Monday, October 31, 2011

The Horror

Even a recluse has to leave the house every now and then. Last evening was no exception. So what if it was Halloween Eve? I needed cigarettes.

I collected the cash I would need, folded my arms into the hoody I'd be wearing to offset the chill outside, and hooked my gate keys to the belt loop above my left hip. I took the old scarf I keep hanging by the door and wrapped it around that part of my face that is now misshapen into the horror that frightens children and sends them scurrying to the arms of their parents who scoop them up in turn and rush away from me in fright.

Outside I had to cross the length of the patio to reach the gate that would deposit me onto old Decatur Street. Within only seconds, my ear could hear the swift swoosh of curtains being drawn inside my nearest neighbor's apartment. Ahead of me and to my right, in the laundry room, another neighbor sensed my presence and froze, unable to move till I had passed.

Soon I reached the gate and peered out onto the street. Couples and small groups of merrymakers dashed about, huddled against the cold wind scattering loose flotsam down the sidewalks in the darkening gloom.

I stepped outside and hugged the walls till I could reach my destination. It was only a few yards away, now a few feet, inches, inches, and I was there.

The doors were hung wide open like welcoming arms. Inside was bright and raucous with shoppers merrily examining the sundries of the tiny tobacconist's shop. The lady clerks danced from customer to customer, festooned in motley, their faces painted to hint at harmless Halloween horrors.

I slumped over to a far side of the shop to wait until one of them might free herself from the crowd to wait on me.

I stood there in that corner a few moments, believing myself to be unnoticed, before I felt the hand. That hand. Behind me, a young man - just yesterday a boy - had crept up stealthily. In his right hand, he carried an old guitar. In his left, he had entwined a corner of my scarf between his fingers. I sensed the weight of it, his hand. And then the jerk. I felt the cold air sting my face where just before the scarf had lain against my skin. I saw the faces of the customers turn to me at the sound of the young man's gasp. His, you see, had been the first eyes there to light upon my visage.

Before me, what I beheld was the terror in those other eyes, the eyes of the ladies of the shop, as they caught sight of my disfigurement. The image of their fright seared into my brain like acid poured upon the artist's metal plate before it is inked and pressed against the paper.

"'I'a'ettes!" I cried, piteously. "'I'a'ettes, p'ease."

I held out my cash in trembling hands.

The clownfaced lady clerk reached behind her and counted out several packets of the cigarettes I craved. She tossed them in my direction. I laid the dollar bills on the counter, collected the discarded packs, and made to leave. The crowd swept back, affording me a pathway to the street.

Back in the windy lane, I scuttled home, a broken spider hurtling forward its despised body, hoping to outrace the rushing feet behind it, the booted feet intent on stamping out its life.

Oh, the horror!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Embracing the Present and/or the Future

Yesterday, I took my second - or maybe third - step into the twenty-first century. I signed up on Twitter. Or did I sign up for Twitter? Or did I join Twitter? I don't know, and that bothers me.

Why it should bother me, I don't know. I'll work on that.

I'll work on that the same way I'm working on overcoming my amplifying shyness or my encompassing reclusiveness. Which is to say, I'll get around to it.

In the meantime, I am now free to express my thoughts for all the world to see in only 140 characters or less any time or any place they may occur to me.

As you may have guessed, I've been waiting for them. So far, nothing. Zip.

I'm kind of nervous about putting something out there that somebody might find fault with and get upset with me about. I mean,  just a couple of weeks ago, I shared a post on Google+ only to have someone in one of my circles yell at me for sharing it since that person had his own Google+ and could post it himself if he wanted to.

Can you blame for being a little skittish?

I don't won't to be littering somebody's virtual landscape with dumb banalities even if they are only 140 characters or less - and mine, all mine.

