Everything is Already Something Week 28: The Beauty of Being Second Choice

Allison Page wins the silver medal for drinking bleach.

I’ve never played “the sports”. That wasn’t really my thing. I don’t really like going “outside”. But being pulled off the bench is something I’m very familiar with. Someone drops out of a show because they’re having a shotgun wedding, or they jumped off the space needle and broke every bone in their body, or they forgot that they’re being audited by the IRS that day and someone has to come in and save the day…someone who’s around…someone who’s available…someone that can be relied on most of the time and IT’S ME, guys.

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I wouldn’t even be a company member of the sketch comedy group I’ve been in for the last 4 years if someone hadn’t dropped out, and I stepped in to replace them. Was I tooootally in after that, because I was so amazing the first time around? No. Another one of their shows came up and another person had to drop out – and there I was again, crazy wigs in hand and ready to go! After that, sometimes people actually wanted me around on purpose. How about that?!

Last Saturday I was, once again, a fabulous second choice. A literary event called Women of Letters originating in Australia took a little jaunt to the good old US of A. The show’s basic concept is to get a bunch of awesome, prominent humans together, give them a theme, and they will then bring a prepared 5-10 minute long letter they’ve written to someone or something and read it out loud to an audience full of excited onlookers. Literary events are kind of all the rage right now, and this is a good one. People included on the US tour? Oh, I don’t know, how do Edie Falco, Moby, Kimya Dawon, Jena Malone, Ayelet Waldman, and Merrill Markoe strike you? That’s just a sampling. A bay area comedian was included in the San Francisco show but had to drop out to go open for Anthony Jeselnik in San Jose, and when that happened they needed someone else…and somebody recommended me! I was surprised and delighted…and I had 24 hours to write something the rest of the group had about a month to write. Naturally, I accepted and got to work. Our theme was “A letter to someone who told me the truth”. I made a list of possibilities, including a letter to Liza Minelli because I once sang “Cabaret” for an audition and it was the last time I ever bothered to sing, because it was a disaster. I decided to go with a letter to a man I kissed against his will, because his lips told me the truth when they did not kiss me back. Here are three things I knew for sure:

It’s fantastic to be a last second replacement. Everyone’s really relieved they got someone on super short notice.

2) They may not actually be expecting much. I mean, they’ve never heard of me. So that means that if I’m even a little good – I’m a savior!

3) I was obviously the comic relief. The woman who had to drop out was a comedian, and the rest of the line up were authors, poets, and one musician. I was definitely there to be the light one. I wasn’t going to fight that.

When I arrived at the theater, the first question I got was “What’s the tone of your piece?” I said it was relatively light and funny. They were relieved. It was a fantastic experience, and I was surrounded by some pretty inspiring women who said some pretty exciting things. And something happened that I didn’t expect. Ayelet Waldman (author of Red Hook Road, Love & Treasure, Bad Mother, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Daughter’s Keeper and a bunch of other things, and also happens to be Michael Chabon’s wife.) was instantly just fiercely encouraging. Within 5 minutes of chatting backstage, we got to this conversation –

Ayelet: “Why aren’t you writing for TV? Is Lena Dunham funnier than you? Absolutely not. Do you have a spec script?”

Me: “Um…no.”

Ayelet: “Well, you need to write a spec script, immediately.”

Me: “I mean, even if I do write one I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it.”

Ayelet: “I’m tired of women putting off things like that and thinking that they have to go through a million steps before they’re good enough to do things. Wait too long and suddenly you’ll be me, waking up at 50.”

Me: “You seem to be doing okay to me!”

Ayelet: “Well…the industry is scrambling for new talent and there’s no reason in the world that it shouldn’t be you. It should be you. Go write a spec script. Making you do that is my new mission.”

Don't be like that, Lena, I didn't say it!

Don’t be like that, Lena, I didn’t say it!

I certainly didn’t expect that have that interaction. It was surprising and…ya know, pretty flattering. But also, it’s not like she knows me really well and has seen my writing. She was just basing that on knowing me for 5 minutes. Either way, it was a nice thing to hear especially because I’m going through a pretty frustrating slump right now. I’ve been feeling unmotivated and generally pretty useless. I imagine that’s because I’m unemployed – which at first was amazing, and is now just making me feel depressed. I have all this time to write and each word I type feels like a giant stone I’m somehow supposed to move by myself in order to build a great pyramid in my mind. I feel like Burgess Meredith from the Twilight Zone. He had all the time in the world to read, and he broke his glasses, rendering the books useless to him. It’s a little mentally crippling. It’ll pass, though. And Women of Letters helped. And I wouldn’t have gotten that boost if not for being a lucky second choice.

From left to right: Front row: singer Kim Boekbinder, Women of Letters co-curator Michaela McGuire, graphic novelist Ellen Forney. Back row: linguist Laura Welcher, Me, novelist Ayelet Waldman, performance poet Daphne Gottlieb, author Natalie Baszile.

From left to right: Front row: singer Kim Boekbinder, Women of Letters co-curator Michaela McGuire, graphic novelist Ellen Forney. Back row: linguist Laura Welcher, Me, novelist Ayelet Waldman, performance poet Daphne Gottlieb, author Natalie Baszile.

What I’m saying is, don’t ever feel second best just because you were the second choice. The moment you step in, you’re the first choice and you need to treat it that way. And always be ready to say yes to a good opportunity – it might just lead to something more.

Allison is spending a lot of time on her couch right now, but you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

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