Remembering the Things I Forget
by Marvin Payne
I think I may have written here a little of what it felt like to close the play Hancock County last March. (That was the one about the trial of the murderers of the prophet Joseph–the one where all the bad guys enjoy happy endings, which may have been a rude shock to the folklorists and legend-keepers, but there you go, truth is stranger than fiction.)
It was hard to close that play. I mean, do you remember the expression on the face of the Canadian lady in the Olympic pair’s skating at about that same time in history? Multiply that grief by about twelve and you’ll know how I felt a week later, when our play closed. I don’t know what the skater did to cope with her distress, but I went on medication and was commanded to read a very long book about depression, the kind of book I find depressing.
Closing a play is like undergoing a divorce that nobody wants. And nobody gets custody of the children–they all just vanish. Along with the house. (Actually, if it’s a nonunion gig, what you do to the house after the performance on closing night is destroy it. Ouch.)
Well, five months later (this would be last week) we all gathered (the same family!) on the north sound stage of LDS Motion Pictures and high-definition-videotaped the socks off Hancock County! Close-ups! Two-shots! Cameras flying around on cranes like hungry mosquitoes! They’ll broadcast it, and the hope is that it’ll appear as a product people can actually have in their homes! (I’m liking these exclamation points! Here’s a bouquet of them, to arrange as you like: !!!!!!!!!!!! –a dozen, long-stemmed.)
It was a marvelous gift, putting on that costume again and becoming the lost and wearing prosecuting attorney. (I felt a little odd, though, when a couple of days afterward I put on the same costume and strutted around before fifteen thousand seminary and institute teachers as Sydney Rigdon. Those clothes had gotten used to hanging on a character not nearly so pious. Feeling particularly abandoned was the special coat pocket that had been sewn in to cradle a whiskey flask.)
Weeks earlier, when I heard about the Hancock County taping plans, I felt a certain irresistible euphoria. After the euphoria wore off, I felt a certain irresistible panic. Suddenly I had to remember the zillions of lines my character has. My head was feeling a little crowded already. I was on a film in northern Idaho, with lines to learn and per diem to spend, and was also staring a three-player musical in the face, not to mention Sidney Rigdon, who was not taciturn. Lots and lots of words, from four different characters.
I learn and live a lot of roles–and have a history of forgetting them utterly after about a week. Some guys can still do “Trouble” from The Music Man for years afterward, and are annoyingly happy to do so at the slightest provocation. Not me. It’s gone. I still have the straw hat, but not “Trouble.” (Something about billiards, as I recall. I admit it’s hard to forget as funny a word as “billiards.” I think I may cultivate it as a safe swear word. “Oh, Billiards!” You hit your thumb with a hammer, swear, then crack up. That’s fairly constructive, I think.) Anyway, I was worried about mentally reviving Hancock County.
Except for two things. In my heart I still held a lot of passion for the story and the way Tim Slover told it. And in my hand I still held the dog-eared script. (That’s “dog-eared,” not “doggoned.” I didn’t want you to think this subject of swearing was taking over.)
Okay, here’s the journal part: Isn’t a journal a little like a script? But “Hey!” you say. “Doesn’t a script come before you say stuff, whereas a journal comes after you say stuff?” (If you really do say “whereas” in normal conversation, however, I’m going to have some trouble taking you seriously. Sorry. “However,” however, is kind of an interesting word, though–underused, I think. If all those valleygirls who are always saying “Whatever!” with a heavy stress on the “ev” and a glottal stop in place of
the “t,” said instead, with the same inflection if they wish, “However,” their brains wouldn’t jam up on them, because after “However” you have to say more words, WHEREAS after “Whatever” you don’t.)
Well, I see your point. But WHEREAS the Hancock County script once came before I said the words written in it, suddenly I needed it as a record of what I’d said in the past. Because I needed to say it again. Several times a day. For three cameras.
I got a challenging e-mail from Kathy Columnreader (who HEREWITH brings me one alliteration closer to writing like Elder Neal A. Maxwell, whom I admire–avidly). Challenging because she asked me for some good sources on prayer. I was pretty humbled by that gift of trust. I even felt trusted enough to presume to be a source myself. Here’s a little bit of my response:
“One of the blessings your asking brings to me is that I (suddenly) need to think about how I feel, as well as get serious about what I do.
“As I was reading your e-mail, the thought that first came to me was to suggest sometimes praying only thanks. Then I scrolled down just a little bit and there you were, doing that already.”
(Out of the e-mail. Okay, I only had that “praying thanks” idea still in my head because of an experience about fifteen years ago, that I would surely have forgotten if I hadn’t written it down in my journal. It was an early morning jog through scrub oak, when I tried to ask for all the stuff I felt I urgently needed, but it was so beautiful out there that I never got past the thanks part. Wrote it down. Kept doing it. On with the e-mail:)
“We sometimes think it’s virtuous to ask only for what we need, rather than what we want. I think the Savior gave us a good example when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed for what He wanted, which was to have the bitter cup removed from Him, and then said, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’ I’ve asked for lots of things I probably didn’t need but wanted, and felt good about it when I kept in mind that the Lord knows what will make me happy and useful, and wants very much for me to have whatever it really takes to make it so. I have a good friend who was told in a blessing, by another good friend of mine, that he was asking too little of the Lord.”
