Act 5: The Choice, A Risk, and the Alignment of the Stars (and What I’ve Learned).

Today marks exactly the one-year anniversary of the Birthday Party and the Boy with the Coat, and so it seems appropriate, if not ENTIRELY a little late to finish the story. It needed distance, I think, and a little time, before I started back in on things. But now, a year later, (and nine months since my last entry), the way it worked out– the way everything worked out– seems like it needed that time to fully comprehend.

And so, exactly one year to the day, I present to you the end of the story.

The Choice

So. Remember Nora and the Red Postcard? It’s been awhile, I’ll refresh you. On our impromptu tour of Staunton on the day of the birthday party, Nora gave me a red postcard that had the information for the MFA Shakespeare program on it. I tucked it in my purse and forgot about it for the rest of the day.

The next morning, when I got back to my office still hyped up on Squintibus and magic playhouse tours, I was digging around in my purse and found the postcard. I didn’t think much of it, but it served as a memento of the weekend and so I pinned it to my bulletin board along with my ticket stubs and it faded into the background.

The rest of the week went fairly innocuously. Chris and I continued to email back and forth– emails that were WAY too long, but we were still riding that wave of “did that really happen” in a way that I think has paved the way for the rest of our relationship.

Then Friday happened. Now, to contextualize this a bit, I was, at the time, working for a Fancy Casino as a salaried employee. I was the “Entertainment Manager”, which was a super sweet gig that basically meant I was in charge of all of the concerts and events at the casino, as well as a number of other duties that fell under my OTHER title as “Digital Technologies Manager”.

So that Friday, (on the night of a concert), we got called into the office and basically told that the entire department was fired due to “restructuring”, and that our six(once-salaried) positions were going to be replaced by 5 hourly positions. So, basically, we got told that one of us was going to lose our job, and those who kept their employment were getting demoted. Awesome.

The next two months were really weird. We were expected to keep coming into work and act like nothing was wrong while they “sorted out the situation”. The problem here was that because there was that one spot open, this weird Hunger Games morale came into play in a way that I really hated. I don’t want to go into specifics in the interest of tact and privacy, but there came a point where the level of “under the bussing” got so bad that I went back to my office and had a moment of “What do I do? I can’t stay here”….and I looked up and spotted Nora’s red postcard.

It was in that moment when I had a really douchey epiphany. I admit that it was douchey and also super idealistic, but I just remember sitting there and looking at my ticket stubs and Prenzie posters and seeing “Shakespeare” repeated over and over and over, and looking back at the postcard and thinking “I’m not happy here, and I KNOW what makes me happy, why the fuck am I not just GOING for this? ”

The Risk

So I did. I sent in my application that day (at work. TAKE THAT, THE MAN) and heard back from the lady who monitors the program almost immediately, telling me that Nora had mentioned I might be applying and that she was really excited to show me more about the program .

At that point, my life became a blur. So much happened so quickly– professors and friends stepped up to write me beautiful letters of recommendation. In January, I took the GRE and panicked because my score wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I continued panicking over whether or not I’d get cast at the ASC (spoiler, I didn’t. Memorize your sides, kids). Chris and I continued to email back and forth. He visited me. I surprized him on his birthday and visited him. I got accepted to grad school with a 50% scholarship.

The day I got the letter, I didn’t react much. My mom was mad, I think, that I didn’t do the whole “jump around and yell” thing. I just stood there and quietly smiled. Hard. For a long time. Eventually, we sat down and figured out how good the scholarship was and I because a lot less fearful about my imminent bankruptcy due to student loans, but suddenly, This Was Real in a way that I hadn’t really planned on.

The next day, I went into work and told them that I’d gotten accepted into Grad School. They were happy for me, but I also realized it caused a problem of whether or not they should keep me on until I left or whether I should just consider that my two weeks. I wasn’t surprised when they told me “thanks but no thanks” for my offer to stay on, and suddenly, I was unemployed. And it felt awesome.

The Alignment of the Stars

The realization, of course, that I was out of a job was a sort of scary one, but once again, the stars aligned in a way that I had never expected. I was bemoaning my plight with my wonderful friend Emily, who had just taken a big kid job of her own as a marketing director at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. She suggested I apply for an internship. So I did. And I got it.

Suddenly, my unemployment turned into “getting to work for a real life Shakespeare company”.

There was a month where I was supposed to work at a Renn faire making armor as an “educational artisan”, but they somehow wound up double-booking me or something, and that gig got cancelled shortly before I was due to start. It was disappointing, but I figured that it would work out better in the long run– plus, I wound up replacing THAT gig with a few smaller ones, so I suppose it works out. Those done, I was headed to the Shakespeare Festival.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival lives in this magical small town in Winona, Minnesota. It’s bordered on one side by bluffs, and there are two giant lakes. There are also chai lattes. That summer, I got to do a bunch of the educational design, and I also designed the t-shirts. I don’t know why I consider that such a point of pride, but there you go.

