What I Will Miss

Writing this from my desk here at home in L.A.. I’m ecstatic to be here in some ways and feel a bit lost in others. On my final morning in Edinburgh I woke at 4am for an early flight and the sky was a swampy blue-green, as if the city was underwater. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was an exhausting adventure and the learning curve was a steep one, but I will miss the wild, shifting Scottish skies.

I’ll also miss walking endless miles every day, until my knees ached from negotiating the cobblestone. I’ll miss the feeling of permission I get from being in a foreign city- permission to sit at a corner cafe and drink tea and breathe for a moment. Permission to not constantly be moving on to the next item on my to-do list. I’ll miss the sense of slowing down and also, paradoxically, of increased urgency. The kind of urgency with which you look at a gorgeous place when you know you won’t see it again for a very long time. The urgency that inspires you to meet people in the park and become fast friends and skip the small talk.

I loved the charged atmosphere of the festival. And mostly I loved how hard everyone was trying. I walked through the streets each afternoon and thought that the guy on stilts juggling swords in his underwear and the high school glee-club in their matching bedazzled t-shirts and the nocturnal comedians just waking to thoughts of the previous night’s triumph or humiliation- not one of them was sleepwalking through their day. They were all resolutely, sometimes painfully, alive. It was an electric thing to be a part of.

And now, the true spiritual challenge- how to stay resolutely alive when stationed in the outfield at baseball practice…

Crying into my Coffee

Here is the text of my third Huffpo Fringe Diary (DJ took the groovy pic):

I lived in Paris one glorious and angst-ridden summer in my early twenties and it was there that I discovered the joys of crying in cafes. At the time, I was heartbroken, having just single-handedly destroyed my relationship with my first love due to unfounded jealousy and emotional instability. What better place to mourn a lost love than on the Left Bank? I cried into café au laits and I cried into kir royales. I cried until the ink smeared across my earnest journal pages. I signed my letters “gros bisous,” the last “s” smudged by a final, fat teardrop.

My heartbreak now is of a quieter variety. There is no longer a lost love, or rather, there are a handful of them. They all haunt me from time to time, though the specters are just flickers of a romanticism I rarely have time for anymore. A romanticism perhaps best surrendered and with it a measure of the narcissism and naiveté that never served me well to begin with.

I hope to never again cry from a heartbreak like the one I suffered that Parisian summer. But even a happy marriage can’t guarantee any such thing. I think often of holding my aunt’s hand as we watched her husband breathe his last breath. I remember how she lay all night on the floor next to the bed. I learned a lesson about the fleeting nature of love’s promises that night, as I listened to her rhythmic sobbing until the pale New England dawn came and I finally convinced her to make the call so they could come for his body.

Perhaps it was memories of that night that inspired my tears the other day, when I found myself crying in the café of a small bookstore that I ducked into out of the Edinburgh rain. Perhaps it was the report from my husband that my child is having a hard time, is missing me, is behaving poorly without me. Perhaps it was the ever-present thought that my closest friend, who died of a drug overdose a year ago, would have loved this city and it would have loved her back, her relentlessly creative spirit.

Crying in public is something I usually reserve for museums and cafes in cities not my own. Who has time, in between work and meetings and soccer practice and grocery shopping, to stop and cry into a your coffee because of some essential human loneliness? And anyway, who would cry into a ventithreeshotsugarfreevanillaskimmilk latte? There are so many control issues stuffed into that cup that there’s no room left for tears.

No- you cry into a whole milk latte, when your ankle is throbbing just slightly because you turned it by stepping awkwardly on cobblestone. You cry when the only people to witness speak another language, or at least with a barely-decipherable brogue. There’s a nakedness to crying in public, an implicit invitation to others to share your pain. The anonymity of traveling lends a safety to this nakedness. It’s simply not prudent to have an existential crisis at parent-teacher night. But a little breakdown on a street corner in Rome won’t inspire gossip about your fragility (perhaps you’re back on those pills after all), won’t cause you to miss your pitch meeting, won’t leave you too distraught to make dinner.

And what do we travel for if not this- to be lifted out of our ingrained identities and to experience our humanity?

In the Edinburgh café, I was brought back to my summer in Paris. That girl’s tears seem so sweet, so precious to me now. She knew everything about heartbreak and nothing at all. And though it sometimes feels like it, she is never entirely gone.

Life on the Fringe

I’m doing a series of blogs over at the Huffington Post about my experience here at the Fringe Fest. Bet you didn’t know I have Scottish blood running through these veins. Don’t be confused by the Jersey accent, I do! Read all about it here.

Here’s the full text of the post:

Sometimes we change so radically that we become unrecognizable to ourselves. Even if that change is a necessary and welcome change, nostalgia for the former and more familiar self can sometimes creep in. Becoming a mother transformed my life in infinite ways, and while I love my son with a fierce passion, I still end many of my days staring at the ceiling and wondering what’s become of me.

A couple of days ago, I found myself boarding a plane to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Alone. Before I got married, I traveled alone all the time and it was a relief to feel like my old, independent self again. But the feeling left as quickly as it came and in its place I felt hollow in my very bones, as if some crucial marrow was missing. I was frustrated to find that I’m no longer the person who experiences nothing but freedom when the plane leaves the ground.

