New York, NY

Hurricanes are threatening to become passé. Last year we had one, plus an earthquake. Of course, we're now hearing that Hurricane Sandy may be followed up by a nor'easter (which, in my head, is already named Annie - as in, lil' orphan). Just imagine if that proves to be a repeat of "Snowpocalypse," the storm that rocked the whole of the east coast not that long ago. At this rate, weather systems seem increasingly likely to cause another enormous blackout, like the one we had back in 2003. And even if they don't, with the pressure they've been under lately I suppose it's also possible we just might have another transit workers' strike before the end of 2013. But I don't mean to be pessimistic! Over the past decade or so, our police force has successfully foiled under a dozen proven terrorism attempts. Sure, they also clashed with our own citizenry over the Occupy Wall Street protests, but.... Hey! At least no one's flown any planes into any buildings here, lately!

I'm not aiming to make light of any of this. I'm just tired.

I used to consider it a cliché, the way that movies concerned with monumental American events (including, of course, disasters) so frequently feature New York as a landscape. After living here for over a dozen years myself, it seems more apt than anything else. Even when we set aside the iconography so necessary in film, wherein a subset represents the larger culture, the fact is that a lot befalls our fine 'burgh. Manhattan is set on some ley line intersection of fortune and desperate fate.

This event-riddled lifestyle of living amongst "the five boroughs" used to be a way of life I relished. As a kid, I used to run outside when it was windy. I wanted the world to be an exciting place, dramatic and narrative, swirling and swift. I still do. I still entertain survivalist fantasies and pursue the occasional unnecessary speed. It's just that last Monday night, as I prepared to huddle up for the night with Darling Wife and Tempestuous Twelve-Week-Old on an air mattress in the most central room of our railroad apartment, bags packed and boots by the makeshift bedside in case of a sudden evacuation, it all seemed suddenly a bit too ... well: disastrous.

And not a moment later, it seemed too familiar. I'm tired.

We've fared among the best of all the locations where Sandy laid down her land legs. We're in central Astoria, and though not five miles hence our friends in Long Island City have a quasi-war-zone on their hands when they step outside, here plenty of people are having food delivered and getting far more drunk than they generally would on a weekday. Personally, the storm has had the following effects:

  • A paid week off from work, for the most part (OK: I have worked, but from home, and as the email server went down so did the list of tasks I could reasonably accomplish);
  • Hours upon hours of more time with my family than I could've otherwise expected;
  • Clean laundry and apartment; and
  • More Facebook, Google Reader and Tumblr than any one man ought to have thrust upon him.

There are people whose lives are at risk, and those who've lost their lives already over this latest storm. I have nothing to complain about. The spookiest thing about our Halloween was that we're hardly exercising enough these days to justify some peanut-butter cups. Instead of power failures or looting, we've had to confront the fact that we were just too baby-encumbered to do anything adventurous for our four-year anniversary last night. We're incredibly fortunate, and I'm very grateful.

And I'm tired. Tired of the risk, the threat, the struggle of living here. I'll always love New York, and always miss it once we've had enough and moved on. I'm sad even now, with no special deadline for leaving, at the thought of no longer living here. I have been sad for years - when I happen to think of it - years over which the option of leaving NYC for greener (but NOT by definition more lovely) pastures has grown increasingly practical. I've been subliminally preparing myself for the day, because in the midst of the uncertainty involved in calling this city my home I've had complete certainty about how I will look back on it: with little else but longing.

But just maybe we should get going before the Mayan calendar ends. After all, we've already got our "go bags" packed.


I've been waiting for you. We've been waiting for you, of course, for months, weeks and weeks and with rampant research, speculation and apprehensive love. But I've been waiting for you too. I've wondered about you most of my life, imagined you in a thousand ways and continually checked in with myself about whether I'm ready for you. I can't wait to meet you. Literally - I'm failing at waiting, which feels awkward as all hell, given that there's close-to-nothing I can do to speed your arrival. And today's the day.

