katernater: (doctor who • (far away))
[personal profile] katernater
Ever since the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," I have had a soft spot in my heart for Charles Nelson Reilly. I was too young to really know him from his days on Match Game, or to have seen his appearances on The Tonight Show (which he did something like 106 times), but his role as the sardonic non-fiction science fiction novelist trying to work out the he-said-she-said of an alien abduction in a small town, well, it just stuck with me. I loved Reilly's comedic timing during the episode; I loved the dry wit he infused into that character, and the way that he danced on the border between serious documentarian and literary huckster. "Jose Chung" remains one of my absolute favorite-ever episodes of The X-Files, mostly for Reilly's performance -- and for Darin Morgan's spot-on and heartfelt script.

Anyway, the reason I mention it is because Netflix is instant-streaming The Life of Reilly, Reilly's completely autobiographical one-man show, filmed shortly before his death in 2007. I highly recommend it. Reilly moves seamlessly between moments of great guffawing laughter (such as when he talks about his first appearance on stage as Christopher Columbus, with a supporting cast that included a lisping boatswain), to heartbreak (his father's mental breakdown and subsequent institutionalization), to the philosophical.

At the end of the play, Reilly is talking about how he now teaches these masterclasses of acting students, and how his life experiences have prepared him for the role of teaching. And he's talking about how he sits down with these students, these potential impressarios of the stage and screen, and how it would be easy for him to think that he's sitting alone, when really he's not. In fact, he's sitting with the spirits of the people who have lived his life with him. He's sitting with his mother, and that lisping boatswain, and the man at NBC who told him "gay people will never be on television," and the woman who told him that one day he would be on Broadway, and the thirty students he's lost to AIDS over the years. He never does anything alone because, good or bad, those people and those memories are with him and have made him the man he is.

And I just thought that that was a wonderful idea. I thought about how now, when I'm in the classroom, I'm not really alone either. I'm up there with the spirit of my dad, who gave me the best advice I ever got from anyone -- "Find something you love doing, then find a way to make money at it." Check on both counts, dad. I'm up there with my mom, who always knew I'd grow up to be a teacher, even when I was desperate to prove the contrary. I'm up there with my high school speech coach, who gave me the courage and the platform I needed to get out of a crippling depression. I'm up there with Mr. Mustapha, another educator and changer of lives, who believed in me when I thought very little of myself. I'm up there with Kevin Elliot, my first kiss and high school crush, the first boy to whom I ever showed my underwear. (Not that there's been a lot happening in that department in the ensuing years.) And of course I stand with all of the friends that I've had and lost, and all of the co-workers at cruddy summer temp jobs, and the memories of family members long gone to whom I wish I'd had more than a passing connection. I love that image: not standing alone, but abreast of all of the people who have come into my life and made an impression, taught me things about the world and about myself, and whose influences combined have made me into the woman I am.

I don't know. Maybe it was the movie; maybe I've just been generally introspective this weekend (it's hard not to be, I think). But I'm sitting here, drinking tea and listening to the soundtrack from Life as a House and just feeling very grateful. And humble. And lucky. As complicated as life may get, I think that it's worthwhile remembering that we are not alone, no matter where we are.
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December 2011

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