Travelling makes me think of dying. Granted, an oddly-shaped potato can make me think of dying, but travelling does it to me especially. And I do so with morbid hunger, rolling delicious thoughts of death in my head and storing them away for a time when I feel depleted of the ability to feel anything of substance or meaning. I think I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing.
I think of dying and I wonder if and when the big revelations will come. All of the chunks of travel that would feel like tumbled stones if I could hold them, carried in my pockets like clues as to who I am (everything is a clue to the eternal detective). They are won with each swollen toe from long plane rides, every coin in foreign currency, every road sign in another language. I know a little more of me, and the bigger tokens come when I feel closer to knowing whatever my purpose might be; I'm aware that the last great parting gift I won't be able to get my hands on is the answer to why I'm here at all and how I arrived and where I'll go when this whole trip is over.
I had two days to prepare to go to Mexico City. I bought a new suitcase and shoes and pre-ripped jeans and kleenex. I pretended I was used to being escorted to the airport by a car service and I saw a small Remembrance Day ceremony after buying a lock for my luggage but before I paid to replace the earphones I left at home. The day was cloudless and I drank my coffee.
An observant man located me and two of the three other actors and up into the sky we went. I tasked myself with identifying elements of Cormac McCarthy's writing style in the vain hope of replicating it, having little patience for flowery descriptives in narratives but wanting to attempt a narrative all the same (how am I doing?) I listened to Tom Petty and read and sat patiently before the questions about my trip while they tumbled and settled and presented themselves for my judgement. We glided down in Dallas, found our fifth Beatle, and laid sky tracks for Mexico.
It all seems full to me now. In that magical way time has, moments went from hollow uncertainty to the knowledge now that I am changed for how those moments were fated. It all seems full.
The hollow uncertainty of a boutique hotel that was dark upon our arrival and knowing we were chosen few but didn't know what was expected of us, not really. But in a day I will have found a rhythm for placing a towel by the errant shower door to keep the floor dry and will remember which drawer I'd stored my ripped jeans in.
The bizarre sort of dis/connect I feel when I'm on another piece of the planet without having had to move my body much myself. That I'm suddenly walking down a street that could be in my city but for the taco stand and 7-11 full of goods that are mysteries to me and candle vigils on the street's median whose purpose I didn't understand at the time, but I wonder now if it was for the poor souls of those disappeared students. I feel it all the first morning there on an adventure with a new friend to the National Museum of Anthropology, all receptacles for the hearts of human sacrifices and a statue of a snake goddess that gave birth to the being that would annihilate her; skulls and suns and the universe laid in stone, carved by people like me that needed to believe in their importance beyond their impermanence, and also that there is a message we are not receiving but is there like a map to our origin. These were people who practiced death; who distributed it and found meaning and purpose in it. That comforted me.
Actorly and directorly and costumely things happened later that day. Something stops me from talking about that portion of things, even though that's the reason I was there at all. Maybe I can't talk about it without feeling pretentious. Maybe I don't want to talk about it because I like to keep that part of the trip in a sacred little bubble that remains treasured for how I came to feel close to a few, for the childlike way I didn't want to let them go only hours after meeting them. I'm too goddamn sentimental. And it all bled into the next day when we actually got to work; it was long and it was precious to me. And I love that I know that most of the people there would laugh about how it was precious to me. They would laugh and so would I for my simpleness, but I can't feel any other way about it.
I had a blessed day to tour the city, and thanks to my new friends I saw and understood parts of it that I never would have had I been on my own. On my own, I may have circled my hotel block, felt intimidated by how I couldn't order off the menu in the cafe down the street, made do with some ichiban from the 7-11. But my friends were my shield and my password and my experience subway tokens, and I can't believe my fortune in finding them. I doubt sometimes, but I found a cathedral that had no room for it; it diminished uncertainty before the evidence of hours and hours and hours of people who were sure about something. I learned some Mexican Spanish slang (outside of the church, come on), and I repeated it at loud, appropriately-timed intervals to my Mexican friend, and he still never left the side of this socially inept foreigner.
I had an impromptu salsa lesson and I hugged and heard and held people whose smiles and faces warmed me and I wondered if I would see them again. I shortened that thought because it made me sad and I didn't want that then.
