Saturday, August 2, 2014

Letting Go

As a child, I was a whiny kid, always looking for an excuse not to try something that was difficult for me. Usually that meant some kind of physical activity, as I was a C.O.G.A.M. (Child of Girth and Mass...a fat kid). When I was diagnosed with asthma, I believe I almost hugged my doctor because he had just provided me with a lifetime "get out of physical exertion free" card. Somewhere along the line, though, everything changed. In fact, the surest way to get me to do something now is to imply that I can't do it. I developed a kind of maniacal tenacity, as is evidenced by the large number of songs on my iPod with the title "Hold On." That tenacity has benefitted me in a career like mine. In the performing arts, oftentimes the race goes to the person who was just too stubborn to quit, so it became a method of professional survival for me to hold on as long as I could. Moreover, it became a point of pride. I was tough, I was strong, I wasn't ever going to give up... I even committed the poem Invictus to memory and briefly considered it as a tattoo option. "My head is bloody, but unbowed"? Hell yeah! It only occurred to me occasionally that sometimes I held on to certain things longer than was probably necessary. Sometimes, I'd open my clenched fist only to see that whatever I was holding on to had died or disappeared or changed in some irrevocable way. That kind of realization hurts, so I did my best to ignore it. I don't know if that was the wisest choice.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I'm leaving Chicago. I've done this before, actually. I left Chicago back in '06 to pursue a graduate degree (at a school whose mascot is the bulldog...the epitome of tenacity). As I left that first time, I told everyone that I was not going to continue to pursue acting any more -- that I was embarking on a life of academia and I would become a professor. The sneaky thing about saying that, though, was that I was only giving the appearance of letting go of my performance career. I knew I would have to perform as part of my degree program for the next three years. And I knew I had work as a performer during the summers. I wasn't really letting go of anything.

This time, I'm painfully aware of the dream I have to let go of in leaving. Like many improvisors, actors and comedians who have come to Chicago before me, I dreamed of working for The Second City. More specifically, I dreamed of being cast in a revue on one of their two resident stages. I wanted to tour for them and then get chosen to write and perform one of their iconic revues. I've worked for The Second City in a number of capacities, including as a performer on several occasions. Second City got me my Equity card (and got me out of a semester of grad school), but I never got that resident stage revue. I beat myself up for a while thinking that I could have achieved my dream if only I had come to Chicago sooner, if only I had not taken the job that brought me here in the first place and just started taking classes at Second City right away, if only I hadn't moved to Boston, if only, if only... The truth is that none of those things happened and even if they had, maybe none of it would have made a difference. I didn't get a stage. And I never will.

What I did get from Second City is the chance to perform in regional revues, the chance to travel the world, the chance to perform with some of my comedic idols, the chance to direct eager young artists and the chance to teach some wonderful, inspiring people. Second City gave me so, so much. In focusing so much on the dead dream in my clenched fist, though, I almost missed out on the vibrant, living reality all around me. In fact, that reality was larger than just Second City: it encompassed so many other thrilling and wonderful companies, spanning continents. I may not have achieved my dream, but I hadn't even known to dream about the things that I did achieve.

So, as I leave Chicago this time, I hope that I might be clear eyed about ALL of my dreams. I hope that I can watch the skyline receding in my rearview mirror with peace in my heart. I didn't do what I set out to do here, certainly, but how could I have known what wonderful surprises I had in store for me? Perhaps it's time to add "Let It Go" to my iTunes, to temper the "Hold On"s.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Realization

Sometimes, you're granted a moment of clarity. Sometimes that happens in a Ford with a busted bumper as you curse your way through horrible after school traffic (complicated by the presence of a poorly parked truck loaded with produce mislabeled as "mangos" when they were clearly papayas). Sometimes, when that happens, you're on the way to a meeting and you say something out loud...something that sounds a lot like "God, I just want to be the person they need me to be." And then sometimes you burst into tears because you realize that maybe you should be talking to people who need the you that you are already.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Waiting...

We've lived in doggie hospice for the last week. Our buddy took unexpectedly ill last Saturday and has been slipping away every day since. The vet said that the best we could hope for was a month and he assured us that there was nothing we could have done to catch the tumors early. We couldn't have known because he displayed no symptoms. HE couldn't have known because he didn't start to hurt until it was too late. Knowing there's nothing we could have done does not help. Does. Not. Help.

