Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

13 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Ayana

I met Ayana in 2000 when we began working together simultaneously on two shows: Euripides Bakkhai and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. I had just quit the accounting department at my undergrad and joined the theatre department. I was nervous and incredibly unsure of myself, and Ayana was beautiful and way ahead of me in school, but took the time to be kind to me. We met when I was going through an incredible change in my life; switching to theatre and surrounding myself with this whole new way of working with my body and being in the world was incredible to me, and I was doing voice work even then, so I was accessing emotional things in my life that I had no practice accessing. I haven't looked back at my journals from that period in many, many years, but I am sure they are filled with massive emotions of all kinds.

Ayana immediately adopted me. Almost all of the senior performers at Cal Poly were nice to me, but Ayana actively took me under her wing, setting up dinner dates, posing questions to me, introducing me to people, helping me navigate the department and my new surroundings. My soon-to-be best friend Andrew had started in the department just a bit before me, and Ayana adopted him too. The three of us spent an inordinate amount of time together. After rehearsals for Arcadia we would go get chicken sandwiches and talk late into the evening. And we'd sit next to each other in rehearsals and write questions in each other's journals. We were young and having a lot of feelings. It's lovely to think of now, and a bit embarrassing.

Over the Christmas break between 2000 and 2001, my high school friend Jon died, and I was numb at school until I saw Ayana. I remember saying, "I am just so sad." And she hugged me and said "I know," and I just cried in her arms. I was so grateful for that. Ayana graduated at the end of that year, but we still spent a rather lot of time together. She would come see me and Andrew's shows, and she would call me and give me advice. We always had a curious kind of synchronicity: our paths coming together at various times, understanding things at the same time even though we were far apart, making life decisions that curiously connected.

I remember first talking about atheism, and both of us realizing that we were atheists independently of one another, but coming together and just being able to understand. And since then this has continued so much. Our PhD studies are in completely different fields, but our interests are incredibly similar. She can recommend ways that Psychology can help me with my work, and I am constantly proposing Queer Theory or Critical Race Theory solutions to things she is working on. We, of course, connect still on pedagogical theory. It is lovely having someone in my life who is able, constantly, to understand, to listen and connect and be wise enough to take a long view on things.

We have known each other long enough that our families often feel connected (at least in our minds) and we always ask about each other's families, even though we don't really know them all that well, we know each other's versions of our families. This is part of the long view that I think I mean above, where understanding someone means also understanding how much history is present in the decisions we make about the people in our lives. (This is always the most true with family members, I find.)

I see Ayana every time I go back to California. We usually meet for Indian food or Thai food and eat hot spices and talk for hours and hours. Seeing her is always a delight. I always know that though I will have moved on, will be thinking about a new project or will have read a new theory about which I am excited, Ayana will have a complementary discovery or project or theory that somehow means that she and I have followed similar lines of inquiry, discovered similar interests, and that we can work together to find out what comes next.