role playing

In ALL, LIFE OBSERVATIONS by Stephanie Klein1 Comment

I can sing, I mean really belt it.  In high school I was a lead in Oklahoma.  Ado Annie—the girl who can’t say no…ahem, don’t go there. In the musical Annie, can you believe I was cast as Ms. Hannigan instead of Annie herself?  Well who cares, Annie herself is quite vanilla, and I loved hitting people. 

We all play parts.  A mother, an ibanker, a favorite uncle, a web designer, a wife, a trial lawyer, a botanist, a New Yorker, a fashionista, a tennis champion, a techno klutz, a mouse potato… and we live and behave the label.  Sometimes it’s hard to rip the ID sticker off our sweaters.  We don’t get the job, or the part, someone dies.  Sometimes it’s a choice; sometimes it’s taken from us, ripped from our white-knuckled Kung Foo grips.  Our sense of self changes as we stand tender beneath the sun, searching for our new hard shell of a role to keep us safe, covered in familiar.  I’ve learned the key is to wear your identity more like a sticker than a tattoo.  It’s this ability to move from role to role, to glide without missing a beat, which makes a successful happy Stephanie.  I’m dynamic.  No one is pigeonholing this chiclet.  In turn, I don’t dog ear a person to  keep them on one page… or so I thought.

You’re at the interview, with hands in your lap, with stockings even, and you know what they want to hear.  So you sell yourself because you want the job, and even if you don’t, you want it to be your decision.  Rejection can keep on walking.  So you tell them what they want to hear, say the buzzwords, look ‘em in the eye, sprinkle in the confidence and seem authentic.  “Oh yes, I love playing the office bitch. In fact, do you want me to photocopy that resume?”  You have no idea what you want, but this could be a choice, an option, so you try to keep it open and play the part.

Then you’re at a bar and you do the same thing.  You answer the “what do you do for funs” with what they want to hear, based on your sizing up their wardrobe, their friends, their accent.  He’s wearing Vans, so you like anything on the water.  In Converse, you groove to live music.  In Prada, you adore golf and wine lessons.  You’re pigeonholing and giving them roles, and you’re pulling on your best improvisation mask of what you think you should resemble.  You may like golf and the beach and live music, but you’ll mention the beach to Vans man before you mention the wine.  There is a right answer, and that’s when we stop being ourselves completely, when we select what to push, and what to hide, to get what we want—even for the night, for the brunch story of it.  And you want to be like them because if you shake hands with a mirror, you’re both likely to enjoy the view.  Likeness leads to liking. And you’ll be like them because they like themselves.  It’s not authentic, and then you’re a little sad and introspective at night.  Suddenly you’re in sales.  You wonder why you seemed so into that mediocre song he loved.  Why are you trying to be what only one person wants?  Why isn’t that one person “you”?

So you curl up in a corner, and write in your journal as the tears stream and mark your face because you can’t drink and smile anymore.  You can’t be surface or funny because you’re tired of playing a role.  You want to play the silent type because you’re tired of trying, tired of talking, tired of making friends and making people like you.  Exhausted.  You shut your eyes to what music you should know, or what book you should be reading.  You need time to cry and close your eyes, and watch the sunset and listen to the water, watch the leaves and notice some stars.  And as you do that, you cry and wonder how you’ll play the cheerful role.  Wonder how you’ll lift your drink for the toast, or your hand for a shake because you’re tired of trying and just want sleep.  You want to turn the part away, burp at the interview and make no excuse me’s.  Let someone else take the lead and maybe just enjoy you just as you are—quiet and tired—ready with arms, finally someone who just lets you listen and sleep. 

I know there are people who shoot straight, who yawn at the interviewer and chirp, “that’s a bad idea.” I can’t imagine not feigning complete interest only to decide later.  I can’t imagine not putting my best foot forward, always.  I should start now.  I’m too tired to go out, tired of smiling, of crapass clubs and lines and heels and seexy girls.  It makes me want to move to Ohio, or Utah, or a four-letter state.  Iowa.  But I’m not sure that solves it.  People everywhere want to be liked.  And I’m a New Yorker, a role I love.

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