The stage was dark, only a few dozen seats lined up and half filled in the blackness, while Jane prepared herself to take the stage. Sweetly, light-heartedly she came out to the lights blasted and told us that should we need to leave, the exit was in the back, an additional policy on photography, and the pertinents. It was Jane as herself, but not Jane as the candid performer she was about to become; a bit of casual calm before the drama to unfold. Then blackness again. Spotlight up. A young girl, childhood Jane, wraps herself in a modest white-frilled dress, and prays before us to God for answers. For crushes. For clarity. And for her own freedom.
What followed was a brilliant hour-long mix of monologue and something akin to stand-up, bits of dance and re-enactments of desperate pleas to God. As if naked, Jane stood modestly before us and through tears and laughter and often both, detailed the story of her life in the Mormon church. Amongst her dedication to the story that was supposed to be her life (get married, stay mormon, go to heaven) was an honest portrayal of a woman lost, a woman curious, a woman hungry yet too humble. From childhood through a sexually repressed young adulthood, love and marriage and loss; that is to say, losing and finding herself, Jane’s one woman show brought an intimacy between performer and audience I hadn’t expected to feel.
This was the first one-woman show I’d ever attended, and part of the Fringe Festival in Los Angeles. Directed, written and produced by Jane herself (the friend I often write about here, she is one of my many muses), I arrived feeling excited and left feeling intimidated as well as thrilled by her capabilities. One woman, one show, many jobs and many responsibilities. In so many ways, the entire production (in the making and the performing) is a metaphor for life itself: That we project ourselves onto the world trying our best to be honest with ourselves, as we attempt to put on a good show with our time on earth and do things right, yet honor the fumbles and struggles as they allow us to enlighten and grow as individuals. The show plays before the eyes of those who love us, of those who rely on us, while behind the scenes we do the taxing work of putting all the pieces together to get ourselves on stage in the first place with something to show for ourselves.
Her show debuted in the same week that another girlfriend attempted to do much the same, on a much smaller but more daunting stage: holding an honest conversation with a family member that might make or break their bond. She was grappling whether to have the sit-down at all, whether it’d be worth it to force her loved one into a conversation in which she could finally clear her conscience and admit what happened and why, knowing that baring her soul this way might make the relationship yet more strained.
“Life is short,” I told her. “Too short to hold it all in. Just know you’re saying it for you, not them. So say it in a way that’ll make you feel better knowing you can’t control what they’ll give back. If anything.”
One woman on a stage telling the whole world her truth: how hard it can be to choose loving yourself over meeting the expectations of people you love. Another woman on a phone, or maybe a couch or a kitchen table, telling just one person her truth: how hard it can be to live without the love of someone who’s expectations you didn’t meet. There is no right or wrong outcome in either confession; only the transformative power of being honest with yourself while in the eye sight of others. Our lives are not lived in vacuums; we are communal beings that need connection and love. But what is love without honesty? If it is anything, it is certainly more beautiful when it is honest despite the pain it causes, than when it lies to keep a perfect facade and feels, or reveals nothing.
Our lives are our stories, and our stories are our truths even when we tell ourselves untrue stories of ourselves. In a video sent to me by another lovely friend (yes, I know, I’m blessed to have filled my inner circle with spiritually minded geniuses who send me TED talks for fun), writer Emily Esfahani Smith discusses what makes a life worthwhile, striking the distinction between happiness and meaning. Meaning, she argues, offers a more fulfilling experience and more contentment that goes deeper than superficial, temporary happiness.
To find meaning outside of ourselves is to find community, contributions, creative endeavors, and to enjoy life long learning. To find meaning in ourselves happens in part by what Emily calls the fourth pillar: storytelling. To write our past, present and future as something of our own divining, something of our own creation with the meaning we designate. We can tell ourselves the story of our victimhood, or of our triumph.
So as these two women bravely stand up to share their truths in such different yet similar ways, I stand ready to catch them should they fall and applaud them when they don’t. Telling the truth, writing your story to have the meaning you deserve, may make the knees buckle and the heart race. But all main characters face strife in a hero’s journey. So even if from the floor on battered knees and hands clasped in prayer, there is meaning to find in why we hurt, why we break, and why we must make mistakes and learn from them. Why we must leave marriages or relationships behind. Why we must face ourselves and disappoint others in order to become who we are meant to be.
I am not an island apart from them; I am facing down my own harsh truths this week and gaining the strength to tell them to the people that deserve to hear them. Gratefully I’m inspired by both women who continue to show me the power of honesty and the strength of vulnerability.
If you too find yourself facing a truth you know you need to admit to yourself or finally share with someone else - be it through anger or kindness - let the meaning of your mess be what breaks you open all the further to your most fulfilling life.
Can I find the strength - even if it causes pain to be strong - to be honest with myself about how I live my life and who I want to be?
Will sharing my truth in any way (words, art, actions) enhance the meaning and experience of my time on earth?
Are there truths from others I have been avoiding in order to avoid being hurt?