I didn’t write a blog post earlier this week because I have the flu, and I spent most of Monday sleeping, and most of the rest of Monday having such a high fever that all I could do was sit around and think strange thoughts. I haven’t been this sick for quite some time. But I am going to do my best to write something for you today.
I’m going to tell you a story. Sometimes now when I write I hear James Altucher in my head saying “Bleed on the page.” And I see the photo of Penelope Trunk’s bruise after she had a fight with her husband. And I say to myself, I could never do that. But today I have the flu, which means I can do things I sometimes think I can’t, so this is that kind of story, only Amy-style.
I was sixteen or seventeen, in drama class. My drama teacher was big on improvisation and on giving us assignments that required improv. I wanted to be handed a script and learn my lines and figure out blocking, but that’s not the way things were done in drama most of the time.
My group was doing a skit that showed a teenage girl finding out she was pregnant in the middle of a family dinner. I was supposed to play the girl’s big sister who offered sage advice in a touching sisterly scene later on in the skit. But my classmate who was supposed to play the pregnant teen had been out sick for a long time, and eventually we had to perform the skit without her for our grade. So at the last minute, I had to step in to play the part.
Afterwards, I thought it had gone about as well as could be expected, given the lack of rehearsal time. I sat with the rest of my class in the seats facing the stage, glad it was over, until the drama teacher began really tearing into my performance.
Was I aware, she said, that I had been smiling the entire time? How horrible and awkward it had been, and how amazing my fellow group members were for somehow managing to continue on in the face of such a poor performance. And then she came right up to me, in front of the entire class, and said, “Do you always smile when you’re sad? Do you?” She was insisting on an answer I couldn’t give her, and it was all the worse because the answer was yes. And I hadn’t even known it until that very moment.
To this day, when I think of this story, my heart hurts.
Sometimes conditioning runs so deep that we don’t realize what we’re doing, even when we’re working very hard to be mindful. I write in this blog about a lot of things I still struggle with. I’m still a perfectionist. I’m still sometimes a people pleaser. I tell you that your emotions are okay, but I don’t always believe that for myself. When something happens that is upsetting for me, my first instinct is to pretend everything is okay.
Once upon a time, it was extremely important that I be good at acting in a very specific way. One that didn’t go over well in drama class.
That story is over now. But I still smile sometimes when I’m sad.