For this reason, I'm studying the tweets that other twats are twitting to get some insight into the ins and outs of this brave new world. Here's a random sampling of some of the revelations being laid bare by a few of those in whose footsteps I am following:
  • The Juicy of the Day is a True Brees, a burger stuffed with -- you guessed it -- Mac and cheese. Will I Get it?
  • Snow
  • I just woke up. My head is pounding. My toilet is filled with gold! What just happened?
  • Nobody to pick their rotting fruit! Whoops!Which is it GOP, moats,military,& electric fences or Tomatoes,Brussel sprouts,& Beans? You pick!
  • A bit more, perhaps, of that Japanese word I can't remember that means a protrusion of the middle finger? Meh... ;-)
  • My dearest, most darlingest, twaterers, Thank you for all your birthday wishes!!! 27 is such a lovely age to be. I love you all!..
There's a definite learning curve here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Interview, Part 4

TQ: So you wound up in New Orleans. Why?

ME: If you have to ask that question, you would never understand the answer. The allure of New Orleans for me was the allure of theatre - that's true; but I never realized how theatrically saturated it would turn out to be - and in ways I never imagined. I would say that, while New Orleans is a theatrical city, it is not a theatre town.

TQ: How so?

ME: Well, look around you. Nearly everyone in the city considers himself or herself to be a "character," an "icon." It seems whenever a person walks out of his house and onto the street, he is presenting himself as a "character" to be reckoned with, the central player in his own improvisation. You and everyone else are supporting players in his performance piece. But - and this is the big "but" - you and everyone else are also the central characters in your own scenarios. It's unbelievably complex. Now, what happens if your "character" is one who makes theatre? How do you appeal to these people, how do you get them to plop their butts in a seat and endure the duration of your construct while putting their own on a back burner? That's hard. (In fact, I recently attended a performance where certain "characters" in the audience actually threatened to usurp the performance they were ostensibly there to see, stepping out to buy drinks or pee then returning during the action, or adlibbing responses to the dialogue.) I've had a little - just a little - success with literary types and people who are into the visual arts; but practically none with theatre people. They've pretty much ignored what I do.

TQ: That's unfortunate.

ME: Do you think so? I'm  not so sure. Remember, we're all "characters" doing our own thing. I have ideas, they have theirs. Mine are just better. That's a joke. Don't print it.

TQ: If you say so. You used the phrase, "makes theatre." Obviously, now, you're assuming the role of director rather than actor. When did that shift occur?

ME: Well, I guess I always wanted to direct. [Laughing] No, that's not how it was. I just began to not enjoy acting as much as I had in the past. It bean to bore me. Then, of course, my job started to take over my life. It was demanding more of my attention and my time. The acting just fell to the side.

TQ: What job was this?

ME: My job at the Unemployment Office. That job was always meant to be temporary, you know, something to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly until I got my break and became a "real" actor. Imagine my surprise when I realized I loved my job. I loved it. You would think it would be a depressing place to work, the Unemployment Office, but it never was. It was joyous. Everything I ever learned, I learned at the Unemployment Office. Or, everything I ever learned was either reinforced or jettisoned while working there.

TQ: What kind of things did you learn there?

ME: I'll mention two. The first thing I learned was to listen. Everyone has his own secret language, a language that underlies any cultural or class difference. If you listen long enough and patiently enough, you begin to learn that language, and you can begin to comprehend that person's real need and point him in the right direction to fix his situation. The trouble most of us encountered was that we learned the basics of the law over the years, and we tried to fit each person into one hole or another which seemed to fit his situation. The problem with that way of thinking is that no person is a peg, and there is only one "hole" that is particular to him in that one particular circumstance. You learn that by listening. The second thing I learned was when I began to advance and started supervising and managing; and that was that the workers under you are actually capable of performing their jobs. They won't necessarily - or even usually - do it the way you would do it. They will develop their own ways of doing a task. That can be off putting at first because you believe you can see flaws in their process. But their way is just as valid as the way you once found to do the same task for yourself. I'll tell you a little story. When I first had been promoted to the Manager's job at the West Jefferson Job Center, I took myself up to the reception desk early one morning to observe how the staff handled the first rush of the day. It was chaos. I started issuing directives to do this and not that. The usual stuff. Then I happened to catch the look in my assistant manager's face as she stood next to me. The look was full of pity, and it stopped me in mid-breath. What that look was saying to me was, "We know our jobs, and we can get this done. Learn our language now." I shut up and walked away. I began to manage that office from a supportive, rather than a directorial, position. That was my graduation. That was the day I was handed my diploma in Direction.

