I’ve been to Los Angeles six times in my life. I love it there, mostly because it’s a fun game to love LA when it's so common to denounce it as shallow, a back-stabbing viper pit of neediness, and casual emotional abuse, and the sort of economic inequality that would make Baby Doc Duvalier wince. And yes, fine, LA is that. I’m no fan of it in that regard.
What seduces me back into the embrace of the Smoggy Whore-Mother, however, is the awareness Angelenos have that they’re trash. They cop to their own failings in a way that Twin Citizens never would. Many of our Angeleno compatriots don’t prize books or theater, and they don’t apologize for it. “Why would I do that?” you can hear them ask themselves. “What does that get me? Fuck, I’m going to be late for spinning.”
They have a point.
Minnesotans always toss around the fact the Cities have the second-highest theater seats per blah blah blah whenever there’s someone vaguely important within earshot. But what does that actually mean? What has that got us? Apart from Sarah Palin’s nationalist hoedown, I mean.
And that is the glory of the Los Angeles ethos; it's a challenge for my cute, little, Upper Midwestern, self-effacing, aw-shucks, let's-be-deep-as-long-as-it-doesn't-touch-bone bullshit. LA is fully aware. They know who they are. They're unashamed. They don't apologize for simply wanting something. They know power corrupts, but that isn’t an occasion for moral angst as long you’re okay with being corruptible. They've thought everything through. They've rehearsed. They've prepared. And on any given night of the week, they're not shy about getting what they want.
Say what you will about the arc, you have to love the commitment to the story.
My sister, a psychotherapist, once told me, “It doesn’t matter if parents are strict or lenient, as long as they’re consistent. If you’re strict, that’s fine. If you’re lenient, that’s fine. But if you really want to send a kid to therapy, be inconsistent.”*
The purpose of rehearsal is to make stuff as consistent as possible, to make movements and sensations and placements as quantifiable as the speed of light in a vacuum.
Rehearsal is the de-insane-ification of art.
Rehearsal lets you relax enough to be able to do something in public, first and foremost, without vomiting.
There is a delicious horror when I get ready to go out in Los Angeles—or Antwerp or Montreal or Geneva or any of the other cities that seem overblown to mention (but I really do go to). There’s a liberation, of course, in running almost nil risk of bumping into someone I know.
Except that brings us all back to what my psychotherapist sister told me that one time: No rules are great cause for anxiety. "I don't know anyone, I can do anything!" becomes "I don't know anyone. Fuck. I'm going to have to talk to strangers." Cue the anxiety. It's time to chew the scenery, people! PLACES! FUCK! EN SCÈNE, EN SCÈNE !
I was in LA this Halloween, and it was a delight. Costumes ran amok, the liquor was cheap and plentiful, no one opened fire. But I had no frame of reference for myself. I did everything to rally: I put on the costume (literally), I had a couple glasses of some concoction, I advised my friend Ellie on glitter placement, I listened to the Hives. The technique was flawless. I was goddamn Uta Hagen with a cowboy hat.
But the preparation, the ritual, the rehearsal, the what-have-you didn't do its job. I didn't let it do its job. I failed to risk anything. I couldn’t find the right way to prepare so the execution was a bust. It's not that I was a wet blanket, but I couldn’t find the right junk inside me to make it work. West Hollywood that night was too foreign, too unpredictable, too overwhelmingly unlike me. So I automatically took on the role of observer.
My public face failed me. I retreated inward and the persona became camouflage. That makes for a sucky weekend out of town. Also, it makes for terrible theater.
I'm entirely too cowardly to be a good director, for actors or for myself.
Americans love to rehearse and we consider much of our lives to be a performance. We rehearse jokes, marriage proposals, saying “yes” to marriage proposals, break ups, confessions. We drill for tornadoes and fires. Our presidential candidates spend days before debates honing their body language and verbal responses to questions, even though they don't know what the questions will actually be. Our movies and TV shows make jokes of our private rehearsals: think Napoleon Dynamite dancing, think of any number of characters practicing a phone call. We love to catch one another privately rehearsing. It reveals something all too dreadfully human and therefore embarrassing. Rehearsing moments, big or small, in our everyday, non-theatrical lives betrays a deeply naïve desire for dignity.
YouTube videos of fat kids practicing their light saber skills?
We should think it's none of our business and turn away from such a private moment, one never meant for public consumption, one never intended to make the creator so vulnerable. It was rehearsal.
Except that it's funny.
Humans judge one another harshly. It’s oft repeated that you only get one chance to make a first impression. How many jobs and relationships have been forfeited in the first ten seconds of an interview or first date? If there is a better, more concise way of expressing the quotidian importance of rehearsal, I’d like to hear it.
That’s why I get a lot more anxious out of town than in Minneapolis, and more nervous in a bar than in a theater. When Dominic Papatola tells me (and the rest of the state) that I’m being pretentious, that hurts a good deal less than when a cute guy avoids making eye contact with me.
When pain is inflicted by the Pioneer Press, at least someone I know will ask me how I'm doing. At least someone will tell me that I tried, whether or not I actually did.
Minnesotans lie to comfort. That doesn’t help.
Liberation—operating outside a familiar, comforting structure—means one can do whatever one wishes. Part of me finds that prospect nauseating. I have no function, no motivation to just having a good time. I have no role to fill, no character to play. I’d really like someone someday to teach me the value of going to a party. I forget to ask myself the question, “What does this get me?” Having a good time gets me a lot. Pleasure is worth doing.
The game is, of course, to bring meaning to chaos. That's why there's ritual, that's why there's rehearsal. That's why you first try, privately and methodically, to collect thoughts and go forward into the scary, scary night with steel in your spine and blood in your mouth. Repetition brings understanding brings order brings confidence brings letting yourself off the goddamn hook and exploring something new. Sometimes you have to be mean. Sometimes you have to be selfish.
Los Angeles (or at least my version of LA) sometimes makes me feel like I’m the fat kid trapped in a Star Wars fantasy. Something is happening in public that I'm not equipped privately to handle. Angelenos invent and reinvent with a rapid, seamless fluidly; there is no inside life because it's all outside. It's actually kind of the opposite of narcissism. They just let themselves off the hook.
I'm jealous of it sometimes. ❦
* As you may have guessed, our mother and father were practitioners of inconsistent parenting.