I didn’t know about her for years. Never heard of her. Then, one day, in the period I would soon dub ‘the dark night of my ex-husband’s soul’ she came. A light dawned.
I’d always been a creative girl, a passionate teen, then while wedded I morphed into an unsure and eagerly accommodating woman. When I finally acknowledged the “past due notice” and filed for “the divorce,” I realized I couldn’t speak. No, listen, I could string words together, I could even sound coherent on occasion, but the kernel of “me” at the heart of it all was missing. When did I grow so soft?
There I was, plowing through the molasses searching for my focus when, at a Screen Actors Guild Directors’ meeting, I met Nat Benchley. ‘Benchley, Benchley, let me think,’ I thought as I smiled that smile and shook his hand.
Nat immediately had me smitten, as most brilliantly eloquent men do … I do love a great mind. And his was incredible, I thought, until … well, his nickname for me was a little off putting. “Reverend Gorgeous.” I can barely type it even now. It makes me blush, and warms my heart. But that’s not the point here. The point is, Nat was sharing with me stories about his grandfather Robert, and how this woman, Dorothy Parker, was his sidekick and best friend.
Well, I’d never heard of the woman, and you already know exactly what I did. I looked Dorothy up, bought her books, checked her out … and thought, ‘HEY! I recognize that voice … that irreverent, brilliant, hysterically ironic voice. It . Sounds . Like . Me .’
So that was the first step, learning about Dot. The next meeting Nat and I attended was in New York, and he decided we should go some place called the Algonquin Hotel. Over martinis with three fat olives he educated me on the infamous “Vicious Circle” and — as we sat at that very same round table, regaled me with tales of how his Grandfather and Dot would hold court there everyday at lunch. And so, we and our colleagues sat. We laughed. We drank. Because, you know. Dot and Robert.
Hirschfeld drawings of Benchley, Parker, and company lined the walls. The more I learned, the more I was convinced: Nat and I should do a two-person show, Robert and Dot. I mentioned it to him. He loved it. But life got in the way, as it tends to do, and we never happened.
That was years ago, and I only remembered these things when reading a piece this morning by Dorothy Parker. I’m much older now, and am not sure I still have the swagger necessary to deliver a good “Dot” onstage. But I love my warm memories of Nat Benchley. I continue to relish Parker’s writing, her voice, and the very clear knowledge that it was she who, thanks to Nat, helped me find my own.
Truth is something I think most claim to be aligned with. Many people swear they are always on a quest for truth. But I wonder: does anyone know what they’re saying? And if they do, do they really mean what they say?
I go through deliberate periods of brutal self-examination. I’ll confess, I don’t do it as often as I should. But when I’m in the process of it, I have a “no bullshit” rule; I force myself to face the true things about me and how I view life. It’s not fun. It can be exhausting, and humbling. But to live authentically, or “in truth,” isn’t it crucial? For me, the answer is yes.
I think we want to believe we are who we claim to be. But pretty much always, in many ways (sometimes most ways) we’re just not; it’s very easy to get off track and not even know it. And to not even think about that possibility.
We often choose positions and embrace opinions about things, and then “back the information in” that will support what we’ve already decided. It’s true. We all do it.
And we gravitate to others who agree, because it’s so much easier to surround ourselves with people on every strata who reaffirm our stories. … Then we can convince ourselves that what we’ve chosen to believe is authoritative; good, and noble. Being a member of such a group renders us reassuringly superior. It’s great to feel so right.
With the best of intentions, we dress our parsing, our denial, in beautiful stories … stories of bravery and justification; stories of righteousness and independence.
And yet, truth just sits there. It does not shout. It does not defend itself or try to convince. Nor does truth move, or shrink, or change, based on our opinion about it, or our unwillingness to acknowledge it.
Every night, when the darkness comes, and we lay our heads down on our pillows, that truth … that quiet, unassuming truth that lives at the center of every good thing … revisits our hearts. We know. In that deepest part, we all know.
And every night, in each of these quiet, private moments shimmers an opening; the chance to say “yes” to the rattling of our tidy preconceptions. Relaxing our hold is the willingness through which we can climb, into a world fraught with things that were, things that are; a vast universe of open-ended questions and limitless possibilities. The mysterious and miraculous are waiting for us there.
It only takes one brave, courageous moment to let it pull us out of our defensive rightness.
Just once, let’s refuse to roll over, turn our backs to it; let’s refuse to continue the nurturing of our own self contempt.
This one small choice; this different choice – when applied in enough hearts – is sure to transform this weary, broken world.