Well. Today isn't actually the day. Not necessarily. I've made a lot of jokes in discussing your arrival - jokes about being punctual and taking after your parents, and jokes about you getting an early start on your teenage rebellion. (Ok, so really: Two jokes. But I've made them many, many times now.) In actuality, today is just another today. I've gone to work. Your mother's working at home - lucky her - and it's a rather beautiful summer day in New York.

Tomorrow they're predicting storms and a heat index of 103°. So we also expect you exactly then.

Here is another line I've laid out a lot with regards to the experience of you: Childbirth is an ongoing lesson in unpredictability. And: ...And probably will for the next eighteen years. As in: "She's making her mom really nauseous tonight...and probably will for the next eighteen years." We've had to learn a lot about flexibility of expectations over the past several months, from when we yelped in surprise upon hearing you were a girl (subliminally and separately, we had decided otherwise) to our uncertainty about how much room we thought we made in the apartment, versus how much stuff we drove up from the baby shower.

So all I can really do is ask. Throw myself on the mercy of my daughter. Please come out soon. I'm dying to meet you.

I've never really considered it before, but I knew I wanted to meet you before I knew much else that I wanted, before even I was aware that I wanted to act. It didn't take me long, either, to realize that I wanted this for myself; not for the expectations of my family or society, for example. So for nearly my entire life, I've pondered you, hoped for you, imagined you. You've been some pretty wild permutations of a person in my mind over the years, let me tell you. That narrows somewhat once you actually find the mother of your child, but I'm certain you'll still surprise us somehow. Like, as in, say, just for example: By starting this entrance-to-the-world thing right on time.

Some things you should know about me up front:
  • I'm bad with planning, math, organized sports, making the bed and colors. (Your mother more than makes up for the first one and the last two, at least.)
  • I'm decent with words, emotions, imagination and organization. (So's your mom, but somehow in almost opposite ways.)
  • I'm the one who cooks. I've no reason to expect this to change within my lifetime.
  • I am a very deep sleeper, and very irrational when I get much fewer than seven hours. So: apologies in advance for my personality during at least the first two years of your life.
  • I'm a performer, try as I might to occasionally fight it. My best hope is that we can take turns as audience for one another.
  • I am, rather by default, rather high-strung - but I have developed numerous feints and coping mechanisms over the years!
  • None of those feints or coping mechanisms are working for me today.
So you can count all that as fair warning. I am sure you will have your fair share of quirks and idiosyncrasies to share. Hopefully you will not have inherited too many of mine ... though actually, go ahead and take the sleeping thing. That's good for all concerned, ultimately.

As my day ticks on, I come more and more to accept the notion that perhaps after all I will not meet you in a matter of hours. You'll learn that as you mature, that awful skill of dampening your hopes and excitement a little at a time to avoid cataclysmic crashes of disappointment. Just remember that the hope is always there, no matter how successful a dampener you may prove to be. The excitement is up to you to protect, so don't get carried away.

Today there's little danger of my over-diluting the excitement. The promise of you is too great, too inevitable. So I'll wait. And you'll arrive. If not today, then the next today.

Holding the Mirror Up

As you may have been alerted on The Facebooks, The Twitters and/or ma' brother 'blog, Loki's Apiary, I am performing this week in a short play called Princess. Jason Schafer is the writer of this play, Kay Long directs and Stacey Linnartz performs with me (or really: I with her), to drop a few names for The Googles. This is a tough one to write about midstream, as it were, because to reveal anything specific about the plot sort of jiggles the ride a bit too much. Suffice it to say that I play a young husband and father having a rather important conversation with my wife, about our son.

