Happy Halloween! It’s one of my favorite holidays in Chicago. What?! Gail, you’re a bona fide scaredy-cat. You hate scary movies. You can’t go to “haunted” things because of the very real possibility that you will punch someone in the face. Well, yes. That is all true. However. Halloween in Chicago is downright funnnnn. Adults decide to be weird. Children aren’t asked to contain their joy, especially because they’re cracked out on sugar. And apple cider can be so. easily. acquired.
Actually, this brings up a couple of things that I’ve been thinking about lately. I started this blog as a way to explore my current sense of identity. The months following college graduation are intense for almost everyone, and I wanted to process the changes the only way that I know how—by creating. To everyone who has reached out personally with encouragement, stories, and questions—thank you. I had no idea that I would receive these gestures. You move me deeply, and I’m glad that some of you have enjoyed reading.
I left college, wanting exposure and relationships with people outside of my artistic community, and that’s what I’ve gotten. The majority of my time is now spent with civilians, and you know what? They’re actors! Everywhere I look, people are real life acting. As city dwellers, we are constantly adjusting to new communities and situations. I can imagine an experiment where a friend of mine, a stranger from a bar, a passerby in a heavily trafficked crosswalk, and a seat-hogging man from the CTA all go into a room to describe me, but the women described are incongruous. That doesn’t mean that I’m constantly disingenuous. It just means that living in a fast-paced world forces us into the role of human chameleon. So what’s the core sense of self? Does it emerge when you’re alone? Around loved ones? On vacation? Does it even matter? Maybe it’s enough to be a good actor who slips into different settings with minimal anxiety.
One of my fears is the feeling of being watched while I’m young. There is so much visibility for young people, starting careers, moving to new places, getting married ($@!^*%#), and building stability for the years ahead. If you’re someone who has those things figured out or aspires to do so while you’re in your 20s, go get ‘em tiger. Seriously, you’re a star. I am not on your level. Nor do I hope to be. I might not like being watched, but I’m more afraid of immobility. Of making choices that inadvertently cause my dreams to be deferred. I’d rather be a leap-frogging chameleon who doesn’t know if she’s inception-style acting at any given moment.
Last summer, I was in a scene study master class. My partner (we’ll call him Jim) was probably around 70. On the first day of class, the teacher asked us to each introduce ourselves and say why we were taking the class. I gave some annoying conservatory response like, “I want to keep my muscles warm while I’m not in Chicago.” And then it was Jim’s turn. He took a deep breath before speaking and the room stilled. Then, he proceeded to share that his wife (we’ll call her Rosa) and he had planned an epic retirement travel adventure. They had talked and saved and organized for years. And then Rosa died abruptly without any warning. And Jim was utterly lost. He couldn’t take the trip he had planned without her. So he took an acting class to fill some time. I was his scene partner. We did Blackbird by David Harrower. He was a generous, often confused partner, and I loved him intensely. I still can’t decide whether missing his trip was a tragedy. Losing his wife was tragic, but deciding not to go without her was an act of devotion. Maybe he wasn’t meant to go all along.
I don’t think Jim knew what his voice should say either when he walked into that room. And I find great comfort in that. Out of a place of complete fear and wavering identity came a relationship that I will treasure forever.
So on this holiday where we decide to take roleplaying so seriously, I want to give you a treat (no tricks anywhere in sight). Treat yourself to the freedom of not knowing who the heck you are today. Of wearing a costume and being something else that’s fun and spooky. Then, keep on playing tomorrow. Be assured that everyone else is equally as unsure. Or at least this chick is. Now, enjoy the cheery poem I’ve written below.
By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world…
can you relate?
the sighs falling out of her like the drone of a bagpipe
impossible to manipulate
a body so full it bubbles out
in sobs or laughs
they sound the same
just one travels up the spine
while the other drips down
bones that need to stack and walk and travel
or muscles will atrophy and slacken
bodies so strong to cope with
stress that will pause digestion, delay healing of wounds
to save your life
or constantly confuse you
and make you sick
a being so full of thoughts, feelings, memories, music, sugar
pieces that can stretch and roll and regenerate
unless you’re poked
a small prick from a piece of metal
searing a hole
ripping an unnatural opening
for blood to spill
guts to pour out
once you’ve been emptied, you cannot go back
you’re a shell
a broken embryo
what was once pure potential
now all you can do is burn it
or put it in another hole
because life is just a series of collisions
people always running into each other
hit them hard enough and you could alter the course of a life
hit someone at the right angle and they might fall for you
collide with some repetitive movements and you might make love
the big bang already happened
but little bangs are ringing through the streets
carving the words on your inevitable tombstone