Once you grow up, you are expected only to make believe when you are cast in a play…and then you call it acting, and it is serious. I never quite stopped playing pretend games, however. Probably my love for theatre has a lot to do with my love for make-believe, but I also think the reason theatre exists is the same reason why make-believe exists: mimetic desire, the longing to become in order better to know, the thrill of liminality.
Fortunately for me I met my friend Kate when I was 25, and technically a good 15 years past the time when make-believe is socially acceptable. Eventually, I suppose, I will be old enough so that it will constitute a symptom of inevitable dotage; in the meantime, I am hopeless.
Among other commonalities, we found that both of us had, at some point in our teenage years, gone wafting about mist-covered hills in cloaks, pretending to be…something or other. Eowyn, I think, in my case. I still fear a cage above all other things. I still also like to dress up in ridiculous outfits and waft – so does Kate – although we now do so with babes in arms.
It was all so picturesque, the sweet far-away aroma of the lavender rising all about us, the languor of a July day…we decided on our lunch break to get a loaf of bread, a brick of cheese, and a bottle of wine, to carry on with the general Arcadian theme. I think we both had the famous Brideshead picnic lurking in our minds somewhere: we were living out a beautiful storybook rebellion.
My reasoning on the wine was as follows: Italian peasants would eat just such a lunch, and then go right back to work the fields. But that sort of reasoning involves the willful ignorance of certain glaring historical discrepancies. It also involves one NOT drinking the entire bottle of wine, on an 85 degree day…especially cheap screw-cap wine (we had no corkscrews, so that was our only option). The amazing Brideshead wine that was “heaven with strawberries”… this was surely not it. The cheese sat and saddened in the sun; it sweated; we sweated; the lavender was sort of absorbed into a general odor of warm cheese, Michigan suburbs, and body odor. A siesta would have been welcome but back we went to work, digging holes for shrubberies around a depressing suburban development. We lagged and our heads swam, all the houses began to look the same – well, actually, they always looked the same, but now the sameness became more notably dreary.
I did not learn however. We tried the same Italian Peasant experiment again that same summer, and it failed, again (imagine!). For the past ten years I have continued in my pigheaded determination that I WILL drink wine or beer along with some heavy bready and cheesy substances, on my lunch break, and then successfully carry on manual labor, or directing a play, or running after maniacal children. I subjected Brendan to the experiment on our honeymoon: we drove to the top of a mountain, then hiked way, way down into the river valley to gaze at a waterfall and eat cheese and apples, and drink Chianti. Then we had to climb back up. Happy times.
I have recently discovered two things:
1) If you leave out the wine, you can pretend to be a peasant and still go back to work. Pregnancy taught me this. It’s not quite as much fun while you’re pretending, but it makes for better gardening afterwards.
2) We can’t be Charles and Sebastian because we’re not upper class Oxonians in the twenties, and we’re not in love with each other (I mean, Kate and I aren’t. When we played Olivia and Viola in Twelfth Night that was rather painfully obvious, that we were NOT in love with each other). And that is one of the magickal things about stories: they are in many cases our only entry to a rich, rife atmosphere that otherwise we would never breathe, because each story has its special uniqueness, its singularity to a time and place like no other. This reveals to us the terrible preciousness of the moment that burns once and then slips away: it is not just a symbol, not just a pointer, it is real and tangible and meaningful in itself, the single tree or the golden afternoon or the slant of a face in shadow.
“I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”
You can’t, though. If you really think you can, you end up like Sebastian. It’s lost in time, the pot of gold. But it was gold, for all that. Playing pretend games keeps it shiny in our recollection.
(That’s my excuse, at any rate).