Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mr. Rogers Was Right

Here's a reprint of a post from November 2009. Some of the details have changed--I'm now nearly 41, and my dress size keeps shrinking--but the essence of what's here is still on my mind today.

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Since 1985, English musician and musicologist Clive Wearing has had what neurologist Oliver Sacks calls "the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded": a memory span of mere seconds. Along with the present his past has slipped away as well, including the memory of meeting his wife, Deborah, and falling in love with her.

Yet emotional memory provides Clive with a basis to remember Deborah at a fundamental level, as Sacks writes in "The Abyss" (The New Yorker, September 24, 2007):
For many years he failed to recognize Deborah if she chanced to walk past, and even now he cannot say what she looks like unless he is actually looking at her. Her appearance, her voice, her scent, the way they behave with each other, and the intensity of their emotions and interactions--all this confirms her identity, and his own.
To Clive, his wife was more than the sum of her parts, and was, in fact, unrecognizable in parts; but taken wholly, she was Deborah. The essence of the woman he loved was something Clive could never forget.

It's a moving story, and it's helpful in getting amateur actors to understand that a simple posture change does not a character make. Yes, you may need to lower your voice, thrust out your jaw, and slouch a little, but if these traits fail to converge into the core of a character, your portrayal will not ring true.

Off the stage, I find the story reassuring.

As a mother about to begin her fortieth year, I think a lot about identity. As a woman down to size 4 from an 18 (Greg says I'm "every woman in the world" to him), I often wonder about what's left when you strip the non-essentials away.

Attending my twentieth high school reunion last year was interesting in this regard, as was my short sojourn on facebook. After 15, 20 years, you are distilled down in the minds of people from your past, and it's surprising what they'll think, say, and expect. That's a book right there, but I'll just say that the Distillation of Amy was mostly positive, leaving me pleased, if somewhat bitter ("If you all liked me so much, why didn't I have more dates?").

On Monday night at the homeless shelter, I noticed three things:
1. nobody laughed at my jokes,
2. my deep thoughts were quickly bypassed,
3. everybody was glad to have me there.

Reconciling these observations took some time, I tell you. I like to think that at some level I'm funny and interesting, and if pressed I'd say these qualities make people want to be around me, if they do at all. Take away a small-busted gal's sense of humor, and what's she got?

But here was a roomful of people who liked me for me.

Much as I like to define myself by my wit, intellect, or deltoids, these women respond to something deeper at the core of who I am. It's humbling both to have your best traits ignored and to be appreciated anyway. Humbling, healthy, and right on.

(here's someone who says it best)

2 comments:

  1. thanks for the reprint. food for thought. especially those last couple of lines.

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  2. I keep rereading them so I'll remember them myself!

    ReplyDelete