Hello &

Hello &

Wentworth Earl Miller III

Wentworth Earl Miller III



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Duck's Back!


She was hard to miss. Which may have been the point.

Pigtails and pinwheeling arms. Bright tube top and a miniskirt. On roller skates.

She seemed to be having a good time, orbiting this busy intersection at rush hour. Voguing and freestyling. Talking to herself. Dodging cars and directing traffic. (And pedestrians.)

I got the feeling she’d been doing this awhile. That this was her thing. (And her intersection.)

Sitting in my car at a red light, watching this person’s progress, I had several thoughts. The first was that she was probably familiar to locals. “Oh yeah,” they’d say, nodding. “Her.”

My second thought - more of an internal directive - was to put her in a file labeled “Mental Health Issues (Serious).” Next to “Men Who Scream On Street Corners (Assorted).”

Was that cool of me? Kind of me? Fair?


And it’s what I do. If I'm being honest.

I profile people. Put them into categories. Like “Okay” vs “Not Okay.”

It’s an old habit. Automatic. And it keeps me safe.

I’m a queer POC and no stranger to mental health issues. I’ve had my own periods of pigtails and pinwheeling arms (figuratively speaking). And as I move through the world it serves me to Keep An Eye Out. See Who’s Here.

Fast-forward a month.

I was near the same intersection, on foot this time, about to enter a store. I approached the door and she appeared, zipping in front of me, cutting me off, blocking my entry.

Same outfit. Still on skates. Putting her at eye level (or higher).

Surprised, I took a step back. And paused. Unsure of the script.

She sighed theatrically, looking from me to the door then back to me. Then she narrowed her eyes. Called me rude. Asked me why I wasn’t holding the door open for her. Before I could respond she opened it herself and skated inside, leaving me on the sidewalk. Nonplussed.

The whole thing was bizarre. Totally random.

And not a big deal.

Because I’d already filed her under “Mental Health Issues (Serious).”

Anything she said to me, about me, and around me would be and was perceived through that lens. And not taken personally. Wasn’t taken personally.

I’d already assigned this person a value, been prepped to interpret this odd moment as being about her. Not me. As soon as she turned my way I understood I would merely be the screen onto which she projected... whatever inside of her needed projecting. I was prepared to hold a quality of space for her I don’t hold for everyone else. Flexible. Neutral. Objective. One that allowed her to be exactly who/how she was and for me to walk away from our exchange with nothing more than a story to tell. 
Neither angry nor offended. Shaken or stirred.

Like water off a duck’s back.

Now let’s say I was about to enter the store and a man walked in front of me, cutting me off, blocking my entry. He’s well-dressed and groomed, with trendy facial hair. As he opens the door he throws a look in my direction, hisses, “Faggot.” Then goes inside.


Say I’m about to enter the store and a different man cuts me off, blocking my entry. He’s unwashed and unkempt. Wearing 10 coats. “Ranting” and “raving” to no one in particular. As he opens the door he throws a look in my direction, yells, “Faggot!” Then goes inside.

Do I chase him down, get up in his face? Call him out?

Sure. I could. But I wouldn't.

Because even though what he said was to me (seemingly) and about me (seemingly), relevant to my identity (technically), I would know it was really about him. Not me.

Or rather, I would have already decided it was about him.

Because projection is a two-way street.

The moment I saw 10 Coats I would assign him a value - “Mental Health Issues (Serious)” - then sit in the perspective that whatever he said subsequently, I would merely be the screen onto which he projected... whatever inside of him needed projecting. Hold for him the same quality of space I held for Roller Skates. Flexible. Neutral. Objective.

Back to Facial Hair.

The difference between him and 10 Coats is presentation. How he looks/walks/talks. His overall vibe (“Normal”). Then again, for all I know Facial Hair should also be filed under “Mental Health Issues (Serious).” Right next to Roller Skates. For all I know, lashing out with the f-word is his version of pigtails and pinwheeling arms. Who’s to say?

Following that line of thought, I could, conceivably, hold the same space for him. (Flexible. Neutral. Objective.) In which case, rather than his “Faggot” slicing me open and triggering a scene, I’d instead watch serenely as his verbal grenade sailed up and toward me, arcing through the sky... before falling short and bouncing away, detonating somewhere offscreen with a harmless pfft. I could walk away from our exchange with nothing more than a story to tell. Neither angry nor offended. Shaken or stirred. “Duck’s back” and so on.

Easier said than done.