TQ: I'm not sure I follow you ...

ME: Then you haven't been listening.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Can't Argue with That

Bobby hasn't been feeling well the past few days.

What am I saying? He's been sick as a wormy pup for the last five days, unable to keep any food in his gut, spewing it up just minutes after eating it. Nothing stayed down, not ice cream, not Jello, not spinach (his call!), not even water. His gullet has been like a two-way street.

Naturally, I worry. This has happened in the past, and he's ended up cradled in a bed at Touro for treatment of dehydration.

In last night's darkest hours, he's sitting up, puking into one of the little barf bags he snitched from his last hospital stay. I'm hovering over him, saying things like, "Do you want me to take you to the Emergency Room?"

"Not yet. I'll let you know when I'm really sick ... Unh!"

"Okay, but is there anything I can get you?"

"Cold rag."

"Got it. Here."

"I'll go to my doctor in the morning. Let him check me into the hospital if he thinks that's where I need to be."

"But I worry, Bobby ... "

"You worry! You don't think I worry? I worry. I worry about you! Look at  yourself. You're big as a house. Unh-HUNH!"

I think to myself, He's getting better.

Now morning has broken. It's nearing ten, and so far, he's holding down the vanilla creme-filled cookies he made me go out to buy him at dawn's early light.

And I could use a drink.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Night

I've begun to dread the onset of nighttime, the surrender of the light to the long, long hours of dark and endless boredom.

There will be time enough for that further down the road, oh, please, much further down the road. Not yet. Not now.

Solitude's a lonely cell to lock oneself into, even when one has the key to spring the lock. There comes a time when the prisoner, left alone with the door to his cell wide open, will sit as ordered and not move, not leave, not run away to reach the light of morning, but sit and sit and sit the hours away.

Nighttime is a lonesome place, as dark and empty as a time-stopped, moonless midnight.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Interview, Part 3

TQ: Where did you attend college?

ME: I went to the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Now it's called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I may have wanted to go to a professional theatre school or some other college with a reputation, there was no money or means to get my hands on either of those, so I woke up early each morning and caught a little yellow school bus that carried us locals down the road (Highway 90) from Crowley through Rayne, then Scott and, finally, to the campus where we all dispersed until late afternoon, when we would all reassemble for the trek back to our little towns. Except, of course, for me when I was in a play and had to rehearse at night. Then I would catch a Greyhound bus back to Crowley where my my dad would meet me at the station and sometimes come up onto the bus to wake me up and carry me home.

TQ: Those were the good old days ...

ME: They were miserable. I never got enough sleep. I did manage to get my studying in on the buss though. I was always able to do that, shut out the outside noise and concentrate. Not anymore. I get distracted now.

TQ: What was the theatre program like?

ME: I didn't like it at the time. I wanted to fill my head with art and theory and process. I wanted an esoteric high. Instead, we were constantly being taught how to enter and exit, how to project our voices, how to walk and stand and sit in a chair. None of which you do onstage the same way you would do it in your own bedroom. Thank God for the campus library. I continued to read a lot and got my highs in the stacks.

TQ: Sounds like a smothering experience. How did you cope?

ME: Looking back on it now, I think it was the best kind of education I could have gotten. The kind of education that seems to be missing nowadays. (I sound like an old fart. Have I become an old fart?) Remember I could still run to the library and get high whenever I felt like I was suffocating. The fact is, everybody needs discipline. Everyone needs a grounding in technique. You've got to know how to properly do something. You can't paint unless you know how to hold a brush and pass it over a canvas. Try it. It's not as easy as it sounds. You can't dance Giselle if you haven't spent the better part of your life in ballet class. I go to plays today, and what I see onstage is formless. What I should be hearing is inaudible - or incomprehensible because the actors have never made friends with their consonants. Believing you can empathize with a role does not make you able to communicate it to an audience. I don't know what it is that's kept me from yelling, "Sing out, Louise," in the middle of a performance. That's typically the kind of thing I would do.

