I said no.
I had really lovely
experiences in an improv class with a teacher I won't
name because he's still active. Have not contacted
him in many years but some of the memories are pretty
fresh. What really stands out is how clear he was about
what he would and would not accept. He called it the smell test.
I remember once I had gotten involved in a production and
he was somebody I knew would be honest with me, so I
called him up, described the situation. He didn't
interrupt me as I was trying to paint a picture for him.
He just listened. And then he asked me, does it pass the smell test? 'cause if it doesn't, walk away.
My old singing
teacher used to imply the same thing when she would turn
up her nose at something. She told me once you've
earned your stripes, you don't do chorus.
That's kind of the same thing. I walked out of the
first rehearsal of a show once because the director had
pretty much lied to me about the extent of the role she
offered me: 2 pages, and the rest background noise.
I said no. I would love to work with you but I don't do chorus.
Why is it so hard to say no?
always have to do with men—although I think
it's a masculine trait, to dominate, to get somebody
to do something, bullying in general. Hierarchy maybe?
Remember the old saying boss yells at the husband,
husband yells at the wife, wife yells at the kids, kids
torture the dog. What would have happened if let's
say the wife yelled back at the husband? Or maybe husband
stared down his boss instead of being intimidated. So
Hence the smell
test. I perceive of it as a test of your sensory
apparatus which you have learned to trust and therefore
have a direct route to truth, such as it is, more or
less. To be cowed in the face of evidence of your own
truth, now that's a problem; to be blissfully unaware
of the dynamic and go about your life with this
subterranean need to please.
passive-aggressive bullying, too. Like the guy who
performed and also directed us in 1940s Radio Hour. We
crossed each other during performance backstage and as he
passed me this one time he whispered did you forget
your line? Since I had been giving that same beat
every performance previous to that night I can only
assume that he was just being a jerk-off. A
passive-aggressive jerk-off. I already knew that about
him but I wasn't really fully attuned to it. That was
one of those times when I could have used the smell test,
had I known about it.
leads me to last week. It started out kind of weird.
Since I got back from my trip I've wanted to keep up
this momentum of walking every day like four or five
miles if I can manage it and my neighborhood is great but
wouldn't it be nice to combine that with a group? Sad
thing is I used to go for lots of walks but they were
always with my old man.
So I grabbed it by
the balls! I signed up for every hike or walk that I
could come up with—all these online group things
where you put in a search term and check out the
description and see if there's any event coming up,
like that. Three weeks of that and it wasn't really
entirely satisfying but it was looking potentially
For those of you who
don't know Berkeley CA there is a lovely area up by
these giant boulders designated Indian Rock Park. Just
beyond that is something called the Rose Gardens. When I
signed up for this so-called senior walking group, I have
to admit first time I walked with them they were chugging
along but not everybody was so determined like they were
on a race or something. It was pretty chill in a way.
Not this time. After
a few blocks to get started in the right direction, Miss
Thing, who was the unofficial leader, charged off right
up the hill--mind you this was a two mile walk just to
get to the Garden--and of course I promptly fell behind.
There is a term I've just learned called a sweeper.
That means somebody to make sure to sweep up whoever is maybe going to lose the group.
Well there was no designated fucking sweeper on this particular jaunt.
At one point, I just
stood there at the light, and waited for the green
because of course they had already gone through an
intersection and off up the sidewalk. I preceded after
them only to look up and there's a chirpy woman who had
turned 'round and come back down the hill towards me with
this little concerned look on her face: the group has
decided that this isn't for you, you're too slow. So I said oh, okay. I'll just go back home.
I didn't. I took out my phone, re-configured the
route and took my time getting up there by myself.
Following week I had
signed up for what was characterized as an easy hike
around a lake. 4 miles total. There was even a picture
online of this lovely wide gravel path. Went over to the
REI Co-op and got me some walking poles, you know, those
hiking pole thingies. I've never used those. I was
These folks disappeared even faster. No sweeper, even though at the start I caught
the phrase who volunteers to sweep?
Nope. In fact there was a guy that kind of
sidled up next to me as I was trudging up
the hill and immediately began
complaining that he didn't know which
way we were supposed to go because we had lost the group. He didn't mean we
of course he meant me. He actually didn't know where he was going. I suggested
we go back the way we'd come and true enough we had walked right past the
sign for the turn off. Didn't matter. He took off on his own up the trail. I slogged
along. 10 minutes or so and predictably here comes a woman, approaches me
and says this is probably not for you. This is a hike not a walk.
Wait a sec; to my mind, that didn't pass the smell test. One thing you get wrong
maybe, like perhaps it's not so much easy as it is moderately easy. But to
suddenly call this different than walking? Walking is walking. It's not running,
it's not sprinting. You do it in San Francisco up California Street, see how that
gets your heart pumping. The only difference between walking and hiking is
that the former is done in urban areas and the latter in nature. Not so: this was
apparently a hike described as easy and illustrated with a gravel path and a lake which, by the way, I never got near. I was a mile and 1/2 into this particular
adventure. Still no gravel. Again, I devise my own plan and find a gravel path
way back down the hill. 4 miles or so. By myself. (Great poles, incidentally.)
Now, you see, this is classic! Here's the point where you have gone all defensive
and irritable over the details of something like this. I've already described this
to a couple of friends just to get it off my chest I suppose. But I never quite let it
go until I connected it with the ability to consciously say no. That's what's
become fascinating to me.
Might as well admit that I spent a week in the middle of all of this walking
exploration also dealing with disengaging from therapy. Man! What a drama.
These days it's all about zoom and texting. Suffice to say that this is a man and
he's a professional, but he's also human. I think if I've learned anything from a
year and a half with this particular person once a week, of course interrupted by
that month in Eastern Europe, it's that I have fucking earned the right to say no. No.
He said yes yes. I said no. He said yeah but. I said no again. I briefly relapsed
and said well… and then I went to see another therapist and we sat in her office
and I explained to her and she said nah. And we spent 10 minutes devising a
text to the guy, and then she said did you send it did you send it? And I said… yes!
And she said yay!!