Dallas — I’m moving from the condo Norma and I bought in 1980. At this point I’ve slept five days in the new place using a few unpacked items for my quotidian rituals and I’m warily regarding too many still-upacked boxes full of memories. My brother, Bruce, and sister, Norma Ione, came down from Denver to help finish packing up the old place and unpacked enough in the new place that there was a wide path through the still-full boxes by the time they left. They unpacked bedding, towels, kitchen things, clothes—all that stuff needed for day-to-day living and left out the tools I’d need to hang up the wall art in the new place. Norma Ione taught me how to use the new washing machine—which is super nifty!
Before they came to help, I had boxed up and rid the old place of clearly disposable stuff or things for the Salvation Army. It’s bloody amazing how much stuff I purged—boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes. It’s also bloody amazing how much stuff there is yet to go.
I’ve browsed through some as-yet-not-put-away contents—still looking for what I can throw or give away. I’ve read old daybook calendars from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, reviewed a slew of miscellaneous photos from shows (much too precious to throw away but where should they “live” in the new place?). I’ve looked at journals from past pleasure trips, perused disorganized stacks of personal letters (from back when we wrote letters instead of emailing and texting the loved ones in our life) including the flood of condolences that drowned me in gratitude when wife Norma died.
It’s not my habit to look back a lot—there’s always so much to consider and work on in the moment and to plan for in the future. Still, I’ve had a certain pleasure in this reviewing.
Appropriately for this commencement season, I’ve read through two addresses I was asked to give; a baccalaureate at the Arts Magnet High School and the second, a summer graduation of the Fine Arts students at the University of Texas at Arlington where I taught for seven years. Being one who, in my day job of theatre, has learned the virtue of recycling everything (including ideas), I noted that the second address I gave was largely cribbed from the first speech.
Andrew Gaupp, who worked with us at Theatre Three, at Arkansas Rep and was briefly the Managing Director at the Dallas Theater Center, wound up being assistant to the Dean (or something like that) at UTA and was the one who asked me to give that commencement address. It was well after I’d stopped teaching there, and at first I declined. But Andrew was persistent, and vanity overtook me. Well, I thought, those kids could use an outsider’s stern talking to and I was just in the mood to give it to them.
Just before graduation day, I was summoned and selected for jury duty in a murder trial. The wretched displays of vacant-eyed stupidity (even including the criminal justice system) confirmed my very black mood as I sat down to write the speech. Norma, accurately sensing I was in no mood to be inspirational, asked me to read the speech to her. After she heard it she said: “Sh**, Jac, your job is to get these kids excited about getting their lives underway and finding the possibilities. They’ll be slitting their f**** wrists in the aisle if you give this speech. You sit down and rewrite it—and put some jokes in!”
Of course she was right. Unnecessarily foul-mouthed, but right. There are hard, hard, hard lessons to learn in life. It’s wise to face them. But it’s always best to find the humor which is always there; a joy that re-inflates hope. Hope is what we live on. I now have a great, large arched window in my bedroom mostly facing the east. There’s something about sunrise in the new place that pours hope in through that window. There’s much I value about my past, but I want it all put away soon—in places I can remember where it’s now “living,” to be sure, but PUT AWAY. I’d so much rather be in the window looking forward to what’s coming in my life, secure my valuable past is close, but resting contentedly where it belongs, packed neatly away.
◊ Jac Alder is the Executive Director-Producer of Theatre Three in Dallas. Look for his monthly musings in Bit by Bit, which run on the second Sunday of the month. Here is a list of previous columns: