What If I Don’t?

From the set of ‘Silenced’ by James Barris

In the past few months, I got  to see Coney Island for the first time. I got to sit in a hospital room through the night with my mother. I got to see my son build his own game controller. I got to talk and share and feel for hours with a fantastic boy. 
In the past few months, I’ve also had to give up at least six acting jobs. A combination of: 

-getting cast and then turning now the part (surefire way to never get to work with that company again; and that was an incredible part. This is one that still stings.)

-scheduling several auditions and then cancelling

-being outright offered roles and refusing them

I look back with at least a little regret and anger at all those. Pointless but there’s truth and lies. Them is the truths. 

Now, as I started many paragraphs and bulleted lists ago, I was able to do some important and very worthy things. I got to spend a weekend in the city of my heart, NYC and see my favorite band.  I got to see my son run in waves at the beach. And then I got to rescue him from the airport when his return trip from his father’s wedding when ridiculously awry. 

I couldn’t have done any of those things if I had been in rehearsals for a play or on set. 

I look back on those choices and I’m fine with what I picked. No regret or anger. Them is also the truths. 

I wonder if I’m just justifying. Rationalizing. Piling on the horseshit high and wide. 

That’s not impossible. 

Maybe because I’m not getting cast or because life and it’s collars forced me back out of parts I could do, that I feel a compunction to tell a story. A story where I’d rather feel ineffectual and irrelevant as an artist than feel guilty for being an absent and selfish parent. 

Maybe I just want to feel good about myself. So I spin a story about stepping away intentionally from my world of self, when it could be they pushed me off stage for being a cheap hack. I’m not the best actor. 

Poor guy isn’t the best masker either. 

Cause look at this kid. 

I make this exact face every day. He often hates doing things out in the world with people. Just like I do. And I love him for it. 

He made me a birthday cake. Something I could not have seen if I hadn’t turned down a recent acting offer. 

I’m a mom. This is what I do. You give up the last slice of cake and you turn down leading roles in classic plays. 

What worries me, if I let myself go to the dark and scary places, is what I don’t?

What if I don’t act again? 

Conversely, what if I get an incredible professional chance, and grab it with both hands? To metaphorically keep the last piece of cake for myself sounds lucious sometimes in its indulgence. 

What if to chase that, I run away from my kid and let him fend for himself with whatever family member takes over for me? I’m afraid because if I had the money and assistance I might. (Luckily or unluckily, that’s not my family’s lot. Not a healthy bunch. See above night in hospital. )

What if, as I’ve always feared and suspected but kinda knew, I’m not that strong an actor and that’s why the drive and journey and success eluded me? 

Or  what if I just shut the hell up for a second? What if I accept with humble gratitude all my immense privileges and the freedoms, experiences and opportunities for profound happiness that comes with that shining gift? The ability to have a job and a home and a healthy kid is the holy grail and only a fool keeps searching once they’ve found at least one scroll. 

Also, obvious and crystal, sparkling clear, I think the women who work and parent and pursue their art are goddesses and I bow to their glory. Being any of those three things should not lessen the worth or might of the others. I know personally several brilliant actor mamas and they have my daily awe and jealousy. Just because I can’t make it happen for myself doesn’t mean I judge what they do. Of course, I cringe and melt into a pile of self-pity and why esteem vacates when I see their pictures from set on Instagram. But I don’t judge them. Nor do I the moms who left our little acting and art world to play in the realm of motherhood forever and always. I applaud them all. At least I try. 

And I’m so, so grateful for what I’ve been able to do. I have gorgeous memories and friends to take with me as I continue through my script. Other pulls abated for a bit, now I have time and space to focus on the people fate has brought into my life and home. Much more guitar and laughter and hugging than I ever thought my sphere would hold. Lucky girl. 

So, tonight, fine at home with no pending outlets, I’m not sad. I’m listening. I’m trying to turn out and not in. I’m staying open. 

