I adored the birthday celebrant. But when, after the cake and chatter, we had to go around the room and each of us had to say something about her, I decided to punt, offering a touching but innocuous accolade before passing along the “Talking Stick” – yes, there was an actual a “Talking Stick” which, when in your possession, meant you unilaterally held the floor. And were required to tell the Truth.
I felt excruciatingly “on the spot” when the “Talking Stick” was handed to me and the room came alive, at least to my ears, with one of two responses, the more pervasive “Now we’re going to hear something” mixed with a minoritarian undercurrent of “Here comes the TV show writer showoff.”
My impulses, or at least the more aggressive of my impulses, encouraged me to “play the moment”, reinforcing the prevailing impression that I would rise to the occasion. It occurred to me to begin my remarks with a truthful though self-effacingly delivered,
“I can be very entertaining.”
I would get my laugh. And then unexpectedly “turn the tables.”
“And I can be blisteringly tedious.”
It was unlikely they had seen that coming. Nor the ensuing “payoff”, which is this:
“And I can’t tell the difference.”
the laughs – in the form of relief that I would not be descending into mea culpa-ish confession – rewarding the surprising revelation.
I would then finish with my deeply felt, totally accurate, compliment to the Birthday Girl:
“(The Birthday Girl) does me the great generosity of acting like she can’t tell the difference either.”
That’s what was in me to say. But instead, I fumphered a sincere but generic compliment, referencing love and appreciation, before unburdening myself of the “Talking Stick” to the next speaker on my right. There was a palpable feeling of mumbled disappointment. I was happy to be off the hook.
I still think about that. About not taking the risk, fearing criticism and abuse. Ah, well. It was fine. Nobody remembers.
The moment returned to me recently. There is a message of significance in what I had thought but not said, beyond the truth that (the Birthday Girl) always treats me as if I am sagely insightful and endlessly entertaining (I know that a number of my views stand in direct contrast to her own.) That is her great gift to me. And I kind of wish I had acknowledged it at the party.
But the more pervasive issue reflected in my undelivered remarks is this:
A lot of the time, I am clueless as to what effect I am having.
I truthfully quite often have no idea if I’m connecting, or if I am unwittingly digging my proverbial grave.
I write in this location five days a week. I express my views, I look back on my experiences, I engage in comedic experiments of various sorts. There are people out there who read this. Sometimes, there are comments, sometimes, there are not. I am not beyond wondering, on occasion – for example, this occasion – as the late mayor of New York, Mr. Koch, used to say,
“How’m I doin’?”
I think I’m doing okay. But I'm aware that I’ve been off-base before. You see, I’m inside here. And I'm not sure I'm the best judge. For example, if somebody asked, "What do you consider to be your best posts?" I'd say, "I have no idea. I think they're all good." Do you notice a certain lack of discrimination in that statement? I mean, I have my favorites. But that doesn't mean they're good. They may just be the ones I fooled myself most about.
Maybe you could help me with my perspective.
It’s not that I’m fishing for compliments. I may well get the other stuff. Which I am really not excited about, for two reasons. One: It doesn’t feel good. And two: If, by adjusting to external feedback, I surrender the best thing about blogging – the unfettered freedom to write whatever I want – it might inhibit my productivity, and diminish the fun.
A lot of my career was anchored by my belief that I knew what I did best, keeping assiduously clear of straying from the formula and paying the price. (A Three Amigos reference. Did you get it?) But thinking back, I am not now certain I was the most accurate adjudicator of what I did best.
My misjudgments, in fact, may have unnecessarily deprived me of exciting opportunities. Also, sticking strictly to “being me” may have come with an unknowing “down-side.” As I did not say at the party, unlike show business, not everything about me is appealing.
Take a moment. If you’re a regular reader, let me know why that is. If you’re new – welcome – and what are you noticing? And to those of you who’ve stopped reading…yeah, that’s not gonna work.
Once, at the end of the filming of the pilot of Best of the West, I (uncharacteristically) asked a departing young audience member, “What do you think?” To which he replied, “It’s better than I can do.”
The answers may not be exactly what I’m hoping for. But, if you want to know something that requires going outside yourself to find out, every fourteen hundred and forty blog posts or so, it’s not a terrible idea to ask.