Thursday, May 29, 2008

so i used to be extremely obsessed

with other people's belongings as a child. right? i couldn't keep my hands off them. i would feel them and smell them and chew on them and play with them, sometimes inevitably destroy them in my enthusiasm, and i would become terribly upset if an adult tried to take away my toy. it felt like emotional robbery. how dare they??

i'm not talking toddler, either. i was completely infatuated with strangers' stuff well into my adolescence. not in a weird cleptomaniac way where i wanted to make it my own: i just wanted to be close to it. like, an all-senses-involved-kind of close. and if ever there was a time when a stranger noticed and graciously gave me the thing i was so consumed by, why then it instantly ceased to be of any interest to me.

i still vividly remember that feeling of rapture, and i think i understand the reason behind it, too. it was the foreignness of the objects that i found so intoxicating, the fact that they had a life within the life of someone else who wasn't me. like they carried within them the essence of another person; a neatly wrapped package of alien humanity that i was desperate to explore... well, it's hard to explain, really.

in later years, i've equated my infantile need to interact with the belongings of others with the need many a fledging mechanic has to take electric fans apart and put them back together. except in my case, it wasn't about the inner workings of actual things. what i wanted to experience was the people who owned them, and the only way i knew how - remember, i was a fairly socially inept child - was to attack the physical manifestations of their personality. maybe this also betrays an instinctively sensual approach to life in general, i'm not sure, but i do know for a fact that the pursuit was intellectual in nature: i simply wanted to understand how other people went about being... well, other people.

objects have stories, you know. they don't have to be especially dramatic or eventful, as most real things are not: they can be as mundane as that time you spilled a drop of wine on your leather wallet and it stained the edge, and now i'm looking at it and i can see the discoloration, but it's been years since the drop of wine was spilled and how could i ever wrangle a context out of it? yet the context exists, out there, beyond mine and even your own reckoning: the restaurant you were at, where they served a really awful pasta salad, and how hard your date laughed when you told her the story about your dad catching you masturbating in the bathroom at his birthday party, and a million other things besides. so many stories. and if i couldn't get them all from one hands-on reading of your personal effects, i would make them up, filling in the blanks. your life - or at any rate, my interpretation of it - passing before my eyes. for a split second, i can be you. i can imagine being you. it's the same thing.

this is most likely how i started being an actor. it begins in your gut. whether or not i would have ended up actually acting is a whole different matter.

the other version of my backstory to being an actor involves watching a really bad river phoenix film as a teenager and being moved to tears, but really i probably just had a crush on him - it's the novelty version that people always dig. i mean, there might be a modicum of truth to it, but i don't fundamentally believe people decide they want to act from just watching someone else do it and being impressed. i think, at that point, it's no longer a decision. you just need a good source of inspiration to bring certainty to the surface. river phoenix was my trigger factor.

anyway, this is what i've discovered, years since and many foreign belongings handled, characters dissected, and parts played:
1. understanding how people work and trying them on for size are not even in the realm of being the same.
2. playing is not exactly being, theatre is not exactly reality: but it is the next closest thing and, when come by earnestly, ought to be no further away than an entirely plausible version of it.
3. being everybody feels the exact same. how you think, reason, and react within the parameters you're given is all kinds of different. but how being a person feels is the exact fucking same, in the end.

so don't tell me i wasn't there, because i could have been, and my imagination is sharper than a pitchfork and i have spent my whole life learning how to walk in other people's shoes.
well, that, and sniffing their wallets.

Let nothing that is inherently human
be foreign to you

- Stanislavski

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

in my third year of university, i

took this contemporary studies class with the longest, wrongest name ever. from symbolism and surrealism to the new novel and beyond. does anyone else feel that if a course title seems to require punctuation, it probably indicates bad things about the curriculum? well, anyway.

i never did finish the course. i wasn't terribly attached to it in the first place, it had been an elective - and in the end, the credit was mine for the taking, i simply opted out of it. the class was an afternoon lecture i rarely made it to, and whenever i did, i always seemed to end up at the grad house afterwards, drinking wine with the prof and a couple of the other students. it was hilarious to watch the way they idolized him. he was this bohemian-looking british man with a glint in his eye, a bevy of ex-wives and a summer home on the french riviera. i remember once i was behind on an assignment and tried to make him give me an extention on the deadline: he listened to my excuses, flashed a very wolverine grin, and said a sentence i can't forget. don't worry about nonsense. do the things that exhilarate you.

because, really - isn't that what every 22-year-old with a discipline problem needs to hear? give me a break, mr validation.

