“I DON’T BELIEVE YOU ALVIN!!!” Teacher barked in clear frustration. “You’re acting. Stop it!”
Teacher sat back in his chair, face all red, incensed. “Bob, sit down. Let me work with him.”
Bobby quickly made his way to his seat and Teacher stood up at the front of the room and faced Alvin.
“You’re acting”, said Teacher.
“I’m acting” replied Alvin.
“No. You’re acting.”
“I’m acting” said Alvin, puzzled.
“You need to stop acting”
“I need to stop acting”
Teacher exploded. “YOU NEED TO STOP ACTING”
Alvin mildly replied “I need to stop acting”
“GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!’ Teacher blasted the words right in his face, spittle flying.
“Get out of my head” replied Alvin, still mild. Still controlled.
Teacher was anything but controlled. “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!!!”
This acting exercise, of repetition back and forth between the two, went on for some time. The rest of the students watched the two, entirely rapt, tense.
Teacher was getting angrier by the moment. His fists clenched, the veins in his neck were bulging. Alvin remained a shining example of control.
“YOU NEED TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CLASS”
“I need to get the fuck out of your class”
“YES I WANT YOU TO GO, NOW!!” he barked.
‘Yes you want me to go now.” Alvin replied, seemingly obvious to the dangerous rage.
“GET THE FUCK OUT ALVIN!!!”
“I….” Alvin faltered.
One of the students jumped up, walked over to Alvin. “Dude, the exercise is over. You need to leave.”
Alvin finally realized the Teacher was serious. It was apparent to everyone in the class except Alvin that he was not cut out for this work. He was somehow blocked, and there was no way around it. He could not express emotion, which was what the exercise was all about. Teacher sat back down, face still red, while Alvin got his stuff together and made his way out.
I sat there, a little stunned. My problem was similar to Alvin’s though not so acute. I’d been able to express true emotion in this class, except for one: anger. Every time I tried, Teacher called me on it. “Stop. You’re acting. Stop acting. Now, try again.”
The difference between a good actor and a bad one is that the good one is telling the truth. The bad one is lying, but trying to convince that he’s being sincere.
It took me a long time to realize what that means, or to find the label to something I knew to be true.
For the longest time I wondered why I was so irritated with phone calls. Maybe I was being snobby? That didn’t ring true. If anything I was more accommodating than the average guy. Or the average Canadian for that matter. (And you KNOW Canadians are pretty damned accommodating, often bending over backward to help you out. It’s not a wild stereotype when I say that many of us will say “sorry” when you step on our foot.)
Yet, when I received a phone call, I couldn’t wait to put the phone down. What was that about? It really bothered me. Some of the people I loved and respected would call, and almost always I couldn’t wait to get off of the phone. There have been times when I gave serious thought to getting rid of all of the phones in my life. There’s a phone at my workplace. Maybe I could make do with that, or with pay phones.
Yet, this revulsion for phone calls wasn’t universal. There were maybe two people who would brighten my day when they called. And I knew I could spend hours on the phone with them without giving thought to ending their call.
Finally I realized what it was.
Any guy who’s in a relationship with a woman, will attest to the fact that the lazy practice of apologizing to his woman in order to get back into her good graces (especially when we don’t know what wrong we’ve done) doesn’t work. Invariable, our women will ask “what are you sorry for, exactly?” They are looking for specificity. They want to know that we know exactly what we’ve done wrong, that we recognize it, and will attempt to change our behaviour in the future.
Truth-telling. They’re interested in our truths, more than our blanket apologies.
Phone calls, or conversations in the office that revolve around trivial stuff might be of interest to some people. Not to me though. I could give a rat’s ass about so many trivial things. I have no interest in polite and pointless discussion. Pretending interest is the opposite of truth-telling. For me, it is creative suicide. Hanging from the patter until dead.
Hence the hated phone calls. Except for ones received from a few people . The difference with them? They delved deep into things. They were curious, and alive and passionate. We didn’t talk about the obvious. Not about the weather (unless it was stormy, and a tree fell down, and an adventure ensued). Nor about what we ate that day (unless it was monkey brains, and it tasted just like squid, and was delicious, particularly with tartar sauce).
We compared notes on discoveries. The warp and woof of universal truths. Things we’d observed – in each other, and in other people. We were people watchers. We were empaths. Anything that threatened to take us down the path of the verbal rut was jettisoned quickly, with relief.
