Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Safe Words

What is it to be an adult? Obviously this is a silly question, since if you've met any number of adults you know there are as many answers as there are grown-ups, but it's the sort of dilemma that founders many of my generation and social position who are held suspended between adolescence and adulthood by education and inclination. Right now there is a box of birthday presents from my mommy sitting on my bureau. I considered that it was the final test of adulthood to see whether or not I would be able to resist opening them until my actual birthday tomorrow. My friend offered the opposing view that the final test of adulthood was to be able to open your presents whenever you pleased. Ultimately, I think, I'll know I'm an adult when I don't have a box of presents from my mommy, but I'm in no hurry to grow up THAT much. Anyway, as a delayed-gratification aficionado of long standing - I haven't opened any of my Advent calendar chocolates yet in anticipation of a birthday gorging - I believe I will abstain.

When coming to adulthood in the biological sense, however - which is now at least a decade before people in my situation are expected to actually be adults - one of the most potent lessons is that words can hurt. In the numerous painful episodes which have constituted my relationships with women it has often seemed essential to put names to what was going on, to define 'where we were' precisely. I'm sure this is a common enough phenomenon. "We're not 'going out,' but we're 'seeing each other;'" the reluctance, or overwhelming desire, to nail oneself down with the label 'boyfriend.'

As an actor one of the most satisfying revelations, which I have had over and over, is the thrill of taking an ironic stab at a line, trying to play its 'opposite,' and learning again and again that the truth of the moment lies in its literal honesty. To make the decision that the character means precisely what he says - what a joy. And when that honesty can also so effectively 'get what you want from the other' - when it is not just sincerity for sincerity's sake, but genuinely railing at your partner's stubborn refusal to see YOU - that's good theatre.

So the point is, words are extremely effective. This point was driven home to me this morning, in the last day of my 23rd year, when two Secret Service agents rang my bell. They were following up on a post I had made two days ago on the message board of a Facebook group in which I... well... said I intended to kill the president. Rest assured I was making a point! The point, in retrospect, seems pretty stupid: that we don't really expect shit we say on the Internet to be taken seriously or go anywhere. I was responding to the case of this guy who had made assassination threats online and was now facing the possibility of 35 years in prison. Everyone on this message board, titled "Stay In Iraq Until The Job Is Done," seemed to be of the opinion that the guy should have seen his punishment coming; I was claiming that we don't, and therefor he had no reason to. So, I wrote what I did, which I'm frankly too nervous to reprint here, and it was hyperbolic and used the phrase 'rhetorically' twice and specifically claimed that I was saying what I was 'to make a point' once. I was pretty confident that even if it were brought to anyone's attention it would be immediately obvious that there was no reason to waste manpower on such a claim. Clearly I was mistaken, though wouldn't it be a better world if I hadn't been?

Anyway, they were very nice and understanding. They asked what I had meant by the post, what 'facebook' was, where I was from, my travel plans, whether I had any survival training (ropes courses do not count, evidently), whether I liked the Tar Heels, and generally tried to ascertain whether or not I was a genuine threat to national security.

Listen: obviously this was my fault, and in retrospect it seems obvious that something like that could get me in trouble. On the other hand, Jesus!

So, if the Secret Service has the resources to send two nice guys with similar haircuts and North Face jackets to the apartment of every dude who threatens the president (and his or her family and cabinet... sheesh that post is less funny now that I reread it) I can only conclude that they might keep an eye on me for a while. So, I've probably tripled the readership of this blog.

Yaaaay, happy birthday to me!