Sunday, April 11, 2010

Incurious People

When you watch those shows like Inside the Actors Studio you'll see artists go on about being keen observers of human nature, examining and dissecting the thoughts and viewpoints and mannerisms of everyone they meet, absorbing and storing up the information for later use specifically or generally for some future role or another.

Which seems to go against the grain of everything conventional wisdom tells us about actors -- that they're hopelessly self-absorbed. It's also not something I've seen borne out in my own interactions.

I'll occasionally go to industry functions with a date who's not in the business herself. And two of these people have independently come to the same conclusion -- that the actors there aren't all that interested in them. Their career, their background, anything. They'll have perfectly fine, fun conversations with them -- even about non-acting stuff -- but there's very little curiosity about the person herself.

I should first say that 99% of the actors I've worked with are good people. Sure, there are a good deal of off-kilter types, but I mean to say there are very few assholes. So I don't think the intentions are hostile. But I've tried to figure out exactly where this comes from.

One of the first questions actors will ask a new person is if they're in the business. And when they're told, "I'm a lawyer/accountant/urban planner," the reply is simply, "Oh." Followed by silence. I was with someone who's from Alaska, something that in every other circumstance prompts endless questions about igloos and Sarah Palin. But in this circle? Nada.

I probably have an overly-curious nature. Or more like I'm easily curious. I find few subjects (except for stories about dreams and about people I don't know and will never meet) boring. One time at a party I asked this guy what he does and he said he trades energy futures. I spent probably a half-hour talking to him about that. (He told his girlfriend afterwards that I was his favorite person at the party!)

I know part of it is just a thing I do because it's easier to hang on to one person than make your way around the room with a series of new introductions. On the other hand, though, I truly enjoy hearing about these weird jobs people have -- things you never dream someone does for a living.

Also it's an intellectual exercise for me. I'm very analytical. For a living I'm constantly digesting masses of information and synthesizing it into something comprehensible. So I kind of do that with people, too. I reflexively create stories and message points out of what they tell me.

But aside from all that, it's just plain polite. So I wonder what's up. Is it that these people have more limited or narrow experiences, making it harder to relate to people outside their normal realm? I doubt it. I've found the backgrounds of the actors I meet far more diverse than those on the business side of my life.

Is it an insecurity thing? Say you have someone in their 30s or 40s who's been told all their life by parents and loved ones that they should "get a real job" -- perhaps it stings a little to acknowledge others who took that path? That's probably a little too deep.

One thing I've seriously considered is that they're likely not all that interested in ME, so are equally likely not to be interested in who I'm with. I've been told that's not the case, but not by an objective observer. That sounds like something a really insecure person would say, but I try always to be really conscious of how I come across to others (which I think is preferable to those who seem to go through life stunningly oblivious to how they're perceived, always blaming others when the plainly obvious common denominator in all their conflicts and issues is them).

But I do have this thing where I tend not to make really deep, substantive connections with many people. An old boss of mine remarked once that I only open the door so far to others. He, on other hand, was always one of those people I've described as "emotionally promiscuous," sharing anything and everything, solicited or not. (He did, however, have lots of friends.)

As with everything, there's likely no one answer. It's probably a combination of these things and others I haven't imagined. But it is odd and a little confounding. I think next time I'm out I'll informally survey a few non-actor SOs about their experiences. Yes, that would be an interesting project.

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