Yesterday at the yoga studio, I was having a conversation with someone about how so often our lives take shape in a non-linear way. Career paths, dreams, and relationships weave in and out, and manifest when we least expect them. In a sense, we emotionally migrate, gleaning as much fulfillment as we can from one situation until we find our way to greener pastures.
So it was a funny coincidence when I got an email from the corporate office asking me to follow up with a member named Brooke Berman. The name seemed extremely familiar and I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d heard it before. Suddenly, it dawned on me. She had a written a play called Hunting and Gathering which was the first play I had ever read and critiqued as the Artistic Intern in the office of the Artistic Director at the Roundabout Theatre Company.
The play centers around four characters entangled in difficult relationships and hopeless hunts for permanent residence in NYC. Suffice it to say, it was a scary thing for me to read at age 22, living at home with my father and his then girlfriend, wondering if I’d ever be able to have a functional life of my own in The City. Part of what pinched a nerve was the older characters, who hadn’t yet gotten their sh*t together. (Weren’t all my struggles going to magically end when I turned 30?) Another thing weighing on my mind was the youngest character, Bess, who confidently goes after what she wants, in terms of sexuality, habitation and career, without regard for others or concern about how she is going to protect herself.
These were qualities I never thought I could embody, but what’s more, Bess is really good at Big Buck Hunter, a video game you can play in most bars that involves shooting Buck with a toy gun. I’ve never been good at video games. I’ve never liked the idea of shooting animals. I’ve never quite been able to accept, as she does, that world is divided into hunters and the hunted. I couldn’t quite make sense of Bess’s character in my own mind and heart, but I never forgot her.
Hunting and Gathering ended up not being the right show for Roundabout, but for the past four years, every time I go to a bar and see Big Buck Hunter, I explain to people about Berman’s play; how Buck Hunter might be a metaphor for the way we pursue our paths and struggle in our lives. Recently, someone asked, “so why don’t you play it?”
“Oh, I’m not good at video games,” I answered quickly. “Plus, I mean, it’s me. I’m not going to shoot a deer!”
“Maybe it would be good for you,” suggested the person. “Maybe you actually want to shoot the deer.”
“No. No,” I countered. “The point is just about the play.”
All this was weighing on my mind as I dialed Berman’s number. I figured she wouldn’t answer her phone, but just in case, I silently reminded myself, “talk to her like she’s any other person. Do not mention bucks.” She didn’t pick up, and I left a message. But then she called me back.
In my years of living in New York and working in entertainment, I have learned to keep my cool around famous people. In third grade, when my group got lost on a class trip to Bear Mountain, Woody Allen’s daughter handed me the phone while her dad was still on the line. Did I gush? No. I just said, “This isn’t Dylan anymore. Where’s my mom?”
In 11th grade, when Keith Richards held the door of his cab open so I could get in, all I noticed was the warm dent he put on the seat. In college, when Ivanka Trump glared at me while smoking cigarettes on her way to class, I glared right back. In my early professional life, I talked back to Jason Bateman, shared a love of soy milk in coffee with Debra Messing, helped Joan Collins put in her eye drops and met the guy who played the friend on Doogie Howser without even recognizing him.
So when I got Berman on the phone, I promised myself that I would not say anything stupid. She explained that she had transferred her membership to LA. I said that was great and thank you. And then, before I could stop myself, I said, “Oh my god. I just have to ask, you’re Brooke Berman that wrote Hunting and Gathering, right?”
She confirmed. And I gushed. I explained how it was the first play I’d read at Roundabout, how I thought about her every time I went to a bar, how it was so exciting to talk to her–and then I gasped. “I’m sorry. I’m a huge dork. I don’t mean to be rambling like this.”
But she was incredibly kind. “You’re a not a dork,” she told me. (If only someone had told me that in 6th grade–think of the possibilities!) “I’m always glad to hear that something I wrote made an impression.”
Hearing that word, impression, made me recognize how close the play had been to me for all these years, almost subconsciously. I have never quite understood why, but I’d never been able to forget it. And thankfully, Berman was entirely receptive to the conversation. Unlike Jason Bateman (who asked me me for more coffee explaining that he snorted it like cocaine) she was engaged, available and wholly present, probably partially because she’s a huge yogi, and also because she is truly invested in communicative agency of her work.
She went on to ask about my career trajectory, (aka “just how did you end up working at yoga studio;” a question I get a lot these days.) When she learned that I still do arts criticism, she told me that she has a memoir (No Place Like Home) coming out in June and offered to put me on her press list. Even more fittingly, the memoir will be on the same topic as Hunting and Gathering, so those questions her work provoked four years ago will likely be re-opened, with chances for deeper investigation.
It all fit perfectly with the conversation I’d had earlier about unpredictable living. We can make it work because we hunt and gather; taking impressions and internalizing them. We’ll never know why we remember the things we do, and often it’s the ideas we can least articulate that we most absorb. But for those of us that do stay present, no connection or impression is wasted. Even when we cannot immediately assign a purpose or product, when we pay close attention to our lives and thoughts, we find that a thread is being woven that leads us into the future. Progress is rarely apparent, but always arising.
Before getting off the phone with Berman, she asked me if I ever played the video game. “Oh no,” I told her. “I wouldn’t be good at at it.”
“Not at first, maybe not,” she conceded. “But you can be. Just start playing and keep playing. It’s possible to be really great if you just practice.”
Metaphor or not, it’s pretty sound advice. I can’t wait to see what unfolds in her book, and in my next few months of Hunting and Gathering.