“More happens in 60 seconds than my don’t-censor-me mind admits.”
The greater majority of the phone messages I leave are longer than one minute. It probably takes me over sixty seconds to get out of the car, because I’m usually hauling a backpack, purse, paper bag with Think Thin Crunchy Peanut Butter protein bars and Trader Joe’s salads, and perhaps a make up bag in case I have time to whip some on before I present myself to the world. Basic bodily functions take longer than one minute. I mean, what can happen in one minute? It almost felt like a tableau would be more doable than beginning a conversation about something that surely couldn’t be finished. I tried to open my mind to things that happen in that space of time. Or reasons why something or someone might erupt in a quick spew. I wound up writing about five pieces. To explore the impossibility of it all. I’ve been known to write twelve page emails. So this challenge was really the perfect thing to help me zip my written lip. It forced me to cut stories of a Dad introducing himself to his son’s vegetarian girlfriend with a piece of raw meat in his hand, which he subsequently ripped his teeth into causing blood to drip all the way to his elbow (I think this was before Purell). It forced me to ax the story of a beautiful vegan’s Southern in-laws trying to stuff her with crabs because “everything has to have a crab in it.” Where did I get these stories? Enter Cornerstone Theatre Company. Why couldn’t I choose them all?
I did my one minute play as part of the collaboration between The New York One-Minute Play Festival and Cornerstone Theater Company. We began with a story circle with largely fellow collaborators and some community members. What’s a story circle? Well, I thought going in, I was simply going to be listening to community members talk about their relationship to hunger, because Cornerstone is launching a series of plays exploring hunger. Then I would use the gifts of what they told me as inspiration to write my one minute play. Once we got there, Cornerstone’s artistic director, Michael John Garces, told us we’d be sharing stories, too. I felt a nervous pang. I hadn’t prepared anything. Michael asked everyone in the circle (it’s a literal circle) to introduce themselves, and share what they’d had for dinner. It was a relieving leveler; everyone eats (unless someone was anorexic, and then they were probably sweating thinking about what fib they’d be telling when it got to them). Though if anyone didn’t eat dinner, by choice or for lack of resources, they didn’t admit it. I found that sharing both unified and stratified everyone in the circle. Whatever our progress or status in life, we all eat, and simultaneously, my perceptions about if what each person ate was healthy or unhealthy, filtered in as we listened to dinner choices from rice lasagna to quinoa to fast food. I repeatedly felt empathy for the less healthy choices, and aspiration toward the healthy eaters.
Michael led us in cultural mapping exercises, where we were asked to identify with certain food groups, relationships to cooking, whether we were always hungry, sometimes, rarely, or never, and onward. You then gathered with the other people who identified with the same group (for instance, meat, vegetables, fruits, or bread), and then were asked to find several things you could unanimously agree on in your group. In my bread group, we all agreed we like toast and had all eaten bread as part of a religious ceremony. I felt like I had come home talking to the bread-lovers. It allowed the focus to be on something other than myself. Praise be, other people also eat in their cars and don’t allow bread in the house. It allowed us to intermingle, and guided and sparked conversation. Later, we exchanged stories with a partner (then would rotate to a new partner with each new story prompt, the “wagon wheels” Park refers to in his blog), being given questions like “What was a time you judged someone else or made an assumption about them based on their food choices?” Oh how food binds us together with its universal, daily need, and how people’s perception of themselves is affected by how others view their eating habits and how they view their own. It seems people are sometimes judged for making the healthy choice by those not choosing similarly. The reverberations to other areas of life, and how we might pressure others to take the low road with us so we don’t feel (dare I say it) guilty, stuck with me. I felt privileged to hear people’s personal experiences, and wished there had been more community members there that night to hear if their challenges were different or parallel to mine. The entire story circle evoked openness, a way to fill the writer’s quill, and offered a model for listening to others as a writer and as a person striving (and no doubt often failing) to embody compassion. It left me asking is ‘healthy food’ a last-bastion absolute in this modern age? Does everyone agree a hamburger with fries is bad for you, comforting or not?
What can happen in 60 seconds? I realize, after I’d written by pieces, of course, some of the most consuming moments of my life happened in sixty seconds. The car accident. The “will you marry me” moment. The rejection letter. When I knew I loved him. The job-is-yours phone call. The hidden truth revealed in a moment. The gift of a child telling me she loves me. More happens in 60 seconds than my don’t-censor-me mind admits. Yet the history of what went before and came after gave those blips their enormity. And I can’t redo any of those now-past fireworks. Why didn’t I tell those stories? Why couldn’t I tell all the stories I heard (and does everything have to have a crab in it, like those Southerners told their vegan?)? The set up, structure, form, doesn’t allow it. This genre encapsulates the truth that we have to make choices, and I can’t take everything, or maybe anything, with me. Sometimes we have to choose to cut things out to make everything fit. Something in my diet might have to go. If I want walk lightly through the world. Can one ever feel ready for the cut? I make an effort to hug the limits close, lay the burdens down, and find joy in eating life in contained portions.
-Nicole Gabriella Scipione