Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Spaces In Between

I did a show several years ago in Seattle called The Shadow, a clever political satire disguised as a fairy tale written by Russian playwright Eugene Schwartz.  The first act ended with my favorite theatrical line of all time.  The heroine, who was not played by me, stood alone on the stage, looked straight at the audience and said, "What is going to happen?  What is going to happen?"  Then the stage went dark.  Direct, simple, brilliant.  Shouldn't the actors and the audience always be asking that question at the end of the first act?

The difference between that show, any show, and life is that at the end of act one (or two, or three), we go out into the lobby for a drink and snacks and happily pause the action, knowing that in 15 minutes or so we will sit down in the safety of our seats in the dark and the rest of the story will unfold, reveal itself without any real effort on our part except to stay awake and let it in.  At the end of the show we may find ourselves moved, shifted ever so slightly from where we were a few hours ago.  We might be happier, sadder, more thoughtful.  Sometimes, we might be angry or disappointed in the evening's story or, worse yet, in the quality of the storytelling.  If we are lucky, and I've been lucky on more than a few occasions, we might actually discover a in few days, weeks, months that we have been changed in some small way and that we cannot go back to who we were before that night in the theater opened a room in ourselves we didn't know was there.

I've never sat in my seat at the end of act one of a play and wished that I could hold on to exactly what I was feeling right then, I've never wished I could pause the story indefinitely, no matter how delicious the first act was.  I've always trusted in the grace of the theater gods that when the curtains go up again, it will be time to move on to the next plot point.  Even after a lifetime spent watching as much bad and mediocre theater as good and exceptional theater, I maintain a hopeful heart and relish the opportunity that each rise of the curtain offers to be transported, transformed, transfixed.  I've seen so-so first acts followed up with earth-shattering second acts.  I've seen breathtaking beginnings, fizzle tragically to nothing in the final moments for any number of reasons: weak plot twist, poor directing, timid or bombastic acting, even set pieces that got in the way.

The difficulty with weekends like I just lived through, is that when the curtain comes down you don't know if it is intermission, or if it has been a very beautiful and complete one-act play.

Chandana said to me yesterday as we walked to our Chitra class, "This is a sisterly thing to say, but I hope you won't be devastated if nothing else happens with Martin.  It could be that it was just a lovely moment in time, and nothing else will come of it."  I could feel Chandana's heart aching as she said this and as she confessed that her worry springs from upsets she has experienced in her own life.

Intermissions never come at a point where the characters would want them.  The point at which it makes good theater to pause the action in a play should always leave the audience wondering, well, "What is going to happen?  What is going to happen?" which means the characters on stage are left hanging emotionally, sometimes physically, definitely transitionally or transformationally.  It's bad form to tie up all the loose ends in act one if you want your audience to be excited to come back for act two.  At intermission the audience wants to be left in the dark while the characters are suspended in a state of yearning, yearning for resolution, for fulfillment, for a hopefully happy and satisfying conclusion to their quest.  The souls in the story want what is lost to be found, what is hidden to be revealed, what is agony to turn to bliss.  Not that the audience doesn't want that too, they just have the perspective and the patience that comes from living a story from the outside, not from the perspective of the characters living the story on the inside.

When you don't know if it's act one or a one act, it's hard to know if the characters will ever be released from their tender-hooks.

Over the last two days I have been wistful, sometimes melancholy, mostly in a state of pause.  I keep singing Que Sera Sera, not just in my head, but out loud, to the amusement of Minou, the housekeeper here.   When I think of Martin I try to picture an open road, a wide expanse of possibility, a broad avenue that may lead us to each other, or to someone else or somewhere else that we are meant to go.  I try to picture this path in a neutral frame of mind, like I would feel in the lobby of a theater in the middle of a really great show.  I'm trying to think of this time, Martin-wise, as a chance to get snacks, catch up with friends, freshen up in the loo.

When I was in Europe a few years ago, I tried to get to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.  I couldn't make it happen.  It really bummed me out because it was one of two things on my list of things I wanted to see but didn't.  Several traveling weeks down the road, practically two months later actually, I was staying on the Isle of Mull in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.  On the recommendation of my inn-keeper, I took a boat out to an island called Staffa where there's a famous cave and puffins to watch.  The boat ride was expensive and I felt a little bit like I might have been hoodwinked into one of those tourist trap trips that make you feel like you'd rather have been back in town doing nothing rather than spending a lot of money on a waste of time.  Turns out Staffa is made up of the same geological formations as the Giant's Causeway.  I didn't know this until the boat was practically right up to it.  By listening to my inn-keeper I'd unexpectedly turned up exactly where I wanted to go.

