06 April 2007

The Revealing Curtain

When I was thirteen years of age, life started to be pretty difficult for me. That's a pretty universal statement, I believe. I don't believe I've ever met anyone who said, "Thirteen? Oh man, that's just when things started to get GOOD! Everything came so easy, and there was no confusion--not like at five. Man, at five, things were ROUGH...." It has different flavors, but they all relate to puberty, and moving on, and beginning to get a sense that someday (possibly today) you will have to fend for yourself in a much more real sense than you ever imagined before. So I don't believe my experience was unique, per se, but perhaps a little more out-there than some.

One aspect of those difficulties was that one day, in the middle of a math class, I took a big ol' streeeeeeeeetch // en I woke on my side on the floor to discover my tongue was bleeding. I had bitten through it, you see, when I passed out.

A very involved story follows, with a lot of doctor visits, tests, etc., the which pretty much filled up my summer before starting high school. I was ultimately diagnosed with a condition called "reflexive epilepsy," (a diagnosis I have had some reason to doubt) which, in sum and substance, is identified by the tendency to short-circuit one's brain with a specific series of physical cues, such as stretching a particular series of muscles in conjunction. I was put on a drug called Tegratol, which I hated. It made me phenomenally sleepy around the afternoon and--so I diagnosed it--rather depressed, lacking in spark. Being thirteen and imaginative, I also came to convince myself that what I had glimpsed the few times I had the seizure was a kind of peek behind the curtain of reality. To sum it up--and at the risk of sounding even more pretentious than I already may--I thought I was catching glimpses of actuality beyond the world that we had created for ourselves, to occupy our senses and keep us sane. That actuality, was nothingness.

Which was a little depressing.

The seizures are (yes, I still have them from time-to-time) like this: Usually they result from a standing, full-body stretch--after I have been still for some time--with my arms raised above my head. As I'm coming out of the stretch, I feel a tingling numbness that begins somewhere between my back and neck, and rapidly races through my arms and legs. My head gets, well, warm and loud. But the loudness has no noise (bear with me here), it's just a silent over-powering of any sounds in the room. The last thing that happens is that an oddly cobweb-like curtain sort of envelopes my vision, and does so rather slowly, given the drastic nature of what seems to be happening to the rest of my body. I've always thought of it as a curtain, but maybe a cocoon is more apt imagery, because it seems gray, chaotically woven, and it comes in around the edges of my vision, narrowing into a point until rapidly fading to black in which time seems to stop until I open my eyes, a few seconds later and usually looking up at a ceiling.

This story, she does have a happy ending. Somehow, in the course of grappling with high school and all it tides, I learned how to stave off the seizures when I felt them coming on. (My parents always claim the Tegratol helped in that; I always want all the credit for myself.) It was strange to discover, and took what I believe to be a lot of the resources the Tegratol robbed me of: determination, focus and a little fire. The trick is rather simple, actually. When I feel the tingling, and the curtain begins to descend, I simply focus my will on whatever I can still see in the center of my vision and sort of fight the curtain back. (Don't ask me to describe "fight" in this context. Sorry. Couldn't say.) The only thing that happens then is that, occasionally, people around me will wonder why I've just stopped and stared for a few seconds all of the sudden. It it happens less and less, and gets easier to stave off, as I get older.

Which is pretty sweet.

As was last night's performance of A Lie of the Mind. (HA! Thought I'd left the show behind, did you? Don't worry; I won't analyze every performance for a month. Next week we'll be back to fart jokes.) That may seem like a lame transition, but it is intentionally obfuscational. (Is SO a word!) Because you have to understand what coming out of my seizures is like to get the association I'm about to make.

Where Wednesday's performance was taught and tense, last night's was more a fiery calm. It was still an explosive, passionate show, but we had all relaxed a notch . . . just enough to be a little more in the moment, a little less concerned with making an impression. I don't know how everyone else felt (no cast hangage after the second show), but for me it was magnificent. I felt in charge of my game (apart from going up COMPLETELY on a line in my first scene), and much more loving toward my own character. None of the whine came through. His fight was strong enough to stand up against all those obstacles (see 4/5/07). Great, great stuff. I was so relieved, and yet still timorous over that last line and its delivery. I had to tell myself not to think about it prior to the scene. I was afraid I would psych myself out.

