"NYWIFT member Amanda Prasow attended our Image Transition Salon, hosted by the Career Focus Committee, and writes about her experiences here—plus, she includes some fab makeup tips for auditions."Click here for the article.
A woman as old as the mountains behind her
wraps leathered fingers around the handle
of the old screen door
as it creaks open into
Inside, the fire is stoked
the tea is brewed
with herbs gathered carefully from the garden.
She wraps a faded quilt around her shoulders
steadies herself into the porch swing
and begins to rock,
She smiles at the wind
racing through the lines
around her eyes.
I stagger in from the shadows
dizzy and parched
my eyes are red from weeping
and my womb is raw from bleeding
there is quicksand underneath my fingernails
and my locks are knotted from the desert
I taste bile in my throat as I approach
and it has been so long
since I have felt my fingers
When my bruised legs cannot support
my bloated body any longer
I find myself falling to my knees before her
The scent of
rises from the earth
and it occurs to me
that I am dying
Her roaring laughter pierces
and I begin to weep
because I understand
that in this place
I am not broken
and on this porch
I am not wounded
and in this house of coconut and pine
I have not asked for too much
In this land of coconut and pine,
I weep for every moment I was not brave.
and somehow I find my way
through the moonshine
to the porch swing
and take my place beside her.
A faded quilt as old as the mountains
is wrapped around my shoulders
and we begin to rock together
through the stillness.
through the ages
“You are right on time.”
Dear Subway Boy with a broken heart:
The world has been cruel to you today, I see.
Somebody somewhere has betrayed your love.
I hate to be the one to tell you
but your horns are peeking through your hipster hunter's hat.
Once upon a time
I pursed my lips in just that way.
If we lived in a different world
I would call to you, Subway Boy
I would invite you to warm your hands
by my fire
you would tell tales of a Golden Age
your locks would sigh into my lap
and my fingers on your forehead
would redeem you
for everything you couldn't say
But there are no sand dunes in this city,
and I am too cold
to save your soul
I am not the goddess you think
from the forest.
(I know her
but she won't take my calls.)
It's just this pain creeping up my neck,
down my spine
and out my throat
the serpent's skin
is cold against my own
I have no voice with which to call to you,
my hands are tied behind my dreams
there is moss growing in my shackles
and my lungs have forgotten how to breathe
But somewhere in the shadows
I am praying for you,
I am praying for your freedom and your joy.
When the time is right,
I will come back for you,
It is the law of ancient hearts.
We will return to this very spot
in the double-stitch of time
and I will invite you to warm your hands
by my fire
you will tell tales of a Golden Age
your locks will sigh into my lap
and my fingers on your forehead
will redeem us
for everything we couldn't say
You know, that obligatory post-disaster debrief where you write about where you were and who you were with, the hardships you did or didn’t go through, how scared you were or weren't when you saw or heard that tree/sign/power line fall outside the window...and in the hopes of somehow assuaging festering survivor guilt you take a moment to acknowledge
that friend you have that was worse off than you and that friend of a friend who lost their home and that co-worker’s cousin’s sister who in high school might have dated one of the guys who died. And then you write about how grateful
you are and how the hurricane has really raised
your level of consciousness and now you feel so compassionate
to your fellow New Yorkers, and in truth, all those who have suffered and are suffering around the world...
And if you’re feeling particularly patriotic you can tie it into your thoughts about the election and, well, democracy
in general and if you’re feeling kinda woo-woo you can work in 2012 predictions and if you’re in a bit of an environmental mood you can toss in some somber words about climate change.
This is not that post.
The truth is, I really don’t want to talk about the hurricane at all.
Not because I’m sick of Sandy. Not because I don’t care. Not because I don’t have anything to say.
Because I’m not over it. Because I’m actually very…in it. Because I really, really care. Because I have so much to say that anything I try to say feels like a deep, violent insult to myself, the planet and everyone that lives on it.
It’s true that some people know what’s going on here and just don’t care – a stance I totally understand and respect. If I had a nickel for all the incidents of suffering I’ve ignored in my life, for all the causes to which I’ve intentionally gone numb, for all the doom and gloom I’ve shut out and refused to let penetrate in a desperate attempt to just get by
...well, I’d have a large piles of nickels to donate by now.
I write because every now and then I get a script I just can’t buy into. Anywhere, NYC. Person A and Person B run into each other for the first time since Before Sandy
A: Oh, hey, Person B, it’s SO good to see you!
