Stories of the Body, a Search for Meaning

"If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of 'darkness.'  I will continually be absent from heaven, to light the light of those in darkness on earth." 

katie stimpson as theresa

katie stimpson as theresa

"The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

-Saint Teresa of Calcutta

It's hard to rehearse 4 shows at once.  There are multiple people in multiple roles in 2, 3, 4 shows.  Two different directors who need one actor at the same time.  One director who's acting in another show and so then actors acting to no one, in a makeshift bathtub, in the lobby of The Ready.  There's a lot of imagination necessary for this process.  Maybe every show, but particularly this one.  Which seems right.  That seems like a return to some kind of playing, to some kind of original notion of why any of us want to do this "acting" in the first place.  
Today, during one of the hard scattered-actors moments, instead of leaving when my work on Lina was done, I asked Kris to run through all the lines of Theresa with me.  She's really, super supportive, so she says yes.  We go out in the sun, in the back, by the alley, because we can now.  And I guess part of me is hoping that if we're warm and outside and breathing the breeze that then I won't be thrown into the visceral panic that I've found myself in 90% of every day for the last few months.  I don't even know if the anxiety is a result of Theresa or if it's related, because I've been here before. But then again it must be.  Because Andras Visky has this way with words.  They go right in and immediately come out like something I meant to say already.  And not because he cunningly convinces and so I believe, but because he somehow found a thing I was already talking about with myself and put it in this epic form that I'm supposed to embody.  Or, Melissa cast me in this role because she could see that conversation inside me.  Or I'm too method and I'm just becoming Mother Theresa admitting that maybe there's no God and maybe there's just empty and maybe we close our eyes and it's dark and that's it. And so I can't tell the difference between wondering what my life is and her wondering what hers is.  
So when I'm running my lines with Kris I feel all of this.  I feel the physical symptoms slowly build. Heart palpitations, dizziness, my tongue feels swollen, like I'll swallow it.  Is my throat closing? My head is cloudy and heavy. I make it through the end of the play. And thank yous.  And goodbyes.  But by the time I'm a block away from the theatre I'm in a full blown panic attack.  
So I seem to have the imagination to get to this place.  To die, every night.  And yet, I can't muster the image that brings me back.  
Today before rehearsal I took a nap and I had a....dream.  Just a flash, really.  I was floating above my body and through some clouds and I thought of the stars and thinking of the stars threw me to them, in deep space, where the they were incredibly sharp stars.  And then I thought, "That's death."  And then I got that sinking/up feeling that happens when you dream that you're falling.  And then I jolted awake. Except the sinking/up feeling lingered in my solar plexus for a long time and so I laid on my stomach and put my hand over the spot and fell back to sleep.

Katie sherman as artemisia

Katie sherman as artemisia

I walked home from rehearsal and called numerous friends and eventually talked to Katie Sherman, who's playing Artemisia, and we said a lot of things.  PTSD and religion and acting and death and anxiety disorder.  But she told me that she heard a comedian say, "Dogs don't understand the internet and humans don't understand what happens after they die."  And I thought this was really an excellent point.  

When I got home I opened up "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl and I was reminded of this quote by Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."  And I think of Mother Teresa; hunting for her why and attempting to do it in the most extreme of experiences.  And also attempting to spread this why to everyone in this extreme experience. I don't have to agree with her why or the way she lived and communicated it, yet, I realize I feel a profound appreciation for the fact that she was attempting to give a why to the most unbearable of hows.  She was not seeking money or fame or even personal satisfaction, she just wanted people in the lowest rung of life to have a reason to live, even if it was only so that they could then die in peace.  

Of course, I don't know if any of that's true.  But here, from the place where I think I know best because I pretend to be her, I think this is one thing she was doing.  

(Two days later I find out that Mother Teresa encouraged her novitiates to read "Man's Search for Meaning" as part of their spiritual formation.  I guess it's official, she's my teacher now.  I'm doing all the homework and everything.)

Laurie roberts as lina

Laurie roberts as lina

After I thumb through Frankl I pick up an old journal.  One from over a decade ago.  And I find words reflecting on past experiences that directly speak to what I'm experiencing now.  And more than speaking to the now, they use Theresa's words.  Visky's words out of Theresa's mouth, out of my mind years ago, the same conversation he tapped into and has now miraculously put back in my lucky mouth.  There's emptiness and love and absence and there's a even a train (where Theresa heard a call within a call) and there's also a call and there's even bodies bashing against the sky.

And it does bring some comfort.  But the fact remains, nothing I do will save my life forever.  And I suppose I'm still enraged that I have to die.  Even if it means I'm catapulted to the stars.  Even if when you're asleep you don't know you're asleep.  

The one comfort I've been able to find in the last few days is the idea that maybe all the lights don't turn off.  Maybe it isn't just nothingness and experience-less-ness.  Maybe we get flashes, like dreams.  Maybe I am a leaf opening to the sun for the first time and that warmth gives me a flash of consciousness or maybe I'm a part of an ant on a sidewalk working hard.  Maybe I get to feel wind from the wind's perspective for just a second, once every 6000 years. Maybe I'm there when aliens dance to Johnny B. Goode playing out of the record player on Voyager. Maybe I'm dirt forever and that's a thing too. Maybe we do get flashes of experiences when we're particles in the everything. 

And if there's no more perception, then let's not forget Frankl: "Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind."  

I can at least imagine now something besides darkness.  Which feels like a good start. And it feels like just what Teresa did.  She was a little flicker in the dark saying, sometimes, "This is what darkness looks like." Or sometimes, "This is the light."  It just depends where you turn your focus.

Journal, 10/27/2007

melissa lorraine as eva

melissa lorraine as eva

The span of night makes you forget the sun ever existed.
Love is all there is to give.
There is no over arching thing that demonstrates all eternity and then soothes me. Nothing that rubs itself through my hair tenderly when I close my eyes and see all the dashed lines and numbers and colors that move, always, and make up the trees.  
Though - not numbers.  Not a code in itself, just one to my human mind.  It all just is.  And I just am, especially when I see it.
Life has absolutely nothing to do with me.  
I was catapulted into the stars.  I was thrown to the edge of perception, hard.  I full body smacked against the end of infinity.  I belly flopped at the universal wall
and I shattered.  
I lay sprawled on a rock while smashed and smushed and stretched by the stars.
I wept and laughed and wept and laughed.
There is nothing but love. 
Love is all there is to give.
I kept saying it.  And they would say, say it again!

Journal, 11/29/2007, on the train from Denver

I tell myself I'm unable to make connections in order to keep from budging or walking toward anyone while I ride the train, in November, after a tour, beside a cave, that is now passed.
I tell myself I completed something, and the train wobbles.  When we're all jolted, we remember what we're doing together.  
And I'm still not talking. 
As I go east winter happens in my body.  Everything retracts inward, away from the cold, and I welcome it.  My inner mind welcomes my outer mind.  My heart eats my sternum.  But the skin stays.  And gets thicker.  Elephant skin.  You'll have to touch me with force.  What is not already in will have a hard time entering.  I study my own surface.  What you see, for now, is what has not sloughed off yet.  It's what has already died.  There's a seed inside.  And the seed eats the outside and the outside dies and protects.  And I welcome this.  
Snow on the ground is the same as my body.  And when I breathe? The earth shudders.
Being vulnerable. The fear.  The calling.  The coming home.  All of it is the coming home.  Is it that I can't wait to be home, or that I can't wait to be at my destination?
Eventually I will get where I'm going and I'll be there, carefully and easily.  
Love me with all.  Love me.  Love with all of me.


- Katie Stimpson