Green Room

August 15

In the green room, Tavin said I walked like one walks in a park, like it was warm out, like the sun was shining even though we were underground. The green room is often underground. The green room is without sunlight. The walls are painted black. The furniture is second hand, and painted black. There is usually a couch. The green room is only green if the green room is a forest. Make no mistake, this is still underground, and it is still a difficult place. For the mind, not for your feet, not for walking. Your shoes are well worn by this point, and perfect for forded streams, scratched tiles, metallic strip, or nonslip deck. Your jacket too, and your bottle of water, or coffee, or a weak green tea in a thermos you have opened and closed so many times—during rehearsal and quiet mornings and the whisky evenings you’d sooner forget if you could remember them—the lid pops free of the threads now and again. The tea is not green. It is a brown teardrop on your thumb.

Tavin said I walked like I was happy to see her. I waved, the way I do, a lift of the forearm and the wrist, but she noticed I did not stop walking. No hesitation. Of course, this was a part of the instruction. Acting 101. Class was held in the green room. Two students started at opposite ends and walked past each other. What happened then was supposed to be natural, spontaneous. We were not supposed to act a part. We were not supposed to make something happen in the middle of the green room. We were supposed to be ourselves.

On a ship, we do not want to linger in the green room. We stay busy at sea. We remain on the stage. You rail against the isolation. On ship, I put a camera to my face. I comb through the day’s few hundred photographs of people and boats and machinery, under fog, under sunset. When I run out of photographs, I’m caught out in the center without business to perform. I write, scribble really. I could burn the notebook afterwards and it’ll have still done its job. Afterwards, when I look up, I’ve walked off and down, back into the depths where one stops and thinks, “How was that? Was that me?” This is why sailors make things. All travelers make things along the way, if only a shaped stick or a cairn for the next traveler. This is why all travelers are well read.

I cannot remember how Tavin walked across the room, and maybe it does not matter. When I recall walking across the green room, I see the moment as if I’m with the other students watching two people greet each other in passing. I find the boy gangly and aggressive. I cannot recall her specifically, how she walked across the room, and obviously I can’t properly recall myself either, because the image I have of the boy is an imprint, a relic from elsewhere, a perspective created in editing. Maybe the instructor knew this. Maybe he knew the epiphany would come eventually, if a quarter century late: Being ourselves is an act, and deliberate.

I am most myself in sport. In sport, the green room is a perimeter. Forget the myth of the locker-room. In sport, the green room is no wider than a line. The line is typically black, and the act of stepping across that line makes this green room what it is—if done well, if done right, a razor’s edge. If done wrong, you will likely be impaled. When on strip, or the court, you cannot think about that other you. You cannot afford to see the audience in the stands. You feel them is all, and sometimes you hear your own name, and realize this is why your parents gave it to you. The familiar echo.

The before is the worst part, the before-the-business-at-hand where we are most vulnerable, when the Internet doesn’t work, when we are unable to shout, the idle times where we begin to watch ourselves and how we can’t seem to be anything but awkward. But we step across the line, and we transform, and we do it very quickly. Weshrug one set of clothes for another, one persona for another, thinly veiled or not, as needed. In the green room, we are proud of nothing. There is no pride in being between things. At best, you freeze in order to weather the storm. In the green room, we say hello and goodbye. Everyone moves through on their way to something else.

But whether you are stepping along a journey or onto the court, or into a first date or ascending the stairs to the stage, it is all the stage.And in fields, the green room is broad as the forest, as the tundra over mountains, as the sea, thick with old ice. Here you can feel the isolation and fragility of the green room. This is why there is a room, a ‘safe’ space, the beach, the barrel of a wave, a fey glen, a place of transformation.

I’m more comfortable being the one walking, the one waving hello-goodbye. When walking, I am not watching myself. When walking, I am comfortable in the park. I’m comfortable on the stage, not waiting to go up. But that happened, right? It’s done. Impatient, we walked across that stage and now it’s over with. Those moments before we cleared our minds of the baggage and became something else, the green room was tumultuous and heavy with spray. We were rare, hard, old ice—reclaimed by the sea, or perhaps just tasting of salt after.

You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

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