If any of you have been following this blog since the first entry, you know that I got to Florida and to my job as an ecoguide in the Everglades through a series of destructive/seemingly loony toons/divine events in October 2011. I said then that I’d gotten “the voice” before prompting me to make certain decisions to put me on a particular path in life.
The first time it happened (unequivocally–I’d heard voices before and after that were, ah, suspicious…I learned much later on, as have many of you, that sometimes the ego can sound almost exactly like God–or, for those of you more atheistically inclined, The Voice Of Reason) was in 1995. I was heading into the Career Center at UNC-Chapel Hill to do something, I don’t know what now. But then they had a plexiglass display caddy full of “Interships of the Week” and I saw the heading “John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.”
Again, I had no experience in the performing arts except that I had acted in one play in college, and I had a bit more than the requisite number of years in ballet-tap-jazz recitals. Do it.
So I did. I got hired to work in the Marketing/Advertising Department somehow–even to this day my former co-workers may make fun of me for my awful cover letter–and I was on my way to the big city right after graduation. Again, I had no idea how I was going to pay to live in Washington, DC; I’d never lived anywhere except my college town and the withering hometown that was short on culture but (mostly) good people lived there; and I had absolutely no clue about how to live in a big city. But I didn’t care because I was excited, young, ignorant, and I knew deep down I was making the right decision. Like with this trip to Florida, I knew I was being led, for what purpose and to what end, I did not know. I suspected that I was going to the big city because I was obviously on the path of becoming a rich and famous person. As it turns out, that was not the case.
However, I did meet some rich and famous people along the way although most of the time I had no idea they were 1) rich and 2) famous. Gandalf tried to talk to me at a cast party after the Royal Shakespeare Company’s repertory run of Hamlet, but I left the conversation to go to the bathroom because I thought he was just some old guy.
My first friend there, a woman who I will call Emily because she was a presidential hopeful’s daughter (no, it wasn’t a Gore) and very intent on not being known as a Presidential Hopeful’s Daughter, was wonderful. She was, like me, aspiring. She was vampish and cool, foxy and nerdy…all of the characteristics I like in women. She wanted to be an actress, and I wanted to be a writer.
My roommate at the time was Danny Cunningham, and that’s his real name, so, Danny, if you’re reading this, I hope you don’t mind. Danny and I’d known each other since kindergarten, we graduated high school and college together, and I trusted him (then and now) with my life. It was Danny who noted, one afternoon in a bar as Emily sauntered away from us, that she was “vampish.” This comment made me incredibly jealous. He had never called me that, not in 18 years of friendship. I didn’t even know he knew the word. In fact, there’s no way ANY man had ever used the word “vamp” to describe me. But I liked Em, and she was way smarter than I was, vampier, classier, and she knew her way around the Establishment because she was the Establishment. A very vampy part of the Establishment. So, just in case you thought it was all pasty, unexercised white dudes with morality issues, that is not so. Some of the Establishment have sex with their actual wives and make daughters who are awesome.
Emily also had an internship at the Kennedy Center, and it was here that we met. She interned for Press, and I was across the aisle in Marketing. Email had just gone public, and to this day I have a blue folder of all our email correspondence from the six months we interned together. “Our post-modern novel,” she said the day she gave it to me as a going-away present.
She’d gone to a private Ivy League college. Postmodernism was the shit in the 90s. “But what comes after that?” I asked her. “Logically? Isn’t ‘modern’ sort of the end of the line? How can you be post modern? And then when post-modernism is over, doesn’t that indicate the end of the world?” What I meant to say was that the concept of postmodernism sounded stupid. And it still does.
She would shrug. “Look. If anybody ever asks you anything about postmodernism, just say Derrida. Or Foucault. Then forget about it.” She ended up being right. Which I found out in grad school.
Emily was the kind of friend who a bumpkin like me gets introduced to and the whole world changes. She said something to me once that revolutionized my thinking, and, for better or worse, it became the underlying idea that drove my attitude to work, dance, performance, and, well, life.
“Once,” she said during our lunch break as we were walking past the Watergate, which is across the street from the Kennedy Center, “I had an acting teacher tell me this about auditions: Show up. Kick ass. Go home. So that’s it. In everything, just show up, kick ass, and go home.”
The way I was raised, you showed up, were super polite to everyone so they would all like you, and then you went home and talked crap about them. My whole life has been a barely-concealed desperate search for someone to give me some instructions I didn’t hate about how to live, and Emily was one of the few people I trusted to give me advice about living.
