Thursday, February 6, 2014

Deviating from the Script

About six months ago I was in a play here in Boquete called Proof. The script won the Pulitzer Prize for its writing, so the director made sure we all knew that we needed to memorize our lines VERBATIM, because if the writing was good enough for a Pulitzer, nothing we could improvise in its place would come close to being as good.

That’s all well and good in a scripted situation, but lately I’ve realized that I’ve fallen out of that kind of territory, and that the subsequent improvisation is tougher than it looks.

I’m trying to do something different here than I’ve ever done before. As of yesterday (February 5), I’ve been in Panama for a year, and I can safely say that the person I am now is very different from the one who arrived. To be honest I’m not sure how differently I seem to outsiders, but I certainly feel a hell of a lot different than I ever have, and that comes with its own set of challenges.

I have realized that, even when it wouldn’t serve me, I’ve always been casting about for a script to follow in any situation.

First date? Great. Talk about mundane things, don’t use too much of your vocabulary, try not to be too excited, definitely don’t eat too much, give some time for a kiss at the door, but not too much time, because that would be needy. Second date? Repeat, but maybe increase the amount of time at the door just slightly.
Uncomfortable situation, with someone who won’t shut up, won’t stop talking about themselves, or drunkenly holds onto you and tells you they love you? Be patient, be polite, and know it will soon be over.

Something emotionally hurts beyond all recognition? Hole up in your house where no one can see you cry and weather the storm alone.

These are all old scripts of mine, and as comfortable as it can be to repeat the words I’ve learned by heart – such an apropos term, don’t you think? – the only way to break out of it is to toss away what I’ve always known and go for something else – something new: a different approach; some different words.

How TERRIFYING. If I handle it off the cuff, -- if I let myself slap that drunken hand off my arm, lean in for the kiss myself, or show up at a friend’s house on a day I just know I’m not going to be able to hold it together without sobbing and seeking an embrace -- if I have no idea what I’m going to say to them, I have no idea how they’re going to react to me, either.

And therein lies the hard part, invisible audience: losing the illusion of control and realizing that there’s much more freedom and beauty in it than in using the words that may have never worked the way I wanted to them to, but certainly got me a response I was expecting. When I’ve scripted out the response, however, I haven’t made room for any of the magic or music that can come from spontaneous and heartfelt human interaction.

This hurts. It hurts more than I ever expected. It hurts more than I ever wanted it to. It feels in a way I’ve never let myself feel. I am angrier, sadder, happier, louder, more terrified and more emotionally raw than I ever could have been before, and in the midst of all these feelings, I am bumbling around in the dark, trying to find the words to turn on not just the light, but the right light: the one that leads me further down my path instead of back to the old scripts I’ve shoved into a dusty corner. 

I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s what it really comes down to. It’s all new, and not in a bad way, but it’s a scary way nonetheless. I can’t even pretend to know anymore. I give up trying to script my life, trying to anticipate the next step, predict my way through the next month or try to anticipate in advance how to sandbag my defenses for the next storm, because not only do I have no idea what the next storm will be, if I guess incorrectly I will have spent a lot of time and energy building a defense that I didn’t need in the first place.

So here’s to making room for the improvised moments of magic: the possibility of golden unexpected connection, and to moving forward despite the fear.

Love and unscripted kisses