Confidence Games

“It’s a confidence game.” He explained to me.

“You’re an art dealer, there’s a buyer; you’re selling fakes and he’s not rich. Everyone’s playing each other. Everyone’s in on it. A confidence game.”

“That’s the theme anyway.”

I found myself at the Public Theater, meeting a director who, after talking to me in line at a show called “Rambo Solo”, had decided that I might be right for a part in his next downtown-theater mash-up.

In truth, there was some vindication in it. I could be pissed off finally at the theater teachers of my youth, Ms. Baehr and Mr. Meacham who cast me in side-lined roles and drove me (mercifully) from a future as a “drama kid”.

But I also felt taken aback.

Why would somebody who met me in a line waiting for a show think to cast me in a play. What was it?

“Well,” he told me. “Honestly, you talked to me about theater in the line and how you love it and you had so much to say.”

“And I thought to myself, this guy’s got some confidence. He could sell it. And I thought, why not give it a try?”

I smiled.

“Now do you think you might have problems memorizing lines?” He asked.

“Well,” I told him. “I’m good at Karaoke.”

***

Is it wrong that I’m the kind of guy who needs to get a little confidence to have some?

Just a little confidence mind you, not a lot.

When my therapist asked me if I was the sort of person who depended on other people for my self-opinion, I told her “No, I don’t think so.”

And then after a moment:

“I mean, well kinda. But no.”

That might seem like a back-handed admission, but I think it’s probably more complicated than that.

For instance, the other day I found myself applying for a job (as I do so often nowadays), I sent in my cover letter and my resume and I got an email back.

The email was of a simple mass type, with a little bit of personalization (It included my name).

It simply told me that my application had been received, that qualified candidates would have two-to-three rounds of interviews and that they would keep me posted.

Stepping away from my computer, I felt it.

“Dan!” I announced as one might announce grandly over G-Chat to a friend.

“I have just received a letter telling me that I am in the running for the position. They have emailed me back! Ha-ha!”

Except I said “Ha-ha!” neither in a Nelson-from-The-Simpsons way (Haha!) nor in a casual laughing sense (ha,ha), but rather in the triumphant roar of one who was at least under consideration for a job, for in the land of the blind men, the man under consideration to receive an eye at least, well, he’s doing pretty good.

Except all of this was on G-chat so it probably lost its intended fervor.

“yeah” was Dan’s monosyllabic response, which came much later, probably not until after he’d taken a shower or something and when I asked him if he applied I met a blank screen staring back, wondering at the efficacy of G-Chat for immediate communication.

Still, I had gotten a confidence boost.

Similarly, when I go to my writing group every week, I make it a point always to bring in pages of my own. Something inside me tells me that if I want an environment of working writers, I have to hold myself to the standard I’d hold them to and come with pages every week.

But everytime I write my pages, a dread fills me of how they will be received. Will the 5-6 people who attend weekly find them wanting? Trite? Laughable (but in a bad way)?

Inarticulate horror mixed with vertiginous anticipation fills me, much as waiting for the results of AP scores once did.

But so far I’ve been coasting and every week I hear people tell me “good job”, “I really liked it” or “It’s great to hear your pages.”

When I hear things like that, a part of me blanches in embarassment or happiness, but another part of me grabs the comment and builds with i so the next time I say something douchebaggy or authoritative, I can mentally reference the praise or the happiness shown to me by someone and use it as a bulwark against uncertainty.

“Oh,” I’d think. “I can give suggestions to other people about their writing because I’ve had X,Y and Z tell me they like mine.”

Similar to this is how I functioned in film school, with what seems now like an upward build toward self-satisfaction. The same friend from G-Chat, Dan Pleck, would mock me on the set of my films and when I was talking with an ex-not-girlfriend of mine who was younger, on how I always seem to give advice, which is as much about my fond memories of earlier years in film school as any sense of expertise.

In other words, I can feel confident in certain situations by reliving good experiences from the past, no matter how minor they might be.

***

The inverse is also true.

When I feel I have no experience or only bad experiences in something, it’s hard for me to take a leap or act brave.

Contrasts of this are apparent, like on Karaoke Mondays where I belt out songs and always keep going even I mess up or make a “vocal miscalculation”.

When I went this Monday, sans a certain Beardo, my friend Andy Roehm stepped up to come with, making it a drunk-old-time, singing AC-DC and songs in falsetto.

When I trapsed around the bar, singing Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”, I was congratulated about “my baritone” and given a thumbs up by the bartender Colin, the karaoke DJ we love and respect.

But when Andy started asking me about my love life, I didn’t know what to say. I had always felt like to get in the game you needed some experience and I felt that all my experiences were poor or sorely lacking if present at all.

“Don’t matter, dude.” Andy offered. “Best thing I ever learned was that most girls are just like guys: DTF. They’re looking to fuck just as much as us.”

In some ways, the thought of that was even scarier than the idea of persuading them.

And even my Karaoke skills were built up through Rob telling me after every number that he liked it “for it’s class”.

Another place I face this is in my improv class, which is all the harder considering how I expect myself to be at good at it and find myself instead falling flat at every exercise, seeing my classmates get better.

Every time I sit down from volunterring for a sketch or a scene, I sit down less willing to go back up again. After all, I’d just messed up the scene before and with enough consecutive chances to prove myself blown, I felt like I was on a downward hurl.

“You are the only one who can defeat yourself.” My dad told me. But the nerd in me thought, “Well a ninja or a samurai could defeat me too.”

My brain went haywire. I was terrible at improv. I was terrible at life. I smelled bad. I hadn’t taken a shower. I was gaining weight. Seth Rogen was losing weight.

This was not a cycle I wanted to continue.

But then a girl in class gave me her number and asked for mine.

And then we talked about in being in film school and PAing.

And then we did a sketch where we two hipsters in a record store where she mocked me for not liking Joy Division because it wasn’t obscure enough.

And then we made plans to go see a show later that night.

And then I went to the bathroom at the place my class is held and looked at myself in the mirror, looked at my hair and turned sideways and thought:

“You know my hair gets curlier when it ain’t washed. Maybe this night won’t be so bad.”

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