I had earmarked the first three months of 2019 for work on my memoir. I saved up several months' rent. Cleared the tour schedule. Removed all household distractions and stocked up on garbanzos, oats, and sweet potatoes. But after my first read-through, I felt nothing. No insight, no drive, no ideas, direction, or energy. I sat with the project for days, willing it to come sit in my lap and forgive me for two years of neglect, but no dice. I was shut out and stymied.
Kerouac wrote, "Something that you feel will find its own form," and I questioned whether a book was the right form for the story. Not the first time I've had this thought; that's where my words+music shows came from, an impulse to tell the story in a different way. I meditated, walked, shoveled snow, consulted fellow writers. I stared at the pages, and they stared back. I know what the zone feels like. I wasn't in it. Defeated, I put the pages back in the box and waited for plan B to reveal itself.
Back up to June, 2018. New counselor. I'd just read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk and wanted to talk to someone who worked with embodied trauma. In a cluttered Northampton office, we chatted in side-by-side chairs about his approach, and my story. I was impressed by how attuned he was to physical responses and reactions. Holding breath as a means of blocking an unwanted thought; dominance games; boundary setting. My posture sank talking about past partnerships and what I refer to as "the old story" but my eyes lit up and my arms waved when I told him what was on my bucket list. "Do THAT," he said, pointing, gesturing, mirroring my enthusiasm. "Do you see? You must. Do THAT."
Now, I have noticed in myself a six-month lag between destiny-defining moments of clarity and their manifestations. The "DO THAT" moment with the counselor was, I see now, the pivot point. In January, 2019 -- right on schedule -- I pulled the Greenfield Community College catalog from the mailbox and, for once, did not chuck it into the recycling bin. As if guided by an unseen hand, I opened to the exact page I needed, went to my laptop, and paid in full for a class I've been wanting to take for years. I did it without thought, without emotion, as if in a dream: inevitably. Fifteen minutes later, the confirmation email came. I was a student again. Three credits. Introduction to Acting.
I'm old enough to have mothered all the students in my acting class except one, but I don't care. I'm here! We meet in the theater for warm ups, games, stretching, scene work, and what the director calls "serious play." About a month ago, GCC Theater held open auditions for the spring production. Of course we were required to participate. "Audition every chance you get," said the director. "It's good practice."
We read the sides cold. It's 5am. I'm the older sister, sitting at the dining table all bent and bleary-eyed when my brother, just in from London, sneaks up from behind me and surprises me. I scream where it says to scream, I deliver an emotionally-charged "Fuck you, Richard!", drink from empty cups and roll my eyes at my stage sisters when Richard thinks we are actually going to make him breakfast.
This is all great fun. I read the role over and over with different classmates in different configurations. Then an experienced actress from outside reads the part of the older sister -- can I admit I was already thinking of it as my part? -- and ... she's amazing. The whole stage comes to life. I feel all twisty inside -- excited to witness such skill, but disappointed that the role seems to have just slipped beyond my grasp. I go home to wait for the call, feeling wrecked and dark and strange. I try not to beat myself up for not knowing more than I know. This is why I'm in an acting class, I say. To learn. My head starts pounding. I haven't felt this kind of stress in years. I give thanks for all sides of that.
I'm curled up in the papasan, nursing a migraine and consoling myself with a box of vegan mac and cheese when the director calls to congratulate me. Apparently, I have won the role of Barbara Apple in Richard Nelson's "Sorry." All I can say is, "Really? Me? Really?" which makes him laugh. But he knows what I'm thinking. "What about that girl?" I say. "She's playing Marian, your younger sister." What lucky, lucky stars!
So this is my new edge, the plan B I didn't see coming but couldn't now live without. "Sorry" is a deeply moving, timely play (you can read the New York Times review of the original production here) and I am honored, challenged, terrified, and elated to be part of it. We are offering six shows between April 18-28 at GCC's Sloan Theater. I hope if you're within striking distance of Greenfield, Mass., you'll come!
Tracy Grammer is a singer-songwriter, storyteller, multi-instrumentalist, cheerleader, and big dreamer living in Greenfield, Mass. She is fond of cats, sweet potatoes, drive-by photography, and the truth.
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PO Box 831, Greenfield MA 01302