your face has worked very hard for you today

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It can be intimidating. The space. The formality. The five people up on a raised platform and all the staff seated over in what was once the jury box of a beautifully restored old courthouse.

We had 15 minutes. I had prepared intensely. North of 15 hours went into preparing for that 15-minute presentation.

I want to go back and erase that. Put in a different number. 15 hours of preparation for a 15-minute presentation sounds ridiculous.

But theater-making is my home base, and it has taught me to come prepared. Planning. Outlining. Creating the visuals. Writing the script. Getting feedback. Editing. Choosing my clothes. Warming up. Rehearsing the script. Meeting with people about the presentation. Rehearsing the script in the clothes I chose. In the shoes I chose. Especially the shoes.

I’ve made a lot of presentations. I’ve been on a lot of stages. I like speaking in front of groups. And I still make space to do all those things to prepare.

What I forget, though, what I’ve always forgotten, is the space we need afterward.

The unwinding of the coil. The taking off of the mask. The carefully assembled pieces falling away.

Even when we’re being ourselves on stage. Even when we’re presenting authentically. Even when you’re showing up as the best version of you.

Alright, I’m about to detour, but like any decent detour, it’s connected, so come with me for just a minute:

I also taught my first theater movement class of the trimester this week. All the students were lying down on the stage, eyes closed, ready to begin our physical warm-up. For ten minutes, I led them in guided relaxation, and we spent at least half of that time on the face.

Five full minutes relaxing the face. Letting go in the noticeable areas like the forehead and the jaw muscles, yes, and also releasing the slight ever-present tension in the eyelids, right around the nose, in the lips and tongue. I don’t know about the physiology of this, but you can even feel a difference when you send a message to your gums to relax.

And here is the message I share with them every time, a ritual for our rehearsals: Your face has been presenting for you—helping you show up in specific ways at specific times, on alert for whatever you do or don’t want to show—all day long. No one is looking at you right now. Give your face permission to let go. To just be.

By the time the warm-up is done, they all look noticeably different.

Okay, I’m coming back from the detour, joining up with the road we were on: We are all presenting every day, in small ways with our children, with our friends, with our colleagues, with our families. And we mostly know that we do best when we have time and space to prepare for all of that—whether we actually take the space consistently or not, we know it helps us.

I wonder if we can be kinder to ourselves about the release of that presentation, too. The after.

It turns out, I had a hard time doing much of anything of consequence for an entire day after that big presentation. I was largely going through the motions of the full calendar I had planned.

I think if we are presenting in small ways, every day, all day, we may need kinder ways to let go than sitting in front of our computer screens with half our mask still on, emailing and facebooking and reading news until we fall into bed wishing we hadn’t stayed up so late yet again.

And we may need to help the people we care about by expecting they will need time for letting go of the mask, too. Even our spouses. Even our kids.

God, this all takes time, of course, because at some point, one does have to fit in the communication with AT&T because they got your bill wrong yet again, yes?

I would be so interested in hearing the daily ways you let go—or don’t let go. What do you do after the kid drop-off, after the meeting, after the day? Will you email me to tell me about that?

PS: The presentation went well. We got the money. Hat tip to many people who helped with that.