His dad and I provide the curly-haired kiddo with a joke every day to tell when he walks into school. How a flat-souled lady like me birthed a beautiful, and often tearful empath, I’ll never know. The riddles started as a way to get him smiling in the morning. Because who wants to go to school when you just want to Lego and chill with mom?
He loves the jokes. The more awful and cheesy and punny, the better. That head-back, open-mouthed giggle is really lovely. But he’s usually laughing alone. Lately I just smile and say, ‘that’s funny’.
Yeah. That’s not how you do it.
Today, especially, was my version of ‘how not to do it.’
Feature length. Commercial free. Unabridged and not edited for content screening of how not to do it.
Today was a call back day. Call backs are not usually such sweaty, nervous business. For me, at least. But seriously, the shirt I was wearing stood up on its own when I finally peeled it off tonight.
Why the stank drippiness? It wasn’t jitters or fear. Nothing that simple. I just knew I was going to miss. I was positive I would step up to the plate, get Death Star sized balls lobbed at me with every pitch and I would whiff every last one. And so it went.
Maybe I didn’t shank every last one. It felt like I nailed a few moments. I got in some of the beats that I found honestly in my preparation and I came back to them during the read, and did them justice. I did think I was able to take direction and adjust my performance in a nice way. But all the rest of the moments? Jesus in pinstripes they were just ugly. Just like the trailer had promised, I had missed.
Jokes aside, I’ve lost something. Like a crucial piece of luggage was lost along the journey my body and brain have taken over the past few years, and now it’s as if it never existed. It really does feel like a loss. It often plays like a loss I’ve forgotten, until I turn to look for what I need, and it’s not there. Going back into my bedroom to pick up a metaphorical shirt, and not finding it. Dropping an imaginary book on a nightstand and hearing it thud on a make-believe floor, because that piece of furniture doesn’t exist anymore.
And it scares me. Sad? I’ve done that. Angry? Oh, hell yes I’ve done that. A lot. But numb? This is the hardest.
I worked that scene for tonight for no small amount of time. First, I barely had the lines, but that just being old. The heart wasn’t there like I wanted it to be. Like it needed to be. It wasn’t the writing or the direction. Those were both spot on. It was my numb.
Sense memory work? Did that. Emotional memory work? Hell yes to that, too. Even wore a pair of earring that I was wearing when I got to a true place of the heart in a workshop scene once years ago. Yeah. Scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel.
Nothing. I could not get it up in that room tonight. And worst, I knew I wouldn’t. Christ, I even went to my kid and asked him to write something for me. A note to help me focus on the guts of loss and what it means to walk away. I tucked the paper into the waist band of my pants and fingered it between cameral rolls.
Still, nothing. Maybe not nothing. But definitely not what it needed and not what I knew I could do.
Is it gone? It feels like it. But how do you get empathy back? How do you get back the courage to break down a little, safe in the knowledge that you will come back together again? I really don’t know.
(Hint: don’t try a drink with maybe ex. That only makes everyone feel worse. But the laughs and surprise find at a comic book store with him later somehow did help. Power of the force, I guess. But still, don’t try that.)
(Another hint: Don’t force your smile and laugh too much, when your child loses his third tooth while he is miles and miles away from you and that breaks your heart. Because kids will see through that bad acting and will call you on that shit. Your directors will try to encourage and give you another take. Your kids? They are shouting ‘next’ and hustling your ass out the door.
I really don’t want to be numb. I really want to laugh at the joke and not twist the punchline into an imagined jab or belittling. Maybe I’m just trying too hard.
A wise someone I know uses the phrase ‘have fun’ as his signature sign off or valediction. I heard it again today as the simple, concise but astute note for my scene. Shut down your head. Give your heart the reigns. Have fun. Be in on the joy. And laugh.
I’m stabbing at my numbness with fun. I’ll break through it or fall on my ass in the process. Then I’ll laugh. Because this all just might be a joke.