Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'Fixing the Train and Gathering Coal'

I've been having a rough time the last couple of days. I know some of it has to still do with this time of year, but I'm having to force myself to get out of bed and function. Two nights ago, I wrote a long entry on depression, but decided to forego posting it as it seemed 'to' depressing. Imagine that, a post on depression that seems depressing! At least I was writing, which is always good, and always important for me.

I also thought I had a job, but now I don't know as I haven't heard back from the man since Sunday night. It seemed like a perfect job for me, taking care of someone's personal business, sending out packages, etc., while he is out of the country. I thought it was a great possibility for me, but alas, I haven't started and haven't heard from him.

About an hour ago, I got a call from a former student of mine from the Playwright's Theatre days. He continued on with the pursuit of theatre, eventually getting his Masters degree in Acting and Directing from USC. Although he usually calls when he needs advice, I'm always glad to get his calls. Today was in regard to a show he is directing in Iowa, and his production team were all on a mutinous tear, and he didn't know if he would be able to continue directing the production. We talked it through, and I don't know if he will stay with the production, but I do know that it did make me feel that I had something to offer him, as I'd been through the drill so many times in my career. It made me feel as though I still had value, and I needed that today. Theatre is a world with so many strong personalities, so many different variables that can create conflict. It's impossible not to be confronted with them. As Shakespeare said, "When troubles come, they come not as single spies but in battalions…" I know that he must have been speaking about the production of a play.

I also received an email from a management company, (I will keep him anonymous) but was very happy to get it. The man who has the company I met while in Seattle at a booking conference. He was the one manager I met there that I seemed to click with, and the artists on his roster are impressive. As I talked to him about my project, he seemed at once to understand what I was doing. I do have to mention that he wrote that my blog was amazing, (his words not mine) so here is a clear cut reason for doing the blog along with the show, for those who are still reading, it does have value, it has impact. He asked me to sent all of my press materials, and he would see what he could do. This is a great affirmation of the work I've been doing for these past three years, but he also said that I must have a website for him to be able to promote me. So, I'll need to reinvigorate the motivation to get that done. All of the footage I shot of the show in Los Angeles came out a dark gray. Kurt shot the show three times, and now it seems, it was all for nothing. My friend in Utah shot the show as well, but he tells me he doesn't know where it is and to extract the footage would be lots of work. I could pay him to do it, but alas, I have nothing to pay him with. So, I'll have to find someone who will shoot the show here, so my plan is to do it, (possibly at The Paisley Violin) and make sure that I walk away with some footage. Still, I have lots of photos, press, posters, etc. from the production, enough to get something up. So, it all comes down again to survival and pushing the boulder again up the mountain.

Not being able to sleep last night, I watched a movie I found called 'The Sicilian Girl', which was a true story of a young girl from a village in Sicily who became a witness against the mafia from her village who had killed her brother and father. The reason I bring it up as something relevant, was that all the evidence against these thugs, were from diaries she had kept from the age of twelve. Although it had a sad ending, as she lost everyone in her life that she could trust, her writings proved to be a turning point in putting several of the most ruthless criminals in prison. It was great proof of the power of writing, and the power of writing memories while they are fresh and clear.

In my position, there are so many ways in which to turn I find myself paralyzed in the immensity of 'things I can do'. I run this way for a little while, then this way, and am having a hard time getting follow through on any of the things I've started. Some of it may do to the rises and falls in my moods, when I'm in a manic phase I tear into most things with a fervor, only to be defeated when my mood drops below the threshold of even functioning.

These are excerpts from my writings on depression:

