Courage Under Lonerism

theloner
Image courtesy of directorsnotes.com

I sat in a leather chair at the EXIT Theatre among a packed crowd of four-dozen people facing the stage of a black box theater, waiting for actors to be called. Some of us, writers, eagerly anticipated how our words, monologues thrown together with Pi Day and murder-inspired prompts given 30 minutes prior, would be interpreted by the performer. Others, holding the pages of words written by strangers, wondered how their enactment would be received by the crowd. As player after player read the pieces, I was nervous about how my work would go over; I hadn’t heard the word “monologue” until well after the assignments were finished, so my piece was a three-person, one-act play, with only one person to play all three roles. And I wondered whether to slink out the door and not suffer embarrassment — let alone how I ended up there in the first place.

***

I was always a shy person, but I had friends in childhood. But I became more withdrawn in junior high and high school as the combination of isolation due to being ostracized at school and feeling helpless at home due to a pestering brother and increasingly absent father led me to shut myself off in my bedroom. It took finding a voice in writing in my junior year of high school to feel like I had something to look forward to after classes, and a few good friends senior year of high school became my light out of the emptiness. But then I went away to college, and it took a few weeks to find a solid group of friends to bring me out of my dorm room.

This pattern persisted throughout my early 20s, relying upon friends to dictate my social life. But within a year of moving to Phoenix from the Chicago area, I realized that I had to be the catalyst to have fun. And so I found myself indulging in more activities on my own, from concerts and movies to long drives and comedy shows, and there were many days and nights at home playing video games or watching movies. I started trying activities that I previously thought impossible, such as longform improv and sketch writing.

There was (and is) that part of me that still relied on friends to feel like I had place to belong. But the longer my tenure into Arizona, the lonelier I felt. And when I finally moved to San Francisco, I hoped that those Phoenix friends that blazed the trail to the Bay Area would have more time to hang out. Again, I found myself twiddling my thumbs at home most nights. I quickly realized that I would once again have to find my own path to amusement — this time in a new city. So I turned to the internet for recommendations and felt overwhelmed with the culture, entertainment and food at my disposal. Being an introvert with a frugal streak, I found that careful selection of activities would ensure having something to look forward to as well as downtime to re-cooperate after a long workday; free events one night a week sandwiched between maximum chill time was my new way to live.

One of those lifelines was Funcheap SF, a website that clues city folk into the happening spots and events on a daily basis. I found that comedy events and absurd one-offs (like a “Real Housewives”-inspired table-flipping contest) appealed to my unique sensibilities. And a few days ago, I learned of a writing event that involved drafting a script based on a prompt given by the organizers. I added it to my calendar, but as the hours wound down to the event, I started getting cold feet and debated making it another movie night. But I pulled myself off the couch and onto the bus to take me

***
Staring down potential awkwardness in front of a live audience, the actor tasked with reading my lines figuring out how to pull off all three characters of what was supposed to be a one-person monologue, and hearing great works fired off in unison, I fought the urge to flee. And sure enough, the actor for my “monologue” was called last. And he was great, giving my words life and wringing laughs out of a mash-up of a murderous Pillsbury executive and the prompt “what do you mean it’s no bake.”
As the audience laughed and clapped, I was happy that I didn’t chicken out of staying for the performance — let alone leaving the house. I felt that while I didn’t follow the rules to a T, basically playing out like a lot of things in life, I could get over the hump and accomplish what seemed to be insurmountable tasks. And now I feel empowered to find my way out more often — with a bit of downtime for good measure.
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