Monday, September 13, 2010

'Defining Moments'

After a week of contemplation, it's finally time to write about the 'Under the Desert' experience in more detail—why I did it, what was wonderful about it, and what could have been done better.

With 'Under the Desert', there is a book if I collected all that I have written about it—now four productions, the constant re-writing when I thought I was finished, the long slog and grueling production schedule of each one, and always, always, the lack of funding. Still, like most of the other productions in my life, there is always the point of no return, when the energy is sufficiently within you, and the obsession has manifested a set, a cast, a vision, and a production manifesto.

Although I am on occasion prone to dark periods at the end of these quests, I don't feel it as pronounced this time, maybe because I got immediately back on the personal performance horse when it closed. I didn't really notice the black periods after so many of the productions when I was younger, mostly because there was usually another project to get to, and because I still had youth working for me. There were often, however, even though I often tried to fight it, periods in between production when I would succumb to a drinking binge immediately following, drink for three or four days and then sober up and spring into the next project. One particularly bad binge was after I had got my first stellar review in a newspaper. As I reflect, it was an almost automatic response. I remember reading the review and immediately buying the first of several quarts of Wild Turkey during the siege. Believe me, it was not in celebration of a great review. It was though I needed to punish myself for a job well done. The irony of this particular bout was the play I wrote which got the great review, 'Blackout Blues'. I know that this kind of occurrence is not uncommon in some alcoholics, but I do often wonder if it was something that was inherent in me from birth, or if it was a learned behavior. It may be a combination of both. Still, to this day, I always have to fight this impulse, and it could strike from something as simple as a passing compliment.

For two years during the worst period, I saw a psychotherapist named, 'Dr Bob', who also happened to be a catholic priest. A twenty some years sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob understood this pattern in me like no one has since, and not that he encouraged or condoned these drinking episodes, but also was smart enough to say, "It may be something that is necessary for your work and your survival at this time." He recognized, as an experienced negotiator, he needed to give me something to take the pressure off myself, as each time afterwards, I would pummel myself to a pulp in a now sober nightmare. After we negotiated and acknowledged this pattern in one of the sessions, I'll never forget the sense of relief I felt, a defining moment. Eventually, I was able to parlay what I learned from this wisdom into long terms of sobriety, and began to learn different coping mechanisms—of which I try to employ now. Like many aspects of life, there is always the fail/success equation. It still took many years before I could actually succeed in between these periods with an actual strategy. The negotiation through the forest of sober life truly is one moment at time. I'm finally starting to understand this. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow hasn't happened yet, so we must navigate today. Each little mantra that we learn in this life is so often understood with only the intellect, not until we experience it through suffering is there sufficient evidence for us to will it into our heart. Here I am, chasing the rabbit again, still, it is important to assess this personal part of the journey as well. Rabbit stew? Anyone? Anyone?

Although the beginning of a journey is always the logical place to start, this assessment will have to begin somewhere else. As my life unfolds, slightly contrary to what I just said about the notion that only today is important, I also find that beginnings, middles and the endings of things are often interchangeable, and with retrospection, reason, and a little out of the box thinking, I'm learning that one can always go back to the beginning, middle or the end with a fresh perspective of what happened. A moment from the past can be reconceived and find a present relevance in its making. (lots more to say here), But, before I go off chasing another rabbit, I will start with my personal defining moment of this experience.

For me, with this most recent production, the defining moment was the near destruction of the set during the high winds and the cancellation of the dinner theatre show. It was defining because of the intensity of the vision I worked to achieve it, against all odds, and yet at 8:15p that evening, it became unachievable. At the time it didn't really seem like a defining moment, or even a milestone, rather, it seemed like a large stone dropping to the bottom of some deep lake. That night, I lay in bed wondering how I could have prepared more efficiently, once again beating myself up at a perceived failure. Then the thought entered my head, "If you could control the wind, dummy, you wouldn't be laying here lamenting something so ridiculous." My God complex so often makes my life difficult. I am so often confused as to why I cannot control the largess and the importance of my little world. In this thought, however, it also occurred to me that God and man are intrinsically together, or as a one unit with duality, only God is often passive because of his impossible task of getting a word or thought in edge wise.

The strategy of the next day after this happened proved most arduous, and even though I had largely accepted the fact that one cannot do a play outside in gale force winds, my own personal moral had slipped. I watched the same wind from the night before continue to pummel the trees and ledges. I drove to Hills and Hollows and checked all the weather reports, more of the same wind. I cancelled the show early. There was no relief for me, however, there was much to do. I had to re-build something I was losing quickly. I added another show to replace it, and found the actors to do another pep talk and discuss. The next night, even though the wind had lessened, we knew we not only had to do the show, but we had to do it really well, and my actors came through, they were splendid. The waning wind added a surreal quality that is one of those unplanned and magical occurrences that often happen in theatre. I can't remember who said it first, but I know the director Ang Lee said it in an interview. "Character is defined and enlarged when ordinary people eventually prove victorious against impossible odds."

For me, the world series of this particular production was game three, or show three. Of course, this discourse only addresses the short stretch to the final moment. In baseball, like theatre, there is a whole season to play, the process, as it were. So many of the games over the course of a season seem unimportant, but in the end, they do add up. In the case of this production, this was the rehearsal process, which had its own defining moments.

