It’s been 10 days since arriving in Baton Rouge and every day is full of discovery. The number of people who’ve asked “Why did you come here?” as in why would anyone choose to move here is really amusing. We’ve gotten that question from both locals and transplants. Maybe we haven’t been here long enough to see all the things wrong with it, or we haven’t been here long enough to love it enough to knock it like they do.
I thought I would miss the familiar plant life of New England, but instead I’ve been excided discovering the different plants and specially animals in our neighborhood. A gecko or similar lizard returns nightly to our front window so he can simultaneously hunt bugs and taunt our cats. The birds that frequent our yard have voices I’ve never heard before. And my favorite encounter so far is a small toad that is silent until just after a heavy rain. When the ground is wet and mildly flooded the toads call for mates. The best I can describe is they sound like miniscule sheep and they are loud. I got close enough to one that it screamed “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” in my face.
Not all the encounters with the natural world have been the fun ones. A day after giving our cats a flea treatment we discover they have fleas. We don’t know how long they’ve had the parasites or if the fleas have infested the house so we go out and buy flea powder for the rugs and furniture. The previous tenants left behind a small vacuum and we want to get treat the possible infestation immediately. We give the cats some extra treatment, spread the powder wait a while, and go to vacuum. The machine dies shortly after it fires up.
We try to troubleshoot the problem but rather than spend a long time on it we go buy a new vacuum, one of the stick style ones that can transform in to smaller hand vac for the stairs. The stick vac is not designed for the job at hand and it over fills, shoots powder in to the atmosphere overheats and shuts itself off a couple of times. Eventually we have to concede that cleaning the place will be a 2 part and 2 day job. I get really frustrated and am rather unkind to myself as a result. This morning I made a point to thank L. for being the level headed one last night.
I visualized last night going very different yesterday. I imagined a calm evening writing a blog post about my reading goals and the first visit to campus. That wasn’t how things went. In a way it reflects my expectations in coming to grad school and reminds me where my work lies. I’ve been expecting that leaving the hustle of my home market to study and having a set schedule instead of the inconsistent schedule of the working artist, would create a sense of calm for me. I thought that I could rely on external changes to make me chill. The Battle of the Fleas is a reminder that’s not the case. Life won’t stop because I want to write a blog post, or need to read a thousand pages by dawn. The fleas are coming. It’s on me to create that sense of centeredness internally so I can respond to them and any other challenge from that place. Did not expect to learn so much from a few fleas.
I’m resurrecting my blog so as to keep a journal of my experience in the LSU graduate Theatre program. Everyone has a story and I hope you find some value in mine. My name is Alan R. White.
The year is 2013 and I have the world in my hand. I’m a working actor in Theatre Espresso, The Freedom Trail Foundation, and City Stage Company. My reputation in the theatre community, is that I’m professional, and reliable. Between the three ongoing companies and occasional work on the main stages in Boston, I can sometimes go for 2 years without a survival job and I own the studio apartment of my dreams. Everything is perfect.
But, then I went to see Twelve Years A Slave and I saw everything differently. There was a moment, in that film that changed my perspective of my entire artistic life. It wasn’t the emotionally wrenching scene where Chiwetel Eijofor’s character Solomon Northup, is forced to torture Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o). Its a different moment, or rather two moments that are worlds apart and very alike. When we first meet Solomon Northup in the beginning of the film, he’s walking in a park on a bright sunny day.
People are engaged in leisure activities around him. He is confident, and relaxed with his head high and his step sure. He’s secure in his world and in himself. And then, toward the end of the film, there is another similar scene. Solomon is walking on the plantation where he has been enslaved for twelve years. Its another bright sunny day. People are engaged in back breaking labor all around him. The composition of the scene is similar to the earlier one, but Solomon is transformed. His walk is stooped, and small as if every step is an attempt to be invisible. His gaze shifts from side to side like one who is in a constant state of fight or flight. He was still the same person but so changed from the one we met 2 hours earlier.
When I see this scene, this moment, this walk, I’m longer lost in the story. For the first time I’m able to see both the story and an actor’s craft as it plays out before me. Watching Chiwetel Eijofor in the moment, walking. Every one of my performances over the past thirteen years rushes back to my mind and I start to cry. Compared to what I see in just that walk, every all of my performances, are mediocre.
