some of them are working on a sequel to The Glass Menagerie. It’s interesting to watch their minds leaping like poetry. Finding what is relevant.

Sometimes it’s a very thin thread of experience. But there is always something…
there.

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.

The 29th leg av the Camino.


I have always been fascinated by the sacred.

I must have been about 8 when my friend and I climbed the brick fence behind our babysitter’s apartment complex and visited the Catholic church. It was unlocked on a weekday morning.

It was also empty. And since all either of us knew about Catholic church was what we had seen on television, we thought it would be fine to “play” church. When the priest showed up I really couldn’t understand his fury. We were in no way intending to be sacrilegious – or even naughty.

Up until that point – up until the shaming – I’d wanted to be Catholic. I’d wanted the ritual that seemed to be a kind of manifestation of belonging. In the Baptist church the pastor sometimes called us a “flock”, but people certainly didn’t treat one another as though they belonged.

There was nothing very special about us. No incense, no wine. We had grape juice and crackers once a month. And Grandpa fell asleep just like he did in his chair at home in front of the television. No one responded with hallelujah, no one shook like the Shakers, and no one talked in tongues.

That’s not true. Once a woman did, and my grandfather and the other deacons escorted her out, and the pastor apologized on her behalf. He said she’d been under stress. Then he went back to his sermon.

Church was white – in so many ways – White. Straight pews and straight hemlines. And it smelled of Lysol and White Shoulders perfume. The pastor wore a suit and looked the the insurance salesmen who’d shown up at Grandma’s mobile home. Crumpled. Sweaty.

In college I was in a production of The Lark. We carried candles and incense and chanted, and I fainted. The following year, another production with Gregorian chanting and candles. I fainted again. No wonder I connected the theater with the sacred long before I had read about Artaud or Grotowski and other people looking for the sacred in the storytelling space.

When I was very young – too young to remember – my mother belonged to a Quaker congregation. Or at least that was a story I knew. I tried to find a home in a Quaker community just a few years ago, but staring in silence for 45 minutes is not a great choice for someone with bipolar tendencies: a small doll set on a little Shaker chair across the room began moving for me, and it took me months to get my feet back on the ground. My doctor suggested neither Quaker silence nor a Buddhist retreat would be a good idea anytime in the near future.

I suppose, in a way, this is a sacred story:

I run on the trails. I stop and listen. This is my church now. My cathedrals and chapels. I notice – without learning the names of things by rote. I squat to pee in the scrub pines and take note of the unfurling fern of some sort – nothing delicate about it. It’s thick and dark and wet. Simultaneously I see the Alien creature folded in on itself, and a fetus unfolding. Life is a mystery, and always frightening. It’s smells can make you dizzy. Can make you wretch. Can make you acutely aware of want.

This might be the fear that the sweaty pastor G. was always talking about. The awe that made the people in the Bible tremble.

Maybe this is my only hope for a Sangha. Congregation. Prayer. Meditation. Writing.

My bared butt in the breeze, knowing there are snakes in the rocks nearby. Maybe this is my only true sacred story?

 

 

I’ve been writing all morning. Things I don’t want to put into the world. But I need to get the words out.

In No Exit, Estelle says that when she can’t see herself, she wonders if she really exists.

It’s not a flattering comparison on any level, I suppose. Not in the context of Sartre’s intentions – at least not in the context of traditional interpretations of the character.

But I can only examine the validity of my thoughts when I dare to make room for a sort of reflection.

Inez tells Estelle to see herself reflected in Inez’s eyes: “I’m so tiny.”

There is an assumption that Estelle uses the mirror to make conscious adjustments to what she thinks other people see.

But what if what she sees is both the “ugly” truth that keeps her grounded and strong, and the acceptable facade: a kind of complexity of existence that requires reflection – a large-scale, unobstructed reflection.

Estelle is diminished without the mirror.

I find it odd that so many approach No Exit with a collective sense of morality that Sartre himself rejected. If Sartre can get behind Stalin’s choices, surely he can get behind Estelle’s?

Maybe Garcon and Estelle are in Hell only because Inez convinces them of it. “I’m watching you,” she tells Garcon when he decides to have sex with Estelle.

Yeah, that’s a problem for him now? It wasn’t before.

How bourgeois.

A collective sense of morality exists in Hell.

Inez is the torturer after all.


Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.


All these truths that rise and dive beneath the surface like sharks.