The Rest I Make Up

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One week and one day since I flew home to NYC from home in Idaho, and today was the first day I called my parents. It’s like my energy flags when I think about calling– I just can’t. Finally, my boyfriend told me over sandwiches at Lenny’s that I really should, and that as we walked to his work, I should call. I’m telling you, the kid is a wonder. So I did, and it was good– mostly because my mom could only talk for a moment, and my dad is easier to talk to. Plus, there was only small mention of my sister’s illness. I have a very hard time finding compassion and understanding… I’ve written about this before. It’s something that gives me great guilt, but I struggle to even discuss it in a way that doesn’t make me feel “less” important, “less” vital… I don’t know.

I also came to realize over the last week that a major issue I had with this trip to Idaho was that in introducing my wonderful boyfriend to my family, rather than receiving wonderful words about how great/handsome/kind/smart/lovely he is, instead my mother made our relationship all about ME.

“Oh, you’re so affectionate! I’ve never seen you like this before!”
“Well, you were very distant on this trip, because you have someone else supporting you emotionally. But it’s better than outright anger!”

“Oh, no, I didn’t think that you’d die alone. I figured you’d die with a bunch of cats! Haha!”

It’s like all they could think about was that, like medication or therapy or whatever, having a serious boyfriend was somehow a proof of my “health,” of my “okay-ness.” Which makes me feel, once again, as though I’m inherently defective, and everything I do must be aimed towards proving I’m “okay” and “better” than I was. According to this theory, I’m not inherently “okay” and loveable and grounded and successful. Every “normal” thing in my life is some triumph over my illness, my inherent not-“okay-ness.” See how that’s a really irritating thing?!

So I guess there’s a huge part of me that’s glad to be home, here, because I’m not constantly proving I’m good enough. I mean, at least at home. I did receive a fairly passive-aggressive email from my agent last week: subject line “Happy New Year!” and body “You need to upload video onto ActorsAccess. It’s becoming imperative.” Which freaked me out (totally irrationally), so I emailed her back immediately listing all my awesomeness and how hard I’m working (which I AM, goddamnit!)

  • I reached my goal weight! (how? we’ll never know. perhaps even eating worse food but not binging really is the ticket… I’m not complainin’!)
  • I got great feedback from one callback– didn’t book it but was second choice!
  • Have another callback this week! Plus an audition next week! (now I have another audition the day of the callback, plus an EPA, plus therapy… plus meeting with my agent.)

Have tried to get video footage! Failing but trying!!

Anyway, I’ll meet with her on Thursday. I’m really anxious, but fuck it. What she thinks of me/tells me is not in my control. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. (right? I mean… right? Jesus Christ, sometimes I think I’m insane to do this job.)

And speaking of agents, A just signed with one. A literary agency. In London. For his book trilogy (he’s written one). The agency represented George Orwell.

Yep, let’s just get this out there:

  • A posted his book in an online forum sponsored by HarperCollins. We both did a bunch of work on it– social networking, making edits, commenting on others’ books, making friends. The ultimate hope would be to reach the top 5 on the site, earning a review by the HC editorial board. Thanks to our hard work, A’s book was likely to get there in the next couple of months. Since mid-Oct, his book rose from ranks in the 5,000 to around 150.
  • A got a message from an agent on his “profile” on the site. He said he loved the beginning of the book and would love to read the rest of the manuscript.
  • January 2, A got an email from the agent that he was halfway done with the book but he loved it so much he wanted to offer to sign A.
  • Today, he and A had a phone convo. The deal is set — A is signing– and the agent seems sure that he can get a great book deal for A and his trilogy.
  • My boyfriend is going to be a professional writer.

Which is what I wanted. Truly– this was what I dreamed for him, and I couldn’t have imagined anything more serendipitous.

Yet. There’s a part of me that, now, is anxious and a bit jealous. Why isn’t MY agent getting me great deals? Why does any email from her cause me anxiety slash why am I so certain she hates me (she doesn’t… I feel like she can’t… but fuck it, who knows)? I need to book a gig. And fast. Just to get my brain and heart out of this place where I feel like I’m failing and falling behind. Logically I know I’m in FINE shape– I have an agent, I’m in the union, I had a callback I almost booked, I have another callback this week, two audition appointments, an offer for a role in April, and it’s still technically the “break.” But.

I’m an actor. I’d like to act, please and thanks.

In other news, I got word yesterday morning that Maria Irene Fornes, one of my great heroes, is nearing the end of her life in hospice in upstate NY. As you may recall, I played the lead in one of her plays when I was a junior, and it was the hardest/most rewarding role of my life. Subsequently, I got to meet her on her 80th birthday. I wrote about it here: http://goo.gl/ipRr4

Basically, she has Alzheimers’, and unfortunately, in the waning years of her life, was placed in a hospice by her nephew– her legal guardian, but one who by no means has her best interests at heart. Being so far away from her community in NYC is very hard for her, and she really has no one except the few friends who occasionally visit. In the last week, she had refused both food and water (a symptom of loneliness and depression, not the Alzheimer’s), so it was looking like the end was near.

My former professor, Irene’s agent and dear friend, and the woman who introduced me to Irene, has been keeping people in the loop via a Google group and on Facebook. I sent Irene a letter, and I’ve been keeping updated on her progress. She has a Facebook page, and every day she has visitors, they will read the messages on Facebook, faxes received from loved one, play music Irene loves, and share photos and memories. The outpouring of love I’ve seen towards Irene from folks in the theatre community (whether they met her once, like me, a thousand times, or never at all) is remarkable.

