Thursday, March 08, 2007

Memories of Tomorrow

When I was little, I went with my Grandpa to Ellisville for the Spoon River Drive weekends every year. One year - I was probably about B's age - a little theatre group took up residence above the place they served buffets for the Drive participants on those weekends. I don't remember what they were performing, although I suspect it might have been Godspell, but definitely a local-quality production. This was an intimate little space they made into a theatre, clapboard walls & bare wood floors. Dust motes would float across the room on sunbeams through a couple of little windows on one side of the room. They set up folding chairs for an audience that can't have ever numbered more than 15 or 20 at a time, & they had no stage, only an extra light or two to make a spot.

I thought they were magic. I thought I'd never heard anything more beautiful than hearing those voices come into harmony. I'd never seen anything more magical than watching those ordinary people become something wholly different & unique when they came together. The first night or two I watched them, utterly spellbound. They made me believe in their story. They made my soul leave where it sat & yearn to be with them. I came away singing their songs & begging Grandpa for another dollar to go see them again. I sat in on all their rehearsals, a little mouse in a corner with big eyes, drinking it all in. By about the third show, I knew all their songs. I knew the choreography, the movements, the very emotions they were trying to create. I was so enraptured, so enthralled and so caught up in the magic they made me believe in that one afternoon I got up from my seat, took my own small place in the aisle, and did the entire performance with them. They thought it was cute that first time. And the second. And the third. They petted me & praised me & made me part of their little troupe, & for the rest of the Drive they made my little spot in the aisle part of the show. They invited me to eat with them, helped me with makeup, told me I was making their ticket sales go up, made sure I was going to be there, gave me some little nothing of a costume... I was in heaven. Making magic like that happen with other people was something I'd never even known could happen before!

All the next year I hoped & prayed they'd be back when Spoon River Drive came 'round again. I practiced every song, every movement, did everything I could to make my voice stronger & more true. Grandpa & I always got there at least a day early to set up the popcorn wagon & get a good place for the camper, & by the time the first weekend came I was in an absolute fever of anticipation. Friday came & went & they weren't there... I was unbelievably sad. Then, Saturday, there was the sign on the window!

It was the same show, but a few different people were with the group this year, and I soon learned, a wholly different attitude. When I appeared on Saturday afternoon for the show, excited, flushed, pumped, ready & anticipating once again... magic... the one or two I knew well from the year before looked embarrassed when I talked to them, brushed me off as being too busy to talk, maybe later... and the rest... they looked at me as though I was just any other annoying little kid. But hey - the show must go on, right? I knew where I belonged. I knew my place, I knew my part.

After the first show someone went & asked Grandpa to not let me come any more because I was bothering them. I was distracting people from the real show. I didn't understand... I thought I was part of the real show. I thought I was a bonus... that my being there made it better.. or else, why would they have said that before? Why else would they have made me part of their little family last year? I was too young to understand the possibility that they'd just exploited me as a sideshow act, and once I grasped that, then still too young to understand the kinder possibility that they had really loved having me there, but the dynamic had changed with the passing year, or with the change in cast members. I was far, far too in love with them to think that enjoying something for the moment doesn't mean you want it forever.

The rest of the Drive that second year was miserable. I never got to go see them perform again. I begged & pleaded to at least get to say goodbye before they left, and late Sunday afternoon after the last show Grandpa finally relented. I went running pell mell, pudgy legs flying as fast as they could carry me across the street & up the stairs to the little theatre, but they had already left. They never came back to Ellisville during the Drive again. There was nothing left of all that magic but a little girl with tears tracking down a dirty face in an empty room with folding chairs stacked against the wall.

Now.. which child.. from which seed do you think I should have grown to become who I am today? The one who believed so strongly in the beauty and magic that she saw that she had no choice but to try to become a part of it? The one who in that first year believed so strongly that she made the others believe too, creating something new & different in the process? The one who the second year cried, tiny, miserable, defeated, standing alone & lonely in an empty room not understanding how all her hard work, all her belief in the magic she'd been shown could be not wanted, could be wasted, discarded and unworthy? The one that finally, eventually understood what had happened... and spent years feeling nothing but shame at her own temerity that she'd ever gone at all where she was not really wanted?

Which one would you choose to be... if you had that choice?
Yeah... that's what I chose, too.

Why Bother?

Lookee there.. on the way to trying to find a way to sleep... which route took me through a thorny little something else... I found a piece of an answer to a question that has long stood unanswered: Why do I write? More than once someone has asked me... why do you do so much on paper? If there are all these deep feelings, why are you writing them instead of talking them?

Look what I found: Why? Because you're not here! You (whoever the 'you' at that particular bump in the road might have been) weren't here. In review, I realize I really don't have much writing at all - of the kind in question - from relationships of any kind when those people were really present in my life. When they were really here, it wasn't so much that there was less to write about as that we lived it instead. They were here. I could reach out and touch them as a thought first began, sometimes they saw it before I did, & then they were there through the growing of it... no need to tell them about it all over again, unless it was to capture it in one place, like a snapshot to remember. To cherish. A picture of words to put in a photo album of life worth remembering. There's an old adage about not letting the sun set on your anger... I figured that should be extended to most feelings... but when the co-conspirator of those feelings isn't present & accounted for - either physically or emotionally - that's hard to do. "Here" means where I can touch you. Connect. See you. Know whether you smell like anger.. or fear... or safety and reassurance.. or rejection. See whether the muscles get all tensed up in your shoulders drawing you inward or your jaw clenches or your brow furrows... or whether your body is open to me, relaxed, inviting -- rules of body language: whither the body goeth, the mind and heart follows! Sense whether you're hearing me or thinking about something completely unrelated. Have some sort of idea about whether 'now' is a good time. Know whether you are fully present or distracted by work.. or kids.. or school.. or TV... Have clues about where & whether we agree, talk about where we differ.

Rather than let the grace of being in the feeling, in the moment flee... rather than letting clarity and courage pass & become clouded like a forgotten dream, I write. It is my way of bringing you back to here. If I can't reach out to wake you... if I can't reach out a hand to touch you, or if I can't get you to hear the beating of my heart, perhaps I can at least create words that might bring you back to where I am at the moment I write it. And then maybe, if we're lucky, it will be worth finding a way to make work.. and school... and kids.. and TV give us enough peace to try to recreate 'now'. Dial back the sun so that it never went down without making the day right between us.

That's not the only reason, of course, I've written about other bits before - cowardice, pride, fear, overflowing, a need to organize chaotic thought, a way to get all the way through a piece without being interrupted, or derailed, a way to let you 'hear' when you're ready to hear, a desire to be complete & clear in a way I can never manage when I speak - but the concept of you simply not being here an elusive important piece I hadn't quite connected before. I talked about it a lot, felt it more... but never really connected it to this question. And I know that this solution - writing instead of talking - isn't perfect, but substitutes rarely are. That would be why they're substitutes.

You can't really dial back the sun. But sometimes you have to take the best substitute you can dig up.