Sunday, March 29, 2009

Changing Room

I'm supposed to believe in change.

After all, I live in the land of reinvention, where more people have plastic surgery than live without televisions. What's more, I work as a therapist, and what the heck is a therapist supposed to be if not an agent of change? My whole professional life is predicated on the assumption that I can help children to change for the better.

And yet, I've always doubted. I've long suspected that more of brain functioning, more of personality and ability, is pre-programmed then we care to admit. I've long wondered if I actually help my clients in any meaningful way. And I've long questioned whether the person I am at 28 is substantially different from the person I was at 8.

So anyway, I've spent the last three days attending a lengthy professional conference put on by my state association. It's the kind of event that has always terrified me: three whole days of hobnobbing with strangers punctuated by periods of furious note taking. But I needed the continuing ed credits, so off I went to drift through a sea of SLPs. They -I should say we, though I appeared to be the sole individual with two x chromosomes and no purse- are a remarkably homogeneous lot: 98% female, 98% white, 98% sweet, socially-savvy, and sorority-minded.

At the conference, change was everywhere. Laws were changing; there were workshops about this. Preferred practice patterns were changing; there were workshops about this. A dapper old man played Before and After vocal samples and told us we were "trainers of cells." Exhausted, glazed, hopped up on bad coffee, I started to believe. Not because I'd taught any cells to roll over or play dead, but because by the end of the conference, I'd collected three email addresses, two business cards, and an invitation to someone's son's barbecue.

A friend once told me it took her years to understand that she was beautiful. In high school, she'd been a geek, and for almost a decade afterward, she assumed that's what people saw when they looked at her. Her beauty finally dawned on her sometime in her twenties. She was at a party, well-dressed and carefully made-up. Some guy was hitting on her, some conventionally-dressed, conventionally-minded everyman, and suddenly it occurred to her: he had no idea she watched anime and played chess, that she'd won the state Spell Bowl two years running. He couldn't tell.

At 8, I would speak to only two people in my ballet class of 20. I was terrified of adults and the telephone and people I didn't know, and if my parents took me to a party, I would find someplace to hide. At 28, I still dislike parties, the telephone, and people I don't know. I still like to duck into the bathroom. But a couple months ago -in my other life a musician- I subbed with a group successful enough to have a booking agent. Unbeknownst to me, the agent came to the concert to make sure the subs were up to snuff. I played and bowed and came out into the lobby as usual to do the dreaded yet required post-concert audience schmooze.

Later, the booking agent introduced herself backstage. "You played well," she said coolly, and then her eyes lit, "and you were terrific with the people afterward."

You could have knocked me over with a feather. No one can tell.

It's a strange thing, to realize you're passing, you've been passing, you've possibly passed for years. It's both liberating and oddly sobering, as if a distant, imperfectly-loved relative has died. You're free. You're on your own. You're not who you thought you were.


Samantha said...

Andrew & I (and most everyone we know) talk about "imposter syndrome" ... how we know perfectly well we are not the intelligent, knowledgeably, socially-skilled professionals whose guise we seem to be wearing, and we wait for those who hired us/schmooze with us/admire us to figure out the horrible truth. Congratulations on continuing to fool people when it counts!

Andrew said...