Art (c) 2005 D.K. McDonald
An Actor's Child - I

On my father's side we're actors. The madness of acting comes from mother. They were born to act – my father and his father. Without the passion of mother and her mother, father's performances were lifeless. The juice of madness in my father's character was maternal and feminine. My mother acted with the conviction of a non-actor. It was hard to imagine mother not being mother. On the stage of age my father brought out the comic element of his childishness. It is those moments that fill me with pity toward him. I could see that his manhood was a veneer of hardness. He never ceased in the madness of a child that was his true self. My character is that of a paralytic. I lack the confidence of an actor. I surmise that the audience knows my lines. They are consumed with madness not unlike mother's. Living among the desperate you're left no choice but to invent yourself.

My parents were born in colonial times. A shadow of inferiority permeated how they saw themselves. The emotional legacy of the colonized I inherited from my parents. What am I – decolonized – I dare not imagine. As one learns swimming by descending into waters I learnt acting by playing on my fear of acting. I was in the role of one who was afraid of the dark and ashamed to be herself. In a moment that stood as a background to shadows I realized that I could laugh at myself. My parents did the same – but there was pain in their laughter. I freed myself of pain with the joy of a swimmer entering dark seas.
Farming is not just an occupation with us. It is almost a second nature. The village was rooted in our sensibility. I relied extensively though on stage props and lighting – more than I would like to admit. For instance I could never fall in love in the seemingly perfect lighting of setting suns. I preferred dark streets instead. The stage was a devastated one with confused men and alarmed women. Desperation was the order of the day. Music born of desperation was the leitmotif of love. In desperation we created sensitive backgrounds to match the simmering pulse of our nature. They were propped and therefore fragile. Stages fell to the weight of breeze. That did not call for an explanation. The need to be happy is an impersonal one. The village reproduced the cosmos in the space of life and death. My father could not imagine himself displaced of his natural habitat. Death was inevitable after a long life that brought out the worst of his manhood at times. When his compassion showed he was like a man ignorant of everything else but the earth with which he worked. As a child I longed to see those moments of ignorance in him. My mother's role was fixed for her. She loved the earth in the same measure as father. So much of her life seemed left to destiny that she often gave the impression of an actor who could outwit death in sleep. The longevity of mother comes from her ability to see through stages. My father embraced order though I often believe that to the end of his life he could see the formlessness of things.

Compassion frees the body of the violence of manhood. My mother had a thing for the strangeness of strangers. It happens to children who seek love outside their homes. An unfulfilled intelligence pushes you to look into unknown eyes for a flicker of approbation. I took this trait in her character a step further and made a role out of it. The habit of fraternalizing with strangers is something congenital with me. I was never afraid to change rooms. In the most unusual of places I could find an eye that opened its heart to mine. In time I could perform the role of a stranger like no one else. I surprise myself in crowded trains when I could make the most expected comments and await a response in the form of a smile. My politics constituted bread and love. Everything that slept and did not was worthy of being touched with kindness. I could dramatize anything but not the sufferings of the poor. I took it for the man-made reality that it was. The order of men must be replaced with women and children.

The moments when he was almost a child was when my father told a story. He concealed his true face in a mask and let it remain there. That is why I realized that he could elicit the pity of mother. A man fears aging and death like an animal fears a predator in the natural world. To embrace the coming of the end is to embrace the beginning of life. To kiss the face of age is to hug a child to the bosom. The sweetness of the sea is the sweetness of rivers that move toward the sea. The sweetness of rivers is the sweetness of rain. The sweetness of rain is the sweetness of earth and sky. The sweetness of life is the sweetness of death. The sweet of sweetness is you. Acting wore my father out at some point. He had no desire to prove himself to the world. He leaned for sustenance upon mother. The helplessness of a man is a curious thing. He breaks down at the threshold of ambition. The frailty of a life made of words is transparent. Age made possessiveness irrelevant. The performances inspired by the lust of being lost their charm. For a short while my father thought that he could connect himself with the world through children and grandchildren. Old tunes resurrected in the soul. The world was alive in a glimmer. On a busy stage where actors crawled to fill their roles my father saw that his presence was immaterial. He made signs in the air as he walked out. We were too busy to notice. The rest of our lives we struggled to decipher signs made in air.

The performance that my father tried the least to enact was that of a father. It was as if grandfather's ghost lived in father. Such was love for his father that my father never left the village in which he was born. Though he passed away he bound my soul to that one single emotion. I came to the village of my father's birth. It was dreamtime. Mother had aged since time though the perfect story of a conflict-free life was the topsoil of her imagination. The transfiguration of reality into happy endings was a way of life with mother. In the happy endings was a note of sadness that never left mother alone. Children and grandchildren saved her from the despair of nostalgia that plagued father. Irony had a special place in performances both with mother and grandmother. In a story was a womb in which another story was gendered. This habit of filling moments with stories made me see women as preservers of language and culture. In time I retold mother's stories as if I were a character in them. In the void of their anonymity each generation of women gave a dimension to the story giving it the freshness of mangoes.

The story goes that my father was a regular commuter of trains. He was young, lonely and ambitious. Looking for love while moving from place to place was an acquired pastime to him. That's not how he met mother though. Mother was an all too familiar face in the neighborhood that father lived. After his long rounds, his eyes tired of strangeness, returned to familiarity of mother. Mother was a mocker who never took father seriously even for a joke. Tired of the fact that his romantic eye found no place in the world of strangers, father ended up proposing to mother. He got a cycle for dowry. For years he had the cycle until one day it got stolen when I left it outside a theater to watch a movie with the title "destiny." Father was far more forgiving that I expected. His absence at home was a rare thing. When he left on journeys to other villages the house felt vacant for some time. It is only when he passed away that I knew what the experience of void meant. I was in no mood to persist in being. Everything pointed to the great void that seems to give birth but in death swallows body and soul with the force of a million hungry lions. Death must be sweet, I thought, if I could roam in realms unknown to the world of light. I delighted in pessimism and drank to nothingness.

I came out of depression the day I knew I was not the only one whose eyes were shedding tears to keep a memory alive. Incompleteness characterized the life my father lived. The thought of his incompleteness and how he reconciled to it in anticipation of his death brought pain to me. I knew I was doomed to incompleteness as well. I escaped familiarity the way a hare dives underground at the sight of an eagle swooping toward it. I could not escape madness. At a point when I was about to breakdown I abandoned thoughts to the wind. Suddenly I felt the lightness of a lamp. The crushing weight of despair fell like a house of cards. Children were playing in the mud of streets. I delighted in their screams as if it were my heart ready to shout for joy. I was struck with how little it took for one to be happy. Father would never return. It is I who must move closer to the reality of forgetting. In promising ourselves that we would never forget we make certain that we do. In the end a passage is not the same as a room. It is a space in time to move from one point to another. Is there a room that I would eventually move into – I asked myself. I knew the answer only too well.

Memories are passages of my life. When I wasn't lost in memories I was busy ridiculing. Often I am my own pet target. Beyond the memory was nothing. I derided the passion that went into being who I imagined myself to be. There are no rooms except the heart of a friend. With time I perfected the plotless story. I lived as if things happened in instants and disappeared like waves making it pointless to look for that thing. Father was gone and there is the terrible likelihood that I would follow the footsteps of father on a stage that stood on nothing. Father is not I. I had to make an image that is neither father nor I with the impersonality of a wandering cloud. On the day he died I'm certain that father understood the role I had destined myself for. With death the liberator on my side what had I to fear!

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