Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cruise Ship People - Troon Sul

Troon, and I’m not sure if that’s how he spells his name in English letters, is a Korean man in his seventies.  He was born in Beijing, and lived there for a number of years.  He told me today about his former addictions, alcohol and gambling, and the one he hasn’t been able to give up, smoking, although he is down to five cigarettes a day.

He started smoking when he was in the army.  An officer came out to see the new recruits, and stopped in from of Troon.  “Do you smoke?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

The officer pulled out a pack of cigarettes and, taking one, put it in Troon’s breast pocket.  “There,” he said.  “Smoke, and you’ll be a real soldier.”

Troon married a few years later, and started drinking and gambling.  One day, years later, he came home late (to California) from Las Vegas.  When he opened his front door, he found his wife.  She’d pulled a chair to directly face the door, and she was sitting there, tears streaming down her cheeks.

He decided then that he had lost his wife’s respect.  Respect, and the idea it has to be earned, was taught him by his mother, and he determined to do whatever it took to gain it back.  He said it took him 14 years, during which she could never truly trust him or anything he said, but now, a long time later, he feels like a good man and a good husband again, even though he still has those few cigarettes a day.

I told him he deserves a lot of respect for being able to give up the two addictions.  It started me thinking, later, about how that marriage had held together.  I suspect his wife didn’t see leaving him as an option.  Although they got married in 1967, I suspect their culture was not one of ‘free love’ as it was in parts of North America.  I respect Troon, but I respect his wife even more.  She is on board, but I haven’t met her.  Troon is the only other person who ever sits in the green chairs, that I describe in another post.  We don’t always feel the need to talk, both happy to read or otherwise occupy ourselves, but we are getting to know each other.  Today we were talking about the difference between an actor and a writer, both of whom create characters.  We probably got into this because the remake movie of Fun With Dick and Jane was on a couple of nights ago, and Bob Morrisey, the acting teacher on board, has a role in it which, while not huge, is still definitely part of the movie.

Troon wondered if actors become different people when they portray a character, and then maybe find it difficult to become themselves in between roles.  Bob, though, during his classes, tells the students to figure out the situation and what the character wants, and then think about how they, the person they are, would react and do that.

I’ve always thought that if I acted, I would become the character, and that it would be liberating, in a way, to become someone else.  Bob teased me, when I was attending his classes regularly B.A. (before ankle) that I was too nice, too sweet.  He’d give me an angry scene to do, and ask what do I do when I’m angry.  I don’t usually let anger out, though, which perhaps is why I suffer from depression. (Someone once told me that depression is anger turned inward, and for some reason that concept has stuck.  But maybe it’s true.)  But I guess I have gotten angry and had arguments or fights with some people, so I tried to draw on that.  But in the class, I found it easier to just think that I had become this other person who did express anger, and my portrayal was better that way.  (I hope Bob never reads this.  He’ll be shattered.)

Anyway, back to Troon.  We had an interesting discussion that moved to creating characters in a movie, which is a combination of the writer’s words, the individual actor, the director, and probably all sorts of things how the actor is lit and what music plays during the scene, and camera angles, and all sorts of stuff that Bob knows about and I don’t.  But when I create a character, I do it all by myself.  Complete creative control.  And I told Troon that I write, in part, to become people I’m not and have experiences that I never have had and never will.  I don’t write about myself, although something of me must be in everything I write, since it comes from me.

It was an interesting conversation, and then I told him that my background is in psychology, and right away he shifted back in his chair, and said that he had to be careful what he said.  I could tell that he was genuinely uncomfortable, and I said the usual things that I used to say about how I am unable to learn secret things about people just from looking at them and that I’m essentially just like anyone else when it comes to those subconscious assumptions we are always making about others.  I talked about how we all reveal ourselves through body language and facial expressions as well as what we say, and that we are social animals, so we all can read these cues.

He went away at that point, and I felt terrible, even though, while I sometimes used to get this reaction from strangers back when I was an undergrad at McGill, nobody’s really seemed concerned about since the mid-‘70s.

A few minutes later I saw him going up the stairs to deck five, and since I know he drinks coffee, I called to him and asked if he’d bring me a steamed milk with strawberry syrup in it.  He did so, then went back upstairs for his coffee, and so I apologized profusely for making him go up twice, even though he takes the stairs nimbly and quickly compared to a lot of the other elderly people on board.  And when he came back, and we talked some more, and any fear about psychologists had vanished.

T little bit of my brain that still knows anything about psychology wondered if my asking him to do me a favour had given him a sense of control over the relationship we have, and so he felt more comfortable, but then I decided that was all nonsense.

And then he told me that when he was in the army, not only had his commanding officer given him that first cigarette, but the Red Cross regularly handed out packages which were sampler packs of different cigarette brands.  And that freaked me out more than anything else.

I look forward to our next conversation.