The above is a photo of a photo of my aura. I had it read in Chinatown a few weeks ago and nodded adamantly as the woman told me I was “removed, observant, in [my] own castle.” It is very likely that other parts of her reading were far less accurate and that I seized only on what resonated with me, but that itself is an innate part of being removed/observant/in your own castle: picking and choosing what you’ll remember later, curating moments, architecting your own narrative, as opposed to being open to the possibility that she could’ve been telling me something that did not already fit my idea of who I am. She said, “There is something between you and the rest of the world,” and gestured as though to indicate a screen in front of her face.
This year, I graduated from high school and moved out of my parents’ Midwestern home into a New York City apartment and started acting in a play every day, wondering, constantly, what it feels like to bring down that screen. This was for the sake of being onstage but also because I was trying to start my life: How does it feel to exist in a moment, connected to another human being and to the world, without thinking about what it signifies, what it’ll look like in memory?
To be able to consider these questions at all is not only a privilege afforded by a life with time to think about HOW EXACTLY to FULLY APPRECIATE all these MAGICAL MOMENTS I am #blessed with CoNsTaNtLy!, but also just how my brain works. I started a blog when I was 11, and every day after school, I came home and took photos of my outfits for it. I was very picky about the setting and the colors and the lighting, not out of any interest in photography, so much as a desire to draw connections between things and delight at the order of it all. I didn’t feel like they were self-portraits, although I’m in every picture. They felt similar, instead, to doing plays at camp and community theater, or sitting at our family’s piano going through a Bible-thick Broadway songbook and shifting among my favorite characters.
When I stopped writing my blog halfway through high school, I began keeping journals just for myself, each one cycling through a different personality as I had with fashion and with acting. For the duration of each journal, my handwriting would change, I’d dye my hair, I’d hang new posters on my wall, I stuck to a narrow selection of my wardrobe and my music, I chose a new route for the walk to school. I am similarly strict about the monthly Rookie themes, dictating to our illustrators and photographers which colors, motifs, and types of lighting to use in their work for us. My friends get annoyed with me for how often I try to art direct our hangouts instead of seeing where the night takes us—Can we all wear these colors, walk down this street, listen to this song? That cohesion frames the moment and turns it into a scene from a movie. I don’t quite know how to let experiences just unfold and be surprised by how they affect me; I want to know that I’ll write down the aesthetic details of an event later and be pleased at how they fit together: We wore fur coats and wool cloaks, walked down Lafayette, listened to Blonde on Blonde.
Sometimes this quality veers into the realm of vampiric hubris. Like: I sat on my roof on opening night of the play with a perfectly nice fellow who put on “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison and his arm around me. Why did I let the lovey part of the song go over my head, but hear “to be born again, to be born again,” over and over, marveling before the skyline at my own personal reinvention over the course of the past few months—at how perfect it was that I was wearing my fuzzy pink moving-to-New-York jacket—instead of returning the embrace of a person I liked?
There is a terrible YA novel cliché of a girl who lives her life looking for movie moments, and I recently defended her/myself in my journal:
1. Why worship a life that is movie-esque?
2. Why should something be significant for feeling movie-esque?
3. Isn’t life the real thing itself?
No. Movies are what make life real to us, because they pay attention to and crystallize emotions, colors, movement, human behavior, etc. (When I say movies, I also mean TV, I also also mean plays—even though a play is not recorded, it’s crystallized in that it lives on in the minds and memories of its audience). Movies are like “LIFE: The Best Of.” “LIFE: The Essential Collection.” “LIFE: Not Dead Yet!” So saying a moment is like a movie is how we can comprehend its beauty and grant it significance.
I can defend the art direction and the obsessive documentation, but I also know that there are different answers to the above questions. I know there are infinite moments that could take place and affect me in ways I can’t conceive of, if I could only put down my notebook every once in a while and actually live my life instead of trying to immortalize everything.
“We don’t like to admit it,” said Julian, “but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. […] And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? […] To be absolutely free! […] To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! […] let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”
The above is from the novel The Secret History. It summarizes why I like acting, and why I was so eager to listen and learn from all the times our playwright said to me, “You know the play. You know the character. Why are you still watching yourself perform, telling the audience how to feel about her, dictating the moment? Just be in it.” I’m paraphrasing, from my castle. But that was the gist. And, to throw a wrench in all of this, the characters in The Secret History do end up losing control and being totally present…and MURDERING someone in their state of freedom!!!! But for now, this is where this month’s theme starts: the combined beauty and danger of inventing yourself, owning your experiences, putting yourself on record.
Doing so helps carve out your place in the world, so SEND US YOUR WORK, First People, this month especially: [email protected].
Thank you for being here, as always always always.