Do you ever feel as though you're in the middle of being beamed up -- like you're somewhere between the strange planet and the transporter room? I guess what I'm talking about is the sensation of being ungrounded -- a nearly Unbearable Lightness. ... I'm on the road right now, in a not-extremely-bustling Ventura ("We call it 'Ventucky,'" a store clerk drily informed me today), and in my two days here I've been having a particularly difficult time getting a sense of settledness.
I grew up in Manhattan, and I guess I've always looked to my environment for kind of a jump-start. (In my childhood neighborhood, Washington Heights, that stimulation often betokened nearby violence. To the point that my mom once complained, when we were visiting friends in the suburbs, that she couldn't fall asleep without hearing the occasional sound of gunshots.) In Philadelphia, where I was performing a couple of weeks ago, I could walk out of my hotel into a swirl of pedestrians, honking horns, grocery stores, museums -- I even found a place that served Peet's coffee and played ESPN continuously! In Southern California, by contrast, I walk out of my hotel room into balmy Santa Ana winds that seem to be whispering, "Go back into your room and curl up on your bed! Also: give up all hope!"
It would probably be better if I could drive. But right now I just have my learner's permit (I plan to go for my actual license in March, when I'm back home), so I'm stuck. (Fortunately, the theater I'm performing at -- the Rubicon -- is only a few blocks away. And today, after our dress rehearsal, I walked past the Rubicon to Main Street, where I did find a few shops. I mention this mostly so that I can say, gratuitously, that I crossed the Rubicon.)
And yet I know that the problem isn't just one of getting around. It really comes back to my need for external stimulation. When I was a kid, I never felt I truly had accomplished anything until I could see that my father was delighted by it. And after he died (when I was in my 20s), I spent several years trying to convince myself that I still existed, even without my dad reflecting myself back to me. Fortunately, I had my brothers and my sister, my mother and my stepmother -- plus a new group of friends who, in retrospect, kind of saved my life. But when I was alone, in my room, I was always in danger of re-entering a state of stasis, almost a suspended animation (except without the animation), that could last for days, weeks, or even months.
Ever since our son was born, over eight years ago, I've been almost entirely out of that depressive zone: I feel continually blessed to be surrounded by my family and my friends, and also I think there's an element that as a parent I can't afford to go zombie. But there are always moments -- and they tend to happen when I'm alone on the road -- when I feel kind of a queasy flickering in the fabric of my experience, and I sense a yawning emptiness somewhere not too distant. It's scary.
So what do you do? Well, I have some techniques: I try to exercise. (Today I went to the gym that's connected with my hotel and worked out for an hour; gratifyingly, I was younger than everyone else there -- by at least 30 years.) I listen to music. (Tried a new recording from the group Iron & Wine: too mellow. Got a welcome jolt from P.J. Harvey.) I check in with my family and friends. I read a bunch of blogs. I make a to-do list, and even schedule my tasks. ...
This afternoon I felt like I was doing pretty well: Exercise: check. Listen to music: check. But then around 1 or 2 p.m. the bed started beckoning. I tried explaining to the bed that I had already slept many hours in it the previous night and had no biological need for further sleep. But the bed kept calling to me: it was like a really comforting version of Tony Robbins, with its giant bright pillow-teeth, smilingly telling me that Success was Within My Reach, if only I would Tuck Myself In.
Thank god for the dress rehearsal! Structure is Life. ... I was doing something I enjoy, with really nice people around me, in a cool theater. There was coffee in abundance (not Peet's, but what can you do?). And then afterwards I found a store (the one with the aforementioned clerk) where I found The World's Largest Pair of Underpants on sale, and also self-propelled lederhosen. And they were playing the k.d. lang song "Save Me" over the sound system. And I went to a restaurant and ate some ribs and watched the Lakers on T.V. (they won, unfortunately). And I walked back to my hotel, passing two young couples who were holding hands and enjoying each other. ...
Now I'm back in my room. They've just added "turn-down service" here, so my bed looks especially inviting right now (especially with those three Hershey's Kisses on the pillow). But you know what? I'm going to turn down the bed's invitation, for now. This is my only time, this life. And I know that out there is a beautiful world.
February 8th, 2006