Something must change.
The last day I spent with mom, we were having lunch on the back terrace of the nursing home. The food wasn’t great but it was a beautiful hot day. I picked a tigerlily for mom and put it in her hair.
We sat outside and talked a while. She asked why he was brought there and I explained it to her again. She was on orders to stay in her wheel chair unless someone helped her so I took her everywhere she wanted to go. I walked her around the yard in to the shade and she asked, “What’s going on in your life?”
I said: “Mom, my life is like the story of the empty bag. Wanna hear it?
Once upon a time there was a boy that everyone called Noodle Head who wanted to help people out but always seemed to mess things up. So all he ever heard people say was ‘Get out of here Noodle Head!’ he went to the market and asked the grocery if he could make his day better. But no sooner had Noodle Head asked the question when he accidentally kicked the leg on the grocer’s cart causing it to fall spill the wares in to the street. ‘Get out of here Noodle Head!” the Grocer yelled and Noodle Head ran.
A little while later Noodle Head met a woman buying ice cream for 18 children. ‘I can make her day better.’ Noodle Head thought and ran to catch one of the scampering children. But he in doing so he bumped the woman. She dropped all 18 ice cream cones, and all 18 children began to cry as one. ‘Get out of here Noodle Head!’ The lady shouted and Noodle Head ran.
A while later down the road Noodle Head met a beggar holding an empty bag and crying. He asked why the man was crying.
‘All I have in the world is this bag.’ The man said. ‘When the bag is full I have plenty but when the bag is empty I have nothing and I weep.’
Suddenly Noodle Head snatched the beggar’s bag and ran. The beggar chased him shouting ‘Stop thief! Come back!’ but Noodle Head was too fast. Once he was out of site of the beggar Noodle head dropped the bag in the middle of the road and hid. When the beggar came running and saw his bag on the ground he jumped for joy. ‘ Oh my beloved bag! I thought I lost you forever.’ He walked away happily. Noodle Head walked out of his hiding place and said ‘At least that’s one way to make someone’s day better.’
Mom, I kind of feel like that beggar right now. I sold my house and it didn’t work out so well. I’ve made some big career mistakes. I fell like my bag is empty. But I’m here with you right now so I still have my bag. So this is enough.”
And we sat a while longer in the shade and agreed our bags were empty but we still had our bags and that was enough.
The Blue and The Green
Long ago before the before times, the sky people lived in a vast castle above the earth. For generations the castle rose and rose until nothing could be seen of the earth below except the blue and green, and the blue and the green.
One day the wisest sky people gathered everyone and said “ Our home continues to rise. Soon it will rise past the white, past the blue and, in to the black which we fear. To save ourselves we must leave our home and choose to fall.”
But where should the sky people fall: to the blue or the green? Everyone argued no one agreed. So So the sky people built two great ships, falling ships, on to fall to the blue and one to the green.
On the day of the fall the sky people ran for the ships. Many ran to the blue ship, then called, and cried and begged for their friends, and family and lovers to join them. Others ran to the green ship, then called and cried and begged for their friends and family and lovers to join them. Still others paralyzed with fear remained still in the castle.
The ropes were cut and the ships fell.
The blue ship fell and fell and fell. It struck the blue and kept falling. Submerged, the sky people left their ship and became shimmering racers, sparkling rays and, great graceful leviathans that plunged to the depths and filled the blue with songs that those on the castle still would know they were never forgotten.
The green ship fell and fell fell. It struck the green and shattered. The sky people shattered as long legged leapers, bright swift birds and lumbering giants, that filled the green with song and call that those on the castle still would know they were never forgotten.
The sky people on the castle still rose and rose. They rose past the white, past the blue, and in to the black which they once had feared. Yet in that black they found stillness and peace. One sky person stepped from the castle in to the black, reached out and lit one small light. Then another sky person stepped from the castle, then another, and another. As the sky people in the black walked the new roads they lit countless lights, so that those in the blue and the green would know they were never forgotten.
© Copyright 2015 Alan White