As you may also know from The Everythings, Wife Megan and I recently invited a new addition to our little family. Anton is not quite the same as having a son, but I have to admit that he has been full of more lessons and surprises -- not to mention, less sleep -- than I had imagined. A series of his more worrisome idiosyncrasies:
  • He's named Anton . . . and I didn't name him. That was his name when we adopted him, and as a theatre enthusiast I am required to honor it, and yet everyone we tell responds, "Anton...?" in, you know, that way.
  • Anton's got these stiff back legs, so not much of a jumper. He's not too old, but something's up there. Makes me wonder if he was a dog in a past life.
  • He doesn't like being held, and won't sit in laps. Very affectionate otherwise, though, so maybe it's got something to do with the legs.
  • When we go to bed, anywhere from ten minutes to an hour later he will meow from the other room . . . with question marks at the end. I AM NOT KIDDING. There is no other interpretation. Anton has somehow lost us between the two rooms of our apartment.
  • He's a bit of a biter (not hard), fairly neurotic (see above) and . . . a humper. He humps. Blankets and jackets, mostly. He's neutered, but there you have it. He is humpy.
The son of my character does not have any of these problems (insofar as the script has detailed) but the emotions remind me of our recent feline complications. You worry, at odd times, and you spend a lot of time blindly interpreting, too. Does the love of a cat compare to the love for a child? Certainly not, yet I am surprised by how affectionate I have become of Anton in such a short time, and it reminds me of that old idiom about fathers not really being fathers until they actually get to meet their child.

Worry not, Dear Reader: I am not sense-memory-ing my way through Princess using my cat as an analogue for a son. (I might've in college, though, I have to confess.) I'm just sort of fascinated by the ways in which what I'm making happen and what is happening to me tend to become harmonious when I'm working in the theatre. Neither am I suggesting anything mystical in this -- I tend to view these things from a humanist perspective, at most -- yet it may just say something about how intention and deliberate action can influence one's sense of unity in life. And why the theatre in particular? Well, that may particularly have to do with me, and how much I love it, but it may also have to do with how much more evident observations can become when one is living out loud (much less in front of an audience).

It was actually in college that I really started to notice it, though somehow I aspired to "noticing" it even in high school. It's this "Oh...huh...yes..." kind of moment that occurs in rehearsal, and also starts to occur a bit in life, assuming you're feeling a strong connection to the work. In rehearsal you spend all this concentrated energy saying, for example, the same five words over and over again, in different ways, until at some point you nail it: oh...huh...yes.... It's great. Doesn't happen nearly enough, in my opinion. The act of searching -- not being in a generic search mode, but actively searching -- heightens awarenesses both internal and external. It can feel like a kind of magic, and you want to share it with everyone, but of course not everyone is interested. So, if you're like me, you end up humming quietly to yourself and every so often accidentally effusing all over some hapless and innocent Internet troller such as yourself.

Egad, I <3 the Internet.

Even if you accept my half-formed theories about how this synchronicity comes about, there remain some chicken-and-egg-type questions. Do you perceive a connection because you want to, or because it's pointedly poking you in the deep recesses of your brain? Did your searching begin with rehearsal, or did it start with looking for a job? Are the connections a result of the searching, or vice versa? Am I a proud cat owner because I'm thinking more about parenthood, or am I thinking more about parenthood because I have this weirdo cat, or is it all because of Megan?

Oh; huh: yes. Well, that last one is pretty clear-cut. But the rest are still unanswerable!

Virginia Elizabeth Wills

My sister was excellent at coloring. Remember how this used to be a quality one looked for in one's friends? We're talking around age 5 or 6, here (oh yeah, not admirable anymore, no siree, never impressed by that now that I'm an adult and have more important thing with which to be concerned) when you'd look over to that certain someone's desk as they labored over a coloring book similar to your own, and see that amazingly contoured section of pure color, evenly distributed with barely-perceptible strokes that nonetheless enhance their portion of the drawing, lending it an illusion of depth and texture. That good. And I -- as will no doubt shock those of you familiar with my "handwriting" -- I, was not. Am not, to this day. But when I was around age 8 or 9, I felt something had to be done about this sibling disparity, and so I convinced Jenny (don't ask about the nickname; that's a whole other story I never quite get right) that it was in fact far more fun and creative to make a horrible, ecstatic mess on the page.

Siblings have uniquely fascinating relationships, I find, and it's difficult to write about my sister without writing about myself, but I'll try to keep the Jeff-ness to a minimum. It's been said that theatre (and art in general) holds a mirror up to life. In this sense, I think siblings are a kind of interactive theatre to one another and -- especially in the case of just the two siblings, close in age -- there's an ongoing argument about who's in the audience, and who's got the stage.

