Letter to J., 17 Nov 2008

Dear J.--

I trust this finds you thriving in the Pacific. It's quite a thing to imagine; thousands upon thousands of miles of ocean, far beyond the horizons of anyone or anything, and then to suddenly find a cluster of volcanic islands up from the depths, utterly their own, unattached to any continent above the ocean floor. I imagine swaying palm trees and the soft touch of sand...

It's my day off after a long tech week, and my director and I are in Oakland, visiting old friends and recharging our batteries after a long and arduous Tech Week. I don't know how familiar you are with the conventions of theatre production; Tech Week is when all of the technical elements of a performance--lights, sound, costumes, sets, props--are plugged in, usually in the final two weeks of rehearsals. Ten hour days are the prevailing expectation.

For the most part, this has been a restful, deeply satisfying and healing experience, in welcome contrast to the project immediately preceding back in Portland. I'm playing Mr. Badger in an adaptation of "The Wind in the Willows," a lovely old Edwardian book that's a cross between Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hobbit. And Santa Cruz is, of course, breathtaking, if a little complacent. But it's hard not to feel a bit removed from the reality of the living world: this is performance for a privileged subsection of the community, and while this does have merit of its own, it's apparent that I am complicit in a perpetuation of exactly the kind of stale, sleepy theatre I used to rail against. Still rail against, come to think of it.

It is further apparent how incomplete my day-to-day life is, without an authentic, palpable engagement to the community in service, as opposed to privilege. I've begun trawling through Craigslist again, looking for a day job in the nonprofits to come forward to back in Portland. there are definitely fewer hirings going on these days, which is worrying, and I also know enough from much experience to be wary of these my chosen fields, where both halves--the Public Service piece of me vs. the Creative Performance--have a tendency to be all-consuming, and then I've my own bad habit where I blame the demands of the one for my shortcomings in the other, whereas in fact it is really my own failure of imagination, a simple deficit in wit and stamina, and nothing else.

Truthfully though, there is a deeper core of me that has achieved a kind of peace with all of this late-twenties-angsty-soul-searching-crap. I've come to trust that it's the striving for, the constant, honest attempting, which truly safeguards me from utter apathy and mediocrity. (There are times when I believe what I just wrote, and then there are times when I believe a little less.)

Santa Cruz has a haunting loveliness to it. Not so much surreal, as not-real, irreal, as it were. Antique rollercoasters wreathed in fog, sea-worn steps leading down from the cliff-edge straight into the water, bookstores and haberdashers wedged in among the palm trees and boutiques. It is a strange, ethereal place, curiously provincial even in its urbane trappings. The constant sunlight (unusual, I'm told, for this time of year) saturates surfaces, dulls the edges of things.

It is a place well suited for the kind of extended, meditative self-discovery it sounds like we're both engaged in, at the moment, albeit after our own fashions. This is a liminal place, to my eyes built of thresholds and almost nothing else. To move or travel in any way is to depart and arrive through entire transformations, a daily experience of epiphany that staggers me by the sheer volume.

I pick up a book, and the sea breeze rifles the pages. I say a line in the theatre, and the lights shift, and the world changes on cue. I sit to write this letter, and in the moment's pause when the words are slowly, barely falling onto paper, this letter is endless.

Please do keep me posted of your ongoing, evolving discoveries, as I hope to keep you posted of mine. Already I've much cause to be heartened by your friendship. Be well,

thunder and milkshakes,



The Golden State

In the last 48 hours, I've driven through most of California. I had fleeting opportunities to visit distant friends before they moved ever more distant, and this being California, I felt sufficiently (uncharacteristically) daring enough to saddle up and go visit them. The first leg took me north to Berkeley, the second south to Los Angeles.

Seeing my distant friends, even if only for an hour or so, seemed silly on the face of it, considering that I drove hours and hours so to do. But taken altogether, the experiences were startlingly profound and wondrous, from my end of things.

What is it about dropping into gear and going, just going...? The mind's eye tracing the long squirrelly lines on the dog-eared maps. Contour curves echoing in the real world so satisfylingly, just so. The wind blowing through the car window, the passing lights echoing the night sky, the reassuring glow of destination cities appearing right where they're supposed to.

I'm away from home. The context of safety and normalcy is removed from me. All bets are off, all things are possible, and the gesture of going to see someone I may not see again for some time, if only to see one another once more and nothing else, becomes a profound gesture, something almost cosmic, transcendental (this is California, after all). (No I haven't smoked anything.)

Barrelling down Highway 101 from Santa Cruz, the rich hills and ridges of coastal California now live behind my eyelids, I see them in the night, sunlit in my memory and past the stillness and sharpness of the meager moon. The faces of my distant friends are echoed in the breaking waves, their voices chatter in the clattering rocks, I catch the fleeting lilt of their voices and gestures in the friendly nods and half-shrugs of passing strangers. (I swear I haven't smoked anything.)

Distant myself, I've been sufficiently stirred by all this to re-connect with those I've been intentionally or unintentionally distant from. And it's strange; it is this season, perhaps pregnant with profound and long-awaited change (I hope I hope I hope); or it is the endless cohort of friends who all seem to have birthdays within days of each other right now; or it is simply me waking up after a long sleep, recovering from a wounding theatre experience into a light and delightful one...

My letters are coming out again. Daylight is breaking again. The road unspools upward again, for the first time in what feels like a long time.


paulmonster-road junkie