Monday, February 5, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

Armie Hammer (foreground) & Timothée Chalamet
in Call Me By Your Name
© 2017 - Sony Pictures Classics
I can't deny that I identify with Call Me By Your Name, but even so- it is the most present, impactful film I have ever watched. I am haunted by it. I respect its original novel and the adaptation so fervently, I can't engage with marketing memes or simplifications. I engage with the piece for its actual existence, what it says, what it questions, and what it brings to light. To trivialize it feels self inflicting (not to say I don't have a sense of humor about the piece, but only within itself, not as a comment upon it).

(By the way, I'm now imagining my eventual eulogy: my imagined child might say, "Oh, my dad loved Call Me By Your Name". All present would chortle.)

These are the most prominent and impacting elements I have picked up on from watching it FOUR TIMES in one week:

Time keeps moving when impactful, intimately visible moments occur. The movie never forgets to remind us that we can’t ever bottle up a single moment of our existence. Each shot, and very prominently during Oliver and Elio's most intimate  or conversational connective scenes, has elements of the world moving forward: time's unforgiving continuation. It is common to see love stylized in feature films. Here, it is beautifully, but equally brutally not stylized. Conversations are not interrupted, but are continued over loud motorbikes driving by; an elderly lady sits fanning herself whilst Elio sobs on a payphone to his mother post separation from his love, Oliver.

The desire to bottle up our intimate experiences is in vain. Oliver's face in the picture I posted above is a quick private moment that communicates just that desire, and the matured knowledge that he can't. If there is one scene I have craved to watch over and over, it would be this one.

We can't quite comprehend the magnitude of a moment in our lives whilst it is happening. The clearest example in the film is their goodbye at the train station. All but nonverbal, a little awkward, the lovers hold back pain and tears; in silence, we watch Elio finally look after the train, the only sound being the cruel, ominous sounds of the train propelling away from him. It means everything and nothing. Personally, the first time I watched the scene, I could not emotionally react to the scene, which seemed appropriate. I couldn't quite understand or take in the magnitude of the moment. Just like them.

Pain and the Joy don't just exist side by side; more accurately, they exist intertwined. Especially from Oliver's perspective, and how he nonverbally communicates, there is a sense of fear that connection will end. Whether that be from the other party or due to circumstance. Elio's father's speech toward the end about the ephemeral, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity our bodies and hearts are provided should make this clear if not picked up already in the preceding scenes.

I think the film and its novel are in some ways a reminder, or more perversely a warning to us, that we really have to be on alert. We have to live our truth, or we have to not kill what we feel. And if we really love, we also see our lover now, in THIS MOMENT, and they see us in turn. Because tomorrow, this Elio or Oliver will no longer be.

Love is developed through the incremental building up of intimacies. I presume some people see this film and don’t understand why there are scenes of the two men seeing each other urinate, or a “random” moment on a long bike ride retrieving water from a kindly elderly woman at her house. It is because, like the novel (which pushes the envelope even further in this regard), the film focuses not on proclamations, rather the incremental building up of intimacies, which leads to true love... From that building up, in semi hindsight (or, sometimes unfortunately actual hindsight), we realize we love another person. Because we see them. We know them. And the same is in return.

Is it better to speak or to die?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

January 31 Haikus

Hungary, Brasil,
Toronto, Minnesota,
Ohio-- then you.

Lofty apartments,
wet cobblestone, spring night:
Your dreams influenced.

Anything simple-
Danish hygge and park walks-
were sublime with you.

Tickets, coffees, books,
and other things meant for you-
wasting inside me.

Their espresso tastes,
music sounds, and woodwork smells
how I recall you.

You're my poems. So,
you'll let me forget why when
reread in five years.
June 25, 2017 | Prospect Terrace Park, Providence RI

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Great Depression of my Early 20s

January 29, 2011. 20 years old.
Facebook shared a memory today, and I laughed when I notice it, because the irony is rich. It's good that I laugh at how the first week of the Great Depression of my Early 20s started with a week-long clown workshop.

