Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day 90 – What Happened?

Well, I suppose it is only fitting that my Russian experience would end with one more little hiccup. When we were planning the trip and it became clear that we would be allowed to stay in the county for only 90 days, it struck me that this would be the simplest and best title for my journey. And so ninety days ago I began to recount the comings and goings of this crazy life. What I failed to realize was that because I started writing when we arrived in Moscow I forgot to account for that day lost in travel. It is a tiny insignificant thing, one little day off in this great big series of life changing moments but I feel like if I don’t mention it then the journey will not be complete. My mother wanted me to go back and renumber all the entries, adding the details of my departure and while that sounded like an interesting use of my time, it wouldn’t be true to the messy life of Moscow. I am kind of glad it hasn’t been wrapped up neatly. It wouldn’t fit with the contradicting nature of this place I have grown to love so much. Beyond that it has given me one more opportunity to think about where I was before, where I have been in the last few months and where I am off to now. I did try to remember the day I left. My mom, dad and stepparents circled around me in my mother’s living room. I remember that I could feel their nervousness but I was too drained to be scared. I had no idea what I was in for, what crazy adventures awaited me. All I could think about was moving forward, getting to the airport, getting in line, getting on with my life. Then I did, get on with my life, I mean and over the next few months as I changed and grew, struggled and succeeded, I would think periodically through each day, “What will I feel about all this when it is over?” Now it finally is and I never could have imagined that I would feel this way, so empowered, so overwhelmed with gratitude, beyond overcome with love. I have been looking for my adjective, the one word that wraps it all up nicely (I even asked for a thesaurus for Christmas to help me in my plight) but I guess it is not that easy. The best things in life rarely are. I am so thankful, so changed, so dumbfounded by the power of this experience. I have no idea what’s next and truthfully I am terrified. But I am hopeful. I am ready. I am even prepared. I have lived through heartbreak and upheaval but more so I lived Moscow and I now I know I can live through anything.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 15 – Day 89

Last night after our evaluations, which was alone enough to leave me emotionally spent, we had our farewell reception and began the marathon of goodbyes. To be honest I didn’t think I would be that distraught but I found myself tearing up with every toast. It might have been one of the saddest parties I have ever been to, more like a wake than a celebration. There was joy though, and thankfulness as we took our last opportunities to say goodbye to all the people who helped us grow so much. We hung around until it became too unbearable and then took one last stroll down Tverskiya back to the dorms so that the seven of us from NIU could finish up packing and prepare for our flight. Katiya, the angel who I will miss so very much, came over and made us a huge feast before our departure. The other students took turns wading into our rooms to share a few final moments of goodbye. Stephanie finally locked me and Jenna in a room so that she could make the toast to us that I had been dreading. I became closer to those two girls than anyone else on this trip and to a certain extent I feel an overwhelming sense of motherly protection over them. I worry about them as if they were my own blood and I hope so much that they make it back and find their way through this big crazy world. There were so many other people who made it difficult to say goodbye and honestly I was surprised. I went into this trip with the idea that I was coming for me and chances would be that I would never see any of these people again. It is only at the end that I could see how clearly they have all affected me, how much they have meant to my life. This trip would not have been the same without them and I hope for them all nothing but the best. At one a.m. the bus was supposed to arrive to take us all to the airport and we made are way to the stairwell, thankful to put the marathon of tears to rest for a few hours until we would have to separate in London but we had one more surprise in store. The bus was no were to be found and after an hour of waiting we realized that there was a good chance we might not make out flight. Eventually it was decided that we were all going to have to break up and hail those oh-so-shady taxis that make every commute an action adventure scene in a mad dash to the airport. We scrambled to load our bags into the row of cars that started to form outside our dorm, and Colleen practically drenched in sweat from frazzled nerves screamed to the driver that if he did not get me and Bob there safe he would have to answer to Oleg Tabakov (He is the head of Moscow Art and one of the most important men in Russia - and as I learned later in the evening, the only name you need if you want to bend international law.) It was really the only way that it could have ended, with us making hurried goodbyes to the last remaining friends and then scrambling to the airport in a fashion reminiscent of Home Alone alone. Once inside, Marianna again invoked the name of Tabakov, flashing a security official a piece of MXAT letterhead and was immediately ushered past security so that she could lead us to the metal detectors. We waved goodbye to her from the gate, as she cried like a good Russian mama and then like that we were off - to London and then to saying our goodbyes to one another half-asleep, surrounded by rushing travelers. It felt like it ended as quickly as it had begun, in a crazy whirlwind of delirium. My life has changed so much because of this experience and I will never be the same. Thank you so much to Russia. Thank you so much to MXAT. Thank you so much to all of the amazing people who made this possible. I will carry this time in my heart forever. I will always remember my Russian Soul.

Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14 – Day 88

I wasn’t nervous until everyone else started freaking out. Even then I wasn’t sure if the nausea I was feeling was a result of anxious anticipation or the last remaining pangs of my excessive champagne celebration induced hangover. I paced outside the ominous leather filled hallway, looking at photos of the legends of the Moscow Art Theatre waiting for my evaluation. When the door swung open and Alex came out I felt like I did in the sixth grade being sent to see our vicious principal Sister Jackie, expecting a beating. When I went in I was relieved to see the jovial faces of Serge and Igor, and the lovely Natasha. At the other end of the long oval table was Smelianski, presumably trying to create the effect of the might Wizard of Oz. After I sat down it all went by so fast it was hard to absorb everything they were saying. I wasn’t expecting them to lavish me with complements or rip me apart so what they did say was equally surprising and gratifying. I think for many people, at least I know for me, I have spent so much of my life hoping to be a certain kind of person and hoping to be viewed in that light by others. I have wanted to feel put together. I have wanted to feel strong. So when they told me that everything was great, that I am a very talented actress and more importantly am a stable actress who is responsive, in tune and open, I was so touched. They told me that they have loved working with me, that while some people are talented but impossible to work with, I make it a joy to be around. They told me that they chose my work for the end of the show because the last scene that has to be the calling card for the piece and they knew that I would bring the work. In fact, they put said that including my Etude in the piece was a testament to what I can do. They even joked about how impressed they were when I managed to work for weeks with no voice and found ways around it. I have a clear concept of my charm, as an actress and a human being, they said which made me laugh a relieved delighted sigh. I get me now and these things that they were saying meant so much more than if I had gone in there to have them smother me with grandiose statements about being the next big thing. Stanislovski always said that the best actors, the best people, were ones who approached their craft from a stable place. My life can be passionate and solid. I don’t feel like a mess anymore. Natasha then looked me and said, ‘You need more courage. Keep doing these things that challenge you because it is all there, you just have to go for it.’ And if they hadn’t already said enough to keep me red for days, Smeliansky looked up and said in what I thought was going to be an admission of his ignorance to my existence, “Well, you know it is difficult with such a large group… but you are the most beautiful woman there.” (I, of course, went into instant self deprecation mode and just assumed that he said the same thing to all the girls!) They went on at length about my beauty and my charm, and even more so my height and that I must use this all to my advantage because I am built for this work. It was all so very strange and more than I had expected. It was as if they tapped into my deepest fears and insecurities the day I went through customs and decided that they, Russia, as a country and people were going to push and prod me until it was certain that I would leave here without all this baggage. There is a part of me that resisted writing any of this down. It is that insecure part that doesn’t want to feel a braggart but it is part of the story. It is the part of my truth here and while I didn’t leave the room a mess like some many people swaddled in loving praise I felt warm, and a bit strange and saddened that it signaled the end.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December 13 – Day 87

