Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Lip Balm Is Already Lost

I am not the type of person who loses things.  As an adult anyway. 

As a child?  Well...when I was in elementary school in Texas I lost my glasses.  Twice.  I used to wear them only when I needed to see the blackboard.  The rest of the time I carried them in a bright green zippered glasses case that had the word "Glasses" printed on it in huge letters.  I attached it to a belt loop with a little chain.  I remember it banging into my leg as I ran on the playground.  I lost the case and the glasses.  And then I lost another pair.  Same case.  In middle school I threw away my retainer.  Twice.  I used to dutifully take it out to eat my peanut butter sandwich at lunch.  And because it was gross to look at, naturally I wrapped it up in a napkin.  And naturally, I forgot about it.  And dumped the napkin into the trash along with my milk carton and sandwich baggies.

And we all wonder why no one asked me to the prom...

But let's face it.  Somewhere deep down I didn't want those glasses.  And I hated that retainer.  Didn't I want them to be lost?

In the last few months I have lost several more precious though less valuable things.  Sometime around Thanksgiving I lost a very special necklace that's handstamped with Doc Hubby and Bean's names.  I remember taking it off at night.  I remember setting it down on a dresser.  I suppose I never picked it back up.  Since I have been in Louisville I have lost a pair of fingerless mittens my Mom got me and I loved.  They may be on the floor of the movie theater at the mall where Doc Hubby and I saw "The Hobbit" in 3D (remind me to take a Dramamine before I see another adventure flick in 3D).  But I actually rather doubt it.  I may have inadvertently thrown them away, too.  I subsequently wrote a postcard to Bean.  The postcard pictured Route 80 in Central Pennsylvania.  I bought it several years ago just because I thought it was hilarious.  Who buys a postcard of an interstate?  I wrote it out to Bean, stamped it, slid it into my script, went to the theater, and simply could not find it.  I have no memory of mailing said postcard.  I have searched.

Just today I discovered my favorite lip balm appears to be AWOL.

Each of these things is an item that I rather distinctly remember putting somewhere for safe keeping.  A dresser.  The pocket of my jacket.  Inside of my script.  They were all dear.  Even the lip balm, kinda.  And now...?  What is wrong with me?  Where is my brain?

We worked through and ran the last act of OUR TOWN today.  It is so shatteringly beautiful. From amongst the ranks of the dead and against their firmly-stated advice, Emily chooses to go back to life and relive her 12th birthday.  She receives an unexpected present from her then 12-year-old neighbor--the boy who will grow up to be her husband.  She gets a special and much-desired gift from her mother.  And an heirloom present from her grandmother who has since passed.  Some of these things she seems to remember, 14 years later.  Some of them she admits she had forgotten.  All were special, one way or the other.  And because of that, or maybe in spite of it, she can't bear to look at any of them.  From beyond the grave everything is precious.  Every moment is vanishing.  Every cup and saucer and piece of bacon and heirloom hair comb.  I can't look at everything hard enough, she says.

And then she says:
Do any human beings realize life while they live it--every every minute?

And the Stage Manager responds:
No. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

What would happen if we realized life every every minute?  If every precious necklace and every fingerless glove and every tube of lip balm were recognized as perhaps the last token of a beautiful life that could end at any moment?  The remnant of an era before... something changed?  Because of course we never know when that minute will be.  That drive down the interstate.  That elevator ride to the top of a sky scraper.  That camping trip to Crawford Notch.

I don't think I'd like to realize life every every minute.  I think it might be devastatingly sad.  And crazy-making.  As it is I can barely look at videos of Bean ice skating while I'm in Kentucky without seeing how much her permanent front tooth has grown in.  How long her legs are.  And feeling somewhat mangled inside because of it.

I think I'd like to realize life every maybe?  Once a day?  To mark something.  To observe something.  To take in something with a rather more profound depth than usual.  To live a conscious moment.

And then immediately to lose my lip balm.  Or my fingerless mittens.  Or even my precious necklace.  Because what is it those Zen fellows say (to borrow the "folksy" tone of the OUR TOWN Stage Manager)? Isn't the glass already broken?  Isn't the lip balm already lost?  Isn't the child already grown?

I'm glad they were mine for a little while anyway. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

May 5th and February 11th

"Father died a year ago today.  On your birthday Irina, May 5th." Three Sisters

"Well now dear, a very happy birthday to my girl and many happy returns." Our Town

This is the second play I have done in a row that involves a character's birthday.

We performed "Three Sisters" on May 5th.  The actress who played Irina's actual birthday was the day after.  May 6th.  The prop birthday cake we used in that production was laughable.  Like some kind of joke.  There is no way that a single person in the audience could possibly have believed it was an actual edible cake.  On the actress who played Irina's actual birthday, we brought in a real cake.  We put real candles on it, and surprised her onstage.  I will never forget her face.  She was so surprised and tickled and amused.  She just kept giggling.  And there's something especially glorious about that sort of thing happening in front of a live audience amongst professional actors who know how to keep the play going.  It was grand.

We will be performing "Our Town" on Emily's birthday--February 11th.  My "daughter's" birthday.

It is a funny thing when something someone speaks on stage is actually true.  When it really is May 5th or February 11th.  Or Christmas Eve or an actor's birthday.  When the stage truth and the true truth converge.  For a moment there is a wonderful clarity--a crystalline moment of shared reality.  And we all actually see each other for a second--even if we've been doing a play for weeks or months and it has become a bit stale.  Theater artists strive a whole lot to create reality on stage.  Most of our efforts are put into finding a way to create circumstances that will allow the lines the playwright has given us to say, to become true.  And by the time we are performing a play...well maybe we feel true about 50% of the time.  Maybe 60% on a good night.

It's a funny job.  Typically a group of total strangers get together in an empty room.  Grown adults mostly.  And then we pretend to be married and related and someone else's mother or wife or best friend.  And we hug and kiss and cry.  And in about a month we do all that in front of people.  Weird, right?  Pretty sure most jobs don't involve pretending to parent coworkers.

And it's my actual birthday today.  750 miles from home.  I've never had my actual birthday celebrated onstage.  But I've had the great privilege to be working on a number of my birthdays.  I think for a lot of people having to work on your birthday is a tremendous bummer.  Those of you who are fortunate enough to have a job most days of your life.  For me, actually, it's grand.  It means that on the day that marks the passage of another year, I'm actually doing what it is I want to be doing.  I turned 40 during the run of my first Broadway show.  That was one of the best days of my life.  How many people can say that about their 40th birthday?

Today in rehearsal my job is to be a mother.  And then to be a friend.  And to mime making breakfast in a 19th century kitchen.

I think in 2014 I'm going to strive to do at least two of those things with as much truth and awareness and thoughtfulness offstage, as I do on.