(Why I wrote that story in my journal: The friends were my erstwhile creative partners, Roger Hoffman and Greg Hansen, who, when they aren’t giving each other blessings, compete with each other for gigs. Never shy about dipping into the blessing-jugs of others, I wrote it down, just a few years ago. I hope they don’t mind my sharing. It’s the kind of answer any of us might get. More e-mail:)
“You wrote about looking for things to be grateful for, and about discerning answers to prayer. Sometimes I have been given the answer ‘no’ and felt the most amazing peace simply because the Lord had spoken to me, and His love was undeniable.”
(Again from history: The strange story of my first attempt as a young man at becoming a fianc, not written down at the time, was written down with great care when I was old enough and just wise enough to realize that one of the Lord’s most glorious direct interventions in my life might otherwise be forgotten. Here endeth the lesson. Here resumeth the e-mail:)
“Something that hit me with some force when I took the sacrament far from home two Sundays ago was the simple reminder of the reality of Christ’s gifts to us. I realized that I probably didn’t understand the ordinance very well, but suddenly realized that if I could make it small enough to understand, maybe it would be small enough to overlook. I think prayer can be like that.”
(The sacrament meeting was during the recent filming in Idaho, and the feeling is still fresh–but I wrote it down because freshness fades.)
“I think prayer will change our lives when we don’t think of prayer as something to do when we get out of bed, but as something we get out of bed to do. There’s the old adage ‘Some people live to eat. I eat to live.’ Well, imagine someone saying ‘Some people pray to live. I live to pray.’ Do we pray in such a manner as to make our lives better, or do we live in such a manner as to make our prayers better?”
(I’m going to write this down in my journal, because even though the thought came while trying to help Kathy Columnreader, I get to keep it, too.)
“An artist, whose prayers are displayed for the whole world to see, had better be focused on the latter of those two ideas.”
(See previous parenthetical harangue. And add the following:)
Early in the city of Alpine’s sesquicentennial year (2000) there was a “non-denominational” fireside (which I thought was a pretty generous exercise in Political Correctness, seeing as how all the members of other faiths who live in Alpine could be fed happily with two large pizzas and sing in their ward choirs anyway). A Protestant (who was a very good sport, I thought) gave the invocation. He preceded his thoughtful prayer with the observation that growing up as a New Testament Protestant, he’d always been taught that prayer was something you did in your closet, rather than on street corners, and he hoped we’d forgive him for feeling a bit awkward at praying in public. Of course, we did.
But then I e-mailed Kathy C. that artists’ “prayers are displayed for the whole world to see.” That’s because believing artists are always praising the Lord (a definition of “prayer”), or thanking Him in song, or calling for His help through a character or painting or poem. Even merely having conversations (like this one) over which He is invited to eavesdrop, and which He is welcome to interrupt, may be one way of letting our “hearts be drawn out in prayer continually.”
Once, in a season of deep need and deep thanks, I recorded my ninth album of homemade songs. When it was done and I was searching for a title, I noticed that every song–dancy, dreamy, up-tempo or down–was a calling out to Him or an invitation to Him, or a metaphor for my relationship to Him, or a reflection of His light. I called the album “Prayers,” and I’ve always felt good about it (except the drums are a little too loud). He seems to ask me to get that light onto a hill, or declare it from rooftops. It looks like I’m out of the closet. Like my Protestant friend.
Well, here’s a discovery: Having sort of cherished what the Lord gave me from time to time by writing it down, He gave me some more right now when I needed it. What a radical concept! And now, if I merely say “Thanks,” it’s a prayer. Or even just feel it, because He’s listening. Always.
(Oh yeah, the “Hancock County” shoot went pretty well. There are a lot of projects I’m in that I never bother to see afterward. This one I want to see. The surprise bonus was that, having attended faithfully to our scripts, here was the playwright, Tim Slover, hovering near and kindly visiting each of us between rehearsals and takes (not at all unlike the Holy Ghost) and, in a still small voice, “bringing all things to our remembrance.”)
So, in the spirit of conclusion (at least, in the imagery of conclusion): had I not kept a journal, I could easily wind up with an epitaph that reads
“Here lies mould’ring Marvin Payne.
He had a kind of Swiss cheese brain.
He learned a lot, forgot it all,
And passed on, hopelessly inane.”
But I kept one, so maybe they’ll carve instead
“Here lies Marvin, howl and quack!
Poet, actor, online hack,
He learned a lot, forgot it all,
But WROTE IT DOWN and got it back!”
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.