Well, it is over. Our final shows were today and soon this will all be a blurry memory. I have had all these fantasies about how this moment would feel, the final bow, holding hands with my classmates under the dim blue light, and while my fantasies are always vivid they are rarely accurate. Such was the case as I stood there at curtain call, stunned, trying to stuff back the tears, not of joy or nostalgia but disappointment. I had been hoping to round out my time here with my best performance yet and I guess I took for granted that it would be difficult. I got out there and the opening moment that usually kills was met with the sound of crickets. From that point on I felt like I was struggling, a feeling that has become unfamiliar as of late. The fan I use throughout the entire scene didn’t get set onstage and for the first few moments of the scene I felt like I had lost a limb. There were sections that clicked but I didn’t feel the ease I usually maintain. Despite the fact that my scene partner, who might be one of the best and is definitely the most giving actor with whom I have ever worked, knocked it out of the ball park, I felt like it was the worst performance I had ever given. People kept coming up to congratulate me but I just couldn’t deal. I was so upset and I hated myself for crying. I felt ridiculous. Jenna tried to comfort me by telling me that in the end it really didn’t matter and rationally I knew this to be true but I couldn’t stop from feeling horrible. I hate that irrational feeling so much now, when I can understand in my mind that I shouldn’t be upset but my heart won’t give in. I asked Jenna why that was - was I just missing some internal component that makes the feelings stop when the mental realization kicks in but she reassured me that things just take time. Luckily, I feel like Russia has given me the ability to speed up that process and things that wound no longer wound as deeply or for as long. It is perspective I guess. So I decided to go home and look for some. All of our final performances were video taped, except ironically enough for my final scene because the camera died the moment I got onstage. Fortunately, someone had recorded the scene on my camera and while the quality wasn’t as great, at least I would be able to assess the damage. I locked myself in my room and put on my headphones to watch with utter breathlessness the work I had created but halfway through the piece I just had to stop. I was laughing too hard, at the scene because it was actually funny and at myself for being such an idiot. Lexi had told me during my fit of disillusionment that if that was the worst I had ever done then that was pretty amazing because it was so great. I, of course, figured she was just saying what you have to say when someone bombs but as I watched it I had to admit she was right. There was some really great stuff in there. Yes, there were moments that didn’t work as well as they could have but it was a really good scene. And then came the epiphany of all epiphanies. What happens when you realize that your own insecurities are ridiculous, when you have to admit that you actually have talent and can no longer hide behind fear. I called Jenna into my room and stared at her with a dazed sort of enlightenment. ‘I am a moron,’ I said. I came to Russia hoping to find myself and I feel like I found so much more. I can’t beat myself up any longer and hide behind my insecurities. Oh don’t get me wrong, I am sure I probably will, at least to an extent, but I don’t have anymore lies to tell myself. I came here feeling, ugly and unstable, irrational and untalented. I felt like I was weak and broken and I hated who I had become. Three months in Russia has toughened me up. It has shown me that I have beauty, no matter what someone tries to make me feel. I feel more solid, like I am finally in control of all this passion and emotional content that drives me rather than being at its mercy. And now, I have to admit, even when I when I feel like I am at my worst, I am good. I have talent. After years of living in Los Angeles, feeling like I had no right to claim the title, I can say that I am an actor – I am an artist, with all the responsibility and conviction that implies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12 – Day 86

Russia has made me strong and more adaptable than I ever thought I would be. We had our last movement class today. It was a final of sorts but more so it was an opportunity for us all to show off in front of our friends. We jumped and flipped and stretched and did things I never dreamed were possible months ago. I hope I can maintain this physical strength but really I just I hope I can continue to develop the courage that Natasha has taught me. For three moths she taunted us with her mantra that pain is pleasure and I think somewhere along the way I may have crossed over to her side. Saying ‘I can’t’ seems so much more ludicrous now. Maybe you can’t now but you never know what will happen if you try. I am proud of myself and so thankful for this opportunity. I joke that I am a badass but really I think I just might be. All I know for sure is that it is a hell of a lot more fun to try and fail a few times than doing nothing and being scared.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11 – Day 85

“Wow. That… didn’t suck!” Our final performances started today. We began with the singing concert and it was really exciting to see so many people in attendance, all the other faculty, the other group of American students and of course, our Russian friends. It was a packed house with dozens of people standing in the isles. I have been a nervous wreck thinking about this show and that tension was not helped by the weeks of American Idol style eliminations we have been having. In the end, I decided the only way to get through this thing was to take all that nervous tension and make a character out of it. I stood up there as a silly young girl and did my best to confess my secret dream to the audience. I don’t think I realized before what a beautiful song it is. It was so fun. It sounded the best it ever had and the audience loved it. It is embarrassing to admit how elated I felt afterward. This experience is all about proving, over and over again to yourself that despite your fears anything is possible. I am sad to see this day end, to see all the work of my ridiculously talented classmates draw to a close and to know that this soon it will all be over and this will be just a memory, a beautifully distant dream.

