That’s a stolen title. From a book I just read, in which the main character is a teenager with cancer. Read it. If you want to be ripped open and sobbing at 2am, that is. (Yes, like me.)
I’m just back from NYC, which always seems to be revelatory for me. This trip, I got to see how acting, meditation and yoga come together in my life, as well as to take this little dive into early morning mortality and despair. What a strange, strange trip we’re on (which is a misquote from the Grateful Dead, and I know it because I gave my younger sister a Dead album and then she and the next youngest brother became Dead Heads and followed the band around the country. Oh, how our simplest actions come back to haunt us).
Anyhow, I rode Megabus back to the city, nauseated the whole way (why do I use that line? $3 ticket is why…), and in the middle, because I couldn’t find my Ipod or my headset, and I was too nauseated to even try to read, I called my friend A., who reads Noam Chomsky and just about everyone else (though he may not have finished college, he is the smartest person I know), and talked about doing my new monologue, about a woman who’s ex neglected to watch their youngest, knowing the girl was uninhibited and impulsive, and so the girl drowned. After 15 years of refusing to take responsibility the husband shows up to torture her again by absolving himself and threatening to take away her house (which he owns), so she kills him.
My kind of monologue. And A., who misses nothing, said, “Why is it your kind of monologue?” And I said, out loud on Megabus, “Because I can just really relate to a life of unbearable and endless injustice.” And then we started cracking up. Which is, of course, why we’re friends. I mean, not everyone would see that as funny.
I don’t know what the people on the 6:10pm from New York to Boston thought. Probably not my business, anyhow.
Here’s the thing–in America, we are taught to be happy. Pretend-happy, as it turns out. At least, I find true joy to require open heartedness and a willingness to be dashed against the rocks. Pretend happy just requires that you pretend all the bad shit happening around you isn’t happening. My family specialized in that kind of pretend happiness, and I couldn’t stand it. It has left me with a lifelong passion for unpleasant truths.
So today I sat in an acting workshop in New York, having a bad day at best, watching the perfectly made up (everyone was super made up and super chosen in their outfits as only actors can be) and very talented actors try to hit. I saw some great craft, and some very skilled acting, and heard some very great instruction. I thought about how acting requires an ability to not be thrown while truly opening up to the unknown moment in which we live while everyone is judging you. I thought about how acting requires a comfort in your own skin, with your own body, a comfort in revealing your personality, at least, and hopefully your soul. I thought how I don’t want to forget that acting is about that kind of meaning and courage for me…and I do. My ambition has always made me unhappy, because acting then becomes about staying thin, and getting my teeth fixed and other ridiculous shit. Like every other actor, I keep asking, how do I get them to let me in the game? And if I get too scared that they won’t, I’ll go start my own theatre company and make myself miserable.
It’s not just actors, of course. We’re all dreaming of things we may or may not get–who knows. And, going back to the cancer book, there are both possibilities and impossibilities. That’s the problem, really, in this United States, where supposedly anyone can pull her or himself up by the proverbial bootstraps. We look to the possibilities, and we are pretend-happy. Or, we are happy where the possibilities open, and try not to deal with where they don’t. (Jane Goodall, miracle woman, but so much trouble in her marriages.)
I love that Buddhism is the bummer religion. I love that meditation is about coming to terms with “what is.” I love that yoga challenges me to find the truth of my body in so many ways. My love for unpleasant truths tells me that acting asks me these things: 1) to get over my insecurities, 2) to be relentlessly present, 3) to reveal what I most want to hide, 4) to have openhearted joy and be willing to be thrown against the rocks. I did manage to spend years learning the craft, but if I’m not relentlessly present, the craft can be pretty useless, and if my insecurities get me, I can’t be relentlessly present.
I find, that because I relate to lives of unendurable injustice, I have a story to tell. I find that this story is mine, and it is as much about impossibility as possibility, as much about surrender as accomplishment. It is, in other words, a human story. And because I relate, I have depth, but because I relate, I have insecurities. This means I don’t find it a walk in the park to be relentlessly present.
You have to take that paradox somewhere. I take it to the mat, to the cushion, to the page, to the phone, and then I find myself laughing with A. about the absurdity of everything.
We don’t get to be happy all the time. As it turns out, happiness isn’t about resting, or stopping. The real joy that comes seems to require the pursuit of something terribly difficult, a dharma you don’t necessarily get to choose. As Stephen Cope quotes in his book, The Great Work of Your Life, “You can be anyone you want, as long as that person is you.”
This is me, at 2 in the morning, after a bad/good day, nauseated on Megabus, not relentlessly present in NYC, not having a day in which I can show who I am, and loving my friend A. because he laughed, and my partner because she understood my shame enough to give me a lift out of the hole.
This is me, understanding teenagers dying of cancer, and the impossibility and possibility of dealing with unendurable injustice. My own, and therefore yours, and maybe, if I meditate enough, everyone’s.
This me. May we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be safe and protected, may we all be at peace with what is.