(Sunday night, once again I turn to writing to console the restlessness I feel tonight. I'm beginning to notice that as I get older, the temptation to reminisce on happier times happens more frequently, and with an intensity that seems to increase with each passing day. For me, it happens in the evening, when the day is winding down, when families are gathered in there kitchens, that place between dusk and darkness, when all things are in flux. In retrospect, I remember at the worst of my depression, I dreaded the rising of the sun. During that awful black period, the sun was met with such an anxious reluctance, I would sometimes sob uncontrollably at its rising. As though I was diametrically opposed to all that was so very hopeful of that light coming over the horizon, as though I could not bear to have it to cover the earth with its light, as though it would uncover some awful nightmare that had occurred during the night, as if the subconscious had somehow bound with the waking life. William Styron writes in his book, 'Darkness Visible', that all depression is caused by an inability to grieve. And, it seemed at that time, I was grieving for the world in its entirety. I was grieving for all that had been taken from me, from all that I wanted to forgive and to change, for all that I had regretted, for all that I could not bear to believe. For all that I could believe. For all that I wanted to believe. Try as I might, I wanted to turn my mind to other things, to more pleasant things, I wanted to meditate on things that I knew would change those moments, things that I had been taught, turning to God, asking for help and guidance, but I could not. I could not turn to that light, even though through my sobbing I wanted to. And so I would rise with the sun and dress myself. I would walk through the park, I would walk to the coffee shop, I would read the paper to try and distract myself from this awful dread. That is depression, that is a cruel and misunderstood state, and like most of us, when something dreadful this way comes we think, "How could this happen to me?" I was the sunshine child, I was the hopeful one, I was the one who saved a feather because it was send to me on the wind. I was the one who spoke with youthful anointing of the virtue of art, of its perilous but wonderful journey. I was the one who taught that, "Endurance was the ability to remain…" that with persistence a mind wrapped with that which is pure in spirit would be anointed to prevail against any odds, against any opposition. And now, I had suddenly been slain. I suddenly found myself to heavy to rise, to wake, to teach, to…breathe.

In this state, all the proceeding energy of life is taken from you. As if the brain itself has been suddenly put on indefinite suspension, as if to rise from your bed was an impossible task. I can only say that many years conditioning myself in the art of gymnastics was the only thing that saved me, because I knew the toil of what it meant to do one more pull up, one more sit up, one more round-off back handspring, one more chest to the floor. I knew what that felt like. I knew what my gymnasts felt to do the last bit of training at the end of the night, the last mind bending set of hand stand push-ups, the last breath from ending the day. I knew because I had also put myself through the same punishment. Memory recall is what trainers call it. It's why my muscles can recondition themselves quickly, because they have done it so many times before. This was the training that kept me from a certain death, because I knew this kind of suffering. I suddenly found myself in a room in Boulder, Utah, where I did not sleep for seven days and nights. Not a wink. I knew that I was close to succumbing to death. I knew this. In this final state, I made a call to a psychiatrist who had diagnosed me with severe depression. She wrote a prescription for seroquel, (an anti-psychotic and now an anti-depressant). After seven days in this state, I drove forty miles to get the prescription. I drove back to my room and took a tablet, and fell asleep for sixteen hours. During that sleep, I experienced what I can only describe as a reprogramming of my brain. I was often at times aware of what I had just gone through, but in a sleep, and in my brain there was a continual ticking, like the ticking of the morse code across a prairie. I felt as though I was being reprogrammed. Two days later, a friend of mine, (I'll call him Tom) came to me and told me that I must walk a few hundred feet each day. I understood what that meant. I somehow revived. The only thing that I can ad to this nightmare, is that during these days, I vividly recall my suicide, because in this state, I promise you, you cannot bear to live. I saw myself in the living room of my grandparents home, a mile from where this occurred, shooting myself in the head in the living room where I spent the first five Christmas's of my life, and in doing so, I recall myself finally killing all the demons that had haunted my family for the whole of my life. This ending of my life was vivid, and it was as premeditated in its thinking as anything I've ever thought. For, still today, I do not fear the death of my mortal body. As I told this premonition to my cousin, she very shrewdly took away all of my guns in the lucid moment I told her my vision, and for that, I am grateful. In a month's time, I was walking four miles, with a renewed vision of what my life might look like…living. With some medication and some understanding, I took one step at a time. I might ad, that during this time, I would call my mother frequently, and she would take me into a therapy that only she knew how to do, with a grace and an understanding that still baffles me. The Kings, (my family) probably all suffered as much from depression as they did from addiction, and none of the men lived beyond the age I was experiencing.)