B: Hi! Yes, it’s great to see you too. They embrace, fist pump, air-kiss, or other greeting appropriate to their particular socio-ethno-economic position.
One of them sighs and the other looks around uncomfortably for a moment, gathering her energy to battle the elephant just off to the side. A: So I was thinking about you in the storm…how…have you been?
[The tone of this ranges from genuinely inquisitive to distractedly polite to deeply sympathetic, depending on what A has already heard/seen on Facebook/intuits about B’s situation, or what A can deduce from the geographic location of B’s home and/or place of business - tempered with the severity or lack thereof of A’s respective experience.]
Then B must give a brief but rehearsed report of what happened during and after the storm – whether or not she lost power, had damage, evacuated elsewhere or hosted evacuees. B will either tone up or town down the drama so as to impress/not offend/match B’s expectation of what A is about to deliver.
A is then required to do the same.
If either or both were lucky enough to remain relatively unscathed, then whatever low-grade hardship they describe must include the following qualifier on the tail end: B: But it’s nothing like what some people are going through in
[certain part of Staten Island/Rockaways/Lower Manhattan/New Jersey]…oh, it’s just awful!
A nods emphatically, grateful to be moving on to the next beat, and, to be fair, genuinely relieved to hear that her friend is okay.
Perhaps A has done some volunteering (or donating) for the relief effort, and this is A’s moment to proudly but subtly put it out there. She may be bragging or genuinely trying to spread awareness and recruit additional support for the cause. If B can match or beat it she will do so immediately, and they will rejoice in their new respect for each other and may even make plans to co-ordinate efforts.
More than likely B has been “meaning to” get involved, and will launch into a long and uncomfortably detailed explanation of why she hasn’t so far. She will soon catch herself, blush and mumble something like: B: But enough about me. I just think that is SO great that you’ve been helping out...
(Note: if both have been doing relief work, the unspoken competition will become about who has done more
. Same themes and relationship dynamic apply.)
This is by no means the only dialogue happening around recent events. But I’d wager a whole lot of nickels that if someone actually monitored just how many versions of this conversation were happening all over the city - some people would really start to question whether New York is really the creative capital everyone says it is.
Is Hurricane Sandy the new 9/11? The landmark historical event that redefines civic identity and permeates the social landscape?
I wasn't living in the U.S. in 2001, so perhaps am not qualified to surmise in this way…but one thing that strikes me as alarmingly different in this situation (and of course, there are many differences), is that, I imagine, after 9/11 there wasn’t a whole lot people could do
. Here and now, there is a lot people can do.
What concerns me is how many people – both in New York and beyond – are actually under the mistaken impression that everything is back to normal around here.
We're all playing an awkward game of Citizen Roulette. You can’t always tell by looking at someone who they are: Victim, Evacuee, Volunteer, Donor, Bereaved, Shell-shocked Homeowner, Indifferent Being, Some-of-the Above, etc.
Or maybe...maybe we are back to normal. And for the first time in a long time or maybe ever, a whole lot of people have started to realize that 'normal' isn't working, that 'normal' isn't okay.
How many New Yorkers have recently felt that peculiar blend of compassion and curiosity towards a homeless person, only to be relieved
to learn that they were 'homeless before'? It makes sense and it doesn't, right?
It makes sense and it doesn't.
I watched a YouTube clip the other day of volunteers digging through the remnants of a flooded basement. "There's just, like, everything you would have in a basement here...whiskey bottles..." as he picks up random items amidst the rubble.
Without going out on too woo-woo of a limb, I think there's an important metaphor in that.
It's like the storm came and has shaken up and flooded out everything that's been in the basement of a city, of a state and a nation - everything we fought so hard to sweep under the rug is now in a big, dirty pile in front of us, for all our neighbors and all the world to see.
But this is not that hurricane post.
So if you’re like B and have been meaning to get involved, but don't know how or where or if your skills will be useful, below you’ll find a list of where you can go to plug in. Where you can help:
If you don’t know where to begin, I strongly recommend starting with Occupy Sandy
, for the simple reason that everyone and anyone is welcome, you can give as much or as little time as is right for you according to a schedule that suits you, and they are in constant communication with all of the other organizations below.