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10 – Day 84

I fight with an image in my head of myself as an awkward chubby little girl who wanted to be graceful and pretty like all the gymnasts and figure skaters she would watch on TV. Every time I put on a leotard and ballet slippers I see that girl. Before I came here I didn’t think much about what this class would mean for me. I just assumed I would be terrible and would secretly hate it, while people at home would crack jokes about me trying to be delicate. What this experience has given me I never could have imagined. It has given me strength, courage and determination. It has taught me never to lose my sense of humor and that I am truly at my best when I stop thinking so much and just enjoy the process. Today was our last ballet class before the final performance and to my surprise I became emotional at the end. Larissa Borisovna Dmitrieva is just magnificent. Even at eighty I can still imagine her flying through the air on the Bolshoi stage. She is so intimidating and yet so loving. She is the epitome of the grace and elegance I have always longed to possess and even when we struggled, even when it was clear that we were not dancers (well, that I was not a dancer), she never treated us like anything less than primas. I might never have the opportunity to dance like that again and in the end I loved it so much. I could look in the mirror at the image of myself in a scoop neck leotard and see nothing of that little girl. In fact for the first time in so very long, I looked at my reflection and was proud of what I saw. She taught me how to feel beautiful and even at times made me feel like I could fly.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

December 9 – Day 83

There is so little time left here. From this point on every experience will be the last – the last free day, the last class, the last performance. Last night I spent an hour pouring over a map of the city trying to decide what was the most unmissable thing left to see. All I really wanted to do was rest but instead I planned a full day of sightseeing with a few museums, St.Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin on my list. I was resigned to go alone but pleasantly pleased when Jenna decided to join me so early this morning. It was grey and snowy but the air actually felt clean and I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Chances are I will never again return to this place and even if I do by then it might be a very different country. I want to remember this place just as it is, with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, and all the confusion that makes it special. Nothing is predictable here so it was no surprise when our plans got derailed. We ended up getting turned around and went to the wrong museum and then wandered aimlessly until we ended up at St. Basil’s hours before we were supposed to meet Eric. We passed the time by strolling through GUM, sipping lattes and trying on $1000 boots. It was so relaxed and enjoyable – happy accidents, they call them, when life works out just as it should despite your best laid plans. We left the mall just after the sun had set behind clouds and the image of Red Square was spectacular, all lit up with holiday lights and a sea of colorfully-clad Muscovites ice skating through the temporary rink. Eric met us in front of St. Basil’s just as my fingers started to go completely numb and once inside we realized there would be no respite from the cold. The architectural marvel was designed with an intricate ventilation system so that it maintains a constant temperature of four degrees Celsius. It was a chilling sight to stand in the cavernous palace and see the view of Moscow from a tiny tower window. The frescos were so magnificent I could see how it would be easy to believe the legend of Ivan the Terrible blinding the architects so that they could never again create something so beautiful. By the end of the tour the cold had worn me ragged and I needed a rest and a warm drink before meeting the rest of the NIU boys for our final group dinner. Over the last few months, every important event that has happened to our group has somehow involved Il Patio and it seemed only fitting that we make one more appearance to toast our goodbye. I think Jenna was hoping for a more sentimental evening but with five twenty year old guys that is difficult to accomplish. Instead we just played silly list making games (who would you rather {fill in the blank} and other inappropriate topics of conversation) and Jenna and I shared sideways glances, reminding each other how lost we would be without another female to keep us sane. In the end the evening was far from maudlin but it was the only way I think it could be. There is time left for sadness and weepy goodbyes. For now I think it is best to think less about the end and try to enjoy what time we have left.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

