Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Gathering: A Rapport

This year's Writers Center of Indianapolis's Gathering of Writers was a first for me. Yes, I have been in a room of strangers. I have been in a room of writers. I have even been in a room of strange writers (or alone...with Mike). But this conference was a first for me because it both physically and mentally highlighted two artistic endeavors in my life, past and present: theater and writing. I also felt a powerful melancholy, though less requiem, more renaissance, and incredible love.

In 2002-03, after losing my wonderful job at Dow AgroSciences in late 2001 thanks largely to Black belt prophets (and an undermining, nonsupporting, newly born-again gay-bashing bigot who happened to head my team), I fell into an abyss of serious, clinical depression with only one end in mind. I sought company-supported therapy (thanks Papa Dow), for truly; I needed it and just in time. Orange electrical cords, you know, can do more than transfer current. I knew a place where there were many tall trees and hidden enclaves; frankly, it would have taken you all a couple of weeks to find me. 

Other issues were happening at the home, too. I should have blamed the sickness, yet true to my nature and with complete support from my depression, I'd erred on the side of blaming me. (Psst...You're off the hook El Camino.) I also discovered (really, I always knew) that I had clinical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. So, yeah. The worst time in my life.

Of the months it took for me to recover, one of my therapies was to help me stop depending on others for my happiness; to have faith in my own abilities. I have never really been self-sufficient up to then, and it was both the fear of loneliness and the anxiety of failure (and maybe getting used, too?) which kicked in the OCD and the resulting cyclical behavior and redundant thoughts and, finally, the dependency of others to take that all away.

I was encouraged to take a trip to one of the most isolated places in North America: De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Bisti Badlands), in New Mexico. I have shared on FFI some poems and a short story that I wrote on that trip. They are precious to me. The trip was medicinal the moment I drove off in my red Chevy S10. Though the Bisti rocks were bare and water sublimed, Bisti helped save my life.

Another therapeutic exercise was to dive into the arts that interested me. Always the writer, I had no real goal to actually publish. It was a hobby, a passionate hobby; but no goals. Theater, however, always thrilled me, because it was mysterious in how it all worked. Also, I enjoyed acting and directing plays in high school (yeah, I took those classes. Loved it!). A little community theater called Stages accepted my offer to shadow them. Stages took up residence at Landmarks, which then was Central Avenue Methodist Church. In its first or second stage of remodeling, the building was cavernous, dusty, moldy, and slightly haunted. I was afraid to wander too far from the atrium and from the actors whom I shadowed.

No matter the dusty ghosts and asthmatic attacks, I was hooked immediately! The actors and the designers, the technicians and the managers; they were so interesting, kind, so beautiful in their freedoms, and so devoted to their bizarre craft that I saw them as more heroic than they ever realized, I think. I stayed with them for nearly a year, helping with the technical, the construction, the costumes, the actors, and the smallest of roles. Eventually, I became assistant director on a couple of plays. All the while I was on the mend; all the while my Stages friends were helping me become someone better able to deal with those strange, orange thoughts, helping me retract blame I had placed all around.

Last Saturday at the Gathering of Writers, I felt like I had a stronger connection to Landmarks than anyone around me. I lived there, nearly every night, often to 1 or 2 AM, and for many months working on a craft that was art in its purest form. A hundred people, and yet I felt...

My Stages colleagues are all dispersed. Of them, I have pictures, I have videos, I have directors notes, and I have detailed memories. Though I was among precious new friends, as the day shortened, the emptiness of Landmarks grew. I was missing my Stages family. I wanted to see their beautiful faces. I was missing their need for me.

I had to leave. I could not stay. On my way out, I observed my former stage. Floors polished and nails hammered curtains...shiny light fixtures. A wall had been erected over the former tech booth where I used to sit and direct, where I pulled back the curtains and closed them for good. I wanted to see where I carved my initials among the dozens carved before me a hundred years ago. No entrance to the booth exists. I then looked for the gouges in the flooring near the stage stairs that I remembered used to be there. Gone.

I left with my writer friends, and I remember how the warmth of the day surprised me. Heather, Keith, Kim, and I chatted outside Landmarks for awhile, and I felt lucky to have them near, sharing our love for the art of writing. I did not want them to go.

When I got in my car, I knew that I was leaving something behind, but starting anew, one family of friends to another family of friends, one form of art to another form of art. I felt blessed to have this writing community, comforted to know that I will see my writing friends in a matter of days. Yes, I felt an anguish of loneliness, too, when I drove past Landmarks, past the side door where the Stages crew were allowed to enter. Lonely, not because my Stages friends were gone, but because I knew my love for them was pure and was still ongoing.

Lonely, but I was fine.

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