Trying on Other People’s Lives

I’VE LEARNED a great deal about myself from trying on other people’s lives for a living. There is something about—in a very real sense—putting your feet into someone else’s shoes and actively moving around as that person in their world for period of time. 

That’s my favorite thing about the work of being an actor—becoming someone else. I always feel so honored to be able to literally bring someone to life for whatever length of time it takes to tell whatever story is being told.  

I always feel such an honor when I get to work on a brand new piece; one where nobody has ever said these words in this order before. I especially love when the playwright is in on the process, so they can see their creation come to life in you. 

Maybe it’s because I’m also a writer that I love collaborating with the playwright in the room, that I don’t get nervous that I’ll *mess up* somehow. I want to do the best I can to tell the playwright’s story, as it is in their head. The writer has an intention to release out into the world, and I want to do my best in doing my part to make that intention into meaning for those who experience the piece. 

I’ve come to think that way about my own life, lately—A story about who I am and who I am becoming. The Creator and I co-create my life’s story, and we’re always together in the room. 

I like when I get the opportunity to play real people from history. In a way, it’s like creating your very own Frankenstein monster. The person you’re *resurrecting* is not actually alive in this reality, but you re-animate him or her with your body and mind, and they get to do things again. 

For three hours a night (give or take), you get to lend every bit of you to the service of giving life to this creature, this creature who desperately has something to say.

Most of the time, though, I get to play fictional people. People who were made up in someone else’s mind. 

Having the privilege of imagining what it might be like to be someone else is not the same as actually being someone else. Of course, it isn’t. But, how can we have empathy for someone we don’t know if we don’t at least try to imagine what they must be going through.

I’ve played a lot of bad people in my career, people you never see get redeemed. That’s because the story is mainly about someone else, and that’s cool with me. 

What I love about playing bad guys is that you need the bad guy in order for the good guy to be the good guy.

“Ragtime,” for example, is just an interesting short-story about somebody finding a baby in their garden until I come in as Willie Conklin and drop the n-word in front of God and everybody.

“And there it is,” I would often hear the audience whisper. “Here we go!”

You can’t affect change in the theater unless there is truth in a moment. That particular moment in “Ragtime” was so important to the show and had to feel so real. Otherwise, it becomes cheap and trite. The stakes have to be there every single time. I tried my best to throw darkness out so that the light could do its shining business. Most of the time, I think it worked. 

And it exhausted me. 

Summoning up that kind of hate—even the appearance of it—takes a toll, like watching the video of George Floyd being murdered. The more you watch it, the closer you can come to despair. The story may not be finished, but that moment will never go away. 

In the summer of 1998, I was cast as Uncle Ernie in “The Who’s Tommy” at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. The things this man is depicted as doing to a young Tommy were beyond anything I could get my mind around. 

My daughter was three years old, at the time. Who does that to a child? 

“I just can’t relate to that in any way,” I kept saying to myself, to the director. “Those acts make this person unredeemable, unloveable. I can’t get past it.” 

I struggled with that barrier in my performance all through the rehearsal period. I went through the motions as best I could. I really *tried* everything, and nothing worked, nothing convinced.

Then came our first preview. 

At the end of the musical, Tommy (the now hearing, seeing, Pinball Wizard back from far away, played so beautifully by Matthew Magill) sings with the entire cast in the finale. 

In our production, Tommy, during this final musical number, was to “have a personal moment” with a family member. Something not necessarily noticed by the audience. Kind of a “find something to do here” type of thing. 

On this night, Tommy approached Uncle Ernie and stood right in front of me. He looked me in the eyes and then put his arms around me, holding me. He was forgiving his abusive Uncle with a tender hug. 

I burst into tears and could not stop crying. 

You might be tempted to say, “Well, that wasn’t real. That’s not real life.”

I assure you: It might not have been my *real life* but it was absolutely real. If there were a way that Tommy could forgive Ernie (even in the confines of *make believe*) then there would always be hope for me, for all of us.

There is a force at work in the world right now, and She is begging us to seek first to listen and understand. The time for that is right now, and there has never been a more perfect time in history to do it the world over. We’re ready! 

We are beginning to write our story in the type of collaborative way that was never before possible. 

From now on, EVERYONE is included!

What kind of character do you want to be?

