I was in my second year of grad school and was having a hard time. The second year is often the worst in terms of work load, emotional strain, and my desire to run screaming from writing of any kind. In the second year you’re in between everything but looking at the fact that this thing you’ve been training to do will have to be tested in the real world, whatever that means. It’s very stressful and had taken a toll on my health and sanity.
One extra special cold February night some friends invited us to go ice skating uptown in Central Park. We thought that was a splendid idea and rallied to get ourselves there and skating before it got too late. I remember getting ready to leave the house and knowing that something felt off. My face felt strange but I didn’t think much of it. Nothing hurt so I figured I was fine. We went iceskating and had a wonderful time but it was so cold that everything went numb and it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized half of my face wasn’t working. I could only make hard a smile and my blinking reflex wasn’t working so well. I told Nicole and we immediately went to the hospital. After sitting in the ER for hours the first thing they thought was that I was having a stroke. They took me away to a room and admitted me.
Nicole went home to get some of my things and she told me later that she cried the whole way home, believing that I was about to be changed forever or die. I stayed there for 2 or 3 days as they ran test after test. My roommate was a guy who had had a debilitating stroke that left half of his body paralyzed. He kept telling me all the things I wouldn’t be able to do anymore, all things based on the things he couldn’t do anymore. Half of his body could hardly move, I can’t remember if it was the left or right, and it scared the shit out of me to look at him, but so far, my paralysis was limited to my face, so I wasn’t pretty but I could still move around.
As time went by I became convinced I had not had a stroke, but the doctors felt they needed to be sure, apparently that’s a thing, and they kept me as long as they could. If I had more time I would talk about how this was a teaching hospital and that I submitted to have a lot of medical students examine me, I guess I was sort of an interesting case, and they wanted to see as much of me as possible. Things were said, seen, and done that can never be undone.
Finally they decided that it was Bell’s Palsy; A nerve disorder in the face that causes paralysis but easily treated if you get to it quick, which we did. So I said goodbye to my roommate, wished him well, and ran screaming from the hospital hoping It would be many years before I saw one again. I was sent home with steroids that made me crazy for a few days while my face slowly returned to normal.
Soon I was back in school working at my normal pace. It wasn’t long until I discovered I had picked up one of those superbugs hospitals like to keep for people with crappy insurance. That kept me ill for about another month. The entire time I was working on a play that did not work. Nothing I did made it work. It was frustrating and made me feel like I should do something else. I was sick and had absolutely no perspective on what I was doing anymore. I couldn’t see the point. Yet here I was in grad school moving ever closer to a masters and more debt. Finally, that Spring, I kicked the bug. One night one of my teachers invited me to go see Strindberg’s The Creditors at BAM, directed by Alan Rickman. I had worked at BAM right before school and knew it was one of the few places I could get a ticket for free. I emailed my old boss Mary and she set me up.
I have always loved Scandinavian playwrights like Ibsen and Strindberg for the utter conservative simplicity of their stories, often revolving around a few individuals and the psychology of conflict in it’s rawest and most human. The show did not disappoint. It was very simple. Three people on a stage hashing out their perceived humanity.
I walked out afterward feeling good. Feeling a little lighter, but still not ready to face writing, when Mary stopped me in the lobby. “Josh”, she said. “I wanted to make sure you met Alan.” And there he was. I had been standing next to him for a couple of minutes and didn’t even realize it. He smiled, shook my hand and asked me about myself. I told him I was a playwright working on my masters and he was immediately interested. We stood there chatting for a few minutes before a famous couple walked up and said hi, at which point, though he didn’t have to, he introduced me to them, the way a friend would. He said, “This is Josh Beerman, he’s a playwright, we need him.”
He meant it. It wasn’t as if he was saying they actually needed me. That I had something applicable to that moment or those people, but that I did something that was necessary or the life of a craft, something he no longer needed to do, but would never stop doing regardless of his success. I said good night and went out for drinks with my teacher and we talked for a while, about the show, about writing, and about how small this world is. Then I went home, sat down, and I wrote with a smile on my face. The play still didn’t work but I didn’t care anymore. Not every play works right away, or even months down the line, but maybe one day you go back to it and suddenly it does. The important thing is that I keep working. So even now, when I’m frustrated, or feel like asking what’t the point, I think about that moment and what I garnered from a very casual meeting. Thanks for reminding me why it matters Mr. Rickman.