Regardless of your opinions/judgements/pre-conceived notions of the Occupy movement (oh, my, and I had so many!), I promise you don’t need to be 23, a hipster and committed to railing against The Man all day. It’s not that kind of deal. I personally have been on the ground and in the field and it really is a motley crew of diverse individuals from all walks of life putting aside their differences and working together for a common goal. For real for real. Amazing, eh?Most of the following organizations are actively recruiting for short- and long-term volunteers. In lieu of or in addition to your time, all will accept your money and many will also accept gifts in kind (please check carefully for what is actually needed).
Please check out:
I have been actively following, communicating with or working with the above organizations and feel comfortable personally recommending them.If you know of others, feel free to add them in the comments section.
And if you're really keen:
take the time to find all of the above on Facebook
for the most up-to-date information and requests. Websites can be kind of ancient technology when it comes to grassroots relief efforts.
Thank you for ploughing through yet another blog about Hurricane Sandy, even though...this is not that hurricane post.
It's this one.
Last night I attended a screening of The Master
followed by a Q & A with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, moderated by Silence of the Lambs
director Jonathan Demme. (I know, right?)
I knew very little about the film going into it, which is how I like to see movies (and theatre) when possible.
Of course it almost goes without saying that it was uniquely compelling, expertly acted, piercingly disturbing, inexplicably heartwarming and everything else you have come to expect from such, dare I say it, masterful
players. The Oscar bees are already buzzing about Joaquin’s Resurrection, and rightly so. But what I’m interested in today is not so much the film itself as much as my peculiar experience of viewing it.
As I was contemplating the evening on my way home, I was struck by a startling yet fascinating thought that was striking precisely because it felt vaguely familiar, remembered from the deep, buried recesses of my psyche. (Recovering such memories for the purposes of psychological and emotional healing is an important concept in this film.) Ready for the thought?
Sometimes I wish I were a man.
I know it was National Coming Out Day yesterday, and I know I’ve seen a few breakdowns for transgendered, male-female spectrum-y type roles this week but no, the thought was not rooted in any confusion of sexual orientation or gender identity.
At least not ‘gender identity’ in the way that it is typically understood.
What I knew my subconscious-made-conscious meant by that was manifold:
- I wish I could have the friendships men have.
- I wish I could tell the stories men tell.
- I wish I could shoot the breeze with PT and JD about our peers, our dads and the Old Boys in Hollywood and feel like I belonged there.
- I wish I could play a complex hero like Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) or a mentor like Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but I can’t because those stories don’t WORK with women.
I mean, surely I don’t believe that…right? But, it’s true!
I hear myself fighting back. You just wouldn’t find that same depth of relationship if it was two women. It would be softer and sillier…and written off as just a…chic-flick, right? And if only one of them was a woman, it couldn’t work either! If Freddie was Francesca, then the story would become this subservient submissive relationship bordering on
Fifty Shades of Grey territory – and the undertones would be necessarily sexual, accidentally anti-feminist. And if instead a great artist like Philippa Someone-ina was the mentor, then Joaquin would be condemned to creating a whole Freudian mommy-figure-worshipper. And her critics would necessarily become witch-hunters. No, no, it just couldn’t work.
Now, I’m of the particular ilk of feminist that believes women and men have different, though equally valid, stories to tell and different though equally valid ways of telling them. I don’t know if our kind of feminism has a name anymore, as it’s not my tendency to organize and it’s been a long time since my Radical Theatre class at Lancaster University (kudos to the amazing drama department
for even having a course like this - one of the true highlights of my study abroad year in England).
But to hearken back to these insidious thoughts of my childhood now
, as an educated, independent, professional woman in New York City in 2012…well, that’s problematic in a number of ways.
I had barely learned to read properly when I became obsessed with Greek mythology, inspired by a children’s illustrated compilation that I think was given to me by my parents. This was much more interesting to me than my children’s version of the Old Testament, which as far as I could see was about a lot of sand and angry people. Nevertheless, those definitive texts were pretty clear about who was and who wasn’t qualified to be a hero, save a nation and be gifted cool superpowers like the use of lightning bolts…
I declared that when I grew up I would have five sons (because I was still at an age where I thought motherhood was just What Women Did - it didn’t occur to me until much later that I had the choice to opt out.) I don’t know if I ever vocalized the reason for this, or if I was ever asked. Perhaps I just thought it was understood: I wanted to have boys because girls were boring and men could be presidents. Obviously. And I wanted to raise Greatness.
