Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Strings

“It’s no use listening to what people say, words are only there to hide their thoughts.”
–Terry Pratchett

Characters:
Maggie–age 43
Man
Woman

Maggie will wind string around the stage. She should start with a thinner string visible to the audience (i.e. yarn) and progressively move up to thicker strings until she ends up with rope. She is wearing pyjamas and fuzzy slippers. It is Christmas. She has presents wrapped under a small tree. Man and Woman will play all the other roles as needed.

It is important that Maggie’s lines are read with nonchalance and with the kind of chipper attitude of a woman having spent her entire life telling everyone (herself included) “No, don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” Even self-deprecating lines need to be said with an air of aloofness as if she believes she has let go of the hurt.

Maggie: I have a theory for life. It goes something like this: We start out in life with total, complete, and unadulterated self-confidence...which is destroyed by the time we get to junior high...we then spend the rest of our lives trying to rebuild that lost confidence. That’s my theory. Where does the confidence go? You’d think that starting out with confidence it would be hard to topple us, but it’s actually quite easy. Like water dripping slowly to destroy a mountain. Like the day I was at Sears with my Mom. I was 5 or 6 years old...kindergarten age, and there was a display of television sets. One set was on “Sesame Street” and all the others were on the news. Obviously this was a mistake so I proceeded to change all the tv’s so they were on the same channel. Just as I finished my artistic work a man in a dark blue suit stomped up to me and shouted...

Sears Man in a Blue Suit: (Angry, but not shouting) You’ve just ruined my whole display.

Maggie: I walked...no, I ran away...to where Mom was in line and then thought about how mean that man was. I’m sure he doesn’t remember yelling at me. And I’m also sure that I’m not the only kid he ever yelled at. But, at the same time I remember it. I think that was one of the steps down from my self-confidence.

(She looks at her strings.) I started out stringing popcorn for the tree. I guess I got carried away.

When I was eleven I was on a baseball team–not because I wanted to be, but because my neighbor was on the team and didn’t want to go alone. I was playing third base at 9:00 a.m. facing the sunrise. Anyway, the ball was hit in my direction and I lost it in the sun. I didn’t make the catch, but I did manage to pick it up and throw it to second to get the other runner out. Upon returning to the coach I said, “I couldn’t tell the difference between the ball and the sun!” And the coach said,

Female Coach: The ball hit your mitt.

Maggie: ...after that year, I didn’t play baseball again...because my neighbor didn’t sign up. I don’t know why I remember these things. I don’t know if we won the season or not. I don’t remember the color of our jerseys or the name of our team, I just remember that one day when I didn’t catch the ball. Isn’t it strange what our minds will remember?

There are other things...positive things, I remember, of course. Like Mr. Firkins, my eighth grade science teacher. I asked him questions all the time. He never seemed to get annoyed or bored by it. Maybe he was happy that I was trying to learn. And he joked with me, too. I think, if I look back, he was my first crush. One day he brought in this cartoon with a bunch of pigs sitting in a little pig classroom...one pig was raising his hoof. The teacher pig said to him, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question, but if there was, that would be it.” Mr. Firkins hung it on the cork board, and smiling, pointed to it and said:

Mr. Firkins: Maggie, this is for you.

Maggie: I giggled and thought it was wonderful. Now it’s just hurry the kids through school and don’t worry about what they learn as long as they pass the state sanctioned tests.

She looks at the tree.

I buy myself Christmas presents. My Dad died when I was sixteen and Mom died about three years ago. I’m single and an only child. I wrap up my presents and put them under the tree with the tags marked to me from different actors. This one (She puts down her string and holds up a present) is the complete “Jeeves and Wooster” series on DVD and the tag reads:

Hugh Laurie: To Maggie from Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry...hugs and kisses.

Maggie: And this one (she holds up another present) is a wok. It’s from Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver: To Maggie from Jamie...you have to learn to “wok” before you can run.

Maggie: (she picks up her string and starts winding around the stage again) It’s a stupid pun, but it really is a great present. I hate wrapping presents...it seems like such a waste of time...but I do love unwrapping them. It’s funny, I get embarrassed whenever anyone gives me a present. I worry that the look on my face won’t match what they were expecting.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, my theory of life. So anyway, these little things that should go by unnoticed stick in our memories. It then becomes a game of teeter-totter trying to balance out the good and the bad comments. Sometimes the good ones don’t get said as often as they should. Or sometimes the bad ones are just heavier than the good ones. It’s like how the Wicked Witch of the West came in on a broom and Glinda came in on a bubble. The broom is ugly but it takes up space and has definite weight; the bubble is beautiful, but light and airy. Glinda’s bubbles don’t add up as fast as the Wicked Witch’s brooms. At one point in the movie Glinda says:

Glinda: Only bad witches are ugly.

