I have had the habit for many years of stepping forward when others don’t. It seems to happen when it might be embarrassing because it is taking a chance in public in front of friends. The situation is always one of improvisation on an undefined field of what is to be done. It differs a little from stage improvisation, where anything is acceptable and there are no wrong behaviors. On stage, the other actors in the events are there to help you, and to make you look good. The rule of those fellow improvisers is to respond with a hearty “yes and…” to everything you say and do. You can do no wrong because they are there to pick you up if you break a leg and fall on your face.
In other, perhaps more real life-like situations, the other people there are more motivated by attempts to prove that you are wrong. In those more common scenarios, the common polite phrase is, “Yes, but … ” followed by an attempt to make the way you have just said or done something look wrong, or foolish, or absurd, or even stupid. That is much closer to the environment I spent my fifty adult years in Berkeley coffee shops immersed within. Thus, my training isn’t as an improviser, or a debater, or as a psychiatric confidant, but as a raconteur.
What is a raconteur, you may ask? Usually, it is defined as one who is skilled at telling stories, or when not so skilled, as a bullshitter. In my self-chosen environment of trying to reach a little beyond the undefined but bordered-veil of a conversation, in an attempt to find a deeper meaning in those cloudy places, I lose the positive virtues of the raconteur because I break contact with my interlocutors’ visual imagery and then appear to them to be a bullshitter or worse … crazy.
The more willing I am to step forward past the social veil and into the unknown murkiness of the realm just beyond accepted social customs, the more likely it is that I will lose contact with whoever is there to potentially participate.
There was a call today to an audience of over a hundred people for someone to come forward and be a sub-audience for a little story about to be told that might require some participation. I was near the back wall and furthest from the potential action when it became apparent that no one was willing to step forward. So, I did. While I was walking up the aisle I motioned to people in the audience to join in and a few did. We were asked to sit on the rug at the front of the crowd.
While we were sitting there, the whole audience was asked several difficult questions, like “What do you know for sure?” and there were a few answers, “What don’t you know?” and a few answers. Then, of course, the mike was in front of my mouth and I hadn’t had a chance to think, as had the other members of the audience who had raised their hand.
I had been thinking about something absolute, like a number, and was mentally going over pi. That is 3 point 14. But, I knew that was wrong … only a rough approximation. Did I know that for sure? Not really, but I had been told many years ago that it was an infinite number. What’s the proof? I don’t know. A web search gives pi = 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286 – but what does that mean? It is only an approximation.
So, there I was distracted by the thought of something I simultaneously knew and didn’t know. And, I knew that I knew and didn’t know. My head was slightly turned down when I noticed the mike a few inches in front of my face. I don’t know why I said …
I know that I should treat others better than I treat myself.