I’m past the midway point of my life (at least I hope the fraction isn’t much bigger than that), and it still happens to me.
I’ll arrive home, get out of my car, head to the door, pull out my keys and, just as I’m sliding the right one into the lock, I’ll feel like I’m nine years old again, and that I’m playing house. I’ll remember how that felt, and how many times I repeated those gestures in play with my mother’s old purses and bits of junk that I collected: old lipstick tubes, random keys that had lost their use and discarded change purses, that created a simulacrum of the trove my mother had stashed in her own hand bag (minus the kleenex!).
I’ll recall how the adult world seemed like a giant set piece. And in spite of the fact that I’ve been an adult woman for decades, there’s still a part of me that feels that it’s unreal and extraordinary that this is really my life, and not make-believe.
It can happen when I’m driving and I think: Wow! You’re really doing this!, or when I’m cooking and feel, briefly, like I’m aping TV cooks; like I’m playing.
It happened, of course, when I travelled to France and to London, England: brief moments of stepping outside of myself and observing where I was and how close to fictional it all felt.
The term imposter syndrome comes to mind, but that isn’t right, because I don’t feel any sense of embarrassment or inadequacy. What I feel is closer to genuine delight and astonishment.
How do I do this? How do I simultaneously straddle the past and the present without feeling unnerved? What is this all about? It isn’t déjà vu. That’s more confusing. Déjà vu comes with a kind of a psychic whoosh, and a sense that the flow of time has been disturbed in a way that’s slightly jarring and puzzling, like a music track that skips.
I suspect—I hope—that I’m not alone in experiencing these moments.
I like when they happen. They usually make me smile (at least inwardly). I realize that I’m still that same girl—or at least, that she is still in me. Which feels impossible, because most of the time, I’m rather under the impression that I’m no longer even the person I was at 30, let alone 20 or 10…
This is some kind of paradox, I guess. That I can know that I am changing all the time and that I can never retrieve or return to what was and who I was even a few months ago, while at the same time knowing that I am still that child I remember.
Quantum theorists might have all kinds of ideas about this «phenomenon». Philosophers, metaphysicians or psychologists might approach it from the perspective of the nature of the self, or of consciousness or perhaps even of the soul.
I was struck by the notion of play, as in play-acting.
Watching my son Christian go through the process of preparing for a production of Macbeth at a small downtown theatre, where he is presently performing, has got me thinking.
In spite of being a passionate reader and writer, as well as a devoted cinephile and lover of music and the visual arts, I’m steadily coming round to the idea that the greatest of all arts is drama.
And not simply because of the glorious, vital, engaging, in-real-time feat of the end result, but much more because of the process of getting there.
Since December, I’ve watched the director and players at Raise the Stakes Theatre produce Macbeth from scratch (well, from the bare bones of Shakespeare’s words—a pretty great starting place).
The planning, the audition process, the casting, the first meetings of cast and director, the first read-throughs, the acquisition of the text by the players, the rehearsals held in spaces rented all over the city, more rehearsals and more rehearsals, moving into the theatre space, the sets, the props, the costume fittings, tech rehearsals, dress rehearsal…opening night. And, blessedly, multiple performances after that, to fine-tune it; to make it better and better. To come as close as possible to an almost perfect work of art.
So many of these steps are repeated again and again and again, some from one dramatic production to the next, some within the same play. Over and over, the actors work. Rehearsing lines that are the same, but are expressed slightly differently each time; felt slightly differently each time; creating new moments and new ground within the familiarity of a process repeating itself.
The traces of each rehearsal superimposing themselves on the previous ones.
And we call them players.
How much of what they learn from their craft do they carry into their private lives? How different is this from what we all transpose from our past to our present, or from our private to public lives?
I love to think that each moment that I live is simply a rehearsal for what will come next. And so on.
It feels right to think of life this way.