Tuesday, November 21, 2017

J.T./Elaine: The Grind

Am I some sort of traitor to creative people everywhere for kind of liking Elaine's nine-to-five job?  Since I got into show business as a kid, I've never really had one before; that TV show was probably the closest thing, and then there's tutors, limited hours, and you're looking for something else for at least half the year.  But ever since then, I've met a lot of people who came to acting or music or whatever later, and they've always been disdainful of office work, or hated the jobs they worked whole waiting to be discovered, calling it soul-deadening or shivering at the notion of having to punch a clock.  I've always just accepted that as being the case, and certainly, when things were looking up, I've been the same way.  Why sit behind a desk all day, punching things into a computer, or stand behind a counter selling things, knowing that what you're doing will never be remembered or bring joy into someone's life?  And to imagine doing the same thing for decades, rather than creating new characters and songs...  Ugh, right?

Maybe after I've been at it more than a month, I'll feel the same way, but right now, there's something reassuring about getting up in the morning, taking a train across town, and seeing the same people, trying to build something.  The job I got hired for its daunting as hell - we're building software for a new type of medical imaging system, and there's not a single thing about it that I really understand.  Not the medicine, not the hardware, not the three different programming languages being used, not the way information is being passed between everything.  It should have me exposed as some sort of fraud impersonating a woman with real tech skills.

But, instead, I'm really enjoying the solidity of it.  The product owners, to use the Agile terminology, understand the medicine.  The engineers understand the hardware.  The programmers understand the software.  There are folks who have spent their entire careers testing things.  I'm surrounded by a bunch of really smart people who are making something really useful work, and while none of them will have their name show up in a credit roll after someone gets a scan, that's okay.  It's not like my real name would show up on one of those either.  We've got daily meetings to talk about progress and problems, and it really helps me get a little bit of the same feeling of accomplishing something as I would wrapping a scene on set and doing something different the next.

Of course, they all kind of hate me for those meetings.

Maybe not "hate"; for like "resent".  And I kind of get it; if performing had little "breakout sessions" interrupting the flow of what what I was doing as a performer or I had to write up "stories" for every step of the process, I'd be like "that's the director/producer's job".  So it's kind of a weird tango for me right now, trying to take on as much of that stuff as I can because I want the developers to not resent me or Elaine but also kind of reliant on them knowing what's actually needed a hell of a lot better than I do (which is kind of the actual point even when the project manager isn't an out-of-work actor magically turned into someone else).  One thing Elaine warned me about was not being the sort of manager that makes sure she's always in a meeting - apparently the number one complaint she got when first taking this sort of role was that since her entire job was scheduling and moderating meetings, she never stopped and wound up chewing up everyone else's time as a result.  Not a problem with me, as that's valuable "research to not look like an idiot" time.

The people are pretty cool, too, not the total nerds I was expecting, and there are more women, too, so I'm not raw meat at a sausage party.  We're not exactly a tight-knot group yet, although I do think I've got a bit of a head start on making friends there, as being a tech contractor is kind of like being an actor, where you've got to show up on set and work extremely closely with a bunch of folks you've just met from moment one. 

And speaking of friends and getting closer and such, I had my first real "girls' night" with Elaine's single-lady friends on Friday, complete with that dress I shouldn't have worn for the interview, serious heels, and more make-up than I've ever worn without without bright stage lighting being shined in my face.  It's weird getting ready for that - as a man, there's this creeping "what am I doing?" horror, but as an actor, there's kind of an excitement.  Performing is probably a weird thing to a layperson, but it's a useful mindset to get into if you've been into the Inn.  When I go present myself as Elaine, I'm not really trying to fool anybody, but I'm trying to create an impression.  On stage or screen, the line is clearer - the actor is trying to make you feel something genuine, but you accept that it isn't real. 

I'm not sure entirely what's going on as I meet Dorrie, Diane, and Jezzie at a downtown bar.  The hugging is me doing what Elaine would, and I try to talk about work and things the way she would - for instance, she'd get very upset about guys going around her at work, whereas I mostly don't mind (aside from maybe not knowing what to do, why add steps to a process?).  But there's a lot of this life where I'm just being me to the extent that I can, and it's kind of weird trying to explain why something was cool or frustrated me in Elaine terms, especially since these seem to be very much black-girl friendships, and there's likely to be some bit of context I'm missing.

I'm learning a bit, though; we went out dancing after the drinks, and that was an experience.  I've been to clubs that mostly served an African-American clientele before, and I sort of took the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb with me at first, but Jezzie pushing me onto the floor made it a bit easier for me to act like I belonged there.  The girls teased me about how it had been a long time since I'd been out dancing - I guess having a bit of booty to shake doesn't keep you from shaking it like a white guy, plus Cary tended to stick around with Elaine-Mackenzie rather than go out - but didn't act suspicious about my being "out of practice".  I don't know if I dance better in this body, but I feel like I get a lot more attention.

On the one hand, it's kind of nice to know I make a credible enough Elaine to get guys deciding that they want to dance with me, which is a little unnerving.  You hear that your orientation will adjust to your body's, and even if I haven't played a gay guy once or twice, a guy expressing interest shouldn't be something to get you upset (you've just got to learn to say "sorry, not into that"), but being midway between the two, you're not sure how to react.  Well, you're not sure until someone grabs your butt and pulls you in, and then it's like, whoa, personal space!  That's kind of a hard thing to assert on the dance floor, because it's hard to break the rhythm, but I did dis-entangle myself from the first guy before retreating to the ladies' room, and "my girls" had my back, although they wondered why I was being so timid.  Elaine is apparently not shy about getting a hand on his chest, pushing away, and warning him not to do it again, slapping if necessary.  She gave me a demonstration on Skype on Saturday, and I kind of feel nervous about trying to be that much a black woman.  Sure, it's kind of cute coming out of a white preteen, but it kind of makes me worried about stereotypes and going too far.

Guys grabbing my butt aside, though, I had fun.  I kind of wish I'd be able to try again this weekend, but it's time to meet Elaine's family.

-J.T./Elaine

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