Thursday, October 8, 2020

Reading About Being Myself

How To Be Yourself | Life-changing Advice From A Reckless Contrarian by Simon Doonan

If you enjoy a sassy and rollicking read that fizzes with sparkling vocabulary and effervescent wit, this may be the book for you. If you believe, as I do, that each of us are born with a particular set of gifts, abilities, and even flaws that make us uniquely suited to bring joy to this world, then I'm convinced you should check this one out. Written by a self-confessed aging white male Boomer who has dabbled in bottle cap operations, iconic window dressing, and a penchant for mod flowered blouses, I promise you that this little missive leaves all preconceived notions gasping in the dust, and will refreshes the mind with delicious drafts of fresh air

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When I was in ninth grade, my English teacher decided that our class would take on a read-aloud performance of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. 

Hey, this was the seventies and the education professionals in my minor league Michigan high school decided to throw Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Hemingway out the window and treat us to some morsels of contemporary literature. At least this one won a Pulitzer. 

Anyway, due to my ability to read well, Mrs. Priestkorn decided to cast me in the role of lead character and bitter antagonist, Beatrice. A miserable failure in all she has ever attempted to do with her own life, Beatrice's current goal is apparently to beat down her teenage daughter Tilly's hopes for a promising future. She's a mean-spirited, seething, manipulative addict, well along on her journey toward self-destruction, and every word that spews from her mouth is dark and poisonous. 

I was not impressed with this task.

Bless her heart, my teacher tried to coach me into a startling portrayal of this bleak woman's soul. As I read my part of the dialog aloud in my normal everyday 14-year-old good-girl's voice, Mrs. Priestkorn would interrupt my performance, direct me to try to sound more caustic or more angry or more dysfunctional. Though I gave it my best shot, I knew in my heart that I had no interest or desire - or ability - to be a convincing Beatrice. 

On the third day of our read-aloud, Mrs. Priestkorn sadly excused me and gave the part of Beatrice to someone else. 

* * * * *

Though in the moment, this experience made me miserable and tempted me to feel like a failure, I've since come to love this story about myself. Because it taught me that I cannot act, and I don't want to act. That's not who I am. 

And while I think it's a very interesting and creative process to inhabit another psyche and bring that person to life, I'm certain that acting is simply not my jam. 

Way back on that third day, I began in earnest my quest to define myself not by who I am not, but by all the wonderful things that I am.  And that, my friend, is an adventure that continues to this day. 

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