Some days, when I get dressed to go to work, I put on my Cow Sweater.
It doesn’t usually make it out the door.
For the first two months I owned it, this particular sweater wasn’t called The Cow Sweater – in fact, it didn’t even have a name. It was one of the few but proud cardigans in my wardrobe that wasn’t a tangle of black fabric, making it pretty special. White with a large, black flower pattern, three quarter length sleeves and shiny buttons, it became a weekly part of my getting dressed routine. Until the day I wore it to an improv class.
Improv class is a little like taking a 3 hour vacation from sanity and civility – the people around you look and act like they’ve lost a crucial part of their minds, you find yourself making weird noises and gestures that even you don’t understand, and there are no rules but the ones you agree upon. Improv class is the Drunk Uncle of classes. Anything goes – and for some, that works. I had to work on it more than my classmates.
One of those classmates? Named the sweater. He and I didn’t always see eye to eye, and most of that is due to a core difference in personality. Or maybe I’m calling it that and it was actually that we met and immediately decided to mutually hate each other’s guts but only express it through passive aggressive conversations. That … feels more accurate. On this particular day, clothes were our topic of between-exercises conversation. And thus, The Cow Sweater was born.
Credit where credit is due – my fellow improvisers saw the wisdom of not entering a conversation where a male friend had just compared a female friend a cow, and sort of faded into another part of the room. Mr. Cow Sweater and I continued the conversation for an extra minute, and though I tried to be upbeat and not think too much about what he had just said, my wheels were already turning. Since then, every time I put on the sweater, I remember that day and that comment, and it never makes it out of the house.
You never really know how something you say will affect the people around you – I’ve walked out of interviews in physical pain from saying something I know wasn’t received well, quickly changed topics with a friend when I’ve seen the corners of their mouth turn down. I’ve also watched an entire room light up after I speak, seeing recognition and empathy in the faces of total strangers while I share a personal story, or watch a debate unfold after asking an interesting question in a class full or undergrads. You always want to be yourself, to feel like you can say what feels right and what feels necessary, and to be brave enough to survive what might come next.
The Cow Sweater and I are at work today. We’ve received three compliments and two requests to know where said sweater could be purchased. I’d say we’ve mooooved on quite well.