December 8 – Day 82

I can distinctly remember every theatrical experience I have ever had that has made me weep. It is a difficult task and while there were days when I would cry at even the slightly sappiest TV commercial, I have since hardened, particularly when it comes to theatre and it requires much more to bring me to tears. I will never be able to communicate in words the eerie transcendence I feel here. This place is so strange and so powerful, and in the madness I feel like I have some sort of direct portal to a higher being. My questions and thoughts once vocalized seem to be responded to by the universe in direct rebuttal. Not twenty-four hours ago I stammered out my realization that what I miss most in all this incredible theatre is the experience of the small space, the black box, theatre in the round or thrust stage. There is a different energy that is produced when you are in intimate setting rather than a massive auditorium. For years I resented not having more opportunities to play in a large space. Now I know it is not in my heart. I had barely wrapped my brain around the idea when I was informed that I had won the evening’s ticket lottery and was getting to see world famous director Kama Ginkas’ contemporary piece K.I. From Crime, which is based on a minor character from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It was in a theatre I have visited multiple times but when I arrive I was told it was to be in the venue’s small space. This space was actually an upper level hallway where the 50 or so audience members were perched on random stools or benches before being ushered into a solid white room barely large enough to fit us all that was lit by horrific florescent bulbs and the street light pouring in through the windows. Throughout both areas the character of K.I. short for Katerina Ivanovna and her children ran back and forth creating what could only be described as a voyeuristic journey into one family’s personal hell. It was disturbing and animalistic, real without pretension or bullshit. The lead actress who slowly lost her mind throughout the course of the two hour emotional impalement used audience members as characters in her nightmare and chose me to serve as a role of someone I never fully understood (I believe she saw me as her German landlady from the rage she had against me.) She screamed at me in Russian, forcing me to move seats over and over again, then begged and pleaded with me, weeping harder and harder when it became clear to all involved that I had no idea what she was saying. Finally she began to shout, “You don’t understand anything!” and pushed the small boy who played her son towards me. He stood six inches from my face unblinking until I thought I might collapse. He was a small child acting a brutally painful role, being thrown about on stage and performing monologues that caused me to feel a tiny sense of relief in my ignorance of the language but all I could see when I looked at him was the face of my cousin Benjamin when he was six or seven, so sweet and innocent, and I just wanted to cry. The play ended with one the powerful images I have ever seen on stage. A white latter is lowered from the ceiling by a hangman’s rope and K.I. scramble up its rungs as it swings back and forth and is flailed from one end of the room to the next. It is ultimately pulled back up to the ceiling where in the darkness, she weeps and pounds her fists again spackle crying, “Let me in! Let me in!” I felt a surge of emotion stronger than at any of the other shows I have seen here and even though everyone around me was a mess, I could not cry. The actress and the children came out to take their twenty minute curtain call and were showered with flowers. In all that commotion she stopped the bow and presented me with her flowers. I started to bawl. I have never seen anything like that before. For two hours she gave of her soul more generously than any of the best performers I have ever seen and at the end when she could have basked in her applause she continued to give. She gave to me.

Friday, December 7, 2007

December 7 – Day 81

I spent the last four days trying everything I could to snap out of my angry funk without much success but today without any explanation I woke up and it was gone. Just like that the cloud had lifted and I once again felt that sense of release I relish. My theory is that the sudden shift stemmed from looking at the photos and video of my trip home to St. Louis before I left for Moscow. I watched the video of me and my mother at a Cardinals game a few days after I got to town. Lots of alcohol had been involved in the production and between serenading the other fans with Four Season hits and ranting about my boys’ poor performance I could see how much things have changed. I was a bit of a wreck before I left for Russia, miserable with the state of my life and my relationships and even on my most difficult day I am far better off than the girl in those home movies. I woke up feeling okay about letting go and seeing the world with clear vision again. It felt okay to happy and to laugh. We had a goodbye party tonight at Colleen’s flat – thirty five people crammed into a apartment setting aside all petty differences and frustrations to celebrate the beginning of the end. It has all gone by so fast. It has been wonderful and scary. Things are as they should be and now it is time to go home.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

