A conversation with myself.

“You didn’t have to let him interrupt you, you know.” I’m following my former self down the street after a discussion class.
“Yeah, well, put others before yourself and all that.” She’s distracted and busy; we cut across the wet grass.
“But discussion is part of your grade, too,” I remind her.
“Well, he’s, like, a junior,” she reminds me, unable to see my eyeroll. I’m not getting her attention.
“You could be doing better improv, too. You’re letting your teammates down.” I’m picking at her now, but it wouldn’t hurt her to get a little angry now and then.
She whirls on me. “That’s completely unfair! I’m being unselfish like they told me to. I go along with everyone else’s ideas so they can have the spotlight. It’s not my fault if I don’t have any good ideas. I know I don’t deserve my spot on this team but the least I can do is try to stay out of everyone’s way!”

A beat while I let her listen back to her own words.
“You are capable of deserving your spot on the team,” I say quietly, knowing how hard she’s trying not to cry.
“No, you can’t understand, I try and try and I can’t think of anything, and everyone else is so good at this…”
“But that’s your problem, you’re thinking.”
Well, when in our life have we ever not thought?” she asks through gritted teeth. She has a point; I rephrase.
“OK then, your problem is you think twice. All your life you’ve been learning to filter and second-guess, decide if something’s worth saying or cool or funny before you say it. In improv you don’t have time for that. Every time you hesitate, you’re leaving a teammate hanging. That’s the opposite of unselfish.”
She’s still frustrated. “Fine, I’ll try.”
She starts walking again, hoping this will get me to leave her alone.
“But you don’t have to try.”
“Look, now this is just annoying.”
“No, listen, you don’t have to think, you don’t have to try, you just have to be. Be who you are and do what comes to mind first and it will be brilliant. Other people are afraid to do what you do; you should already be proud of yourself. The problem is you’re afraid to do what you do.”
“But I’m not afraid, I’ve never been afraid of the stage, I’m perfectly comfortable…”
“You’re right, you’re not afraid of the stage, you’re afraid of yourself. You’re afraid of what’s behind the filter. You don’t know exactly what is back there and you sure as hell don’t want to find out in front of everybody else, not even your team. You don’t trust yourself to do good improv, you only trust yourself to agree with other people.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t know why I should trust myself, I’m kind of weird and clumsy and this sounds like some sort of Zen self-help book, ‘believe in yourself and all will be well.'” Defensive sarcasm never looked good on her.
“Maybe try it because what you’re doing now isn’t working. Maybe try it because I know better, and I know we’re a freaking genius.”
“Am I really going to be so prideful in the future?” She really does seem worried now, but I was too concerned with convincing her to see this tangential accusation coming.
“No, geez, what… OK, I am not prideful. This fear you have is prideful. You just want to protect yourself from other people; you think you deserve your privacy. But you don’t. They deserve to see what an incredible person God made. They will forgive you for failing a few times if you just have the humility to actually fail.”

We’ve made it back to the dorm, and she is silent for a bit, throwing her backpack behind the desk and sitting in that weird dorm-chair. I climb up to the bed and peer over while I wait; it takes her a long time to say things that are important to her, even longer when she’s still making up her mind. Finally she takes a breath:

“You don’t trust yourself, either.”
This is baffling.
“Yes, I do, I’ve become the people on the team you look up to now. And I don’t let people interrupt me just because they’ve got two years on me. And I like myself. And… and I don’t have to prove anything to you, duh.”
But it’s her turn to quietly tell the truth.
“You want to write, but only about your best non-controversial thoughts. You’re afraid to write about feminism more than once, or people might think you’ve set yourself up as an expert. You’re afraid to write about dating and sex and being single. You don’t want people to know you cuss at yourself. You’re afraid to say anything too strongly because you don’t think you’re important or famous or smart enough to state strong opinions. You’re afraid to speak well of yourself or they’ll think you’re arrogant, and you’re afraid to speak badly of yourself or they’ll think you’re fishing for compliments. The only things you know you’re good at – thinking and writing – you’re afraid to do the way you want to do them, or to do them too well, for fear you’ll offend someone else.”

Now she waits for me.

“Can I have a piece of paper?” I ask a little sheepishly.
She grabs one for me, one for her. Neither of us can properly think through a thing til we’ve scribbled it on college-rule.

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