02 September 2012

Life as a Sycamore

Growing up, I related very much to the transcendentalists.  Men like Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott - men who were constantly searching for meaning in their life and never quite satisfied with where they were.  They felt, and were for all intents and purposes, out of place in their world.

I love this world.  I love the purpose my life gains from making meaning out of what comes my way, even when I don't understand it completely.  I love the ability I have to step outside of myself and try and gain the larger picture.  I love the way my brain and soul are challenged together so that I am not satisfied with learning for the sake of learning, but long to connect the eternities with the now.

This world also stresses the hell out of me.

It's a world of constant dissatisfaction with who you are.  A world of impatience as you try to get better but just can't do it fast enough.  It means that when you are given critique on how to improve you cannot let an ounce of needed improvement go even in a gallon of praise.  It's a world of pressure and stress when taken out of balance.

So when I was cast as Alice Sycamore in You Can't Take it With You, I laughed a little.  I relate to Alice more than any other character I have played before.

For those of you uninitiated to the You Can't Take it With You world, it is the story of a family at the tail end of the depression.  Headed by patriarch Martin Vanderhoff (known simply as Grandpa), the house is full of people who do what they love.  They're able to do this because Grandpa, a former businessman, encourages the house to do what makes them the most happy and helps fund their efforts.  His daughter, Penny Sycamore, writes plays and paints (though you get the feeling that she'd do just about anything if the tools were cool enough and the costume fun enough.  She is married to Paul Sycamore, who spends his life designing fireworks (often sans pants) in the cellar of the house.  (He sets them off in the cellar too.  No worries.)  Paul and Penny have two daughters.  Essie is an aspiring ballet dancer (who isn't all that great, but don't tell her that) married to Ed who is a man with many "talents" (including printing, xylophone playing and mask making).  Their other daughter is Alice - we'll get back to her.

The house has several other acquirements - Rheba the maid and her boyfriend Donald.  Kohlenkov is Essie's very outspoken Russian ballet teacher, and his friend Olga Katrina comes around for a visit.  There's also Mr. DePinna, Paul's fireworks making friend.

The house itself is full of life.  None of the Sycamores (other than Alice) have a job outside of the home, so everything is constantly moving and full of excitement.  It's a joy to watch - a family that loves each other and enjoys each other's company, and has the luxury of pursuing what they want to do with no judgment placed on them.  In the Sycamore house, your quirks are encouraged and wanted and in some ways expected.  They want you to be you.

Then there's Alice.  Alice is, for all intents and purposes, the most "normal" of the Sycamore club.  She has a "real" job.  She interacts with people outside of the home and is decently self conscious of the way her family looks to those who don't get them.  She loves them - but she's nervous about other people loving them, especially when she gets engaged to the son of a Wall Street business mogul.

Near the end of the play after a rather unfortunate scene where the families of Alice and her fiance, Tony, meet - Alice breaks off the engagement and sends the whole family into a depressive funk.  In a debate with Tony's father over the best way to live your life, Grandpa states rather boldly that Tony is too nice a boy to end up in a life obsessed with stocks and bonds - that he deserves better than to be "mixed up and unhappy".

It was that last phrase that struck me.  As I think about the last few years in my life, I realize exactly how like Alice I am.  I am driven and determined to succeed.  I am comfortable pursuing what makes me happy.  But I am conscious of wanting to please those around me.  I don't like feeling judged - it stresses me out.  So I sometimes spend far too much time worrying about what other people think.  It left me feeling mixed up and terribly unhappy.

I started to realize that I was spending far too much time worrying about what other people thought and not nearly enough time worrying about what He thought.

I'm not letting go of my transcendentalist routes.  I think it's good to have a healthy desire to push forward and to become better.  I don't ever want to feel so settled in my opinions that I can't change and adapt.  But I also don't want to put so much pressure on myself to be perfect rightthisverysecond.  I want to learn to accept myself a bit more.  I want to accept the Sycamore parts of my personality and not be ashamed of them, but enjoy them.  Grandpa is right - life is kind of beautiful if you take the time to notice when spring comes around.  And it's hard to notice that when you spend your life constantly stressed about pleasing others, or making a deadline, or on trying to accomplish a world of tasks all at once.

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