Most of my life is lived in anticipation of this moment.
Eight hours or more (usually more) each day I sit in a small, putty-colored cubicle. It's walls are approximately 4.5 feet high. It's not quite 5 feet wide, and a little over 5 feet deep. The low walls and inconvenient location (I'm on the end of a row, right next to a group of executive offices) mean that streams of people every day are literally looking over my shoulder, whatever I'm working on. Privacy is not an option -- impromptu meetings are constantly held in the walkway just outside my cube -- loud, impassioned (or impassioned-seeming) executives lean on my cube wall, talking, yelling, fighting debating, all while I pretend not to hear (these important meetings are not for my ears) and try to get my work done. Last week one of them reached over my cube wall and took a prescription pill bottle off my desk and read it, right in front of me, to see what I was taking. Sometimes I design user interfaces for web-based applications. Mostly I code interfaces designed by others, or fix the code from interfaces which have not cut the QA mustard.
It's not a terrible life. Work is busy, but not often very hard. People are difficult, but I'm tough, my skin is thick, and I've been at this long enough not to let too much get to me. The pay is good and, thanks to a management staff who treats its people like shit and a lackluster (at best) retention policy, I'm one of only a handful of people with more than 3 years in, so my wide knowledge of the inner workings of the place makes my job very secure. Security is a benefit not to be taken for granted in today's marketplace. Security takes the edge off of those mind-numbing, long, taxing days. Security means flexibility. This job is not who I am, not who I ever wanted to be, not in my head or in my heart. This job is what I do in between the important moments.
Twice a year or so, I get to shake loose the part of my brain that is truly alive. Twice a year or so I take stage in a tiny 50 seat theater somewhere in Los Angeles, or step in front of a camera in an independent film, and ply the craft for which I trained so hard at university, to which I've dedicated my life. Twice a year or so I share the stage with two or three or ten of my fellow actors, my extraordinary wife (if I'm lucky), some of my closest friends. Twice a year I wait, nervous, twitchy, my heart thundering with adrenaline, with anticipation, listening to the audience settle, listening for my cue. This moment, in the wings, in the trailer, my heartbeat echoing in my head, my pulse racing, by brain whirling with a thousand words that are not mine, my body covered in someone else's clothes, surrounded by my team, my family, if only for a few hours, but still completely, utterly alone -- this moment, this perfect moment -- this is what I live for. Nothing can compare.
In the ancient Greek city of Nemea, regularly home to the original Olympic games, athletes stripped naked and walked through a long tunnel from changing area to the inside of the packed dirt auditorium. Only the athletes themselves were allowed in this tunnel. Often they waited, listening for their names to be called, for their event to begin. I imagine their throats thick with fear and excitement. I imagine them feeling isolated, removed, as the crowed cheered wildly. Some of them carved simple graffiti on the walls of this tunnel: "I win," or "Greatest."
I don't need to be the greatest. I don't need to be famous, or rich. I won't deny it -- those would both be wonderful things, just being able to make a decent living as an actor would be a wonderful thing, and I would never turn down a chance to be Brad Pitt or Matt Damon, or, better yet, Peter Krause or Bradley Whitford. But that's not what's most important to me. Most important is just being there, doing this thing I love, that, thank goodness, I'm also pretty good at. Most important to me is being the actor onstage who gives his all, who is there in the moment, who connects with his fellows. Most important is having another actor say, when it's all over, when I'm not around, that he likes to be on stage with me. That the work I do makes his job easier, more enjoyable. That, in my perfect moment, I help him find his (or her) perfect moment.
One bit of graffiti in that tunnel in Nemea, still remaining after all these years, says, "Akrotatos is handsome." I imagine that Akrotatos was not hung up on who among his fellows would be named the winner of his event. Akrotatos felt the indescribable glow of delicious anticipation, of that moment just before you do the thing you were born to do. He felt so wonderful, so good about himself, he could not help but tell the world, from that moment to thousands of years later, that he was beautiful.
In this moment, head pounding, heart thumping, every hair on my body standing straight out with fear and joy, I think I know how Akrotatos felt. However I spend my days, however many pointless documents I write, however many lines of code I churn through, however often I lower my eyes and give my obedience to some idiot in Dockers and a polo shirt so I can preserve my job security, in this moment, I am truly alive.
In this perfect moment, I am beautiful.