It was my first summerstock, and so I made a lot of mistakes, namely mistakes fueled by $2.50 Long Islands and the excitement of being around “real actors”. I got upset and frustrated and sometimes lazy and occasionally bored and spent all my money and it was WONDERFUL.  I was living in a tiny dorm room out of hockey bags, and for the first time, in a really, really long time, I just felt….right. I felt like I was finally getting to be myself–that I didn’t have to worry about offending the delicate sensibilities of my co-worker by talking about theatre and I could get REALLY EXCITED ABOUT SHAKESPEARE and no one would mind. I bought a bike and crashed it on the first day. I still have a heart-shaped scar on my knee and was on crutches for a week after I decided to start running.

I met some extraordinary people, especially the girls who I got to work with in the box office. They introduced me to Chai Lattes and the phrase “salty” and feminism and were an example of meeting the right people at the right time. I was terrified that everything was going to come crashing down around me at any minute, but there they were, having the time of their lives, and maybe it would be okay if I got to go along. Beautiful people in a beautiful town. Emily became my saving grace and sanity-provider in the center of our hectic, crazy office, and I realized how grateful I am to have friendships like hers in my life. Quiet, not always present, but suddenly a life-changing offer or just a hug when I needed it, and it was just because she believed that I was more capable than I even thought I was. Turns out, I don’t actually suck as much as I thought I did.

I also somehow managed to find an amazing apartment in Virginia while I was living in a dorm room in Minnesota. Chris gets most of the credit, as well as the copy machine at GRSF, but signing my lease made me feel….competent. Like maybe it was going to work out. I came home for a week and a half after summerstock ended but before classes were going to start and had one last hurrah with my friends.

That was hard. Like, really hard. I remember sitting at the Blue Cat and realizing that this could very well be the last time I see some of these people for at least three years. My world was shifting. I came home and cried and cried and wondered if I was doing the right thing, if leaving everything behind to study something as silly as Shakespeare was worth it, losing the life that I had known for so long, but I think, even then, I knew that I needed to get out, at least for awhile. Things were The Same in the Quad Cities, and it wasn’t what I needed.

And so I packed up a giant moving truck, attached my car, learned how to drive a box truck through the mountains at night with a trailer without dying and made it to Virginia in what seemed like both 3 days and three years after I’d made my decision to do this.

Moving sucks, especially with your mother in a tiny moving van cabin for 17 hours, but I was also grateful for the time I got to spend with her– we spent most of our trip through the mountains debating sex and religion, and I feel like I know my mom a little bit better now, and I can at least say that she’s heard the entirety of the Book of Mormon soundtrack.

And then, suddenly, everything was loaded off of the truck (thanks, Chris’s family) and I was…here. I had a key and an address and books were arriving in the mail for classes, and then classes started and now I’m here.

Grad School is weird. I mean, it’s awesome, but it’s weird. I feel like I could spend the next three years blogging every day about what happened and what we did and what Shakespeare we studied, or I could just write “We talked about Shakespeare” and it’d be, essentially, the same thing. Sometimes, it’s just hard to find the words.

What I’ve Learned

Today has been strange. I walked to the coffee shop (home of the vanilla lattes in the world) and overpaid for my delicious cup of goodness, and turned to see Patrick sitting and working on some stuff– at the EXACT same table I met him at a year ago.

In a little less than an hour, I’m going to go perform in two directing showcase scenes on stage at the Blackfriar’s. My sacred space has become my classroom. Later this week, I’m going to sign up to be reviewed as a tour guide there as well. My midnight tour has become my day job. Tonight, Chris and I are going to celebrate a bit. The boy in the stupid coat has become the boy I come home to. The Shakespearean Asguardians have become friends with names and the town that I didn’t want to leave has become the town that I live in. The thing that I wanted to do most in the world is the thing I get to do everyday.

I have learned that sometimes, out of disappointment comes new choices you never even imagined. I’ve learned that out of fear of the unknown can come the strongest happiness you’ve ever felt. Out of hard choices can come the knowledge that you’ve made the right one. Out of loss and anger at what you thought your life was going to be can come a discovery that maybe your life was never headed in that direction anyway.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that if you spend every day waiting for everything to fall apart, for everything to disappear and for the other shoe to drop, you might miss the most obvious thing of all- that there is no other shoe, and that maybe this wonderful, extraordinary, beautiful, crazy unpredictable life is just the one that I get to live.

It’s been a really, really good year.

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