We have all been subject to “Brown Paper Bag Experiences” when others evaluate us not by our inner selves — but by our outward appearances — and many times they wrongly judge us by jumping to incorrect conclusions. In my article, Coercing Faith, Gordon Davidescu posted this Brown Bag comment:
I think the best analogy (or at least the one I just came up with now) is this: Say you see a person walking down the street with a brown paper bag in his hand. Given New York’s liquor laws you know that he has some sort of alcoholic beverage inside. However, you don’t know if that alcoholic beverage is a beer or wine, or even a wine cooler – unless it is taken out of the bag. Converting is sort of like removing the bottle from the bag. Being Jewish means you have a Jewish Soul – but not everyone with a Jewish Soul hidden in their paper bag realizes that they are Jewish until they take it out of the bag – converting, that is.
Gordon’s comment led me to remember a real life situation — though not as provocative as having a hidden Jewish soul, but perhaps as interesting on a different revelatory human level — when I was a graduate student at Columbia University in the City of New York and I was subjected to my first, and so far only, Brown Bag Bagging.
I was incredibly ill that day — but not infectious — and I was attending a small dramatic structure workshop class in Dodge Hall back when the building had real character and old-world charm before they ruined its creative personality with an ill-conceived, and ordinary, remodeling job featuring a pea green paint scheme and double pane windows.
I had a giant bottle of orange juice in a brown paper bag and I kept the juice in the bag to keep it cold as I slugged down health-giving swallows.
I began to notice everyone in class was watching me every time I brought the brown bag to my lips to drink my way back to feeling better. They all had their toasted cinnamon bagels and their milked coffees and their mini omelets — but whenever I drank from my bag, the class stopped. Jaws stopped chewing. Throats stopped swallowing.
An icy silence jabbed me with cold eyes. If I had been feeling better I’m sure I would’ve realized quicker what was going on… Finally someone said in a pretend stage whisper, “You know you really shouldn’t be drinking beer in class.” I stared at my accuser for a long time before I understood the dynamic of what she was seeing. I down looked at my brown bag. I looked up at the rest of the class.
The instructor was forcing an uneasy smile into the silence. I slowly wiped the orange juice pulp from my lips and pulled the bottle out of the bag and everyone laughed. My feelings were slightly hurt they thought I was crass enough to get bombed in class. Perhaps my illness had given my gait an uncharacteristic wobble.
The instructor took the situation and made it into a lecture on how to build suspense and surprise and humor in your scenes. All I knew was I wanted to go home and wash the acrid taste out of my mouth leftover from the small betrayals of my fellow cohorts in aesthetics. It was then I realized you aren’t born with respect strong enough to punch your way out of a wet brown paper bag — you only develop strength of character against the instant prejudice of others by revealing the truth of you to disprove the gangland power of misconceptions.