Friday, July 20, 2012


I had all these other posts in mind about having found the beginning of my play, about balancing writing with my new acting gigs, etc etc, but that is not what is on my mind. What is on my mind is that my cat seemed suddenly very sick yesterday.

My Mimi girl, my cat who came into my life just before my divorce and helped get me through it, who was my companion during my time alone, and who has so gracefully transitioned into neither of us being alone (we got her a companion kitten a few weeks ago, and they are fast friends). I don't know what's wrong with her yet - I'm taking her to the vet today - but I was an emotional wreck all day yesterday, crying uncontrollably at times. On the surface of things, such an emotional response was unwarranted. Though she does have early stage kidney disease, to immediately jump to the emotional place as if I had been told she would die tomorrow was a bit excessive.

But I was reminded of my last cat, Susie, who died of kidney disease and with whom I spent 2 very difficult years treating her at home, including several months of force feeding her liquified food three times a day. Her illness and ultimate loss were the most torturous things I've gone through with a pet. So when Mimi started acting sick yesterday, all those old emotions were triggered, and I lost it.

I think such echoes are what make theater (film, TV, etc) so powerful. Why should we ever have an emotional response while watching people we have never met, on a stage so far away sometimes we can't even really see their faces, acting out a story that never really happened (and certainly hasn't happened to us)? Because somehow, the great story tellers are able to trigger those echoes in us, to remind us of experiences we have had that may have been similar or at least where we felt a similar way, and those old emotions come flooding to the surface. Joy or grief, anger or love, indignation or embarrassment - they can all be called forth in an instant. And for some reason, we as people like this, we like to be reminded of these feelings, even the bad ones sometimes. Perhaps because it reminds us that we are alive, that we have lived.

This is clearly not a new concept - the Greeks wrote about catharsis millennia ago - but it was a good reminder for me. That for me as a writer, it is good to be in touch with my own echoes, so that I can draw on those for my characters. The most memorable moments in our lives are the ones where our emotions were the most intense - good or bad - and that is why those moments are the most compelling in theater. There is an expression we use a lot in both writing and acting: raise the stakes.  If I were writing a story about a woman and her cat, I could write about a cat who acted a little bit sick one day, she took the cat to the vet, the vet said the cat was fine and they went home happily ever after.  It could be a very truthful, honest story, something that would actually happen in real life, but it would be boring.  It would not trigger any echoes.  Or I could write a story about a cat that was gravely ill, where the woman - who was already struggling for money - agonized over how much to spend on vet bills to try to treat her dear companion, where she went to heroic measures at home to try to save the cat, even contemplated having the cat euthanized, but finally, as if by some miracle, the cat pulled through and they had a few more years together.  This would be much more compelling theater, because the stakes are much higher.

But while that would make for a better story, I'm going root for the boring one to actually happen today.  I've already lived through the high stakes version of the story (without the happy ending), and don't need to relive that in order to draw on those echoes whenever I need them.
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