Restless Spirits Looking for A Home

I don’t live alone.

I mean, I live with my girlfriend, you know that already.  But my not-aloneness is another kind of thing, and it’s something that occurred to me to talk about a little when I started talking about “The Hanukkah Surprise” in my last post.  It was interesting, thinking about that story again.  It made me think about the ways in which “The Hanukkah Surprise” is different from some of my other stories, and one way is in the characters.

David and Andrew, the protagonists of “The Hanukkah Surprise,” are characters I’ve been living with since college.  I haven’t been writing stories about them that whole time, though when I have to explain I generally say it that way.  “They’re characters my friends and I make up stories about.”  And that’s true enough.

But it’s not the only thing that’s true.  Another thing that’s true is that I have characters that serve as companions, living as part of me in a way that feels like some particular muscle is part of me: it does what it needs to do, and occasionally a feel a twinge or a pain or a tug, asking to be stretched or rubbed or moved a different way.  Its life is not a separate thing, but it can surprise me.

That’s how these characters feel to me.  To a large extent, that’s how all characters feel to me, but these and some others I have had with me for longer, and I didn’t invent them to be part of one particular story at one particular time.  Instead, I was telling my own story and found them there, part of it.  Companions.  Friends.  Other-selves refracted in fun house mirrors.

Sometimes, when I’m in trouble or when I’m lonely or I don’t know what to do, I gather them together on paper, in a circle, and we talk.  They tell me the truth about myself and about each other.  We speak in shorthand, in code, quick and silvery, the way you can’t quite do with other people in the world.

I think it has to do with identity, with the squeezing and the sacrifice and the rounding up and down that goes into making any legible self.  I can’t be a hundred things at once and still be a sane and legible person, not really.  But I can’t be just one thing and be fully myself, not really.  So I end up haunted, in the best of ways.  I don’t know if other writers and actors and character-makers of various kinds would describe their experience in these ways, but I think it is not an uncommon experience.

It’s the closest I’ve come to magic.  Real magic, transformation-style.  And I find that exploring these other kinds of identity, it is possible to connect to other people in magical ways, to connect to parts of them that otherwise might remain hidden.  Maybe that’s what all writing and acting and character-making is about, too.  Some people can recognize these others in my face, or when I speak, or laugh, or point out a particular piece of beauty in the world.  Some people can see this in me even if they don’t know these companionate characters exist.

I wrote about these concepts in my play The More-Than One, which was in the 2010 Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival.  I think in some ways these concepts are leading me to questions of identities that are not singular or pure in my academic research.  They weave around my life, and for lack of a better phrase, I’ve called them restless spirits looking for a home– though I might be simply talking about myself.

I don’t know if I’ve made sense here.  But I think some people will recognize what’s behind what I’m saying, even if the words are slippery.  I think what I’m trying to express is how much space there is between truth and fiction, and how amazingly fertile that space is when you slip between.

I don’t live alone in my heart or my skin.  I think, on many levels, most of us don’t.  Writing and theater are just two of the more formal ways I try to express that.

I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours…