Returning from my holiday journeys just in time for New Years, I find the city the same as it ever was. I suppose it's only natural to feel inclined to review one's year in the face of a new one. I have to admit that 2006 was not a year that I will be dreadfully sorry to see go. It was comprised of amazing highs and lows, both; my hope for the new year is for it to be a little more moderate in its exchanges. I feel a bit guilty expressing that desire, what with professing a renewed conviction in The Third Life(tm), but who's to say TTL(tm) can't at times have a nice, steady rhythm to it, rather than a course akin to a wooden roller-coaster at every turn?
While I was visiting NoVa, a dear friend of mine who has lived in San Diego for years now was home, too, and threw a modest reunion for certain circle of us from high school. I saw her and several other people I had often wondered about since graduating. It wasn't the typical reunion. Everyone there was really interested in one another and speaking intelligently about their lives--none of that dreadful one-ups-man-ship that seems to be the major export of the Uniting Reunions of America. In spite of how lovely it all was, what I'm carrying away with me, and keep revisiting in my mind, is an unanswered observation an old friend of mine had to say. In response to my description of my life since college, all the touring, traveling, month-long shows, etc., she said, "That sounds like it would be so lonely."
Believe it or not, I had never looked at it that way before. And I love to look at things darkly. I mean, I am dark. (Do you read the last page of a new book first, just in case you die before you finish reading it? Because I do.) Somehow, however, this obsidian nugget of darkness had eluded me. I mean, no wonder I've been the great serial monogamist all these years, and no wonder the pursuit of an acting career can be so soul-evaporating.
It is fucking lonely.
Now I cast back to a Christmas party my friends Todd and Kate had before we all scattered to our respective homelands for Christmahannukwanzica. At this party, nothing was said to shatter my earth. My earth remained intact as I bid adieu, but it was certainly rocked. Three of the guests at the party were a family--young parents and an unbelievably verbal sub-toddler. And get this: The parents were in theatre.
I KNOW! The wife/mother performed in musical theatre, touring occasionally with her son along. The husband had switched to directing after being an actor for several years and was having what seems to have been a very good time of it. Now, it's not that I don't know that such people exist. They must, else we'd never have these celebrities with stories about how they learned everything from their quaint, performed-on-Broadway-for-forty-years parents. Right? Right. Somehow, however, coming face-to-face with such folks was a very difficult experience for me that night. There was a lot of envy going on there, and I don't generally get too envious over career stuff. You landed a movie? Congratulations. Your agent says he's going to get you on every CSI they make? Fantastic.
You maintain a career that supports you and have the security and emotional wherewithal to start a healthy family? Come here. A little closer. I NEED TO GO ALL TALENTED MR. RIPLEY ON YOUR LIFE!
The thing is, it's not as though I haven't had opportunities to be in a family way. In point of fact, I keep choosing the ol' career over marriage, family, etc. This year has been, in its way, a huge exemplification of that choice. Now, I could argue that the problem has always been that (for one reason or another) somehow the choice always comes up. It's never a matter of someone wanting to be married to me, but to the me I'll be when I get over this acting phase. I could make that argument.
But I don't, because the question is far more interesting if I don't have that somewhat convenient circumstance to fall back on. So why do I keep making the choice, knowing that it will keep leading me back to questions about my path and insecurities about the ticking clock?
This year I ran around like mad. I moved back to Brooklyn from Queens. I had absolutely horrible health (the short list includes something in the area of two bad sprains, teeth problems, four feverish throat infections, and what I thought was a hernia but turned out to be a chemical epididymitis instead) but also wrapped the year with enough Equity weeks worked to qualify for six months of free health insurance, starting today. I was in and out of Pennsylvania, and traveled and worked in New Hampshire/Vermont, Virginia, Maryland and Italy. I performed in a satire, a tragedy, two comedies, one work-in-progress and one original debut. I developed a solo clown piece. I danced and sang, fought and kissed, and even got a little writing done.
What is this worth? Where is this getting me, I often ask myself. I view my career in a fashion similar to my spiritual beliefs, which is to say: If I don't question them (or myself) regularly, then I'm not really living them. Questions are not dangerous, unless they go unasked. In fact, I'd say that the darkest times in my life were when I was too certain of an answer to keep asking the questions. So. What is it worth?
The difficult answer (and for God's sake, question even this) is that it's worth itself. And that's all. I have to be satisfied with myself insofar as I need to be to be happy and think clearly. TTL isn't better than the more conventional life, but it certainly isn't worse. Some feel a need to insulate themselves from its danger by observing it and judging. "Doesn't the constant running from show to show seem like an addiction?" "You're not making enough money to make car payments?" Even the classic: "How do you memorize all those lines?" (Folken: What we really hear you saying is, "What on God's green earth possessed you to commit yourself to something so archaic and bizarre?") It is similar to every other priority we might claim without risking such judgment. Doesn't the constant pursuit of more money seem like a compulsion? You mean you just stay at home, all day, in the same home? And how do you forget all those childhood dreams?
We can neither of us judge the other, and I sally forth [insert comic strip pun/allusion here] into the new year eager to continue the wrestling match that is I. Me. I? Anyway. We're all here trying to make sense of ourselves. It's good to be accepting of our different paths; or if that's too much, than at least of our own path. I'm reminded of a conversation I had at the start of college, with my dear friend who organized the reunion and another incoming freshman. That Other asked us why we did theatre, really. I said some pretentious, theoretical crap (which I really believed and probably still do) and the guy said something along similar lines, but dear Sarah said,
"I just enjoy it. It's one of the few things in my life that I can point to and definitely [sic] say 'That makes me happy.'"Well said, my friend. Happy new year, everyone.