Letter to M., 13 October 2010

Dear M,

I hope things are going well with you in LA. As per usual, I've missed you a great deal.

We never really had a proper summer here, the weather constantly shifting from one extreme to the next. Taking that as my cue, it seems I never really gained my footing over the course of these last few months. It feels as though I've worked very hard for very little pay, and given a great deal of myself to my friends with almost no support in return. For some reason, it's getting harder and harder to remember my role in the decisions I make, and it gets that much easier to cultivate the old patterns of resentment and isolation, which I've known far too well for far too long.

These days I work with adolescent male sex offenders in an "independent living" program, adjudicated youth who have completed their sentencing and treatment requirements. Our program is the final gateway to their reconstructed lives.

Aside from housekeeping duties like medications, record-keeping and head counts, the real meat of my work is in listening and counseling, perhaps two steps shy of true "therapy," but nevertheless delicate and deeply draining, arduous work. Some shifts are sleepy, uneventful parcels of hours, with only the monotonous routine of the hourly headcounts and medication distributions providing any kind of tempo. But most shifts are a complicated dance between this mandated monotony, and successive waves of the most melodramatic, infantile, or the most terrifying and insurmountable emotional and physical crises imaginable. I walk out of most shifts with the full spectrum of emotions firing simultaneously--something I know I've come to value as the ultimate criteria in all my work, theatre- and day-job, and thus I know it's a dangerous high, a kind of addiction that I've engendered for myself. It leaves me exhausted, but I do love it so.

Similarly, in my theatre world, I've been blessed with a steady current of meaningful, exhausting but ultimately limited work, at an unreliable tempo. It's a distinct advantage to know enough to know when to say no. And it becomes a most effective advocate, when meaningful work, difficult work does cross my path, and here I have this internal process, bourne of expensive experience, that goes to great pains to show how a potential project may be either worthwhile or utterly wasteful. I'm surprised, honestly, to feel utterly grateful for this tremendous fund of experience that I draw from on a daily basis. I'm surprised because I know how often I've felt hemmed in and weighted down by the very same thing.

Currently I'm working on a strange, beautiful little project for a local playwright's group, a monologue set in a suburban backyard, kind of a nervous breakdown extended over 8 pages. there are about 7 or 8 playwrights in the group, and as a fundraiser they've commissioned themselves to write short pieces, all taking place in and around a specific house belonging to one of the writers. I'm given to understand that most of these pieces are monologues. Each piece has been given a site in the house--dining room, bathroom, kitchen, basement, etc. I have no idea how much of an audience to expect, or how big this house is (I'll be visiting it for the first time Friday night, and performing on Saturday). being in the backyard, I definitely feel I got lucky with the luxury of an epic space, ample room to really test and explode things.

New work, specific work--work that's about clearly defined and illuminated people or ideas, and not merely pretty ciphers or overwrought cleverness--more and more I gravitate to this level of ambition and performance, and, surprisingly, away from Shakespeare. We are all at the mercy of our own growth, I suppose.

There have been a predictable succession of passing infatuations, incipient relationships collapsing under the burden of my neurotic misanthropy, or her comparatively uncomplicated worldview, whichever comes first.

Choosing to be worthy enough, whether of exceptional work, or deep love, or simply of a good night's rest, or gratifying sex--for a long time I assumed the choice to be worthy of all this was a simple choice. But as I watch my friends struggle with devastating breakups, and as I experience myself the price my "career" pays for my "principles," to me it seems too simple to say that we choose these things. None of us, so far as I can see, can be so emotionally ruthless and inwardly numb as any of these catastrophic circumstance expect us to be.

Increasingly I'm finding what I thought to be wisdom is really mournful courage, sometimes grim and sometimes joyful.

I wonder if any of this makes sense, or resonates in any way outside of my own head. The next PlayWrite workshop I'm teaching and leading begins next week, after the experimental monologue, and as this will be at Portland Night High School, one of our more disaffected sites, I'm aware that my growing nervousness affects everything I work on, including this letter.

I miss you more and more as time rushes by.

lots of love,