When I was in grad school, the comprehensive exam reading list included Edward Albee’s essay, “Which Theatre is the Absurd One?” Albee, one of America’s iconic playwrights, wrote the essay in 1962 as an invective against the label “theatre of the absurd” that critics were putting on his, and others’, works in the late 50s, early 60s–Beckett, Ionesco, Brecht, etc etc. His point in the essay is that profiteering off playmaking that only reinforces the public’s desire to see itself the way it wants to see itself and not as it truly is, is what is absurd. The essay, in Albee’s pretentious, cocksuckery, and precise style, rips the Establishment a new one with sesquipedalian fervor. It’s a beautiful essay. Look at the world around you, Albee says, the TRUTH of it…and we’re somehow a freakazoid fad? Fuck you. Look in the mirror if you want to see absurd theater.
I didn’t read the essay for grad school, but I did just now for this blog, and Albee cranked it out for the New York Times at a mere 33 years old–the bio blurb at the end of the essay casually mentions Albee is “at present working on a new play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for fall production.” Well, we all know what happened to Edward after that. If you want to read or see the play, I suggest you do it at the end of winter, right when the daffodils are starting to emerge, so you won’t take it so hard. Any other time of year and the play is almost too much to bear.
Of course, I’m putting two and two together over here in Florida: if, as Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage/the people merely players,” and, as Albee pointed out, which theater is the absurd one?, then I can take a sweeping view of my life and let Albee know that the absurd theater is the one happening right here.
I say this because I finally, this week, owned up to the fact that I want to make out with the alligator wrestler at the roadside animal sanctuary where my tour groups take their swamp buggy ride. I mean, really, Universe? Come on.
But, who wouldn’t? He struts around kissing alligators and cuddling lion cubs, and he has a huge chest. What’s a girl to do? He’s got a giant knife. I’ve been watching the other ladies in the Everglades–tourists and locals, all of them–swooning for this cammo’ed beefcake for months, thinking I was impervious because I have advanced degrees in English. It turns out that is not an effective defense against loneliness, barrel chests, and being called “beautiful” when someone hands you the keys to the wolf’s pen and says “he missed you.” As in, “he missed you, beautiful.” This is all unfair, I think. Seriously unfair.
A month ago to the day, Michael and I rode from Miami International in an awkward silence back to Fort Myers, only hours before I mentioned that, perhaps, maybe, one of us needed to move out of the apartment if we were to get on with our lives. I was high on Brazil, on drums, on undiluted African Power, and I really thought that I could last longer than one measly month before wanting to make out with some dude I work with.
When I was getting sober, I smoked packs of Camel Menthol Lights, and I loved them. So minty and soothing. I was at a convention and a friend of mine mentioned to some people we’d met at lunch that I would have to leave the table soon–“She’s a smoker,” my friend said. I was stunned that she meant me.
“I’m not a smoker,” I said.
“Oh, really?” my friend said.
“Yeah. I’m a person who smokes. There’s a difference.”
My friend howled with laughter, and I got my feelings hurt. I couldn’t believe how insensitive she was being. In my mind, I wasn’t a “smoker.” Smokers were gross addicts who were hiding their insecurities in an oral fixation. I enjoyed a cigarette about ten times a day. You see the difference here?
That’s right, because there isn’t one. It was only while I was in the homicidal throes of withdrawal going cold turkey on Camel Menthol Lights that I realized I was a smoker. And please, my beloved language-loving friends, spare me the revelation that the very definition of “smoker” is “a person who smokes.” Trust me, sometimes living with my mind is like living with a Southern Governor caught in a gay bathroom orgy scandal. Theatre. Of. The. Absurd.
One of the main struggles of my adult life has been learning how to see the truth about me and not the reflection of the way I want to see myself. Or worse: the image I want you to see. Albee was right: it is absurd. But often the truth is absurd. Or painful. Or ugly. But, without fail, it is the only way, at least, for me. Often in this gonzo backwards-Christian world, I reflect on Jesus trying to teach people about God, about love. “I am the truth,” he said. “I am the way.” The truth is the way to God, which is Love; at least I believe that’s what he was getting at although I haven’t met many other folks who interpret the Son of Man’s message as “tell yourself the truth about yourself and no bullshit or you’re still going to roadblock your path to Love, which is the point of all this madness.” And sometimes, in a particular scene of my life such as this one, I just have to admit that I wish the alligator wrestler would kiss me. I’m not saying it would be the best thing for me. It probably wouldn’t. Universe, again I implore you: really?
But I like it, so don’t change a thing.
night night beloveds. peace