My sister and I almost never argued when we were younger. (We've more than made up for it in our supposedly "adult" years.) We fought a bit, occasionally vying for control of the space, but by-and-large we didn't have it in for one another. Competitiveness (mostly my own) was the only stumbling block I can think of now, and even that circumstance rarely occurred; we had and have one another's backs. In fact, the only other competitive moment I can recall from our shared youth was when I discovered what a naturally great actress she is. And that doesn't really count because I knew, right away, I couldn't hold a candle to her, so no need to compete. I remember very clearly her performance of a couple of small roles in some select Shakespeare scenes during her junior high years, and being totally shocked at how believable she was. Jenny wasn't acting, she just was, and as if this isn't impressive enough in an adult actor, she was something like 12 years old, that time of life when ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY is awkward and either pretentious or oblivious. And so, when in the next year she starred in another junior high production, this one Beauty and the Beast, and the high school drama teacher I was trying so very hard to impress made sure to say to me, "Well, we've got to get her," I wasn't at all surprised. Frustrated as hell, sure, but not surprised.

I could keep on this tack of things at which Jenny is amazing, but no longer does much of (I guess I can't say for certain about the coloring...) were it not for the fact that she's gone on to commit herself to doing incredible and important work. Jenny committed herself to more school than I can even fathom contemplating, and is now a nurse practitioner. You know about nurse practitioners, right? Those are the ones some people are opting for going to instead of doctors now-a-days because they're qualified, open and often more involved. Smarties, with a lot of influence. And she's not any ol' NP, my sister. No, she's a neonatal nurse practitioner, meaning she's dealing with the most delicate of lives and most harrowing of circumstances. Sometime amidst her near-decade of higher education, right around when she moved to New York, Jenny began going by her given name of Virginia. This was strange for me for a long time but, though she offered utterly pragmatic reasons for it at the time, it makes a perfect kind of personal sense. She's a different person now, one dealing with life-and-death decisions daily in a theatre I wouldn't set foot in, even had I her training and emotion for it.

My sister Virginia is still blessed with a kooky sense of humor, a passionate commitment to her perspective, powerful intelligence and sense of right and wrong. She still makes inappropriate observations in far too loud a voice, and illustrates a fervent disdain meeting me on time, ever. She's still far prettier than she realizes, and far more empathetic than is good for her, and she still is rather immediately liked by just about everyone she meets. She is different now, too. In the first place, she has taken control of her life and overcome some remarkable personal odds in a way that has taught me a lot about setting a good example for one's own family. In the second, she's recently left New York for a promoted position at Johns Hopkins, which involves authority and driving a hybrid car and all different sorts of things I as a near-naturalized New-York artist can no longer make much sense of.

And in the third, today she turned 30.

Happiest birthday, kiddo. Thanks for coloring outside the lines with me.

Winds of Change

Last night I sat down with Sister Virginia and began to help her study for a test she has to pass in order to achieve a job as a nurse practitioner -- I think of it as the Bar Exam for Insanely Specialized Nurses (henceforth, BEISN [though if you quote me on that, no one else will know what in the heck'n'shoot you're talking about]). I enjoy doing this with my sister, bizarrely enough. It feels like a familiar game, probably owing to my continuous necessity for memorizing lines, and I'm always eager to figure out new ways of encouraging her to order her thoughts and make details really memorable. My approach uses a lot of techniques I've picked up in memorizing scripts but, more significantly, utilizes one big acting idea behind all script memorization. That is: specificity is important because every word and structural element holds a clue to your story and has a reason behind its use. In other words, memorize


as well as facts. It's the only way to lock in those lines.

But I digress (probably because it feels like it's been a long time since I was writing here about an actual script, and I've been reading so many plays lately). This current bout of studiousness is in preamble to my sister possibly moving out of the city for work. She has a good thing going with Johns Hopkins, and passing this test would be the solidifying factor in that trial run. I'm very happy for this possibility, for a number of reasons. It would be good work for her, she'd be closer to my parents and NoVa, and I have learned to love Baltimore a bit. I'm very unhappy for this possibility for one reason. That is, it means my sister will, after some seven years in New York, no longer live in the same city as me. I love my sister, and will miss her.

