Pimp My Lent/Day 8
From singer-songwriter Angie Bliss, a lyric that came to her in a dream:
I woke up today all wet faced from crying
cause I hadn’t seen you in a long time
I heard your laugh
I saw your face
then you told me you were dying…
In a restaurant in a river town, not my home
you flash across my mind like lightning
and yeah, I’m still alone
you’re 10 years gone, now I know
what it feels to survive you
Today’s blog is a blog. I’ve avoided journaling here because there are places that I want to go, and there are places that I don’t want to go. And some of those places – many of them – are places that I do not show the world, for fear you will run far, far away and never speak of me again.
But Angie’s dream lyric got to me, and as I am prompted, I must follow.
About eight years ago, I was in L.A. for a long visit, staying with my friend Bob Ring, an actor and artist who was battling stomach cancer. Our mutual history could fill its own blog, but for now I want to focus on one day, on this one moment.
The timing of life – who gets how that happens, how things fall together or don’t?
It just happened that the one day I went with Bob to see his oncologist was the day. The doctor, a soft-spoken man, reported that their last-ditch treatment had had no effect, there had been no good progress. The cancer was spreading. There was no real hope, there was one good month, maybe six weeks, and as much pain management as Bob wanted.
Bob wept, I wept; our friend Mario was with us, he wept. The nurse wept. The doctor had tears in his eyes as he hugged Bob and they said their good-byes. They left us to ourselves, and Bob, Mario and I collapsed on each other in a heap. We made it to the parking lot at some point. Conversation was quiet, heavy. The world seemed constricted, focused on a pinpoint, so incredibly small and finite.
The cancer had spread to his bones, and his spine. Even morphine couldn’t erase the pain, and Bob was more comfortable lounging across the back seat of the car than sitting. As we pulled away from the hospital, Bob leaned his head against the car window and sighed.
I barely heard him at first. It was like he was talking more to his reflection. He sighed, very softly, and said. “Who knows where I could be right now?”
He said, “There was so much I didn’t do. Why? Why?”
He talked about the film production job that he’d been offered when he first arrived in L.A., the one he’d turned down because he feared not being able to make the rent. Instead, he’d taken a job as a mail clerk in a big law firm in downtown L.A., thinking he’d do theater on the side. He didn’t. He didn’t work again in theater for years. Bob had also turned down a job as a personal assistant for a B-movie actor on a low-budget film because, at the time, he couldn’t see the value in it, though it was beneath him. Now he wondered if that job wouldn’t have been a stepping stone, maybe led to the acting career he’d so wanted, dreamed of.
“Who knows where I could have been?”
It haunts me. Sometimes. Bob’s regrets, and my own. Some days are harder than others. Like every other day since I turned 42.
Maybe it’s the middle-age thing. Maybe it’s the death thing. Our smallish group of hometown theater folks has suffered more than its share of losses, including the recent violent death of a friend who drank himself into a tree at highway speed. This boy, the golden boy that we all loved, had also loved acting, and had also given it up.
But, of any of us, Bob had the true gift. On stage, in musical-comedy, he had thousand-watt charisma. He could sing, dance and act. He was a big guy, but he had such grace. He had perfect comic timing, and I mean perfect. Think Nathan Lane with red hair and broader shoulders.
As an actor, I never had what Bob had. But I loved it, loved the ensemble of it, of being a vital part of a company, of getting into rehearsals and working so hard for so many hours that you leave the theater and have to take a few minutes to remember how to operate in the world. The energy of creation, playing off other actors, of being “in the flow” on stage, moving, speaking, creating, that incredible rush of being so swept up in a role, in a scene, in an on-stage romance (not backstage romance, that’s whole nuther topic for a whole nuther blog) that you lose all sense of yourself, of fear, of the now until suddenly it’s final curtain call of the final show and then you’re standing in the shower at home weeping with gratitude and this great big hole in your soul, this sweet and tender ache that longs to get right back into what is more real to your whole-soul than any real life you’ve ever lived. Ever.
I’m only now starting to recognize this ache again. It’s been buried, like a time capsule. I am looking at this me, this actor-self that I abandoned. It’s not as if I’m going to throw the laptop out the window and shout “FORGET THIS CRAP – I’M AN ACTOR!”
But that actor-self is here again, and she’s finally speaking to me again.
Because – with shaky-legs, breathlessness and the certainty that I will at any given moment faint or run screaming from the room, and will thereafter have to close myself up in my house like Emily Dickenson without the cruel hairdo… I have taken on an acting class.
My friend and some-time employer, Terry Martin of WaterTower Theater is now my teacher. We are learning the Meisner Technique. Terry says it will help us to “find the joy of the moment, by getting you out of your head and into the intuition.” He says that as actors on stage, we will learn “to respond truthfully and honestly, with real integrity.”
We can learn, Terry says, be able to “change the energy of the room.”
Wow. Wow. Wow.
I want to be there. As a writer, as an actor, as a creator, as a mom, as a wife, as a person in the world. I want to change the energy in the room.
I think that this stepping out – in this class and here in this space – is a good thing, a start at least, on avoiding that sigh, that reflection in the car window, and that soft, sad “Why?”
Such great and powerful legacies that our art and our friends give us.