Note I did not grow up in…communist China, for example.
Far from it, in fact. I was born amidst the birkenstocks and bookworms of Princeton, New Jersey and relocated to a suburb of Toronto after kindergarten. I was raised by typically liberal Jewish parents - like the ones you see in all your favorite comedies of my generation. I was dragged along to feminist revisionist seders and encouraged to bring a friend of a different religion to every holiday. I felt like the coolest kid in school when Miss Saigon
premiered in Canada, and somehow someone found right there in the playbill an archive photo of MY MOMMY as a teenager, being dragged away by cops, cigarette in one hand, saying “NO TO VIETNAM!” (The original photo caused quite a stir in her immigrant family when it adorned the front page of The Toronto Star
at the time. I believe her father ordered a big brother down to the city to collect and deposit her back in their northern mining town. I guess he was unsuccessful, because here I am today.)
I was the youngest of three daughters, scheduled approximately five years apart as that was supposed to be ideal for child psychological development. A bit of a daddy’s girl, my father and I used to play catch in the park, where I reveled in the fact that I was more athletically inclined than my older sisters. I asked him once if he ever wished I was a boy, since I was the youngest and would have been his last chance at a son, passing on the family name, etc…I think he is still laughing about that till this day. My dad was never a particularly blokey bloke. He fixed stuff every now and then, but he never drank or watched sports, and he always seemed to remember everyone’s preferred tampon order whenever he popped out to the drugstore.
So where did I learn that boys were more interesting than girls? When did I decide that all the protagonists of my short stories and poems would all be men…or was that just…assumed? And did I even notice that that’s what I was doing? I used to lament the fact that there were so few Ken dolls released compared to the number of Barbies out there. An emerging storyteller that took casting in the doll house very
seriously, I just didn’t know what to do with this surplus of women
as there were only so many supporting roles to go around.
And yet, why have
I always been so horribly offended by the color pink, and why does my deep aversion to it persist so much till this day? (Truly, even as I write. the pink post-its on my desk make me slightly uncomfortable.)
Was there something in the water?
In a way, of course, there was. And is. And this cocktail is eloquently distilled in Miss Representation
(the documentary whose journey I follow and regularly recommend and reference though, oddly, haven’t actually seen myself...yet.) “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
I think I was about ten when I completed a voracious mission to read all of Shakespeare’s comedies, partly because I was precocious and enjoyed them but mostly because I wanted everyone to think I was precocious enough to enjoy them. The seminal films of my childhood were Gulliver’s Travels
and Pete’s Dragon
, both of which I watched over and over again until the VHS was damaged beyond repair. It occurred to me recently that my pervasive love of travel and adventure may be attributed to those early influences – or perhaps my affinity for those stories is simply an indicator of a genetic predisposition to such a lifestyle. As a vegetarian, I tend to avoid contemplating chickens or eggs in too much depth.
I once played King Lear in a drama class workshop in high school, and I distinctly remember feeling a mysterious sense of loss when it was finished, “knowing” that I would never have the chance to play such a glorious part in the professional theatre. That was before I had ever heard of non-traditional casting
as even an option, let alone a movement. In fact, shortly thereafter I was cast as “Man” in Morris Panych’s 7 Stories
for my senior show. I loved shocking the audience by prancing around in a bowler hat and tux…but something in me knew this was only half a treatment for my growing unease.
When I look back at the stories I loved to read, see and tell, I consider that perhaps it was just a matter of curiosity rather than sexism. I was not a boy. I liked boys. I wanted to know more about them, and thus boy-centred stories were naturally more appealing to explore, right? And yet somehow I knew that the world at large agreed with this basic ‘truth’ of the universe and it is this feeling that struck me, in the most unexpected way, after last night’s screening.
So what was the precise source of my discomfort and...dare I say it, envy
? Which exclusive bond had ignited this peculiar wistfulness in me: was it the camaraderie between the two leads or between the two real-life directors in the Q & A?
Demme wanted to talk a lot about Ernie Anderson (P’s father), and they shared a nostalgic moment remembering the way the Good Ol’ Boys (Ernie and the core group of voiceover artists) would hang around outside the studios together.
Yet I know that this question and its answer are two sides of the same cuff link…and that this has been the case for a very, long time. Though perhaps not able to articulate it, as a child I understood that on stage, on screen and in the studio, God was crowning the good with brotherhood and some of us weren’t allowed in the treehouse. Period.