Maybe that part will be back. I have some ideas for when it’s time. 

For now, there’s my novel that is on a second draft and won’t find and editor on its own. There is a lovely boy who is coming to Nashville with me. 

And there is a small-ish Chewbacca that needs a Rey to take him to the Halloween dance. 

Don’t mind if I do. 

Blackberries and Zofran

No. Really. Fuck them

No. Really. Fuck them

It is a sorry god damn state of affairs when a beautiful boy makes you a beautiful dinner nestled in a beautiful blackberry/adobo sauce (all three indeed more beautiful than I can describe) and you can do nothing but stare at it. When your head is so twisted with its own anxiety and vain, foolish, selfish depression that you can not swallow the gorgeous food, you really do want to fuck feelings. And not in a loving, respectful, consentful way.

My response to heartbreak and hurt is as scattered and multi-polar as it is enthusiastic. The more it pinches inside, the harder I will push outside to find a way to make it not.

Over the years I have thrown many things at my ugly feelings. I tried increasing to a more vigorous running schedule. It helps. It does. But not always and not enough. I have also knit yards of yarn for blankets and sweaters and coffee mug cozies, often unwinding the whole mess, only to purl the whole thing back together. One unexpected dealing bent was the pagan/Wiccan/goddess worship altar that is now tucked away on a shelf. Blessed be, I will search every dusty unusual corner to get any dirty little bit of help to hurt less.

After a recent particularly prickly ouch, I went to books. Mostly because I love them. But more than that. The thought process is this: if I’m convinced I’m fucked and broken, I need to find out how to fix it. Because everything has to have a fix, right?  I don’t know how to fix myself.  Books know things. I’ll ask a book.

Seems I’ve been asking the wrong books. See, I am not a creature of sweetness and light. I am a creature of sarcasm, dark oily cigars, light amber whisky and a font of self-deprecation that can not be emptied. Seeking out books to make me a more positive, optimistic girl are more useful to me propping up my bed so I have more room for shoes, and other…things, under it. Motivating posts make me want to retch. I’ve strained more than one ocular muscle with my vigorous eye rolling in irritation at uplifting messages. When I read a string of hashtags followed a litany of weight loss success numbers and workout wins, I want to punch innocent, and rightfully proud friends in their skinny, toned asses.   If only I’d put that energy into my running. I’d be fast as hell and have a much different relationship with my thighs.

Yes. I’m even more fun to be around than you can imagine. If you imagine Pittsburgh rush hour, game day traffic fun.

F*ck Feelings is my jam. I’m not a writing critic, so I’ll leave that to the fine likes of big, delicious minds like Ms. Kakutani. But I love the ideas of this book. What I’m getting from it, big picture, is to stop flagellating yourself because of what you deal with day to day. Everyone has shit. We procrastinate. We drink too much. We cheat and yell. Lots of us feel bad when we do that. What Dr. Bennett and Ms. Bennett lay out, to my simple understanding,  is that there is no magic happy. There is no algorithmic fix. The best we can do, is stop kicking ourselves for the shit that is far out of our control. You instead save that leg strength to step ahead. Baby steps. Every day. Doing something better. Is it still going to suck? You bet your sweet sassafras. But you can do something. And then you can be snarkily proud of yourself for getting through the day.

And somedays, getting through is the best you can do. This weekend I had one of those. I wanted to fuck feeling and fuck ugly thoughts, both at the same time. And that stuff doesn’t go away. Yesterday I felt like garbage because I’m an adult that doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Right this second, I’m watching the debate and I’m racing  around in my head about what an idiot I am because I don’t understand trickle down economics. Are those things I can do something about? Maybe. I could study. Learn. One of those books I love. Who knows? Likely, I’m not that coordinated or sharp. But, tonight, I have clean towels and clean bathrooms and lunches packed for tomorrow. Can I dare feel good about that? Maybe. Just maybe.

There are things to feel good about, if you stop and let it happen and don’t kick it in the head as soon as they appear.