The idea of Irene passing makes me incredibly sad. It sounds trite, but this woman is one of my greatest inspirations and heroes. Especially now, when I’m feeling kind of all-over-the-place and anxious about my life as an artist, Irene’s work and attitude never ceases to remind me that that’s all bullshit– the most important thing is the joy and the love of the art that you find within yourself. This woman is always smiling, always laughing, always singing. Her work is vast and inventive and unique. She thinks of her characters as having been born from her body. She sees honest artistic passion as the only reason to be an artist. As a playwriting teacher, she led physical exercises and songs and encouraged her students to paint and explore and play. Even in the darkest moments in her plays, there is humor and compassion.

I would love to be a great actor like so many I could name.
But I want to be an artist like Maria Irene Fornes.

If you pray or think (or think and pray– Shakespeare joke!), send some thoughts Irene’s way. She will pass, and it’s likely soon, but I truly believe that every single intention of love somehow reaches her and gives her comfort.

xoxo, my dear blog friends. 🙂
B.

My most prized possession. The amazing story won't move you unless you know who Maria Irene Fornes is, but long story short, she has dementia, no one thought she'd ever write again, someone encouraged me to ask for an autograph despite this, after a bit of pressure on all sides I said, "no, it's fine, I don't mind," and then all of a sudden Irene wrote in my book. Her documentarian, friends, agent, etc. all passed this around. Who knows-- I may have one of the last specimens of Irene's writing.

My most prized possession. The amazing story won’t move you unless you know who Maria Irene Fornes is, but long story short, she has dementia, no one thought she’d ever write again, someone encouraged me to ask for an autograph despite this, after a bit of pressure on all sides I said, “no, it’s fine, I don’t mind,” and then all of a sudden Irene wrote in my book. Her documentarian, friends, agent, etc. all passed this around. Who knows– I may have one of the last specimens of Irene’s writing.

"Of all the people I know you are the finest. You are the person I respect and feel most proud to know. I have no one to talk to. And sometimes I feel hollow and base. And I feel I don't have a mind. But when I talk to you I do. I feel I have a mind. Why is that? Why is it that some people make you feel stupid and some people make you feel smart. Not smart, because I am not smart. But some people make you feel that you have something inside you. Inside your head. Why is it that you can talk, Henry, and Lloyd cannot talk? Why is that? What I'm saying, Henry, is that I want you. That I want you here with me. That I love you." --MUD, by Irene Fornes

“Of all the people I know you are the finest. You are the person I respect and feel most proud to know. I have no one to talk to. And sometimes I feel hollow and base. And I feel I don’t have a mind. But when I talk to you I do. I feel I have a mind. Why is that? Why is it that some people make you feel stupid and some people make you feel smart. Not smart, because I am not smart. But some people make you feel that you have something inside you. Inside your head. Why is it that you can talk, Henry, and Lloyd cannot talk? Why is that? What I’m saying, Henry, is that I want you. That I want you here with me. That I love you.”
–MUD, by Irene Fornes

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"What’s the meaning of life Irene?"The meaning of life?
It’s doing what you like to do -
As simple as that
Doing what you like to do -
And enjoying it
Doing what you like to do -
And doing it
"Is that what you did?"
Yes
"Is that what you continue to do?"
Yes
And . . . doing it well
Doing what you like to do -
and doing it well
"And what about other people?"
People are a part of it
Doing it with people you like -
And people who do it well
See how simple it is?

Oneonta, May, 2009

"...I've been saying words in my head to see if word spirits would come... to join other words that were there... We just have to learn to listen and to let them come in easily because they... want to join other words to express something... of beauty or longing or despair." (Letters From Cuba, 2000)

“What’s the meaning of life Irene?”
The meaning of life?
It’s doing what you like to do –
As simple as that
Doing what you like to do –
And enjoying it
Doing what you like to do –
And doing it
“Is that what you did?”
Yes
“Is that what you continue to do?”
Yes
And . . . doing it well
Doing what you like to do –
and doing it well
“And what about other people?”
People are a part of it
Doing it with people you like –
And people who do it well
See how simple it is?
Oneonta, May, 2009
“…I’ve been saying words in my head to see if word spirits would come… to join other words that were there… We just have to learn to listen and to let them come in easily because they… want to join other words to express something… of beauty or longing or despair.” (Letters From Cuba, 2000)

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"The colors for me are very, very important. And the colors of the clothes the people wear. When it finally happens, the play exists. It has taken its own life. And then I just listen to it. I move along with it. I let it write itself. I have reached that point in plays at times. I have put scripts away then and picked them up three years later, and, reading them, suddenly I see the same picture with the same colors. The color never goes away. It could be ten years later. The play exists even if I have not finished writing it."

“The colors for me are very, very important. And the colors of the clothes the people wear. When it finally happens, the play exists. It has taken its own life. And then I just listen to it. I move along with it. I let it write itself. I have reached that point in plays at times. I have put scripts away then and picked them up three years later, and, reading them, suddenly I see the same picture with the same colors. The color never goes away. It could be ten years later. The play exists even if I have not finished writing it.”

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“You know there’s something that comes to me right now which is an expression – ‘seize the moment.’ Seize the moment. Grab the moment. Don’t miss it. Don’t let it pass without paying attention. In a way it can be confusing because it can be that ‘seize the moment’ means to hang on to it and stay there. But that’s not it. What was meant was not to stay there necessarily, but rather to just touch it. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the touch of cold glass against your hand. For no reason other than because it’s pleasant. The slightest thing, to acknowledge and respond to it, to let the moment be. You grab the moment. Don’t disown it. Don’t ignore it. It doesn’t mean that you become a crazy person saying, “Oh let me write this down because I may forget that I did this, or that this was fun, or that this was beautiful.” You could misinterpret it and become some kind of collector of little moments that really don’t need to be collected. But it’s very important to be in touch, to open yourself up, even to your own negative thoughts, negative feelings, to embrace those too, as well as the beautiful moments from your inner sensibility. So . . . I don’t know how I got into this, but here . . . we . . . are . . . “ Irene Fornés, Miami, February 2005

“You know there’s something that comes to me right now which is an expression – ‘seize the moment.’ Seize the moment. Grab the moment. Don’t miss it. Don’t let it pass without paying attention. In a way it can be confusing because it can be that ‘seize the moment’ means to hang on to it and stay there. But that’s not it. What was meant was not to stay there necessarily, but rather to just touch it. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the touch of cold glass against your hand. For no reason other than because it’s pleasant. The slightest thing, to acknowledge and respond to it, to let the moment be. You grab the moment. Don’t disown it. Don’t ignore it. It doesn’t mean that you become a crazy person saying, “Oh let me write this down because I may forget that I did this, or that this was fun, or that this was beautiful.” You could misinterpret it and become some kind of collector of little moments that really don’t need to be collected. But it’s very important to be in touch, to open yourself up, even to your own negative thoughts, negative feelings, to embrace those too, as well as the beautiful moments from your inner sensibility. So . . . I don’t know how I got into this, but here . . . we . . . are . . . “ Irene Fornés, Miami, February 2005

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High School Yearbook

It’s the 50th anniversary of my high school alma mater, and when I open my senior yearbook the spine cracks like a knuckle pop.

The first picture of me is three page-flips in, hidden in a right corner. I’m wearing a frilly purple dress that someone’s mother made them once for Halloween and they decided they should bring to boarding school. There’s a bow on the top of my head. I’m pulling a face while next to me an Arabian gypsy, a King of the Jungle, and a Porcelain Doll grin.

In black and white are the faculty, haircuts so-five-years-ago. Familiar faces leap from the page and nestle straight into my heart.

Cutest Couple. I remember. I made the finals.

There are a few poems in the Creative Writing major’s section. I read them again, for the hundredth time, words penned by friends wise and young. They seem overwrought, now, heavy with simile and prose, thick with the maturity that comes too early in adolescence.

Page after page of round, grinning faces in suits and blacks. Musicians. Beautiful brown-haired girls with reeds to their lips, completely unaware of anything but the Shostakovich. The lopsided grin of the tall, flax-haired organ major, far from his native Texas in the non-denominational chapel, pedaling and pounding.

My heart drops as I flip through the Theatre section. I hunt around the space it leaves for the feeling there. I don’t know what it is. I let my eyes flick past the production pictures, there and gone.

The dorms are named after artists. Writers, painters, musicians. The photos of each hall, organized by RA, look like team photos for any high school club. Boys in hoodies, hanging off each other. Girls with their arms wrapped around each other. It’s easy to see them as gaggles of teens at a sleepover. I like to remind myself that they are world-class artists. It makes anything seem possible.

Faces fly past that haven’t crossed my mind in years. That girl fell into the orchestra pit and broke her nose. I fell for that boy on tour. Those boys are our class ambassadors. That girl intimidated me. That RA had a thing for my boyfriend. Those boys got expelled. I once tripped over that girl’s euphonium in the hallway.Those girls were my roommates.

There we are in our prom dresses, glowing with sweat from dancing. And there at senior dinner, spring light finally illuminating our cheeks outside the cafeteria. And look! There we are at the end of the year dance, arms looped around each others’ necks, my boyfriend and my friends bound with limbs to me. And in that photo, the end of the year party, I see a glimpse of my favorite sundress, and just obscuring the rest are three boys, all of us crouched, mouths open, singing. So many moments in dresses, celebrating one thing or another, celebrating all the many more moments we had in our uniforms, struggling through coursework or a particularly hard passage from Shakespeare.

And then the senior pictures and quotes, ensconced in black. Senior pictures were “student’s choice,” so there are the boys with their oboes and the girls with their horns, the dance photos or the artsy-edgy shots. The senior quotes run the gamut… permanent reminders of what was in our hearts all those years ago.

S– Theatre
“I want to live and feel all the shaes, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life.” –Sylvia Plath

J– Creative writing
Water for my horses, and whiskey for my men!

