As long as I can remember, I have had my nose to the grindstone, learning early in life how to tune out the noise of the rest of the world around me. I developed such a keen muscle for exclusion that when I had children, I actually had to train myself to pay attention to them when there were ideas in my head. Which there always were.
This was good for finding the perfect line or word in a play or a poem, but not so good for keeping toddlers alive or maintaining a career. The work was everything; making friends in the theatre, making connections, and going to parties interrupted my train of thought, so I didn’t do those things. (Though, trained well by a mother who had once met Eleanor Roosevelt, I did write thank-you notes to producers when they produced my plays.) Though I had few role models, I saw no problem in trying to become an important woman playwright in what I knew was a man’s theatre, as well as a mother, a wife, and an equestrienne; but I had no time to fritter away. I just had to work harder.
I have two close incredible friends named Amy. I call them Amy1 and Amy2. Amy1 is a fine actress and director whose work against child abuse in our county has made an enormous impact. Amy2 is a gynecologist, the only friend Amy1 and I have ever had who has seen our cervixes. Recently, on the way to a matinee in New York City, a two-hour drive for us, Amy2 told us about a book called The Confidence Code, which she had been listening to on her iPhone as she drove to hysterectomies in the mornings.
If I made bets on these kinds of things, I would have wagered my IRA that Amy2 had a lot of confidence. So why did Amy2 need more? Her answer: the world has changed for doctors, and she can’t practice medicine the way she wants to anymore. Read the book, she told me.
But when I uploaded the book on my iPhone, I had to keep pulling over as I drove, to find a kleenex and clear my glasses. The book speaks about how girls are still raised to be Good rather than Who They Really Are (OK, duh, I knew that.) It speaks about brain development, and how the male and female brain is, yes, wired differently, but not essentially; that boys lack language skills until their 20s, thereby excelling earlier in math and science, while exactly the opposite is true for girls, who develop language skills early and come to math and science later—and they both meet up in their early 20s, brain-development-wise.
But later in the book, the talk turns to women’s behavior in the workplace, where all the training in goodness and putting your nose to the grindstone leaves us in the lurch as we compete with men who have the—dare I say it—confidence—to take risks, promise things they aren’t even sure they can deliver, demand a worthy price for their work and generally have a much better time because they can relax and be who they are. And go to parties.
In my immersion in my own work, I failed to notice when I turned 50. That the kids went off to college, the dog passed away, the phone stopped ringing. Who am I? I wondered, still at my desk. The good girl I was taught to be? While everyone else was at the party? What good did that do me? Is that really who I am?
I love parties! I always have! The rules of behavior that I had set for myself were so stringent that I was holding myself back, not moving forward. They had morphed into a defense against a world that finds it hard to give opportunities to women, a moral stand. Quite understandable. But not much fun.
I realized that the party required no invitation. And that it wasn’t a place where I needed to pretend to be someone else; it was a place where I could test my real self. And, even better, I had plenty of Amys to go with!
I grew up amidst the most recent Women’s Movement, but our culture still finds it difficult to accept the female point-of-view in the theatre. I find it very difficult to accept that. But fearing that attendance at the party will take away my chance to be an important writer is perhaps really a fear of being my true self in person, forward and in heels.