September 2022

No Nose

Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones

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?

It doesn't 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 many scenarios.

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.

There's 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.

That's what 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 promising.

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 excited. LakeChabot-cr

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!!



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Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones has a long, full career as an Actor/Singer/Dancer. She writes a monthly column
and is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Claudine Jones
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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