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|Topher Payne: That thing you do|
|Written by Topher Payne|
|Friday, 16 March 2012 00:28|
Our friend Leslie decided her life needed a little shaking up, so she’s moving to China for a year, where she will teach English to children. I’m not really clear on the logistics of this, as Leslie doesn’t speak Mandarin, but apparently there’s a successful system already in play.
My travel rule has always been that I never visit countries where I don’t speak the language, out of courtesy to the locals. But watching her plan her voyage to a mysterious foreign land is causing me to question that.
I can easily see her moving on from teaching her students English to showing them how to craft clever hair accessories and make really great Bloody Marys. Then the Emperor of China selects her as the tutor for all his children, and they fall in love and sing “Shall We Dance?” and then we would visit her at the palace.
I’m fairly certain China doesn’t have an Emperor anymore, but that is not the point of my story. My point is, Leslie is taking this huge leap outside of her comfort zone, and I’m inspired and a little jealous. I don’t need to move to a foreign country or dance with an Emperor, but it’s left me wondering: Do I really consider all my options when there’s a choice to be made? Or do I simply know myself well enough to accurately predict outcomes and plan accordingly?
An example: My husband, in his life before me (a time I rarely acknowledge existed,) was a hippie. He followed Phish. He sold burritos and hand-knitted stash bags in the parking lot. He wore sarongs. And though he is now the cardigan-clad, corporate office-ensconced Preppy I have come to know and love, every few months his old concert crew will get together for a show.
These are bands I’ve never heard of, with names like Railroad Earth and The String Cheese Incident. Early in our dating life, I was invited on these excursions, but I declined because it sounded awful. Songs are not supposed to last for twenty minutes, and large groups of stoned people tend to piss me off because they get so damn chatty. Also, they all dance like Stevie Nicks, spinning in circles with arms in the air, lost in a reverie. I was trained to dance at gay bars, where the entire point is as much physical contact as possible. People have, without even trying, accidentally had sex while dancing at gay bars. So for five years, I’ve just let the concerts be his thing.
On the flip side, Preppy had never attended a professional theatre performance before he started dating an actor/playwright. Now, he sees at least eight shows a year. All totaled, he’s seen me play Julia Sugarbaker for more hours than he ever saw Dixie Carter in the role. These are not experiences he would likely have sought out independently of my influence, and he hasn’t enjoyed every show. But he gave it a shot, because it’s important to me, and sometimes he’s genuinely enriched by taking that leap.
I know the comparison is not exactly equivalent- he’s supporting my work, and I support his. Even as I write this, I’m wearing rose-colored khakis from the Gap Spring line, and I assure you that is not a look I would have chosen if left to my own devices. It’s not like I’m married to Trey Anastasio and refusing to attend Phish shows. I’m just letting my husband have outside interests, like how I watch zombie movies, funny animals on YouTube, or porn without him.
But in my rare moments of actual honesty, I’m forced to admit that the likely reason those Phish shows (or their jam band brethren) hold no appeal for me is the same reason I wouldn’t go to China: Because I don’t understand the culture. I don’t speak the language. My instinct when I feel I don’t belong somewhere is to leave, which is good because it got me out of Mississippi, as well as several unhealthy relationships in years hence.
You live your life according to your own interests and pursuits, but there’s always that nagging question in the back of your mind, the fear that you’re missing out on something potentially transformative. I realize that’s a lot of pressure to place on The String Cheese Incident, but it’s at least worthy of consideration.
Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at topherpayne.com.
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