Where you sing your pain, that place is a temple. — Buddhist
When you wanted something, it wasn’t always there. You had to root around to learn things. Ten people didn’t always show up with ebooks to tell you.
I say all this because the language I need for the story could have a quaint ring, archaic even. It was never packaged. What I’m about to say, people now say in other ways.
An all-day acting workshop recommended by a friend.
A small theater on Cahuenga, rented, no air-conditioning, 40 souls filling the seats. Men and girls, women and boys. Actors and wannabe actors, sincere, pretty, full of nervousness and hope.
We came to the monologue part.
One at a time, everyone took the stage and delivered their speech. Albee. Miller. Pinter. An utterly terrifying exercise, because there you are spraying spit in all your nakedness, your lack of talent and technique. You swing and miss and look like a fool and, nothing to do, stand revealed before everyone as the pathetic loser you so truly are.
The workshop leader, a no-nonsense pro, asked questions after each one finished, then spoke about what he’d seen. This was where you were. This was where you needed to go. Done.
After the first few I began to relax. These people had nothing on me. Some were bad. Some were good, but not that good. I could survive this, no disgrace.
MORNING, NOON, AND NIGHT
The sixth to go was a girl, maybe twenty-five. The word woman isn’t right. Girl she was, with a lovely, scared face. She took a few steps, turned and peered around at everyone, looking completely lost. An embarrassing moment. Then she began.
The speech was from Morning, Noon and Night. I hadn’t heard it before. Her character was having problems with her boyfriend, who was a pornographer. Her character had confidence issues. It doesn’t sound funny, but it was.
The boyfriend’s latest tome was called Moist. She phrased the word as a question, as if to say, “I’m not sure what to think about this title. It might be a good title. But it might be really bad. I just don’t know. What do you think?”
Someone started to laugh. Then someone else, then the whole room. This was her intention—the play was a comedy. She went on for five minutes, hitting every note, pitch perfect. When it was done the applause was thunderous.
I had never seen anyone be that good in a monologue.
Here is the reason I’m telling this story:
The applause died down. The girl remained on stage, looking bewildered as before.
“So how’d that go for you?” the workshop leader, whose name was Dan, said.
She looked off somewhere. “I guess it went okay.”
Groans. Disbelief. A few catcalls. Surely, this wasn’t sincere. Surely, a bid for attention, some Marilyn-like number.
“Quiet!” said Dan, bless him. “Listen to what she’s telling you.”
Again, silence. She got somehow smaller. If she could have disappeared, she would have.
“Okay,” Dan said. “We’re going to do this and you’re going to get this, now, once and for all. Everyone in the room, one at a time, is going to tell you what they thought of you.”
We went in the order we were sitting, a slow moving, row-by-row firing line. A woman spoke first, and praised the work extravagantly. Then a man. Their words were right, but the girl wasn’t hearing them. She was looking down at the floor.
I waited for the girl to look at me. I wanted my words to matter, and locked eyes with her. You and I will be looking at each other, I meant, the whole time I am saying this. When someone does something extraordinary, you want to tell them.
“I don’t know anyone as good as you,” I said.
I saw the words go in. The room was forgotten. There were only the two of us.
“You have a gift,” I said. “A brilliant light.”
As she listened she began to cry. I began to cry. There was nothing special about my words. What was special was the looking and the listening. The words happened to be there, and went in.
I knew, in that moment, that we are all of us diamonds, connected heart-to-heart, when the heart is broken, if we have the courage to allow others to see. When the defending stops, the evading, when it’s just the surrender. In that vulnerability rests our deepest beauty.
Everyone in that room said their piece and everyone said the same thing and everyone was the same person.
I don’t know where she is now, but I remember her name and see her face. And when I hear now, as I often do, words like passion and fear and self and discovery, I think of the moment between us when the door opened and God was in my heart and every heart.
And I try to remember how personal this gets, how far beyond words, and my thousand excuses for not allowing my own vulnerability.
I need to tell this story to my son Nick, but he isn’t old enough to hear yet. So I’m writing it down, and maybe he’ll find it someday if I’m not around.
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