December 6 – Day 80

I feel so much like I did in the days right after St. Petersburg when my emotions were so fragile and I spent far too long swimming in my own mind. The situation is so much different now but I still feel these burst of anger at this place and these people and I just want to go home. I feel ugly, abrasive and on edge. I knew this week would be difficult and I was prepared for the stress but I can’t shake the awful thoughts and I just want to escape. I don’t want to spend my last days here wrapped up in a cloak of negativity, dwelling on the aspects of life here that disturb me so much but despite my best attempts I can not find the quiet in my mind. I feel people swarming around me, jostling against me as I try to muddle through, buzzing about with toxic thoughts. I just want a moment to regroup from the weeks events but I haven’t the time. This morning I made a break for the stairwell hoping to meander toward school alone but Stephanie nabbed me at the door and while she didn’t want to speak, she insisted on marching next to me no matter how fact I raced. She had no idea I needed space and given how supportive she has been I had to ask. Actors can be needy beings in a constant search for physical contact as a way to reassure themselves of their validity in this world. We kiss and hug and drape all over one another in a manner most individuals might find off-putting and while it is the norm here, all I want at this moment is to be left alone. I feel so smothered. It is too much – too false. I am not in a place to be trotting down the boulevard arm and arm with my classmates like Lavern and Shirley. I am too tightly wound. I know it will pass but I just need a little time to breathe and sort out all the images plaguing my mind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December 5 – Day 79

Relationships between women are highly complex, invaluable entities. When I look back at the times I have loved and lost, the pain pales in compassion with the break-ups I have had with my female friends - because in the end, no matter how much we might protest, we women need each other. Men are great but they will never fully understand what makes us tick; why we cry at inappropriate times, why we go to bathrooms in groups and why we need each other so damn much. We are a sisterhood, bloodlines or not and here in this place, those bonds are even stronger. We cling together knowing full well that these women are the only people on the planet who will come close to understanding our experience in this country. It makes our relationships imperative and it makes them unpredictable. One minute we could be annoyed about something stupid and the next we are curled up on someone’s bed sharing our tears. It is a heightened reality difficult to explain and unlike anything possible in the comforts of home. There is no time to dwell on petty indigestions. This morning I was exasperated with Stephanie for bitching at me throughout our fencing class but within an hour it was forgotten and we were busy planning our much anticipated girls night. Jenna, Steph and I got dressed up and went to Help! for cocktails. We toasted each other, reminisced about our time here and laughed about topics of conversation only girlfriends can understand. More and more I am becoming a private person. I have learned the hard way about sharing too much of myself too quickly and while I don’t want to become closed off, I see the value in saving your whole self for the relationships that really matter. I spent the last three months with two of the youngest girlfriends I have ever had. Sometimes I felt like their mother, sometimes their guide, and very often their pupil but most of the time I just felt like a sister, an unfamiliar relationship that has come to mean so much

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December 4 – Day 78

I woke up looking for hope, for a way to shake the remnants of yesterday’s ugliness. My morning class was cancelled so I took my time getting ready and preparing for the day but the dreary weather and darkened sky which looked closer to late evening than early afternoon made it excruciatingly difficult to leave. I decided to use the old ‘when you feel your worst, look your best’ method of self-encouragement and it was enough to propel me out the door with Stephanie under the guise that we would stop at all the massive tacky New Year’s trees (they don’t do Christmas trees here) on the way to school to take pictures but as we walked the boy Stephanie brought along began to complain with every step and insisted we do our outing at a different time. Watching girls cave to the pressure of guys they are interested in is always enough to make me squeamish but today in particular, when I was just doing my best to keep it together, it was almost to much to bare. Just then, like some universal signal that I should have stayed in bed, a truck jumped the curb and ran through a giant mud pool on the street and soaked me from head to toe. I have seen images like this on television and had I not spent an hour and a half getting ready under duress it may have even been funny but in that moment I just could not see the humor. It turned out to be one of those rough days, when the world repeatedly goes awry to the point of being laughable. The only silver lining was that after waiting two hours for the delayed curtain at an avant-garde German theatrical ‘happening’ which was basically the live version of CSPAN and then sneaking out after fifteen excruciating minutes, Betsy and I stumbled upon the most amazing Czechoslovakian beer house. We relaxed for the first time all day, eating roasted almonds and drinking pints of pilsner while sharing some much needed girl talk. I just need that time to feel normal, to stop thinking and trying so hard to be okay. It was a brief respite from the long day but it was just enough to get me through.