Interestingly enough, I was invited to this screening courtesy of my membership in New York Women in Film & Television
, an incredible organization of female leaders and visionaries in the entertainment industry. I had previously been a member of their sister chapter
in New Zealand, which was instrumental in shaping my positive experiences with the community throughout my three years in Auckland.
It feels like every week I hear about a new non-profit cropping up to address all this “stuff”, none of which I know all that much about due to aforementioned reluctance to organize. There’s the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
, and Amy Poehler’s tweens on Smart Girls At The Party
. Then there’s The White House Project
who focus on twentysomethings and redressing their perceptions of women in the media. (So I guess I wasn’t the only five-year-old hoping a successful son would be my VIP pass to the White House...)
I’ve always been a proponent of focusing on the solution rather than the problem, which is perhaps the reason why I (ironically) have not yet found an activist group that appeals to me and resonates with my worldview. In fact, I usually find articles such as this one incredibly boring and redundant. I recently had a drink with a fellow NYWIFT member who is a lot more passionate about these issues, and she quoted Gloria Steinem while lamenting to me that women of my generation “are not angry enough!”
Indeed, I confess that I am not as angry as most Feminist-with-a-capital-F-types seem to want me to be. In fact, I am not really angry at all.
So why write?
Because I couldn’t help but notice certain members of the crowd as we poured out of the theatre. It was one of those pan-guild events, hosted I believe by the DGA. I could see the inspiration in the eyes of many of the young men, completely floored by the opportunity to spend their Thursday with not one but two of their cinematic heroes.
I know a couple of such young men myself who would have given their right rib to be there and in fact, it was almost for their sake that I dragged myself to the event, despite the first signs of a cold and almost debilitating PMS. Had I not had their voices in my head, I would have been much more comfortable at home in bed with WIGS
– though I would have missed out on a spectacular evening.
And as I noted the exuberance in this next generation of Odyssei, one thing was clear: we hadn’t been at the same party.
And so I write. Because somewhere out there an eight-year-old is combing the halls of Toys "R" Us in search of the next Ken doll with which to craft her opus. She’s already ripped the head off Barbie and painted the dreamhouse blue, as her parents smile at each other and boast about her creativity to their friends.
She just might grow up to be president one day...
It is my first 9/11 in New York City.
As it happens, I am writing this from the thirteenth floor of an upscale financial tower, gently gazing out the window into the windows of the offices in the other upscale financial towers containing people who are gently gazing out of their windows and I think, There is more sun here than I would expect.
This is not where I usually spend my days. But it is where I am today.
I recently purchased some kiwi fruit for the first time since I returned from New Zealand earlier this year. In general, I have an almost unreasonable obsession with eating locally (for a variety of nutritional, economic, environmental and political reasons), so it was an interesting impulse buy. I was searching for something, I guess, though I didn't realize it at the time.
When I took my first bite I immediately spit it out reflexively. I couldn't believe it...it was rancid! But then, I realized...it wasn't. It was...imported. And laced with pesticides and who knows what else. The average American would never know the difference.
And it occurred to me, as I swallowed my pride and my toxic kiwi, that when you get right down to it, life is nothing but a series of sacrifices. Moment by moment, we weave a tapestry of trade-offs, releasing something we want for something we want more. Something we should do for something we must. Someone we love for someone we need. Comforts that soothe for truth that compels.
And it occurred to me that the people who are Really Good At Life have always known this. You know who I'm talking about: those magical beings who appear to skip effortlessly through existence, celebrating each day in an inexhaustible state of ease and abundance, welcoming one success after another with nary a hair out of place. They are simply excellent mathematicians, or statisticians or risk assessors or what have you. They look at a situation, any decision - big or small - and they know exactly how much it will cost.
I vaguely remember someone (a magazine article? wise ex-boyfriend? stranger at a party?) suggesting once that happiness was linked to the proportional relationship of reality measured against expectations. There are a lot of holes in this theory which I won't bother to explore, but the concept itself is quite interesting.
For myself, I dropped math as soon as possible in high school because I thought Real Artists were too cool for science-y things. You know, except for Leonardo and stuff. I always liked math and was relatively good at it, but I was not outstanding. At fifteen the concept of investing time in something I wasn't ready-made outstanding at seemed ludicrous. Another mini-trade-off, right? I knew it then. Something you could be good at for something you know you're great at. Something that interests you for something that entices you. And so life goes on.
