Faculty Corner - Until Estragon be formed in
Sydney. San Diego. Atlanta. New York. I have seen productions of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot all over the world. But this past summer, I decided to try out for a local production. It was totally out of character for me. I have thought about the play and taught it for years, and I have directed a few short plays in the past. I am also the faculty advisor for Assumption’s theater club, Merely Players. Yet I have not often been one for the stage.
With the encouragement of others, I decided to go for the part of Estragon. He’s a bum with stinking feet, bad boots and a hankering for carrots. I also tried out for the role of Pozzo, a mean man with a slave tied to the end of a rope. He is richer than Estragon, though finally just as pathetic, if not more so.
On the day of my scheduled audition, I got dressed in a suit and tie, put on my black bowler hat, and drove to the Calliope Theatre in Boylston, Mass. In the lobby, I met the director and other would-be vagabonds. We went into the playing space. I took direction, wore costumes and carried props.
Did I get the part? Either part? Absolutely not. I wasn’t chosen. Rejected, plain and simple.
The real failure, however, would be to think that getting a part in this production was the only goal. The director may not have selected me for this particular Godot, but I got to spend time studying the lines of the play, thinking about the characters and laughing with my reading partner.
I am not through with Estragon. I need to step into his boots more often and become the tramp on a regular basis—until Estragon is formed in me, until I blur the line between Paul Shields, Associate Professor of English and Estragon, Bum of the Country Road. This might be something close to what the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari mean by “becoming.” For Deleuze and Guattari, we need to find ways of becoming downtrodden, strange, schizophrenic-ways of breaking up what they call the “molar powers” (oppressive standards and traditions). One might become-woman, become-wolf, become-cockroach, become-Other. I will never be Beckett’s Estragon, but I can move into “the zone of proximity” (Deleuze’s phrasing) to him and become-Estragon. I need him to remind me that I am not strictly “Paul Shields,” not strictly “Associate Professor.”
One of my other goals is to become-Christ, the wandering, jobless bachelor who defied many, though perhaps not all, cultural norms. He talked to spirits, had few possessions. A pre-Estragon (and a figure Estragon admits comparing himself to) Christ cared nothing about a mortgage or retirement plan. He cared nothing about getting a “good job” or, in the words of Tyler Durden, “settin’ up franchises” (that is, family units). He prayed, suffered, taught, spent time with friends. . .
If you want Christ to be formed in you, if you want to embrace your inner Estragon, you needn’t try out for a play like I did. Just stay a college student forever. Many students are “starving:” they have little money, a part-time job or no job at all. They have no mortgages, no family franchise. More than likely, they have a room, a place to sleep, enough food. They are here, in this campus-predicament, to think, to explore, to thrive, to make friends and to experiment. Do not stop doing this. Do not see this as a one-time performance. Do not look to the future with thoughts of a “better life,” if by “better,” you mean a big paycheck, a 9-5 job, the perfect number of kids, a 30-year debt on a home and garage full of junk.
Instead, use these years as a rehearsal for doing the same thing later. Study anything that helps you ask questions. Philosophy is a great choice; read a wide array of thinkers—from Plato to Deleuze to Agamben. Theology would also work; like Estragon, you could spend your time talking about maps of the Holy Land and the two thieves and whether or not God sees you. And take my class (coming soon) called “Brad Pitt and the Bible.”
I am still rehearsing Estragon and Christ well into a career as a college professor. Flubs abound. But I am trying more and more these days. Thinking and reading and writing are more important to me than a big paycheck. I would rather rent an apartment, have a few possessions, get a Caramel Nut Crunch iced coffee from BoDo and think about the story of Noah. (Confession: I have a smart-phone, cable television and other superfluities. I like money, and I have far more than I need of just about everything. Can I find ways to live without these items? Perhaps if I continue to try out for Estragon, continue to wear my bowler, continue to seek the lessness of Beckett’s world?)
As a college student, you might already resemble Christ, perhaps more so than you ever will. Be careful not to deform Christ in you. Be careful not to undo him or put a 30-year mortgage on his back (if you’re like me, you’ve already got loans enough). Try a life of radishes and carrots and journeys in the wilderness.
You want an internship? Inquire with Beckett, with Estragon, with the Son of Man. Give up rather than take in. Spend time on the ground, in the grass, in the mud. Learn the movements of the whistlepig and argue with the Devil.
You haven’t yet tried everything.