What I share won't come from after dark but rather the quiet before the light, warm morning kisses, and the cold grip of the day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

You Snooze, You Lose

I dread sleep; always have.  This was never evoked by If I die before I wake…a child’s anxious prayer.  It was more If I sleep I might as well be dead.  As a child I was wholesomely afraid of the dark for a reasonable time, but once I invented my imaginary friends to watch over me while I slept I felt protected, eventually, growing beyond the need of their company and surveillance.  (See Paper Man with Jeff Daniels and Ryan Reynolds.)   I did not seek, or believe, assurances from any of the common variety of deities.  I grew up in the last notch of the Bible Belt never having a religious notion.  My mother would, on rare occasions, say she believed in God, but He did not require her to sit in a pew.  My father admired Catholicism, but like the law (he graduated with honors from law school) he liked the study, but not the practice.  Was my warrior friend any less real than, say, Jesus?  Not to me.  That isn’t the point.  To me, my back was covered.
I feared I would miss stuff while I slept.  I did, too.  One of the great dramas in our family history occurred on an early summer morning.  We lived at the top of a perpendicular intersection formed by two dirt roads in a sparse farm community.  A drunken driver coming up the mast of the T failed to make the turn, either left or right, or didn’t realize it was a dead end.  Luckily, it wasn’t for him, though he managed to smash himself into a rock wall bordering our yard.  The sound of the crash woke everyone in our house, mom, dad, my older brother, but not me.  Sherriff cars and ambulance, sirens wailing, the groaning winch truck, came and went over the next several hours while I slept in my back bedroom.  When I got up nothing was left from the scene of the wreck except the scar in the ditch and the displaced stones of our wall.  Why did no one come and get me up?  During the hullabaloo my family decided to let me sleep since I seemed to need it.  Today, I live in New Mexico, where drunks crack up their cars routinely.  (And, tragically, lives of the faultless.)  In the late 50’s, in rural Kansas I only knew of two such calamities, my father being the other one a few years later.  I decided sleep was time forfeited, experience squandered.  I know this view is flawed.

I’ve always wanted to stay up late, and until my mid-50’s I was able to do so.  I was cursed earlier in life being a night owl and a morning person.  As a kid, I was forced to go to bed at an ungodly early hour.  We had a second living room we called the “TV” room on the same floor as my bedroom.  My parents would be enjoying Sid Caesar or Jack Parr, but I could only hear hubbub followed by laughter.  After my bed time, if my folks left to go to the bathroom or kitchen for a minute, I would sneak out of bed, dive behind the closed drapes of the window behind the couch and stand in the sill like a Beefeater, still and mum, one eye at the slit in the curtains.  It is amazing, with all the allergies I suffered, I never sneezed, was never caught.  One of the few things I’ve ever gotten away with.  I’d have to stay put until they turned off the TV and went to bed.  I’d watch the tiny white electric dot in the center of the black and white screen slowly fade, as if the set was resisting being extinguished.
I welcome sleep when I’m tired, feel refreshed if I actually get some, which is rare for me.  I wish I slept as much as I eat or drink, or, at least, as satisfactorily.   As soon as I’ve reached the bare minimum to sustain life, I snap awake, three, four a.m.  I can’t explain why.  It may be, deep down, it’s to escape from sojourns I am subconsciously afraid to face.  Though my recollection of dreams is usually vague to nil, I’m able to intuit they’re often as comic as they are renting nightmares.  Dreams are very important and useful to us, either creatively or as some kind of psychic spill way.  Like my mother and her view of God, if true, you don’t have to be present to win.  I don’t lose any sleep over it.
Anon, James

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Exit, Stage Left

No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous---
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Excerpt - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. Eliot

So much I like about this poem, though Eliot was an anti-Semite. Born in Missouri of all places.  Anyway, fairly astonishing poet.  It begins:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table…

…among my favorite lines in literature.  Etherized…rather puts you in a time.  The passage above has manifold meaning for me.  Actually, I did play Hamlet at the Folger in D.C., so, it was meant to be.  The girl who played Ophelia was gorgeous, but paid no attention to me whatsoever.  She was fucking Kevin Kline.  We all three were working at the Arena Stage but in different shows.  He was an uber-hot rising actor, and an awfully good one.  I’ve always maintained talent is a sexy force.  I was an attendant lord.

I am an instigator more than a finisher, saying things to get a reaction, or needle; have started a scene or two in my day.  Agitation is a kind of swelling, as a way to deal with feeling helpless or inadequate. Then, I slink away to another part of the party.  Not too comfortable advising, anymore.  Here I have learned, emphatically, to keep my mouth shut.  I get asked once in awhile, and, if asked, I will put in my oar.  As a differential, I made a living outside of the theater as a dependable middle-manager.  Once, in college, I helped my fraternity brother get chosen to take a trip to a conference.  We were in Kansas, and I think the thing was in Miami.  After he was selected to go, I thought: hey, wait a minute…why didn’t I try to get myself sent to Miami!  Regardless, I felt a secret, politic power behind the scenes, like Iago, or some Chancellor.

I believe I am fairly cautious now.  I used to bull-nose my way in and out of a lot of trouble, explode my existence to bits. I’d quit, burn bridges; have an affair to wreck a relationship; drink before an audition, the usual, self-destructive crapola.

At times, indeed, almost a schmuck---

Now?  No.  I may sense the tendency coming on to muck things up, like an alcoholic may crave a drink, but, firmly recovered, would never dream of taking one.  I am not meticulous in all things, but I am in my work, compulsive, out of a sense of incompetence.  If there is a mess on my desk?  Who cares.

Though, I certainly am not full of high sentences - I take my toast and tea from observation and instinct – I do presume to put up a blahg.  I am, on occasion, ridiculous, obtuse, just ask my teenage daughter or her mother.  In truth, I do play to it, aggressively, like “I, Claudius”, as a survival technique.  It’s almost a neurotic response from me, like a veteran who has to sit with his back against a wall.  My war was with a distant, depressive father.  I could deflect wrath, or make a ripple in the still surface of his dark, cold lake of moods.  In school, to win friends, I would clown, even restrain a bit of brilliance which may have put off people I wanted to win over.  Later, this penchant morphed into a stage career.  The Fool, commonly, in Shakespeare, the cleverest of fellows, gets his own.  Make ‘em laugh.

The other day, I caught myself with my jeans rolled …not for style, but because they kept slipping down, and without shoes on, I was stepping on the cuffs…so I rolled them up.  It is one thing to come to terms with the inevitability of to be or not to be, or its foreplay, aging.  I get that.  What snaps my braces is knowing how to drop the role.

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”

Anon, James