In 1999 I saw a film directed by Spike Jonze, starring John Malkovich as a fictional version of himself, called “Being John Malkovich”. In the film, actor John Cusack, plays Craig, an unemployed puppeteer who finds a portal/trap door in the office where he is doing temp work as a filing clerk. That tiny trap door leads to the inside of the fictional John Malkovich’s mind (played by the real John Malcovich).
Craig enters the small door hidden behind a filing cabinet and finds himself in the mind of John Malkovich, able to observe and sense whatever Malkovich does for fifteen minutes before he is ejected and dropped into a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike…beginning a weird obsession with the experience. He gets a side business going, selling access to Malkovich’s inner sanctum: $200.00 for 15 minutes. Finally he gets the thing wrong and ends up permanently in a whole other character’s inner life and unable to get out.
A little over four years ago I walked into a field of vast projections of many about a fabulous woman whom I had never met. She was the Co-founder and lead personality of a kind of phenomenon in New York City, a spiritual center/social gathering/inspirational home to many, and after a ride there of eight or nine years, left her role as leader.
So this is where I came in. I was hired, sort of, to be the Director and charismatic fictional replacement for this marvelous person, about a year and a half after she had left. I had no idea that I was walking into my own version of the trap door behind the file cabinet. From the second I arrived in NYC, where I lived and worked for twenty wonderful years in the 70’s and 80’s, I found myself entering a vast field of projections…most of them about the elusive previous leader..
I finally figured out that I was hired to fill in some space she had left empty, but what that space was about had essentially nothing to do with my gifts or talents or…well, it had nothing to do with ME! It was wild! I have short cropped hair, am a charismatic story teller/ actor who is also an ordained minister. I think that was the basic niche I was hired to fill…but content was not required…there were plenty of her tapes and CD’s around so I could just stand in and…Hmmm, and do what?
See my thing was that I really wanted to be back in NYC, AND I had a gift to deliver to my many wonderful friends there in the theater, who had endured the AIDS crisis in the late 80’s. I actually left the city for California in part because I was going under with grief all those years ago, and while I had a wonderful acting career on both coasts for many years, the undertow of AIDS pulled me into a new career of ministry.
I had a really cool and creative ministry in Long Beach, CA for eleven years, and weirdly one day a friend of a friend Carolyn, came into my office after a service and said,” You remind me so much of a friend of mine in NYC! You two should meet! You would love her!!”
So by the way, if anyone ever tells you that you remind them so much of someone and that you should meet because you will love one another etc…RUN!! I mean, you can either run or not, but my life experience has shown me that this kind of thing rarely works out.
Anyway, no matter what I did to break the spell, my experience as the character in the projection screen was a huge crazy lesson in saying yes to that little door behind the filing cabinet, and ending up stuck in somebody else! It was TOTALLY WEIRD to realize that almost everyone I was talking to had a kind of lens in their 3d movie glasses, or tinted contact lenses, or Persol shades, of somebody else’s face..
I learned from being the screen on which many people’s unfinished business with the founder of this super cool place was projected, who she was to THEM, to the many people who had positive/ negative/ aspirational/ acquisitional fantasies, agendas, hurt feelings, memories, unrequited love affairs Etc. with this magical mystery character. I was sent to be a holographic replacement for someone who had a real Hermes bag and was fabulous in many ways…
But see, nobody can be somebody else. (although the Hermes bag part sounded intriguing) That projection screen was WAY too alive for anyone to walk into with a new idea…especially someone who was hired to basically be a body double!! And THAT was simply not my thing at all.
I did meet her once. I went to hear her speak at a weeknight gathering in Manhattan. She was all I had heard…charismatic, inspiring, cool in many ways…Afterward I greeted her and she said, “You look just like your picture.” Mmmm Well I guess that is a good thing!! I mean, I hate those resume shots of people that look like they looked forty years ago. I left humming a tune from Chorus Line, “Who Am I anyway, Am I my resume…This is a picture of a person I don’t know etc.”
So, I am sure you got the point of this a couple of paragraphs back, right? We see WHAT WE SEE THROUGH…and that is a lesson about LIFE!!!
Another interesting thing.last year, after a great four year’s in NYC, I walked back into a different projection screen in CA…based on my OWN previous Jane Galloway self and my work in the community- as seen through different lenses. It has been a sweet and sort of weird ride to experience that too!!. I am super touched by some of it, a little uneasy about some of it, and aware in a new way that who I am …and of course by extension, who YOU are, is ever evolving. But I will own my projection screen. I guess I earned it!
I can tell you for sure though that I am Jane Galloway, not John Malkovich, Michael Beckwith or…you know, not a holographic stand in for anyone! And YOU dear friends, are YOU…not a second rate impression of anyone else. And that is the coolest thing of all really!!
And by the way, I am so grateful…I DID get to deliver the gift to my own T.R.I.B.E. in NYC last Spring…We collectively welcomed back so many dear, talented friends who left us during the AIDS epidemic. Graham Haynes played the coronet, and a beautiful guest artist played a sitar and we welcomed them back. We called their names and wrote their names and celebrated the coming together in the Invisible of the whole cast of characters.
And maybe that was what I went back to NYC to do.
So thank you talented founder of a phenomenon, for inadvertently opening that door behind the file cabinet for me to find my way back to some of my own unfinished business. And thank you to every soul who shared your journey with me. She sure magnetized some cool people!! You really are all so sophisticated and stylish and talented in many ways …It was an honor to be your projection screen for a minute. I look forward to meeting some of you one day!
I am excited about the projects I am working on now. Stay tuned for Rev. Your Recovery coming in June, for a new book on 12 Step Spirituality and a prose poem/performance piece “Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Heaven Ain’t a Goin’ There”, about St. Louis and me and Ferguson and you…
And while I would love to have a real Hermes bag for a day, I really hate having to carry a purse at all.
Only you can be you…and THAT is where the great trap door behind the filing cabinet opens for us…into the fullness of our own magnificence.
See you at the movies:) Happy Spring!!!