B– Euphonium
“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” –Miles Davis

E– Motion Picture Arts
“I wasn’t born yesterday, you know. I’ve seen movies.” –Aqua Teen Hunger Force

J– Visual Arts
Do unicorns wear bikinis?
Do they complain about their thighs?
Will they strut their stuff, wink,
At those fiesty uniform guys?
In the winter, will they fake bake?
Make their pure coats a scandalous brown?
Will they count their unicorn calories,
Refuse to keep their food down?
Does your unicorn wear bikinis?
Is it low on self-esteem?
Reassure your unicorn,
Feed it fatty ice cream!
— A, Creative Writing

And my picture, sharing the the frame with a Shakespeare bobble-head doll. A picture of three-year-old-me, a daisy crown on my head. So we’ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies. —King Lear

One year ago today…

One year ago today, I took the MetroNorth to the Bronx with my parents, a black polyester robe folded and stuffed into my leather shoulder bag. I processed across thick rubber mats in my espadrilles with my peers around me, our flat caps absorbing the straight, bright rays of early summer sun. We grinned at each other, robes unzipped and slipping down our shoulders, backs stuck to the folding chairs with perspiration.

One year ago today, I processed with the faculty to a seat on the stage with my name taped on it. I stood in front of my graduating class at the podium and spoke of the promise of our lives. “Genesis says that all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their lives– they are to create of it a work of art, a masterpiece. We are all artists in that way.”

Today, I had my first official day of rehearsal. I suffered through the soggy, raining morning to a small theatre on the UWS, where I quickly met the SM and the costume designer, and said friendly hellos to the cast. We started at 10am with contract-signing with the artistic director of the theatre. I watched quietly as the rest of the cast got their Equity forms and riders, and I had a simple white paper contract in three copies. Soon that will be me, I thought. Patience.

Last night, I dreamed I was crying. Sobbing thick, heavy tears, wheezing for air. It had to do with graduation, but I don’t know if it was mine or the one that just happened for my friends this last Saturday. It didn’t really matter… I was mourning a loss.

I am doing well. Sometimes I have to stop and actively look back to where I was one year ago, restless and scared and out of control and ten pounds heavier than now. I can remember how much I hated my job at the sports bar, the weekend I dog-sat and broke down into the worst depression I’d had in months, my inability to come into rehearsal feeling “together,” my exhaustion. And I can see that I am doing well now.

But today I got my period, and tonight I binged worse than I have in months. My cat is irritated with me because I can’t get it together, and I’m irritated with me because I want to wake up and I want everything to be fixed and better.

Life doesn’t work like that.

It was three years ago that my life swerved into the groove I’m in now. I’ve struggled my whole life with faulty brain chemistry, but that was the most recent iteration of it. It doesn’t feel fair that I’m still fighting every single day. I struggle to accept the daily struggle, to feel hopeful for tomorrow when pounds of food I had hoped to savor are sitting, hot and bloated, in my belly.

One year ago today, I said goodbye to twenty-two years of structured education, to grades and dorms and class times. I spoke to my class about creation and exploration, but inside I was terrified of what my life might be. Unfettered, ungrounded, alone– how could I survive?

But today I held my own in a 7hr rehearsal with strangers who were older than me. I curled my hair in the morning but wasn’t freaked out when it frizzed all up by the time I got to the theatre. I let the director focus his critique on me for most of the day, let the words flow in and over and out and not hurt me just because they were about me. I had my costume fitting and didn’t feel shy and self-conscious, and I felt as though I belonged in a professional rehearsal room as a lead in a world premiere.

It’s a day by day thing, and nothing ever moves as quickly as I wish it would, but when I stop and line them up side by side…

I have come so very far in one short year.

Fill Me With Something Good

I feel empty today.

After such a lovely evening last night with D (the “high school boyfriend”), I got up in the morning feeling a bit all over the place. Although I managed to shower and get up at really appropriate time, I somehow managed to forget to even grab a banana. I stopped to get something at Starbucks on the way to the chiropractor, but they didn’t have what I wanted, so I said, fuck it, and went to the chiropractor. By ten till noon, my chiropractor released me to run down the block to my therapist. I knew I should eat something, since my stomach was grumbling, so I grabbed a small falafel sandwich, stuffed it down, and ran to therapy. It was a good session… we delved deeply into body sensation, which is fucking hard and tends to unearth some really deep shit, exactly like when you use a plunger in a clogged toilet.

As I walked to the train to head home, I could feel myself disconnecting in that way that sadness does to me, like walking in a tunnel, alone and scared. I got home, washed dishes, and lay down. I just wanted to stay there and feel or not feel.

But I had to go rehearse my Romeo and Juliet scene down at school. I dragged myself there, listening to Florence + the Machine, willing it to be over. The rehearsal went fine, I got a new ID (lost my alumni ID on Monday), and ran into G, who I’d texted about getting coffee today. She had a final today, so she couldn’t make it. Oh. No worries. Well, good thing I ran into her because I’d never have known.

I cried throughout therapy today about my friends. The body sensation stuff was about good feelings.

Why is everything hurting today?

I wish D didn’t leave, because last night was one of the first times in a long time I’ve felt at ease in myself. I liked being special enough to spend time with—one of two people he saw on his visit.

I wish I didn’t have to re-live the horror story of Showcase a second time, watching people continue to book auditions and get agents instantaneously after Showcase while I’m still mired in fat, blonde girl hell.

I wish I didn’t feel like an extra appendage in my company.

I wish I didn’t fill the empty sadness I’m feeling with food.

I wish I felt like “enough” all the time, and I wish I had someone besides my therapist to tell me that.

I wish I felt like I mattered.

I wish I didn’t care what other people did and I wish I didn’t compare myself to them.

I wish I could blame this feeling on anything but myself, but here I am.

What I want is someone to text me to say how important I am to them and how they miss me. I am so scared of disappearing and coming back to NYC and having no one, of being sealed out of the life I thought I had ownership over.

