"How are you doing?"
"My condolences on your loss"
"I'm so sorry for your loss"
"My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family"
Well intentioned, and heartfelt phrases are said in my direction about 50 times a day at this point. They are as required a social contract as "Hello" and "How are you?" Every single one that comes builds me up, and improves my mood. What I can't describe, and what I'm acutely aware of, however, is the weariness with which I respond to these sentiments. When my father passed away, I found myself trying to respond to each outreach personally and individually, because I wanted everyone to know how much I appreciate their words. This became impossible very quickly, and so I prepared a list of stock phrases that I hand out now like candies. They are wearisome, they are cumbersome, and I hate the obligatory exchange it has become.
"Thank you, I really appreciate that" has become my standard reply. Last night while talking with a close friend, what was so refreshing was that we had a great conversation without it ever coming up. When I mentioned offhandedly that I had a lot of things on my brain, he responded with "I know that life," followed by an awkward pause, and "though not exactly. You know, my condolences, and all that." It was so honest, and it was so real. All I could do was laugh, and laugh I did, it was one of the most cathartic exchanges possible. I just want real interaction, and real conversation. People underestimate the power of laughter. You don't need to handle me with kid gloves.
So how am I?
Dear New York City,
Let me introduce myself. My name is Ned Donovan, but you may know me better as that guy who hawked falafel all summer on the corner of 6th Avenue and 17th Street at The Hummus & Pita Company. For visual reference, here is a picture of me in my work garments with my roommate’s cat, Lucy, on my shoulders.
Look familiar? No? Well then I can’t help you. But since this is my website and my blog, I’m going to give you some thoughts I’ve had about you since I became a very visible member of your city.
You see as an actor, I’ve made a living out of creating characters, becoming characters, and incorporating characters into the various roles I’ve played over the years. When I became the “Weekend Falafel Guy” for The Hummus & Pita Company (or as multiple heart-melting small children have said to me, The Hummus and Pi Taco) I didn’t quite realize how close you and I were going to get. I got to know you and your residents very, very well. I was given a job as the face for a company, handing out their fantastic product, for free, to the people of this city, and nothing brings out a person’s true character, like seeing how they react to something that is free.
A few caveats before we jump in. This is not a demonization of any specific person or persons, or any specific group of people; in fact, the types of people I have observed are refreshingly devoid of delineation by race, gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, creed, etc. This is also not meant to belittle any of the customers of The Hummus & Pita Company (please don’t fire me, Dave, for writing this), I love this restaurant, the people are great, the food is unbelievable, the customers for the most part are patient, friendly, and exceedingly polite, and the company as a whole really does a great job. If you haven’t eaten lunch/dinner there, do yourself a favor and go.
Alright, now that I’ve done the prerequisite “don’t fire me” speech, here we go. In my observation, there are six different types of people walking your streets in regards to free samples, and I would like to offer other samplers out there some advice on how to recognize them, and how to deal with them.
We all made it through High School, so we all know what it's like to be labelled. See what I did just there? I just labelled all of you as High School graduates, but it is at least possible that I have a reader who is as of yet not finished with High School. It's so second nature for human beings to look at someone and categorize them for easy reference. Why would someone want to meet "Adam" when they can simply shake Adam's hand and instinctively know all there is to know about "Preppy Math Kid". It is a vicious part of the human psyche and one that I've seen people eagerly try to change in this world, and also perpetuate on a day to day basis. It goes beyond calling someone "American", there are connotations that go with it. I would bet that for a good majority of Americans if you say "Muslim" their first instinct would be to think of an Islamic Radicalist. Why? Because somewhere along the way our culture decided that those two things were synonymous. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Adam's existence as a Preppy Math Kid might only come so far as his clothing, his interests, or even so far as how he carries himself and his books as he walks down the halls.
For me? It's pretty much an every day occurrence. In Theatre it's an unfortunate occupational hazard. A necessity of the trade. There are so many 23 year old Irish actors in New York, it's absurd, and if you're looking for ONLY 23 year old Irish actors, you better put in your casting notice that this is all you want. This lets those who are not 23 year old Irish actors that they need not apply. Yet in doing so I've been given a label, a designation by which I know I pass a test. Just like in High School. Except the difference is that I have made it a requirement of my life to exist beyond labels. You see, while I recognize labeling and typing as a necessary evil to the Theatre industry, it is an evil I don't mind. In order to fit a part, you must first, indeed, fit the part. Much of the theatre canon is written to make a point about a group of people, and you need someone from within that group to make the point, consciously or subconsciously.
In my own life, however, I have always been one happy to do what I want, enjoy what I want, know those who I want to know, and strive to continue to live that way. Just today I was remarked on as an "enigma" by a wonderful person who gave me so much joy at that description.
Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.