Monday, December 3, 2007

December 3 – Day 77

The snow had melted and froze again over night. Russians do not believe in salting their streets as it poses a threat to their footwear, something that signifies more to them than apparel. Shoes are a definitive status symbol and a regular obsession. Moscovites march along the ice covered cobblestone in four inch stilettos or Italian leather without the slightest consideration of the impracticality or safety issues. I was less inclined to traverse the virtual ice rink and for that reason ducked into a metro station I rarely frequent halfway along my walk to school. It was fairly empty for early the morning rush hour and had I not been futzing with my I-pod I probably never would noticed the minor commotion. I was glancing down as I went through the turn style and had paused to adjust the volume when I caught her eye. She was an elderly babushka, most likely a metro employee who carried the lines of someone who had seen too much. She was answering the questions of a lax looking security official but stopped mid-sentence when she seized my glance. Her eyes held me there staring into her own and a feeling deep inside me told me I should turn away as fast as possible and ignore the situation. But I didn’t. Instead my eyes moved to the ground and there I saw an image I would give anything to erase. It was the body of a man, splayed cavalierly in the metro corridor. In instant I memorized the way it looked; how he was positioned, what he was wearing, the black garbage bag that covered his face and upper torso, and the vulgar apathy of all the passersby. It felt like I was the only person who seemed to find this all horrific and unreal. It took me the entire train ride to realize what I had seen. It was a human being cast aside like garbage and no one seemed to notice. I went to my ballet class and tried to dance but I could not get the image out of my head. Stupid, inconsequential nonsense kept happening throughout the day and I found myself becoming more and more upset until I thought I might be violently ill. Something about the image plagued me beyond the surface trauma. I am not sure what finally made me snap but I started sobbing in a way I haven’t in months. I couldn’t pull myself together and I could not pinpoint why I was so terribly upset. The idea of a homeless person dying in the metro is awful but not unexpected. I thought it was the reaction, or lack there of, from the employees and officials and average citizens but even that didn’t seem to explain the wave of nausea I felt every time I imagined the man’s body – his brown boots and green trousers and the yellow jacket with sleeves that came just below his wrists. And then there was the black trash bag pulled over his head. I thought at first that it was some sort of attempt at digression but the idea just didn’t fit. I dunked my head in the sink, hoping it would calm the swelling in my face and force my tear ducts to close. Instead I started to wale harder. I just wanted to calm down, to get a grip but as Lexi sat next to me stroking my hair, I knew that wouldn’t happen. Someone must have notified the administrators that there was a situation because Colleen, my American program coordinator and Marianna, our Russian confidant came to find me. I squeaked out between gasps that I had seen a dead man and they told me that they knew. In what was I believe was their best attempts to comfort me, they told me that this is a regular occurrence and while such ‘criminal’ activities are by no means acceptable to the Russian people they are something that the people have accepted as a way of life. I was not sure what hearing. They were saying these things about bodies being dropped off in the metro or found in the river covered in garbage bags and it was just too much to process. Marianna tried to hug me and told me to just pretend I had never seen anything. ‘The living are for the living and the dead are for the dead,’ she said. In my mind I thought with disdain, ‘And this is how you ended up with Stalin!’ They asked me if I could pull myself together so I could participate in the Michael Chekhov workshop and I tried my best just that but as I practiced activities on psychological gesture all I could think of was the dead mans shoes. Could what I have seen really been the result of mob activity, this idea that we frequently talk about and do our best to ignore? I was lost in this thought when Jon-Michael got up to perform his piece and dropped to his knees before me. It was at that moment that it all made sense. I looked at the bottom of his boots, treads worn raw from the Russian winter and realized they were the same shoes that the dead man was wearing. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the bottom of his shoes and then I knew why. They were new, they were clean, they were not the shoes of a homeless man. It was everything I wanted to pretend didn’t exist in my beautiful fantasy about saying goodbye without anger or resentment. I will never forget that image. I just hope that I am not the only one.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