I wish I wasn’t the kind of person who needed to be reaffirmed as being a good friend, a funny person, a worthy companion. But I DO need that. I am a NEEDY friend.

I don’t trust people. I don’t trust that I’m important enough to be maintained as important. I’m afraid I will disappear and lose everyone and everything I was so proud I had.

I don’t believe I’m loved enough to not be left behind.

 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Mary Oliver

High School Boyfriend

I got out of work at 5pm and stopped briefly in the 4th floor bathroom to give the hair a once-over (I wish I’d showered…), and then shot off a text: “I’m free! Where are you”

I left the building, and quickly got a text response from him, that he was near Columbus Circle. After a bit of confusion and a quick phone call (“Just.. stay where you are! I’ll come to you, okay?”) I met him on the corner of Columbus and 60th.

He looks the same, warm, soft face, brown eyes, scruff and mussed brown hair. I was thrilled that he seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him. Two indecisive people together is a bad mix, but I decided since he is a Scottish boy, I might as well go full pub, and led the march towards Lincoln Park. I got a glass of wine at the bar, he got a Blue Moon. We found an empty booth and scooched in.

The talk flowed easily, as it always does, although I’m always shy about talking too much. Most of our talk focused on acting, on ridiculous auditions, on the difference between London theatre and New York theatre, agents and journeys and meant-to-be’s and not-to-bes. I drank slowly, still not quite over the night before’s overindulgence. He went through two “pints” (who says that? I love it) and then he paid the tab and we went outside so he could “pinch a fag.” (I told him that it wasn’t such a good idea to say that in Hell’s Kitchen).

He was very clear that if I had a “night” planned, it was totally fine. But I didn’t, and he didn’t, and maybe he got bored of me but I don’t think so, and I think we mutually decided it was going to be a full night of friendship.

We ambled down 9th Ave, chatting, trying to figure out the next step. “We should eat… Are you hungry? You’re probably hungry, right?” “I mean, it’s 7:10, we should eat probably, especially if we’re drinking more…” We stopped on 49th and I said I’d be glad to pick a place to eat, but he had to give me some parameters. What did he want to eat? I threw out some options, stay in Hell’s Kitchen, go down to the more neighborhood-y Village (he’d mentioned that’s what he liked about London and disliked about NYC), or we could go uptown to near my place where there were some great new places (he’s staying in Harlem too, so it seemed sensible). “You like beer, right?” He stared at me. “Okay, so we’ll go up to near my place and get beer and food at Harlem Tavern, okay?” He grinned. “Sounds perfect.”

We walked to the uptown 50th St. C, where very quickly we got on a train. As it rumbled up 8th Ave, we talked about high school, folks we remember, folks who have grown up in great ways, folks who haven’t. He, I think, has even less to hold onto from that time… I still feel nostalgic for it (and him, as part of that). Both of us, though, haven’t been back and don’t relish the rehashing of memory—it doesn’t define us and neither of us have gone back since graduating. In fact, both of us made the same pledge to ourselves—that we wouldn’t return until we were important enough to be asked to return to be on the “Alumni Panel” (a program in the Theatre department where they bring back high-performing alums to lead workshops and do Q&As with the students).

Soon, we got off the train in Harlem and crossed the street to Harlem Tavern. I’d been once before, for brunch, and it’s a lovely, lovely space, even on a rainy night. He laughed and told me that I’d made a great choice. They seated us on the covered patio, where we could watch the rain pour just one plastic sheath away. I ordered a Stella, and he got one of the nicer beers on tap. We glanced over the menu. “How hungry are you,” he asked me. “I mean, I’m hungry but like, not…” “Okay…” “No, what are you thinking, tell me.” “Okay, I’m just going to put this on the table and you can take it or leave it…” “Sure, lay it down.” “How do you feel about sharing a pot of mussels?”

I stared at him, the same look he gave me when I asked if he liked beer. I just had a wave of “Oh my god, this boy knows me better than anyone I’ve met in my life.” Out loud, I grinned and said it was the best idea I’d ever heard. So we ordered.

The talk flowed smoothly and playfully. We talked about our parents and aging, about our dreams of travel and culture shock, of feeling out of place, of “radical acceptance,” about my cat and his dream dog, and about kids. “I’m not one of those people that has planned out my wedding, or having kids… I don’t put limits on myself. I just honestly don’t know what’s going to happen, and I just feel like it’s not going to happen for a long while. If I have kids, I’ll probably do what my mom did and not have them till I’m, like, 35. My sister will get married and have kids way before me. My bet is in the next seven years.”

He agreed with me. “Yeah, we know better now than to make those kind of plans.” Earlier we’d talked about how hindsight is 20/20, but both of us have had to go through the process of allowing the path we didn’t expect to become a path we embrace. He told about a mutual friend, who all through college told him, “Man, we were meant to go to Juilliard.” To which he responded, laughing, “Man, if we were meant to go to Juilliard, we’d have gone to Juilliard.” Which is exactly how I feel. He agreed with my assessment that life at our pre-eminent boarding high school set us up to think that if you work really hard, if you’re really good, then you will get big parts and you will be a star. We learned that there was a system of work & reward, and they told us we were the best and so we thought the best would come to us. Because that’s what fair is.

But that’s not what life is. You are constantly finding yourself on a detour or seeing a vista you never thought you’d see, every day another step farther from the path you thought you were “meant to” have. And every day, he and I both agreed, you have to find a way to justify it and accept it and allow it to be yours, and therefore, “meant to be.”