My parents love to tell the story of when I was six or seven and I came home from school crying because the teacher had introduced a math lesson on a topic I didn't already understand. They asked if I understood after the teacher had gone through the lesson and sniffling I told them I did, but I was still so embarrassed and frustrated that I didn't know it all when the class had started. So trying not to laugh they had to explain that actually the point of school was not just to practice stuff you already knew but to learn new things you had never even heard of before and apparently I was incredulous...but comforted in the end.
That was a long time ago now, and I am pleased to report I have since become an expert in undertaking endeavors for which I am not remotely skilled or qualified at the outset, so having no idea what the hell is going on the vast majority of the time is now a very comfortable, familiar feeling to me.
But as I take time to consider these Really Good At Life people, I can't help but wonder whether there is only a simple mathematical skillset between us. The ability to look at each moment, person, crisis, opportunity and decide how much it's worth, how much it costs, what it will yield, what risk it carries and then perhaps even more importantly, the ability to decide, quickly and definitively, how to proceed.
Decision-making has never been my strong suit, either. A wildly successful CEO I once knew reminded me once of the Latin root of the word, and that essentially it means to cut yourself off from any other option. Otherwise it's not really a "decision" at all. That struck me deeply at the time and has stuck with me. I browsed a Tony Robbins' book once and I remember his suggestion to practice making small decisions that don't matter every day, so that you build up this decision-making muscle inside you for when you really need it.
Clown teacher Giora Seeliger
told me once upon a time that my greatest challenge as a clown was my habit of hesitation. "You see absolutely everything, and you are taking it in, and you have so many choices and you want so badly to make the right
choice..but the hesitation is just a microsecond too long, and that microsecond was exactly when you needed to move. I'd like you to work on this, even if it means making the wrong choice, the wrong decision. Clowns fail - let it be wrong! But no more hesitation!"
So perhaps it's really that that the magical people have going for them, and they're not really expert Risk Assessors at all. They just know how to make a call and move on. Moment to moment.
Because a moment is all it takes for a plane to come crashing through a window and change the world forever. Because life is only one moment after the next, after all.
Where are you hesitating?
This is a true story.
While waiting in line at Whole Foods tonight, the following thoughts occurred to me:
Indicators that I may, in fact, be an adult (and a very particular kind of adult at that) include: 1. I find trolling the aisles of Whole Foods deeply, deeply satisfying. 2. I think the playlist in Whole Foods is always "just right".
I paid for my kamut puffs, and as I prepared to leave I discovered to my dismay that my MetroCard must have fallen out of my pocket. The new, unlimited monthly MetroCard I just bought for the first time a week or so ago - that had about $75 worth of time left on it. Panicking, I checked and re-checked every item in my bottomless bag to no avail. I fought back tears as I listlessly left my name with Customer Service and proceeded to retrace my steps throughout the store. My throat and stomach began to hurt intensely from the physical restraint of trying not to cry.
I no longer felt like an adult.
I left the store, and not for the first time in my urban life, actively began to seek a dark alley in which to freely burst into tears and bemoan my fate. Though desperate to release the anguish twisting my body into discomfort, my inner Self-defense Course Honors Student prevailed, and I decided to keep on truckin' home.
I allowed the tears to roll as I fumbled for $2.50 in change for a Single Ride, and began the long, lonely multi-train journey from Somewhere Awkward in Manhattan to Somewhere Awkward in Brooklyn after 11 p.m.
As I sat on the sweltering platform trying to stifle my tears, I remembered that the likelihood of someone in this town actually noticing the Crying Girl on the subway was significantly less than anywhere I've ever lived, as was the likelihood of them caring should such hypothetical noticing indeed occur.
I took great comfort in this. This deep, almost primal yearning to be and feel alone has been increasing steadily in me in recent weeks. Perceiving the indifference of my fellow subway passengers was an epiphany of sorts, like stumbling upon an ancient hieroglyphics code, or discovering a recipe for an elixir of strength. No one cares. I am free.
I decided that maybe the person who would find my MetroCard was an overworked and impoverished single mother of four, and that her family would use this found MetroCard to take turns (even though you're not supposed to do that) visiting her elderly and terminally-ill mother in the hospital, an expense they could not otherwise afford.