I liked her approach, and so there you have it. In my 20’s and into my 30’s up until the time I’d drank myself to the point where 1) showing up 2) kicking ass and 3) going home were all mutually exclusive and practically impossible, this theory (among others, of course, but they aren’t what I’m writing about tonight) comforted me. In hindsight, of course, I’m not sure I was ever really kicking ass. I may have, from time to time, achieved the appearance of ass kickery, but I was probably faking it. Every now and again with a writing project, I did kick ass, but mostly I was just a frightened person pretending to be somebody else.
Of course, I didn’t know that. The illusion was that I did know exactly who I was and what I wanted. But the truth? The REAL truth? See last sentence of the above paragraphs. And if I had nuts, that truth would have kicked me right in them.
So my new boss, Cristina, who is also foxy and nerdy, calls me the other day to go on a morning bird watching tour. “And then maybe we’ll do something after.”
One of the many reason why I like Cristina is that she is up for whatever. I’ve recently started to embrace this idea of not over-planning every freaking minute of the day, of the year, of my life, and just showing up and seeing what happens. Other people call this going-with-the-flow, but I’ve never liked that phrase because it seems to imply that the flower (that’s flow-er, not “flower”) has no conscious connection to the moment. And remember, the lilies of the field neither toil do they spin.
When I live with no conscious connection to the moment, I live irresponsibly. But now as I write this I wonder if perhaps I may have unhealthy ideas regarding this heavy word called “responsibility.” I don’t know. I probably do. No, I’m sure of it. So, table that.
But Cristina seems to have a conscious connection to the moment, and I have used prayer and meditation to help me get, as Jesus noted, “in the world, but not of it.” I prefer the position of being in the world but not of it because that lightness of being is not unbearable; it’s actually quite delightful. De-light-ful. Lightful. I like that.
Anyway, I tell Cristina I will come “prepared for anything.” I brought a jacket, a bottle of water, some money, and a camera. In South Florida, that’s about all you need to be able to handle the day. The week had gone weirdly for Michael and me, with some bizarro interactions with potential employers (him), and I am in a constant state of surreal experiences.
The birding group is a flock of well-intentioned retirees self-dubbed The Bird Patrol. Cristina and I were definitely the smallest and youngest, and by 1/2 way through the trip we were the only ones left who weren’t actually in The Bird Patrol. We had a great tour with the guys. Saw a painted bunting and a bird called the “Yellow-Rumped Warbler,” or, in more intimate circles, the “Butterbutt.”
As we were getting in her truck to go to lunch, I got a text from Michael, who was going to a bike shop on Sanibel Island for an interview, that he was “working today, be home later.” The week had been like that for him: think you’re going for an interview but you’re actually going in to work. A real WTF-er series of experiences. But it’s all good, so who cares?
In a split-second reflection, I say to Cristina, “you know, Michael and I have come a tacit agreement that our life now is show up, do whatever happens, and go home.”
She laughed and dropped the F150 into reverse. “Yeah, man.”
It was in this precise moment that I remembered Emily had given me such similar instructions 15 years earlier, and the middle step–from “kick ass” to “do whatever happens”–showed me how much my life had changed, how much I have changed.
Trust me, things can get me “in the world” in a hurry–a hospital bill I wasn’t expecting, a German couple on vacation who doesn’t tip their vampish tour guide, Michael touching my new bike without asking permission…and I will quickly forget how much easier it is if I “do whatever happens” instead of “kick ass.” There is still a part of me holding onto the absurd belief that I can maneuver through life as some sort of ninja assassin.
I found Emily on the internet the other day, and she has become a rather successful theater actor. I’m not surprised. She looks about the same except wiser around the eyes and her skin has the look of a woman who has absorbed her experiences well. Her father no longer runs for President, which makes sense, because I think he had far too many sane ideas for the job. I think about contacting her, but then again I wonder if certain people should remain in the hallowed hall of memory; of course I understand now that everyone we meet has his/her role to play, and not very many of them will stick around the whole time, or even need to.
Tomorrow I’m heading out on a full day tour with a new group of people, and there is only a slight chance that I will stay in contact with any of them. We will share eight hours in our different orbits of life, and then we will separate. I have no idea what will happen, or what we will see, or what kind of mood Rick’s animals will be in tomorrow.
What I do know is that I am relieved of the pressure of having to kick ass. I will simply show up, do whatever happens, and then go home. That right there, in its own way, is ass kicking enough.
nighty night, beloveds.