It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I appreciate the encouragement from Manju and Kathryn and others on getting back on to this.
Ultimately they’re pushing me me in this way for my benefit, not for them. I feel like I’m a person who often spurned potential teachers and has gone on to inadvertently develop some toxic habits. There’s an imaginary pressure to perfect all visible product which starts to create an internal resistance.

We’re halfway through the run of Iphigenia Crash Land Falls On The Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (A Rave Fable) by Caridad Svich at Nightlight in Carrboro.

Image

We’re filling the house with people, building up a cocoon of a world each night and breaking it down.
I would have stripped down the stage further by the end. In the final image, she’s alone on stage and lit by the grassy projection, her face staring straight ahead above her. Caitlin created this initially, and Emily and I gave assent. Later we reconsidered–I think I would have liked to have her lit by a separate light and to remove the screens behind her. Leave the stage blacker. Set the screen off to the side with the projection on it, but when you look at Iphigenia, you’ll just see her, simply, lit under a lone warm light, and alone.

Emily and I realized that we both wanted the same goal. A simpler scene, and for Iphigenia to be more alone on stage. It was the night before we opened though, and Caitlin  liked the projection on her and I deferred. We kept it as it was. This wasn’t a tragedy by any means, it still works. It’s all been well received.

I’m tentative to say that I directed it. I’m tentative to say all sorts of things.

Emily and I are codirectors, is where this has ultimately landed. It’s been a great balance and a good working rhythm that we’ve found. I’m fully happy with it, but there’s certainly a fear that flickers there–what if people just think that she had to step up because I couldn’t handle it? This group hasn’t been like that, though. They’re very fun, very welcoming, with a warm and exciting energy when we’re at work. We’re not getting paid, none of us are (we often mention). I want to send them all an email this week to find their availability through the end of 2013. How can we work again like this? How soon can we launch another show?

I want to be someone who gets things done. Who doesn’t protect them, but makes them and improves them recklessly each day. Some days I am. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Sometimes new words crumble off of these encrusted thoughts and stories that form and fall like rain. I want to be making them each day, a less protected product. Something sharp and with raw edges as I shape it, focused and unattached. And while I might have some ineffectual moments, I’ve had stronger points too. We created this whole plan to stage the first two and a half scenes out in the back before bringing people in through the alley covered in ivy. I think this would have been beautiful and unusual and I bragged that we were going to use the space in ways no one had done before. But we realized not long ago that the fans and equipment on the rooftops were too much to handle. Yes some of us could be heard over it, but even for us, it’d become a scene about projection. As a group, we’re operating well. Creating new changes and images every day, and then breaking them open.

This show grows more each day further from what I once wanted it to be into what it is meant to be. I lose sight of the story, and I’m pulling my focus in tight to specific images. I’d originally had a number of more interactive moments, movement sequences, and split focus moments in mind, but now I’ve realized how intentionally it was written (of course) and how necessary the components and sequencing are. I see how much of it is a strong narrative, rather than just a strange world for the audience to be invited into. (Ours is both, hopefully.)

It’s always much easier as an actor. It’s really a lovely structure that I’ve gotten comfortable with, to be able to do anything that I think the character wants to do. And I am the character. Someone else will always be there with a confident word to reel me back in when I go of the rails. I’m only now starting to give myself the same freedom in directing and writing that others help facilitate for me.
In 2009, I had the privilege of working with Dana Marks and company to create A Dog From Hell.

a dog from hell

The show turned out well. I don’t think all shows are simply destined to go well, or that all doubts are unfounded.
But I would suggest that any creative process that ventures into interesting territory comes with heavy doubts along the way. Or perhaps this is just a function of me and where I am in my growth as a maker. Just a passing cloud that the kids who listened to teachers might have moved through years ago.
Below I’ve included something I wrote while we were mid process of A Dog From Hell.

i act optimistic, but i have deep doubts.
i don’t know that this show is what we want it to be.
we rushed ourselves into this, shouldn’t we reconsider?
maybe if we had more time, called it a workshop,
didn’t charge people, gave out free drinks? there was
a certain innocence, a kind of frantic energy that drove us
in the beginning. like standing at the coast of an unknown continent
(except we’re children, not cortes, and we’re dancing, not pillaging.)

