Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Your Role for Today

Dear Sir,

I find myself in a jam.  Miss Otis regrets.  I am terribly sad and afraid that I do not want to attend your invitation.  I do not want to wear the mask.  I do not want to shoulder the conversation.  I do not want to mentor.  Or to be witty for you, like the trained seals barking for their fishes.  Yes, Miss Otis regrets.

Try this on for size:  You are Joe Smith.  You bring your really excellent Julia Child's Jello mold in the elaborate shape of a squirrel holding a nut to the Big Party.  People love it, and they ask you to bring it again.  And again.  And it goes on for years, and it is now called Joe's Jello by everyone who knows you, and no one else even dares to bring a molded item of any kind, because it will never be as good as Joe's.  And even more time passes, and then Joe is gone, and his Jello lives on in that people make the recipe, and they meet and they say "it's just not as good as Joe's,' and "Joe always brought his Jello, how I miss him!' and "Can you give me Joe's recipe for Jello?"  This is all good and a very nice memory of Joe, dead and gone.  It's the kind of thing you might hope to elicit.  Which is maybe why you bring a pineapple upside down cake and hope, in your secret heart, that you will become Known For It.

Let's consider another aspic aspect:  Joe tires of making the damned Jello on the 8th time, but he doesn't want to disappoint, and he enjoys the notoriety.  He is slightly trapped by the success of his Jello.  He would like to try, just once, a Dobos Torte.  In fact, maybe he did, once, and all anyone could say was "what?  You didn't make your Jello??"  So, yes, he is quite trapped in the role of the One Who Makes Jello for The Party.*

Stay with me now, Sir, because I know you are thinking of turning on an interesting podcast made by hipsters in NYC about the ways in which we assume different identities all the time, everyday.  Stay with me, because I am going to nudge you, or to permit you, to abandon some of these roles.  We are not only the Jello we bring, we humans.  We are quite complicated beings with many, many interests, goals, and fantasies. 

But, you say, that's not right- making Jello is not role-playing!  It's making Jello.  Well, be that as it may, bringing Jello has become a role for Joe, and he might be tired of it.  Also, we are playing roles all the time.  Right now, I am playing the role of a writer of this letter to you, and you may or may not be playing the role of reader.  If the idea of a role is too much for you, consider it a mode of being.  You might be in the receiving mode when you read this and you might not.

Let me offer further example:  You go to the post office to return the vegetable spiralizer you got on the internet, because you realized, while watching a very old episode of Dr. Who (wherein the Doctor meets a computer that he gave his mind to upon its birth as a sentient new being, and it has been flailing along for years with this split personality, wreaking havoc on everyone around it), you realized, that you might be entering a trap.  You might end up being the one that everyone goes to for spiralized vegetables, and you decided, deep in the clarity of the night, that you did not want this role after all.  So, you are at the post office with the box to return this potential role.  You get in line and now you play the role of the person who is slightly annoyed at having to wait, but you don't take it out on the poor beleaguered postal worker, although, you do think to yourself "I am not paid to be on this side of the counter, and you, Postal Employee, however much you may hate your job, are being paid to do it."  And the other people playing the same role remark to you on how long the line is and how inconvenient it is and you agree, in your role as Postal Customer.  You might say now, to me, Sir, that that is that, and how else could one possibly behave waiting in line at the post office? 

How happy I am that you asked!  You could take the time while you wait in line, to compose a manifesto for avoiding impulse purchases online.  Which you could put to music and maybe even upload a video of you and Joe performing it to YouTube.  Or you could say, to the person who says this is a mighty long line and slow, too, that you enjoy lines like this, because of the way it requires you to examine the floor tiles to avoid making eye contact with people who are playing the role of slightly annoyed at waiting in line at the post office.  Because, you might explain to them, you don't really want to get stuck in the same role every time you come to the post office.

Well, I know your time is precious, Sir, so I guess I will say just once more:  Miss Otis regrets.

*  Joe's crisis deepens:  If he isn't The One Who Brings the Jello, just who is he?