The curtain speech is over and the audience, however small, applauds – the sound is like rain, either a sudden thunderstorm or a little spring shower, depending on the show. The lights go out. I’m standing by a velvety leg curtain in complete and utter blackness. Womb-like darkness. There’s a second of it, before the intro music, before the lights fade up again on the interior of an apartment or a public square in Verona, before everything begins. I have two seconds to check in with my pounding heart, my breath. I check in with the play and my lines in the next moment, when things begin to move, but before all that there is this moment of silence and darkness when I can clear everything out and just Be. A caterpillar in her cocoon before the first wing busts out. A boiling pot of water going quiet before the first big bubbles. The top of the roller-coaster’s first hill. It’s a moment of absolute stillness, and it’s my favorite part of every play, no matter what I’m doing for it – even as an audience member. It’s the moment between reality and imagination.
God made man a creature of undetermined nature, and, placing him in the middle of the world, said to him: The nature of all other beings (creatures and species) is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws [of nature]…Thou [humans], constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt determine for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou may more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth…so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou may fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate (worsen) into the lower forms of life…thou shalt have the power…to be reborn into the higher forms which are divine.
-The Dignity of Man (Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, 1486)
I live in the spaces between things.
I grew up playing in the space between the tall pine trees, in the space between two divorced parents, in the space between two tall big sisters who had seven years to build their own world together before I ever came along.
I was home-schooled in the gaps between being shuffled around various schools.
When being processed through the public school system, I would consistently find ways to get around boring assignments, to make work more interesting by always choosing the other option or creating a new one, and I’d often ignore classes if they didn’t interest me or challenge me – “slipping through the cracks” they called it. I would skip class to attend other classes. I would float between lunch tables because my different groups of friends never sat together. I was either unruly or gifted, depending on how you define the two – teachers have found me in hallways sleeping in the sunshine, or crying and frustrated about being pushed around by other students. Hallways, guidance counselor offices, the Special Room, the library, even the front lawn… that’s where I’d be if you couldn’t find me in class. By myself. Staring into space.
I grew up between two parents in two different homes, often those homes shifting at various intervals, and once those homes were half an ocean apart. I found the spaces between – the room in the airport with all of the other “unaccompanied minors”. I’d never see them again, but we shared stories like old friends. When you live in-between, you sort of cling to what you have when you get it.
I’ve never felt my age. I’ve always felt “almost something else” or “not quite what I was.” Maybe I’m catching up to myself, maybe I am exactly the child-adult that the world expects me to be right now, but I still feel not exactly the grownup I should be but certainly not part of the young people I see on a college campus.
I’ve always found public transportation interesting. I LIVE on the milwaukee county busline. (Okay, not as much as the people who actually live on the bus.) I love sitting in air ports and watching how other humans deal with being in-between things. Are they panicked? Are they on a mission? Or did they wear their pajamas here, to shift from one place to the next in a bleary-eyed stupor?
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival must be my favorite place on the planet because everyone there is in-between. I find that my experience of the world is not totally unique. The country is in-between two governments, the city itself has an ancient medieval side and a new, posh, shopping mall side, a face of above-ground shops and tea houses and a below-the-surface creepy past. The venues are jammed inside church basements converted to coffee shops, the people are traveling amateurs with professional skills, the whole city seems suspended in time just for us. We wander around and stumble upon doorways crammed in-between two buildings, find a poetry session taking place in some damp vault, or a play jumping out of a suitcase before the acting space turns into a club. If it pours down freezing rain, people cram together in warm pockets of roofed-in areas wherever we can find them. We get to know each other for a moment and, eventually, after every wall is saturated with posters, all the ATMs are out of money, and our boots are filled with rainwater, we have to go home. We fill the space in-between and once it’s full, we return to where life was stable.
Home. Where, most of the time, nobody knows what to do with the in-betweeners.
“You don’t understand – that number on my contract, that’s not a per-month wage, that’s the stipend I get at the end of the season.” I’m explaining this to the government worker on the other line – a large, sweet woman, by her mouth breathing and her tone. Maybe she has punk kids at home, I conjecture by the way she talks to me. We’ve already covered the fact that my taxes last year are not going to reflect at all what my taxes might be this year – I switch jobs too often.
“Okay hold on hold on – this job, this one from the catholic school, they not paying you monthly?”
“Okay so are you like a teacher?”
“Yes, I teach, but I’m not full-time.”
“Okay, so like… you work for the school but in more like a…”
“I’m a coach.”
“Okay, like in basketball?”
“And this isn’t a monthly paycheck?”
“No. That’s my check – that’s it, that’s my stipend.”
“For the whole year?”
“Most of it, yeah, until the summer when I try to find other work.”
“…How many other jobs do you have?”
“And none of these jobs gives you insurance?”
No, they don’t, which is why I was on the phone with her in the first place. Because I live in that space between too poor for the federal government Obamacare, and making too much for my state’s local poverty-aid insurance. Or, I thought I lived there, until I spent over an hour on the phone with the friendly Enrollment Services employee. Most people just put me on hold for ever.
I recently tried for a new job – maybe one that would pay me enough so that I could cut out some other tangental “on call” things, those jobs that I have to give my assumed availability to before they may or may not schedule me. I had an excellent and long phone interview, where I maybe talked too much. “Are you sure you don’t feel over-qualified for this position?” she asked. I wanted to say that I couldn’t possibly be over-qualified for ten dollars and hour with benefits, but instead, I said something like “Not at all – I’d be able to settle into a more stable position rather than have nine jobs at once.” Needless to say, she felt differently, and told me in an e-mail later that she wished a higher position was open so I could be hired there. There’s another in-between: too qualified for a job with health insurance, but just qualified enough for 9 jobs that may or may not pay me stipends.
And once again I question my life in the gaps. Some times it feels like everything, and some times it feels like nothing at all. No one knows how to help you structure your life when you’ve planted yourself so firmly outside of the structure. “Freelance teaching artist” might be a good word for what I do, and I once printed myself some business cards … but I couldn’t decide which of my names to put on them, let alone what kind of job title I wanted to give myself. I wound up printing “Gracie Lee”, which is my middle name, not a name I go by often enough for people to recognize it. I wrote something like “actor, director, teaching artist” on there, because I wasn’t sure who I’d be handing these cards to. Maybe I should walk around with a bag of different business cards, like how I have to separate my professional life into about 4 different resumes?
Am I a chrysalis waiting to be born as a butterfly, but too afraid to chose a color? Too terrified that I won’t be a good enough beauty to share? Choosing stagnancy over picking a path that I might regret later?
Do I pick something and bust out in the best way I know how, chips fall where they may, or do I just repeatedly expect the world to accept me as the little in-between creature that I am?