Monday, April 25, 2016

#Shakespeare400 #alwaysbewagging

As you may have heard, if you live anywhere near people who speak, Saturday was the 400th/452nd anniversary of Shakespeare's death/birth. That's kind of a big deal for a person like me, whose first name is a character from Merchant and maiden name is a character from Macbeth (though a variant spelling) and married name is a character from Hamlet and who has two master's degrees in Shakespeare and who is trying to get a PhD in Shakespeare and who has eight copies of the complete works in her apartment and who lives in Shakespeareland and who basically eats, sleeps, and breathes Shakespeare all day, every day, for the last three years of her life.  Shakespeare is my one true love, and that's a fact, Jack.

Saturday also happened to be the final day of coursework for my MFA degree, which means it was the last day Sweet Wag Shakespeare was an active company and the last day I could say with any certainty where any of my friends would be at a given moment.  It feels appropriate that our drop-dead date was the same day as Shakespeare's drop-dead date.  My heart is full and I feel complicated about both #Shakespeare400 and the end of the Wags.

Shakespeare, the man, is easier to deal with.  I owe him for absolutely everything my life is and is not.  He is both the reason I got married and the reason I'm getting divorced.  He is my first love, my longest love, my one true love (apparently).  He is responsible for my greatest professional triumphs and also my greatest failures.  Above all, Shakespeare is home for me.  I've been living and working here long enough to know that Shakespeare is but one bright star in the sky that is early modern English drama (1580-1642), and that there's so much else before, after. and around him that is magnificent, but Shakespeare is my home.  He's the one I'll return to, again and again, when things are good, bad, or just okay.  He's the one whose words cover my walls, my heart, my body, and my soul.  Put simply, Shakespeare is the higher power that I believe in, and he has shaped me into the woman I am today.  "The bright day is done and we are for the dark" got me through last spring; "be bloody, bold, and resolute" got me through this one.

The end of the Wags is harder to grapple with. Above all, I think I'm relieved. This year was a battle, and the last four weeks were basically hell.  The work was never easy and often unpleasant, interpersonal relationships strained and broke, and I've come out the other side struggling to determine what I have to show for it besides another very expensive piece of paper.  But I am also desperately sad to have to say goodbye to some of my forever friends. I never expected to be the one who got left—I always thought I'd be doing the leaving as well.  This is hard, as life so often is.

Today was my first real day of post-MFA life. I got up at 6:00, did my three-mile loop of Staunton, did my push ups and my sit ups for the first time in months, got groceries, took my recycling out, dropped off my defense draft, cooked, applied for jobs, took another walk.  Tomorrow I jump back into academia with my defense prep and article prep and PhD prep for round two, but I have the freedom to be disciplined with myself again.  Up at 6:00, bed at 10:00, morning and evening walks.  It's time to rebuild, refocus, and move forward.

The readiness is all.  Let be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

in which I reflect.

Sunday night was the annual benefit concert at the ASC to celebrate the closing of the Ren Season and raise money for musical instruments.  It was the third year in a row I'd attended, and for me, it was an evening of profound joy and sadness and reflection—like usual.

The first year I went, I was just about done with my first year of grad school—a year of triumph and joy and love.  Nearly all of my friends went with me, and we danced the night away.  I came home from the concert and wrote a love letter to the ASC for being a big part of my joy.

Last year the concert was held on my sixth wedding anniversary…five days after my husband asked for a divorce.  I excused myself mid-concert to cry in the bathroom.  Two days later, I defended my thesis and passed without revisions.  My greatest failure followed hard on by my greatest success.

The concert was different this year.  For one thing, I counted among the actors onstage a couple of legitimate friends, one of whom I am very sad to be saying goodbye to.  Almost none of my friends came.  And while I always expected this to be my final concert, the end of my time in Staunton, it wasn't.  Because I failed to get into a PhD program, so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.  In the span of twelve months, I failed at the two things no one ever expected me to fail at—my marriage is over and I'm not getting a PhD.  What madness is this?

I've spent the last year learning to live without my husband, and the last two months learning to live with the idea that I'm not getting a PhD this year.  I've learned to deal with the shame and embarrassment and anger and move toward healthful productivity. I've been dating a little, which is a strange thing.  The last time I dated someone who wasn't my husband, I was a damn teenager.  I've made a satisfactory plan to get me through the next year in Staunton, until I can reapply for PhD programs and (I very much hope) matriculate next fall.  In short, I've been learning to be a real person, reliant on only myself.

The long and the short of everything is that Staunton is the first place that's ever been mine. I've grown and changed so much here.  I'm proud of the things I've accomplished, the person I've become. I'm even proud of the ways in which I've failed—because each failure has led to new, beautiful things.

The last song the Ren troupe played before leaving the stage is a new one to me, part of the Love for Love set list, but it's come to be extraordinarily dear to me.  It's called "Rivers and Roads", and it starts with these lyrics:

A year from now we'll all be gone
All our friends will move away
And they're going to better places
But our friends will be gone away
Nothing is as it has been
And I miss your face like Hell
And I guess it's just as well
But I miss your face like Hell

As Chris began singing this plaintive, beautiful song, I caught eyes with my very best Marshall, sitting on the other side of the balcony, directly across from me.  He won't be gone in a year. He'll be gone in three months. Same with Aubrey and Merlyn.  My friends are leaving, for bigger and better things, and I'm staying here, in this place I love, in my shitty shoebox apartment, with an impending case of ennui.

The end of Ren Season always feels like an ending, because it is. It's right before the end of the semester. This year is more acute—it's the final graduation, and people I love dearly are leaving, maybe forever.  I'm a whirlwind of emotions right now.  But I'm strong and capable, and I know these things to be true: nothing in the last year is enough to sink me. I will get a PhD someday, I will find love again, I will not have to settle, and I'm going to be okay.  So maybe my life isn't Rivers and Roads.  Maybe my life is Wherever Is Your Heart.

Wherever is your heart I call home
Wherever is your heart I call home
Though your feet may take you far from me, I know
Wherever is your heart I call home

This one's for the ones I love most; the ones who have made this year so damn great, even through all the suck: Molly and Haylie and Marfall and PDM and Aubs and, most surprisingly and wonderfully, Holtzy.