"You must have seen a different play" - some thoughts on opinions, difference, and what makes the world so beautiful
Last weekend, I went to a matinee of Tanya Barfield's play The Call at Playwrights Horizons. The crowd was, by my estimate, made up for 90% people over 60, with most of them closer to 70 or above. Judging from the chatter I heard, most had also seen the other play showing there now, Annie Baker's The Flick (elevator consensus: too long—I misread when it was playing so won't get a chance to see it this time around). Anyway, after the play was over, the woman sitting next to me turned to me and asked what I thought. "I liked it," I said. "You must have seen a different play," she said. She didn't say it in a mean or rude way, more a baffled way. I can't remember if she stayed for the Q&A with Barfield afterward, but that helped illuminate some aspects of the play for me. Now, I did like it, but learning that it's being rewritten with every performance also made me wonder what the final product might look like. It brought up some powerful issues about fertility, adoption, race, community, neighborliness, compassion, empathy, family. I thought it was definitely worth the $30, but probably my biggest revelation wasn't about the play itself but what my seat neighbor said to me.
Because isn't that what makes the world go round, ultimately? That we are all here on the same earth but can be in the very same space and experience things so utterly differently. This weekend I also watched Eyes Wide Shut, which I was expecting based on everything I'd heard to be a sexy movie. I was hoping to get some writing inspiration. Instead, I fear I will dream about the creepy masks. I kept falling asleep on and off and was grouchy, hopefully in an adorable way, though I am probably kidding myself on that front. My boyfriend kept saying we should watch the rest in the morning but I insisted on keeping it on, so I missed a few key plot points, but the next morning we talked about the movie, about how Kubrick died before the final edits, about its issues with the ratings board, about what the lack of actual sex in a movie ostensibly about desire meant.
That discussion meant a lot to me. I realized that most of my cultural consumption is of books; I have always been and probably always will be a bookworm. If I could change one thing about my reading habits it's that I'd like to read faster so I could read more. But because not everyone I know is as voracious a reader as I am, or reading the same things, I don't often get to have in-depth discussions about books. Maybe I should seek out a book club when I move. I found in both the theater talkback and our two-person movie critique that what I saw, and how I processed it, are just one part of the puzzle. That the watching and contemplating don't end when the movie or play ends.
Most of all, that we are all living on the same planet, sometimes in the same spaces, sometimes doing and seeing the same things, but that doesn't mean we come out of those equations the same. To me that's what makes the magic of connecting with people in a genuine way so magical—it doesn't happen with everyone. Just because, say, my friend is friends with someone, doesn't mean I'll get along with them. Just because you think someone's sexy doesn't mean I will. And that's not only okay, that's wonderful news because then we have things to discuss and ponder and maybe even, like my neighbor, shake our heads over. It made me realize that in my work I can't cater to anyone or expect everyone, or maybe even anyone, to like it. I just need to make sure I like it and, in the case of work I'm selling, make sure my editor(s) like it. And make sure it's something I can be proud of. And in the case of me, I also can start to edge away from the viciousness of my innate people pleasing ways. Pleasing everyone is a game I'm bound to lose, and maybe even pleasing anyone. Certainly trying to please anyone at my own expense. It's a fool's errand and I don't even know how much of my life I've spent playing and being that fool because it mattered so much to me. I thought that's who I was: what other people saw. I thought I should rewrite myself, redo myself, remove myself, hate myself, in accordance with their opinions.
What's funny is that Barfield told us she's been revising her play, 15-20 pages, approximately, with each performance. But not, I didn't get the impression, because other people didn't like it. Because, to perhaps stretch this metaphor, she got the call, in her own head. She listened, closely, minutely, and watched, and was free to experiment and change and try. I'm reading a book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, now that's blowing my mind, cracking it open, the kind of book that feels like it was written specifically to me because it's so true. It's not out another month or so, and I will be covering it way more extensively, but since it's so eerily spot on in so many areas of my life, including this post, I will share that author Jen Sincero advises us to "become aware of what you're gaining from your stories" and goes on to write: "We pretty much don't ever do anything that we don't benefit from in some way, be it in a healthy way or an unhealthy way. If you're perpetuating something dismal in your life because of some dopey story, there's definitely something about it that you're getting off on." Bingo! I know her book isn't literally written just for me, but that was me for so long it was eerie to read. I'm trying to live a different kind of life these days, to apply a better awareness of myself to my behavior, to not automatically believe that when someone else thinks something, they're right, by virtue of being them.
That's a lot easier than it sounds. My first, instantaneous, gut reaction will probably always be to believe that the woman next to me (literally her, and iterations of her) is right. It's much easier to be a follower than a leader. It's much easier to let everyone else be "right" than fight, internally and externally, for your opinions. It's much easier to assume everyone else is better educated and more knowledgeable so their opinions deserve more weight. But I'm over the false promise of "easy." That got me precisely nowhere with my life. I'm ready to tackle hard, to tackle discussion, debate, nuance. I'm ready to tell myself a new story, which might just be that I'm a badass. Tonight I'm covering and presenting an award at The Feminist Porn Awards. The latter happened by what also feels like magic, but really, was just a result of being me, the me who left law school with no safety net and didn't "decide to become an erotica writer" but, looking back, it seems, got a call to do so. The me that doesn't even watch all that much porn but feels a kinship with this community; the me that watched a short film set in New York and felt at home seeing a little bit of my home reflected back on the screen, even though I'm in another city, another country. There was a time when things like that would happen and I'd want to demur, and sometimes did. You don't want me, you want someone better/smarter/prettier/more organized/more perfect. I couldn't accept the wonders and miracles and happy surprises because I was so deep into my story about how wretched I was. When no one seemed to believe I was that wretched, I'd do things to make them see it. See? Now do you believe me? Look at all these fuckups, piled up like a car wreck, each one more catastrophic than the next. Now don't you think I'm wretched? But to echo what pretty much every self-help or spiritual book I've ever read says: No. I'm not wretched. I'm a person who's flawed and has made a lot of mistakes, but when I stop reminding myself of my wretchedness, I can appreciate glorious weeks like this one. I can accept those gifts from the universe given simply by being myself, that same flawed person, but one who accepts her flaws and doesn't let them sabotage her purpose.
It's also helped me realize that if my job is just to be me, I don't need to convince or beg or hope or wish anyone else thinks I'm a badass or a good writer or a good person or a good anything. Not my friends or family or boyfriend or exes or potential employers or my local baristas or strangers or God. Letting go of wanting everyone to like me is like peeling off layers of flaky skin after a sunburn; it doesn't hurt, exactly, since they shed and shed and shed. It's just that there are so many layers, a seemingly endless amount. When you want certain things for an entire lifetime, learning to unwant them is, yes, hard. But worth it, so so worth it. I can't wait to sit next to everyone and everyone and watch different plays. Together.