In the pocket of my jeans, I carried a swatch of the MacTaggart clan tartan, like some kind of entry card or talisman. I’m a MacTaggart through my maternal grandmother — my birth mother’s mother. A few years ago, my birth mother sent me a booklet that contains photos and an oral history of her family’s immigration to the U.S., where they settled down in a dusty Midwestern town. In the pictures, the MacTaggarts look hearty and solid. I looked through the pictures in the book, yearning to see some sort of resemblance.

Everyone looks to the world and hopes to find a mirror, but for adopted children, that search takes on a different sort of urgency. I saw no part of me in these care-worn farmers, until I reached a picture of a group of women and one popped off the page, the only woman in the whole book wearing lipstick. Even in the black and white pictures, you can tell that her lipstick is a wild shade of red. What a defiantly frivolous thing — to wear lipstick when all the faces around you wear only the lines etched into their skin by years of hard-won survival. I look at the name and, indeed, this is my maternal grandmother. Of course it is.

I was raised by bookish, middle-class Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and I feel more connected to that lineage than I do to the farmers in those photographs. And yet, this swatch of blue and red and black in my pocket is a piece of me, if only because flying low over the patchwork Scottish farmlands, I want believe that something this breathtakingly green is inscribed in my cells.

And here I sit, in a flat in Edinburgh, watching the fireworks above the castle out the window of my bedroom. Today I open a solo show about how adopting my son from Ethiopia enabled me to face my conflicted feelings about my own adoption. How the mishmash identity we piece together as adoptees can make locating a sense of belonging in the world a struggle. Not impossible, certainly, but challenging.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with over 2,500 shows playing throughout the next month, and it’s bedlam. Every charming cobblestone street is crawling with actors, comedians, dancers, circus performers, musicians and performance artists of all shapes and sizes. They try to lure you in to see their shows by dressing in costumes, taking their shirts off, offering free cake, hula hooping, singing, dancing around in scary fairy makeup. Every church and storefront and café and tent is a performance venue. There’s even a giant inflatable purple cow called the Udderbelly.

I stumble down the cobblestone of the Royal Mile, duck into a stone archway and find my lighting designer sitting and chatting with some elegant, slouchy dancers lounging on the lawn. I run into my friend Kristina Wong, a solo performer I know from LA, who is stressed about getting the scones she’s serving at her morning show. I meet a woman named Mrs. Clark, who wears face paint and a black feather headdress and tells me that I make her spoon happy, upon which she draws a spoon with googly eyes from her cleavage. Later, I find my friend, comic Eddie Pepitone, the Bitter Buddha, who is adamant that this many performance artists should never be in one place at the same time — no good can come of it.

I still have my tartan in my pocket, but really the culture I’m a part of this anarchic explosion of art. This is my clan — tired and puffy-eyed and tearing their hair out at tech rehearsals and making stuff — good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, awful stuff — and coming together here in this fantastically gorgeous place to do it. I miss my child, I’m anxious about opening night, and still there’s a vein of joy running through my day, through these streets. There’s no need to feel motion sick from swaying between these disparate identities. There’s room for all of it here. I’m right at home.

The Lost Art of Getting Lost

I opened my show tonight at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and this is the first moment I’ve had to organize my thoughts. Until now, my mind has just been unspooling into the streets of the city. I’ve spent the last two days either working my ass off at the theater or stumbling down cobblestone streets, which are crawling with actors and dancers and comedians and musicians and street performers- all of them pulling creative stunts to get you in to see their show.

The Fringe Fest is the largest arts festival in the world and there are over 2500 shows running throughout the month here. It’s wild. It’s mayhem in the streets. It’s kind of like Burning Man for theater geeks, but with slightly less nudity (only slightly, due to a proliferation of performance artists).

I got completely lost during my walk yesterday morning and wound up climbing Arthur’s Seat, which is a mountain nestled in the middle of the city. Purple and yellow flowers were bursting from every crevice. No pics of it, because I make a point of walking without a camera glued to my face, at least some of the time. From the top of the crag, I looked out over this gorgeous place and felt so grateful to have a morning to be lost in the world, to get turned around on tangled streets and wind up crossing a cast iron bridge and climbing to the top of a bluff. I never lose sight of the fact that this is an enormous privilege…

Even if my bedroom is right above a tent that’s blasting YMCA and the Macarena over and over right now. Really? YMCA? But it looks like this from the front window, so it ain’t all bad:

Tonight went beautifully, except for the fact that the house lights never went out, so I performed for a totally lit audience. But as far as technical mishaps go, it could have been worse. It almost was worse (our light board operator never showed up), but my director DJ Mendel was a hero and saved the day. Solo shows are never solo endeavors.

On the down side, Tariku had his first baseball practice and I wasn’t there. I’ll think I’m doing fine without him, and then I see a cool playground that he would like and I burst into tears. I told him that I was going away for a couple of weeks because we have to follow our dreams. He solemnly told me that he understands because he’s he’s following his dream too- with his band. I miss him like mad.

One show down, eleven more to go.

Off to the Fringe

I’m off to Edinburgh, like, now, to perform my solo show Mother Tongue at the Fringe Fest- the biggest arts festival on the planet. If you know people over there, tell them to come! I’ll be blogging about it over at the Huffington Post and here, always, of course. We’ve already had a great write-up in The Herald.

I feel as ready as I’m going to be to take this show on the road. It needs an audience now so it can come alive.