It’s an extension of our takes on life – whether the intent is to grow, to find freedom from expectation, with the ultimate intent of flight.
It removes you from social niceties. It gives you an appearance of danger. Truth-tellers are generally not that predictable. They don’t fit into the expected, the norm. You don’t know what they’re going to say, or do. Henry Rollins – truth-teller. Unpredictable, dangerous. Clint Eastwood. Another truth-teller. I think Bono is one too.
My acting teacher – the one I mentioned at the start of this blog. He was a definite truth-teller.
I remember one bright shining moment of truth-telling at one of his classes.
It was my turn to get to the front of the class. Whenever it was our turn, Teacher would pair us up with another student. The only direction was to say something. Anything. And the other guy had to repeat and reflect it back. The intent was to tap into real emotion. So we never knew where it would go. It was exhilarating, exciting and just a little bit scary, because it meant being vulnerable.
This time, Teacher paired me up with…..his girlfriend.
I shook my head, startled. And then I settled in.
The first thing I noticed was that she was beautiful. It crossed my mind that if I said my truth, Teacher might not like it. Teacher was unpredictable, and could switch on real emotion at the drop of a hat. One real scary dude. Still, I thought, it’s risky but I have to do it. I have to be real. I can’t pretend.
So …..I smiled at her. Teacher’s girlfriend. She smiled back.
I gulped, because her smile affected me so much.
She started the exercise. “You gulped.”
“I gulped” I said, nodding.
“You gulped”, she said, teasing.
“Yes, I gulped” Now I was grinning, from ear to ear.
“You’re happy” she said.
“Yes, I’m happy” I said.
Then before she could reply, I inserted a new phrase. “You make me feel silly.”
“I make you feel silly”
“Yes” I was smiling so hard I could feel a tear of joy starting at my eyes. It freaked me out a bit, but I had to let it go. “You make me feel silly”
“I make you feel silly” now she was grinning hard.
We went back and forth for a while, venturing a new phrase now and then, as the passion slowly built. It took a while.
Eventually, I got to: “you’re so bright”
“I’m so…..bright?” she asked, a slight frown at her forehead.
I corrected myself. “Your eyes are so bright” And so help me God – they really were. Her eyes were shining. I can still see them, even now.
“My eyes are bright” she smiled, hearing the truth.
“Your eyes are bright”
She smiled and said nothing. Teacher jumped in immediately. “Continue!”
She cocked her head, and, still smiling, said “you’re messed up”.
“YES. I’m completely messed up.”
“You’re completely messed up”
I took the next step. “You’re messing me up”
Her face gained colour. “I’m messing you up.”
The room was completely quiet. Every student was leaning forward on their chairs. I didn’t look at them, but knew exactly what was going on. Except for Teacher. I had no idea what he was doing. I didn’t even want to think about him.
“Yeah, you’re messing me up.”
“Yes I’m messing you up”. She smiled so sweetly. (And when she did that – it *completely* messed me up)
“I want to get close to you”
I heard the class gasp.
She repeated it back, a little more quietly. “You want to get close to me.”
“I really want to get close to you.”
“You—” Teacher jumped up, interrupting. “Wait a minute”
I thought “ok this is it. He’s putting us out of our misery” Only, he wasn’t. He grabbed two chairs and brought them to the front of the room, facing them to each other, only a few inches apart.
“Ok” said Teacher. “Sit there. And continue.”
I looked closely into her eyes. We weren’t smiling anymore.
“We’re close to each other”
She said “we’re close to each other”
“So close” I almost breathed the words.
“So close” she murmured.
Back and forth, looking deeply into each other’s eyes. We repeated and repeated. It was all truth.
Finally, I whispered “I want to kiss you”
She stayed close, looking deeply into my eyes. “You want to kiss me.”
“I want to kiss you.”
We stayed there, silent. And we let the silence take over. The class was silent. I’ve never felt such stillness.
And then Teacher stood up and walked over to us. “Well done.”
I heard the class let go of its breath. And then they applauded.
There was an emotional after-glow to that truth exercise. I could tell she felt it, because I saw it in her quick smiles and glances in my direction. I could still feel my heart pounding too. Teacher knew it to be truth, and he knew that’s as far as it went.
Once you dive into the ocean of truth-telling, anything less is a rip-off. A facile and pointless exercise. A spiritual hotdog when you’re craving a thick juicy peppercorn steak.