This evening, I felt a moment of personal embarrassment that shot me to the quick; embarrassment intense enough to nauseate, without quite tipping over into humiliation. At first, I lost my appetite, couldn't look my lovely date in the eye (my embarrassment was not about her,) and went semi-silent. Then, I hardened. A black ice wrapped my heart. This hardness felt like focus and strength. It also liberated me from niceties. I spoke bluntly to strangers without tipping all the way into rudeness. I spoke to my date with just-chilled politeness. Her hand, which usually finds mine, stayed in her own lap, while we listened to E.L. Doctorow read from his most recent novel. We spoke to one another like a married couple a little bored with the routine. After the reading, we drove home, watched Ricky Gervais' romantic comedy Ghost Town on dvd, and not for the first time during the evening, I apologized--but this time, the ice had thawed, and I meant it.
More than once during this long evening I felt something else, too: comfort in my growing ability to speak Shakespearean verse on stage. I'm by no means brilliant at it. But, the more I do it, the more comprehensible are the smallish crimes I may commit against others and myself, day to day. Not 'comprehensible' as in intellectually grasped between ratiocinative pincers, but as in 'forgivable.' Speaking Shakespeare's text is like speaking in tongues; passions, doubts, aspirations, fears coil into sound and gesture and spring into external being. Biblical hermeneutics do this for some people, though not for me. The metaphysical ambiguity, borderline nihilism, articulate empathy, moral outrage and imaginative restlessness of Shakespeare do do it for me. Speaking Shakespeare's verse doesn't quite 'ennoble' me, but... it provides a context, which I don't necessarily find elsewhere (and I do mean "speaking" his verse, which puts Shakespeare into another category than mere literary experience.) This evening, when I felt my coldest and most alienated, I could still imagine speaking Shakespeare's lines--those of Hamlet, or Claudius, or Macbeth, or Henry IV--and after I thawed, I somehow felt... more capacious, and lighter on my feet. I felt I could traverse more quickly through the emotions of the moment without attempting to ignore them.
There were other intertwining threads of art and life this evening. The articulate good humor of E.L. Doctorow, the bland good faith of Ricky Gervais, our recent evening listening to Tony Kushner, a previous evening at Guy Robert's mesmerizing one-man Hamlet--all recent art experience bringing shape, color and warmth to a moment that may have felt merely mean, and barren. All of this made me a slightly better boyfriend, in a tricky moment.