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  • Method Acting
  • Courtney Kersten (bio)


Crying was the hard part.

We, students in the art of professional pretending, would sit in a circle and pass around a gutted chili pepper and dab our eyes with the innards, a bag of onions sitting in the corner on stand-by. We’d smear menthol on each other’s faces and stage complex sleights of hand with eye-drop bottles hidden in jean pockets. Sitting on cement floors waiting for class, we’d yawn and yawn and yawn and yawn trying to eek out a leak. Hours were spent in front of the mirror honing tortured Halloween mask faces: a muscle-memory technique intended to evoke previous tears cried for skinning your knee or seeing the neighbors’ dog bloody and broken in the street or hearing the gunshot that killed Bambi’s mother. A mascara smear on your cheek was a prize. That moist wad of Kleenex a trophy. Crying was an art, a thing to be applauded, to be complimented. “Did you see Elizabeth in that scene? She cried. Real tears. They were real.”

Crying was the hard part.

And dying was the fun part.

There were two roles—the one who kills and the one who dies. The [End Page 135] weapon was chosen: laced vodka gimlet, meat cleaver, tank of piranhas, pistol, flesh-eating arctic animal. And, you, the one who was about to die, waited totally suspecting and totally lusting to be thrust into that tank of piranhas. Because this was the big show. This was the performance. And we were watching. Envious, itching, wishing that we were the one about to be mauled by a sea leopard.

The stabbing, the lacing, whatever the pantomimed crime: it was a perfunctory thing, the safety demonstration before the flight takes off. The actual slaying was something you had to endure in order to be entertained. Release the sea leopard, grab the meat cleaver, let’s get to it.

Dying always seemed to take a long time. Lots of heavy breathing and choking and flopping around and curses screamed at ex-roommates and I-love-you-and-I-never-told-yous and false endings and hands reaching up towards the ceiling and digging yourself into the floor before becoming stiff and quiet.

None of us moved.

Then we clapped. A standing ovation. Someone whispered to us, “I hope I get to die next!”

Dying was the fun part.

And this was the last part:

You were in a room with four corners. One corner was sadness, one corner was happiness, the other was boredom, and the last corner was anger. The middle was lust. The players were free to gravitate between the spots and “feel” whatever the assigned emotion was at their own pace. The corners were obvious: the angry people kicked the wall and the bored people counted the stucco pimples on the ceiling and the happy people whistled. The middle had lots of lateral pole-dancing and crotch-grabbing. The sadness corner was a pit; those who went there stayed there.

But you were a watcher, your gaze sampling this tapas of vulnerability. Another watcher creeped over; he whispered, “I don’t get this activity. I mean, what is all of this?” We watched our classmates: the groin fondlers, the wall kickers, the rocking back-and-forthers, the drooling woman, the weeping statues. You whispered:

“I don’t know. I don’t know what any of this is.” [End Page 136]


A raisin ran into my room and collapsed face-down on my comforter.

“I don’t—understand. I—don’t. WHY—why?”


My brother was a bulimic crier. He’d stew for hours listening to Simon and Garfunkel and watch Titanic twice and drink half of a bottle of rum before purging the entirety of his sadness at the foot of my bed. Holding him, a speck in my palm, my barely-old-enough-to-slam-a-shot baby brother, I whispered: “You don’t have to do this; you can just be sad and not watch Titanic. You’re enabling yourself; you’re digging yourself into The Pit when you don’t—”

“I don’t...


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pp. 135-147
Launched on MUSE
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