The second thing I'd managed to miss was the White Horse I'd seen in a documentary when I first arrived in England.  The White Horse is a chalk figure in the side of a hill made centuries ago by the village up on the hill in order to intimidate other villages down below.  Even with all my trains and buses and comings and goings in the English countryside over three months, I couldn't maneuver my way to the part of England I'd been told White Horse was in.  By the time I was taking my last train of the trip from Edinburgh to London I was tired and actually relieved that I'd gotten the lousy window, the one where the seat is situated so that there is only an inch or two of glass behind your ear so what you mostly get is a view of how train cars are constructed at their seams.  I had a good book, so I sat down and told myself it was OK not to be able to take everything outside the train in.  I was being given the chance to relax, let things go.

"Besides," I said to myself, "if I need to see something, I'm sure someone will let me know."

Several hours into the trip, the train was making a broad turn, I could feel it in the slight shift of gravity.  I'd been reading steadily, had felt no need to pitch my neck around to the funny angle it would have taken to look outside.  But as if something was telling me to, I suddenly needed to investigate the view.  We were coming around a large hill and, sure enough, there in the face of the hill was the nose, then the neck, then the torso, then the hind quarters, then the tail of a large chalk white horse.  Within a minute or two the horse was out of sight.  Turns out there are several white chalk horses in England.  This one was the one I was obviously meant to see.

I wanted to stand up and scream and shout and say THANK YOU to whatever angel had tapped me on the shoulder just at the point when the white horse was making it's appearance.  I also felt a kind of peace.  On that journey I was constantly being taught that if I just went about my business and I listened to my gut and to the universe, I would eventually find myself exactly where I wanted to be.  Granted, I found both the "Giant's Causeway" and the "White Horse" in totally different places than I'd expected to find them.

I want, sometimes, to hold onto Martin, onto the feeling of connection, of shared intimacy.  I want to call him up and tell him how the sky in Santiniketan this afternoon foretells of rain.  I also want to tell him how the sun that is coming through the clouds is both lighting up the leaves and casting tropical shadows.  I want to tell him so that he can paint it.  I want to tell him because he would find it lovely, as I find it lovely.

But Martin is painting his own view in Jaipur.

That makes me feel a twinge of pain sometimes and I wish that I could actually, physically grasp the energetic tether that must still be there between us, I wish I could grab it and pull it and own it and hold the connection like one holds a box filled with delicate and beautiful presents.  I wish I could carry the box around like a small child carries a favorite toy, showing it to anyone who will look.

But then I take a deep breath.  I reach out and touch the cool tiles against the kitchen wall.  I look out the window and find a bird to watch, I listen to the sounds of India which fill the air in layers.  I remember that I am in INDIA.

Have you noticed how theaters are doing more and more one acts?  Maybe it's cheaper.  Maybe our attention spans are getting shorter.  Maybe we've been burned by too many bad second acts.  But I think it's a shame.  I think intermissions are important.  I think they give the audience time to process the first act, to let it linger in our sub-conscious a little, to let the characters, the story, the emotions percolate.  In the spaces in between the acts, we get to make the story our own.  The play settles into the deeper, more rooted places in our minds and hearts, switching on lights, airing out rooms, so that when the curtain goes up on the next act we are prepared to be moved a little more, stretched a little farther.

I haven't always felt this way.  I understand Chandana's worries, her heartache.  I think we have all had the kind upsets she speaks of.  We've all leapt head first into glorious Act Ones and been sorely disappointed when the second act didn't live up to the first.  I've even had the agony on more than one occasion of starring in a beautiful love story only to find myself after intermission, metaphorically,  locked out of the theater when the curtain came back up.  Maybe you know that feeling I speak of, life seems to be going on with gusto just on the other side of the door and you have been barred entry, discarded, left behind.  The audience and the other characters don't even seem to know you are missing, or if they do, they don't seem to mind.

I think this tends to happen when one takes the energetic tether established in the the first act and tries to yank on it, tries to pull it closer, tries to eliminate the intermission.  In the past I have been so anxious to find out "What is going to happen? What is going to happen?" that I forgot to live my life, to take a break, to keep myself refreshed and strong and checked in with all the parts of myself.  I'd forgotten that sometimes you just have to sit on the train, let your mind go, and trust that when the time is right you will know where to look, which boat to take.

Martin told me that in England one of the football teams sings Que Sera Sera as a sort of fight song.  We decided that in their case they mean to say that "What will be is that we will crush you and our team will be victorious."  As Martin pointed out, it would appear that no one on the team speaks Latin.

I speak just enough Latin to know that "What is going to Happen?  What is going to happen?" is that "What will Be, Will Be."

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