Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the category “Writing”

It Felt Like Home. Lost and in the Wind.

Sleepy Travelers

My friend and fellow nomad Sarah asked me what my thoughts on home were. Sarah has been doing Project Nomad since September of 2011 which is dedicated to finding “home away from home” by discovering what is means to be at “Home” when you have a lifestyle that constantly keeps you traveling. Sarah works as a flight attendant which keeps her in the air and all over the globe and myself as a touring artist only stay in one spot for a week at a time. Here are my thoughts on “Home”:

I was voiding my bowels from dinner, an egg sandwich, when I noticed a spider in the bathtub. In the Upper-Midwest and particularly in South Dakota during the early spring, all the creepy crawly things come alive and search for a new home. Millipedes, spiders, beetles, potato bugs, Silver Fish, Box Elders and the cunning Earwig wander about the dark warm places looking for a place to nest. There are few better places to brood then a bathroom it’s: warm, dark, moist and full of giant naked beings that cover their naughty bits while running and gasping like babies when an “icky” bug is spotted. I stood or rather sat my ground upon seeing the small prone arachnid. I was more curious what made the tub seem like a good place to live. Nothing seemed, to me, all that interesting among my lost short hairs and the standardized beige plastic fixture. I also wondered if the spider knew the immediate danger of drowning. One quick motion of the faucet and the spider would be washed into the unknown of the drain and in small town South Dakota, who knows what the hell is actually down there. The added thought of the spider dramatically being swept away after heroically searching for food, with a needy spider family back at the nest teaming with hundreds of spider-lettes, was more then I was willing to think about while pooping.

The idea of “Home” has always been elusive to me. In a way, I’ve always been a traveler, a nomad foraging about the country in various caravans looking for shelter and food. I mostly grew up in Central Minnesota after brief stays in Idaho, Oregon and California. Even in Minnesota only constant place was my High School. Otherwise, the places called “Home” were Cokato, Litchfield, Winstead and Hutchinson. The buildings and streets where we lived were very temporary. They served the purpose of sheltering a menagerie of life bitten gypsies. These drafty farm houses and run down apartments were never filled and warm like those of my friends. The places they called “Home” had been lived in since they were born always residing on the same streets and familiar things. My life was neither constant or familiar. Either by place or circumstance things were always changing for better or for worse. I remember being jealous and envious of the people I knew who had a constant life, a dedicated schedule a seemingly normal rhythm in their world. I felt that they must have easy lives not being on the run all the time, they have space to breath and relax I thought. In those days I did not find comfort or solace in the world or people around me. I became a  ghost and a stranger to myself and others. I spent most of my time playing video games, reading Star Wars book, shooting targets and aimlessly driving around. Although it seemed I was the average kid growing into my own and not so equally dividing my time between school and home activities, there was a distinct lack of that “Home” I was longing for.

As I grew older and mistakes were made, hearts were broken, life and my interests changed, “Home” became an ideal. This theoretical cloud floating over me while the application remained implausible. Unlike my friends, I was never homesick, I never needed to return to a place to be at peace, there was nothing to anchor me. I was free to roam as I pleased not having to worry about straying too far from loved ones. My “Home” was my dorm room, my car, my suitcase, my ability to pick up and go without guilt or remorse I was in control of where to put foundations. I quickly found out these places and things I called “Home” were only will filled with solidarity. I was by myself, separated from reality as a spectator and reduced to not living but watching as others did.

I grew older yet. Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, my interests changed and life continued. Even now living as a traveling artist I have no place to call “Home” besides the address I keep to get my mail. This idea, this thing, this ambiguous prospect still remains distant if it is defined by what I’ve been thinking it is. My life is different from those I grew up with. “Home” is not a building with a fence and a dog, it is not being surrounded by the same familiar things. “Home” is being welcome. It is your friends letting you stay in their spare room when your not touring, it is the guy you just met at the bar in Newell, SD that buys you a beer. Home is a place of acceptance and generosity and it can be where ever you choose it to be. Home is never far away.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

P.s. Leigh and Lithuania is still going! Don’t miss your chance to donate!

