Sunday, October 25, 2015

Compass Rose

In this blog I have oft acknowledged myself as a nomad. I call myself that not because I am person without a home, but rather because I am creature who counts the hearts of many places and people to be her home. Despite my wandering ways, my inherent nomadism has always been transposed with purpose; I go where I’m called, wherever the compass deep within my vitals points me. But for all my years of wandering, my due north has always remained constant: London.

For almost all of my living memory, London has been the scene of my hopes and aspirations. To me, London belongs to the stuff of dreams and legends. It’s magic come to life.

During the opening number of the musical Into the Woods, each of the fairytale characters laments that which they do not have; ‘I wish.’ As Cinderella wished to go the ball, I wished for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), the oldest acting school in the UK and one of the greatest acting institutions in the world.

And like Cinderella, I got my wish.

But what happens when you wish upon a star and ‘Poof’ you’re there. How does it all measure up, when one very really walks through a world that once was only the stuff of dreams?

Into the Woods is a brilliant musical because it defines the parameters of its world with the barbed duality of fairytales. On the one hand, fairytales always come to a happy ending: the forlorn young (and I mean young) woman finds her prince, the evil monster is destroyed, poverty is lifted and all becomes right with the world. These endings are immensely satisfying. How could they not be? They are tidy, they are clean, they offer us balance and symmetry. But that’s because they’re not actually endings. It’s the end of our audience participation in the tale, but life for Cinderella does not simply cease the day after she marries the prince. Somewhere, trailing off of the final flourished word of these venerable folk tales, a dawn rises on the day after happily ever after. And, even though we’re never privy to that world, we know that that’s the unspoken epilogue of all these stories. It’s why for all their satisfying qualities, fairytales are often quite unsatisfying. They’re not complete, they’re just truncated.

Hence why the Shakespearean tragedy is so much more satisfying on a visceral level. The only truly satisfying, unquestioned, finite ending is death. And all of Shakespeare’s tragedies end in the death. There’s no question regarding ‘the day after’ at the end of a Shakespearean tragedy because everyone is probably dead. Or at least all the characters you care about. Unless you’re a major fan of Fortinbras or Friar Lawrence, but those are your own crosses to bear. Those are endings that provide satisfaction, albeit at an immense cost.

I’ve been granted the wish of my life---the circumstances of any decent fairytale. And yet I have within me a discord far more familiar to Hamlet than Snow White.

I find my arrival in London to be defined by contradictory emotions. I am so happy to be here and so sad for what I have left behind. The wonderful thing about dreams, fantasies, hopes, is that they can walk side by side with our real lives---the lives we foster and grow whilst in the pursuit of our dreams. Yet when the dream comes true, when one gets into LAMDA, there is a breaking of that synchronicity.  Suddenly, we no longer have a dream and a life that exist in tandem, but two lives that cannot co exist. We are forced to put one before the other, to play favorites, between the two lives that nourished our body and our soul. And in between those two great mechanisms we find our heart struggling desperately not to be crushed.

It hurts. It hurts to leave behind, even if only temporarily, those lives of ours that spring up betwixt our stumbling quest to materialize that sacred wish. Because they are important, as important as the dream, for without both we could not live. We need our dreams but so do we require life. I was a child who had no better friend than her imagination. I have always believed our tender hopes, and our desire to see them manifested, are essential to our human condition. But life cannot simply be a wish.

London, LAMDA. This has always been my dream. I’ve left home so many times. Yet this departure seemed to rip into the deepest parts of me. How could a part of me not want this? How could I betray myself in such a way? How could a part of me be so euphoric about leaving? How could I betray myself in such a way? It’s difficult to reconcile the way heartbreak and happiness can co exist, to be so blissful and so bereft.
But aren’t those the paradoxes that form the foundation of the world? What is theatre but a paradox inside a paradox inside an actual box? Is that what dreamers, travelers, actors, nomads, writers, advocates, artists, wanderers, people must learn to do? To balance, what we hold dear with what we dearly wish to hold?

Admire them though I do, I’ve no wish to live in a tragedy. Admire them though I do, I’ve no wish to live in a fairytale. So what then? What lies between?

Every time I leave on any kind of adventure----returning to college after winter break, traveling to Bangladesh for a summer, moving to London for a year---my mother always tucks away a secret note somewhere in my luggage.  They are always beautiful cards filled with glitter, love, and sentiment. But even though my mother had already out done herself, with two, count’em two, cards, she also included a separate letter. (It would seem my possession to write should come as no surprise.)

In her letter to me she opened with a quote from the Talmud, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Who I am as an actor, lover, artist, friend, daughter, feminist, writer---it’s a work unfolding. Every category of self I belong to requires my commitment and dedication. But they do not, and never have, required my perfection.  Sometimes we feel grief at our happiest, sometimes we find joy in the deepest of mournings. None of these feelings exist in a state of mutual exclusivity with each other. They all exist on the same color wheel of emotionality. The crime is not that I am sad to leave behind the life I built in America, the crime is not how wondrously happy I am to be starting this expedition in London. Both possess an essential part of my life’s work and as such, I am not free to abandon either.