those fleeting sparks are so hard to harness–
the way that we both looked at each other,
the thrill of when we lifted him,
we all welled up with laughter,
we understood our place in this.
i’m not sure the show as it stands, serves
the actors, characters, source material, principles, or any potential audience.
i have serious doubts, but i usually do. we either have time or we don’t.

i wouldn’t dream of saying half the things i think.
these productions are such delicate machines.
admittedly we err by undertaking this in its present form,
but such is the nature of theater. it’s skydiving.

move fast, stay sharp. if it’s not sharp, it’s not a knife. be attentive
to guests. be interested, be loving, be generous in all things
to each other and to them. the answer is yes. the work we are doing is sacred.
this food has come to us through god, and we will serve it as his hands and feet.
wash your hands frequently and wear closed toed nonslip shoes.
be patient. a great meal is a spiritual experience.
you are empowered now as an extension of me to have a sense of ownership.
own this, the words that you say and your every action. these ships that are blown
by strong winds are driven by small rudders, so watch your hands
that you don’t put a single touch onto a plate in anger. and above all,
watch your tongues. your tongue becomes your eyes when we lose our sight,
but it moves as a deadly weapon—more poisonous than the serpent’s tooth. control it.
it does not control you. beloved, not many of you should become chefs
because you know that we who teach shall be judged more harshly.
but i am with you in this. do as i would do, you are empowered
to give what you need to give and say what you need to say
to make their experience positive. they are not customers, they are our guests.
they are not your guests, they are your family. your self and the hand that feeds you,
nearer than sight when your family leaves you. they will come back and be here
believing when you are tired, because you’ll forget as you feed from this every day,
how good this is, but they won’t, because it is. it tastes good to them,
it tastes good to them, you can tell by the way they give themselves to it,
it is that good, down to the base chemistry. we are alchemists working
through generations of history, learn the recipes.

I am now engaged. Kathryn and I are very happy. I proposed in Paris, and we travelled together through France afterwards. After flying home I spent a day in Carrboro and I’m now working out at Camp Our Time, a theater camp for kids who stutter, until the 16th. She’ll be coming out to do some photography and meet the (Ourtime) family on the 9th. When there’s too much to say I’ll tend to say less, but I’d collected a lot of notes along the way. Some time soon after the 16th upon returning to Carrboro I’ll work towards compiling them, catching up on emails, and tackling drafts. I have a lot of people to thank for where I am, and I’m in a great place. I’m lucky to be alive and will act accordingly.

On Sunday we’ll leave Lesotho and head to Johannesburg. From there I fly to London and Kathryn flies to Paris. I have a flight to Spain afterwards (it’s strange and interesting how these flights booked & bought with miles work, thanks again Han Arnett!) but it seems the easiest way to meet up with Kathryn is to ditch my Spain flight and just fly or train or something straight from London to Paris and meet up with Kathryn there.

One of my (brilliant) friends (Catherine Kastleman) wrote to me: How buoyant the spirit is when traveling, when nothing is normal and yet everything is still somehow miraculously fine. I want to be more like water, skipping joyfully over and around obstacles in my way, flowing with intent but willing to be diverted to reach my goal. 

We have a few different options for getting from Maseru to Johannesburg: minibus, bus, taxi. We’ll probably rent a car though. It felt great on our route from Cape Town to Maseru to be untethered, to be flexible to our own whims in the moment, in the same way as it feels fun making these decisions on the fly. It’s a luxury I know many folks don’t have. I didn’t always have it myself, and right now it’s largely due to my luck and the generosity of others.


Joey is one of the guys with the Kick4life acting club, he asked
When’ll you be back? Never?
No no, not never. I’m not sure. Not this year. Maybe next year? Next summer maybe.
Well then I’m coming with you when you leave and I’ll be back next summer maybe. 
That sounds great! We’d have a lot of fun. You could always stay with us.
Sure, sure. And all expenses paid by you, right?

He’s making sure it’s clear to me that he’s kidding. The friends we’ve met here aren’t the type to bemoan their state. But they’d still love to get out of here.

The art of leaving isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Leave something every day. The art of leaving isn’t hard to master. I left two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster…
(Blasphemously distorted from Ms. Bishop for my purposes.)

Kathryn and I went out last night to shoot a music video for a couple of the guys, Nub and Samkay.