There were, of course, many other defining moments along the way, but the first one I mentioned was where the series was on the line. There was the first day of rehearsal in the space on the mountain, when Tracee was bitten three times by a wasp. There was a riser falling of the back of a truck on the steep road up the mountain, and my brother Dan running along side holding the riser in place. There were the three 'peanut butter days', when the food and money had run out. And then there were the collective conflicts of all the players in the game, at times reaching a fever pitch with no return throw from the catcher. These were the deadliest conflicts, because they were emotional in a different way, they were conflicts between humans. Man verses nature is always a tough conflict, but the man versus man conflict will set your teeth on edge. Although experience says if you work for resolution it can be achieved, in those moments when departure occurs between people in a conflict that is exhausted and dangerous, when that moment occurs with seemingly no way to turn around what has happened or what has been said, there is seemingly no solution. Time, the great equalizer can always come to the rescue if one is patient, forgiving, and willing. Theatre is an art form of patience, humility, service, forgiveness, and willingness.

(I set out today to write a text that would give some indication of what really happened in a clear, direct and concise way. I can see that the sub-text of the project is still very much beneath my mind, it is still wandering around under the desert. The simpler story will have to wait, I guess, because it's still hard for me to write about it in a linear form.)

Practically speaking on other matters, my phone has not worked in ten days. The guts that hold the charger on the inside of my phone are deceased. If you have been trying to reach me and I have not returned your call, try emailing me, for I cannot even retrieve my phone messages. Although some elements of modern civilization have reached Boulder, simple things like a cell phone is a three-hour drive to a city to get fixed. I've been playing music each night again which always calms me and makes me feel simple joy, in those extended moments, cell phones are on a distant planet.

I've come to accept that this Saturday there will be a benefit concert at the park to 'save me from selling my guitar'. For several days when the movement for this event was taking place, I felt guilty and a little angry. I was embarrassed that I was once again in a precarious financial situation, and was resorting to selling the only thing I have of value, and that the word had leaked out. Today, I am finally accepting the mild humiliation, and as Anselm said to me, "This is much bigger than you, it's about the spirit and desire to give something not to you, but to all of us. Its about the symbol of a guitar, with a thirty year history leaving the hands of its historian." I'm closer to accepting this grace, with all my foibles and imperfections it's so hard for me to accept this powerful action on my behalf. In it, there is something else to learn, however, and maybe this is one of my gross imperfections, and one of the real humiliations of being human, failing to understand that success is not what you have in a temporal realm, rather by the love you experience and give in the spiritual and emotional realm. This is a rather well known mantra, but I'm learning that when circumstances befall you in a particular way that force you to confront a directive without a net, there is an understanding that moves far beyond the beauty of a thought or idea that sounds good.

That's all for today. There have been so many things I've wanted to write about, and yet, even in a small town like Boulder, the days run over the hills like wild horses, and we can't stop them, and sometimes it seems, even God cannot stop the horses from dropping over the horizon. The wind continues to remind me today, of how little control I really have over my little world. As for this particular day, it is sneaking through the corn patch—like a thief, and there is honor amongst them, all of them…


Gerry said...

Well, it was good to read the start of your history on this play. You think like I do about so many connecting variables that it is hard to get a history down at first. I am having the strangest experience writing my memoirs online again. I find I am compelled to leave out quite a lot of my history because it is NEGATIVE. I find myself going back to the intense moments while a lot of the rest is fading. Strange that a lot of these intense moments are connected to cow punching, of doing some hard job almost beyond my ability to do, and getting it done, somehow, escaping disaster just barely. For this reason my past is connected to my cowboy teacher, the one who kept compelling me to try a harder and harder task, compelled everybody he worked with to do it. He was like a mighty director, he and Grandpa both, playing out these dramas involving horse, man, and cows on this rough terrain you talk about, lending its own difficulty to any task we did.

DB said...

Raymond, your entry and Gerry's comment both leave me stunned. I want to apologize to the world not because I didn't stand up to the dangers and hard tasks of life but that I didn't draw as much of the milk of wisdom from them as I could have.

How awful that your work is tormented by mundane financial problems. But that is a commen in this country. To embrace the wind even as you fight it shows a courage that can only come from the heart of a poet.

I think we are always at the end, the beginning and the middle. Certainly where theatre is concerned.

I know a Broadway producer who rolled up his rare Persian carpet to sell it in order to keep the show open. The next day the reviews came out and he put the carpet back. The show eventually won a Tony.

By the way, if you're going on a binge, Wild Turkey is the way to go. I have my own rabbit stew.

Thank you.
DB said...

Your writing is your gift and that rare ability to express just what you are going through adds to the drama. The book is there... I appreciate you being able just to share what you and your mom have a gift..I feel touched by the difficulties and the happened. The play is real. I will see it. Anslem
has insight.

Chuckh said...

Funny how you search and struugle to find a work that will sustain you, when it is obvious for all to see that you need to write a memoir. Not only because you've lived an UN-ordinary life, but because you engage the reader so well. I'm going to email you. I tried to text you but we know howe that turned out. And BTW, thanks for the kick start.

Anonymous said...

Money is a never ending problem that keeps entering into everyones world. The banks are hitting me with flood insurance on my Phoenx house that is already gone, but that is another drama. Sticking to your talents isn't always easy, I have Tano's garage full sculptures on just that principal. I am hoping that is not where they will always stay. The most important thing is the next one. I had Soyhel take my
picture next to a bag of clay for my profile picture. "My next
sculpture." I was going to say. Now I can't get the picture to facebook. I may be slow, but after all this is only "one" life.
I have probably been sculpturing through many.
You know, way back, I had a dream that I was practicing some kind of theatre piece and it was England back in Shakesphere's were in charge.
You got it...but only as long as you get to the next production.
Many a great singer has pawned his guitar and got it back.
It's hell to eat humble pie,even when you like pie. Yawheh perfers a humble man...I know because I have been reading the Jerusalem Bible...trying to understand all these Jewish poets of S.F.
Good Lucky on your or our new production. If Scott would just hurry up with that $700,000 he get it going.