Photograph, memory

Last week I went looking online for photos from Pacific Repertory or Grovement’s theatrical productions in the 1990s. There were a lot of these: the Shakespeare Festival, the Human Chess Game, a bunch of other stuff – and I was in as many as I could get through auditions for. It was a huge part of my life for several years, and influenced who I am and how I act today in ways I probably still don’t really understand. Anyway, at work we were creating ‘life path’ slides for ourselves, to talk about significant personal history, and this seemed like a thing to include – so I went looking for photos. 

I found nothing. 

I mean, I found some WPA photos of the Forest Theater, where a lot of this happened, being built in the 1930s. I found a few news stories of Grovemont Theater’s being renamed to Pac Rep. I found photos and posters and reviews and all kinds of stuff for productions after, say, 2009. 

But for all the years before that – nothing. 

This got me thinking. As a high school kid, I was doing one of the most intentionally publicly visible things you can do – being on a stage, with makeup and lights and my voice carrying to the back rows of a packed house – and the whole thing left no public record, not of me, not of anyone else, not of the show itself. Whether I was great or terrible, however large or small my part, however large or small or thrilled or bored the audience – nothing. 

There’s a certain kind of freedom and satisfaction in this. Sure, I’d been hoping for a photo of myself in my Star Trek uniform, defending the galaxy with a coffeepot and a clipboard and the greatest knee-high boots I’d ever seen (the Human Chess Game tended heavily ridiculous), or a full-stage shot of all of us gender-bent broadsword carriers  brawling it out onstage at the end of Richard III (we used to practice the fight scenes with our eyes closed… when I say that teenagers have terrible judgment, I’m usually remembering myself). But on the other hand, I’m also free to remember those summers as I remember them, rather than as they were documented. If a particular post-rehearsal conversation lingers as monumental, okay. If I still vaguely regret the passing of O’Keane’s (O’Keen’s?), the bar we used to go to after shows, and the most amazing croissant and avocado sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, well, that makes sense. I remember the afternoon heat, and the scent of Coppertone Sport that even now smells to me like summer, and the baking-hot trailer where we changed into costume, and sneaking into the nearby hotel in full makeup to use a real restroom, and the cute older guy who ran the gelato place remembering all of us years later, and the kicked-up dust in the historic garden where we did a bunch of the Shakespeare, and the feel of that twenty-pound broadsword in my hand, swinging around to clang against Camille’s or Donovan’s equally-swinging broadsword, and Greg teaching me lighting and how to throw a dagger into a tree and make it stick and that’s it’s pretty much fine to test a 9-volt battery with your tongue, and stage falls, and the smell of sage burning in an abalone shell because after all this is the California coast and if you don’t smudge before the show, how will you bring the universe to you? and the sheer raw thrill of being onstage, with the lights and the audience and squinting out into the unknown dark and that word passed on from the stage manager – 

10 minutes. 

5 minutes. 

Curtain. 

and the indrawn breath – 

If I had photos at the time, would I remember it all so well? 

This afternoon

This afternoon I spoke on a panel about Diversity and Inclusion in Tech*.

The whole panel and discussion were well received. The audience was engaged. The other panelists were awesome, and I’m grateful to have met them and hopeful/optimistic that we’ll keep in touch.

After the panel, maybe a dozen people came up to me and said how much it meant to them, and that they’d found what I said helpful or inspirational or encouraging. They didn’t just stop by briefly, either. They showed up wholeheartedly. They told me in detail what aspects stood out and why. They had questions and ideas. They wanted to talk.

It was awesome.

Living in the Bay Area, working at Google, in many ways surrounded by so many
debates and discussions and brainstorming sessions and informal venting sessions and just in general so much, I think I sometimes forget how much it can mean to someone just starting out, or someone trying to find a new path, just to hear someone else say, ‘This is what it’s been like for me; here’s what I’ve been thinking about this whole thing. And yes, I too think this is important.’ I sometimes forget that while anyone’s own experience may be old news to them, it may not be to someone else. My own story, old news to me, may offer new ideas to someone else.

To someone else, it may be inspiration.

I’m grateful to have had the chance to speak in this way to this audience. I’m humbled by how much what I said seemed to resonate.

Before the session, I wrote notes on what I wanted to say. During the session itself, I didn’t follow my notes precisely; the discussion flowed as it flowed. But. I was glad I’d prepared. I’d prepared enough that I’d also wondered vaguely if I might write up my notes afterwards, and post them here or somewhere. I’d wondered too if my various ideas about writing more essays about work might be a good idea, or if there are already so many voices out there that it would be a waste of time, if there would be no audience.

Based on today, I’m thinking maybe I do have something to say, and maybe there is an audience interested in hearing it.

So.

It was a wonderful panel and I’m so glad I did it.

I’m going to do at least that much.

*Columbia University, reunion weekend 2019.

Things that are working

Late last week, someone asked me how I was doing. My usual answer to this is, “Good!” because it’s polite, and usually I’d rather talk about something else – but this time, the person who asked is someone I know well, who I have some shared history with, and I answered more honestly:

“I’m actually successfully coping and I’m really damn proud of that.”

There are, of course, plenty of people in the world dealing with tougher stuff than I am. I am not hungry. I am not under physical threat. I am healthy. I am not scared about money.

But. People I care about are going through really tough things. I am busy, legitimately & ridiculously busy, not in an “oh gosh I’m just so busy!” way but no, actually really busy in an “I spend over half an hour each day just getting my schedule to make some sense and not have overlapping things that simply do not work” kind of way. I am in a job that I think I love, but which still feels new, and I feel like I have a lot to learn. I’m facing various kinds of career pressure, some self-imposed, some not. I’m thinking a lot about what I want my life to look like. And I’m about to hit the one-year mark on the Horrible House Remodel, after 3+ prior years of half-remodeling & some moving chaos before that, all of which means I haven’t lived somewhere calm in over five years.

And on the other hand, I am coping. I am going to the gym. I am gardening. I am reading. I am seeing friends. I am seeing family. I am occasionally writing. I am not completely dropping the ball at work, and every so often I come up with a useful insight or approach that I’m proud of. My team is doing well, and I’m getting positive feedback on them from people they in turn work with.

So I’m busy, and not everything is good, but I’m coping, and I am pretty damn proud of that.

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