I'm constantly telling people my wife is crazy.
When tasked with describing the complex and fascinating character of Jill to people who have never met her and aren't looking for a Shakespearean sonnet, it's the quippy, off-the-cuff thing I can say that gives one a sense of who she is immediately: "She's this crazy, aggressive, artist chick with a big afro who talks like a valley girl but paints these very intellectual paintings." At least that was my first impression of her.
It makes me wonder how people describe me. Perhaps: "He's this skinny guy who wears ratty old baseball tees." Yes, they smell. Yes, they're threadbare and yes, I love them like children.
Or maybe: "He calls himself a foodie, but he doesn't really eat anything." I don't eat pork or red meat, I hate cheese, detest vinegar and think mayo is the devil's condiment.
But really it's more like: "He's this bougie black guy who speaks like a Harvard professor and talks with his hands way too much." I talk with my hands way too much. It's a thing.
I certainly can't argue with any of those descriptions. They do describe some aspect of my personality. But somehow, ever since being married, I've become uneasy with the stereotypes I project out into the world.
Let me start from the beginning...
Most of us spend our adolescence trying to define who we are. I vividly remember practicing how to tie the perfect neck tie to prepare for high school. I was going to attend a Catholic school, one with a strict dress code, and in my mind, tying a tie properly separated the men from the boys.
And you better believe that I was going to be a man. A sophisticated man. One whose neck was delicately framed by a Half-Windsor Knot or, God-willing, a Pratt. I worked diligently and eventually perfected the procedure. I walked into my first day of school feeling like the Sophisticated Man™ I so desperately wanted to be. I wore my tie proudly and adopted a whole set of stereotypes that I thought constituted the essence of that man: I played chess, I read The New Yorker, I watched Frasier.
But when I actually became a man, when I actually grew towards wanting to become a mature, honest, emotionally available adult, I steadfastly clung on to a stereotype that inherently possessed contradictions with the man I wanted to be. The stereotype was comfortable, reassuring, and ultimately, profitable -- Sophisticated Man™ formed the entire basis of my approach to "Toofer" on 30 Rock.
When I met Jill, though, I was beginning to wonder if I had doubled down too hard on the identity I tried so desperately to forge in my youth.
Meeting her frightened me. Jill is open, honest, trusts her intuitions and is not afraid to display her emotions freely. She was everything I felt I was, but was too afraid to show. She was my anti-stereotype. She challenged me, made me see my habits and made me realize that my hand-talking was just a way of trying to express the emotions that wanted so desperately to break free.
In my acting work, I began to realize I was increasingly being cast in roles that required me to be "perfect": the perfect husband, the perfect employee, the perfect friend. In an attempt to carve out a career, I locked myself in as the sane and logical foil. Fun, because it meant I was a working actor; but limiting, because I never got to show fear or anxiety or love or hate of all things hipster.
Marrying Jill was my way of breaking free. A year ago, I went through a minor surgical operation (which I chronicle in my comedy web series Keith Broke His Leg -- SHAMELESS PLUG!) and for a week, had to completely relearn how to do even the smallest tasks. I see being married to a "crazy person" as a much more invasive surgical operation.
I am re-learning things I took for granted most of my adult life: how to have friends, how to have a career, how to interact with strangers. I now cry while watching The Notebook (and not from Ryan Gosling trying to pull off a ridiculous newsboy cap); I regularly try to interpret stupid dreams; I use way too many emoticons in text messages and I constantly think Facebook is an appropriate place to go on self righteous tangents about Donald Trump. I still talk with my hands, but now with much more feeling.
In truth, I can't currently define who I am completely. I'm still learning. I know that whoever I am now (or whoever I am becoming) doesn't fit neatly into some broad generalized box like Sophisticated Man™. Thanks to being married to a crazy, aggressive, big-afro artist chick, I'm slowly being able to express where I am emotionally, even if it contradicts what one may already know about me.
And perhaps that's what being married is about -- the ability to have a partner who helps you become a better you, no matter how hard you fight them.
Next time, I'll tell you what Jill and I do to help each other be the best version of ourselves. But in the meantime, let me know -- what would people describe YOU as? And are they correct?