From an email to Becca as I sat in my old JUF office on March 10, 2005:
This exchange seriously just happened.
Allen (large man, same green sweatshirt and dark sunglasses every day).
Random woman (well-dressed, limping down the hall.)
Allen: What happened to your leg?
RW: Oh, my foot’s asleep.
Allen: Well. Glad it’s just that and nothing more serious.
Finally some peace.
It took five weeks. Finally. I’m relaxed. I definitely still have anxious thoughts, and my mind still cycles through possible futures at an alarming rate. But I’m not constantly feeling chased, or like I’m missing something or falling behind in a race. And I can’t even put my finger on what finally did it. It may have been the $3 margaritas at Chili’s, or the loose and playful show on Friday, or the road trip to the world’s first McDonalds. It may have been walking in the rain, or seranading Jeff with “Stay” on a busy downtown sidewalk. Maybe it was cheesecake at midnight, or brunch with Amanda (I cried; I’d missed her). Maybe it’s right now, alone in my kitchen with a beer, a pint of brownie ice cream and a cheap frozen pizza.
45 minutes later: Am I drunk? I have had ONE beer. Regardless, this revelation appeared as if from the gods as I cut my pizza, now baked at a perfect 400 degrees, into slices. If you cut the pizza with a knife like you’d cut a sandwich, saw saw saw, into the pizza, you will get very little result. You will get crumbs, you will get heartache, you will get a slasher pizza, the one that Freddy Kreuger made for you. If you first CRACK THE CRUST with the knife and go IN instead of slash slash slash to the crust, you get a slice looking like you wanted it. SO. I propose that this is a metaphor for life. And that somehow, I need to crack the crust of this thing. Because damn. I should not have to work so hard for my damn slice. I am constantly battling, and there must be an easier way.
If there are any improv nerds in the house…
Or if you just want to understand the improv world a little better, Bill Arnett’s blog is good reading.
The sky is falling
There are people fixing my roof. I found this out at 9 a.m. on Monday morning when large chunks of debris began falling past my window amid a loud, repetitive pounding. And then I saw the shadows of the people on those little boards suspended from ropes. And Jeff quickly got up and shut the blinds.
But I definitely realize what an awesome luxury it is to feel like 9 a.m. on a Monday constitutes a rude awakening.
“A young lady, known as the non-trimmer, she lives at the corner house of Blackstone. Today she was out, finally trimming her bushes. She looked very suspicious, because we were just talking about that early this morning.”
– excerpt from “spy journal” dated July 11th, found on yellowed “to-do list” pad. Author was probably in the 3rd grade, either me, Lisa or Christina
I barely remember what you look like
My family is big on having pictures of each other everywhere, all over the house, maybe in case anyone forgets what anyone looks like in a freak flash of amnesia on some idle Tuesday. My sisters and I spent about an hour taking self-indulgent but (in my biased opinion) adorable photos in the backyard, with our dad as our photographer, so we’d have something recent.
They are here. Some are sideways because I am lame. And there are a lot of them.
My Italian grandmother cooked me some pasta with marinara sauce, baked eggplant, salad and apple kuchen. I had just come from lunch with my mother, so I wasn’t very hungry. So I sat there at the kitchen table and planned out, in my mind, how I would go about accomplishing the task of eating all that food. I figured I could eat all of the pasta, about half of the salad and one piece of kuchen. As I ate, we talked about how my cousins were doing (professional atheletes and models, they all seem to be), how she’s been invited to a half-dozen picnics, for which she feels obligated to cook large amounts of food, etc.
After I ate the pasta, and to take a break before dessert, I demonstrated the idea of an improv show to her. I told her it was like Saturday Night Live, but we didn’t write it out beforehand. I showed this by springing up from my chair, pantomiming and explaining concepts like the back line, two people doing a scene, etc. I suddenly felt a huge desire to have someone, anyone, understand what I do all the time.
After a 5-minute, breathless presentation (wherein my example scene was an Irish grandmother and her four year-old daughter baking apple pie — I played all the characters, briefly), it honestly looked like she really got it.
She also showed me something she’d picked up on the street “and washed real good,” a piece of fabric with a little loop for hanging, like maybe from a rearview mirror. It said, “The road to a friend’s house is never long.” She repeated this phrase over and over, holding up the little white embroidered square and bobbing it up and down for emphasis. She wants us all to visit more often.
Before I left, she explained to Seymour, the nice Jewish man she lives with, that I did improv. And she explained how we act, but without a script, and we play different characters. Success!
It’s a beautiful thing to watch a show go up for the first time. Pre-show hanging in the parking lot, warm-ups to scrape off our jitters, waiting in the little room next to the audience. I was definitely nervous. And it definitely did not help my performance. I was probably overthinking the enormity of the task. Really, improv is pretty low-maintenance. Go out. Bounce off each other. Return to home base. But I was so happy with my peeps. I am enamored of my castmates.
Zen? Zen? Anybody? Anybody?
I am looking for that calm zen place that I found last year, the place where nothing else mattered but the moment, where I knew problems would surface and retreat over and over, and I felt confident that the cycle would go on with or without me, so I might as well just go with it. I had a good conversation with Earl last night that had me thinking about how people make decisions. My memory of “good decisions” is that I felt at peace with them; they seemed congruent somehow, a missing piece to the puzzle. At the same time, it was like I _had_ to go after them. Deciding to go to Northwestern, deciding to do AmeriCorps, deciding to take an improv class, deciding to move to Chicago… these were all done hastily and lustily, right before a deadline or with great stakes on the line, like I was being pushed by some outside force to do them.
Things are looking up. I should be less edgy. The Diary Project is opening tomorrow, Becca and I just found out that our play is going up at a big fall festival, and I’ll have a fresh start no matter what job I end up in next year. Somehow I keep worrying myself with the details. I’m thinking about being at the beach, and how, instead of enjoying the waves going over your toes and the sand retreating underneath them, it’s possible to fret over the seaweeed and the jellyfish and the little shells.
This is a diet
On Sunday morning, I pour buttermilk pancake batter, made with Eliina’s dad’s recipe, into a buttered frying pan and watch each nascent cake bubble and brown around the edges. I attempt to flip them perfectly, my little acrobatic pancakes, though most of them splat ungracefully and have to be repaired in medeas fry. Jeff manfully takes the pancake helm and finishes the frying. Then the cast of my improv group, the Diary Project, douses them in syrup. We consume two batches, plus a couple fried eggs, between the five of us. Henri covers his in warm butter and granulated sugar. We read the personals on Craigslist and snark at them unmercifully. Rewind. We are half-asleep on a wooden floor watching Clue and casting parts as ourselves. Rewind. Henri shows up to Diary Project bonding night in silk pajamas. Rewind. Bryan and two friends suddenly show up and devise Coke floats out of cookies and cream and cookie dough ice cream. Rewind. Jeff, John and I consume three consecutively baked $1 Tony’s frozen pizzas. Rewind. I am sweeping the apartment on Saturday evening, prepping for a Diary Project cast sleepover and movie night. Rewind. I am getting out of bed at 11am on Saturday, then scrounging for breakfast. Somehow a mimosa, a veggie burger and some Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked ice cream sounds like an excellent combination.
This is a book and a movie
Whenever you are feeling bad about your life, I recommend watching Touching the Void. You will feel better about things. A hiker hurts his leg in the mountains and crawls back over snow fields, inch by inch, to camp. Over the course of many days. Most people’s lives are not that bad in comparison. It’s about snow, so if you don’t have A/C, you will feel cooler. Also, it’s a book that you could read on the beach if you have a beach.