They have a band together and at least one song recorded. It’s a rather clean, religious-sounding pop song. I can’t get it out of my head.
These kids seem like big city kids in the way they look and dress, but they’ve hardly ventured into South Africa, much less out to the rest of the world. They don’t mope about it or anything, and they’re upbeat fun-loving folks, but the dream of mobility surfaces in their lyrics.
Oh Lord please send me an angel to lead me out of this place. Take me away..
Once we finish the video I’ll post it.

I remember when I was a kid, it was clear that my Mom felt trapped in the US away from her family and her old friends. Just like for the folks here, money was an everinsuperable barrier to anything we wanted to do. Combined with an uncertain visa situation, we wondered if we’d ever go back there. Today everything seems possible. While we don’t have the money in our bank accounts every day, we have income and we have connections. We’re hardly rich but it feels like a binary, night and day shift. My family didn’t have mobility before and now we do.

I can’t imagine not returning here. It would even feel strange to say it’ll be more than a year before we return, even if that’s the most likely scenario. Jay has discussed returning here, and a potential trip with us to Zimbabwe. It sounds too good to be true. I’m loving it here, but looking forward to our adventure this week in Paris, and through France and Spain. And of course, I love Carrboro and miss my friends there a lot. It’ll be great to be rooted there, back with my writing and my family. But what if we never stopped? What if we stayed in Malawi, Lesotho, or Cape Town or the Crags, sure. But what if we never came back to any of these. If we made money however we will. If I kept accumulating and revising drafts of plays, poems, and essays and Kathryn collected interviews, photos, and synthesized them into different shapes and projects. Growing in our work and in our love together, being anchored always in no matter what storm.

When I’m leaving I’ll tend to focus on the next moment, shifting my mind to the new country and people and work. I rarely say goodbye. My kneejerk response is a cheerful, See you soon! Sometimes it’s fine, reasonable, friendly and appropriate. It’s what I mean and want. And sometimes it sounds like denial, an endearing pretending that people don’t really depart of divorce, that it won’t be long before we see each other even if it will be. Even if it will be never. I don’t know that much about final endings like that, fortunately.
…well actually, while I don’t like lifelong grudges, it’s unlikely I’ll make the effort to see my Dad before he dies. Is this callous, inappropriate? So it goes. Maybe he’s an extreme example…

It’ll be easier to stay in touch with any of these kids here than it would have been for my Mom with her family fifteen years ago. Because of their speed, emails are such a powerful tool in connecting us. I can nearly effortlessly send messages like this. We’re on the verge of big things. More soon.

En route from Cape Town to Lesotho, Kathryn and I stayed at a lodge started by a man and his family over thirty years ago. This was near the beginning of his retirement when he was in his sixties. His nurse teases him and reminds him of what he’ll do next and then next. He’ll often wander on his own, or sit with a coffee or a scotch. Strike up a conversation with whomever is around, especially Kathryn he says because she is beautiful and has a beautiful smile. This time Kathryn wasn’t there, though, and he greeted someone he knew. He says,

-You do some sort of work, don’t you. With children. You’re in charge of the programs of the children.
-Yes, I am. Those with special needs.
-Oh good good. Good for you. That’s very nice. That’s very important. And you stayed with us before.

-Yes we stayed with you for three months earlier this year. And have many times before. We’re family.
-And tell me. The name Luke is somewhere in my mind, of a significance. Can you tell me why this is.
-He’s married to Katie. Luke is Katie’s husband.
-Well, send him my fondest regards. Just delighted to have you here, you know.

He’s quite charming really but there’s of course a sort of separation between him and others who are here, even his family. A fog, in a way, maybe a loneliness that I can’t speak to. A contentedness at the same time, though, that I can’t speak to either. I’m always swollen and sore from ambition.

Every time I miss days I’ll have doubts that I’ll be able to start again. I’d like to really plant myself when I return, and as I’m planted here for the next two weeks in this mountainous chilly home, I’ll start to start over again here. Amnesty. Every time I write something, attempting to strengthen a memory or event or thought or idea, attempting to crystalize it, it’s an energetic and delicate doing. Brought down with reckless and caffeinated hands, certainly, but I also attempt to not damage as I categorize. I’m fascinated by language, as these measurement and organizational tools, disrupting experience, the ways that thermometers don’t measure properly. I want to have a stronger memory, broad and complete. I want to dig up my roots, and solder them together, to help me understand the story as though it exists before it has been finished. I worry when missing days of writing notes to myself, when so much is happening, when I try to come back to write it all, that I might miss things, or that I might miss the ways that events fell into place and the way I felt. Especially as I’m writing these entries I worry that I’m tying things up too neatly. Tying things up in to their place which my own head is really too messy for. He’d have none of it. That there’s a place and a way that these things all fit together, fell together that maybe exists outside of my analysis. How do we do it and deal with it. How do we remember, but carefully?

