Last week, I went to see a one-man show at a private arts club. In the midst of his monologue, the performer stopped himself and said, "What would you do if you woke up in the morning and knew you were going to die?"
I sat up. Now that's a question.
To the 30 or so people in attendance, the performer had spoken directly through the course of the show, occasionally adding his real-time, unfiltered thoughts to the mix. As I wondered if this new line was scripted -- it felt oddly out of sync with the rest of his narrative -- he added, "That's weird. That's not part of the show. Where did that come from?"
Earlier that morning, as I was getting ready for a meeting, I thought about a piece of writing I have been toiling away at. What was the block? I wondered. Even though I was engaged in the writing process, diving deeper and deeper into uncomfortable waters, I couldn't see the end. Where was the place I could touch before coming up for air? The missing link, I thought, was my ability to say it plain. I was concerned with how the piece would be received, which, when I realized this, made me mad. Really mad. As I looked into the mirror to put mascara on, I thought, I'm going to be dust someday... Why am I using precious time worrying about this?
I then left my apartment and sailed through four appointments. All went well. I made good progress with clients, mapped out future plans and caught up with a friend. At each meeting, though, I kept looking at the clock. The more I paid attention, the faster time slipped away. (In an elevator, a man turned and said, "How is your day going?" I replied, "Do you really want to know?") By the time I made it to the club, my frustration had bubbled over for no discernable reason. How would I explain the crappy mood, tight chest and clenched teeth? For the first time in ages, I thought, I need to box.
I couldn't figure out what was going on, until the performer dropped his line about the ephemeral nature of, you know, life. Ah, I thought, recalling how my morning had begun. Now it all makes sense.
Synchronicities are hard to miss. Earlier in the year, I was getting ready to go work in a café when my thoughts drifted back to a conversation I'd had with a friend of my ex-boyfriend. She complained that he'd been out of touch. At the time I had just shrugged, not wanting to talk about him with her. But in this moment, recalling her frustration, I suddenly found myself wishing I had said something, like, say, "It's not personal," or "He has a lot on his plate, like we all do." This line of thinking struck me as strange; my ex and I are not friends. I have no idea what is (or isn't) going on in his life. Less than an hour later, nestled into my favorite booth at the café, I glanced out the window and saw him walking by on the street. He didn't see me, but I interpreted this coincidence as an affirmation of my earlier inclination to give him -- or anyone, really -- the benefit of the doubt.
Then, a few days before the show, this line by Shakespeare came into my awareness twice within the span of a few hours (first on a bag of tea I'd ordered at a diner and then in a TV show): "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." I was watching the show because my cousin was acting in it. Cleaning when she wasn't on screen, I was moving books when I heard an actor repeat the line I'd read earlier. Funny, I thought, filing away this lovely reminder.
I like thinking about coincidences. One of my favorite New York Times Magazine articles covers this subject beautifully. This American Life recently had a show devoted to the same topic. For me, noticing synchronicities or repeating themes is a way of listening to life, enjoying myself as the mystery unravels. As seeing my ex had been a form of validation, so was the performer's ad-libbing. I was capable of more honesty, better writing, less frittering. What was I waiting for?
After the one-man show, I tried to imagine what I might offer the performer, in terms of feedback. I was a philosophy major as an undergrad. I could have come up with some BS (and, in fact, I did, though I ended up keeping that to myself). His personal story had sparked my own desire for stillness. Doors started opening. In this place, the piece I was working on could unfold, finally. It would, and soon.
Immediately post-show, though, half of me was in the performance space, sipping sparkling water and catching up with friends (including a woman I met on a yoga retreat in Tulum and hadn't expected to see there -- she waved hello just as B, the friend I went with, was in the middle of telling me about his recent trip to Tulum). But even as I chatted, the other half of me was filling in the impressionistic blanks: the cradle of a phone, linoleum lit up by the late day sun, gradations of yellow. I had no particular narrative for these images, no sense-making equation. I only knew I wanted to stay with them.
In a few days, this day would be the catalyst for reining in my time, energy and other resources. How could I get to those authentic places in my own work if I was over-saturated with information, most of it superficial, and an endless stream of status updates? I would decide no more Facebook, at least for the time being. This renewed reverence for the clock would lessen my frustration immensely. I may not be able to stop time, but I also don't have to squander it. A friend, after learning of my online diet, would send me a picture of a baby curled up with three puppies via regular old email (just to assure me I'm not missing out on anything crucial).
Before I left the club, I approached the performer, thanked him. The show was great, I told him, and it "really made me want to go home."
He paused, looked down, placed his hand on his chin. Not what he was expecting to hear. "Well, I think that's a good thing," he said uncertainly.
"Yes," I said, letting the moment stretch out. I hoped that in this quiet space, he would understand. "Definitely."
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