Stages of Life

A small break from all the discussion of diversity.  Adam Thurman from Mission Paradox will be guest-posting later this week on that–in the meantime, some thoughts on the fear that comes with change, and doing it anyway.

Seth and CiciLast night, my husband, Seth, and I were curled up on the couch binge-watching Downton Abbey.  As it got later, I kept warning Seth that we wouldn’t be able to fully catch up before I had to go to sleep, and at the end of each episode, mimicking our daughter, he would look at me, eyes wide, poking one index finger into the other palm and saying “Mo!?” “Mo!?” in a perfect imitation of our daughter’s baby sign language.  It was cute and endearing, and I was laughing, simultaneously caught up in the joy of being both a husband and a father who loved and was loved.  As he twisted around, lifting his head from my lap and nearly falling off the couch, I felt sadness creeping up, my throat tightening, my eyes burning,  as I realized the absurdity of two grown men trying to lounge on our tiny couch and was reminded that the reason that was necessary is because the other couch was packed up in a pod and traveling across the country, along with most of my clothes and a bed. From that reminder the room felt so empty, unloaded of most of its books, and all of that stuff was traveling across the country not for us, but for me.

The amount of denial I am mostly functioning with–about what is about to happen to my life–only becomes evident in small moments: my husband squeezing my hand while we sleep, my daughter asking for me to give her a bath and read a story. It becomes harder to sustain, this denial of the change in front of me, as the days wind down, the number of baths and stories left can countable on two hands, and then on one, and boxes filling with stuff and the farewells starting.  In a week, I will move across the country and Seth and Cici will stay here. I will see them in person for perhaps two or three weeks worth of time in the next 5 months, brief weekend visits across the country late Friday night to a redeye that lands me back at work Monday morning.  In August, Seth, a marine biologist who was recently awarded a Fulbright fellowship, will use that fellowship to travel to Brazil for six months of research, my daughter relocated to me, and I will see him another three weeks in that time.  We will reunite in a year, in a new place, a year apart.  We are given successes, it seems, but never freely–incredible opportunities but not without sacrifice, and this is what our lives will be in the coming year.

The disruption of change is so hard; the comfort of the status quo is so easy.  The ache I feel, the panic, at the thought of being so far from my husband and child becomes most visceral in those moments when they are at their most lovable.

I punched Seth in the stomach once.  We had been cast opposite each other in a college production of the second part of Angels in America, he as Louis and me as Joe (a situation I don’t recommend), and we had to fight.  I was meant to open my fist, thwap him on the belly and he would double over, but I was bad at stage combat, barely trained, and I was an amateur actor, and there was all sorts of adrenaline coursing through my body, and one of the performances I full-on punched him.  The air I forced out of his belly, the sound he made, his eyes on stage so angry and hurt that I hadn’t been more careful caused me a panic I hadn’t really ever known.  At that moment, in a fraught college production of Perestroika, I figured I had just punched the love of my life out of my life.  And then I had to keep acting.

Seth didn’t leave, though; he forgave me, and he has stuck with me now for almost eleven years.  In that time, he has pivoted from being an actor and stage manager to getting an undergraduate degree in environmental science, a Ph.D. in marine biology, and now this Fulbright.  He is a tremendous success, and I am proud of him.  Like the best partners, he continues to find me interesting, and I him, and he continues to love me, and I him, and he inspires and cajoles me to do and be more than I might have thought I could be.  When I was considering the job I am now about to start at Americans for the Arts, and determined that it would be too disruptive to our family and too much of a burden placed on him, he did not hesitate in telling me that was a sweet but misguided attitude, and I’m glad he did.

To be so loved makes change both more difficult and more possible.

Seth saw, and helped me see, what change would mean.  He helped me understand that the status quo, like Achebe’s center, could not hold.  No matter how much I loved my job, felt blessed to have my job, felt I owed my job and colleagues, the limitations of finances and geography made what comes next the only option.  He encouraged me to take a long view, to understand that this moment of upheaval was just that, a moment, a small part of a long history, and that we would, if we could survive it, be all the better for it.

Seth studies the connections between stages of life–the migration of young larvae into a large and chaotic world and their re-settling into a new order for the sustainment of the whole.  I think about the fear of larvae sometimes–humanizing and trying to storify them as an artist married to a scientist–these relatively defenseless organisms out in a dark and unknown sea.  They were long thought to have no control–a valid assumption, give the proportions. But it isn’t true.  These little larvae, so impossibly small, can regulate all sorts of things.  They can move up and down in the water based on where food is, where heat is, which way the water is moving–they can avoid predators, and launch themselves into the deep sea, and hold in that safer growing ground until they are ready to come back in.  Their populations, spread up and down the California coast, are miniature cities connected by superhighways of tides and currents, all being ridden with intent and bravery by millions of tiny little  pioneers carrying forward.

I think of myself six years ago when I started at Theatre Bay Area.  I think about how little I knew, and how little I understood of what my plan was.  From that home base I have been given the opportunity to carry forth into a national conversation that has opened my eyes so widely, to become a voice in a conversation I would never have imagined was happening.  I am forever grateful, and today, as I sit down at a farewell lunch, I will be sad to go.

On the homefront, I will take the next week to pack up suitcases and snuggle with my daughter, who is so young that she is relatively oblivious to what is happening, and for that I am grateful.  I will plan with my husband, each of us periodically incredulous that such craziness is about to happen, and curl with him at night on our one couch, and try to forget the number of hours ticking down.  And when the moment comes where the change must happen, I will cry and be fearful, but also know the weight behind me, the opportunity ahead of me, and the great surmountability of the distance between my body and my hearts.

To my husband, Seth, who so rarely gets his due in these writings.  I love you.

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  1. Kitty Fischer says

    Here’s to all good things with this move and life change. This is such a beautiful expression of your love for Seth and Cici. I love reading your blog. Great photo!

  2. kathy elvrum says

    You made me cry to see so much love put out there for us all to see and share.
    I am so pleased for you both. To be so strong in each other and with each other, this makes the changes ahead possible. The time will pass then together again new changes will be there. What fun the 3 of you will have.
    The best to you and much love to all of you.

  3. Jo says

    Clay, the strenght you and Seth have together is an inspiration. Garth and I think of you often and know that we will be friends across the globe for life. Stay strong and stop writing things that make me cry! Jo