Peace to you.

The Hidden Tag

YOU KNOW MY FEELINGS about Daniel Day-Lewis. One of the two greatest living film actors, the other being Meryl Streep. Obviously.

I might have seen Day-Lewis’s very last ever movie (please, God, say it ain’t so!) the day it came out. It could have been the next day, but let’s say it was the day it came out, for the sake of this particular argument.

The film, by one of my favorite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, is called “Phantom Thread.” In it, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a renowned dress maker in 1950’s London named Reynolds Woodcock.

One of my favorite scenes happens relatively early on, when Reynolds is telling his companion about how he always sews a piece of fabric with his name into the garment somewhere. It’s hidden away, and no one knows about it except Reynolds and the fabric.

There’s something about that secret knowing that really interests me.

Reynolds would create a dress and then send it out into the world. When he sewed his name in with the fabric, it felt to me as if he were making a promise to the dress to always be with it, to literally co-exist with it, giving the dress its very worth by branding it with his name. It was such a personal, intimate gesture.

I imagine Reynolds making a dress for an occasion. And then what? What happens to the dress after that amazing debut?

I imagine that dress getting sold for charity and closeted and never worn and going out of fashion and finally being given away, probably.

Maybe, years later, a woman sees something about this dress she’s purchased for twenty-five dollars from a thrift store. She can’t quite put her finger on what that is, exactly, but she knows all it needs is a little TLC and a good pair of shoes, and it will be just perfect for her daughter’s theater company, for which she is the costume designer.

“What’s this in the fabric? Oh, my God,” she says.

“What is it?”asks her daughter.

“This dress was made by Reynolds Woodcock in 1954 in London.”

“Who is that?”

“Only the greatest dress maker of his time! This tag with his name was sewn in. It was hidden all this time. I heard he used to do this with every one of his creations, but that’s just become legend, a myth. But it’s actually true! Do you know how much this dress is worth? I’ll never look at a vintage dress the same way again!”

It’s not that the dress wasn’t worth an exorbitant amount of money the entire time. It absolutely was (It was a Reynolds Woodcock original, after all).

It’s just that nobody looked for the tag, and the further it got away from Reynolds, the fewer people knew to look for the tag with Reynolds’ name. It was the discovering of the tag which identified the maker, and that made the worth visible to the mother and her daughter.

That was just something I imagined.

Then it made me think.

Each of us was created by the one who sews his name right into our very being. We were created with the name Love stitched into the very hidden fibers of our souls. We were literally created with and by Love itself, and Love is inextricably intertwined with us as we live our everyday.

(But, it’s hidden.)

Here’s the thing:

We go on for years feeling we have no worth because we have forgotten about the sewing. We’ve forgotten that God spoke with each and every one of us, individually, at the very first moment of our creation:

“You are the only one of you, an original, one of a kind. There never has been, nor will there ever be another you. And I have sewn my name on the very center of your heart so you will know how much I value you. You will live with my name—Love—always on your heart.”

Maybe we’ve forgotten that promise of our worth because we’ve gotten shut away and undervalued for so long. If we don’t feel valued, we forget our worth.

Others don’t give us our value or our worth. That was given to us at the time of our creation. What others do is provide us with the opportunity to rediscover our own worth by seeking out the worth of another.

Imagine looking at another person and seeing them as a one-of-a-kind, original work of art by the finest craftsman of all time.

Because that is what each one of us is.

Each and every individual is like the finest, original, one-of-a-kind dress made by the greatest dressmaker there ever could be.

We know our worth and value because of the tag of Love sewn in before we were even born. We have been given our worth by Love, itself.

The authenticity of your life was stitched into you at your making. If you’ve forgotten that, I am here to tell you that I can see your hidden tag.

I know who made you.

Peace to you.

Seeing the Light on the Stairs

THERE’S A BIT OF A STORY behind how I came to make these four photos I made a couple weeks ago, and if you have seven-and-a-half minutes, I’d like to share it with you. 

On the 24th of May, Sarah, Watson and I finished an episode of Family Feud and were about to head upstairs to bed. It was probably 10:00pm. 

Watson went out back for the final time, and I sat on the back steps, feeling the breeze. It was gentle, the breeze. My cheek touched it as it passed. That might sound strange (it was strange to type, just now), but I felt as though, somehow, this small bit of moving air was meant for only me, at that moment.

“Just notice me, for a second,” the breeze seemed to say. 

Watson and I made our way back inside, having successfully evaded Max (the deeply troubled dachshund next door) and, for some reason or no reason at all, I sat back down in the middle of the sofa and began flipping channels on the TV, instead of following Sarah up to bed. Watson decided on the love seat as his bed for the moment, curling up into a furry, black and white ball against one armrest. 

Sarah had gone upstairs at some point when Watson and I were outside, and I guess I didn’t realize she had turned off all the lights downstairs, leaving the living room to be lit by the television alone, which is plenty of light with which to navigate our downstairs quarters.

Our television remote has about .05% battery power, and I sat there for a good twenty minutes before I reached the threshold of frustration required to hit the power button and finally retire for the night.

With a push from my thumb, the TV instantly went black. The darkness hit my eyes immediately, and I was unprepared for it. It took me a moment to adjust. Nothing irregular. I stood and walked over to Watson to say goodnight. 

ME: Goodnight, buddy. Love you.

WATSON: Goodnight, Rosie.

ME: What?

WATSON: Just kidding, dude. Goodnight. Love you.

I realized my eyes had adjusted to the light, and that the light my eyes had found was coming from a familiar source, but one I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to. 

The light was coming in from our porch bulb and was streaming through a small window, illuminating the staircase and the wall beside it in a way that commanded my attention. It was as if the light was calling to me to notice it. 

My camera happened to be sitting on the table next to the couch. I reached down, picked it up, and turned it on without ever taking my eyes off the light. I was spellbound. I put the viewfinder to my eye, instantly saw the frame I wanted, and pressed the shutter. 

I looked at the picture, like the impatient child I have always been, wanting instant gratification. With only a quick glance, I thought I had something decent and should probably head up to bed. But, I suddenly felt compelled to take a few minutes longer with this experience. 

“Slow down, a minute. Where do you have to be right now? Nowhere. Relax. Remember the breeze from earlier? Take a few minutes with this. Be curious. Look how beautiful it is!” I thought to myself. 

I moved around that staircase from every angle I could think of, looking through my lens and capturing whatever I could see. During the entire experience, I was completely at one with my intention, my work, my purpose. I was in a *zone.*

Now, none of this story is about how good or bad my work is. It’s about how I got to notice something for the first time that I had probably seen hundreds of times before and never recognized. It’s about how I spent time in the midst of the beauty that is always there but rarely seen and came away with a way to share that experience with others. 

*Seeing the light on the stairs* is certainly a metaphor (maybe even a decent book title), and I’ve been looking closely at the lessons that metaphor brings me.

It’s also different than a metaphor, though, because in the experience of making those photos, I spent about twenty minutes creating. And during that creative process, I was in communion with that which is more than me. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I was being called to see that light on those stairs. 

Maybe I have been called to see it before. Maybe often. But this time, I *heard* this call, this persuasion, and spent time being guided by it. 

I think the photos are pretty decent, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they were terrible. The experiential reality of a realm *beyond me* was made present to me through that twenty minute photo session. 

I believe art is one of the conduits through which we can share with each other what being a human is like, and, through the gift of creativity, also come into communion with the “Mysterious More”— a name I once heard Marcus Borg, an intellectual hero of mine, give to what many might call, God.  

When you hear a song that moves you, watch a television show that enraptures you, really examine a painting or a photograph that transports you, let a poem wash over you in a way which takes your breath away, or even notice the way a bit of light hits a staircase in just the right way, your life is different than it was before that event. It’s undeniable.

I have begun giving myself permission to trust those moments again. I respect them in a way I haven’t for a very long time, if I ever really did. Those moments, those events, give me such hope. When I experience them, I feel as though what I do matters. 

With art, there is a creator with an intention, an audience with some kind of expectation, and the work. When I was shooting our stairs, though (and in many other personal examples I have thought about since), I felt I was *sharing* the process of creation with something beyond me, with the Mysterious More. 

Why can’t I call it *God*? 

Because, I just can’t right now. 

Maybe I will again, but for now, I affirm a *Great Mystery.*

I’m doing my best. That’s my story.

I wish you peace. 

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