Some twenty-five years ago, my acting class spent an entire semester on the plays of Anton Chekhov. At the time, it felt very vital, but like so much else I studied in college, what I wound up retaining is sadly piecemeal. One thing I do remember is the youngest of the Three Sisters breakdown upon realizing that they’ll never make it to Moscow. At the heart of this freak-out is her despair that she, and everyone who matters to her, is aging, a condition she defines as diminishment. It seemed a bit over-the-top to me at the time. For god’s sake, she’s only 24. So what if she can’t remember a few words of schoolgirl Italian? Two and a half decades out, I was misremembering her name as Anya, a momentary confusion easily righted on my third Google search.
(IRINA. (Sobbing.) Where? Where has it all gone? Where is it? Oh my God, my God! I have forgotten everything, forgotten everything… Everything is confused in my head… I can’t remember what is the word for window in Italian, or for ceiling… I am forgetting everything, I forget more every day, and life flies past and never returns, never, and we will never go to Moscow… I see now that we will never go…)
I flashed on this long ago meltdown while watching “Forgetfulness,” the lovely animation of the Billy Collins poem, above. As Collins lists the seemingly inconsequential things lost, it occurred to me that the central “you” could stand for anybody: you, me, an elderly relative, Chekhov’s Irina. (Not Anya. If we’re to make it to Moscow, we better get cracking.)
We’re lucky to have artists like Chekhov, Collins, and by extension, animator Julian Grey, all possessed of the ability to imbue one of mankind’s most depressing and timely realities with tenderness and lyricism. Perhaps you’ll remember someone with whom to share “Forgetfulness”.
Ayun Halliday describes some of the places she has been (not Moscow) in No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late.