Four Words I Never Thought I’d Say

Mar 30

I once covered my concrete cubicle at a soul-crushing job in red construction paper. The fluorescent lights and white walls were emotionally debilitating. The eternal power point presentations defeated me. Office gossip dulled the once-sharp edges of my brain.

Hence the red construction paper. It was a desperate move in self-stimulation.

Although it paid the bills in between acting gigs, after ten years in the corporate world, and this particular company for four, my general life enjoyment was simply shot.

During lunch breaks (the ability to take two hour lunches when the boss was traveling equaled only by the ability to cheat on my digital punch clock), I’d clutch onto every possible kind of excitement: A new sandwich at The Corner Bakery. The walk sign at busy intersection. A temperature change. But if I had the time, I’d sit at The Coffee Bean and write, chasing my imagination like a drug addict.

Writing was my second love to acting. It fed me when a stage or camera wasn’t available and so I stole time whenever I could. An hour with pen and paper would remind me who I am.

Then I’d return to my concrete fish bowl, phone light blinking, only momentarily refreshed. Defeat would set in again as I took messages for a nice man only a few years older than myself, about whose private life I knew just a little too much.

I wrote on the sly at my desk, hanging document holder angled so that no one could see my computer screen.  When people commented on the obvious secrecy with which I worked, I responded, “My boss is the VP of the division; I deal with a lot of highly sensitive material, so I have to be careful.”

We sold shampoo.

To scratch the persistent itch of my imagination, I used my co-workers as character studies. In between sending emails to the team and reorganizing files into brightly colored folders, I wrote about the office folk behind the hanging document barrier:

Every time Mike comments on someone’s lunch, the implication to offer him a taste hangs in the air like a wet tongue.

Yesterday the new CEO demanded to change his extension number because it had triple sixes in it. Today he outlawed the annual family Halloween party. Tomorrow I’m coming to work dressed as a ghost.

After Fred was fired, I discovered his desk drawers bursting with unopened IRS letters. Every time he went through his mail he must have stuffed these letters into his bottom drawer like he was snuffing out small fires; a physical manifestation of his littered subconscious. It must have been hard not to cry as he was escorted out of the building.

Using my imagination kept me alive. Otherwise, I would have happily stuck a pencil in my eye every day just to feel something other than whitewashed, florescent-lit boredom.

The red construction paper turned out to be a red flag; I couldn’t take it anymore. Shortly afterwards, I left my bloody walls, traveling boss and the free shampoo with the sole goal of improving my daily life.

Now I don’t have to tape paper to walls or write about my co-workers to stay stimulated. I don’t have to dream about how a number two lead in my eye might actually brighten my day with a trip to the hospital.

Because I can finally say four words I’ve never been able to say before:

I love my job.

Three nights a week, I spend my time with actors. As a teacher at the Margie Haber Studio, I coach them through their fears, show them how to expand their imaginations and guide them to being fully present and connected to the other person. Instead of struggling to beef up a presentation about a new conditioner, I’m constantly cheering the baby steps – and giant steps – my students take. Their personal and creative progress is my new drug.

When S– first got in front of the camera, he refused to look at me, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration while “acting.” He was protecting himself; it was scary for him to connect to another person. But with just a bit of encouragement and guidance, he made a giant leap into his own vulnerability and took the risk of showing it. He went from looking like a caged animal to a real, sensitive human being longing for acceptance like the rest of us.

And instead of taking advantage of my co-workers in my mind, I can turn to the page. Instead of red construction paper there is a script and in that script, people are living their lives. My students and I use our imaginations to make these people real.

RDM: We know you spent the day with her and her son. But what happened specifically? What was the moment you fell for each other?

Student: We were at the zoo and her son wanted to feed the giraffe, but he was too small to reach him. So I lifted him up to give the giraffe a peanut. Then he held onto me and I looked at her; she had this – smile. You know, that smile that means she was feeling something for me and that was it – I loved her too.

These are the true collaborations. In my red-papered jail, I screened unwanted phone calls, scheduled time for him to eat, and shuffled papers from one place to another. My job centered on telling a 45-year-old man where he needed to be at every hour of every day.

Now in a room with movie posters on the wall, I’m coaxing my fellow creative artists to trust themselves. To find their power. To expand their imagination. To listen and connect. To live. We work together; I may have a more detailed map of where we’re going and a familiarity with the terrain, but they know where they’ve been and who they are.

Copying and collating my shampoo boss’ sales presentation for his 10:30 meeting rewarded me with a paycheck so I could feed myself. The reward for guiding my students to a more creative, playful state so they can fully live the life of each character is pure excitement.

No red construction paper required.



6 Responses to “Four Words I Never Thought I’d Say”

  1. Jen says:

    Thanks for sharing! Has to be an amazing, wonderful relief to be able to say those words! And you created that for yourself!

  2. Heather says:

    Great story!

  3. Alfi says:

    "an hour with pen and paper" (away from work)
    "no one could see my computer screen" (at work)
    Oh, right. That was in the prehistoric period before laptops.

    "Yesterday the new CEO demanded to change his extension number because it had triple sixes in it. Today he outlawed the annual family Halloween party. Tomorrow I’m coming to work dressed as a ghost."

    Now THAT'S funny, particularly if it's true, which wouldn't really surprise me.

  4. Yuri Lowenthal says:

    Awesome. I love that you love your job. Also, you should now write about your old job.

  5. Oscar Wildeman says:

    A co-worker once said to me that Confucius had a saying that once someone found a job they liked, they no longer worked. I regarded this person for a second before telling him to f#%k off.

    Glad you aren't working any more, Robin. 🙂

  6. Oscar Wildeman says:

    Oh, and great piece!

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