Through A Glass, Darkly

Several years ago, I performed in a Joyce Carol Oates play entitled “I Stand Before You, Naked.” (Now don’t go off on a tangent here. It was not a nudest piece!) The script featured a series of monologues — the stories of some serious screwed up people.

I recall the essence of my own monologue, the story of a repressed, socially awkward woman who had begun writing to and formed an attachment with an emprisoned serial killer. She — I — married him and defended him during my stage time, despite his horrific crimes. Though I don’t remember the other stories and characters, they were all seriously … well, let’s just keep this G-rated and say “messed up.”

One thing I recall very clearly is that despite our screwed up psyches, we uttered our truth without subtext. We had no filters and no layers. We were who we were and we didn’t need to apologize or hide. We showed our truest selves without shame.

But in today’s reality, many among us have learned to be Tentative, with layers and layers keeping others out.  They are layered to hide feelings and thoughts in case others don’t like them. Some of them — it might even be you or me — are like an onion, hiding truths so deeply we become a mystery even to ourselves and battle warring emotions and desires. Some among us speak in half-truths, hiding genuine feelings or thoughts from those who might not like what we think, believe or have to say. From those who might dislike or judge us. Layers become an M&M protective coating, sheltering us from cruelty, unkindness and an unforgiving world.

Some say what is expected. Correct responses and rapid agreement prevent discord or arguments. It’s easier to avoid conflict. Some even manifest this thinking in layering the clothing they wear, mirroring their complex psyche. Their appearance to the world hidden along with their deepest thoughts, beliefs, idiosyncrasies, uniqueness, quirkiness, etc. They fear — like middle school students — they won’t be accepted if they don’t go with the flow and keep their heads down.

I don’t know when this begins in our wacky society. People put it all out there on Social Media yet hide behind technology in doing so.  As children, we are uninhibited, spouting our thoughts without subtext. We like or don’t like. We want or don’t want. Very simple. But somewhere along the line we meet Fear and Judgement in a dark alley, they whisper doubt into our ears and we begin to hide … to layer.

How much simpler it would be if we were authentic and genuine with each other. There would be better understanding and less buried subtext.

When I prepare for an audition, I review character lines and break apart monologues. And you know what I look for? The subtext. The feelings, thoughts and words not written but spinning around in the back of a character’s psyche. For nothing is as black and white as it appears on the page.

Oh, I know some of our layers are designed to protect others. And I’m not for a moment suggesting we let it all loose without regard for the people who surround us. I’ve read posts about letting go and caring for ourselves above all else, without consideration for those in our path or surrounding us — the people who love and are connected to us in some way. I honor the idea of self-care, I really, really do. Yet I can’t embrace or get behind the  “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead”  approach that blasts and shatters esteem or relationships with people in our paths in our effort to get our truths known. We need to display a bit more regard and grace than that. Can’t we find a way to be true to our deepest needs, beliefs, thoughts, ideas and selves without dismissing the needs thoughts, beliefs, feelings and ideas etc of others as “their problem?”

My faith-based upbringing can’t support unkindness. I truly believe we can find ways to speak our truths and peel back the layers without hurting another. Kindness is crucial in our world. It’s a Golden Rule.

Perhaps the beginning of all this layering goes back to the origin of our species. No, I’m not talking Darwin but Genesis. Adam and Eve once walked in the garden naked and at ease with the world. But a little bit of extra Apple-infused knowledge and they discovered deceit, the seduction of overthinking, and the doubt of acceptance. And they hid.

So here we are. Layered up. Onions.

It’s the pitfall … the thinking of Admiral Jessup in “A Few Good Men.” Remember the scene? When pushed he exclaimed to the courtroom: “Truth? You want the Truth? Well you can’t handle the Truth.”

Perhaps we can’t handle it, bluntly spilled out like blood from a knife wound. We’re not equipped for it after years of following scripts and tip-toeing around societal expectations and norms. We fall back and hide subtext along with our authenticity and deepest thoughts. We wouldn’t be loved if we spoke them. We wouldn’t be accepted. Heck, we may have buried them so deeply that we aren’t even sure what they are anymore.

But one day, I will know, even as I am known. For now, I see Through a Glass, Darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know, even as I am known (1 Cor. 13:12).

Layers. Subtext. Onions. Perhaps that’s why peeling onions makes us cry. There’s a lot inside an onion. Sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes you can only take a little at a time. But, as a Curious sort, I have to try to peel …

— Jenni


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