The scene arrived, I opened my eyes, and there was Todd, playing my brother, barely holding it together. My character feels relief to see him in that moment, and I felt a relief at how there he was. His tears got through to me, and I knew if I could keep those feelings alive, blow on their embers, I'd be okay for that last line. But the audience is literally two feet away to my left, and I have to say that damn penultimate line expressing confusion over Jake's actions, and I know Laura is actually the director's girlfriend, not Todd's wife, and why can't I have a wife already anyway and what if I go up on my last line, too . . . . But then Laura, as Beth, says her line: "I remember you now." She's not weeping as she has before, but she sounds so fragile, so very very certain, yet scared, and I'm back. All I have to do is . . . not. Not do, anything. Be there. Just be there. If that's a difficult thing to do, I don't know about it right then, because I can't, because if I do I'll lose this . . . I've got to let it flow through me, I can't just hang on to it, but I've got to trust it'll still be there. Don't let it go. Don't hold on to it. Be. Be.

It was as though I could feel that curtain again, not around my eyes, but around my heart. (We're speaking metaphorical heart here.) And it's woven together out of all the experiences I've had that have taught me to have perspective, and protect myself, and to equate that rationale/ity with self-worth. It's me, this curtain. It's a part of me, and there's no abolishing it, but last night I held the cords and I had the strength. And the line came through the tears, and I saw and was seen clearly.

Gang, I don't know if I've nailed it. I rather believe tonight I'll have another experience of shut-down, sort of a backlash from last night's success. But maybe not. I hope not. I can't antagonize myself over it, because that only decreases the likelihood of being in that moment again. All I can do is my best, and try to learn from the worst of it.

Oh right, right! And as for actuality being nothingness: I decided it's cool to have a choice. I choose somethingness.


Patrick said...

Wow. I had no idea about the seizures. Which on the one had surprises me after six years of friendship. But then I remember who I'm dealing with, and it doesn't surprise me at all...Goober. I think I might have witnessed one of those occasions. Is that possible? Do you remember when they happen, or are they not that noteworthy any longer?
Oh, I know what you mean about learning just to BE. Don't do, don't force it, don't hold on, don't let go... Of course that's one of the ways I think acting is like meditation. We have to struggle and work our asses off, in order to learn how not to struggle or work. Or something like that.
The show on Friday was lovely. I hope you're enjoying yourself.
Naturally I will not be offended if you choose not to post this comment, for any reason.

Jeff Wills said...

It's tricky to broach the subject in even the most relevant of conversations, that's all. "Oh, there was that time..." as Beth says in A Lie of the Mind. I can't remember the last time I had an episode (and just where are my royalty checks for those episodes?). But I tend to stare pointedly into space for other occasions, too. Makes me seem deep, you know?

Great to have you and Mel in the audience that night, Patrick. Thanks for the kudos. It's a great show and a phenomenal cast, so I am enjoying myself. I just assume conflict and uncertainty make for more compelling reading...

Nat said...

Dude. I totally have the same (or incredibly similar) affliction. Mine was blamed on my being too tall and lanky and that, when I stood up too fast, not enough blood reached my head in time, hence the checkerboard vision and the, um, seizing. I almost broke my nose when it first started happenening (also around 13 years o' age), 'cause I did the ol' flippity-flop face-pant into a bathroom sink.

I knew there was a reason you're my children's godfather!

Jeff Wills said...

Isn't it funny? You're the third person to respond to my anouncement of this condition with empathy, Nat (one response was in person). I suppose most of what made it so grandiose in my experience was that my parents immediately took me to a neurologist afterward. That's the trick: Never get diagnosed. JUst accept that it's evil spirits, or a floating uterus, and you'll be peachy.

Nat said...

Oh, I didn't say I empathized. I think you're weak and womanish. Suck it up, flyboy, and buy a toothguard.

Jeff Wills said...


Oh crap. I think I just swallowed my tongue.