Friday, October 23, 2009

letter to a good friend

What if you were one, and what if I wrote you a letter? Not an important letter. Just the letter of the kind that good friends used to write each other when they lived far away. And long ago, too, before emails. I just want to write you a rambling letter.

This is what I'm thinking about.

(I'd ask you first about all of your things, but there are too many of you and I don't know all of you. I trust that Aunt Karen is on the mend, and that your quilt is coming along, and that the charges were ultimately dropped. Tell me if I'm wrong.)

I'm thinking about October, ten years ago.

Wait, first let me tell you that I've been thinking about acting, and how I've missed it. I read an article in Vanity Fair about Penelope Cruz, and how immediately after she stopped filming her last scene in "Nine" (a musical number sliding down a rope, which blistered her hands), immediately upon reaching the bottom of the rope, she slipped behind something to cry because she was done with this role. I'd been doing fine without acting - really well, thank you - until I read that.

Ten years ago this October, one of my favorite acting teachers was in town from Vladivostok. (Hang on - oh, my goodness. Giant cascade of yellow leaves shooting by outside my window. All right. It's stopped. I can go on.) Leonid Anissimov. He was teaching a class at a loft in Belltown; we were working on The Cherry Orchard. We never rehearsed with artificial lights, only ever with lots of candlelight. Class felt like church, in the best way. I remember sitting there next to the little makeshift stage, with its hanging windowpanes, and being filled with eagerness. Everything about me was on the edge of my seat, ready to lift off. It's an exquisite feeling being in a room with someone who knows all sorts of things that you want to know, someone that you believe in, someone who's like this giant, oh, let's call it a samovar full of tea, and you're a cup, totally empty and all you want is to be filled over and over with this tea.

I remember a moment when we were talking the script, and suddenly I was filled with this understanding about Ranevskaya. No, it wasn't understanding. It was a feeling, like I was Ranevskaya, and I was overwhelmed with her shame. Tears, everything. My hand shot up and I could barely talk fast enough to explain what I knew. Laura, Leonid's translator (I loved Laura. She was so warm and calm and beautiful, and she called me "Tinochka" which made me feel scooped up, part of a family) murmured what I was saying to Leonid. He looked serious, and nodded, and then was suddenly full of energy and looked right at me. "Da! Da! Yes." He said something in Russian and Laura translated, "Now we are rehearsing."

When I used to perform, what I would do in the few minutes while I was hovering backstage waiting to make my entrance was this: I would touch everything, all the objects around, to take their temperatures. I was especially glad whenever I found anything cold, because it would wake me up. I was really looking for cold things to touch, that was the real mission. Another thing I liked to do, while I was warming up, was to go out into the house and touch every seat. I thought it would open something up between myself and the person who would eventually occupy it. I remember reading that Michael Chekhov wouldn't perform, wouldn't go on stage until he loved everyone in the audience. My word. I wouldn't have even one performance under my belt. I'd still be waiting to go on in The King and Queen Can't Speak, back at Ridge Street School, back in 1975.

Leonid used to take a nice long time talking about different things before the real work of class began, in order to get us ready. The idea was that you shouldn't get up and work until you're in the water. That's how he described it. When you were ready to work, some transformation would have occurred. You can't swim until you're in the water. I thought I understood the concept pretty well. And then once, during a performance of The Seagull many months later, I found myself in the water! I was on stage, but I was in the water. I didn't have to do a thing; I was in the water. Buoyance was palpable, and ease, effortlessness. No decisions to make, just letting the water bob me where I had to be. I arrived everywhere perfectly, lightly, fully. This is not a tribute to my great skill. This was more like receiving a blessing. I was weightless. I couldn't miss.

I thought that maybe I would never need to do it again, but I miss it. With Finn and Fred so young, it's difficult to imagine rehearsing and performing an actual play. It's too much time away, now. Maybe I will take a class, just so I can feel those muscles working.

Here come those leaves again.

What else, what else, is that it? Is that all I have to say to you?

One more thing. I discovered something. I'm always discovering ways to outwit my worries. This is what I discovered today. It's just another way to say the same thing that everyone always says, so don't get too excited. But so, here: I'm hiding from my brain, right here in my life! It will never find me here. I'm hiding in the curtains, in the sink, in the counter, in Fred, in soap. It can't get me when I'm out here. And what's out there can't get me when I'm in here. I feel like I've been whisked to the Canadian Rockies, to a safe retreat, right in front of me. And then I don't have to work so hard to fight my worries, and I don't have to browbeat myself about them. I'm on vacation, on retreat, hiding away and I brought everything with me, and nothing that I don't need.

That might not make sense, but if you're my friend you'll just let it go.

Write me.

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