I just wonder why I got so far down the rabbit hole. I mean, I know now, but I still wonder. I wish I could go back in time and not have wasted so many years thinking I was not enough and crying a lot. I'm still working on the repercussions of feeling that way so chronically: how to take care and relax and not personalize, how to not be afraid to love, how to not fear sharing my art through writing or onstage. Trauma and pain does weird things to us: I think it's Pavlovian, and sometimes I find myself reverting to old habits in environments without any warning. For example, some auditions and interviews I bomb because I overcompensate or apologize.

I recently read Sandra Joseph's new book, Unmasking What Matters. She played Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on the road and on Broadway for 10 years until 2006. She was a staple of the show, and was its longest running Broadway Christine, yet an internalized unease that she was not enough persisted. Before landing the role, her 20s were filled with half a decade of debt, blowing two auditions for Christine (for reasons similar to mine), and fear of failure. She teaches us her lessons along the way to infuse these circumstances with a healthier outlook.

Who are we beyond our challenges and fears and talents and successes? How do we less often think negatively and embody the dreams we have, the potential, and the purpose? Sandra Joseph offers wonderful suggestions to teach the mind to treat itself better. The most effective one the last week has been, every night, writing down 5 things I have done well. This makes it active; it's a given I have people who love me, but I have to recognize that I am doing things that are good and worthy. And maybe it will inspire me to do more things, more acts of love and charity. I could use a dose of that activity.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Travis Greene

Photo by Kira Hawkridge

That's Travis Greene being silly, and that's me pretending to ignore him. It was a cold, but warm, joyous 2008/9 Winter Break Ugly Sweater Party (I had taken my grandfather's purple sweater off). Kira Hawkridge, one of my best friends and eventual Out Loud artistic director, was hosting. We were 18-years-old, and intimately close. We were the pioneers of YouTube rabbit holes and hours of theatrical and spiritual chatter. He was an Aries, as so many of my dearest friends are. Travis would soon be my roommate, and was already a confidante; we had become fast friends during our first semester at University of Rhode Island's theatre program.

I found out today that he died this week. We are 27 now.

For myriad reasons, people grow apart. Yet, if the bond that was shared was strong and imprinted itself upon you, hearing of a friend's tragedy is deeply stirring, sobering, and frustrating. The boy who roomed with me, drove to New York City with me (as I navigated), watched Patti LuPone in Gypsy with me, showed me naughty cartoons,who made a point to express how deeply engaging I was in an ensemble of Oklahoma, who acted the hell out of his role in The Merchant of Venice with a poignancy you don't often see in an 18-year-old, danced with me on the stage of the Hair revival on Broadway, who came out to me, and shared some affection for me... he, that boy, Travis Greene, who corresponded with me for several years thereafter... he is gone.

Those instincts I had the past year to re-instigate a deliberate friendship with him? I ignored them. You can imagine that today I am frustrated with myself about that. But that does not diminish what he gave me a decade ago, and what that time still gives me.

95 S, Connecticut. August 18, 2009. He drove and I read the map. C: Kira Hawkridge
Writing a narrative seems impossible, and not just because I don't journal in a deliberate, chronological sense (I am more abstract when I enter my diary), but because my life with Travis actively lasted for 12 months, and he was embedded even down to the mundane aspects of my life; he became a part of its fabric. He was an acting student with me, so conceptualize how much time we spent together in and out of the classroom. I do not know where most definitive beginnings and ends really would be, you understand. And some of the moments in our friendship I remember best are very much his story, or our story, and it is not my place to share that with you. Some things should remain our own.

But I will share that the first night I ever went dancing at a gay bar was with him and four other friends. It was Mirabar in Providence, and after a crew/tech rehearsal in South Kingstown, we made the trek in another friend's van. He wasn't out yet, and I openly thought he was along for the ride and to be a good sport. But he danced and flirted with the boys much better than I could. We ate at Denny's afterward, and we are pretty sure the mob was there.

June 2009
Travis knew what made me laugh. He set up a very formal appointment one night; I had to sit down and watch Adult Swim's Superjail. Though I was a shy, overcompensated polite boy, he knew I had a wickedly twisted sense of humor.

