Occasionally a friend will tell me he (or she) admires my confidence, and ask if he can “run some small problem by me.” “Of course,” I say. I like to listen because I believe that often we can arrive at our own answers just by sharing our thoughts with another. Sometimes I am tempted to confess that I am not as confident as I seem, but I like that I appear confident and so I never do. I like that people come to me; it is my way of making friends. I didn’t have friends growing up and have been shy and lonely much of my life.
Something interesting has happened from all this: In pretending to feel confident for so many years, I find myself actually feeling confident now. I am 76 so this did not happen overnight.
It happened slowly, very slowly after I left the East Coast, and moved to Los Angeles. I was in my early thirties. In L.A. I learned what it meant to have an “interior life,” and attended popular workshops such as EST, and “retreats” of various kinds.
I heard spiritual gurus on television, read books by May Sarton, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinum and so many others. I was fascinated by the strength and independence of these women and more influenced by them than I knew at the time.
My own background is very different. I was born Jewish in Nazi Germany, my family fled at the eleventh hour, and growing up in lower-middle class Jackson Heights with my strict, Germanic parents kept me fearful of the world.
Coming to Los Angeles in the late sixties with its landscape of gorgeous flowers everywhere, its purple mountains and vast Pacific Ocean, its strawberries in January… was like waking up in a fairyland.
One weekend I found myself at a workshop in downtown L.A., standing in a gym, the size of an airplane hangar, along with hundreds of people, both men and women, of every age. I must have looked bewildered because a young man standing next to me said: Are you an actor? This is a workshop for actors, you know.
No, I didn’t know. I’m a writer, I told him, confused. Doesn’t matter, he assured me; it’s all good. More than a little bit anxious, I stood there and waited
I don’t remember much about the workshop except at one point a young woman instructed us to form groups of four or five, go to a nearby restaurant for lunch, and each pick a role and create some sort of skit which we would perform upon our return. We would be given feedback from people in the audience. Somewhat in a daze, I attached myself to a group and sat with them at lunch. They seemed to know one another and chatted easily about the role each chose to perform. I felt an intruder, not being an actor, and could not imagine getting myself up on a stage.
I envied their imaginations, how at-home they felt with this assignment which scared me to death. I said nothing, wishing I were invisible until the dreaded question came: So who are you going to be, Duffie? All eyes upon me, I groped for something I hoped I could pull off. I was a mother of two and knew how to do that. A mother… I’ll be a mother, I told them. Satisfied, they continued talking to one another, and I went back to breathing.
But as we returned to the vast auditorium, I felt that something was not right. Walking along I argued silently with myself and finally announced I had changed my mind.
Playing a mother, I told them, is not a challenge. I had paid good money for this workshop and it would be stupid of me not to learn something from it. So, what have you decided? they asked. I enjoyed making them wait for my surprising answer. Finally: I’ll play a prostitute, I said quietly, matter-of-factly as though my heart was not in my throat. Their reactions did not disappoint me. For an instant they stared at me, then at one another.
Suddenly, the lone woman grabbed my arm. You are sooo lucky, she said, excitedly. I have the perfect dress for you in the trunk of my car. It is white, skin-tight with a slit that goes higher than high, and a plunging neckline that will knock their socks off.
I swallowed hard and pretended calm. I felt tsunami strength waves of fear in my throat, stomach, my head and my heart. But there was no turning back. We walked to her car where she pulled a dress from her trunk that was every inch as she described it. I heard grunts of approval from the witnessing males and felt nauseous, wishing I could faint.
As I write this now, I remember none of the skits that came before mine, and then there I was… on a barren stage bursting the seams of this sexy dress that was two sizes too small for my ample size 12. I was vaguely aware of countless eyes peering up at me, waiting. I had no idea what to do. Suddenly one of the men in my group got down on all fours and without hesitation I climbed on top of him, spread my legs wide, one on each side of his muscular torso. Still today, I cannot explain that I could do this but I honestly did not give it a thought. In some sort of desperate frenzy I shook my boobs, hugged his back, sat up straight, waving arms and legs, squiggling around, jerking my limbs every which way, using my face (opening my mouth, closing my eyes: feigning ecstasy), moaning like I was dying, doing everything I thought a prostitute might do.
The audience went wild. I tried not to look at my generously proportioned boobs bobbing up and down, threatening to leap out of the bit of lace barely containing them.
My audience began cheering, egging me on, and I became a woman in heat… an unknown experience for me. The cheering grew louder and then, as from a far and distant place I heard a rhythmic clapping begin. The mother in me was far away; the hooker had replaced her.
I was shaken as I drove home but I felt strangely validated, that I had been applauded for doing something hard, for being someone I did not know I could be.
For those few minutes I had let myself go, and I felt a new wave of confidence… the confidence that comes from taking a risk… and doing something I had not known I could do.