Rainer Shines

Tonight's rehearsal was hard for me. We were working (amongst other things) on the final scene, during which my character spends about 5/6ths of the scene unconscious and shivering on a couch. On the last two pages, however, he has to suddenly experience all the pain and want of his journey . . . possibly also whilst hallucinating. Specifically, Frankie learns he is losing the person he loves most in the world, in spite of doing everything he could to help that person and make things right. Sounds hard enough, but I seem also to have a block about that particular set of emotions, or with the journey it takes to get to them. Or both. So there was much frustrated conference between the director and my person, and finally I got something of what it should be, and then on the final run I failed to access it again. This is the process.

Today, too, I decided to search for a nice quote for a card I have to write. I turned to Rilke, my favorite poet, and specifically to a book of his prose and poetry entitled "Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties," translated and evaluated by John J.L. Mood.

The book has an interesting story. Well, my copy does. Well . . . it's at least interesting to me.

It was published in 1975. The book is unique in form: unique font (Linotype Caledonia), unique dedication and "epilogue" pages and a surprising sampling of words from throughout Rilke's life of dedication to poetry. It's an orange paperback, with one of those designs on the cover that makes one say to oneself, "Ah. Late-sixties, early-seventies." It apparently cost $3.95 in its day.

But I'm not interested, Jeff!

Well, I didn't buy this book, nor was it bought for me. In 1999, the year I graduated from college, my parents began the move from my hometown in Northern Virginia to where my mother's church is, in Hagerstown, Maryland. Immediately prior to graduation, I helped (with Friend Mark) move my entire childhood home into storage. After I returned from my summerstock gig in Ohio, I shacked up with my dad in his temporary apartment in NoVa. See, my parent's new home was being constructed, and there were problems. In the meantime, my dad continued to work in NoVa and my mom had her apartment in Maryland. So, for a time, none of the Willses were living together (my sister was in her second year at college in Blacksburg).

It was a strange time. I wanted to get to New York, but didn't have any money. I was beginning my career as a professional actor, but was waiting to hear about work. (Eventually, I would be hired by The National Children's Theatre in Minneapolis--a whole other story.) I didn't really want the work, though. Mostly I was motivated to it because my home was gone, and I sort of wanted to be in New York, where my girlfriend at the time was. If I had settled in my childhood home--if my parents hadn't moved, and I wasn't forced to stay on a cot in my father's apartment--I might not have felt sufficient motivation to move the hell on.

My father's apartment was small, and the laundry facilities were shared in a room off of the lobby. I can't remember if it was when I arrived there, or after I had been there for some time, but this is where the book came from. The laundry room. My father found it, and my dad is wonderful, but not commonly noted for his attention to personal detail; yet somehow he saw this book and remembered Rilke as someone I cared about. So he ganked it for me. It meant a lot to me. It still does.

But I'm still not interested, Jeff!

Well. The final facet of this particular book is that it was a gift at one time, from a certain "Brad" to a certain "Jennifer." (No; not


. Definitely predated


.) In the front of the book is a hand-written dedication in black ballpoint pen:

"Jennifer, with whom
I am learning the difficulty
of love.

The dedication was written for Valentine's Day, 1977, which happens to be the year of my birth. I have no fondness for Valentine's day (see


), but knowing this was a gift between two people in an intimate relationship means something to me.

But it's funny, too. Jennifer (I presume) has gone on to mark up the book. And not just with dog ear-ing, but in blue ballpoint pen. She underlines, she writes occasional notes in the margin. And, in a climax of irony, she inscribes a large-written "Bradley!" next to this particular section:

"In his uncertainty each becomes more and more unjust toward the other; they who wanted to do each other good are now handling one another in an imperious and intolerant manner, and in the struggle somehow to get out of their untenable and unbearable state of confusion, they commit the greatest fault that can happen to human relationships: they become impatient."
Emphasis added (by "Jennifer").

In this section, Rilke is writing specifically about the errors made by the young in love. He argues that love can not be won and deserved until those involved are mature enough to appreciate that it is work, it is ultimately difficult, and that such is the true value of it. I think Rilke might have suffered from similar psychic afflictions as I do, which is to say, "Rainer, get over it. Not everything must be a struggle." But he also has a solid point.

The purpose of this 'blog is not to write about love, but life and art. None of these can really be separated, however. I love this book, and the journey it's had, its glories and its blaring imperfections. And I love the way life is a story of the same kind of strange and often untraceable--but always extant--connections between people and times.