P.P.S. Songs about home: Edward Sharp and Hem

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Leigh and Lithuania: Romance of the American

Gediminas Avenue toward the Cathedral Square

When I was in college, I had the chance to attend an international writing seminar in Lithuania. I remember the morning before I left being filled with the fear of uncertainty. As the five members of this rag tag crew set out from Sioux Falls on a brisk July morning, our moods change from quite contemplation to excitement to exhaustion to excitement to hunger to exhaustion and back to quiet contemplation. Our journey had taken perhaps 20 hours and four airports so by the time we touched down in Vilnius, the Capitol, we were pretty well spent.

This excursion was my first outside of America and I was eager to see more parts of the world beyond the reaches of the Upper-Mid West and California. The experience proved to be life altering, leaving me wanting to know this place like a friend or a lover. I spent most of my time in Old Town. The above picture is from one of the tourist drags that filter into Cathedral Square which  stands in front of the medieval Gediminas Fortress (this is where the Singing Revolution happened in 1991 and spurred the fall of the Soviet Regime). Now, in Cathedral Square, there is a tile known as the “Wishing Tile” or “Miracle Tile”. It’s said that if you find this tile, spin three times clock-wise and make a wish it will come true.  At the time I was in a complicated relationship and this was my wish: “I want to fall in love again.”

The universe took in my request and scratched it’s head:

“Who is this human boy who wants love? What does he love? Is it a person or a food of some sort? What can this mean?” said The Universe in the face of the vague request.

As it turns out, the universe sent no person or animal or food. It sent me a city pitted with a dreary history of violence and resistance stewed with unparallelled architecture and the beauty of anonymity. I walked the streets at night by myself unable to speak the language, having no idea where I was going or what might be around the next corner but falling in love with this place just the same. My experience there is largely unexplainable. It’s strange and distant in my mind but also close and personal. There are many times, even to this day, I can close my eyes and I’ll be sipping coffee at a side street kavine listening to the sounds of the bazaar in the static of tens of different languages.

Now, four years later, I have a chance to go back. I submitted to the same seminar program Summer Literary Seminars’ (SLS) Annual Literary Contest and won a fellowship (I submitted “Out of Africa” which can be seen as a rough draft as the first post on Acting Like Adults) .  I have dreamed about going back ever since I left and now I might actually get to and interact with writers from around the world. But, I need help: The fellowship only covers a part of the tuition and I still need to acquire a plane ticket and money to cover other travel expenses (Lodging, food, insurance, etc.). The following link is to a fundraiser I have set up for this adventure. Anything helps! And in addition I’ll be writing cover letters to friends, family and businesses.

Leigh and Lithuania Fund

While I’m there I plan to do a video blog of my happenings and send post cards. And who doesn’t like post cards?

Here’s to a dream. Cheers. Skol.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,

Leigh

P.S here is the link to “Out of Africa” I refined it quite a bit but this is the original.

Out of Africa (Rough)

Out of Africa

Go to where the dreams are thickest, sleep, let them in.

 

 

Out of Africa in Wakpala
By: Leighland A. Hooks

Something struck me as I looked into the eyes of a girl named Dreamer. She couldn’t talk but she could smile. Wide and deep all the way back to her fillings; which were silver but her eyes were an earthy brown with green specks. The playground is hot. The high plains day, in late summer death throws, grinds the turf to a nice gooey consistency. The kids I’ve been working with suddenly set free move like wild horses. It’s in their blood at Standing Rock.

Earlier in the week they had asked if “I was Lakota” like them. “He’s brown like us!” they giggled. Before I could answer: “No, I’m half-black.” And add the only native word I know (as if to impress them like a high-brow New England merchant who reads too many Louis L’amour books) “Tatanka”. I imagined them looking at me cross-eyed, missing toothed mouths agape, then uproarious laughter: “Buffalo?” So much for watching Dances With Wolves…Luckily, my touring partner stopped me from speaking and moved on with auditions.

Regardless of my obvious deficiency knowledge of the local tongue, the kids talk to me in Lakota. The only translations I received were from passer Byers. “Ze” means no. Strength and age grant authority and middle fingers probably mean “hello”. I take no offense to the, in Minnesota terms, crass treatment or aggression. I am an outsider to them. Worse than a stranger, a white-man educated theatre teacher with nothing they want to know.

What can I bring them? What can I give them that fills their needs? Their wants? As one of my teachers, Ronlin Foreman, said: “For us! For us! The play is for the delight of the audience and the pure joy of the player!” In servitude is the lesson. For them, always.

