brunette girl holding a white theatrical maskDid anyone ever tell you, as a kid, that you needed to be appropriate?

Sure, it’s important in our civil culture to give kids guidelines for respectful behavior. But the word, “appropriate”, used too often as a warning sign, can become a mask that keeps us safe and suffocates our essence.

I recently interviewed actress Ann Randoph, who is not afraid to let the characters in her one-woman shows swing out and risk being inappropriate. In fact, the Washington Post, reviewing one of her solo- performances, called her “inappropriate in all the right ways”.

High praise!

During our audio interview for my podcast, Ann started spouting lines from her mouthy, endearing character Brandy, the crack-whore.

Uh-oh. Good thing you can label a podcast “explicit” on ITunes.

I won’t quote Brandy out-of-context, but let’s just say she has a good sense of her inner-raunchy. And a big heart.

Like the classic fool, she’s a truth teller who is not afraid to tell it like it is.

I bet many of us have a character like that living inside of us, dying to come out. But too often, she’s been scolded, sent to bed early, locked up in her room, and had her spirit squashed like roadkill on a rural byway.

For being inappropriate.

In the community where I grew up, people used the word “appropriate” a lot. Affluent matrons used it, along with words like “Marhvelous” and “dahling.” As a 12 year old, I’d try on these words even though they’d stick like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. I figured they were part of the ticket to high status and the good life in our community.

Or, as I came to see years later, to a very dead life.

When you want to stay thoroughly appropriate in the mainstream of our culture, you risk giving up a lot.

Out in the margins of society, there may be a little more freedom. At least, people have fewer expectations about what you’re supposed to do.

I learned this hanging out with a group of Down’s Syndrome and developmentally disabled adults.

I was invited as a guest to one of their summer camp dances by my friend Stephen, and his down syndrome brother Mark.

I went to the dance knowing nobody but Mark – which for me brings up VERY PAINFUL MEMORIES of going to high school dances unknown and spending the evening side-lined in the shadows. I always thought that was on life’s real injustices that girls, especially us dancers, need to  “wait to be picked”.

But this event was different. I was swooped up and greeted by my Down’s Syndrome hosts the moment I stepped into the hall, who embraced me like I was a long lost friend. In the low lights of the dance floor, some couples were hugging and moving slowly across the wooden dance floor, making eyes at each other, just like couples do around the world.

I didn’t need to worry about being alone. Within moments, I had multiple offers to dance and I stayed out on the floor all evening with my new friends.

It was a blast.

Not only did I have a great time, but I discovered something: in this special world of the developmentally disabled – where no one was trying to be “normal”, I could drop the pretense of trying to be normal myself.

So liberating.Ann open mouthfixed(3)

No pretending to be normal or appropriate. Only connecting, dancing, laughing, hugging, or being sad when I had to leave.

It’s what I felt hearing Brandy the crack-whore, and her keeper, Ann Randolph.

Their courage rubbed off on me. I started feeling bolder, more likely to speak up, and more than that, more ready to tell my story, however raw, unpolished or inappropriate it might be.

And maybe more ready to just get out on the floor again and dance.