On the first or second day of my public speaking classes, I talk to my students about a couple things that I was thinking about tonight. Eye contact and the differences (and similarities) between a speech and a conversation.
Regarding eye contact, at some point, I tell them a couple things. Don't think of your speech like a speech. You don't have to talk to all 20 or 30 or 40 students at once. You can just talk to the one you're looking at at any given moment, for any particular sentence. It's just you and them, in that moment, with that idea. And, if you really need validation for something you're saying--
And maybe I recount the story of how at the state speech tournament my senior year in college, I had a particularly emotional dramatic interpretation piece and it made the climax so much easier for me to embrace the sadness of it if I had someone in the audience buying into that sadness as well. There was this girl Chelsea--competitor of mine I had only met that very day but we drank together on the last night of nationals that year and we've been friends on Facebook ever since--who cried every damn time I performed that piece. So, when I got to the climax, and my character's daughter was dying, I would look to Chelsea and, while I was already getting pretty good at putting my energy into the grief of it, she made it easier.
--you look to the person who is rapt with attention. Or, if you need to not make eye contact, our of nervousness or embarrassment--some students pick some very personal topics--you invent an imaginary person sitting in one of the empty seats, and you look that person in the eye, speak to that person, and that person will give you back whatever you need in that moment because that person is just in your head, and the people in your head are always capable of giving you what you need... Imaginarily, anyway. Never for real.
Which brings me to one of the weird things about myself that I share with my students early on. We're talking about the difference between a conversation and a speech--a speech is more formal, a conversation is not (necessarily) one on many, and so forth--and inevitably some student will mention that you (can) write speeches ahead of time. Like, no shit. That's the class you're here for. But, yes. You write speeches ahead. You don't write conversations ahead.
Except, I do.
And, it is not a good thing. Whether it's an instructor I need something from, a friend or a student I'm trying to convince to do something, a woman I'm interested in... Especially that last one. I imagine what I might say, I imagine what they might say in response, and what I will say back, what they will say, what he will say, what she will say, and so on. I take it so far sometimes that there is no longer a reason for the real conversation.
And, I'm struck right now by the lyrics to "Private Conversation" from the musical Side Show:
If we could steal a moment
Would you be so inclined
To accept an invitation
To the private conversation in my mind...
I imagine us so well
How you dance and taste and smell
I can imagine me with you
But I don't have the guts to follow through
And, there's more. Always more.
Imaginary people based on real people, but versions better equipped... Or better equipping for my anxieties, my antisocial awkwardness, my self-defeating pessimism and cynicism.
Like ghosts. And, I don't mean to make an awkward segue, as I have yet to mention the movie that inspired this rant--A Ghost Story. But, they're like that. Ghosts. Or shadows. Remnants of people. Figments of my imagination echoing just slivers of the real thing.
But, sometimes they resonate all the more.
I don't know you
Buy I want you
All the more for that
That's Once. Movie. Stage musical. This is also how my brain processes the world. Somewhere upward of 5000 films under my belt, so many tv shows, several dozen musicals, hundreds of comic books, novels... All these things shaping and reshaping my mind and my experience of the world around me. It's no wonder, really, that I imagine the world before I venture into it, that I imagine conversations before I have them. I'm scripting it all like it's a movie, a television show, a play. All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players / They have their exits and their entrances / And one man in his time plays many parts. A set of lines so damned obvious and trite that they circle right back around to being brilliant all over again. Identity stuff.
(No politics about it, though. I'm taking a break from politics, even if just for one day.)
A central idea within my master's thesis, actually, as well as a regular topic here in this blog. I am who I say I am. You are who you say you are. And, I don't just mean with words. (Though, my master's thesis dealt specifically with how we present self on the Internet, which is all about our choice of words.) I mean, with the clothes you wear, the way you wear your hair, the way you smile, who you choose to smile at. Though the term and so much of the study of it is above their heads usually, I talk to my students about phatic communication, stuff like hello, goodbye, thank you. Things that don't have their own inherent meanings, supposedly. But, who you choose to say hello to in the hall matters. How you thank someone who has done something for you matters. How you say goodbye matters. Whether you say goodbye matters. Even a nod of the head as you pass by an acquaintance is a reminder that you remember they exist, that you want them to remember that you exist, that you want this, whatever it is between you, to keep on existing because the world is just too damned cold and lonely a place without at least someone to nod your head at as you pass them by on the way to somewhere else.
You know, worst case scenario, and all.
You're better off having someone to do so much more with than a nod or a passing hello. Even a smile isn't always enough. Or the right look from the right eyes...
The things we long for. The things we grieve after they're gone, but also before we have them. The grief before can be almost as painful as the grief after, a lingering shadow of an idea that shapes and reshapes your impressions of the world around you, around them, around everything, until each and every experience is tainted by or painted with that lasting impression, a scent, a laugh, a glance, the things that don't necessarily matter in the moment but matter more than anything later.
Or earlier, in the imagined moments, fleeting and dying.
A Ghost Story will bore some, but will hit others hard. The clinging. The holding on. And--SPOILERS, in a way--being a ghost in one's own relationship--this is the kind of stuff more movies should have. Less of the violence of stuff like Spider-Man: Homecoming (though, I also saw that today and it was entertaining as hell, and I am on record as loving some very violent films), and more meditation on what it means to exist in a world you can't control, that you can barely interact with, a world where you feel like a shadow of yourself, even when you are right there, in that moment, in that place... being you.
Early in the film we see the outside of the house that Casey Affleck's character will haunt. We'll see it again many times, but that first sight of it is important because there is something of a metaphor for the whole story, itself a metaphor for all of our stories, in that visual. See, the walkway leaving the porch, inexplicably, stops before it reaches the street. In reality, it was probably broken, and the lawn is overgrown, and this is clearly a house that is run down a bit. But, in the film, it's a strange and strangely appropriate visual--this walkway that goes nowhere. You could walk away from the house, but you have to go right back or be lost in the rough.
Like a relationship.
There are no set paths. Not really. You can go the way other people have gone. But, you will only ever end up the same places everyone else has already been.
Sometimes, you need the rough. You need to wander.
Or you need to linger.
And, you always need to speak up. (Or speak out.) Otherwise, you're going to miss out.