The good wanderer knows that the departures that rip you to shreds are the only ones worth having. Because if you can endure that kind of pain then you’re on the only kind of adventure worth having.

I imagine that as a nomad, artist, global citizen---my life will always be a bit stop-start. As happy to be where I am as where I’m going. But one joy is not a betrayal of the other. I love a good fairytale as much as a good tragedy. My sadness does not lessen the more time I spend in London, but nor do my joy and gratitude abate one ounce. Rather, what I come to understand is that both can live at peace with one another. For what unites these seemingly disparate sentiments, my seemingly separate lives, is the work I know I must do. My world, my family, my dreams, my love, my hopes, my friends, whatever or whoever they be, are the offshoots of what roots me as a human being, that which makes me myself.

What lies between a fairytale and a tragedy? The work.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The End of And

I've never written a word about guns in America. I don't make public declarations, I don't speak about devastation or loss or mental health or male privilege. I don't tell anyone what I think or what I feel. I play it close to the chest. For the shootings that make me cry---(and, no, I don't cry for all of them because there are just so, so many)--- I do so privately and then it's done. I read the arguments and debates others post. I listen to their speeches, their outrage, their pain. And I call my mother.

 It was a habit I picked up in college. I always called just to tell her that I was ok. Even though it was never my campus, I just wanted her to know that I was alright. That it hadn't happened to me. Even now, even though I am in London, a land as devoid of guns as Ireland is of snakes, I still called. Thousands of miles away and I still can't shake that particular American habit. I've just done it so many times at this point; it’s muscle memory.

But this time the call wasn't for her benefit. It was for mine.

I never understood before why my mother so needed me to call. She knew where the shootings were. She knew I was ok. Why was the sound of my voice so important? But distance has afforded me another kind of perspective.

My first night in England I was sitting around the table with a group people, all British, all my age, and I made an off handed joke about a gun. We all laughed and one of them quipped back, "Oh you Americans, always reaching for your guns." The conversation continued and it was all soon forgotten. And just a few days later nine people were massacred and seven wounded by someone, by an American, who did just that, who ‘just’ reached for a gun. Or thirteen.

Standing at The Globe Theatre, waiting for the performers to come out, a few of us Americans on my program got to chatting. We talked about the shooting, how tragic it was. We reminisced---not about a time in our lives before such shootings but a time when there was, “Only one a year, every year and a half. Remember that? There's always one but it was just one. And it was just high school.” But it's not that any more. It's happened at high schools, private colleges, public colleges, community colleges, elementary schools, movie theaters, churches, religious school houses, military bases, offices, temples, hair salons, supermarkets, malls, reservations, dorms, trains, homes…

It goes on. And it will keep going on.

 That night, taking the tube home, I thought about all of those places, all of those average places where these unimaginable events unfolded. I thought of my friend who works on a university campus and whose sister and mother are teachers. I thought of my boyfriend and all the people I've known who went to a community college just like the one in Oregon. I thought of my mother substitute teaching at a Jewish day school.

My mind filled with the faces of all the people I love and all the average places that they go. All the average places that were average to others too once. Until they weren't.

What would I say? What words could I possibly offer? What would I say to my friend? To my boyfriend's mother? What words could anyone offer my parents? What words could anyone offer me?

And there are none. There are none. There are none. There are none.

There are only echoes of lives that might have been lead.

And the sound of those reverberations are deafening.

This has to stop. It just has to stop.

To be frank, if I had my way, it’d be as hard to get your hands on a gun as it currently is for a woman to get an abortion in Oklahoma. Or South Carolina. Or Texas. Or the other fifteen or so states with similar primeval restrictions on women’s bodies.

There is no reason, simply none, that we cannot find a way to implement better, smarter, preventative, restrictions on guns. I don’t believe we’ll ever eliminate guns. But when something is unsafe, and our current guns measures are unsafe, the only thing to do is work to make it safer. We’ve done it with hospitals, surgeries, cars, airplanes, trains, factories, mines, construction sites, even sewer systems and toilets.  Why hasn’t this happened with guns?

Because something else has to stop as well: we have to stop talking about this and do something. (NB: That something is not buy more guns.) Contact your local representatives and make sure that they know that this madness will no longer be tolerated. Because if we don’t do something, if we don’t act, a few months from now we’ll be back here again, having the same conversation we had just a little while ago and just a little while before that. 

We are a country in crisis. The rest of the world can see it. Why can’t we?

My apologies for distracting from the purpose of this blog. I just wanted to tell my mom that I'm ok. That I'm still ok.

But Sarena, Lawrence, Lucas, Quinn, Jason, Lucero, Kim, Treven, and Rebecka are not ok. The victims of Tuscon, Charleston, Aurora, Blacksburg, Newton, Columbine, Fort Hood, Binghampton, Washington Navy Yard, Nickel Mines, and the countless more, they are not ok.

Please, no more places, no more names. No more additions. No more ‘ands.’ No more. Not one.