The morning after we arrived in Lesotho, Jay joined our team. Through conversations with him, and even just his presence I’m reminded of so many shows from the last six years. While I enjoyed our performance of A Dog from Hell, the process was what I’m really nostalgic for. We dipped into Eurydice in the making of it, and I think about this forgetful water of the River Styx rushing over me. I’d love to steal from that to end my play. The final consequence is a hard warm rain falling everywhere, washing our memories clear. There must be a sort of muscular release as well, letting go of carrying all of these images.

There have been so many little episodes, moments, colors and climates that we’ve moved through here. Parts of me miss my library too, but I always want everything at once. Writing feels more urgent the more I dig into it. I love it and I will always want a deeper wanting. On realizing that, Merwin says on poetry, One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.

I haven’t seen the show Twin Peaks. Apologies. But while staying in Cape Town, Kathryn & I have hiked up two mountains.

Our first was in Table Mountain National park. This mountain had been on my mind (and in front of my face) since we’d arrived. There’s several routes that one can take there, and our friend-guides, dearRachel and Stefan, have taken many of them. They live in Cape Town and hike across these mountains together every weekend. Today we took the best one. Our route went up Skeleton Gorge, to the reservoir at the top, and then along its dam and around the mountaintop to descend Nursery Ravine.

I think I’d never been on a challenging hike before, I’d usually hiked with family or with some group where whomever might have planned the hike we went on wanted to make sure folks wouldn’t have doubts that they could keep going.

We’d been promised from Rachel that the range of terrain was what made this route so fun. That preparation to us, my words, pictures, these don’t do this trail justice. Maybe an enthusiastic second opinion would help:

People often wonder which route to choose to hike up Table Mountain.  Much depends on how much time you have available.  If you can set aside 5-6 hours then perhaps the most scenic and varied route is Skeleton Gorge.  This route starts from Kirstenbosch Gardens and winds its way up gradually (or fairly gradually!) through the indigenous forest, up a couple of ladders and some easy rock scrambling, to the top of the Back Table.  Here the forest thins out and you may wish to take the short detour to view Hely Hutchinson dam (one of 5 on Table Mountain) and its sandy beach.  Yes, a beach on top of a mountain!

The route from the top of the gorge follows the eastern flank of the mountain.  Here the views are spectacular and there is dense and varied fynbos to admire.  Look out for  birds of prey hovering overhead and often the small but colourful sunbird may be spotted feeding on an erica bush.   Interesting rock formations are on either side – in particular look out for the ‘dragon’ before you cross over a small wooden bridge.  If you are fortunate to visit in February here you will see the magnificent Red Disa, a type of orchid.  Once common on the mountain but now only found in certain parts, these unique flowers definitely warrant a photo even if you are not a botanically minded person.

I love that this mountain surprised me. I suppose this is part of the exhilaration of travel and adventure. Widening our range of experience to fit into our framework of understanding how the world works. Simple things: feeling my hair saturate with freezing rain minutes after sweat was flowing, then steaming off of me. Finding a beach of white sand on top of this mountain, the air thick with white mist churning around us.

A warm iron-red stream running by our feet.

Climbing up a waterfall.


All Photos from Kathryn Stein.

While I’ve felt out of shape in recent months, I’ll sometimes forget this is the case, resting on the laurels of weightlifting addictions of years past. I gauge my fitness by comparing my performance to whomever I’m hanging out with, or to whatever challenge I’m taking on, the weight I’m lifting or trail I’m taking. I certainly lost faith a couple of times on this trek, Kathryn and I were embarrassed to need to take breaks as Rachel and Stefan assured us we were doing fine. They’d tell us about our progress, we were more than half way there, we only had a few more meters till the top, the ladders are coming up next, we’re headed to the reservoir. I moved through emotional waves, feeling alternately discouraged and triumphant as we moved through different milestones.

