One of my greatest joys in life is being up at my rural house upstate, and going for between 4-10 mile strolls over the weekend. I call these walks my “Country Curriculum” because nature, one of the great teachers, always seems to offer up a lesson to me. This week it was my neighbors up the road, the local ducks (did I say rural or what!) that bestowed my greatest learning.
I get cranky. I admit it. When I peruse what I call LCD (lowest common denominator) reality shows, I can’t help thinking, Andy Warhol, who once said, “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes in their life,” is probably rolling over in his grave. The level of sensational trauma sharing, where the squeaky wheel gets the oil field as in Snooki of Jersey Shore getting paid 32k to speak, (2K more than a Nobel Peace Prize Winner) at a respected university, I have to pause.
I have to ask myself, as I often do, what criteria do we have for appropriate heartfelt, vulnerability that creates a common thread amongst humanity. Where have we confused, distorted and decimated “transparency” into a tribal plummeting of bad behavior an airing one’s dirty laundry couched as “being real?” Yuck!
Having written four one-woman autobiographical shows in my career, I always asked myself the same question. What belongs in my journal? What belongs in therapy? What belongs on stage? Simple questions. Not easy answers.
Since we’re living in our own version of the Truman Show these days, it’s an important question to ask. So much private information stays in the “cloud” causing a lot of cloudy days from here to eternity. I ask myself that over and over.
True intimacy heals yet self-disclosure from a place of acting out, doesn’t. My favorite authors have always been those that are brutally self-disclosing in an extraordinary eloquent manner that allows me to embrace my own humanity, i.e. Geneen Roth, Martha Beck, Anne Lamott, and Ruth Reichl to name a few.
Then I stumble upon the beautiful difference through mainstream network TV watching Dr. Oz while on the treadmill, one of my favorite pastimes. In that moment, as I experienced last Tuesday, I see the gift of true vulnerability and transparency.
Dr. Oz in his inimitable accessible “Feces are fascinating, and nothing is too taboo to talk about” kind of way, brings Paula Deen, a culinary expert who is not at all interested in cooking healthy but “living large,” as she says on the show. He’s challenging her to replicate her recipes with half the fat and sugar while keeping all the taste. There is a charming banter between them before the “challenge” begins. I soon see why both of them are such stars. There’s an ease and an open heartedness to them both.
Whether planned or spontaneous, Dr. Oz casually asks her about her worst habit to which she responds in her delicious Southern Drawl, “Cigarettes and Potatoes,” to which I’m thinking, hopefully consumed separately.
At that moment after much prodding, where you can see her palpable discomfort mixed with a deep desire to out herself, she reveals her shame about a habit that she’s had for 50 years, tears legitimately come to her eyes that she knows the impact it has on her life and family.
She shares her struggles with having quit and her utter “shame” over this secret, and the fact that her husband has quit for 6 months, and she knows what a difference it would make for him as well if she quit. Dr. Oz repeatedly holds her hand in the most genuine way saying, “This is not about shame, this is about letting Paula love Paula as much as we do,” and he means it.
There’s not an ounce of sentimentality or syrupy indulgence. He maintains eye contact and physical touch, while he in deep earnestness lets her know the chance her husband has of remaining an ex-smoker if she continues. He openly says, he’ll write her a prescription for meds and offer his round the clock care during what will be the most difficult part of the detox process, the first 3 weeks. He goes on to share that he never does heart surgery on smokers because he cares too much about them. If he fixes their heart, they’ll have no reason to quit.
In that moment, I fall in love with them both. I’d never seen Paula Deen before but now I want to e-mail her and send her a suggestion for Allan Carr’s work which allowed my honorary stepson to give up a 13-year, 2 pack a day habit in a weekend and never go back. I want to reach through the TV and hug them both for being vulnerable in a way that opens my own heart and says, “Yes, I have my own version of habits that no longer serve me, but I’m still resistant to give up.” I feel connected with the humanity of them both and am so riveted by their honesty that I walk an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill without realizing it.
I am reminded that is the seed, the essence that great art, music and friendships have in common: a transparency and vulnerability that is not easily delivered. It is fraught with complexities and ambivalence but most of all humanity. Paula’s personal journey becomes our universal one. While I always “appreciated” Dr. Oz’s smarts and mission, now I fall in love with the human being he is underneath.
So once again, a luscious life lesson presents itself during what could be a mundane activity. Going to the gym now becomes a magical one. When I really check in about which TMI is more compelling bonding and uniting, there’s no question. While I can switch into Virgo coach mode and list the different criteria for both in a somewhat analytical manner (which I will do in a further posting) I’d say ultimately it’s all about intention.
Paula’s intention was rooted in honesty, courage, and healing, whereas most TMI (too much information, specifically the sensationalized version) is often rooted in ego, drama and re-wounding, not to mention the perks of ratings and attention (although I do believe one can do good and do well).
So the next time I feel the urge to share I will take a moment and ask myself which TMI camp I am in. I’ll stop, breathe and ask, “What’s my intention for saying what I’m about to say?” In fact, I did just that before writing this blog.