Susan Choi

Posted in 2020-2021 Readings and Talks

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Virtual Event

September 29, 2020 at 7PM ET
Moderated by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan

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Trust Exercise (Henry Holt and Co., 2019)

My Education (Penguin, 2014)

From Trust Exercise

NEITHER CAN DRIVE. David turns sixteen the following March, Sarah the following April. It is early July, neither one within sight of sixteen and the keys to a car. Eight weeks remain of the summer, a span that seems endless, but with the intuitive parts of themselves they also sense it is not a long time and will go very quickly. The intuitive parts of themselves are always highly aggravated when they are together. Intuition only tells them what they want, not how to achieve it, and this is intolerable.

Their romance has started in earnest this summer, but the prologue took up the whole previous year. All fall and spring of the previous year they lived with exclusive reference to each other, and were viewed as an unspoken duo by everyone else. Little remarked, universally felt, this taut, even dangerous energy running between them. When that began, it was harder to say. They were both experienced—neither was a virgin—and this might have both sped and slowed what took place. That first year, in the fall, each had started at school with a boy- or girlfriend who was going to some other, more regular place. Their own school was special, intended to cream off the most talented at selected pursuits from the regular places all over the city and even beyond, to the outlying desolate towns. It had been a daring experiment ten years before and was now an elite institution, recently moved to an expensive new building full of “world class,” “professional” facilities. The school was meant to set apart, to break bonds that were better off broken, confined to childhood. Sarah and David accepted this as the sort of poignant rite their exceptional lives would require. Lavished, perhaps, extra tenderness on the vestigial boyfriend and girlfriend in the process of casting them off. The school was named the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts, but they and all the students and their teachers called it, rather pompously, CAPA.

At CAPA, the first-year Theatre Arts students studied Stagecraft, Shakespeare, the Sight-Reading of music, and, in their acting class, Trust Exercises, all terms they were taught should be capitalized as befitted their connection to Art. Of the Trust Exercises there were seemingly infinite variations. Some involved talking and resembled group therapy. Some required silence, blindfolds, falling backward off tables or ladders and into the latticework of classmates’ arms. Almost daily they lay on their backs on the cold tile floor in what Sarah, much later in life, would be taught was called corpse pose in yoga. Mr. Kingsley, their teacher, would pad like a cat among them in his narrow-toed soft leather slippers, intoning a mantra of muscle awareness. Let your awareness pour into your shins, filling them slowly, from ankle to knee. Allow them to grow liquid and heavy. Even as you can feel every cell, cradle it with your sharpened awareness, you are letting it go. Let it go. Let it go. Sarah had won admission to the school with a monologue from the Carson McCullers play The Member of the Wedding. David, who had attended a theatre camp, had done Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. Their first day, Mr. Kingsley slid into the room like a knife—he had a noiseless and ambushing style of movement—and once they’d fallen silent, which was almost immediately, had cast a look on them that Sarah still saw in the back of her mind. It seemed to mix scorn with a challenge. You look pretty nothing to me, the look flashed onto them like a spray of ice water. And then, like a tease, it amended:… or maybe I’m wrong? THEATRE, Mr. Kingsley had written in tall slashing letters of chalk on the board. “That’s the way it is spelled,” he had said. “If you ever spell this with ‘ER’ at the end you will fail the assignment.” These words were the actual first he had spoken to them, not the scornful “you look pretty nothing to me” Sarah had imagined.

Continue reading Trust Exercise at Macmillan Publishers.

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