When this weekend I was falling apart in front of amazing food, and chose very poorly to drink wine instead  (yes, fuck feelings, but fervent, sloppy hugs and kisses for Zofran, because that’s some good anti-puke science in a little pill) I had someone catch me. Again. The man’s arms have got to be exhausted. He spent hours, truly hours, not telling me things. Granted, he did, he started, but he also saw that I wasn’t hearing any of the caring, supportive things he was saying. Much like I couldn’t eat that god damn marvelous burrito. Not proud of any of that.

So, instead, he stepped back, held out his hand, and helped me pull myself out of my hole. My hole. Of my making. He didn’t  need me to change who I was. Didn’t ask me to be bouncy and smiley. Let me be inwardly curled and quiet. And simply let me be where I was and who I was and said: Tell me what you like about yourself.

Big, gaping, opaque blank.

And then he asked again. And again. And didn’t take no, or nothing, or I don’t know for an answer.

So I gave him an answer. I came up with something. Mostly bollock answers. But not all. I named a few somethings. Little somethings. But somethings.

It was frightful and shudder-making and a gift for which I am humbled and so, so grateful.

I’m not the girl who is bright and shiny. Never will be and I can’t feel badly about that.  I have enough bad feelings, and yes, fuck those. I’m lousy and selfish and forgetful. But, not always. I’m also the girl who has made some good choices, and who can keep trying to do the best she can with the shit she has been dealt. That’s a big, beautiful something. Not as beautiful as that boy and that beautiful blackberry sauce that I couldn’t enjoy with the unrepentant pleasure it deserved. But I’ll make that up to him. And I’ll let myself feel good about that.

So, yes. Fuck feelings. Especially the bad ones.

But not the ones for fantastic boys that make you burritos.



Maybe It’s Supposed To Hurt

I’m trying to learn to play guitar. 

I’m failing at learning to play guitar. 

When I play, which I do try to do every day, it’s just awful. I try harder and it’s awful-er. I want to have talent so much and it bugs me that I don’t.(Yes, I know how ridiculous and worthless my entitled that sounds. Princess also wants a sailboat and a pink pug that barks to the tune of Beethoven’s Sonata 8.) Failing at things like guitar bug me so much and I get so wound about the metaphorical peg that I dig the wood of the curves into my legs. 

Kind of my leitmotif. 

And I don’t know how to loosen the strings.

Sometimes it’s a harmless and endearing quirk. Look, she gets shaky and high-pitched when asked to quickly choose an ice cream flavor! Adorable. 

(Not adorable. I picked uni-flavor frozen yoghurt because I didn’t want to be judged for the red velvet ice cream I really wanted. So much idiocy and suck.)

Sometimes, it’s a problem. Like when you melt (ice cream call back) at work because your kid’s been wearing the wrong uniform for weeks, and the friendly girls at the Catholic school calls to scold you. 

(Also, not fucking adorable. Interwebs clothing company, if you categorize uniforms by school, why is it even possible for me to buy the wrong shirts? I can’t negotiate that mess. I am a Jen, not a Roy or Moss, to those who know the reference. Just sell me the correct shit.)

And sometimes, it’s an absolute horror show. Now, I work in a hospital. Master’s educate. Clinician. Direct patient care. I really do get that bodies are fragile, sometimes offensive bits of carbon and effluvia. So, it makes no sense that I’d have such shame about my own and what it does. But, I was embarrassed by my physical self this weekend. And not because of how it looks. Details spared here, but Jesus Christ. (Catholic call back)

It was Carrie farting in front of Big level of mortification. And I don’t know why it crashed me. But it did. 

(Yes. I’ll also make a two decade old Sex and the City reference. Kiss my ancient, brittle, hag ass. )

The difference and the only saving salve of that mess was letting someone talk me down from the loft vibrations of my  high strung heights. 