perhaps it was his attitude, then, that made me pause and decide that i really didn't care enough for maguerite duras to drag myself through a year's worth of the coursework. his arrogance; the decidedly decadent notion that none of it mattered unless it made me drip with passion. the other students tripping all over their own feet in fascination over this man's unorthodox methods and ideas - i didn't get them at all. i wasn't the least bit taken in by the intellectual rebel act. surely, i was already rebellious enough without needing him as a reminder.

so, yes, on some level he completely failed to inspire me - if that was indeed his aim. he also failed to impress me, seduce me, and teach me anything that i might have found useful (i know for a fact he was trying for at least two out of three). maybe i'm being a little harsh here; i don't necessarily believe he was a bad man. but he was full of reverse psychology tactics and poetic pep talks taylor-made for impressionable campus co-eds, of which i wasn't one.

regardless, this isn't about him - although an introduction into his persona is necessary to fully appreciate the assignment that broke the camel's back for me in that class. i had been on the fence for a while about continuing to pursue the credit, procrastinating a term paper on andre breton's novel 'nadia' practically to the point of no return. eventually, there came a moment of truth: do i buckle down and write the damn thing? even though i really, really don't want to? or do i say to hell with it?


the prof had called me into his office to discuss what "options" there were for me. this was confusing, as i thought i had thoroughly examined the options available, and there were exactly the two. yet here he was, telling me no - no, you can still have the credit. forget the term paper. here's what you do.

take three sheets of paper. put 'to have' at the top of the first one. 'to do' at the top of the second. 'to be' on the third. now write, in list form, everything you want out of life.

you're kidding, i said. you're going to grade me on that??

no, he said, and grinned that wolverine grin of his. not grade you.


i didn't end up doing it, of course. too weird. and i think i had already given up on the credit anyway at that point. i mean, really: if you can't give away a bag of tricks, what makes you think you can sell it? shouldn't i have been more insulted at being offered special treatment in the form of a parlor game of sorts?

well, i just stopped showing up and dropped the class and that was that. never discussed why. but i did, later, ponder this curious notion: three sheets of paper. to have, to do, to be.

i did it then, just to see what it would look like. and i'm doing it again now, just because. and i wonder if the two versions would have been much different - i wish i'd held onto the first one for posterity.

- permanent immigration status, for once in my life
- a career
- freedom to travel, move about, or stay put, and do exactly as i please
- fun
- love, in its many forms
- relative financial stability
- excitement - i go through phases where i tell myself it's overrated, but those never last
- good health
- recognition

- act, direct, produce, create
- travel
- laugh
- love
- write
- hedonistically consume all the finer things in life
- meet everybody and experience everything (gluttonous, i know, but it's been my burning wish since i was a wee thing)

- happy
- intellectually stimulated
- entertained
- appreciated
- working
- loved
- self-reliant
- free
- wise
- real

grade this, dr ***.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

it was a good end to the night, but i took

the last conversation to bed with me, and it fermented in my sleep. when i woke up i could feel it: a hot, tight ball of compact rage in my belly. poisonous. deadly. if i make any sudden moves, it could mean absolute disaster.

i have to learn little by little, and cautiously. i thought, for a time, that it would be possible to snap right back like none of it ever happened. it seemed possible. i could just refuse to be angry. life goes on, all that happy horseshit.

it's most terrifying when it happens like that, for no reason. all of a sudden out of a clear blue sky there's a downpour of words i should have said, things i should have done. ways i should have protected myself. blame. guilt. hate. i failed myself, i really did, and no matter how nice people are being about it, i know that's the case. and i feel stupid and weak and broken and nothing can make any of it better.

then. then, the anger comes. it's so ugly and so relentless. i control it, with my mind, and it makes my stomach hurt. i'm sick with fear that i can't contain anger this big, that it's going to eventually unravel in my gut and pour out of me like radioactive lava, destroying the precarious threads of confidence that keep me in one piece. destroying everything.

that it's going to happen when i least expect it. that is, perhaps, my biggest fear.

i build myself on rationality, or at least the aspiration to rationality. i love logic. i love intellectualizing the world into submission. right now, right this second, all that is is a house of cards in a draughty room. how am i supposed to go about not knowing if i'm going to fall off the hinges at any given time? how could this even have happened to me in the first place?

quicksand. no real ground. just a whole bunch of ridiculous notions about the sturdiness of human character and the power of self-assurance.

i want my two years back. i want it all back. i am so fucking angry and i want it all fucking back and i can never win this one.

they all have something in common

hotel rooms. the pristine quiet, just moments after you've swiped your key card and flipped the switch. the soft hum of the ac and the crispness of the linen. nothing has felt so alien and so completely mine at the same time.