I know the preceding writing is a bit harrowing, but after reading William Styron's book, I could at least identify with what he was saying, and had the revelation that these lapses in my personality have been with me the whole of my life. I can vividly remember being at my father's house in Mesa as a child, and feeling these same thoughts, at nine or ten years old, and not being able to articulate them. They would eventually manifest themselves through physical sickness, where I could not get out of bed for days. I can remember many a bus ride going home from my father's house, still sick and thinking, thinking, thinking… I believe for years, theatre did keep me at least somehow working manically, with short depressions in between the work. It was the work that could accompany the extreme manic episodes I've always experienced, which is why its difficult to find 'ordinariness' in simple things. I kept the train running for along time. My earlier life in gymnastics did condition me to the athletic nature of 'putting up a show', and it did serve me well to complete the task of doing play after play for the better part of twenty years. Right before the breakdown that I just talked about, I was still working as a teacher and staged the final production that would carry me over the edge to this abyss, and ironically, it was called 'Dreaming in Color', a full musical. Once that production wrapped, I knew something in me was broken, and that could no longer keep the fires in the engine room stoked. I have to say, it was a production that is quite memorable for many reasons, these years hence, when I take it out to read it, I am amazed that such a document was recorded and produced, it was the opus of a career that had to change into something else.

The last three years since that 'brokeness', I've struggled to understand what happened, how to fix it, and how to somehow moderate my mania so that I don't suddenly drop dead. Medication helps, but I also find it sometimes confining, as a life of 'going manic' is more difficult to come by. I think that is part of my confusion as to what to do, old habits die hard, even though age has taught me a little about patience. I find myself thinking about getting back into good physical shape, (which I always had a fair handle on) but so far, with the up and down episodes, I find it difficult to get anything consistent accomplished. So, its very clear in retrospect today, what did happen to me, and I do know that life is not always filled with great productions where the senses are in full motion, for me, that is where that depression lies, in that place that has no production value, that place where the climatic moment has yet to come, that place where daring is part of the work. There are many thoughts I have that are hopeful, and many of them I get reading biographies, mostly artists and writers who have also experienced these great lapses in faith and vigor. Horton Foote wrote his masterpieces after the age of fifty five, and he lived into his nineties. I'm no Horton Foote, but I still believe my best work is before me, and I still believe that my 'stage life' as a performer is just getting warmed up. I need to 'buck up', and do those push ups again, start collecting the coal for the fire, and fully examine the train that isn't currently running.

My final thoughts for the day are hopeful, even though these last two days I've struggled again with thoughts of 'darkness visible', but I know that on a given day, ships are coming, hopefully not to Omaha Beach. As you read these words, or if you read them, please understand that my obsession with my thoughts are to understand how I can change them into something that will have a ripple effect once again, as a teacher I know the power of giving my experience away, but I do have to get my engine working again, and it has worked sporadically since my seven days and nights of wakefulness, but the real problem still isn't solved, but I am working on it. Don't judge me to harshly, and don't judge a train until you have spend several days in an open box car, with the world whizzing by…

1 comment:

Gerry said...

I am getting an insight into how you have always reacted to things. I recall you as a tiny baby reacting very big to just a frown on my face in play. You had to be reassured that this was not real emotion, just make believe. It was like something wired into your brain or even experienced in the birth channel that had caused trauma or even damage to the nervous system. It was very obvious you had barely survived birth as you had no strength. There was such a difference in you and Gary Dean. I had also had a bad virus when a couple of months pregnant I worried about. The last few months were extremely stressful, too, in regard to your dad who seemed to feel increasing pressure about becoming the father of two instead of just one. So he kind of flipped out.
I always thought I had been blessed with a very even optimistic temperament, even though this also could get stressed to the max, so I am always trying to understand what happens in your mind with depression. I do not recall hardly ever sinking into a low like you describe, but I also never abused any substance whatsoever, so wondered if drug use in high school had contributed. You had those attacks of tachycardia. You still seemed to have that underlying extreme sensitivity which could plummet you into depression but could also take you to heights others rarely experience, too, with your artistic endeavors. "Dreaming in Color" was one such project, double cast, some terrific acting, you writing a number of songs for it under duress, feeling some anxiety about subject matter involving racism, prejudice against gays, a drug OD, what wasn't in that play that high school kids experience, ostracism, bullying, parental pressure. You had to pour so much energy into it to achieve success, which you did and then fell into the abyss with over overworked brain, depleted energy, hitting rock bottom of strength, sleepless nights, pain.
I know what it is to hit rock bottom with chronic fatigue, no strength, die if you don't rest, rest is critical. Body feels like its turning into a corpse.
I know you have had to use the very end of your resources to bring off some of these projects. And it's tricky to figure out how to rest and recuperate as you age more, at the same time finding something to do that will keep food in the mouth and a roof over the head.
The ups and downs of a life lived with intensity and wild ambition. There is a cost. But you also need to feel happy with what you have attempted, persevered, and come through with something for people to remember.