The next day I joined new friends yet again for breakfast, we were whisked away for the last time, and I shook my fists violently and clenched my teeth and my face kept spouting the words of sentimentality and preciousness and sheer luck and gratitude. Our first flight was delayed enough that we pumped our weary little legs for the connecting gate to the plane to take us home. We barely made the closing doors, and I landed in a place whose temperature had dropped while I was away, both actually and relative to the Mexican warmth.
I have a porcelain skull and Mexican chocolate and coffee and pictures that my incredibly thoughtful friend took with my phone. I have another experience that I get to think about, however consciously, if I get a deathbed. I have songs and smells that have new meaning for me now, and my boundless little heart has the memory of more smiles locked inside of it. Maybe my interpretation of all of this seems terribly morbid to some, but I really don't intend it that way; I've just got new memories that were created of the stuff that can't be destroyed when my body is, and that'll hopefully go with my little soul nugget onto the next plane.
My annual winter pilgrimage through the Rockies was supplemented this year with a summer trip, and I learned that, at this time, I have not many tears stashed away for something I can't name or put my finger on. I sometimes travel through there and the Three Sisters to the only child give me a little talk and I have a little cry, mourning for an emotional thing that I didn't know existed. But this time around I only felt an easy warmth, when you're with yourself and there's no thing to feel angry about or resentful about or to grieve for not being worthy enough to receive or noble enough to give. It was all smooth and restless, as I'm not small enough to fold myself up and sleep on the Greyhound like the Filipino woman beside me. I slept the next night in a smooth bed that was all mine, next to a remote to cable TV that was all mine, a small coffee maker and whiteners and stir sticks and shampoo bottles that were all mine.
The next morning it rained and it was fat, and my large mountains slept in their little blankets and I've never seen them so peaceful. We were all calm, all of us, and I walked and walked and talked to no one. I bought some chocolates for the aunt and uncle I would be staying with in Calgary and boarded that beastly thing again that evening. I've come to love the long trip. People look at me like I'm crazy but I love being in between places sometimes; the in-between places give me the time to formulate thoughts and let them mature before they come spewing out of my mouth, the way they do when I'm stationary. That's not always for the best.
My aunt and uncle were smaller than when I'd last seen them but their faces were the same to me. Over the weekend more faces that I knew over fifteen years ago smiled at me and I screamed back and I hugged these people that were of the same people I was. But not actually, not biologically. But I love them so because they ARE my family. I met so many new ones, these new faces and precious voices and THOUGHTS coming out of thoughtful people, thoughtful YOUNG people and I can't believe I'm related to them.
Auntie Elinor asked me if I knew how dad came to be a Pratt. I said I knew he was adopted when he was six. She said that was right, but that he was in the family from the time he was a baby, and I'm sure that was a bit of information I heard over the years but had been garbled amongst more unimportant things that my brain stubbornly holds onto. This is what I recorded.
"(Aunt E: I have to try to keep my language...) (Me: Why?) (laughter)...
As you might know or not, my mom used to board children, mostly babies. And some were government wards and some were private citizens, you know...
..Ronnie's mom, Doris Salahub was her last name, somehow she got my mom's name and asked if she could look after her baby. Which my mother did...and he was a cute little baby, dark hair. Anyway, he stayed with us, and she used to come see him. Then, I guess I can tell you this, her visits got farther and farther apart, and she didn't come as often as she might have. And then she stopped giving us...she used to pay us once a month and then she wouldn't come for months on end. So anyways, as it happened she moved to Edmonton, and by the time Ronnie was 6, he was going to school...didn't have kindergarten in those days. So mom and dad decided they'd like to adopt him because she didn't seem to have interest. So my dad worked on the CPR so he had a pass, and to get her permission we had to go to Edmonton to find her. So mom, Alan and I got on the overnight train to Edmonton. Overnight to Edmonton? Can you imagine? We thought it was a big adventure. As soon as we got to Edmonton--I don't remember all the details--I remember we went to this house and she came to the door and I don't recall whether we even went inside. Mom had the papers all filled out, and she asked if she'd be willing to give him up for adoption. She said that she wanted to adopt him. So [Doris] agreed, she signed the papers, so then we went back to the train station and got on the train and came back home again.
