"HOW WE TREAT THE VULNERABLE IS HOW WE DEFINE OURSELVES AS A SPECIES." Russell Brand
So what am I thinking? Been ruminating on being invisible, unseen, dismissed. Why? A miserable summer cold lead to bronchitis and severe laryngitis and I found myself totally mute for 8 days. No problem, I thought. Made a sign, "Severe laryngitis," carried a clipboard with pen, and figured I'd use whatever hand gestures to help me communicate.
But being sick, impaired (gratefully, only temporarily) - an eye opening experience!
Now, understand, I've gotten used to the invisibility of being a woman 'beyond a certain age". You know, when people just don't seem to see you, or if they do, they look right through you. TV marketers cancel your shows, advertisers ignore you. Brilliant magazines like More, tailored for the over 40 set, close down and fashion magazines feature women who could be your granddaughters.
It took some adjusting, I confess. The first time was a shock. I was maybe 48, still coloring my grey, I stepped off the curb into the crosswalk in Oakland. A young man driving a red Porsche approached, made eye contact with me, gave me the once over, then accelerated right through the crosswalk, barely missing hitting me. Believe me, my first thought at that time wasn't ageism. But as time went on, it sank in. Yes, in a culture that worships youth, you're old. Nothing stops for you.
But in personal, face to face encounters, that's not been an issue.
So, with that background, found myself sick. Ok. This too shall pass, I thought, just take care of business.
First place I went with no voice was the brow salon for an overdue threading. My usual beautician wasn't available, so a new to me girl helped me. I showed her the picture of the brow I'd like, she said, "That's not the shape of your brow at all. You get the shape you have." I thought , "That's cheeky," since my usual gal always asked for the picture. But, okay. I'd not had my brows groomed for several months, as they'd gotten thinner than I was comfortable with. With no voice to argue, ok, open to a new approach.
She went to work, handed me the mirror. Looked great! Thumbs up from me and mutual smiles confirmed her success. Went to the counter to settle up. 'I have no voice', I signaled with a hand moving back and forth across my throat. Her eyes got huge. "For how long?" she asked. I put up two fingers. "Two years?" she asked, her brown kohl rimmed eyes filling with compassion. "Oh, I am so sorry." And in that instant, I saw the chasm between us: she, a brown immigrant from the middle east, one who knows of trauma of silenced women, me a Marin mom with a cold. (If you haven't read this NYTimes article about the aftermath of liberation of Mosul, you must! Maybe she even mistook my gesture for a slit throat! Don't know, but haven't used that gesture again.
I wrote, "No, days." She exhaled, then smiled. She processed my card. I left feeling humbled and shamed. Here is a woman less than half my age, with a bigger heart and more understanding of the world than I had at her age. And sadly, a bigger suitcase of trauma.
Home. Still reeling from my awareness of 1st world problems, get notice of audition next day. Non speaking role: "Grandma who's been sitting on the porch for 92 years." Yes, no voice, red nose, chapped lips, but I feel so lousy. This is the closest to 92 I'm likely to feel for a long time! Right? So use it!
I go in, upbeat. Have my sign "Severe Laryngitis, not contagious" , and another with my name and agent. "So, how tall are you?" the rep asks. I put up one hand of fingers, for 5, then air write 8. He asks again. I do the same. "Oh, just write it down," he says, rolling his eyes. I do. I'm here for a job. Need to be on. Let it go. Then I'm given scenario and directions. Won't repeat, but bottom line, non speaking role, but need emotional noise, utterances, laughter... (What was I thinking?)
Anyway, do my best. Didn't book (for you non actors, not hired). Go home, and back to bed.
Of course, as after every audition, thought about (and wrote in my audition journal) areas for improvement, ie: how might I have "stolen" it (done the thing no one else thought to do that clinched the deal), might have been more creative (OMG, let me count the ways), etc, etc... We as actors can't control the too tall, too short, too light, too dark, too thin, too fat, too old, too young, too counterculture, too mainstream, not the right look for the guy we already cast, not the image for our company, too, not, too, etc....But can think constructively about process....
But then I found myself contrasting the compassionate gal at the brow threading salon with the 'we have a job to do' guy at the casting session, getting annoyed. Could there be any other numbers that look the same from either side? 1, 0, 8. How was that unclear? I can't talk, but can you give me a break?'
And then, it hit me: How many times have I been that guy???
Started pondering the changes in America since 11/9. USA is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants stole this nation from Native Americans, immigrants- opportunists, fleeing persecution, optimists, indentured, unwilling: slaves brought in chains - built this nation. Immigrants are why we, alone in 1st nations, are growing in population, have cornered innovation, have the richest men in the world... But I digress...
Compassion, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Then back to the opener: How we treat the vulnerable is how we define ourselves as a species.
Who are we now, America??? And where do you stand on the compassion scale?
Disclaimer: I wrote this as a draft before I left USA for 9 weeks touring starting in British Columbia August 8. Just now getting back to it. And yes, the world has changed yet again, and again, and again, and none for the better. As a child of the 60's, I still can't wrap my head around where we are now as a nation. As Michael Moore asked, "What happened to my country? "
But, confess, being one of those who think slow and long, that post will have to wait.