I somehow missed Ally McBeal the first time around.
I’ve made up for that at an almost embarrassing pace recently, blowing through multiple seasons after a dear friend recommended it. It makes me laugh, cry and, yes, even cringe a little, every episode, and I’m not sure there’s a better vocal music line up across a TV show, ever.
It’s not even close to politically correct, and I’m not even sure it would make the airways these days, but then Friends probably wouldn’t either, and I will go to my grave watching Friends reruns when I need to laugh.
You’ve never met a more neurotic, dysfunctional cast of characters. Ally herself – with her vibrant fantasy world, her dancing baby and her unicorn, her impromptu theme music that no one else can hear accompanying her every move – she’s a dang hot mess, no question. Her boss is one step away from blantant misogyny at every turn, his partner is the quirkiest dude you can imagine, her former boyfriend-turned-coworker is needy and manipulative, sex is the topic of the day most every day, the notion of “frenemies” is alive and well, and not a single person seems to have had anything close to resembling a happy or whole childhood.
The showrunners manage the most lovely and tender and true treatments of real-life issues: mental illness, gender identity, divorce, infidelity, loneliness, profound loss – all the things that wreck us are part and parcel of the lives of Ally and her Cage and Fish associates and friends.
I don’t know if I would love these people in real life. But I sure do on screen. And this morning, in a text conversation with a theater mom friend, I realized why.
Ally McBeal makes it okay not to be okay.
(Read that again.)
I mean, the whole story line centers on a highly successful, highly lucrative law firm. And yet that’s somehow not even the point. What matters most is that yea, they may all be damn good attorneys, but also they’re so terribly wounded. And it’s the woundedness that makes it possible for them to do their best work.
All their accolades. All their wealth. And they are not okay. But, somehow, that’s okay.
Last night my daughter went with some friends to an annual tradition at their school – senior “solo mios,” an evening in which senior theater students get to write and act out their truths via a short monologue. The story is theirs. Mine/mio.
She came home levelled at the depth of feeling and honesty she heard from her classmates – stories of addiction, abuse, loss, insecurity, self harm, mental illness – it was all there, written and played out on stage with the sort of vulnerability that leaves you breathless with its intensity.
Y’all, we’ve built a world that does not value our softness, our real. We’ve created a society that demands that we push away pain and grief in favor of accomplishment and triumph. We’ve placed more value on that which fits in than that which does not. Despite the reality that therapy and counseling are more talked about, more easily accessed than ever before, our public spaces still do not value big feelings.
And we all, whether we like it or not, have very big feelings at some point or another.
My daughter, like her mother, often has very big feelings. And so yea, she came home levelled last night, but she also came home knowing “It’s not just me,” that we all have such unbelievable and painful and beautiful stories that have led us to where we are, and that we each hold inside us such sacred longings to be known, despite and maybe even because of, all that has made us who we are.
The very best thing about theater, if you ask me, is the way it gives us permisison to feel the things we need to feel. Stage actors may often be broke – but I’ll tell you, they know and see things so many people don’t.
When you’re a stage actor, it’s okay not to be okay.
I do not know a single person who is, right now, “okay.” Even (and perhaps especially) if they pretend or purport to be. Too much is happening. The world is too fast and too furious. Our hearts are too broken and our lives feel too fragile.
And I wish we could all just say that, own it for what it is and then figure out a way forward that leads to healing.
It’s killing us, our disdain for vulnerablity, our refusal to celebrate, or even admit, that we don’t all fit in the same size box.
There’s an episode of Ally McBeal in which Ally imagines she’s hearing and seeing Al Green everywhere – he pops up to sing an appropriate number at the most innapropriate times. She can’t hide this disconcerting distraction from those around her, and, understandably, they’re all a little concerned at her hallucinations. And so is Ally.
But also? She kind of likes it. She claims it. And maybe this is a little crazy. But maybe also it’s Ally’s mio – her truth, at least in that moment. It’s sort of like she’s saying, “Yea. I am not okay.” And it’s only then that she’s able to figure out a way out of Green-land and back to sense of perspective and grounding.
I don’t imagine Al Green singing along to my life; probably you don’t either.
But also? I bet you aren’t okay, not entirely. And neither am I.
One thought on “It’s okay to not be.”
That was beautiful!