TTLG: The Strangeness of It All

by Holden Harris | 10/9/19 2:05am

by Holden Harris / The Dartmouth

I’ve read parts of the Bible. I’ve gone to church services. I’ve sung hymnals. I’ve been baptized. I’ve been confirmed. I’ve eaten the blood and body of Christ. I’ve memorized the Lord’s Prayer. But I do not consider myself a Christian. Never have, probably never will. I’ve never had faith. My life has been too real for that.

In these past few years, I have slowly been convinced of a type of “fate,” or some higher workings beyond our control. I don’t really know what to call it. There have been a few defining moments, all linked to one another, which only makes me think “Huh, maybe. No. I mean — just maybe.” Let’s start at the beginning and you’ll see what I mean.

The First Moment:

My father drove me up from New York City to Hanover to finally understand why it was called the “cult” of the Ivy League. I was skeptical. Especially because of its “somewhat” (totally bad) history. As we drove up West Wheelock’s ridiculously large hill, I woke up from a deep slumber. As my eyes opened, I remember passing some students dressed in weirdly colorful outfits, skipping up the street. “It is a cult,” I must have thought. But once we began walking around campus, not with a tour, there was this feeling. A feeling like “This will do,” but to a higher degree. The campus was beautiful, and very secluded. I simply could picture myself there, walking those sidewalks and through those buildings. I had made the decision on the car ride back home to apply Early Decision. At the time, it felt like a pretty bold move.

The Second Moment:

During my freshman summer in New York City, my mother had convinced me and my cousins to go to Lincoln Center after I had eaten dinner several blocks away. It was the perfect opportunity to take some photos for my Instagram. I hadn’t posted in a while, and after all, I wasn’t addicted. The water fountain in the center was going through its regular spray-strangers-with-water routine. My cousin was my photographer, and the plan was to get some silhouetted pictures with the fountain in the background. (They turned out quite nice.) When I was walking back toward my cousin, a man stopped me. He was dressed very nicely. So was his girlfriend. I didn’t know this man. And he didn’t know me. 

“Are you an actor?” he asked.

I had hung up my cape, given up on the profession. Well, not quite entirely, I suppose.

“Yes, yes I am,” I think I said.

“You look like one,” he responded. 

He told me he was an actor on the Luke Cage Netflix series. I still didn’t recognize him. But I believed him. He swung his arm around his girlfriend and proceeded to walk away. In that moment, all I could feel was excitement. The dream hadn’t died. Not yet at least.

The Third Moment:

There is a world in which I would still be pursing physics, math and astronomy here at Dartmouth. That world quickly died when I signed up for Acting I. The first couple days of that class felt awkward, but that was to be expected. As time went on, I started to really devote myself to the work. During the final presentation, my scene partner and I were to act in scene about a failing marriage. I distinctively remember shattering a mug in the prop-sink. I was not thinking “I’m going to totally shatter this mug right now.” It just happened, impulsively. For a moment, I forgot I was in a class and was being watched, until I heard the audience gasp in shock. I was living under imaginary circumstances.

The Fourth Moment:

In the fall of my junior year, I was at a small theater program in New London, CT. My Acting I professor, as well as another student, convinced me that this was the next step in the process, whatever this process was. To this day, I can’t exactly describe to anyone the experience I had at that place, but I know that it was the place where acting became clear to me. I was cast in a workshop as Tom in the Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennesse Williams. Right before the performance, I decided to take a much-needed nap. During this nap, I dreamt of performing the scene, but I was trying, the entire time, to fight back tears while onstage, and I had no idea why. I woke up in a cold sweat. When the time came to perform, I remembered the dream. I remembered the anxiety. But more importantly, I remembered that feeling of holding back the tears. I focused on that. And there, on that day, my eyes teared up on stage, purposefully, and at the right moment. Things clicked that day. 

And here I am, a senior at Dartmouth, a theater major modified with English, and I’ve done things that would have baffled that kid posing in front of the fountain in Lincoln Center just a couple years ago. I’ve found passion and the determination to push myself beyond reason to chase the work I love. 

As an actor, it is your job to make sense of the world — and the character — no matter how strange. It’s what I love to do. And I think that’s what I felt during my visit at Dartmouth. The strangeness of it all. It made no sense to me. Nothing made sense. And now that I’m here, it still makes no sense. But this place is wonderfully unpredictable. You will likely go on many random journeys with people you’ll likely have never met otherwise. Now, there is no way I conjectured all of that within two hours of visiting Dartmouth. But I still felt it, somehow. I can’t explain it. I smiled on the car ride home, and so did my dad a few times, I think. 

I know my future down this path is uncertain. I’m sure many people feel that. So I’d like to end with a quote. It’s from Jim Carrey when he gave a commencement address at Maharishi University of Management: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

So, do I believe in fate? Only sometimes. When I need to.