In the talk of kids, and how we liked them but like… not now… I brought up L for the first time. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t come up earlier, but now that she’s super functional and doing so well, the horror days of the hospital seem less urgent, less an everyday part of my life. But I wanted to tell him, so I segway-ed by talking about how I felt like I got a real glimpse of what taking care of a child was like when L was sick. Extreme illness turns people into children—that’s just the way it is, no judgment, just the truth.

I told him how great I was the first three days when I could mother in a controlled way—asking the doctors questions, getting her food, carrying her bag, helping make decisions—but when the emotional stuff started, I felt ill-equipped. What do you say to your friend who is sobbing because she can’t act for two years and she is vomiting and shitting simultaneously and she cries every morning because she can’t believe this is her life and if someone doesn’t fucking text her back they are no longer her friend? What do you say? How do you take care of someone who is (understandably) irrational and extremely upset (the steroids and meds she’s on are really why this happens, although depression and knowing you have cancer doesn’t make you a ray of sunshine at all times).

The way he looked at me when I talked about this was so kind. He just looked at me, almost in awe, but mostly just as though he was completely hearing me and wanting to hear me and wanting to know more. He didn’t interrupt, he just heard. That’s rare. Truly. And he said it was “amazing” I was able to do that. And I shared how amazing it was to see my group of friends, my little circle of “other” family, step up and really be incredibly strong for this one member.

Anyway, it was a really good, good talk (and the mussels rocked too). Around 9:50pm, he paid the bill (despite my arguing—it really was insanely generous), and he got a text from the friend he’s staying with. He looked up at me and asked what my night was. Again, I smiled and said that this was what my night was. “What do you want to do? What does Sam want to do?”

After some fudging back and forth, I said, “Well, my apartment is covered in laundry, but if you want you can come over and meet my cat.”

He smiled and said, “I’d love to meet your cat.”

So we left Harlem Tavern and walked the block to my apartment. “Okay, after this I swear I will stop, but I just want you to know that I live alone so it’s kind of messy and don’t judge me—“ “You really have to stop with that. I don’t care.”

So I brought him into my cove, and immediately we dropped our bags and gave some attention to Franny (he is a huge Salinger fan, so when I told him the name he put his hand to his heart and sighed, “That’s amazing.”) I cleared some drying shirts off the couch and pushed some things to the side, and we sat down on the rug. Boys love this rug. I can’t explain it. My other ex-boyfriend did the same thing, running his fingers through the shag saying, “I love this rug, seriously, it’s amazing.” Um, I guess?

We continued to talk and play with Franny, who was doing her best to entertain us—running back and forth, rolling on her back, pouncing and nibbling and preening. I appreciated how much he seemed to like her, and it didn’t feel weird to just sit quietly and watch Fran watch us at moments. I got us some water, and he stood to look at my bookshelf and walls.

He stopped at a laminated article my mother had sent, on the wall by my desk. “What is this?” “Oh my god, have you never seen this?” It’s an article and photo of my mother and I at a pro-choice rally when I was 5 years old. My mom had been an escort at a clinic for a number of years, as in New Hampshire (where I was born), it was pretty dicey and there were continuous hecklers and protestors outside all the clinics. I’m holding a sign that says, “Stop the Violence Now,” and my mom is quoted as saying, “I want my daughter to have choices over her body, when the time comes.” Sometimes that freaks people out, but he seemed truly taken by it—proud of my mom and impressed by the whole thing. Of course, this talk led to some talk about politics and the coming election (our political views are very much in line with each other) and the fear of a Romney-Rice ticket and what that might mean.

At my bookshelf, I pulled out a few choice plays and he gazed over my book selection (we are both big nerds). “You know, I always read books with a pencil now because of you.”

And then I showed him my quote cabinets (in the process of recovery, I made a bunch of papers filled with meaningful quotes, because I love quotes and I’m a nerd to put on my cabinets to help me think actively about my food choices and to remind me of my feelings in the process of eating). And I said to him, “I put these up here, and there used to be more, all over, when I was in the process of beginning to recover from… um… various different… um, eating disorders.” And we began to talk about my ED process.

I didn’t have the words to explain it to him, because I didn’t want to use words that would be misconstrued. I wanted to explain to him that my ED was a symptom of my depression (and I did us those exact words) and not a sudden change in my body consciousness or anything like that. “It was like, if I was controlling my eating then it meant I didn’t actually have to feel my feelings, you know? Like it was numbing, which is managing those feelings, but ineffectively. I actually, like, should be feeling things. And that’s why I say breakdown (which we’ve been talking about), because I really had to completely lose it in order to start feeling again.” “It’s like having an addiction to drinking, you can quit drinking. Cigarettes, you can quit smoking. You still have to eat, you know, so for me it’s about finding a way to eat that fits my life… Like in order to get sane about food it takes conscious effort.” He seemed to really want to understand, asking, “So, you want to be thinking more? That’s why the quotes?” “So, did you um, eat too little, or too much, or?” “All of the above.” And whenever I apologized for not having the words to explain it, he shook his head, saying “No, don’t worry, I just want to understand.” I made it clear to him that I was lucky—“It all started at Williamstown, and I have such a good group of people around me that like, within two months, literally every person had come up and been like, ‘hey, do you wanna talk?’”

