I once wrote on a Romanian forum that I finally discovered what „contemporary theatre” is when I came to the US of A. I was belligerently reminded about Andrei Serban et comp. The lady who belittled my knowledge still lives in Romania and obviously didn’t understand what I was talking about.
My childhood was deserted. I was a Little Prince living for and with my rose – my imagination. The reality was so painful, that my survival instinct created a parallel world, one where I could go outside at night (my mom sometime came to terms with my weirdness), walk around counting the trees to see if they match Eminescu’s poem, peeking through the neighbors’ opaque window curtains to witness their life (I thought I don’t have one), and recite poems to myself. I once fell asleep on my balcony reading to the poplars. Mom found me in the morning laying on the cold floor and hugging the Literature textbook I used so I would attend to the ignorant trees, my accomplices. I’ve read them „Seas under the deserts” by D.R. Popescu.
Unsolicited, I used to offer rhetoric about the meaning of life and most of the time the meaning was „to fight for” either justice or dignity. As a teenager, I extended the list with new words: poetry, friendship, love, creation, innovations, new discoveries, adventures, hot water in the shower, oranges, good books. As a young woman, I switched the order a little and improved the hierarchy: poetry (equals life itself), friendship (which is eternal, compared to love), dignity (considering I lived in a bribe-based culture), virginity (my first boyfriend told me I don’t have the fire and left me for „a real woman”), revolution, and politics.
Then the Revolution came.
Before that, still a kid, I had a favorite place I used to go after school with my friends or by myself. There were these half-millennium old ruins of Walachian ruler Mircea The Old fortress hollowed into the grassy slopes along the Danube River. To watch the sunset there was an out of body experience. We used the cracks in the rocks to imagine royal thrones for our rag dolls. Lizards were everywhere, as rapid victims of our curiosity, and snakes would have been burnt at midnight to invoke the ghosts and black witches to disclose our smoky future. Then the ghosts of coming home too late would splash their dance on the nude skin taking the form of a parental wooden stick.
From the ruins shore, we would snatch a boat that didn’t seem to care of changing owners for a while and ran down the river channels splashing the water and knocking the big vessels with the oars, as a sign we’ve been there, we’ve witness them, we are the doers of the river.
Somehow I felt that what I experienced was unique, but nothing like in the books we read (censored or not). I mean, not worth telling a story about it. It felt strange and with a pint of imposture that I would have had such a magic childhood parallel with a wounded childhood. Which one was the true one? I didn’t think that my life was of such amplitude as to deserve being immortalized in a book. Back then, my people and I were smashed under the concept of “think big” even before our capitalist enemies found out about it. It had to be something extraordinary in order to be worth sharing. Like a secret whispered away from the secret service’s ears, for example.
That’s why when I first came to America I thought that artists here are out of their mind for daring (that’s the word, as in how do you dare do such thing?) to write, paint, and play about insignificant aspects of their plain lives. I thought they are plain stupid and out of real inspiration – the inspiration that creates Ulysses, Scheherazade, Karenina, Jean Valjean, Romeo, and such. But no, American artists didn’t have any shame of expressing average Joe type of feelings, describing ordinary acts of the day, using street dialogues, etcetera. I felt the same way as when I tried to spy on my neighbors hoping I’ll find out what a real life looks like. Here, everybody thought big by taking small steps and small words and smacking small colors first on art’s panoplies. I felt betrayed, especially after I met so many people with incredible destinies and real real real adventurous lives, better than the ones in the books, better than mine anyway.
I was terribly conflicted on my first encounters with the American culture.
I was terribly conflicted on my first encounter with a revolution. As I said before, the Revolution came in my country in December1989. It was on the 22nd when everything was still for like half a day, that’s how much it took me to walk home for miles and miles from a little village where I worked as a substitute. I remember the voices screaming from the street megaphones, a woman crying, some kids yelling, bullets, and new official characters talking about the dictator leaving with a helicopter. I felt insignificant because my only thought during that revolutionary street stillness and air silence was of my mom.
Then I wanted to go and have a slice of revolution for myself, but unfortunately mom locked me inside the house. I escaped soon enough using a lie and went downtown to witness the big change, a change worth writing about, right. I didn’t like the revolution unrevealing in my little port town though. The same people who had the power before, some drunks, some agitators, and some screamers. And women – whom I found disturbing again, what are women doing on top of a military tank, waving the flag with a hole in the middle? Aren’t they afraid?
I wasn’t afraid. Actually, my fear was of fear; therefore I was not afraid by being afraid of being afraid. Still, aren’t people afraid to expose themselves? Ok, poetry equals life, but still, writing poetry is a self-autopsy done in public. Making a revolution is eviscerating all your credos in front of others, risking the most rejections of all – incarceration, public stoning, bullets, and death. Writing contemporary theatre and literature seems to me like cooking your favorite dish ( of uncertain virtues and qualities) in front of the window curtains wide open for everybody to see, smell, and gossip about. And that’s exactly what bewildered me when I first tasted American art.
Doesn’t anyone feel safe behind big secrets, a.k.a. big stories anymore? Doesn’t a “real character” need tons of symbols and mountains of underlines and rivers of subtext to express a thought and a feeling? Could someone just say directly what it is to be said and be…what? A writer, an actor, a painter? Just like that?
I thought Adrian Paunescu was entitled to write poetry because his poetry was about big stuff, such as a big national hero (Ceausescu), big character (Romania as a chosen nation), big actions (fighting against imperialism and capitalism), big self (man, he was indeed bigger than life) – the poetry that changes history; the Big Poetry.
Why would somebody write about oars kicking the waves? Why would nobody write nothing about anything?
(to be continued)