So when they told him that his name was now going to be Ronald Pratt, he went around with his little eraser--and it was so cute, I'll always remember this--and he took all his little books and rubbed out 'Salahub' and put 'Pratt'. Isn't that so cute? It's touching. He put 'Ronnie Pratt'."
My father was given the gift of having people want him when someone else didn't. Because a handful of people, angels really, wanted him, he knew love and could give this to his daughter, certainly. He wasn't perfect and his life wasn't either and I'll never know what some of his biology was because even the adoption papers say little. But his heart found the place where he was wanted, and then mine did too when I was born to him and to them, and I also got to know love.
To be where you're wanted is your right place. Your blanket mountains and your family and your loves, your friends and romantic hand-holders and the people who look at you and smile, your own coffee maker in fat rain. I know these things and I hope the people that I love know these things. I don't know what to say about the rest of the world, but this is mine and I could cry for it.
So for the next pilgrimage, then.
I don't know if we're molded by a thing, but I feel this little playdough body get pressed and twisted, and the things leaving their thumbprints are no small forces. There was the death of my father that left a pinch that'll never be smooth again, and there were strained relationships that hardened pieces of me; left out to dry and their softness is gone for good. There have been friendships and loves that have injected me with new stuff and that have permanently coloured me, and will inflate my humble veins until the whole program is ripped apart and squeezed back into the tub when I die.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that when you follow your heart and do what you love, success follows. Now, I don't know what success looks like to you; it could be rolling around in dollar bills on your bed (but you shouldn't do that 'cause it's gross), it could be a fancy enough house to warrant a table runner (that wasn't what I thought it was, either). For me, success has always meant that I could hold my ground with 8-year-old me.
See, 8-year-old me wasn't a jerk, and she wasn't judgmental. She wouldn't have cared if someone had a fancy house or piles of money (though growing up amongst affluent families in Calgary, she certainly enviously stroked her friends' velvety table runners). But she dreamed BIG. When she discovered that movies weren't actually real life (sorry to those of you that haven't caught up yet), she knew that the next best thing to living in a movie was making one. So by god, she acted her little heart out. In her bedroom, in her friends' (ridiculously spacious) bedrooms, anywhere she could invent a story for herself. I'd like to pause here and say I hope I'm not being saccharine like some actors: "Ooohhh I've been acting since I was a kid, putting on plays for my unnaturally doting family and my mother who dropped everything to schlep me to auditions the next state over" and blah, blah, blah. Okay, we get it, this is your destiny and you're honouring us with your talent. Moving on.
It was a big, wide world when you were that age, and "impossible" wasn't in your vocabulary. But in a few years, you realize it's impossible to stay that way. Responsibility creeps in, sometimes happily but most times not, and what you once dreamed for yourself becomes a sweet memory. You get little glimpses of it throughout your life, in something you smell or hear, it catches you for that SECOND, and it's gone before you can tag it. Which adds to its sweetness, I suppose. But it's gone nonetheless.
I was very fortunate to have an encouraging family, that told me not to settle for less than what I truly wanted to do in this life. So I got to carry on with my little dreams.
Today, I'm not making boatloads of money. I'm not accosted in the street and asked for my autograph (if I pay you, will you do this for me? Please?) But I'm doing what I love, and I think it shows. Because I get to do this, I'm a good person to the people around me. I've taken care of myself so I can take care of others, if and when the time comes. I put my head down to do the work, and I look up when it's done so I can feel the sun on my face. I've sacrificed, but I haven't compromised. Essentially, I'm on my way. And that, to me, is success. To me, this means I can stand before 8-year-old me without apology, and she could be proud. And then we'd go for slurpees and talk about boys.
Two projects that honoured me by choosing me to participate in them, are selections for the 2014 LAWeb Fest. I met some of my best friends doing Standard Action and Aeternus, we worked our asses off, and some people south of the border took notice. We're heading down in March to celebrate, to represent, and to take our 8-year-old selves on the town.
Thank you, my friends.