“So I remember, after we graduated, you um, you went off… didn’t you, like, weren’t there meds?” “Oh, yeah, I’m back on them now.” “And that’s good?” “Yeah, it’s great. I think it was stupid to go off them in the first place. I have really come to realize that like… this is my life. Everyone has their things, you know? And mine is that I’m just going to be depressed. My whole life. It’s not like suddenly I’m 18 and a grown up and all of that genetic structure will go away. So it’s just managing it in a way that lets me live my life, and I’m doing that, you know?”

He was so generous with me. I’m not sure I’ve talked to anyone about it quite like that. And it was so brief of a discussion, and I assured him that I was doing incredibly well and that I’d said farewell to my nutritionist a couple of months ago (“I hated her.” “Why?” “Well, I don’t know, I just felt like she was my therapist but only wanted to talk about food which I just didn’t want to talk about, especially literally twenty minutes after therapy. I had a job and school and shows and like 3 doctor appointments a week, so it just wasn’t fun. But she’s the one who suggested all the papers.” “The quotes?” “Yeah, the quotes.”)

His phone rang—his friend. I don’t think either of us wanted to part, but he felt a responsibility, and it was already 11pm. We chatted a bit more, talked about accents, his accidental bump up to first class, and then when another lull happened, he looked at me. “You’re tired. I should go and meet up with Sam.” I acquiesced, and drew him a map to get to 116 and Broadway. We hugged, and very quickly, he was gone.

It was… wonderful. I surprise myself with the people I still feel connected to, even after all these years. And who’da thunk the high school boyfriend, my first everything, would feel just as familiar, perhaps even more similar to me, five years later on a rainy night in NYC.

He can move back to the States any time. He could grow into an amazing friend.

Thy life’s a miracle.

I’ve been letting my Shakespeare class creep under my skin this semester. My Juliet, my Portia, my Nurse… their stories and their words, but also the way I feel in playing them, in “walking with them,” as Patty Clarkson said. There is resonance. There is depth.

“Acting is uniting energy with breath.”

Below are some of my thoughts from the semester, quotes from class and from life that have spoken to my work in Shakespeare this semester. I have always been a Shakespeare obsessive, but more than any other time in my life, with the space to fail (no grades), the ability to shine (alum in a student class), a relationship with the professor, and the ability to do the class while not playing a lead in a show and struggling with the first steps of recovery… I think Shakespeare has taught me more about myself than he ever has.

“Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscings.” –Sigmund Freud

In Juliet’s first monologue in the play, “Thou knows’t the mask of night is on my face,” she’s struggling for the right words to say. She’s stumbling over phrases and and the explosion of emotion from the carapace of knowledge.

THIS is what acting is. Having the logic and the structure– the lines, the blocking, the story–and, in the playing of it, allowing the id, the truth, the feeling, the reaction, to bubble out. And, too, isn’t that what life is? At least mine. I set up my life– my tasks, my schedule– but the chaos inside still bubbles out, must bubble out. It’s messy, but it’s honest.

“The play is supposed to be a comedy, but today I’m a tragedy.” That’s life. That’s the work.

“Comedy is life invincible.” –Joseph Campbell

When L was first diagnosed with lymphoma, I spend four or five days with her, going from appointment to appointment so her doctors could gather more information. On the morning of the day L would be admitted to Sloan Kettering, I accompanied her to get an “echocardiogram,” essentially an ultrasound of her heart. While L lay on the exam table and the doctor began to move the sensor around her chest and back, I watched on the monitor as each valve in her heart beat in perfect time. I twas remarkable. I felt myself catching my breath, suddenly terrified something would hiccup, beat out of tempo, even stop. Of course, it didn’t stop. And it never beat out of tempo– dun DUN dun DUN dun DUN. In perfect iambic pentameter. “in SOOTH i KNOW not WHY i AM so SAD.”

But what really struck me about it was the constancy, the simplicity, of what gives us life. Our hearts are muscles, but we don’t muscle them– we can’t. We simply live, move through our days and despite the chaos of it, our existence is predicated on a simple, rhythmic thump. This is Shakespeare. For all its complexities, scholarship, and performance, Shakespeare creates a reliable, beating heart upon which we build these stories. So too with the breath,the  pure, simple in-and-out is all that’s required to live in Shakespeare’s world.

That’s how I came at Portia, from the steady beating heart and the pure flow of breath. Allowing the muscle to do its work without muscling. Allowing the terror of “what if it stops,” “what if it stumbles,” to fade, bravely trusting the internal and unconscious to keep going, keep beating, keep breathing. It’s scary for me to do that– to trust myself (my heart, my breath, my voice, my body, the language) to be enough to keep me floating.

At this moment in my life, I am seeing every day in myself and my friends, the necessity of surrender, the trust in self.

I AM ENOUGH to survive cancer.
I AM ENOUGH to bear the never-ending rejection of this business.
I AM ENOUGH to have great friends, to be loved, to live the kind of life I’ve chosen, 3,000 miles from home.

In letting Portia let go of her fears, of her status, her inhibitions, her blood, to simplyreach Brutus, I am rehearsing my own letting go, trusting the da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM– the constant, regular heartbeat– that is enough to build an entire life on.

“Thy life’s a miracle.” King Lear

“You acted the SHIT out of that play.”

What Once We Felt

I spent a portion of tonight re-reading many archived emails deep in the “vault”: I have archives in my box that go back to September 2008.

