My friend the irReverend Alex Polinsky, said this to me once. I think of these words especially in the context of shame. I hate shame. I am ashamed of shame. I just want it to go away and be replaced by happy things; fuzzy things; deep things; sexy things; anything other than IT!!! But here's the flipside of shame. Shame is like oobleck. It's just another substance to stick your hands in and explore. And if the idea of how gross it might be or how horrible it might feel inside your fingernails doesn't send you twitching and squirming and running the other way, you might actually learn from it; shape it; own it; have FUN with it!
This is what I tell myself at the Westwood Coffee Bean were I'm winding down from this whole crazy experience that has left me reeling from wonder, excitement, and -- yes -- a good sprinkling of shame. My past self, not an hour before, is standing outside the Geffen Playhouse shivering 30% from the cold and 390% from the feeling that I have just done something terribly, horribly, unforgivably wrong. You see, my acting teacher James Eckhouse plays one of the characters in their current show, The Escort. Because I wanted to see him perform and because Geffen tickets are not cheap, I have arranged to volunteer as an usher, meaning I get to see the show for free. It's a lovely evening. Easy job, great show, many cool conversations with random theatergoers who happen to be sitting in the section where I am ticket taking. In the natural course of things, I hand a few of them my Buffy flyers. Not all of them, mind you; only about the four or five with whom I am actually carrying on a meaningful conversation. The show ends. I'm on that just-saw-good-theater high, compounded with the meeting-cool-people high, compounded with the about-to-congratulate-actors-I-know high when the Geffen concierge taps me on the shoulder.
"We saw you blatantly pushing your product, and that's not allowed when you're working for us, representing our theater." My face goes white. Breathing gets shallow. Heart stops. Blood drains. "I am so sorry. I had absolutely no idea. It was never my intention --" This is the beginning of me rattling off every possible version of apology, subordinance, and outright begging for mercy I can possibly think of. It's all I know how to do in the moment. And just as sure as I feel obligated to ooze apologies out of every pore, he is obligated to ask me to leave the theater. Literally step out of the building. Wow. I REALLY fucked it up this time. Unknowingly, of course, which in a way makes it worse. Stupid me for doing the thing, and even STUPIDER me for not knowing that this type of behavior is so totally against the rules that it wouldn't even occur to the Geffen staff to mention it as a no-no. I want to crawl in a hole and die. Or escape into an ice cream sundae. Or at least get the hell out of the vicinity of this godforsaken theater. And I would gladly do the last one, were it not for the fact that there are two people in the show with whom I need to connect.
So I'm waiting outside the theater. Waiting and waiting and stewing in my shame. It's a while before anyone I know walks out the door. I'm beginning to think I should just go home, but somehow I've resolved to accomplish my mission to say hello to the one person who's expecting me and the one person who isn't. Finally, I am greeted by James, who gives me a warm hug and a few kind words. On his way out, I ask him if Gabe, one of the other actors, is coming out. "Yeah," he says, "he's right behind me. You should go in and say hi." I tell him that, due to my earlier faux pas, I'm not allowed back in the theater so I have to wait outside. Dirty, muddy, ickalicious shame. I may have it stuck between my fingernails until the end of eternity. This crap is VICIOUS!
James leaves, and I stick it out for Gabe, from whom I am not expecting quite as warm a welcome. You know how there are people who don't know you as well as you know them? For me, Gabe Sunday is one of those people. We were both counselors at Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp founded by the famous beatnik-activist-Ben & Jerry's-ice-cream-flavor Wavy Gravy. And although we shared two or three summers of living in a circle of tepees, eating in a close-quartered outdoor dining area, and cavorting/ performing on a small black stage decorated by a giant rainbow, I wouldn't be surprised if he had no recollection of who I was. Gabe has always been-- in my mind-- an ingenious, wacky, larger-than-life character. I, on the other hand, was (and feel like I still am) barely coming out of my shell. He is mentioned pretty frequently in the camp newsletter in the context of Disney movies he appears in, the documentary film he has made, and his self-written/co-produced/edited/starring feature film My Suicide winning 20 gazillion awards at every prestigious film festival imaginable. All of these accomplishments, of course, I find pretty amazing and exciting. At the same time, the fact that someone several years younger than myself can have so many bells and whistles, milestones, and IMDB credits is just a wee bit daunting. And after seeing his performance tonight, I realize in a visceral way they are all well-deserved.
In the play, Gabe plays two characters -- a 13-year-old boy and a 21-year-old male escort. They are pretty much polar opposites, and he fills each role to the brim with distinct vocal inflections, quirky physicality, and behavior that is spontaneous-feeling while at the same time completely specific to that particular character. By the end of the performance -- heck, from the moment he steps on stage -- I am thoroughly impressed, and I have to tell him so even if it means standing in the cold and bearing the shame of being passed by the very people who just booted me out of their esteemed theater venue; all in exchange for a possible "do I know you from somewhere?" look and off we go.
It isn't much longer until Gabe emerges. As expected, I do get the "do I know you from somewhere?" look, but after a quick reintroduction, the moments that unfold go completely beyond any expectation. We start chatting about camp; acting; filmmaking. He graciously offers to walk me to my car, which is a bit of a hike made even more scenic by the fact that I've forgotten exactly which street I parked on. During the course of our journey, we talk about practically everything under the sun. (Actually, it was probably just acting, filmmaking, and camp-- and, of course, Flow Temple -- which is everything under the sun that matters to me.) As we walk down the side street in Westwood, I feel all these disparate elements of my world collide: being a kid in Berkeley, being a camper and counselor in Mendocino, being a struggling artist in Los Angeles, and the memories and feelings all of those things entail. When we get to my car, I pop the trunk to stash my purse, and what is at the top of my messy heap of belongings but my juggling clubs, fire poi, and contact ball (a contact ball coincidentally given to me at Camp Winnarainbow by another counselor named Gabe)?! I couldn't have DREAMED this synchronicity; let alone planned it.
It is now almost 2 in the morning as I sit in my apartment, writing these thoughts down fiendishly before I forget. I'd like to say that my awesome conversation with Gabe, or the post-Gabe Coffee Bean stop where the barrista gave me a free cup of tea, or even these semi-eloquent blog thoughts are what's left at the end of the day. They are, after all, more positive,more life-affirming, and ultimately more pleasant to deal with. But the truth of the matter is, the shame remains. I revisited it as I wrote about the guy at the Geffen, and I'll probably revisit it again and again. There are multitudes of demons that take millions of forms and will latch onto any tiny incidence that might fuel their fire. And my immediate instinct is to splatter them far and wide, using the universe as my confession booth, or shove them under the closet door never to be seen again. It's the most difficult thing in the world to stare at the demons and sit with them -- calmly, openly, ready to listen to what they have to say. And yes, part of the impetus for this blog may have been to satisfy my urge to be overcompensatorily contrite. At the same time, placing the thing you fear most in front of you, feeling it under your fingernails, and squirming with it for a while is a really useful task. And for me, putting it in a piece of writing I share with the world is a major step in rewriting my own history.
Whew!!! That was hard. WAY more challenging than the entry I thought I was going to write on the same subject, except instead of me getting kicked out of a theater in Westwood it was my Pakistani rockstar friend with Mick Jagger in the red light district of Lahore. I needed to get through my own sludge tonight. But I promise you, that's a story for another day.