I never do that. It’s smart and healthy and healing. Why would I do that? I’ve always chosen, CHOSEN, to stay pissed. To stay shamed. To stay hurt and full of my own needless guilt. I hang on to that shit with two closed fists like I need those ugly rotting feels to live. Why????

Who wants to spend a day like that? Who finds comfort in feeling like utter shit? Who actively tries to behave like the nightmare, asshole girl who is the tragic-but-true punchline to a sexist joke?

Apparently this broad. Yes. I know boys and girls. Ridiculously sexy and appealing. Queue forms to the left. Keep it orderly. Preference given to pixie-cuts and poets. 

If you want to learn how to push people out of your life at lightning speed, the the above instructions and tips. I’m a professional away pusher because of this. I feel something that hurts, like hurts usually do, and I push and blame and make being around me supremely unpleasant. And I see myself doing it. Split- screen brain screams “youredoingitahainstopniwimeanitknockitthefuckoff!!!!!”

No one likes a dick. I mean, they do, but not in this version of the movie. I want to stop being a selfish, high strung dick. 

I started. Somehow, mercifully, I actually let this one go. I let myself feel mortified, stayed there for a while but then I took the hand that was extended and crawled out into the world. 

Fuck that was big and scary. And this shows clearly my skewed perspective and priorities and vanity. Yes. Again, queue to the left. 

And it was okay. It was weird. Tried to joke about it. Kinda fell flat. Tried another  and that one hit. Everyone made it through to the morning. Tired as hell. But the bagels and coffee he gave me were delicious. 

So, loosen the strings. Ease up on that guitar. Having it cut into your skin won’t make Clair de Lune sound any less slow and painful when I fumble through it. But, if I keep reaching out my fingers, I just might find I make my through it. 

I hope there are coffees and bagels when I get there. Or even better, real ice cream. 

Garbage can, not a garbage can’t?

My view of days. Sometimes it’s an awesome NYC subway sculpture. Some days it’s ugly life chewing your undeserving fat ass.

I self-deprecate. It’s what I do. I drink unhealthy level of Diet Coke every day, I have unruly hair, I have a crooked spine and I self-deprecate. Some things are just hard wired.

And that’s not a good thing.

I’ve always had at  least a modicum of self-hatred. In fourth grade, I wrote a story for school about an anorexic teenager who tried to demolish her own body. The poor student teacher just trying to get through the semester was not at all prepared. I only ever remember feeling like this.

It’s absurd. Of course, you know,  mental illness always make such logical sense. So, I talk about it. My feelings and woe-is-mes of hurt and doubt and insecurity. Ad nauseum. And then some god damn more if anyone around me wasn’t listening to my last hour’s diatribe.

Pathetic. Ain’t nobody trying to hear that, as the kids say. They also say #pawg and #thot but I’m not trying to hear that. Or maybe I’m just too old and saw too many grunge and ska bands that I can’t hear anything anymore. #toomanyhorns

From my perspective, I’m just giving others full disclosure. Fair warning. Full acknowledgement. Yes. I know what I’m not. Fully aware. Fully perceiving the flaws. I want you to know that I know what a mess I am.

Except I’m really not. I don’t think that’s hubris or ego or id. I really am doing pretty ok.

From other’s perspectives, as I’m coming to understand, it doesn’t come across as my own humble reckoning. It comes across as my own incredibly frustrating jackassery.

I never thought about it that way. “Shocking, ” the selfish girl said in affected horror as she complained again about her own patently false or just irrelevant bullshit.

Surely, I can’t speak as to what it’s like to deal with my constant, constant, CONSTANT, sad sack blustering and snuffling. But I imagine it like this. Someone you care about is banging their head against a wall. Your wall. They seem okay with it. The banging doesn’t change speed or intensity. Just keeps banging. Eventually, blood starts to appear on their forehead and your wall.

They don’t want to do that, they say. It hurts, they say. All they want to do is stop, they say. You, caring, want to help. You steer them away from the wall. Distract them with conversation and yellow cake. But, they keep going back to the wall.

