In the late 90s this book came out, it was called the birthday book. Each page had a different day of the year and it was designed to explain how every day of the year impacted the person born on that day.
One side of my family leans toward the mystical—Great Aunt Ruby, whom I showed you pictures of yesterday,—was an astrologer, a palm reader and practiced numerology. On my grandmother’s bookshelves were books by Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce, Krishnamurti and Manly P. Hall.
So I’m familiar with the world of the unseen—and on days I completely believe it, and on others I am a certified pragmatic materialist.
But, this birthday book. My page revealed several things about me, along with other people who share my birthday Ethel Barrymore, Edna Ferber, Napoleon and Julia Child. I like to tell people I am the spiritual love child of Napoleon and Julia Child.
The most telling detail of my page in the birthday book was that I was, more than any other day of the year, driven by the will.
Now, I don’t know about the rest of the days of the year but I I have an inner machine that keeps me plowing ahead, often against logic or reason. The things I do, I do full steam, no second thoughts, no hesitation.
When we started The Secret City, I could see it, the thing I was moving toward, and everyday I would sit down and apply myself to making it real. When I was a teenager and discovered theater, I dove in, head first, and was consumed by the knowledge that it was what I was supposed to be doing.
This drive can be a gift, it helps me make thigns. But I can also be like a mac truck, a steamroller—mowing down any obstacle, impatient with slower people, I don’t have time for questions about the why, I am focused solely on the what and the how.
Ever since this crisis began to be real, like real real, when I got back from LA two weeks ago and Bobby said, “This is happening,” and we bought a bunch of groceries and began holing up here at home, I saw that what I needed to do was spring into action, will something to happen in response to this crisis. I started making these shows to provide ways for us to be together, and it’s been incredible, truly—and I also see how I operate. Stopping is hard for me. And there’s a lot of value in the midst of what we’re going through, to being idle.
I’ve had a lot of addictions in my life, booze, cigarettes, money, food, sex—probably a few more if I stopped to think about it, but I think now that the thing I’ve been most addicted to has been adrenaline. The hormone that is secreted by the adrenal gland, which impacts the body’s systems and prepares us for battle.
In recovery terms the term putting down means quitting a certain substance or behavior. The putting down of adrenaline is—what?—not impossible, no, difficult.
It’s telling that the root of the word pause, from the ancient Greek originally meant, to stop. Our understanding of pause today is that it’s a momentary stop, a break in the action. But, for me—and maybe some of you, if I pause, the world will stop, my work will end, my energy will dry up—I’m sure, because I tend toward the dramatic, as do so many of the fine folks who share my birthday—pausing equals annihallation. Like certain sharks, I must keep moving or die.
When I was starting to learn how to act, I was doing a lot of musical theater, which I loved. Occasionally I would do what is called a straight play. What I never was asked to do was Pinter—for those of you who don’t know, Harold Pinter was a British playwright whose work revolutionized the theater. One of the things he is associated with is called the Pinter Pause—a device he used in his dialog which proided actors with pauses, written into the script. In Pinter’s world, the pause was as important as the line. When we speak, we often pause to find the right word, or to get clear about what we want to say.
Pinter was dangerous, it was a different kind of performer who could actually stop talking in the middle of a scene. The confidence! The selfishness!
My life has been driven by the directive to pick up your cues, no space between lines, keep the pace up. How could I hold an audience’s attention if I stopped talking? What would keep people coming back if I had nothing to say? Like so many things in life, I suppose what I’m getting at, is love, and what that means is what I’m getting at is, trust. How could we possibly be loved if we are idle?
I’ve lived enough to know that pauses can be beautiful—the rest between notes in Chopin, the moment when a dancer holds before moving again, the fermata in music, asking the player to hold, letting the note hang in the air.
That’s what this moment is, right? A global pause. Not everyone is reading the same script but for those of us who are, let’s revel in the permission we’ve been given to stop, to hold, to be.
Something outside of our control--something surprising--might happen.