Walking in Neutral – or – Stay alive.

The last time I played “Standing in Neutral,” my class told me I looked like:

  • a person who judges people in public places
  • a teacher who isn’t friends with other teachers
  • a woman watching nervously out the window for gremlins

I wrote here:

That was four years ago. At the time, I was struggling with anxiety and depression. … I’m curious to know if my neutral has changed since then. The best way to find out is probably to get into a room full of honest strangers and ask.

So I was excited/terrified when Paola had us play a variation of Standing in Neutral* in our clowning class this week. I was afraid I’d be the same as I was back when Noah led the game.

Instead of just standing in neutral, we walked in neutral, and five people walked behind us. Paola told us that the leader was to think of these other five people as an extension of her own body — not to ignore them, but not to worry about them either.

And instead of just commenting on what sort of impression we made, she made each of us do it again and again until we were truly neutral.

After the first few people had failed, someone asked, “Paola, what are you looking for? How is it supposed to look?”

Paola** said, “This is like you ask me how you ride the bicycle. I write you the book on how to balance, how to ride the bicycle, but that does not make you do it. You do not learn to balance with words from other people. You know when you see, and you know when you feel.”

Then it was my turn, and I was resigned to failing a time or two at least. I walked across the room. This felt totally surreal. I was just thinking, “This is the strangest I’ve ever felt. I do not anything could take me by surprise right this moment, and also, I think I’m floating,” when there was this odd little gasp from several people. When I arrived at the front of the room to face Paola, the gasps turned into little groans.

Paola said, “Alyssa. You do this very well. In neutral, you walk like a queen. We all see this and soe we understand what I say about the bike. But then you disappoint me. You disappoint the whole room!”

“Oh no! What did I do?”

“You apologize! You apologize with your eyes. You are a queen, and then you use your eyes to hide being a queen. This is like you apologize for being alive. You were alive when you walked, and you died when you stopped. Stay alive.“***

I told this to my friend Steve tonight, and he said, “She’s right! You do that thing with your eyes!” (Someone please point this out to me the next time you see me do it so I can start breaking the habit.)

“Queen” definitely trumps “judgmental teacher plagued by gremlins.” Now I have to grow into it and quit doing the thing with my eyes.

*I now see that “Standing in Neutral” would be better called, “Standing in Natural.” Natural and neutral aren’t even close to the same, apparently.
 
**Italian is her native language; she tells us that her brain translates from Italian to French to English before words come out of her mouth. Imagine her words accompanied by lots of big hand gestures.

***Emphasis and Mountain Goats link mine.

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