I'd like to set the record straight about something. Some people think I'm "out of control" when I'm talking or acting, in private or in public. I don't agree with that story, which they tell themselves. As evidence, consider this example.
In early June, I was one of the actors in the pre-show of a performance of "Lysistrata" at The Dragon's Egg in Ledyard, CT. Marya Potter, a lithe dancer and brilliant director, asked me to play the part of an old man who was asking the old women of Greece to give the Greek men access to the resources in the treasury, to continue the Trojan war. Since "Lysistrata" is a 4,000-year-old play, not everyone remembers the story. In order to try to end the war, the women of Greece decided to stop having sex with their husbands until the men stopped the fighting. One theme of the play, therefore, seems to be, can "the weaker sex" control their own sexual impulses in order to force their men to control their own warrior impulses? "Lysistrata," thus, is an exploration of the virtue and challenges of self-control in the service of the common weal, the greater good of the community.
At the cast party at Marya and her husband Dan's home in Stonington, CT, I figured I could let a bit of my wild and crazy side out of the spider-hole because the assemblage of dancers, actors, and singers, of Artists would certainly themselves be uninhibited enough by nature and training to handle my own inhibition without breaking a sweat. Apparently not.
About an hour into the party, Dan, who himself is my contemporary and a talented visual and performance artist, said to me, "Bob, I bet you can't stop talking for five minutes!" Dan knows a fair amount about people who talk too much, because he did his undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard, having been selected by the Harvard talent scouts from all the kids in Dan's private, creative arts high school in Vermont, for admission to The University of The Americas without so much as the formality of an application. Or so Dan's ex-wife explained to me something along these lines at another party a few weeks ago at Dan and Marya's place for Dan's daughter Chloe from his first marriage.
Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me, knows two things. Aside from talking and performing, I love a challenge. And I actually, despite what many people think, have excellent control over myself. When I have something to contribute, if I choose to give it, I do; if not, I don't. When someone thinks I'm "offensive," "obnoxious," "inappropriate," or "over-the-top," it's because I've chosen to be. And when I'm "agreeable," "appropriate," or "moderate," it's because I've chosen to be.
So I replied, "Dan, I'll give you a hundred thousand dollars if I can't stop talking for ten minutes." At this, Susie feared I might make another bet for an outrageous sum of money, and winced her disapproval. "Okay, Dan, I'll give you at least ten minutes of silence, for no money at all." "Bob, that's a deal. I'll time you. I bet you can't do the five minutes. Okay," looking at his watch, "go!"
After 15 minutes of my silence, some of the other party-goers wondered if I were angry. No, I shook my head from side to side, smiling.
After one hour, Dan finally yielded. "Bob, okay, you've proved your point. You can speak now." More silence. I smiled at Dan and moved over to sit near another group of the Lysistrata cast, the better to hear their conversation, the small talk about this and that.
Two hours after Dan and I had shaken on the five-minutes-of-silence bet, Susie was ready to leave and go home. It was 11 p.m. and we needed to drive an hour through the rain, back to Middletown. As I put on my rain jacket, Dan said to me, with all sincerity, "Bob, you are the master of yourself." I looked at him and smiled, again without saying a word.
So if I've offended you, I probably intended to do so. If you find me obnoxious at times, I probably chose to be such. Same with what you deem "inappropriate" or "over-the-top" in my verbal productions or expressive behavior. Probably some of what you are perceiving at the times you make these judgments is transference which you bring to the table of our interaction, from yourself and your own agenda. But I don't deny that a large part of the baggage my words and actions carry was packed by none other than, me. And the utterance of the words and the performance of the actions were of my own free will, as are the decisions to refrain from speaking or acting. I blame no man, other than myself, for what I do, how I act, how I treat others.
But I take NO responsibility for how you choose to interpret my words and actions, if your interpretation is rooted in your own blatant hypocrisy, excessive prudishness, inordinate conventionality, morbid uptight-ness, or terminal humorlessness. NONE.
For 35 years, I was a mostly well-behaved, co-operative, hale-fellow-well-met, lawyer. I played that role well. Finally, last year, I had to hang up the lawyer's suit, because it was suffocating me. Now, I'm experimenting with other roles, breathing the air of a kind of freedom I haven't experienced since I was a child. The air up there is rare. It's challenging for people who've known me only as a typecast conventional attorney, for nearly two-score years, to see me flying high, often un-tethered, unlike before. Only time will tell where I'll land when I've finally found my new bearings.
In the meantime, if you've asked me to bow out, take my leave, get lost, scram buddy, I know when I'm unwanted and will respect your wishes. Just as I gave my artist friend Dan much more that the five minutes he asked that I not say a word at the "Lysistrata" cast party.
We are all struggling, trying to follow our stars. It's just more obvious in my present situation.