December 2 – Day 76

The warm winter sun poured through the charter bus windows, bouncing off the clouds and snow, creating a radiant glow that caused my eyes to tear. We have not had a break in weeks and as much as I longed for a leisurely Sunday morning spent lounging in bed, I was thrilled at the idea of getting out of the city for a day to visit the Russian countryside. MXAT arranged for our group to visit Chekhov’s Estate in a province several hours outside of Moscow. We knew it would be cold and that the bitter temperature inside the city was bound to drop even further as we approached the barren birch-lined fields but I had no idea what a welcome relief the chill would be after days spent in the polluted grey of the metropolis winter. I could barely hear the mummers of complaining students as I raced through the snow banks feeling the spray of untouched white covering my face. The quiet was ominous yet it felt difficult to believe that it was possible to feel anything other than blissful release in the sparkling tundra. As we approached the tiny chapel and cemetery that served as a spiritual resting place for generations of Chekovians, I got the feeling I was seeing something I had only before conceived in my mind. It all looked so familiar. I could see him, walking through the fields conjuring Treplev and Nina, writing about love and art in a way that had never before been expressed. I stayed quiet and let the cold wash over me until it began to hurt. It was enough. It made the trip feel complete and as I thawed out napping in the bus to the tune of Christmas carols in the glimmer of the setting sun I felt settled and ready to go home.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 1 – Day 75

I heard a great line tonight. Stephanie was crying on my bed after a few too many drinks about the stressful run-through we had had this afternoon. Things hadn’t gone the way she wanted and I was trying my best to aid her through her intoxicated artistic crisis. She moaned through tears and a little snot, that the problem was her Emo and her Ego. The ego part is clear. We are bull-headed artists who have lots of stubborn insecurity issues to deal with but it was the Emo part that intrigued me. We are the Emo generation, waxing and wailing about our emotional sufferings and if there was any place in the world that epitomized the manifestations of Emo it would be Russia, a people that pride themselves on their pain. This conversation stopped me cold in part because of the other crazy conversations I had had throughout the day. There are moments when I look my reflection in other people’s eyes and I look so clear and yet so different from the person I was before that it is hard to believe that it is real. First, I was talking to Galina, my cinematography teacher about distribution rights and international access of Russian films and I felt myself get all flush with excitement. I knew I must sound utterly ridiculous to the rest of my classmates who loathe the business of the industry but I didn’t care. I love this stuff, unapologetically, and I don’t think it makes me any less of an artist. Everyone always wants you choose one path or the other but why can’t you have both. The world seems so much larger when the concept of impossibility removed from the equation. Then, after that rather tense run-through, I set out on my date with Sammie. Sammie is one of the few people on this trip that I hadn’t gotten to know that well but always really liked and tonight I finally pin-pointed why. I asked her out to Gogol CafĂ© for margaritas and talked about our experiences here versus back at home and I realized that she is a living, breathing Beatles song. Till the day I die, when I think of Sammie Granburg, I will think of Let It Be. She is that person, the one who has found the way to exist in this crazy theatre world without all the drama. She is never a bitch. She is never rude. And she is never weak. She gets that certain things are with invoking your passions and certain things aren’t, and never before in my life has such a way of existence seemed so appealing. I somewhat begrudgingly look back conversations I had over the last year and think, damn they were right! Why couldn’t I see? And now I do. So tonight when Steph sat there crying about not getting her way, I could see myself, my former self, in her arguments and shared some advice a guy once gave me about thinking it through and figuring out if it really, really matters. Not every issue has to be a battle. Some things just aren’t worth the drama. It is actually quite possible to set aside all the emotion and ego and just let it be.