When I was having such a tough time motivating myself on the mountain, I imagined what would I do if I were some action hero, Tintin or whomever escaping from the police or an army? Would I be able to force myself to push harder and escape my pursuers? I’d have to hide, burying myself down in the brush or going up a tree. My life is fairly free from this sort of chase scene or mountain. The thought reminded me of being a kid, fairly happy all things considered, but still planning: if I were to run away from home, I’d camp out in these woods on the first night, then go through the woods to that main road in the morning. I could probably get into a car from there. 

On the descent my feet were shaking as they searched for places to step. This involved continual small slips and corrections. I feel like I was lucky that I didn’t crunch apart the tendons in my ankles.

We came back to a great restaurant with solid coffee, that baked its own bread, and had a very USAmerican feel to it. I was craving everything.

It’s harder to write when I haven’t been writing. Folks will offer endless excuses for me if I don’t have one. It must be hard while you’re working full time, while you’re in transition, while you’re in a play, while you’re not living in x city, while you’re in Malawi…The one that feels true is: It’s hard if you haven’t been doing it. If I miss a day, it’s harder the next day. If I miss two, three days, a week, it takes a bigger push of activation energy to get rolling again. But it’s always possible.

How true are these things? It’s always possible to be inspired to write? The more you write the easier it is to keep writing? It maybe doesn’t matter to me right now. At times I’m interested in it as a philosophical question, I guess, but for now it’s just a useful belief for accomplishing my goals.

Kathryn and I made it to Cape Town. We’re in Observatory, but only recently arrived and haven’t roamed too far. Something about walking around together this morning makes me miss Brooklyn.

Malawi was always blue skies for us, sometimes with more clouds than on other days. A light breeze was the winter chill on every pleasantly sunny day. We’ve had real rain here and some real cold, with promises of bitter mountain cold in Lesotho. Malawi’s called the warm heart of Africa so I think I’m clever when I call Lesotho the cold heart of Africa. In reality I can sometimes be clever but much of what I find slightly funny is not at all funny.

We’ve been staying at a seldom friendly but quite colorful hostel. My judgement only from the first 12 hours. They have a two-nights-free-for-couchsurfers policy, and I’m certainly appreciative of that. Maybe there’s some unspoken strings we haven’t picked up on. Anyway, we aren’t holding onto it too tightly.

Table Mountain looms nearby, the mist tumbled down this afternoon. I wanted to just scramble up before lunch today, but we didn’t. Tomorrow we’ll hike up with Rachel, who went to school with Kathryn at Mcgill and is currently working on her dissertation on women who were working with the national liberation movement who had been in exile in other African countries. Rachel has been our sweet, warm, energetic, thoughtful guide since we arrived off our drowsy foggy flight into Cape Town.

Tonight she brought us to Omar Badsha’s for dinner, with him and a couple of his other documentary photography colleagues. We all had lots of wine, beer, whiskey, tea, pistachio shortbread, rice, mango achaar, and a dal-lamb (maybe accidentally pureed into a soup) curry, and we heard all about everything. South Africa politicks and history, art and cigarettes, North Carolina and Poland. That’s what I’m really working towards, I am attempting to subvert everything, he says, but I haven’t succeeded. You haven’t subverted all things? I don’t know, I haven’t subverted anything. He pours both of us some more scotch. Maybe just this dal. I’ve totally subverted this recipe this time. 

I’d been largely persisting with my drafting and delinquent with blogging in my last week in Lilongwe. It helped that the internet at the UNC guest house didn’t quite agree with wordpress. A couple times I almost posted, but couldn’t make quite enough momentum with the wireless to get off the ground. Wasn’t a big personal problem though. It just means I need to push through to combat the blank page again. Poems and quotes alone don’t count. With anything I write, with a few days off of it, I’ll have doubts that I’ll be able to do it again. This is a reminder that it’s nothing personal, that the resistance will come as readily for something as simple as a blog post as it might for some trickier textured dialogue.

In my worklogs, I’ve had moments where I want to voice my frustration that I’ve lost focus for a few hours or a few seconds, but I want to remind myself to keep going forward with my work. My shorthand for this, I’ll just write amnesty and keep going.

It’s some hours later and we’ve met more of the staff at the hostel. We’ve all warmed up a little to each other, and I’ve met a couple of folks who work here who are truly charming. I love to be won over.

I’d love to have a mountain in sight of my home every day, where I could trudge up by myself for hours at a time.