Discover more from escape velocity
interlude: perception → opportunity
I was having a bad day for no reason. It was summer 2014, the summer before my senior year in college, a summer in which I had lots of bad days for no reason. On the bus, going to work. Drudgery of both mind and body.
A guy seated nearby motioned for me to take my headphones out. I obliged. He asked me for directions, and then we discussed what it’s like to live in China (he was an international student from China). Somehow we started talking about directing movies and finding happiness in life.
As my stop approached, he said, “In my eyes, you are doing all of these things. Acting, writing, playing piano.”
I must have thanked him. I was flattered and it made me feel better. I got off the bus, walking dreamily toward the library where I worked. I wondered about physical existence in the world. I wondered how this stranger could have seen my corporeal self, spoken to me briefly, and then immediately conjured so many possibilities for me.
You could say it’s just a guy-trying-to-hit-on-you thing. And maybe that’s true. But there’s something more to say about the extent to which my trajectory in life has been determined by what others assume I am capable of, basically solely on how I look.
For instance, that guy didn’t know that I am—conclusively—a terrible actor. My friends who act say that their “self” disappears when they inhabit a role. In my volunteer acting for friends’ short films and sketches, I never saw a character; I saw me pretending badly to be someone else. I like to play the piano, but I am less than a novice. The way my hands look does not make them more dexterous.
And then writing. I wanted to be good at writing. Did I look like someone who was a good writer? Or did I just look like someone who was good? He had not read my work. And yet I have never forgotten his impression of me. Perception does, somehow, create opportunity.