TQ: You'd find yourself canned.

ME: I'd probably get a round of applause. You'd be surprised how often people will remark after a performance, "I couldn't make out half of what they were saying;" or how rarely they will say, "I could hear every word." They say it with a sense of wonder, like it's something odd. Well, it shouldn't be. Anyway, my college experience was drudgery. Which was what I needed. Art takes time, and that's something the young don't have.

TQ: That's very perceptive.

ME: Really?

TQ: Yes. Yes, it is. What were some of the plays you did in college?

ME: The first play I got into was Mother Courage and Her Children. I played Eilif. Brecht. Can you imagine? Our first blocking rehearsal, our director, who would become the head of the department a year later, told me to enter from stage right and cross to Courage. I asked him something really stupid like, "What's my motivation?" And he started screaming at me that my motivation was to do whatever the hell he told me to do, goddammit! I never opened my mouth in rehearsal again. I learned to figure those things out for myself (a good lesson for a future director: know motivations and be willing to listen to your actors). I was lucky, though, because most of the cast were upperclassmen who'd already asked their stupid questions before I'd asked mine and had gotten the same kind of response. So they took me under their wings and looked out for me after that. But I never auditioned for any other play directed by this guy.

TQ: Sad ...

ME: No, funny. I mean, how more stereotypical and stupid could I have been? But it happened, and it passed. The next play I remember doing was Royal Gambit, a play of ideas using Henry VIII and his wives as metaphors - or something like that. The main reason I remember it was because there was a senior theatre major at USL who was fat and had grown a beard to make him look like he was Henry. Everyone assumed the part was his, but I auditioned for it and got it. I reveled in winning it. I was a blockhead of insensitivity. I think these were the only two plays I did as a Freshman. I became choosy. I didn't live to be in every play. I saw classmates jump at every chance to get up onstage, but I was different. I thought that was kind of unnatural. Between classes and rehearsals, there was little time for anything else, like living a life. I remember thinking how some of the people who jumped from show to show didn't seem to be developing depth but were, rather, developing shtick. You see this all the time. Ready-made performances. It's easier than starting at the beginning.

TQ: What do you mean by "starting at the beginning?"

ME: I mean starting blank. Putting aside things you've done in past performances and starting over from scratch. Each role becomes a new life that develops the way we do as we grow. You start off being conscious of sitting in a playpen, let's say. You look out at all the strange things around you. What can those things be for and what do they mean? The urge for adventure becomes an irresistible force, and you start to crawl, then walk. Falling doesn't stop you. Knocks on the head - that hurt - don't stop you. You start a role from a passive place. Maybe it's like observing nature. You don't impose yourself on it, you let it happen while you observe it, you make assessments, and you learn from that. That enough metaphor for you? I didn't do a lot of plays in college, but I did the good ones. That was where I realized I had a capacity for learning and the ability to absorb what I had learned and make it a part of who and what I was. Two different things, the first one useful, the second one an uncommon gift.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Meditate This

Sit upright in a quiet place. Clear your mind. Read the following:
All of the atoms that make up your body were once parts of stars – the phrase "we are stardust" is not just poetic fancy. After that, they were part of the sterile planet (later to be called Earth) for some billions of years, and when life appeared, bits that were later to become "us", began to be parts of the early forms of life on Earth – bacterial, plant, animal, fungal etc – all of it sharing atoms, especially carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms.

By a statistical certainty, many of the 7 billion trillion atoms that make up your body will have formed parts of many other organisms in the far past. Some of them have formed parts of living beings (plant and animal) in the recent past – you ate them. But some of those beings will be humans, still alive and sharing the planet with you as you read this; if by no other route than by the fact that the air others breathe out is the air you breathe in. The blood in your veins is red because of oxygen that was someone else's last month, and will be someone else's again next.

You may feel that your "self" is a solid, unchanging entity, but the matter which houses that self is a boiling mass, coming and going all the time.

Francis Blake, London N17
Now rock 'n roll!
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