You suggest a solution to stop. They bang. You offer a different solution. They bang. You offer yet a different one. They bang.

All the while, complaining about their headache and blurry vision. Their dizziness and ringing ears. Blood in their eyes. If it’s me, it would take all my power to not scream-

“Then stop banging your fucking head! If you don’t want to, if you want to stop, then knock it the fuck off already!!!”

I say that as the one, forehead bruised, from constant head banging.

This is why people brush their hands of the thing and walk away from the whole damn table.  It’s tiring and soul-sucking and time-wasting and worst of all just really fucking boring.

Time for me to stop. Ridiculous, needy, constant-attention and reinforcement-craving. Fucking stop it.

My family has been sick lately. Actual problems. Emergency rooms and hospital stays and surgical consultation stays. Those are things to get pissed and anxious and to cry and bang your head about. Not because you’re a little chubbier than you’d like. Have another glass of wine and a cookie and shut the fuck up.

Not sure what all the fucks are about in this one. Too many to give? None left? Maybe just the perfect amount?

A few days ago, before the plague his my family, I managed something special. No, not just pristinely organizing a Lego room. I did do that, and it was awesome.

See. I am doing ok.

But more impressive, I chose to be happy. I was having a shit day. Feel like a miserable, worthless letch. But I chose to stop. And I did. And I made myself feel better. It was unexpected and incredible. I want to do it again. A few days later I fell apart again and was thankfully caught and held. He is too good a man. He needs to do less catching. Less steering away from walls. More writing and pictures and music and art and food and adventure.

So, moving ahead. Get my people out of hospital and better. Next, get me better by choosing better things to see and write and think. I’m a writer. Words matter. I want mine to do so along with my thoughts. So I need to make them good ones. The very choice, best ones.

For now, No more head banging. Except in the car.

September 3, 1950

Half underwater, I’m half my mother’s daughter

A fraction’s left up to dispute.

-Amanda Palmer, “Half Jack”

Today would have been my father’s 66th birthday. IMG_7031

He died two years ago, just a few weeks after his 64th birthday. I still have hidden on a shelf the Breaking Bad DVD collection that I bought him to watch during chemotherapy. He loved the show, hard and proud. He made it through one treatment and two and a half episodes before his own season was cancelled.

My dad loved television. He got serious joy and impish I-told-you-so fun out of finding shows before they were cool.

Yeah. The dude was so hipster before there were hipsters, that he didn’t wax his moustache. He left that to grow 70’s wild like Bob Belcher.

The delight he had in talking about new characters he had met on his new favorite series was adorable. If you disagreed, he would get sulky. Even worse, if you couldn’t be bothered to watch the show after he recommended it? It was was like you were trying to be an awful, ungrateful child. You could see his cartoon thought bubble: Yes. I sold my 1969 Mustang so you could go to college. And now you can’t watch Mad Men so we can talk about it? What a jerk.

He always told me if I wanted to write, that I should write for television shows. Or commercials so that I could make money. So that I could take care of him and my mother. And then he’d give me twenty dollars because my mother said so. Hasn’t happened just yet. Sorry, dad.

He also loved music. LOVED. MUSIC. Couldn’t play a single note on a single instrument. He did have a sweet, tuneful voice, though. But it never saw the stage. Just the walls of our house, and our cars, and the office where he worked, and the grocery store, and the gas station, and…

Dude sang constantly. Anything. His favorite 70’s songs. Jingles. Christmas song. Old church hymns. While some teenagers ask not to be embarrassed, my only request was ever, ” Dad, when my friends come over, please don’t sing.” He’d smile and nod. And launch into full Led Zeppelin, “D’Yer Mak’er”,

OH, Oh, oh, oh OH!!!!!!

You don’t have to go, OH, oh oh, OH!!!!

complete with air guitar the minute my friends walked through the door. He thought it was hilarious. I vowed to run away.

