When I was a freshman in college, one of my new best friends was an actor. He appeared in a play during his first quarter, when he was also gaining accolades for being the first person in my dorm to get puking drunk and the first person that year to have sex in the library at the top of the building.
Typing this, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to write what I started out to write because as I find myself tying up a 30-year friendship in smart-aleck comments, I’m also in tears.
John Irving, an author I have a love-hate relationship with, once wrote, “What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.”
How can this be? How can it be that the people I used to talk about and think about every day of my life became stories I tell over closing-night drinks? Days go by without remembering my friends, and years go by without talking with them.
I couldn’t even tell you where those people I profess to love are today, physically, in their emotional and work lives, what work they’re doing.
I do know that I can say anything I want about them because a) I can, b) they won’t read this, and c) I claim all of my experience as my own to write about, regardless of who else was involved in my experience. As Joan Didion wrote (and TW shared with me late one night in my living room on NE 86th Street when I was perhaps 16 and he had been reading her work in college in a class called Prose Stylistics, for which he wrote an essay about cheese), “Writers are always selling somebody out.”
For me, though, it isn’t the writer in me selling others out. It is the human being who lets time and tide drag her away from the very palpable shore where known faces provide comfortable harbor, into the rough seas of new voyages, where metaphors mix and waves swell and I don’t always know what I’m doing here.
Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing here.
So did I know more when I was 18, staying up all night talking about Unified Film Theory and writing notes, line by line, on my Canon Typest*r 5, the top of the line tech wonder my uncle sent me when he heard I was going to college? You type a line of text, then hit enter and it prints out, leaving the impression of the letters on a ribbon, and I saved the ribbons, and looked at them recently with my daughter and saw the words, the spacing and returns preserved (what a waste of ribbon!) so I could still read the thoughts I was having at 18 in the middle of the night on the 9th floor of a recently demolished and replaced building.
How much of me has been demolished and replaced? How have I ended up so completely at home so far away from the people whose parentheses conceal how intensely I felt about them and the time we spent together, creating our adulthood?
Here’s what I was planning to say, leading in with the freshman friend in the play: He wrote a paper for a class that used the play as material, and at the time I was infuriated by what I saw as his laziness. When I was a teacher, I understood that he had actually had an amazing, instinctive grasp of liberal education. Today I understand the value of repurposing and multipurposing your writing, which is where I thought I was going when I sat down to write this.
Today I am multipurposing my homework. I am a lifelong learner, and I’m taking a class which isn’t called a class but — what? A coaching group? — and has homework. Today’s homework: To answer the questions below and share them with your Accountability Partner. I have two of them, since the more accountability, the better! I mean, the more partners, the better!
Here is the prompt: “Envision yourself at the peak of your personal and professional success (don’t worry about a timeline, just know you’re at the peak). . .” and answer the following questions:
- What are you wearing?
(Pervert!) I am wearing cashmere leggings, a colorful patterned tank top that goes down to my hips, and a shapely cardigan that traces my curves gracefully. I have skull-like freshwater pearls hanging from my ears, and my hair is layered so there are wisps around my face and waves and curls just where I like them.
- Who do you spend most of your time with?
I work with a team of half a dozen energetic, creative women who know how to laugh, drink, swear, cry, and get shit done.
- What does your home look like?
Clean, as in housework, and clean as in everything in its place, and clean as in clean lines and comfortable modern furniture: chairs for reading, a writing desk with secret drawers, and a room of my own with a lock on the door and plenty of sunlight coming in.
- How do you feel when you’re at home?
Relaxed, calm, alive, invigorated, creative.
- How do you rejuvenate yourself?
I go swimming across lakes, Greenlake and Beaver Lake and Lake Washington. I take walks through the most forested parts of the city and the most urban-accessible forests. I get a weekly massage. I do yoga.
- What do you do for fun?
I see first-run movies in theaters. I go dancing and roller-skating. I sit around and talk with friends, and we laugh and laugh and make up new things all the time.
- How often do you go on vacation and where do you go?
I go to one new city, one favorite city, and the Pacific Coast every year (3 trips). I visit my children when they perform or have other time-sensitive work they want to share, and I stay in hotels, unless they want me for a sleepover, to cuddle or babysit or remind them of something precious from their youth.
- What kind of car do you drive?
A manual Toyota, less than ten years old. No eating or drinking in the car. Good but not crazy stereo system.
- What causes do you contribute to?
I donate to the schools I attended (SAAS, UofC, UofW, SCC) and my kids’ alma mater. I donate to UW Medicine’s pediatrics program, to Adult Polyglucosan Body Disease research, to medical support for those who can’t pay their bills. I donate to KEXP and Seattle Public Theater.
- What is the income that supports your lifestyle?
Oh, god, is this asking for a number? I hate this part. I don’t even know what the number means. For fun, I’ll say $99,999, because I like the high 5 figures.
- How many days a week do you work?
- What does your office look like?
A light-filled, book-lined, wooden-floor aerie.
- How do you feel when you are at work?
Flow and laughter. Stimulated by the company I keep up with, connected to others, free to choose my project.
- How do you spend your time? (What do you do on a day-to-day basis?)
I am making theater, making others make theater, making others make money making theater. I am getting paid to have conversations. I walk in the fresh air every single day.
- What do your co-workers and/or clients say about you when you’re not present?
“Pearl really cares about other people’s feelings. She listens with an open mind and responds with incisiveness and sharp wit. She said the funniest thing the other day! Brilliant with words. So connected to others and really hears what I have to say. Her next project is so risky and so necessary — I can’t wait to find out what role I can play in it.”
- What is the nastiest belief that you have let go of in order to make this life possible?
Nobody wants what I have to offer the world; it’s already been done, and better, and by smarter people.
- What is the strongest belief you’ve cultivated to make this life possible?
I myself crave what I offer the world, I love what I do and I’ve been looking for someone like me to make this happen my whole life.
- What support do you need to sustain this lifestyle?
I need to ask for help every step of the way. Hand-holding, deep expertise in areas I can’t control or don’t understand, a hand up.
- What are the most important steps you can take THIS YEAR to make this vision closer to a reality?
Ask someone new for help every day. Meet someone new every week. Find a mentor.
- What are the most important steps you can take THIS MONTH to make this vision closer to a reality?
Contact the people who say interesting things online and let them know how I see us working together. Ask for help. Ask questions about how others get their shit done. Make promises to myself that seem far too big to keep, and keep them.
Composition note: While much of what I do in life is in the realm of imagination, exercises like this make me feel a bit uncomfortable. How the hell do I know what I’ll be wearing in the future? What if I don’t get any of these things — will I feel like a failure? Then I take a deep breath and I see myself as the person asking the questions instead, encouraging the answerers to take their time and be playful and stretch the limits of their imaginations and always always love themselves.
Writing about yourself can be really challenging, especially when we might have received a message growing up like, “Don’t brag,” or, “You’re so conceited.” If you want to write an About Page for your website, check out my video on the topic here. In the meantime, answer this question in the comments below: What’s the most positive thing you’ll allow yourself to say about yourself?