West Fourth Avenue

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

— Confucius

In April of 2019 I left a sales position that I had held for close to ten years. I had become disillusioned with the position and recognized that it would be in the best interest, of both the company and myself, to make a clean break. Although I had been applying for positions on and off for about a year, I couldn’t seem to land anything new. I blamed agisim as the primary reason but I knew, deep down, that I needed to find a new direction. I needed to get out of sales and customer service as I found myself becoming bitter and sardonically hilarious. I actually told a couple that they had an ugly baby during the course of price negotiations. Yeah, not my finest moment.  My only regret in leaving that job was that the CEO of the company took it personally and for that I am sorry. It wasn’t about him. It was about me executing my exit strategy that he had inadvertently laid a foundation for. Three years later and I believe it to be one of the most defining moments in my life.

I am grateful for the months of unemployment that followed that fateful day. In the solitude I was able to reflect on my life and the choices I’ve made and where I wanted to go next. One of the  pivotal decisions I made during that time was to throw my hat in the ring of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals lottery. Which meant if I was chosen, I would  write and tour a one man show across Canada. Every year CAFF holds a lottery for artists to tour a minimum of five festivals across Canada. At the time I felt that this was something I needed to do and so I entered. Partly to give me something to work toward,  partly to substantiate my self-proclaimed identity as an actor and writer, and partly because it’s been something that’s been sitting in the back of my head since my first fringe festival in Toronto in the early 90’s.

As I tried to begin writing my story I  became terrified. The writer’s block in my head was black and impenetrable. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to write about my life. I also knew that I didn’t want to write about my life in a way that was nothing more than a public therapy session. As I began to write, the only words I could write were dark, self-absorbed  journal entries. You know … therapy sessions.  I hated what I wrote and as the deadline that I placed on myself approached, I began to panic, to the point of being immobilized by it. The black block became a black pit that I felt I was soon to fall in. Then I had, what I believe to be,  a panic attack. It was a terrifying experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I spent days swinging back and forth between terror and depresssion.  I truly felt that I was standing on the edge of a precipice, teetering toward my descent into madness. But slowly. By being still. Breathing. Meditating. I was able to step back from the edge of darkness. And at that moment a light shone within me  and I experienced  what absolute power I had over my life.

I finally let go of writing my story and I started exploring the works of other people that wrote one-man plays. I spent about six weeks researching, reading and analyzing plays. It was exhausting and depressing. I finally found a play I liked. Initially. It was about suicide. But after going through the script a few dozen times It stopped making sense to me and the more I read the more I was being drawn to write something.

In that moment of rest. The exact moment when an ebb becomes a flow,  I was once again moving. Pulled by a current. For me, these are life’s exciting moments.  It didn’t matter to me that I was no further ahead  because  if there’s one thing that photography has taught me it’s that it only takes one step to change perspective and it’s the step sideways that offers the greatest change. I think exploring other writers was that side step for me. And so I began again, writing from a new perspective.

By the middle of February 2020 I had the first draft of a play that I was finally happy with and by mid March I felt like it was something I’d enjoy bringing to the stage. But a global pandemic had something to say about that and the festivals were all cancelled. I was both disappointed and relieved.

The play was titled “The Hat Tree”, an anagram for “The Theatre”. It ended up being my swan song. That wasn’t the intention but the writing of the play was continually changing me, changing my perspective, changing my direction. I wasn’t going in circles, I was spiraling forward. The nature of the sun and the stars.  Time wore on and the pandemic took a toll on the 2021 Fringe Festival as well. Eventually the necessity to say goodbye to acting as a profession and see it more as an avocation. I guess it was a therapy piece after all. It’s difficult to explain but  I feel like I’m back in 1999 just after arriving in Vancouver. I’m curious about my new perspective and I’m a little excited about it. Giddy even.

Thanks for reading,
Andy Rukes

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