Perhaps not for long, though. Coming up on my ten-year anniversary of having moved to the beeg ceety, I consider more and more the possibilities of picking my show up and moving it somewhere else. I used to fight this idea, but lately it has seemed surprisingly exciting to me; "exciting" being the last thing it seemed when I was a mere youth. I've lived my entire adult life around New York City, and have a lot to learn about living elsewhere. Plus it seems to me that more and more the kind of work I enjoy doing is better suited to a different environment. I'm not sure what, just yet, but figuring that out is part of the potential fun of it.

Man, but I love New York. Things I love about it, in no particular order:

  • It's so messed up. Seriously: It is. There's plenty of facade of it being this gleaming pinnacle of mankind's ambitions, but every time I see a movie like You've Got Mail, I have to laugh. Give me The French Connection, give me The Warriors. That's still underneath it all in New York, no matter how much veneer Hollywood uses.
  • New York is honest. To a fault. I'm not saying there isn't an absurd amount of lying that goes on, and on a second-by-second basis. I mean, it's the financial capital -- of course there's a ton of lying. But if you're walking down the street, and someone doesn't like the look of you, you don't know it from a plaster grin. You know it from an honest expression, and me, I love that.
  • It is a petri dish of culture. At the same time a world-famous production of Hamlet is closing its run at Lincoln Center, a tiny show that only a handful of people saw is closing -- and we'll never know which will prove more significant. Music flows through here like a river wider than the East, and artists happily, slowly kill themselves to work out just what they're trying to say. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is moved by something they come in contact with. You never, ever have to search for a cultural experience. Every day, all around, it's happening.
  • New York is a city of individuals. I doubt that there's a better place for people watching, anywhere. Sure, it has types, and conformity, and all that (you've got to identify yourself with some tribe) but from one block to the next is a shuffled deck of personalities and ways of expressing that. Sometimes, too, I think of it as a city of superheroes, with secret identities, because who knows what the suit does with his nights, or the hipster does with her family. Love it. Love. It.
  • Food. Twenty-four hours, from all over the world. Dig it.
  • It's difficult to not be doing something here. I mean, you've really got to work at it. Sometimes I feel like I was reincarnated from a shark, because one of the worst sensations I know is to stop moving. Ask anyone who's vacationed with me: I'm a pain. I like having somewhere to be, something to get done, and when you take that away from me I eventually begin to have problems with very basic activities (such as: breathing). New York is good for keeping one purposeful, and on his or her toes.
  • Circus. New York has it. Does your town?
  • New York is about as historical as the U.S. of A. gets. "What about Jamestown, Williamsburg (we have one, too) and Plymouth Rock?", I hear you cry. Dudes (oh my dudes), I grew up near a lot of such history, and it's poppycock. Sure, significant stuff happened there, and maybe an earthen mound or two remains, but more recently what happened there is that it has been rehashed, developed into more tourism than history. In New York, in spite of all the development, you get to turn a corner and find extant historical architecture. We live in and amongst it, and that's what history is really for.
  • People talk to each other here. This last one is a little difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it for themselves. New York sometimes gets referred to as "the biggest little town," and it's largely because of this phenomenon. Here, it is not considered rude to start up a conversation with a stranger. Here, you are likely to get advice from someone you don't know on the subway, because they have overheard your conversation. Different places have this, I realize, but there's something about this particular strange, unspoken, common identity shared by approximately 8,143,000 people that makes me very, very happy.

Of course, I could very easily make a "cons" list as well. After all, it's August in New York --

it would be very easy

. But I think everyone knows the cons, to one degree or another. And anyway, the point is that someday . . . maybe sooner than we think . . . I won't live here anymore. People I meet thereafter may not understand why I moved at all, because I'll keep talking about missing the city. If and when I leave, it will be for good reasons, but it won't change any of the above.

Change is the only inevitability, it's been said, and I believe it. Still, some things in my life to date have proven especially resistant to change, and such things are usually related to love. And I love this town.