We went to New York City together with several other friends, and saw Hair. He loved Will Swenson's performance as Berger, and we ran in a stormy rain together after the show. Soaking wet, we laughed and danced the night away in the subway and our Soho hotel room. The next day, he met Alison Janney and Megan Hilty on his own at 9 to 5 (he left the trip before us) and his recounting of that story was so passionate and joyous. He felt honored to be there in their presence.

There was a time his heart and genuineness were in trouble, threatened by a person; and it was the first time in my life I truly stood up for a friend. It meant saying things he did not want to hear. I don't know how successful I was, but it meant something and he overcame it.

He taught me a lot about the birds and the bees. He encouraged me to be braver and more generous. And he also taught me to get my head out of my reclusive, nervous ass. I didn't quite take the lessons to heart (my own fault). But lately, perhaps by coincidence, I have been thinking about a conversation he had with me through our correspondence after I moved away to a different school (which I am avoiding re-reading right now). He told me that he was surprised and sad to hear that the joyous person he knew I was was lost and desperate and depressed. I believed him, that I was truly better than I was being at the time. And as I think about it now, I still believe him. I don't mean this in a self-aggrandizing manner. Rather, I think Travis saw the best parts of me, and I saw the best parts of him. Too bad we can't think the same of ourselves on our own.

At GYPSY, December 6, 2008.
Bluntly, I don't think I have been my total, absolute best. I think I have pushed people and conflict away. I fear being unloved and not good enough, so I have grown to avoid rather than take plunges or lead people through total volition and passion. That avoidance may be why I did my part to not see or write to him the past 2 years (I didn't hear from him either). That avoidance is why so many people I once knew are people I don't know anymore. That has been a learning process.

The best way I can honor someone I loved and cherished at an important juncture of my life is to be the person he believed me to be, and better yet to emulate things in him I respected and honored. To be the generous person I blockade myself from being. To cultivate joy and friendship and conversation. To sing silly songs and take long drives to places that promise adventure and shared memories.

Thank you for everything you did and said, Travis. Wherever our souls go, and whatever they become, I hope yours is as peaceful and jubilant as I remember you being. I hope it gets to hear Megan Hilty sing, watch stupid cartoons, and engage with meditative, kind energies, people, and places. I hope it insights passion and beauty all around us. And if it has any consciousness, I hope it knows and understands everything I (and everyone else, of course) feel.
New York City, December 6, 2008. Photo by Kira Hawkridge

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Acting and One's Boundlessness

Acting isn't just reacting. It's also making a statement.

It was the third weekend of Bell, Book, & Candle at Second Story Theatre. As Shep Henderson, I was executing the last scene opposite Valerie Westgate’s Gill Holroyd. Ex-lovers after 2-months reunited, testing the water, again, under the mask of an argument. You see, she had been a witch who cast a spell on me to be in love with her… but after I storm out when realizing the facade, she fell in love too late, and lost her powers because of it. Despite her efforts, I figured it out during the reuniting… “I want to make sure it’s the real thing [love/attraction] this time,” I said.

Me & Michael Puppi from a recent promo shoot for OUT LOUD Theatre
Piquant Photo
On that specific late August Saturday performance, I was hit by a brick of symbolism saying that line. I wasn’t just speaking literally, I want to make sure it’s not magic. More importantly, this time meant also that after every other potential connection my character may have ever had, he hoped this one was real. Hoping, like so many of us do on the search for finding love, that finally on this mythic journey, it had all worked out. When I infused the line with that depth, I saw the middle-aged men in the audience shift to the edge of their seats. Maybe because I felt those men listen and key-in with me from the start of the show, identifying with my need for and openness toward her love.

Acting is my favorite thing to do, because I get to not only explore aspects of myself I may not otherwise, but also because I continuously learn about myself and others. Shep Henderson gets to love, and he gets to be affectionate, and demand answers from someone he cares about. He sets boundaries when he realizes trust was deteriorated, but has perspective enough to open his arms with generosity and understanding when time heals and trust is regained. I am not Shep Henderson, but I realize now, several weeks after closing, that he did change me. Spending all that time building the logic toward his actions, feeling them, executing his actions and principals, I unearthed that I have the capacity to do those things, as well. Again, I am not Shep, but I did make him, and Van Druten’s words taught me things about myself I couldn’t have necessarily discovered without his prompting. I was able to sally forth into my daily life with his lessons. Communicating is getting easier.

