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Artifice and the Evocation of Tactile Memory

Last week I saw The New York Theatre Workshop production of The Object Lesson, created by and starring Geoff Sobelle. Upon entering the theatre space, audience members were given a sheet of instructions before entering a warehouse full of cardboard boxes and various trinkets. There is no separation between audience and playing space. Hell, it’s hard to figure out where to sit, or if you sit at all.

I look down at my sheet of paper –

“Oh, hello there.
Didn’t see you reading this – sorry to interrupt!
Just wanted to welcome you to this place.

It’s really lovely to have you here. All of this has been waiting for you! If
you are sitting in this room, and waiting for the show to begin – please
know:there is no waiting. This thing has already begun.
So – go enjoy
yourself. Take a box and open it. Explore.

So here I am, in a room full of someone else’s stuff. I pick up a stick. It’s driftwood. My mom loves driftwood. We have furniture made of driftwood. It really sucks to sit on but it’s very aesthetically pleasing. My mom is a painter and portraitist. She loves nature. Her favorite pieces of art are natural objects shaped by time and the elements.

I think about the house I grew up in. My parents moved when I was living in London last year. I haven’t been back. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. Sometimes my mom drives there, parks in the street, and cries softly.
There’s a waterfall in the backyard of that house. My mom loves the sound of running water. When I was younger I’d throw a baseball with my other mom. Sometimes it would land in the waterfall. Fishing it out was a real pain in the ass.
The woods behind my house are probably still littered with lost baseballs. Probably. If I knew for sure they probably wouldn’t still be lost. I wouldn’t leave them there. Probably
That house. Not my house. Sorry. It’s hard not to forget sometimes.

Buried next to that house is my cat Whiskers. I loved that cat.
I missed a day of high school when he died. I sat in the laundry room in the dark and cried for a long time. Then I wrapped him in my favorite cat towel, dug a hole, and said goodbye. How young I was. I believed you say goodbye only once to the ones you love. How wrong I was.

Goodbye Whiskers. Thank you.
It still hurts, all these years later.

That was the only day of high school I ever missed.

And then the performer arrives. Or he’s been there the whole time. I’m not sure. But the lights dim and people find their places to sit. Someone hands me a Sharpie. I uncap it and label this driftwood I’ve been gliding over and through for the past five minutes.


But so it goes.

I place it on the floor beside me. Later someone steps on it. It splinters.

Like the past.

I watch the performance, acutely aware that everyone is this room has experiences as complex as mine. I’m filled with melancholy. I’m filled with loss.
Like my mom sitting outside the house with the waterfall. A house that’s now a home for a new family. A family that will make its own history. A family that will turn that house into a home.

A family that isn’t mine.



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