Stuck in the Theatre of my Mind

I am standing in a downtown Starbucks, in the heart of officeland, with my son. The Starbucks is full of government workers but also just far enough away from my old office building that it’s unlikely I will meet anyone I know. Still, I see a few familiar faces, faces from another life.

For a moment the two worlds collide. The world in which I am not a government worker, but a writer and a mother, and the world in which I was a public servant and will be again soon.

I know I belong in the first world. I’m not sure about the second, though 12 months ago I would have said the complete opposite.

Immediately, subconsciously, I start to wonder: Do they notice me? Do they know me? Do they remember me? What do they think if they do? Or do I simply look like any other mother, out buying her kid more treats than he probably needs?

The theatre in my mind rages. That theatre that I people with characters drawn from my life, feeding them lines from my dark fantasies – or nightmares, more like. I give them a script full of judgement and criticism directed only at me. I send them out to wander upon the stage of my thoughts. I let them take over. I let their judgements take over. And I lose myself.

A man in the Starbucks stops my son, who is wearing his new Torres jersey, and asks him who he’s cheering for now that Spain are out of the World Cup. They have a quick chat and the man moves on.

Why did I assume it would be all about me anyway?

I have realized lately that this theatre of mine is open most of my waking hours. Some of my sleeping ones, too.

I am trying to turn off the lights, send the actors packing, shut it down.

The same day that I stood in Starbucks, I also ran into someone from my distant past. It was a dark, difficult time back then. It involved my ex-husband, his abusive and evil brother and his brother’s then-girlfriend. She has since managed to escape his grasping, nasty clutches but when we were all wrapped up in each other’s dramas – I in theirs more than anything, as I kept mine to myself – I thought she was just as culpable as him, just as untrustworthy.

I ran into her yesterday.

I was letting her walk out the door; she had walked past me without recognizing me and in that split second, I decided to let her keep going. But at the last moment, she stopped, turned around stunned and asked, “Is that you!?”

We chatted. We filled in some blanks for each other. I realized that the conflict she embodied was not hers. And the discomfort and fear I had always felt around her was more due to that long-running theatre of mine – and of course, the very real threat her ex-boyfriend had posed.

The other thing I realized as I talked to her and as I thought about her afterwards, thoughts interspersed with “I can’t believe I met Gail*,” was that you can never truly know another person. You can speculate, using the information you have. But in the end, it’s all perception. The “knowing” is an inference. But you give them the role you think best fits them and play them out across the stage of your mind anyway.

What good can come of this? It takes you away from the real world with the real versions of the people in it, and anchors you in your head, in your imagination. It makes it nigh impossible to learn any more about the real them, and colours them with your own fears and prejudices.

As I try to shut this damned theatre down, I become more and more aware of just how popular its shows are. And how often they play.


* name changed to protect all involved.


8 thoughts on “Stuck in the Theatre of my Mind

  1. It is not only a beautiful piece, but an eye opener. It made me feel like a story told from my own perspective, like the writer was part of my own THEATRE! Thank you for sharing

    • That is so rewarding to hear! As a writer, it’s easy to get stuck in your own perspective so it’s great to hear something like this. I’m thrilled you shared your impressions here.

  2. This is amazing. It got me thinking for the past three hours.
    I think we all have version of that theatre, only the size of it changes according to the people. For some, it’s but a backstreet, one room, family place. For others, it’s Broadway ready. Yours seems closer to the ladder than the first, unfortunately. Or is it unfortunate?
    Humans are social animals. Our ability to survive, thrive, and mate depend largely on our social skills. Evolution equips us with tools to enhance those skills. How much better of a tool can you get? That “theatre” runs permanent simulations on the thoughts and actions of others in order to prepare the next encounter. How awesome is that?
    Like most tools given to us by Mother Nature, it tends to prepare for the worst, hence the… tragic nature of your “plays”. If I were you, I wouldn’t shut that institution down. It would leave you vulnerable to the real life manifestation of your scripts. If it helps, remind yourself that what happens on that stage is a show, nothing but speculation, not real. Consider the real alter ego of your actors innocent until proven guilty. Then again, if they turn out to be, you’ll be happy to put that script to good use.
    Congrats again for the amazing post. See you ’round!

    • That is truly a wonderful message and outlook on the whole thing. I like your fresh perspective and analysis. It’s freeing and a bit of a relief to hear your views. I’m glad I made you think and, thank you, because you have definitely done the same for me. This kind of exchange is one of the great things about blogging!

  3. My pleasure!
    My reflection was only possible because of your honesty, amazing writing, inspiring post, and apt metaphor. Exchanges with you are crazy interesting. I look forwards to the next one.
    Keep up the great stuff, and good luck going back to work!

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