the rest of us
I don’t know how to write stories about heroes. I don’t relate to heroes. I don’t know how to write characters who are exceptional human beings.
I was watching American Sniper and it came to the part where Chris Kyle was in boot camp or whatever it’s called for Navy Seals. They were all being pushed to the limit physically and psychologically. They were being yelled at by the drill sergeants or whatever they’re called. There’s a bell that any soldier can go to if they want to quit. They can ring the bell. They can go home.
I was immediately certain that in the same situation I would ring the bell. I would go home. I would quit. No question. There’s nothing funnier to me in a comedy than when a grown up runs away from danger. It cracks me up every time. (Christopher Guest turning and running from Mandy Patinkin comes to mind in PRINCESS BRIDE). Alas, American Sniper is not a comedy. So the first guy goes and rings the bell. We see in his body language his shame, his sadness. We don’t see his face. We don’t know who he is. He’s merely a device to show us how different and special the hero of the movie is. His character. His toughness. His mentality and commitment. I so wanted the film to take a hard left turn and follow that guy who rang the bell. Back to his bunk. Packing up his stuff. Calling his family. I’m coming home. I quit. I can’t do it. The bus or plane ride. The deciding what to do next. Applying for jobs.
You know, the life I’m familiar with.
I’ve given up before. I called my wife one morning ten years ago and said “I have a drinking problem.” She came home. We dealt with it. It’s been ten years without a drink. February 4, 2005 to be exact.
I’ve also stuck it out before. Last week as my class of first graders was having a collective fit of sheer rambunctious insanity, I had the thought that I could just leave. I could go to the office. Turn in my teacher’s badge and say, “Sorry. I can’t do it.” I didn’t. I stayed. I watched the clock. I went home. And I went back the next day. And the next. And I'm going tomorrow.
But I’m no Chris Kyle. Few of us are, which I guess is why we watch movies about people like him.
I don’t know how to tell those stories. I tell stories about the quitters. The weak. The selfish. The afraid. The rest of us.
I have lots to be thankful for and at peace about.
I can find plenty to worry about.
I have some things to be scared of. Right now especially.
But I realized since we started rehearsals for another production of my play International Falls about a standup comedian at the brink of ultimate sadness… I’ve faced hecklers at a dive bar in Alabama. A casino in Michigan. A roomful of drunk Canadians in Minnesota. And now I’ve faced a roomful of first graders and kindergartners who very similarly have no control over their behavior. Who might be coming from less than ideal homes. Who don’t have any sense of how their actions affect others. And who have zero interest in what I’m trying to teach.
So in a sense I feel invincible. At least as far as being a performer goes. A person who stands up in front of people to tell stories or communicate ideas. I suppose I’d be nervous facing a roomful on inmates, but far less so now.
All the people I follow on Twitter are people I envy. Same with Instagram. As I teach my students all day, between classes I look at pictures of what full time actors and actresses are doing. Lots of pictures from the set. Photo shoots. The spa. The hot lunch spot. I’ve noticed that Anna Kendrick and I have very different lives, and that’s just the way it is.
I don’t have a good ending for this one. I’m ringing the bell and going to bed.