Today, he barely mustered a half-hearted lick of peanut butter. We've slept on the floor next to him for a week (he can no longer jump up onto the bed). We've hand-fed him first his own food, then cooked turkey, then bacon and finally tiny jars of baby food. We've walked him every time he even so much as glanced at the front door. We've petted him, we've stayed up all night with him in case he needed one of us, we've refused to leave his side. The one thing we DIDN'T do, was pay attention to what was in his eyes.

It's time.

To quote the Tin Man, I know I have a heart because it's breaking.

“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.” - Gene Hill



Saturday, February 1, 2014

England

I just spent a few days in England.  I visited places that meant the world to me. This poem kept bubbling up (especially the last stanza):


Loud Without the Wind Was Roaring

Loud without the wind was roaring
Through th' autumnal sky;
Drenching wet, the cold rain pouring,
Spoke of winter nigh.
All too like that dreary eve,
Did my exiled spirit grieve.

Grieved at first, but grieved not long,
Sweet—how softly sweet!—it came;
Wild words of an ancient song,
Undefined, without a name.

'It was spring, and the skylark was singing';
Those words they awakened a spell;
They unlocked a deep fountain, whose springing,
Nor absence, nor distance can quell.

In the gloom of a cloudy November
They uttered the music of May;
They kindled the perishing ember
Into fervour that could not decay.

Awaken, o'er all my dear moorland,
West-wind, in thy glory and pride!
Oh! call me from valley and lowland,
To walk by the hill-torrent's side!

It is swelled with the first snowy weather;
The rocks they are icy and hoar,
And sullenly waves the long heather,
And the fern leaves are sunny no more.

There are no yellow stars on the mountain
The bluebells have long died away
From the brink of the moss-bedded fountain—
From the side of the wintry brae.

But lovelier than corn-fields all waving
In emerald, and vermeil, and gold,
Are the heights where the north-wind is raving,
And the crags where I wandered of old.

It was morning: the bright sun was beaming;
How sweetly it brought back to me
The time when nor labour nor dreaming
Broke the sleep of the happy and free!

But blithely we rose as the dawn-heaven
Was melting to amber and blue,
And swift were the wings to our feet given,
As we traversed the meadows of dew.

For the moors! For the moors, where the short grass
Like velvet beneath us should lie!
For the moors! For the moors, where each high pass
Rose sunny against the clear sky!

For the moors, where the linnet was trilling
Its song on the old granite stone;
Where the lark, the wild sky-lark, was filling
Every breast with delight like its own!

What language can utter the feeling
Which rose, when in exile afar,
On the brow of a lonely hill kneeling,
I saw the brown heath growing there?

It was scattered and stunted, and told me
That soon even that would be gone:
It whispered, 'The grim walls enfold me,
I have bloomed in my last summer's sun.'

But not the loved music, whose waking
Makes the soul of the Swiss die away,
Has a spell more adored and heartbreaking
Than, for me, in that blighted heath lay.

The spirit which bent 'neath its power,
How it longed—how it burned to be free!
If I could have wept in that hour,
Those tears had been heaven to me.

Well—well; the sad minutes are moving,
Though loaded with trouble and pain;
And some time the loved and the loving
Shall meet on the mountains again!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Birthday Pictures 9

From a friend I have yet to meet:


"Here's a picture of me that my sister took while we were waiting for fish & chips at the Ivar's restaurant in Burien, WA.  It was the first picture my Sis took with a cell phone.  The T-shirt I'm wearing celebrates the BBC series Red Dwarf, which was carried by the Seattle PBS affiliate.

A few weeks later, after lunching at the same restaurant, I won a doubles bowling tournament with a young man who had recently returned from Army duty in Afghanistan.  Since we had left the tournament before it ended, the tournament director couldn't take a picture of us (with an oversized prop check) for their website. When the tournament director called to tell me I won, he asked if I could e-mail a picture.  This is the one I sent him."


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Birthday Pictures 8

I love it when good people get to be parents.  This picture is from one of the kindest, most supportive people I know.

"I hope you enjoy the photo of Eli attempting to camouflage his way into his blanket."

I sense a future Hide-and-Go-Seek champion on the horizon...


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Birthday Pictures 7

I got some birthday pictures from friends AND some nice folks I have yet to meet.  This is from an improvisor and her story is this:

"This is a picture of me (right) improvising on stage with Dooley (left, adult) and his baby... This was taken at the 6 year anniversary show of the group we used to perform in together, and which I still perform in.

In this picture I am improvising with a baby.

This picture makes me have strange feelings."