Observations, Act II
To sum up my self-inflicted anguish: there is one more glimpse into my life’s anxiety that may be worthwhile for some of you to hear. It was an unforeseen question delivered by my sixteen-year-old daughter that caught me off guard. And it offered me an understanding of what living life, caught up in a love affair with a subjective art form, is really all about.
At the time, my main source of income was derived from the theater. I wasn’t setting any records. My wife still had to work. As a production stage manager, the money looked good, but the downtime between jobs was always a sour experience. Nevertheless, lack of money had nothing to do with my work ethic. I was proud of what I did, and amongst my colleagues, I was treated with a great deal of respect.
My daughter’s question to me was posed following a wrap party. The show was more than an average success for legit theater in Los Angeles. It was the director’s turn to say a few words to the cast and crew before we all said the usual tearful goodbyes. I never dreamed that he, the director, would begin his words with my name.
The show that had come to an end was an extremely technically-challenging production. In those days, we didn’t have the advantage of computerized lighting cues. Everything, including the music cues, fell within the domain of the production stage manager.
To make this a short story, I’ll just paraphrase our director’s remarks:
“Harvey Kalmenson exemplifies what the theater is all about. His reckless abandon of self, and his total devotion to the success of our play, have served as an inspiration for the redemption of my own creative dreams.”
An applause of agreement and appreciation followed. I nodded my thank you to the crowd and stepped back, preparing to listen to the rest of our cast express their sentiments. It was at that moment that I caught sight of my daughter.
She had moved away from her position alongside my wife and was now standing a mere one step away from me on my right. She stepped closer and it felt like the two of us were there alone. It was easily determined that she had been crying. I thought her emotions were over what the director had said about her father. My assumption was only partially correct.
It was what the director had said that triggered the question to enter her mind. She was a totally confused sixteen-year-old that genuinely wanted to know: “Daddy, if you’re so smart and all these actors love you so much, then how come you’re not able to make more money?”
It was that single moment that shocked me into the reality of what I had gotten myself into. Forget the business. What I was in can’t be described as a business. All it is and all it will ever be can only be explained as a condition of the heart. At that moment, I became overtaken with my own misgivings. From the high of listening to what a prominent man had to say about me to the low of disgust that I had for myself… My excellence was due to the focus generated by self-indulgence and dedication to the subjectivity of a career that was selfishly downgrading the value of my family. That was the last professional job I would ever hold in any theater.
Along with the starkness of my daughter’s searching question, I was awakened to the realization my marriage had suffered irreparable damage. Now, not only between jobs, I was out there as an ill-equipped adult child trying to redirect his life.
In retrospect, I find myself saying: “Big deal so you got a divorce. So you were out looking for a job. What the hell were you crying about? You had your health (still do) and you had all that theater experience to go along with your God-given skills.”
But retrospect has one problem, my friends. Time has a way of healing our wounds. Pain-providing incidents have a way of becoming amusing with the passage of time. Nature has provided us with a built-in safeguard designed to keep us all from going nuts. It’s called time healing. All of us (if we’re normal) will ultimately numb out to the original painful discomforts of life.
The original pain we feel, be it physical or emotional, usually comes to us by way of shock. It may hurt like hell at inception but as the years go by, we all have a way of forgetting. In my case, the pain I described to you a little earlier was fifty years ago.
Today, I reflect and draw on it as another of life’s valuable lessons. Certainly, at the time I didn’t feel that way. Giving up being a participant in the theater was genuine heartbreak at the time. Looking back at it, I see a different picture. I see a guy who paid a very expensive fee for a series of life’s experiences remaining mine and mine alone forever. And what follows is a variety of my opinions, doctrines, dictates, amusements, lessons learned, and maybe some more of my privacy shared—dare I forget the changes I succumbed to, albeit unwillingly.
I’m praying for much more to come your way.
Please stay tuned in.