Getting to Yes, And

Sarah Ruhl: Smile


Sarah Ruhl

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Kelly is delighted to sit down with acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl to discuss her new book "Smile: The Story of a Face."

This memoir is about how you were afflicted with Bell’s Palsy ten years ago and how you lost your smile. And the smile is a complicated thing, especially for women.

“There's this notion of the compulsory smile, you know, for women, which I think is kind of toxic. And I was just listening to a poem this morning on a podcast - and I'm going to forget the writer's name - but it had to do with the smile as a mask, and it was written by an incredible poet from the Harlem renaissance. So I think you know smiles do have to do with power and hierarchy, who gets to tell who to smile, who we think ought to smile through unpleasant situations. And then, on the other hand, there's this feeling that smiling itself - the act of smiling - can bring a person joy. And that actually, in terms of your own happiness, it probably is not a bad thing to rely on the smile to get you through hard situations.”

Your book has so many improvisational twists as if your trying to maintain your resilience in order to maintain your own curiosity about what’s happened to you.

“That's such a beautiful way of putting it, having to maintain your resilience to maintain your current curiosity. That's really right, I think. When you go through any kind of trauma, your curiosity can really shut down, particularly about what you've experienced. And to wonder about the mind is so much of what makes us feel alive and human. I think I definitely went through a time that I stopped being curious about my Bell's Palsy for sure. I wanted to know nothing about it. I wanted to read nothing about it. I didn't want to look in the mirror. I didn't want to acknowledge it was a thing. And I think It was not helpful to me. And I think in a way writing the book got me unstuck in the same way that improvisation can get you unstuck and can get you more limbered up mentally and emotionally, and of course with improvisation your body comes with you as well.”

You write in the book, “I listened for way too long to the wrong story about my face.” How so?

“I saw doctors who were experts early on, who told me things like well if you're not better after six months you'll just never recover. And that turned out to be not true, in my case. And I listened to doctors who said don't even bother trying other modalities like acupuncture or physical therapy, and that wasn't true either. So, I think medical expertise is so so so important right now, you know. But I think there can be cases where with chronic conditions in western medicine doctors kind of throw up their hands when they don't know the answer. And you can have some curiosity - again going back to curiosity - if you can have a little bit of curiosity and persistence in the face of all the unknown, sometimes you can find a different answer.”

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