He was my influence in music. It’s why I like rock and roll. His collection in vinyl, even if some of the choices are extremely suspect, is one of my treasured hauls. It made me endlessly pleased to watch him love every second of my brother becoming a talented musician. My dad drove to every show, from which he hadn’t been banned by sulky teenage ennui.

He loved movies. Because of him I saw Full Metal Jacket and Bad Lieutenant, Midnight Cowboy and  The Deer Hunter. Although none of these would even be as good as Top Gun in his opinion.




In this instance, I am my mother’s daughter.

I don’t look like my dad. A bit of the crazy curly hair, maybe. The light eyes. But side by side, you’d never tag us as sharing DNA. I’m more the image of my mother. As I get older, and my wrinkles get deeper, and my grey hairs grow  more wild and unwilling to be covered, I see the  physical resemblance to my mother more intensely, more concentrated.

The older I get, I also see more and more the things about me, inside me, in my marrow and my grey brain matter that are my dad.

My father struggled with mental health issues for most of his life. I don’t know much about the details. As a kid of the fifties and a guarded and private person, he wouldn’t have talked about it. The upbringing in his house with a stern, bordering on abusive father, didn’t make it the most safe of spaces. Problem? Have a drink and shut up about them. It explained much of my father’s delicate personality and difficulty with conflict, but the kindness that he kept always surprised me.

Because we didn’t talk about it, I don’t really know what my dad went through. I don’t know if there were awful things that swirled in his brain and yelled lies and misdirections at him. I know he had dark times and dark places. I know anxiety was sometimes so intense and acute that he couldn’t leave his bed. I know that multiple times in his life, so disgusted by the whole cycle and infinite nature of the whole thing that he stopped his own medications. Trying to convince himself he was fine, he’d just stop taking his daily, needed and critical doses, without telling anyone. And he would be fine. Until very soon he wasn’t.

My own problems with depression and anxiety are small compared to what my dad dealt with for most of his life. But, even on my scale, I know a bit of the road he travelled. To have miserable, harmful thoughts flooding your brain. To not feel like there is anyone who understands or who can make it just the smallest bit easier to bear. To feel so hateful of your own mind and body and actual person, that you can’t imagine anyone else possibly seeing any worth either.

I wish we could have talked about that more. It’s something I try to include with my own son as part of our life and family. Sometimes people have bad days. Sometimes there are reasons. Sometimes not. But let’s talk about it. Not to fix it. Just to acknowledge it. Just so you know you’re not the only person on the road, even if it’s long, and shitty and full of holes that could wreck you. Could be that first child vanity and hubris, forever and always, needing parental approval. Just wanting to tell him how I pulled myself out of a depression and anxiety cycle a few days ago. That I was truly able to change my thoughts and choose positive and happy instead of destruction and hurt. I wanted to share that victory and I think he really would have understood. I don’t know.

Maybe knowing more about my dad and what he went through would have given me a better perspective on my own issues. Probably not. And maybe I didn’t know more because he didn’t want me to know. It was his war to fight, and you fight that whatever way you need to so you can win. Loud and thrashing screaming. Or silent and grounded and resolved. Or softly singing “Wish You Were Here” while smoking an “unfiltered cigarette” behind the garage.

But my dad was never a fighter.

My dad was, however,  cool as hell.

I wish I could call him today. Let him say his always “Hey, Alyss!” and then after barely a minute, “Well, okay, let me get your mother” while he yelled from his chair. The man enjoyed a good sit. Another point on which we diverge.

I’m thinking about him today.

Comparing the men in my life to him as daughters of fathers have no choice but to do. (Hmm… an impressive guitarist and singer  who also drinks Rum and Coke, and is funny and endlessly kind…  excellent start)

I hope my dad was happy while he was here. Hopefully, despite all the difficult patches for him,  he was. He sang and he laughed made the people around him smile. And I want to keep that and use it to be more my father’s daughter.

Happy birthday, Dad. Keep singing.