Then I decided that maybe it was first found by a homeless person who was able to sell it to the aforementioned single mother of four at about half of its remaining value, so that both parties walked away from the transaction beaming, feeling like for just one night, fortune was on their side...
I was just starting to tear up again on the train when it occurred to me that this is exactly
the kind of thing that would happen to Anna, my character in the short film
I'm working on. In fact, this is probably what - OMG this is
exactly what happened to her just before the first scene of the movie! How did I not see this earlier? I am living
Anna's last hour before the film begins, surely! And suddenly the entire script made perfect sense in a whole new way.
I laughed out loud, and was reminded of the passage I read tonight in Swami Vishnu's Upadesa at the Sivananda Center
(I was reading it because for the third time in the last couple weeks, I arrived at satsang too late and had to wait downstairs in the boutique area until the silent meditation was finished.) Something about pain being illusory in the way that an iron rod is hot when you first take it out of a fire, but that with time "it will lose its heat because heat is not its nature...in the same way, pain is not your nature...that is the message of Yoga and Vedanta."
I decided that it was entirely possible --nay, even likely-- that there will come a time in my life where the loss of $75 will not incite in me a paroxysm of fear and despair. In fact, chances are high I will lead a life where I may drop $75 on, say, brunch without a second thought!
Without a second thought, that is, until I am about to leave the restaurant and I am suddenly reminded of this very evening, this very moment all those years ago, and the same pain begins to creep into my throat and grip my stomach, and I am overwhelmed by the desperate wish to shake my younger self and shout, "How dare you waste the best years of our life like this! Life never had to be so hard..."
The pain causes me to double over as the pubescent maitre d' catches my arm and says, "Are you okay, Ma'am?"
"Yes-um-hm...yes..." I stutter as I stand up and regain my composure. "I just...thought I saw someone I knew."
He nods knowingly, but rolls his eyes to my back as I leave the restaurant.
"Crazy old lady," he thinks to himself. "Rich people like her have no idea what it's like to be a starving artist in this town..."
He returns to reviewing his sides between reservations. He's got that funny feeling about tomorrow's audition...like this one just may be The One.
I transfer to my second train.
Interestingly, the main lighting track is off, so the whole car has a darkened, theatrical glow. I notice the man across from me is almost asleep, the buttons on his just-too-small shirt opening at the fold to reveal a billowing pot belly. I wonder where he's coming from, if he has anyone waiting for him and why he is so tired. I wonder what his dreams are, and if he will ever realize them, or if he is content with his life like the crystal merchant in The Alchemist.
A peal of laughter startles me, and I turn to observe the World's Most Delighted Couple holding each other in a peculiar embrace that reminds me of a contact improv exercise. After a moment, I realize that they are of that particular breed of young & trendy New Yorker who remain terrified of subway bacteria and will do anything to avoid contamination. He is leaning, back against the rail in the familiar wide-leg surf-like straddle, her hands are on his shoulders as both his hands grip her forearms. She is telling the most fascinating story, and they are safe here, together.
With my abdominal pain increasing, I play a game on the third train. A bizarre hybrid version of both "I Spy" and a neo-Vedantic exercise, I observe each person carefully and ask myself, Has he ever lost a MetroCard? Has she ever lost a MetroCard. She would never lose a MetroCard. He has definitely lost a MetroCard...twice. And so on. By the time it's my stop I understand the interconnectedness of all beings and the infinite nature of the universe, and the abdominal pain seems to have subsided slightly.
I wish I could stay the story ends with me finding my MetroCard, but it doesn't. Perhaps it means the story isn't over yet.
But by the time I get home, I no longer need to cry about it. The iron has cooled long enough away from the fire, or perhaps something really has shifted.
The mysterious pain continues to come and go in waves, and I confess it is unlike anything I can remember feeling before.
Delighted to be alone again, and free - I look around my room and take stock - of my clean clothes not yet folded, my dirty clothes not yet dry-cleaned, my frizzy hair, my sweaty everything, my unpaid bills, my letters never sent, my walls not yet adorned, and I conclude a change is coming.
A change is coming because for the first time in my life I understand that if I waited until my stomach stopped hurting and I found my MetroCard to tell this story I could be waiting my entire life.
And so I write. For everyone everywhere who has ever lost a MetroCard on a Wednesday evening, and for the woman in the restaurant all those years from now. And especially for the maitre d'.
I'd wager $75 he gets the part.