Sunday, June 26, 2011
I first picked up an old copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at a hostel in Australia and read it while traversing the dusty Outback. I reread it a year or two later, followed by several screenings of the 1975 film adaptation. But my particular attachment to this book stems from playing McMurphy in the stage adaptation in 2008.
I had been away from the theater for five years, and walked into auditions just hoping to be cast as one of the orderlies. Instead I walked away with the lead role. To this day, it remains one of the most challenging roles I've ever played, but easily the most rewarding.
One of the themes in the book is the idea of trying; no matter the obstacles, no matter the odds against you, no matter, as long as you try. Always try. In the middle of the book, McMurphy bets his fellow mental ward inmates that he can lift a giant control panel. "His whole body shakes with the strain as he tries to lift something he knows he can't lift, something everybody knows he can't lift... Then his breath explodes out of him, and he falls back limp against the wall. There's blood on the levers where he tore his hands. He pants for a minute against the wall with his eyes shut. There's no sound but his scraping breath; nobody's saying a thing." McMurphy, in fact, doesn't lift the control panel. He ends up staring down his buddies with something resembling pathos, disgust, shame and condescension rolled into one before storming out of the room.
I've been lucky to have several successes in the past year, both in the realm of running and outside of it, but I've also had plenty of failures. Looking back, and looking forward, agonizing in the present... I find this part of the book the most comforting.
"He stops at the door and looks back at everyone standing around. 'But I tried, though,' he says. 'Goddammit I sure as hell did that much, now didn't I?'"
You can't ask for much more, now can you?