corn fields. sky dipping into a yellow horizon. the smells of summer all rolled into this one; possibly the simplest and truest sense of freedom there is.

an old pair of chuck taylors, shaped perfectly after a single pair of feet. laces gray with dust, spilled beer, heartbreak and punk rock. been around for all the best stories you can and can't remember.

a slow pub on a lazy mid-afternoon in a new city, and being aware of all the eyes pretending not to notice you at the end of the bar with your pretentious fucking book and your foaming beverage.

expensive jeans. a dark denim that looks like it would bleed volumes in the wash. understated creases in all the right places.

midsummer rainstorms. heat rising off the pavement. getting soaked to the core and seeking cover in doorways while the sky is torn in half by lightning. blue and purple flashes. can feel wet mascara pool under my eyes. the weather is like a violent kiss.

cobblestone. ivy. red brick. white sheets on clotheslines. sun-lit chimneys punctuating a landscape of rooftops.

watching 'the seventh seal' in bed with a bottle of scotch. finishing it, and deciding to watch 'the trial' while the bottle lasts. finishing that too. the light fades out there and the shadows crawling in from the window get longer, but it doesn't matter, you've nothing important to do today.

a crackling fire pit. a thousand sparks chasing each other. silence, and absolute calm.

the first time you hear a song that flips your gut.

beautiful lips stained with good red wine. a few errant drops on some of the playing cards.

hands doing things.

eyes thinking about things.

the way one would hold a kitten.

gasoline. everywhere that's far from home. everywhere that's big and filthy and populated with fashion-conscious strangers. everywhere i'm a stranger to.

tousled hair, matted with salt water and sweat.

a desert, with red sand and a red moon, and a highway that stretches out into infinity.

Monday, May 12, 2008

so many pictures

swirling around in my head. worse when i close my eyes. i see washes of color, sharp backlit silhouettes, shadows distorting facial features. a geometrical grid glowing neon on the floor. shapes floating along pre-determined lines and continuously recreating their space; molding into something new, yet oddly recognizable. light and darkness punctuating speech.

it's all liquified atmosphere, of course. i don't see anything that is of any real use to me. this wild cacophony of disjointed images is just a byproduct. potato peels flying off the edge of a frantic knife.

it's frustrating, this initial stage, but i've learned to wait it out. i'll hit the eye of the hurricane soon. well... i will at some point. there is always that point, when you've finally beaten the script into submission, when it quits buckling and bending just outside your reach. don't be greedy. wait. keep stretching for it. it's there, closer and closer and closer. closer now.

then suddenly your fingers close around the heart of the words, and it all comes into focus. the world of the play crystallizes, the images become more definite. and you don't let go. you build. slowly, painstakingly. separating moments and seconds and thoughts and concepts into managable little packages, each one pristine and individually wrapped. you build. you build. you build.

it takes forever and it's uncomfortable and your hands get sweaty from the strain, but you don't let go, because you can't. eventually it's just an extension of your skin. you look at it and you see you. you look at you and you are it. and it's as though, it's as though it was never any other way. it was never a marble block in the first place. and all the chaos has long since been silenced and forgotten.

there is nowhere else i'd rather be.

"how i spent my summer vacation", or

the remarkable feats i accomplished on my day off:

1a) bought what passes for 'groceries', correctly assuming i would have time neither to order in nor to eat out, AND
1b) bought them at the gas station, to save time and effort on navigating the plethora of choices the supermarket offers;

2a) moved a gigantic couch and belonging love seat down a flight of stairs, into and on top of a van, and across town
2b) was stuck waiting in said van with said couch on top outside the library, in the piss weather, watching twenty minutes of scheduled rehearsal time trickle away like so many raindrops;

3a) got to burlesque rehearsal awfully late
3b) ate a fenomenal muffin and did cheesy things for a couple of hours (this may have been the high point of my day);

4) made a quick stop at home to check e-mail and find out the aforementioned couch was too gigantic to even make it into the house, much less up the stairs;

5) [sigh]

6a) failed repeatedly to find my copy of a doll's house (seriously??...)
6b) went to cafe dapopo rehearsal completely and utterly unprepared
6c) did a stumblethrough of scenes from two plays i've never worked on before, script in hand;

7) scheduled rehearsal #3 on my next day off;

8) [sigh squared]

9a) came home and read a gazillion pages of yet another script
9b) took notes and drew set diagrams for hours
9c) freaked out about everything at least once;

