Thursday, March 26, 2009

Winging It

 More than two weeks have passed since I stood onstage, facing a barangay of family and friends and strangers (and one heckler aunt), and delivered my monologue. (My friend Kat later on said that our guy friends seemed most impressed by the fact that I remembered all those lines—“Ang galing ni Tweet mag-memorize!” Uh…OK. Gotta be grateful for whatever compliment is thrown atcha.) It’s been more than two weeks, but I still kind of levitate off the bed when I think of the miracle of getting through my first ever theatre performance without a hitch.

There was no gagging, no words catching in my throat and me running off the stage in tears because I completely blacked out and forgot my lines—all the horrific scenarios I had played in my head just so I wouldn’t be completely shocked if any of it did happen. There was none of that. As I stood there onstage, I was quite frankly amazed by how relaxed I felt. In fact, I was so relaxed, and thoroughly enjoying myself, that when I bent down to reach for a prop--a lighter--to supposedly light my cigarette and found that it wasn’t there, I couldn’t even muster the energy to panic. My then seemingly Zen, in-the-moment brain quickly told me to mime the lighting and the smoking as if that’s what I had intended to do and my body did just that, quite effortlessly. As I delivered the rest of my monologue--while fake-smoking an unlit cigarette and feeling like that was exactly what I was meant to do, in the first place--I thought, with a shock of recognition (and just plain shock, actually), This is it! This is what Michelle—our director—was talking about! I’m—nakanampu--WINGING IT!

About a couple of weeks before opening night, in the middle of a rehearsal marked by flubbed lines--with performers stopping in mid-act and calling “Line!” to the stage manager Joan too many times--Michelle had swept the entire all-women cast with a somber look and said, in a tone that was as grave as her expression, “Ladies. I need for you to start winging it. I won’t be there with you, anymore, and nor will Joan. No one’s going to be feeding you the lines that you don’t remember. Now, you are going to have to find a way to get through your act without the audience noticing your mistakes. If you make a mistake, if anything should go wrong, the audience doesn’t have to know that. You understand me? Make it work. Do whatever you need to do to make it work. You’re on your own.”

I don’t remember a speech sending more chills of terror down my spine.

No Joan feeding the first—or second or third or fourth—word of the next line when I momentarily black out in the middle of my monologue? No Michelle calling to me that I’m staying too long in stage right, as if I were stuck there, and that I need to move around in order to not bore my audience and lose them? No comforting thought of me being in rehearsals, anyway, so I can screw up and just grin sheepishly and say, “Oh, sorry, sorry. Can I do that over?” The scenario of me standing by myself onstage, under a spotlight, doing what I need to do to make my performance work, on my own, made the blood rush to my head that I thought for a moment, I can still back out…right? I mean, it’s a free country. Right?

Start winging it, Michelle had said. Somehow it sounded no different to me than if she had told me to jump off a building without my Spidey suit.

The fear that that injunction struck in me, however piercing, was short-lived. By then, I’d already come to see that every endeavor I’ve ever attempted, especially the ones that meant a great deal to me, ends with the same final requirement for its completion—Jump! It’s been that way with my romantic relationships, with my work, with the places I’ve dreamed of traveling to…There would always come a point in my wishing, planning, researching, analyzing, visualizing, talking endlessly to friends and family about this thing that I really, really want to try where the only thing left to do would be to actually go do it already with conviction. To not try to control or second-guess the outcome or dwell too much on doomsday what-ifs and just go for it.

Two weeks before my stage debut, I felt the lesson over the past several years repeating itself to me yet another time:

We can keep practicing and practicing, train for months (even years) in order to prepare ourselves for The Big Day, for The Moment of Truth. We may know all the facts, memorized all the lines, learned all the necessary skills, argued the case and analyzed the issue from every possible angle, but in itself none of that will amount to anything. None of that will get us what we want or bring us where we want to be…unless we let go of our crutches and trust that we already have within us exactly what we need to make it. That we are on our own precisely because we are capable of being on our own. That whatever the results, whatever the outcome, we can hack it. So, you know…jump already.

I have to admit in here—as I did to the props person who later came to the dressing room, pale and apologizing profusely about forgetting to put the lighter on the table onstage—that not seeing that lighter was the best thing to happen to me that night. In fact, I saw it as an answered prayer. Being the kind of non-smoker who simply cannot stand cigarette smoke, I was worried that, despite having feverishly practiced my smoking for days, I would not be able to pull off authenticity onstage. I was anxious that my discomfort would show. One smoker friend had watched me, bemused--and more than a little alarmed--as I struggled with a lighter and anxiously, unconvincingly, puffed away. As performance night neared and I still was nowhere near feeling like a real smoker, I did the only other thing left for me to do: I let it go. Bahala na si Batman. Bahala ka na, Lord (haaaaaay, Lohhhhrd…pleeeeeazzzzz….)

“To have control, you have to lose control,” Billy Bob Thornton’s character tells John Cusack’s in Pushing Tin, a film about spiraling-out-of-control air traffic controllers. For me, that paradoxical line is precisely what “winging it” means: to not try to control everything. To acknowledge that some things in our life will always remain mysterious, unseen, hidden--beyond the grasp of even our most sharpened senses and our rational, logical brains. So that however meticulously and determinedly we visualize and plan our lives, it won’t always go exactly the way we want it to go. That is its way of reminding us—a reminder that hurts the more we resist—that we just aren’t in control. Something bigger, something infinitely wiser and more powerful, is. And that it will always out-plan, out-smart, out-strategize, out-visualize us.

And so the only way to handle this mysterious, unseen, hidden aspect of life is to trust it. To trust that it’s working for us, not against us; that--and this seems to be the toughtest thing for many people to accept--it is working within us, so, of course, it only has our best interests at heart. To be absolutely certain that it doesn’t seek to thwart our most beloved plans nor to frustrate our most cherished dreams, but to deliver them to us in the most expedient, most startlingly fuck!-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? genius way possible.

I couldn’t thank the props person enough for the missing lighter. When I thought about it later on, pretending to smoke actually worked better for the monologue because the character was imagining herself in her own movie and had been miming scenes in her tiny apartment since the beginning of the act. Plus, not having to pretend to like smoking—which, I realize, might tax my beginner’s acting skill more than it can handle—made me even more relaxed and my performance, I felt, more natural. So for my second performance night, I incorporated that fake-smoking move, all the while marveling at the sheer genius of it--“Fuck! Why didn’t I think of this myself?”

So it didn’t go the way you have planned, the way you have imagined it--so what? Make it work. Do what you need to do to make it work.

I realize that I have been winging it for several years now. I have been adjusting my responses according to the particular requirements of a moment. I have, in other words, been making my life work for me, no matter what. My life has not at all turned out the way I had originally planned—it has taken turns in a way that I never imagined or thought I’d have the constitution for. Let me put it this way: the ideal life that I wrote about in my grade school slum book (Ideal Age for Marriage: 25, Ideal Mate: Tall, dark, handsome, Ideal Number of Children: 3 to 5, Ideal Profession: President of Coca-Cola—I’m not kidding ☺)? It is sooo NOT the life that I have now, and yet I look at what I have and think, in amazement, Wow, that’s really me. It’s so uniquely mine. Every single part in it I chose. Even the ones that seemed to have landed on my lap, that seemed to have chosen me, I chose back, I embraced. There’s not one thing in it—and this isn’t something that I would have been able to say in the past—that I regret or would have otherwise.

Here’s another thing I wouldn’t have been able to say before, either: I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s in the world. (Hmm…OK, except maybe for Angelina Jolie’s or Kate Winslet’s or J.K. Rowling’s ☺.)

“We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can,” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “Everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it.” My life so far has certainly proven to me countless times that it is not limited—nor can it be limited—to scenarios or situations that I’m used to or comfortable with. It is not limited to things I’ve learned from the family, the religion, the culture, the society that I grew up in. Life is much bigger than all of that combined. Some new surprise, something I’ve never encountered before, will always spring out at me. Curveballs will always zing towards me from seemingly out of nowhere. The question is: do I develop the flexibility, the mental and emotional openness and agility to adjust my stance—adjust my perceptions and recalibrate my responses--in order to catch it? Or do I stubbornly root myself in my old position—in my usual thinking, in the way I’ve always done things—and helplessly watch that ball painfully hit me on the head yet another time?

I’ve learned the hard (a.k.a. painful) way that just because a situation or an event is something I’ve not seen nor experienced before doesn’t mean it’s “impossible” or “wrong” or “a mistake” or “not for me”. In other words, I have come to embrace the reality, the fact, that anything can happen, anything at all is possible. And while that idea used to scare the shit out of me, it is now the one promise—the one constant--in life that I rely on, that I know I can always count on. And that no matter what other new, unprecedented things life may throw at me, I know—with absolute certainty--that, as my friend Erin (in Barcelona now, hyper-consciously experiencing this whole concept) says, “it’s going to be awesome.”

I know because, well…it already is.

The cast of SALLY'S SHORTS (a night of one-act plays by American playwright Sally Nemeth) with our fabulous director, Michelle Washington (the bald-headed Superwoman beside me). 
Cast and crew 

With co-actress (for one-act play LILY) LaRita Hamilton