The pressing dramatic question in Waking Life is "Is he awake or asleep?" One bit of helpful advice that Wiley Wiggins' character receives is to *check the light switches when you start to become suspicious that this is a dream*. If the light switches don't work (turning on or off) then you know you're in a dream. I've been using this helpful lucid dreaming lore ever since.
The other day I got a message from an old friend who had directed one of my plays a few years ago and wanted me to remind her what the name of the play was. I was in the middle of picking Jaelyn & Addison up from an after-school program and debating with them the merits of going to dinner next or the school open house next, so I didn't really freak out about the fact that I couldn't answer her message. That I couldn't remember what the name of that play was.
We negotiated a compromise and decided that we would go to the school open house for a truncated time and then head home to cook a favorite dish together. It was the middle of the school open house when I got the revelatory memory. I messaged Bethany right away (so relieved!) Up or Back was the name of the play. Whew.
I become profoundly nostalgic, sentimental and reflective when Birthday Season arrives for me (tomorrow is the big day). My mom is a firm believer in celebrating a birthday with all the chutzpah that you and yours can muster. So as I enter this deep birthday groove in my psyche, I often start to reflect on where I find myself now, the journey that has led me here and the road before me.
I end up having strange dreams that conflate seasons of my life in surprising ways: I'll be in my junior high homeroom having a conversation with my wife (who I wouldn't actually meet for 5 or 6 years after junior high) and some friends from our Michigan years -- or -- I'll take my kids on a walk through the cabin woods with my grandmother who they never knew.
And even when I'm awake, (I know facebook is partly responsible for this strange memory stew) I'll wonder how my old college roommate Jonathon would respond to a poem posted by my friend-and-former-student Andrew. Or I'll daydream a storytelling dinner where it would be easy to invite my old writing mentors Bev and Jack and Barb -- and my old writing partners Cliff and Gary and Joe and Christopher to all sit around a big round table telling stories. There would be candles and pasta and wine.
And when I think about making decisions about how I should spend my summer, I want to get input from friends from every decade of my life -- and then I think about what it would be like to put all those people in one room, I think of that final carnival-like-circle in 8 1/2 and start to wonder whether or not I really even had all those experiences. Do I really know so many interesting, strange, diverse & wonderful people? When thought of as a whole, my life thus far seems far more surreal than the most poignant Bunuel film.
Bethany sent a message back which I didn't get until the next morning. Appallingly. Up or Back was the wrong play. She had been there the night that play was performed. She was amused, but no, the play she was talking about included the hair transplant.
I know the play too. I can imagine the actors just perfectly. I remember the production. I even know the narrative arc. And I know it has the world "Tulsa" in the title, but nothing else. Nothing.
And to make things worse? Later on in the day I get an email from Jake, the Chicago-based writer / actor currently playing PlaqueMan in an educational theatre gig. (How great is that?) But the email says: "...updating...resume...what was the name of the character I played in Up or Back?"
You've got to be kidding me.
No exaggeration that this happened on the same day. And I have. NO. idea. What his name was.
I know that writers are supposed to think about their plays as children they birthed who then went off in the world and made their own lives. And the same about our characters, right?
But I call my plays by the wrong names. And I can't even remember the character's names at all.
I know that Jake played him perfectly. Better than I could've imagined when I wrote the character. I know that Jake's performance was like a portal into that fictional reality that was so believable and inviting that I wanted to ask that character to go out for beers so we could chat and I could find out more about what motivated him, (Because in some ways he really perplexed me...) but he'd probably say no anyway, because...
I can't remember his name.
And I made him.
I found this great recipe for pork loin in the crockpot on the web over the weekend. And I love crock pot meals. And I love new recipes. And I love pork loin. So I was pretty pumped. I got everything prepped before I left for my early morning workout, asked Lynn to turn on the crockpot so the timing would be right. Even checked to make sure it was on when I had to swing by the house an hour after she left to pick up some papers I had left behind. The crockpot was on. I spooned some of the mustard / brown sugar / balsamic vinegar-spread back up and over the pork loin.
And so you can imagine the proportion of emotion I felt when, after I reached home finally at the end of a long tiring day with the kids, and we walked into the house. The crock pot was sitting there. Off. And a raw pork loin inside.
These moments make you really wonder. I *know* that crock pot was on. But when I poke the loin with a fork, it is cold, rubbery and raw. It has not cooked at all.
And then I wonder did I even write those plays? Do I even know a Bethany or a Jake or a Jonathon, Jack or Barb? My kids are bumping around the kitchen beside me looking for granola bars or oranges for a snack, so I know they're real, but as I look nervously over at the light switch on the other side of the room and consider testing the boundaries of reality, I wonder. What if the lights stay on? What if the lights stay on but the kids disappear? How long will it take me to forget their names?
I'm surprised to hear myself writing titles like: "39 Brief Dreamlike Years." I couldn't have imagined crafting a sentiment like that ten years ago. Maybe it's the effect of Birthday Season. Maybe it's the fact that I can't get the damn light in here to turn off. Maybe it's the fact that I walked into my office this morning to find my long-deceased Grandpa Ed carving a fully-cooked pork loin with his electric carving knife. It smells delicious in here, but the fumes make me forget your name. You look so familiar, and I'm glad you're here, but you'll have to tell me a story to jog my memory. And even then I can't promise too much. But the pork loin will be delicious. I can promise you that.