10) decided that i need, in no particular order:
- a personal secretary
- a live-in dietetician who prevents me from existing on orange juice and hot dogs for the next who knows how long
- a professional motivator
- a job where i actually get paid to do all this stuff, thus enabling me to hire all of the above

holy shit i need sleep

Monday, May 5, 2008

Main Entry: wan·der
Pronunciation: \ˈwän-dər\
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English wandren, from Old English wandrian; akin to Middle High German wandern to wander, Old English windan to wind, twist
Date: before 12th century
intransitive verb
1a: to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal b: to go idly about : ramble
2: to follow a winding course : meander
3: to go astray (as from a course) : stray

Main Entry: lust
Pronunciation: \ˈləst\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German lust pleasure and perhaps to Latin lascivus wanton
Date: before 12th century
1a: pleasure, delight b: personal inclination : wish
2: usu. intense or unbridled sexual desire : lasciviousness
3 a: an intense longing : craving b: enthusiasm, eagerness

main entry. wanderlust: warm air mixes the smells of wet asphalt and gasoline.
wanderlust: a 16 oz takeout coffee container.
wanderlust: the gas station attendant wanted to see my id; i didn't bring it but he sold me cigarettes anyway.
wanderlust: like being seventeen at some el corte ingles in valencia - i didn't know the difference between filtered luckies and straights, so i was spitting little bits of tobacco on the pavement all day, giddy and slightly sun-struck and awfully adult.
wanderlust: i'm twenty-seven now and i still don't have a driver's licence.
wanderlust: if i had a car, i would play pj harvey on the stereo and throw a disposable camera in the glove compartment and get the hell out of here.

not that i claim to be

synaesthetic to any real degree, but sometimes certain feelings have scents and colours.

like passive-agressive, which looks something like dull rust, and smells like a cloying potpourri. potpourri that you burn to cover up stale tobacco smoke. yup.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

it's a lovely early spring afternoon

in the halifax bible belt. and it's sunday.

...oh shit. matt, don't turn around right now, but the house right behind you? there's an old woman standing behind the screen door staring out at us... and i think she's praying.

i looked again a minute later and she was gone. probably looking for that panic button - the one that activates the underworld shute she had installed in her front yard.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

off early on a thursday night, and i'm taking in

the atmosphere down at the old triangle with a pint of rickard's white in front of me. my co-worker (who's been drinking since the late afternoon) is trying to convince me that i am, deep down, as much a victim of my generation's romantic ideals as any female stereotype - i'm trying to convince him that i have no poetry in my soul. really, we're both just taking the piss. a lovely time is being had underneath the half-hearted guise of a philosophical debate.

there are fiddles, and middle-aged couples dancing, and all the irishness you can handle at one time. the band consists of two elderly gentlemen whose brogue sounds suspiciously authentic, in that daniel day lewis way we know and love so well. i wonder if their beards are homegrown or store bought.

halfway through the obligatory whiskey in the jar number, my co-worker grins and suggests that suffering though the live act must be hell for me. surely, someone with my attitude to life has little enough regard for irish folk music and its traditional sentiments? but, lo! here an opportunity presents itself to screw with his feeble grasp on my personality: i actually listened to enough irish folk growing up that i freely admit to a soft spot for it. that's right. never underestimate the eclectic.

in particular, i tell him, there was one song that haunted my adolescence and has since proved quite impossible to track down. believe me, google has never even heard of the damn thing. it was called 'a-rovin' i will go' and i've never come across another recording of it than the one lived in my parents' tape deck between '89 and '93.
this puzzles my entire party.
"you're certain it's not to be found on the internet?"
"well, that's strange. umm... have you tried searching an alternate spelling?"
"i've tried with the g, without the g, with the apostrophe, without the apostrophe, with and without the hyphen; i've tried various lyrics - i tell you, nothing."
"well, why don't you ask them about it? i'm sure they've heard of it before."

and with that, despite my protests, my co-worker snags one of the bearded irishmen just as they're taking a set break. "listen, this lady is wondering if you're familiar with a tune..."
blah, blah blah. imagine my surprise when said bearded guy leans close to me and hums, without mistake, the opening chorus line to 'a-rovin' i will go'.

sadly, that's as exciting as the story gets - he has certainly heard of the song, but that one line is all he can remember. he also doesn't know who and when might have recorded it, but now the whole thing sounds like a bit of a challenge, so he engages his colleague... this lass here knows a song... etcetera.

the colleague peers at me over a pint of guiness. well, perrrhaps if you could quote some of the lyrrrics, he says. and i can, of course.
sweet mary was me sunshine
sweet mary was so true
sweet mary dug me heart out
then she cut it right in two

...ring any bells?

the irishman stands for a moment, contemplating, then shakes his head in defeat. nah, he says, nah i don't know the song. i know the girrul, though. i swear to ya, i know that girrul.