I’m going to let you in on a secret: if you have never put on a wig, dressed yourself up, and spoken in a poorly articulated Southern accent, you’ve never really lived life.
I thoroughly enjoy pretending to be someone else, immersing myself in another persona for a short period of time. That sounds escapist, but it’s actually the opposite: when I put myself in another character’s shoes, it is not a rejection of who I am, but rather a learning experience — a chance to self-analyze as I look through another perspective. That’s part of why I love improv so much — it provides so many opportunities for this.
But there’s always the question of where, exactly, performance and vulnerability meet. Last night, my friends hosted a Murder Mystery dinner party, and I got to play. Each person was given a character, and we had a blast, interrogating each other and arguing in order to work out who the murderer was in the staged scenario given to us. Then, after we solved our mystery, a few of us stuck around just to talk, and enjoy each other’s company. And the conversation turned to the subject of vulnerability.
One friend explained that she loved to tell stories from her life, but she always worried about how much information she should disclose — will they see me in a different way? Should I just tell another story that doesn’t put as much at stake? Externally, I found that my experience with vulnerability was the complete opposite — I tend to babble and freely tell people what’s going on in my head, and only after do I worry that perhaps I divulged a little too much. But internally, it is the same: we all have a fear of being vulnerable, whether it is a worry that our public image will shift, or that we’re burdening people with things that they didn’t care about in the first place (this is something that I am guilty of). Sometimes we even a fear what we may discover about ourselves in the process.
I’ve been trying to incorporate this doubt into the book I’ve been writing. My main protagonist constantly struggles with the isolating uncertainty of whether or not she is accepted within the community that she lives. At some point, it becomes unimportant whether this feeling is based on reality or not — the isolation occurs because her doubt affects her interactions.
I experience this doubt nearly every time I have a conversation. Just the other day, I told a friend that he could truly know if I felt comfortable around him if I were to hum or sing in his presence. Later, I realized how awkward this disclosure must have been — I thought I had just been letting him in on a part of my personality, but in the process I was also reminding him that, oh hey, I’ve never hummed or sung in front of you before.
I know self-conscious moments like this are not at all rare, but it’s crazy to think how much these little neuroses control us. Why do we worry so much about how others perceive us? Why is vulnerability such a scary word?
On Tuesday, my sister leaves the country for an indefinite amount of time. We haven’t lived in the same area for at least four years, and yet I’m still terrified of the fact that she’s moving away — it will be that much harder to connect with her. She is one of the few people that I don’t have this doubt with — I can talk to her about basically anything, or text her randomly and not fear that I’m being a burden. I know that she will tell me if I’m being annoying, or if she doesn’t actually care about what I’m telling her — not that this will stop me from continuing the conversation. “You don’t care about the particular subject that I’m talking about?”” I say. “Well, that’s too bad, I’m going to tell you anyway. And it will not be the demise of our friendship, because we both know that I’m being me, and you’re being you, and we still love each other.”
That’s the closeness that I will miss when she moves; and that is the closeness that I hope to have with others. It’s just people being people, and fitting into each other’s lives… and we only reach that point through vulnerability.