When I was little, I had mittens with string.  For those of you who grew up in a warmer climate than say, Michigan, children are often given mittens connected by a long strand of yarn.  The only thing more annoying than losing your gloves or mittens in the cold of winter is losing one of them, and children aren’t always so attentive.  Another perk is that you can take them off and they’ll dangle from the cuffs of your winter coat.  They’re together, even when apart.  They’re connected.

(With my sisters in front of a giant snowbank wearing mittens with string, 1985)

Gretchen Hall and Freddy Arsenault were classmates of mine in graduate school at NYU.  The portrait I’ve written of them (“Gretchen and Freddy Get Married Today”) was their wedding gift.  Though I consider them good friends, I can’t say I’ve seen very much of them since school.  It’s not that they live far from me.  Aside from my roommate Chris Grant (“You Only Live Twice”) they are theoretically the closest to me (geographically) of the people in the portraits.  Gretchen and Freddy have a beautiful apartment in Washington Heights, maybe twenty blocks from where I live.  The problem is that we’re rarely in the city at the same time.

I’ve written a little about wearing a pair of vagabond shoes, and to a certain extent you expect that as an actor.  What you don’t think about though, initially at least, is how your nomadic life will affect your patterns of relationships and friendships. Working out of town, your cast becomes your family, as you usually don’t know anyone else in the city you’re in.  You work together, play together, dine together, and drink together.  That intense bond somewhat dissipates after a show closes, by necessity; you don’t abandon these friendships, but they change.  Returning to New York you reconnect with the people you left behind, but often those same people are also actors and artists who crisscross the country for their work.  After their wedding Gretchen and Freddy soon left to do plays separately in Baltimore, MD and Norfolk, VA.  I’m happy to say they recently got to work together (and therefore be in the same city), collaborating on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Pericles with Jim Calder, who taught all of us at NYU.  I’m happier thouigh, to say they stayed an additional week in Italy for their much delayed honeymoon.

Gretchen and Freddy are mittens with string / Together when they are apart

Because of this itinerant lifestyle, it’s completely possible for me not to see a good friend of mine (who technically lives in the same city) for six months or more.  In a strange way, it makes you experience the present moment with a greater sense of ease and gratefulness.  As I wrote about Shawn Kemp (“We Outran the Sun”), it’s possible to walk back into a friendship after seven years as if nothing has changed. Stressed out and behind schedule with a book I was recording last November, feeling adrift and a little directionless, Gretchen had me over for tea and made the world spin a little less quickly.  Freddy and I talk about starting a rock band every oh, six months or so.  I wrote a role for him in the last play I finished.

What I admire about Gretchen and Freddy is how they’ve found a way to navigate the distance not only in their friendships, but also their relationship.  If distance is difficult in friendships, it is exponentially moreso with someone you love.   But Gretchen and Freddy are mittens with string, together even when they are apart. Click the link below to hear a simple demo recording of their portrait.

Gretchen and Freddy Get Married Today (mp3) by Matthew Carlson


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