Maggie: Which very few people remember, but the Wicked Witch says:

Wicked Witch: I’ll get you, my pretty.

Maggie: And everyone remembers that line; you hear it repeated in all kinds of scenarios, but to find Glinda’s words you have to listen really, really closely.

Junior high and High school are not the place to rebuild this lost self-esteem. It’s a place to try just to survive without too many scars. You’ve got to learn to ignore the girls when they run in to class happy as all get out that so-and-so just asked them to the dance when deep down inside you were hoping he’d ask you. High school cliques with their unidentifiable rules that you can’t figure out if you’re an outsider. The girls who are interested in the boys about two years before the boys are ready and then when they are ready they’re so juvenile that you really don’t want to talk to them at all.

You head to university and by the end of the first year you start feeling like you’ve shed the high school image you had and you start to redefine your life. Many people start rebuilding their self-esteem. But again, it depends on the balance between the good and the bad. For example, you’re in class and you spend time chatting with some gorgeous guy when one day he turns to you and says:

Gorgeous Guy: Maggie, if you were a girl...I mean you are a girl but...you know what I mean.

Maggie: Yes. I know what he means. But it doesn’t matter. Not only are there more fish in the sea there are seven seas to fish in. Anyway, you continue with school and, if you’re like me, you find a brilliant career. (Small pause) Did you ever see that movie?

Movie guy: Judy Davis and Sam Neill star in “My Brilliant Career” directed by Gillian Armstrong. Based on the novel by Miles Franklin.

Maggie: It bugged the crap out of me. Sam Neill is there and this girl chooses to have a career over being married to him. Sybylla even realizes that she’s not beautiful. At one point she says:

Sybylla: I think ugly girls should be shot at birth by their parents.

Maggie: She turned down Sam Neill! (She looks back at the tree) I think there might be a gift in there from him. I wouldn’t turn down Sam Neill. Even in his early days when he was a little too thin.

Anyway, my career. I got an MBA and now work for a large company running Human Resources for their main branch. I love meeting all these people and hearing about their different backgrounds. Human beings are such interesting creatures. So diverse. Every person makes such different choices. We all begin and end in such different ways. I think the most fascinating people are the ones that you’ve known forever and suddenly they tell you something you never heard before and it totally shocks you. It makes you realize that there is no end to what a person can do.

In the midst of my career I started feeling very sick and ended up at the doctors office. The doctor said to me:

Male Doctor: You have endometriosis. It is so severe that I recommend a hysterectomy.

Maggie: My best friend said to me:

Female Friend: I’m so jealous! You’ll have no more periods and you get to go through a doctor observed and medicated menopause. I’m seriously so jealous!

Maggie: She gave me a book by Sheila Martin titled The Worried Woman’s Guide to a Happy Hysterectomy. The whole thing was pretty easy...the surgery and all...and I did have a very quick recovery. The doctors said it was because I lived a healthy lifestyle. Besides, I didn’t have Sam Neill showing up at my door asking me to give up my career for him so I wasn’t really using all that female stuff anyway.

Where was I in my theory? Oh yes. We get into our careers...and, and, and our lives, and we grow older we start letting go of the dumb things that hurt us in junior high. We realize that although at the time high school was life it isn’t real life. We let go of the girls that snubbed us and the boys that were too stupid to notice us. We start rebuilding our self-esteem.

She sits down and starts fashioning a noose at the end of the rope.

Now, some people have an easier time of it and are able to rebuild their self-image sooner than others. But not everyone gets pushed down to the same level. And still others get pushed down farther than we can even imagine. Maybe a point of no return...and there is abuse that we–as outsiders–can’t understand. And of course there are mental issues, like depression. Anyway, we build and rebuild ourselves until we find a day when the bubbles outweigh the brooms.

So, that’s my theory. We start out with confidence and self esteem to rival the stars. When we look in the mirror we see ourselves, our real self. But by junior high and high school we’re destroyed so that when we look in the mirror we only see the ugly parts, the wrong parts, (she touches her stomach) the missing parts. Then we spend the rest of our lives rebuilding our self-worth. Most will succeed.

She hangs herself with the rope.

Female: This theory is completely conjectural.

Male: More a hypothesis than a theory.

Female: She never understood the difference between the two.

Fade out.

3 comments:

Mr. Fong said...

Maaike,

Congratulations! It's always nice when your work gets a little recognition beyond your Mom saying, "Oh, that's nice, dear." Good on yer. I hope you win, too, and blow the pimply people in your writing group out of the water. Because for a writer nothing brings more joy than success while those around you writhe in freakish agony forever.

Sally said...

This is lovely. What a great piece of writing. I'd been wanting to read it ever since I saw you were on the finalist list. Thank you for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Wow...That was amazing Maaike, dear. You are amazing.
Psychic Sister