Dry Leaves and the St. Johns Bridge

Late last night I was biking home from the theatre.

I now live in St. Johns, and one of my commuting routes is the St. Helens Highway, running north and west of the city, skirting the looming, forested hills on the left and squat, dusty industrial establishments on the right. Run down apartments and occasional truck-driver bars ornament the long, desultory expanse of rutted asphalt. The air is thick with the muted breath of whispering trees and eddying river currents only barely masked by the crumbling buildings lining the road.

Last night there was a high, misted, cold wind coming in from the river, behind the massive oil tanks. A loose wheel-spoke and the strangely fickle disposition of the roadway made for a wobbly, surprisingly challenging ride. For the most part I kept my head down and leaned into the slope of the road as best I could.

There's a long glacis that supports the on-ramp to the St Johns Bridge, some miles north of downtown proper. Rough-hewn stone guardrails edge its downslope side, and ivy-covered trees overhang the upslope. The ocassional streetlamp throws shadows all across the road, somehow managing to inspire both a trapped, almost claustrophobic anxiety, and overexposed vulnerability. It puts you in mind of Dante's ascent of Mt Purgatory, or Kafka en route to the Castle, or Scooby Doo looking for a kidnapped Shaggy.

Last night I was surprised by the quiet, solitary quality that edged through the senses as I was climbing. There was no fear, really. There was only the long, up-climbing slope, and the emptiness of the open road, and the cold wind in the trees. This road was externalizing the small, quiet, echoing cell that imprisons the heart in its most deserted hours, sentenced to bereaved abandonment the way others get solitary confinement.

There are times when the seas of emotions roiling within us--joys, desires, disappointments, hopes, grief-objects, the things we can't bear to forget and the things we can't bear to remember--everything seethes, topping the cliff-edges containing us, and our souls whistle like teakettles. In the natural world, it's something like when icebergs the size of England calve from the side of Antarctica. You feel it all, all at once, fully and utterly. Heartbeats echo in your head like kettledrums.

When I reached the top of the approach, the stars in their endless distances burst through the trees. The high gothic green spires of the Bridge, topped with red lights, rose above the mottled shadows. I could see the constellation Orion and the heavy pearl of the moon, and the answering lights of the city, and the long, empty road below me, and the wind played in my scarf and around my shoulders. Dry leaves swept at my feet. The loneliness fell away; in its place I felt stillness, lapping at my senses like the riverwater far below.

In my recollection of this, much should be attributed to the endorphins thundering with my elevated heart rate, amplified by Irish whisky (what use are endorphins without whisky?, a wise man once asked). But the truthfulness sweeps through the experience, borne along with the dry leaves, rising overhead like the stars on Orion's belt, so helpfully pointed out by the spires of the Bridge.

I'm working a show right now, that's humbled and overpowered my inner life even as it bounds and sparkles outwardly. It's underlined all the usual questions for me, about my Fitness for the Work I've Chosen, about my Process for Choosing What I Consign my Life To, about Who I Want To Be When I Grow Up. Questions that should be raised. Questions I should always be trying to answer.

Standing on the shoulders of the St Johns Bridge, watching the lights dancing on the water and the dry leaves swirling in the empty road, embracing the stillness within the long uphill road of being is a much gentler thing than before, and I've reason, now, to be very grateful for it. The Rocky theme plays in my head, and I can laugh at myself for this kind of soapbox melodrama, but secretly I can't help but genuinely feel such sweeping things. It is such a privilege to work and create, even as it is an unending struggle. Seen from the top of the bridge, the cause I have for gratitude easily eclipses the exhaustion.


Come see "A Lovely Day". The ensemble boasts of the indefatigable Jeffrey Gilpin, the luminous Lauren Grace, the Gallic Nico Izambard, the incomparable Blaine Palmer, the unsurmountable Ted Rooney, the redoubtable Gretchen Rumbaugh, the irrepressible Kerry Ryan, and the unstoppable Randall Stuart. Go to http://www.upontheseboards.org/ for reservation and location info. It's Free, because I'm just that good to you, baby. 7 more showings: Nov 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12 and 16. All at 7:30 pm.

pumpkin loving,



Mead said...

Mr. Form, A LOVELY DAY was a total delight. THANK YOU, and all your collaborators, for a most charming evening. YOU were terrific -- it was great to see so many of the commedia gestures and postures I've seen in the old illustrations brought to life. Gotta say: before seeing this production, I always wondered what the fuss was about with commedia; you certainly can't grasp what made it popular just from reading the old scenarios. Well, Upon These Boards proved to me how immediate and current and utterly beguiling the style can be. Thanks again!


paulmonster said...

Thank you for coming, Mead! I'm glad you could see the show.

Yes, Commedia was an awkward sell for me, too, when I first learned about it, but it's really striking how much of it still underscores the roots of modern storytelling sensibilities. Just about every 'buddy' movie, every 'road' movie, most westerns, most thrillers, etc., all use archetypes that are older than dirt. I tell lay-people that commedia is basically Charlie Chaplin with masks.

The physical vocabulary springs to life from just under the surface all the more readily, once you're given to recognize just how close to life these things still are.

Thanks again!



Lioness said...

There are times when the seas of emotions roiling within us--joys, desires, disappointments, hopes, grief-objects, the things we can't bear to forget and the things we can't bear to remember--everything seethes, topping the cliff-edges containing us, and our souls whistle like teakettles. - and he still has it! This was stunning. And I very much appreciate the idea of stillness lapping at out senses.