Yes. Sure. I could conceivably assign everyone - like, everyone - the same value. I could file everyone under “Mental Health Issues (Serious)” and never take anything personally again. Like, ever. Move through the world with the understanding that what other people say and do - to me, about me, around me - is about them. Not me. When confronted with the next person’s variety pack of -isms and -obias, with however their personalized or “normalized” version of pigtails and pinwheeling arms happens to be manifesting, my attitude could be, “I don’t know your story or what brought you to this place. I will do what I need to do to keep myself safe - bodily, mentally, spiritually - while recognizing it is you who are in crisis. Not me. I will do my best to hold a space for you that is detached yet present. Compassionate even. If that feels right and/or appropriate. And not at the expense of my own person.”

Easier said than done.

I’ve got 4+ decades of conditioning working against this. 4+ decades of categorizing people.

“Okay” vs “Not Okay.”

“Normal” vs “Not Normal.”

“Take Personally” vs “Don’t Take Personally.”

The fact is, if I’m approached by someone who looks/walks/talks a certain way, a way I’ve been taught by culture and experience to identify as “Okay” and “Normal,” it’s likely I’ll take personally whatever they say and do. And react accordingly.

It’s likely I’ll assign them a “Take Personally” value first and then, once they prove to be rude/offensive/threatening, try to backpedal toward “Don’t Take Personally.” Without success. Because it’s too late. I’m triggered. Shaken and stirred. They’re under my skin.

Complicating matters is that Taking It Personally is part of my professional training. I spent years in acting class learning to “open up” and “let my guard down” so when a scene partner says That Thing meant to trigger That Reaction, it lands. Hits home. And something happens to me that’s worth filming.

I thinned my skin. Intentionally.

That learned openness doesn’t just click off when the director yells “Cut!” It’s interesting to me how some folks will tsk-tsk when a well-known actor spins out in public. “Dra-ma!” Well. Yeah. That’s why they’re well-known and not still waiting tables. The best actors have learned to Take It Very Personally (IMO). Whatever “It” is. They’re reactive. Sensitive. (Roller skate-ready?) And the world - busy Manning Up and Buttoning Down - pays good money to watch.

I’ve been facilitating my FB page for 2+ years, posting carefully selected links, videos, and notes about 5 days a week. All my posts are personal (that’s why I post them). Then strangers visit my page and project onto it... whatever it is they need to project. Much of what they write is about themselves and each other, but a lot of the comments are for me (seemingly) and about me (seemingly). Needless to say, it’s been a learning experience.

A pattern I’ve observed is that - unless I make a conscious choice not to beforehand - I will automatically assign a “Take Personally” value to comments from people I’ve never met and never will. I’ll allow strangers under my skin.

This has led to an upset or two.

Not long ago I posted something or other in response to something or other and one of the follow-up comments was, “Why do you have to take everything so personally?”

Because it’s my personal page.

Kidding. (Kind of.)

The truth is, I had been taking some of the comments personally. And (one might argue) foolishly. Since I have no idea who’s commenting. (Roller Skates? Is that you?)

“Why do you have to take everything so personally?”

Initially this read as scolding. Like as an adult or a man or famous (or all three) I should be Above That. Not Letting It Get To Me. Taking The High Road. Turning The Other Cheek.

Then I reminded myself that I don’t know this commenter. Their history or where they’re coming from. What brought them to this place (my page).

For all I know that comment could’ve been left by a kid being bullied at school who - finally working up the nerve to seek help from a teacher/counselor/parent - was met with a shooing gesture and a dismissal: “Why do you have to take everything so personally?”

Now they’re on my page (because they’ve seen me on TV) asking a question they legitimately need an answer to. Because they’re trying to save themselves. To make sense of a world in which we’re routinely shamed for being sensitive. For Taking It Personally.

What I would say to that kid is this: I think being sensitive is a good thing. I think Taking It Personally is a good thing. It’s made me the man/actor/writer I am today.

I wouldn’t change that for anything.

I would say being sensitive is what makes us human. That people who Take It Personally change the world. Get sh-t done. Why? Because we Make It Personal. Whatever “It” is.

I would also say that, being sensitive, it serves me to continue to practice being sensitive to others. To practice holding a certain quality of space. To assess, to the best of my abilities, whether what someone says to me, about me, or around me is really about them. Not me.

And react accordingly

Sometimes being sensitive looks like knowing when I don’t need to Take It Personally.

Sometimes being sensitive looks like recognizing that no matter how the next person looks/walks/talks, no matter how well-dressed or groomed they might be, they could very easily have a pair of roller skates sitting in the back of their closet at home.

Just like me.

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