I can’t say it makes me feel good, but I know why I do it. I do it to make sense of the things that happened to get me to where I am. Because I do this… well, not infrequently… I remember most of what’s there. But occasionally I stumble upon something that really hits me.

Here are a few things, for my reference, so I have them in one place… and I wonder if some of them bring up things for others. Sending love.

B.

November 2009 – Feeling Like a Victim

Tough session with [therapist] today. It started great… I told her about how great it felt to do Katie’s birthday, a lot of what I expressed to you on Friday. But somehow we sort of got on how I have a hard time feeling like I know how to care for others (I never know what to say!), and maybe that’s because I don’t know how I want to be taken care of. I ended up telling her about this weird thing I have about always wanting to be a victim– like loving being in the hospital when I got that kidney test done, all the Holocaust and Salem Witch Trial obsession stuff– weird stuff. What amazed me was how often I feel that way (wanting people’s pity, wanting to  suffer), and although I don’t totally know why, part of it ist that I feel like I need some sort of validation to be in pain. Like my life didn’t give me any reason to be in pain, and an outward, excessive expression of suffering (like being in a hospital) would allow me that. I feel that way shockingly often.
 
[Therapist] had me try and isolate a place where I felt truly sad– the place that I feel like I need a “reason” to feel. From there we spent a long time “exploring” this deep, ancient grotto of sadness. That sounds really esoteric, but we sort of found this imagined location where I spent a long time. We didn’t “discover” anything, I didn’t have any great realizations, but we explored. It wasn’t a comfortable place to be for a long time.

November 2009 – What Is Going On?

[Therapist],
 
I want you to know some things that I haven’t yet expressed. It is really, really difficult for me to say them, and I think that’s part of the reason I haven’t yet. I wrote a list of sentences I wanted to share and am sending them to you in this sort of unfinished form because otherwise I’m not sure I’d be able to.
 
I eat when I’m not hungry
I feel as though I can’t stop eating
I feel guilty afterwards
I don’t starve myself after I binge, and I don’t purge, so that’s good
 
Even though I know I should gain weight (I bought a scale and I weigh between 98 and 102lbs) the idea of gaining weight is really scary to me and repulsive to me.
 
I love cooking and making food. When I binge I don’t cook, I just eat. I don’t focus on anything but putting the food into my mouth. There is no joy in it.

I hide this from everyone—I only binge when no one is looking.
 
Besides the binging, I am a very healthy person. I feel good about the way I treat my body beyond this one thing.

February 2010 – What People Are Saying / What I Am Feeling

Then, after I finished classes, I got a text from the Theatre Department manager asking me to come to her office. I went up, and we talked about some work things/business stuff (because I’m the head of the department’s assistant, so I help with money and paperwork stuff). Then she asked me to sit down. When she almost started crying, I knew what she was going to bring up, and sure enough, she told me that “there is a lot of concern in the department about whether you have an eating disorder.” She was really sweet and caring (as everyone is when they talk about this stuff to me), but in the place I already was yesterday, it was especially hard for me to hear and kind of put me over the edge. I didn’t know what to say and I just felt really lost and misunderstood. I told her what I always say, about the fact that it was accidental and I know it’s weird and I SO appreciate the concern and all of that, and also that I am making direct efforts to help myself. Of course she was really wonderful about all of it, but I felt self-conscious and really sad all through the rest of the day.

On my way home, I called my mom to tell her how it went, and opened up about how frustrated I was feeling. At some point she said, “I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself, but I’m sorry it had to take your hip injury to make you realize that you need to deal with this problem.” I reacted to that, saying that I had been taking care of this particular “problem” long before my hip started hurting (I’m not sure if I told you, but the hip stuff may be related to demineralization, which could be related to the weight loss). I tried to explain to her what I was hearing and what I didn’t agree with in that, and we came to a kind of understanding, but I think therein lies the root of what I’m feeling right now…

 I wish I wasn’t feeling quite so hyperaware of how other people are perceiving the way I look, and I also wish I didn’t have to jump through all these hoops with doctors and meds, but that’s sort of where I’m at right now. I feel a lot of resistance towards calling the internist and even more towards the nutritionist (I think because I don’t want to be seen as someone with a problem with eating that has to be fixed– I just want to keep doing what I’m doing). And, frankly, I don’t want to take the birth control for very vain reasons– I felt moody, I broke out, and I gained weight. I know the goal is to gain weight, but I want to do it on my terms, not the pills’ terms. Maybe that’s a sign of a “problem,” but I still want to be in control of the things that happen to my body. With all of these things to change how I’ve been going through my life the last few months (a life I feel REALLY good about), I’m feeling nervous, sad, and lost. I’m feeling a lot of resistance to all of this but I think I just have to buck up and do it. I do want to be healthy. But I wish it wasn’t mixed up with all of this.

February 2010 – Acting Notes Sound Like Porn

First Orgasm Sillhouette – we will look at this today but maybe you can sit on his lap on “why are you so sweet, so juicy, and so bad?” – so that it is easier for you to climb up the wall?  I want to hold your back arched for a bit longer with your hand up before you moan.

March 2010 – Bragging

And then I rediscovered this: one of the final scenes from the play I did in Feb/March 2010. It was for a forum at my school about Religion and Madness. I went to a Jesuit school. I flashed a lot of people. You’re welcome. Don’t judge me.