Also, as a very single adult in his late 20s, doing the show was a gift. It didn’t replace the lack of companionship in my life, but it did give me the opportunity to express parts of my being I don’t get to otherwise. It was almost therapeutic. My humanity does exist, I'd say to myself! Almost any role does that. Alexandra Silber, one of the most extraordinary teachers and friends in my life, has said that about her work as an actor, as well. I can’t think of anything more rewarding, honestly; connecting to parts of ourselves we may never have known. If we are worth our salt as actors, we will practice what we preach through our work, and become more empathetic, kind, and patient in our daily lives. It’s not easy, life is hard and long and defense mechanisms are built. But if we can remind ourselves what we are capable of, actors or not, I think we can sleep better at night after disappointments.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The 100 or so pages I have read this week... Episode 1

In an effort to read more for pleasure, I have been reading at least 100 pages a week. Often, I read that folks have a goal to read one book a week, but books are of varying degrees of length, density, linguistic complexity, and subject matters of inherent interest. So, I'm aiming to read at least 100 pages. I may have read more, but that doesn't matter. As long as I break 100, I'm happy with myself. So, some weeks I might read one whole book! Who knows?

Right now, I am reading No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers (2017). Including the Acknowledgments, it contains 334 pages. In the past 10 days, I have read 193 pages, so I meet my quota for Episode 1. It is not simple to concisely explain what this book is about; Ron Powers writes a memoir and a research exploration all at one. By sharing the specificity of his sons' descent into schizophrenic symptoms in their early adulthood (sadly mortal for the younger, Kevin), he intermittently unearths the history of the relationship between the mentally ill and care policies of government/society at large.

A passage that has struck me the most so far is this: "So Martin [an anecdotal case study in the book] is an example of how care is in essence denied for years to someone so brain-diseased they don't even know they're diseased--denied for years under the guise of 'civil liberties.'... The literature indicating that there can be toxic effects of protracted untreated psychoses on the brain concerns me. For the most part Martin has barely been able to mutter for years. He cannot advocate for himself."

I often wonder upon how life is moving in one direction physically, practically. Every scar, both physical and emotional/mental, has a story, a history. When you hear about a "trigger warning" at a play, it is because a person does not only respond to the present moment. The past has a way of also being there, too, listening, watching, and waiting to protect us from a reoccurring transgression. These extremer schizophrenia cases in the book, where each step downward into psychosis becomes more and more irreversible to balance.

We all have one shot, I assume, to live this life. And the love and care from others is oftentimes necessary to rehabilitate a deterred life. This reminds me of the commentary in Stephen King's It and its subsequent cinematic adaptation on the effects of abusive parenting. In general, King is interested in the "why" of hypocritical transgressions and abuse, and their incessant power upon the peaceful balance in the lives of their victims moving forward.

The more I read about abuse from childhood years, the lack of mental health care in this country that embeds itself at critical stages, and effects of our society, the more I realize that we have a responsibility to just be good. To be loving. I don't quite have my finger on what I mean exactly to prove the need for love, and its objective right as a major player in the pursuit of balance, but I'm inching closer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Clutter and Unfinished

This is not about comparing myself, but about being real with myself. I fear making mistakes so much that I am slow to improve myself. It takes a great deal of wading in the pool of adventure before I get real and do it. My mind still waits for the permission slip that never comes.

  • When I buy magnets, I'll be able to visualize my life on the door.
  • When I reorganize the book shelf, I can write the book.
  • When I buy a letterbox, it'll all look cleaner.
  • When I...
It goes on and on and on...

There is never any time. I do not know why I am waiting for more. Or why I sit in it.

I am moving forward. But there is more to do.

I am throwing things away. Tonight. After my performance.