We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of my great soul-seeking adventure that took me out of the country for the first time. I had a lot of expectations and even more trepidation about the trip; I was going by myself, I had never been that far away from home, I couldn't afford this trip, I didn't know anyone over there, when I was in Prague, there'd be a language barrier so how was I going to deal with that, and so on and so on. But, despite the nagging terrible thoughts that plagued me prior to my departure, I did it. I survive Ireland all by myself.
So what exactly did I take away from that trip?
It's taken me almost a year to really nail it down, but I think I've finally got the overall moral/point that God/the universe was trying to give me. And it all centers on the idea of shame.
I have tried and tried and tried and tried again for the past three years to give up dairy and eggs completely. It started off from a very selfish place; I wanted to lose weight and my co-worker told me that veganism was the way to go! (I did lose weight when I first "became" a vegan because I didn't do it correctly and basically just ate steamed vegetables all the time. My first attempt did not last long.)
But the more I looked into it and the more I learned about the dairy industry, the more my intentions changed.F rom a young age, we are told that cows produce milk, and it's very much insinuated in our children's literature that they enjoy doing that; it's what they were made for apparently. (The cows in Animal Farm demand to be milked because their udders are so full, it's becoming painful. And, yes, that is a real thing.)
But! Cows are not milk machines. They are, in fact, not continually producing milk as our happy picture books would have us believe. Cows (like humans) only lactate after they give birth. That means that female cows' lives consist of a continual cycle of impregnation, have baby, have baby stolen, sucked dry of milk, impregnation, have baby, have baby stolen, sucked dry of milk, and so on and so on. Their babies are either sold for meat (if they're males) or held captive for their milk (if they're females). We've been lied to, people!
I bring all this up simply to illustrate where I'm coming from. I've been exposed to the truth, and I can't look back. The dairy industry can be just as bad as the meat industry, and, as an animal activist, I should do whatever is possible to not support such torture of animals. (This post is not intended to turn you vegan; it's simply the backdrop for my great revelation).
So, like Hamlet, I have all the reasons in the world to do the deed and swear off all cheese. But, also like dear Hamlet, I get stuck halfway and end up putting on a big show rather than actually doing what I set out to do. The thing is: I really like cheese. Okay? I really, really like cheese! (I've had basically no problem giving up milk. But there's something about solidified milk that really gets my engine going I guess.) I'm from Wisconsin for crying outside! And (I don't care what anyone says) being a vegan is expensive. Any time you remove an entire food group from your diet, things get complicated. I don't make a lot of money and I work at a store that just happens to have egg and cheese sandwiches available for a cheap price.
So for the past three years, my life has been dotted with questions like, "Are you a vegan today?" or "How much of a vegan are you today?" because I continually say that I'm giving up cheese and eggs and then fall of the bandwagon. And, dear Lord, does that sting. I feel as though I've failed every cow everywhere. I feel as though I may as well go out and order twenty sirloins while I'm at it. What's the difference?! Things haven't gotten easier since my roommate began dating a full-fledged vegan (he's also a full-fledged magician, but that's a different story), and I find myself continually comparing myself to him. The past three years have been a battle.
But when I went to Ireland, I gave myself one strict rule: no shaming. I didn't have a ton of money so I was going to have to eat what I could and shut up about it. (No matter what, though, I don't eat meat. I haven't eaten meat in years, and the times that it's accidentally happened, I always end up feeling sick afterwards.) Luckily, Europe is far more accommodating to vegetarians and vegans than the U.S. is. This simple rule allowed me to enjoy food how it's supposed to be enjoyed: without shame. Perhaps all I needed was the excuse of stepping completely outside of my normal routine for it to click, but I can make up my own damn rules and be (what I call) an "imperfect vegan"
And the same goes for theatre. I love the theatre. I love seeing shows and talking about shows. My happy place probably consists of chatting with friends over a glass of Chardonnay about that play we just saw. (There are probably rats involved as well...somehow). But when I was overseas I didn't see one damn show. I had plans to. A fantastically reviewed production of The Cripple of Inishmaan was playing in Dublin at the time I was there, and there's a lovely company right in Prague that specializes in physical theatre and clowning. I had plenty of opportunities to, but I didn't. Perhaps because I had told myself there'd be no shame and thus I didn't feel pressured to go see anything?
There also was an incredible amount relief when I told people that I couldn't audition for or go see this show or that show...I was going to be out of the country, after all! For five weeks, I was completely disconnected from the theatre scene back home, and it allowed me to take a breath and be something outside of an actress and playwright. Ever since high school, that's been my identity more or less (with an occasional Harry Potter reference or rat anecdote thrown in there). When I was at Jampa Ling, I even ran into a lovely woman who works as a theatre professor at a local university, and I instantly felt compelled to flex my artistic muscles and prove that I was, indeed, one of her own.
In the same way that I'm not a true vegan, I worry that I'm not a true theatre person, either. I can't tell you the exact date of Stella Adler's birth, I'm not very good at accents or dialects, and I definitely haven't read all of Shakespeare's stuff (let alone Marlowe's or Jonson's". In a lot of ways, I'm a fake simply walking around with my chest puffed out and pretending that I know what's going on. That's why Ireland was so refreshing: I didn't have to pretend for anyone.
Tennessee Williams wrote a fantastic (in my opinion) retelling of The Seagull called The Notebook of Trigorin, and it gives a bit more insight into Trigorin's story. While, yes, it can be assumed that good old Boris runs away with Nina because he's caught up in the excitement of it all and the a new, younger woman who is showing interest in him, not a lot is said as to why he abandons her. We can put the pieces together ourselves and chalk it up to guilt, boredom, or even sheer malice, but Williams' gives the reader a bit more of an understanding. Trigorin is, first and foremost, a writer. When presented with the admiration of Nina, he remarks to himself that this opportunity could be, "the most important romance I've ever written." Trigorin was never truly interested in Nina, but, rather, interested in the story that might develop by being her lover and how said story would further his identity as a writer. (In true Tennessee Williams' fashion, Boris Trigorin is also bi-sexual).
I've often wondered how like this new Trigorin I am. How often am I should be enjoying things for what they are rather than hurriedly stashing details in my memory where it will live until it turns into a play. I, of course, did run home from Ireland and wrote "my Ireland play". (Look for my new piece Islands soon.) It's the society in which I live in also. We can't just enjoy a sunset but must take a photo of it and instantly share it to all social media outlets. I can't just go see a show. I must take a sassy selfie of me with the program and pass it out like candy to everyone on the internet as if to say, "Look! I'm a real girl! I saw a show! Look at how cultured I am!" No matter what I do, I am doing it for someone else and not myself.
I won't say that I came home from Ireland with answers. It's taken me almost a year to really make sense of all that I thought and saw; I certainly believed that the woman getting on the plane in Chicago would not be the same woman getting off five weeks later. I was more than a little disappointed to find that there was nothing particularly new about me apparently. If anything, I have more questions: where do I go from here? How can I remove the shame from my life?
I do love the theatre and I do legitimately believe that the extent to which humans use and abuse other species is morally wrong. But there's also got to be a little joy to living, and when the things we love become the things that hold us down, well, that's simply no way to live. There's a lot I still need to figure and process, but the clarity that my trip abroad gave me truly helped me on this journey to mental peace.
Perhaps this is all something that can be solved with another runaway attempt. What do you think? Berlin or London?