Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Foreign Lands and Languages

In my college acting classes, we often talked about an invisible little demon called “The Yabba-Yabba.” The Yabba-Yabba sets up camp on the shoulders of generally anyone who may be in front of a crowd and whispers things that will make that person feel self-conscious. In the performing world, common phrases include: “Why did you just say your line like that?” “What are you doing with your hands?” and my personal favorite, “I think your zipper is down.” The good news is you can turn off The Yabba-Yabba with practice, but every now and again, he comes back to visit.

I was at the gym the other day, and I headed over to an open bench to start an exercise with a frighteningly impressive set of weights. (cough, cough) Resting near the bench were a water bottle and its could-be owner. With headphones firmly in my ears, I got the guy’s attention, pointed at the bench, and asked, “Hey…uh…man, are you using this?” He shook his head, and I victoriously sat down. Then, I heard it.

“Why did you just say your line like that?” It definitely sounded like The Yabba-Yabba to me. And then, I thought about it. Why did I say that? I addressed that guy as “man.” Not only that, but I did it in a lower register, carefully making sure that it didn’t seem as though I cared too much about the answer. It was like I had completely switched languages. That isn’t how I talk. Where am I?

The only explanation for my foreign behavior is that I was actually in a foreign land. After all, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” Therefore, I was only accepting the culture, language, and social system found in the foreign country I’m now calling, “Gymania.” [ji-mey-nee-uh]

The borders of Gymania are strictly guarded. Whenever I approach, I’m required to show my membership card. This passport grants me access to a fascinating place, filled with many diverse people. Some are friendly; others look like they could eat you, and would, if their trainers would let them. All of Gymania’s citizens have lived there for varying amounts of time. There are a few, I believe, that live there all day, every day. No matter what time I choose to visit, they are always there, staring at their triceps in the mirror and making unusually frequent trips to the drinking fountain. This leads me to believe that, upon the stroke of midnight, they grab a yoga mat and curl up under the bench press.

Some of the other citizens seen wondering about are often visiting for the first time. This can be verified by the amount of time they spend deciphering the instructions on the different workout machines, written in Gymanian, of course. Still, others have been away for a while and are finally forcing themselves to reactivate their passports. They usually have an uneasy look, as if they know what lies ahead.

Gymania’s culture is bright and vibrant. There is a pulsating rhythm to the nation that you can actually feel. That’s because it’s pumped through the overhead sound system. The fashion is fun yet functional, with many colors in an array of Lycra fabric blends. Even the food is hip. There are futuristic drinks and snacks in neon packaging that sport such words as “ripped” and “power.”

The language of Gymania is a higher form of communication, and though I have already admitted to using it, I am far from fluent. As a general rule, there are few words used. “Man,” as I mentioned before, is very popular. Directly translated, it means, “I demand your respect because I am tough and currently reside in Gymania.”

There are also “grunts, pants, and moans” that mean, in no particular order, “Yeah, that’s right, you watching?” “I hate you Ben & Jerry’s!” and “Aw crap, this is heavy.” Probably most unique about the Gymanian language is that which is unspoken. This is most prevalent in the locker room, where a TV is always on. No matter what channel may be showing, the inhabitants of Gymania will watch it. This cultural gesture means, “Don’t be nervous about changing your clothes in front of me, because I actually think CSPAN is fascinating.”

My regular trips to Gymania have caused me to reflect on how many other “far and distant lands” we visit in life feeling like a foreigner. How often do we enter a situation and surrender part of ourselves to appease the policies and procedures of some invisible ruler or dictator, convincing us that who we are isn’t enough? (Maybe that’s The Yabba Yabba!!) With this constant self-awareness, we end up walking through life with our proverbial headphones stuck in our ears, enabling us to truly connect with as few people as possible. With the variables drastically decreased, and feeling far less vulnerable, we can then safely strut around being whomever we please. The problem is those people are rarely ourselves.

That being said, I recognize one of our superior abilities as human beings is to change and adapt. We can process things emotionally and socially, and develop skills that not only benefit us, but everyone else. Generosity, gratitude, and forgiveness are beautiful traits that we, as humans, get to nurture. What worries me personally is that I spend too much time changing and adapting if for no other reason than to not look stupid.

The truth is who we are is always enough.

Have you ever been around someone that makes you feel more like yourself? There’s a natural bond. You’re on the same ground. You speak the same language. You share a sense of worth that often results in long talks, but also in moments when no one needs to say anything at all. You just are who you are, and it’s enough. Golden time. Those are the people I consistently want in my life. They make me feel at home. And they always stick out to me like a piece of tin foil in the sun. To those I’ve already met in life: I hope you know who you are. If not, maybe I’ll see you at the gym, and I’ll tell you there…in my native tongue.


  1. FANTASTIC! Thank you, a much needed boost after the month I've had and looking forward to September and the rest of the year with gratitude and joy! And feeling more like MYself!

  2. I love the analogy with the famous "yabba-yabba." Good times, good times!

  3. So true in so many ways "man"!!!

  4. So when's your first book coming out? Seriously Jeff, you are my hero! My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing. I can't relate to the Gymania world so much {sorry, don't like to work out} but I can imagine my own little "ania" experiences. And I've definitely heard the yabba-yabba on occasion when trying to be oh, so cool! I can't wait for next month's words of wisdom according to Jeffrey Scott Parsons!!!