April 21 Finally landed a plum part. Am playing Agnes in Moliere's “School for Wives”. It is the perfect part for me. Agnes is a model of deceit, pretending to be an innocent, weak-kneed damsel in distress while in reality, she is a fierce, strong woman who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. And she gets all the best lines in the play! You gotta love it!
I am backstage, making the last adjustments to my wardrobe and make-up before going on. I take a look at myself in the mirror. I have Marie Antoinette cleavage, with my boobs pushed up to my chin by the super Bita Saviss Lavand Bra I have on. My dress is as big and pouffy as a wedding dress, with lots of ornaments and pretty details on it, just like the ladies of the court used to wear it in good old Versailles. My bouffant ancient French wig weighs heavily on my head. I may end up like poor Rita Moreno, who got lifelong neck and back aches after donning those huge exotic headsets for her role in the King and I. Aaaahhh, the sacrifice we artists make for our craft!
On the other side of the curtains, I hear the muffled sounds of amusement from the audience. Just wait til I get there! 3…2…1… There's my cue!!! It's showtime baby! The curtains open and I am blinded by the harsh lights pointed towards me. For a moment, I can't even see the actors or the stage props and I advance hesitantly, thinking I am going to bump into something or worse, someone.
I can feel all the eyes of the audience on me and the hair on the back of my neck suddenly stands up. Where is all my confidence? I am suddenly way nervous. It doesn't help that the audience members are all murmuring, with a sound that is growing louder and more annoying every second, like the buzzing sound of a bee constantly lodged in your ear. Ssssshhhh!… Don't you know there's a play going on? You're not supposed to be talking are you? Great, now I am both blind and deaf.
Sweat starts trickling down my forehead into my eyes. One particularly annoying drop is forever on the brink of my nose, but it refuses to take the plunge.
While my head is hot and perspiring, my hands and feet are violently cold, so frozen and heavy it takes all my energy to put one foot ahead of the other.
The murmurs of the audience are getting louder, even hostile. I have to hurry and speak my line before I lose them. So here goes…ahemmm… hmmm (throat clearing)…
— “I ………..”
— “I……I …..”
OH. MY GOD.
I have drawn a complete, utter, absolute, total blank. I have forgotten my lines!!!! But how??? How could that be? I spent weeks practicing; Hell I know everybody else's part, let alone my own!
My mind starts racing at a hundred mile an hour.
Quick, quick, what am I supposed to say? Where am I? Who am I?
I look helplessly around to see if anyone can give me a cue but I find to my horror that all the actors have vanished.
Now I can distinctly hear some boos, some snickers from the audience.
They are mocking me! I am an utter and complete failure!!!
Trying to save my countenance, I decide to fidget with my dress, pretend this is all part of a big plan when… Oh horror of horror! What is happening?
My hand feels around my dress and encounters nothing but my own naked skin. I look down and realize I am standing completely in my birthday suit!! How could this be??? Am I going mad?
Now the audience has erupted in volcanic laughter, with a lot of loud whistles and heckles.
I try to dash for backstage but I am suddenly yanked back by an invisible human hand.
— “Let me go! Let me go!!!”
— “Come on Naz!… Naz…”
I know that voice. I turn around and see my best friend Manny gripping my arm, pulling me back to the spotlight.
— “Manny stop! What are you doing? I thought you were my friend.”
Suddenly, stage, audience, and theater disappear and I am transported back to my bedroom. Manny is standing over me, shaking my arm.
I look down quick and thank god I am wearing my P.J.s!!! Gawd, I hate when I have these awful nightmares. They give me day-long migraines and I can't stop analyzing them to death. Not that this one needs a lot of interpretation of course.
— “Manny! Oh thank god, I had the most awful dream.!”
— “Yeah no kidding! You've been moaning in your sleep for ages now. I tried to wake you up but you are one stubborn sleeper.”
That's pretty true. I remember when I took this boat cruise with my parents when I was 12. Well, I got up at noon one day and went up to the deck only to find that my parents and all their friends were huddled under blankets together, looking every shade of green.
— “What happened” I asked nonchalantly.
They all looked at me with gleams of murder in their eyes. Apparently, the boat had been violently swerving back and forth for the entire night during one of the worst storms of the summer. Some passengers had been thrown from their beds, landing on the floor head first. Other had spent hours hugging the toilet. And I happily slept through it all like a baby.
— “Gosh, what am I gonna do without you Manny? I'm going to end up sleeping through an earthquake here and you'll have to collect my bones.”
— “You silly thing, what would I be needing your bones for?”
WHAM!!! Manny gets a pillow in her face.
At that moment, Artie steps into the room, observing:
— “So it IS true that all you girls do when you get together is wear your undies and get into pillowfights.”
I point another pillow at his head menacingly but he has already run out of reach.
But the hilarity of the morning soon gives way to melancholy. Today, Manny heads back to Gotham, and I am going to miss her terribly.
— “This sucks… Why don't you move here if you hate your job so much?”
— “Tell you what Naz! You work on these writings of yours and I will move here and personally become your agent.”
— “What do you mean? Those scribbles?”
— “Those scribbles as you call them, have 'best-seller' written all over them.”
— “Oh… Okay Manny” I chuckle, while pointing my index finger to my temple and moving it in a fast circular motion, my favorite gesture when Manny goes on one of her weird brainstorms.
— “Naz, I'm serious, you have a knack for giving a voice, a life to all these crazy characters who make up your life, including the loopiest one of all: You!”
I laugh, completely unconvinced. Manny's job is to put a vision where there is absolutely nothing there. She is a P.R. exec for god's sake! And she definitely has let her bias for our friendship get the best of her judgment. A Matt Damon/Ben Affleck success story, I am not! What am I supposed to do? Write a screenplay? And then what? The only person I can think of shopping it around to is Ernie, my butcher at Whole Foods Market.
After I drive Manny to LAX, it is all I can do to keep back my tears. Manny's lower lip is quivering a little, a dead giveaway that she is doing the same thing.
One last hug and she takes her suitcase off my hand, walking towards her gate. But after a few steps she makes a quick turn-around.
— “Naz, just hear me out one last time.”
I sigh, but she continues, undeterred.
— “If all that's holding you back is fear… Whether it's fear that you're not good enough, or whatever fears and anxieties that hold us ALL back… You have to fight it! I am telling you, for your own sake… Look at me, I 've been doing this for years, trying to get my music going and all I hit is dead ends. But I wouldn't … won't stop… To hell with fear! What you SHOULD be scared of are the words: 'could have…should have… would have…' To me those words are the scariest ones in the world.”
That's it, I can't help the tears any longer.
— “Thank you Manny joon… I love you!!! You are my sister, my soulmate… You are my soul-sister!!!”
On the drive back home, I go over Manny's words again and again. They have a familiar ring to it. Where have I heard it before? On Dr. Phil? Ha!!! … No, wait a minute, the person who talked to me about “fear” was male but it wasn't a creepy looking Texan with an annoying Southern drawl… It was… Ali…
I remember a lifetime ago, sitting on the balcony with him, looking over at the ocean. It was the wee hours of the morning.
“Nazanin…” He said to me in that sweet, deep voice of his, “There is no pride in being fearless. What's important is to feel that fear but to go on nevertheless… To learn to tame your fear… Don't let it control you, but learn to control it…”
No matter what has happened between us, I know that he was being sincere… and probably right. After all, he saw the same thing in me that Manny, my best friend since the beginning of time, did. If I don't take this as a sign, then I wouldn't be just a coward, I would be stupid too!
When I get home, I head straight to that damn sketchbook that started this whole thing, and I open the first free page. I put my pen on my lips, and swing my chair back a little, while propping my feet up on my desk. After a few seconds, I know exactly what I want to write down. I swing back towards the desk, set the sketchbook down and carefully, slowly, neatly print the letters I have in mind. Then I lean back to admire my work:
“Act One” is spelled in bold blue colors on the immaculate white page. Two simple words, staring back at me, like a challenge.