Death & Dancing
Sustainability is a thoroughly 21st Century concept, at least in mass-definition. I think that we, as a people, have exploded the term into thousands of glittering pieces that we’ve rearranged into a mosaic that resembles a more ideal ‘way of life.’ Its thousands of reflective pieces float around the cloud that is our socially fragmented, technology-diluted day and age. It is in these pieces we wish to see a better version of ourselves at one with the world around us. All the cracks between are only wrinkles we’ve developed with age and experience, as we’ve learned to be more flexible, perhaps even more generous.
I’m sitting in Margravine Cemetery on a beautiful, near 60 degree day, listening to the new St. Vincent album, which she intended as “a party record you could play at a funeral.” I’m too self-aware to be ironic. The poeticism of the soundtrack of my every waking moment is entirely intentional.
The remains of lives gone before me lie beneath the grass-speckled, sun-warmed English soil surrounding me and my bench. Here I sit, perfectly lonely, insular in the palatial estate of my self-aggrandizing internal life. A gorgeous day brings West Londoners past me in small crowds. I watch and listen and think, very grateful for my cancelled morning singing class. Now I have time for my contemplative kind of leisure. I spin my wheels, untouchable, until a sad-looking, bundled-up, cherubic old woman quietly approaches my bench. Without a word, she makes to sit beside me. I move my bag and my coat and slide over to accommodate her. And there she sits.
Dare we speak? Dare we attempt melding our two disparate mosaic pieces into one? Perhaps we can make small talk of the weather: how beautiful the world can look awash in early spring sunshine and how fortunate we are to enjoy a short rest here, in the company of so many spirits who call it their final resting place. Maybe she has a loved one buried here, someone she’d reminisce of in the company of a foreign stranger. Maybe she would ask me of my business in London, and I’d go on about my youthful adventure abroad to practice telling the stories of those departed like the ghosts who reside around us. Perhaps we would delight each other dizzy before the day even slinks past noon.
Rather, we sit, silently. I listen to a St. Vincent song called “Birth in Reverse” and I write of the woman sitting next to me, fantasies trapped somewhere between my head, my heart, and my furiously scribbling hand. Without notice, she rises and leaves me. St. Vincent carries on her private concert in my ears. My morning writing returns to record, no fantasy, no exquisite potential for diversion.
It is a beautiful day in this melancholy place, and I am well and happy.
A year ago, I was rehearsing my first project at the School of Theatre: a play called The Skriker by British playwright Caryl Churchill. My director, Hondo, began our rehearsal process by asking the company if we found the current way of the world sustainable. Several hours and many depressing, esoteric platitudes later, the answer was a resoundingly fearful, “no.”
My independence has afforded me much valuable information on the way I live since I’ve been here in London. When I’m not listening to beautiful music and musing unto myself, I’m training with superbly stiff-upper-lipped British tutors like one perceptive director who called me charming, good-looking, and lazy before retorting “well, do you want to be an actor?” And so, I have been considering life after training. In a little over a year, the structures of an education in self-actualization will all but evaporate. Can I do it on my own? Dare I put my training to use? It seems I must when the time comes, but what careful consideration I must afford my next chapter! Careful enough to warrant a head start—perhaps some pre-writing, if you will.
I am treading the unstable line between youthful abandon and adult responsibility with grace. I have even developed a delightful little dance to distract as I bide time. That’s the charm of which my director spoke. And when I’m not dancing, I practice an expert balancing act that allows me repurpose the line into a most comfortable hammock in which to rest. There I lie, counting stars with time to spare, suspended between age.
It is thrilling to consider every passing moment an opportunity to stop dancing or slip out of the hammock and step over the line. I wonder what, if anything, I will lose when I do—or, better yet, what there is to gain, unbeknownst to me, far on the other side.
I will consider sustainability. Perhaps I can trust myself with the tools to smash, rearrange, and share a new reflective image of what it means to be me in this world. I’m not talking alter-ego or self-invention; this is not my Sasha Fierce moment (although it could be). Choice has never seemed to me more tangible, and I pass no judgement upon that gift. I have options, and so I think I will lay my anxieties to rest here in this small, English cemetery in the shadows of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic in the borough of Hammersmith. I will listen to more beautiful music and write a few more lines of poetry. Perhaps I will break my silence and boldly endeavour to engage the next stranger who sits beside me to admire the weather.
I was once told ghosts cannot travel overseas. Therefore, I suppose I will part with my relieved anxieties for quite some time come May.
Then again, this is just a late morning fantasy wrought from my hyperactive romantic’s imagination, right?