But what use can a show about imagination and pirates be to these kids? Kids who don’t want pirates and talking dogs. During a rehearsal early in the week, a group of boys were talking:

“What’s this show about? Is it Native?”
“No, it’s a white-man show.”
“Oh.”
They catch me ease dropping.
“Hear the one about the orange?”
“Fruit punch.” Says a boy, Michael
Out classed by eight year olds

I came to realize that day; I have encountered the true west. Not the one in the pages of Sam Sheppard’s domestic violence infused play, but the heartbeat of the Middle-American Plains. And this, the children and descendants, the blood forced to reservations to pool and stagnate. Although, I grew up in central Minnesota amongst farmers and mechanics with rusted pick-ups and horses, my west is fake. It is the west of progression and expensive educations, debt and material. Nothing to do with customs and ancestral traditions.

Back at the hotel, I say goodnight to my touring partner and friend Jacinta (I call her Jac for short):

“’Night Jac. Sleep well dress rehearsal will be tough tomorrow.”
“Yeah. I don’t know how we’ll get them to listen. It’ll be what it will. ‘Night.”

We’re staying at The Grand River Casino Hotel just outside Wakpala. It smells of stale smoke and empty pockets. I feel conflicted staying at a casino. Happy to have a room but uncomfortable in a house of chance. I sleep disheartened.

In the mornings, I liked to watch the wind sweep the prairie grass over my oatmeal and tea. It is beautiful to me. I imagine mustangs running freely across the range, through the wind like blunt knives forcing a cut. Running. Always moving. Away from a home they never had. I never gaze too long. The plains turn into the African Serengeti and I see myself speaking African or Bush, Swahili with the Masai warriors. Carefully hunting gazelle. I look away; I have always looked away, back into my furnished room with my guitar and smart phone. All these things I’ve carried with me: clothes, hats, broken hearts, beer bottoms. For a second I compare myself with Christ. I laugh at my complex, absolve myself and get on with my day.

I made the mistake of wearing my western pearl snap shirt and bandana one day.

“I like your cowboy costume” laugh the kids.
My face begins to match the peach tones of my shirt. Then, in reference to my bandana:

“Are you a crip?”
“What Shaylin?”
“Your blood rag.”

Little did I know that several students had been expelled or suspended for gang related activities the previous week. I had always thought that gangs were for cities like New York or Los Angeles, not small town South Dakota. I considered this as I turn a corner in the school building. My attention turns outward as the commons engulfs me. The after school drum circle is rehearsing. One drum and six players. The singular heartbeat of a people. All at once I am consumed with the memories of growing up bi-racial in rural Minnesota. The passive glances, the marginal tolerance and disgust (which I came to hold against myself). I want to cry. Slump against a wall and sing of my people, the world as my forefathers have told. Of the Ivory Coast and ships. A world I have no connection to anymore…the circle seems grotesque in the shiny new federal school. I turn into the theatre and think about something else:

Dreamer is reaching for my shoulders. So I stoop down to ask what she wants. She takes my arm with, surprising strength, and pulls me to the monkey bars.

“She wants to go across but have to help her up,” says her sister Harmony.

The drive to Wakpala is only seven miles. I use the time to think about my day: What needs to happen? What do I want to happen? And the day’s foreseen challenges. Dress rehearsal promises to be…creative at best. These kids do not agree with silence. Backstage is just another room to be filled. However, this one has canvas walls and nobody wants to hear about who kicked whom.

Out the window are the dissolute plains of cowboys and cattle. The range spans for miles in its way. Nothing to claim the wind, nothing to chain men’s hearts but barb wire and abandoned ranch homes. The early sun sets fire to the Missouri as molten gold drifts to the grasses. The wind blows north in little concussive bursts signaling the tides to pass into winter. Into isolation, frozen as ever ready for the spring to come.

I close my eyes. Perhaps my answer is in there amongst the dark and motion of the van. Hidden here in spaces and unfurnished rooms I’ve given myself. I drift. What can I find?

Dreamer falling into my hands and wrapping her arms around my neck. She laughs and squeals

“You might be able to do this on your own one day” I tell her. She only gallops off to start again. Expecting me to help her.

Stop.

“You ready?” asks Jac
“Yeah. Lets go.”

In servitude is the lesson. For me. Always.

Oct. 5th, 2011

P.s. As I later came to find, “Ze” is a derogatory term for no. Wakpala was our second residency during the fall tour and a tough one.

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