Monday, September 01, 2008

Things I Don't Know

I'm up early this morning, more out of anxiety than anything else. In about five hours I'll board an express bus to midtown Manhattan, where I'll catch a cab to Brooklyn, where I'll dump my stuff before a 6:00 meeting with my director so that I can put together a list of things I need to do before tomorrow's 1:00 p.m. rehearsal.

It feels a little like leaving for college. I expect to learn more in the month ahead than I have in years -- not just about the process of putting on a show, but about all kinds of things. I'm throwing myself outside my comfort zone, and it's good for me. The one advantage of being single at 42 is that I can do this sort of thing without anyone calling it a midlife crisis, or disrupting anyone else's lifestyle and expectations.

But the month ahead is going to be a major exercise in learning what I don't know, which inspired the topic for the coming year.

The "Answer Girl" persona started as a fictional character in a novel I was writing (which I may one day get back to, but who knows). I use it ironically, but it's taken on a life of its own. It is not unusual for me to get phone calls from dinner parties or e-mails first thing in the morning from friends who have questions they think I can answer. It's become a party trick; sometimes makes me feel like a circus freak, and sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud, because I don't always know.

I collect information. It's what I do for fun and anxiety relief, as if knowing Gerald Ford's birth name (Leslie Lynch King, Jr.) or the capital of South Dakota (Pierre) could protect the people and things I love from harm. It is massive, nearly compulsive overcompensation for my acute awareness of all the things I don't know -- like how much it's going to cost me to live in New York for a month or how I'm going to get all my work done or how little sleep I can survive on for the next six weeks. Or why my hair is suddenly so gray...

But I also don't know bigger things, like why John McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate or how Barack Obama plans to pay for universal health care. I don't know why the levees in New Orleans aren't ready for another hurricane, and I don't know where those two million people have gone.

So this year's blog is going to be all about things I don't know, and how I deal with that ignorance. Sometimes I'll look it up; sometimes I'll make it up; sometimes I'll just deal with the anxiety. And every day, by posting the topic on the blog, I'll ask you.

I can use the help.


Moira said...

Very cool. Look forward to it. BTW, this article from the NYT speaks to this anxiety in young women entering the workplace. That they have to be perfect (know everything before they speak). And that can paralyze them. For some reason, many men don't feel that way.

I hate to admit that this struck a chord but it did. You mean the work place is not a meritocracy?!

Go for it, Clair. Fake it, till you make it!

(say hi to Matt)

AnswerGirl said...

I saw that article and recognized the world she was writing about; it was certainly that way 20 years ago, when I entered the workforce.

But I also wonder whether every younger generation isn't surprised anew at the older generations' expectations that they should pay some dues, and wait to be asked for opinions they may not yet have earned a right to have.

How's that for curmudgeonly?

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Brilliant theme, I can't wait!

Things I DO know: it will be thoroughly engaging and wonderful. Looking forward to another year of reading to look forward to.

Larry said...

In response to Moira, my company frequently hires summer students going into their junior year of college. I have seen no evidence of the females holding back. Quite the opposite in fact They tend, more so than the guys, to jump in and offer their thoughts as to how the job can be done better and more efficient.

Anonymous said...

My take has been that one knows what they know, and that is always re-assuring.

It is the concept of "I don't know what I don't know" that makes it exciting.

Maybe Finding out new stuff can become the new confort zone.

How is Dizzy taking it?


steve said...

Good luck with your new adventure. We will miss you at Apple Butter time.


Ed Lamb said...

The things you don't know could fill a thimble. Is this new theme really just an excuse to get away with a single post per month?

-- Ed

Claire said...

I'm sure Chris and I share some blame for the onset of greying.