I usually think on On Being as my Sunday morning lie-in-bed-and-wake-up-slowly program. It’s on early enough that the existential hum that gets me out of bed has not yet set in and so I listen, frequently drifting out of consciousness in the early morning gloom, while deciding whether I should shower first or go down to the corner for a cup of coffee. But this week Krista Tippett’s guest was Buddhist writer and scholar Stephen Batchelor, the subject: Finding Ease in Aloneness, and he left me with the following which has been on my mind ever since. So, I’m passing it on to those of you who may have missed it and may, like me, find in it a statement that intrigues and lingers in your thoughts.
“KT: I did want to come back to the notion that you described from Buddhism, wisdom being something one does for oneself and compassion something one does for others.
SB: Acquiring meaning for oneself is acquired through wisdom, discernment, reflection, whereas acquiring meaning for others is through how you embody that wisdom, that reflection, in speech, in acts, in collaborative endeavors or whatever it might be, and the understanding, also, that for the awake person, there is actually no — the two have been totally and utterly integrated. You have become, as it were, wholly human.”
Sunday was also the day of the first Early Days of Irondale Virtual Reunion which, brought us all back together for a warm, comforting, bath of nostalgia. And a most pleasant diversion it was. Terry, Barbara, Ken, Hilarie and I were there, of course, along with both Steves, Jody, Richard Dorfman, Pat Russell, and Michael David who came in just at the end of that era in 1992. Josh Taylor was supposed to come but did a Godot. And the whole afternoon was just such a great reminder of how we once approached uncertain times and did so with so much certainty, joy, and youthful naivety.
On Sunday, we shared stories, some that that we all remembered, some we all remembered differently, and some that only a few of us were there to witness – Ken tackling an actor who was threatening to slug me, the night I shoved an audience member who was trying to walk out back into his seat where he remained, Terry, greeting the Equity rep, who had come to present us with a cease and desist notice, stark naked, the night the Fire department tried to close us down because they mistakenly thought that we were the play that was actually performing upstairs. The year we spent at the Off Center Theatre over near the river, where we couldn’t perform on Thursday’s because that was a whipping night at the S and M club, also located in the building, and the screams and the sound of the lash coming through the walls was too much for us to overcome with mere drama.
We laughed at the memory of each episode and how we kept going, and how there was never any doubt that the next show would go on, even when nobody was getting paid and there was little cash lurking around the corner. The projects were big – Peer Gynt, Uncle Vanya, the Threepenny Opera, our first versions of the Good Soul and Galileo, Happy End, Danton’s Death, As You Like It, and Abby Hoffman/Peter Pan – there was no money, but a show never got postponed or cancelled. Were we young and daring, or just crazy?
But overall, we had so much fun as we faced daily uncertainty. And now we find that we are living uncertainties once again, not just in the struggles of our little theatre but in the world itself. How long will we be virtual? When will we be able to come together in a room again? And once again where will the money and the audiences be coming from? And how long can us old geezers remain young and foolish?
In researching the Brecht in Exile Saga, I came across this passage from Brecht’s journal. “It is impossible to go on. One can only go so far without a theatre and without an audience.” And yet he did, and the result was three of his finest plays. He wasn’t facing a pandemic, but he did have Nazi’s after him.
I close with a bit of advice from Ruth Gordon, whose memoirs got me through another period of uncertainty, when I first came to New York, 40 some years ago, and catastrophized that my whole life’s future would be a part-time worker at W&J Sloan in the phony Italian antiques department.
Ruth said, “when you’re having a really bad day think of five others that were worse, and remember you got through those so you can get through this one. If you can’t think of any that’s as bad as this one, take heart anyway you learned a lot getting through those five. That’ll see you through this one.”
And that’s what’s on my mind today.