(Answer) Before (Listen)

Read between the lines. Listen then answer.

Empty glasses. Empty words. Empty night.         Empty answer.  Empty listen.  

(ANSWER)

Why are you helping me?

Seriously. Put that down.

I didn’t ask you to…

Why? No one just “wants” to do laundry for someone.

Did you do something?
Something bad?  Jesus. Is it really bad? Am I going to be pissed?

No, I’m fine, okay? Why are you..are you just trying to distract me?

Nothing. I’m just tired.

Whatever.

So, we’re not going to talk about it?  That’s the answer?

I said that two days ago.

You could talk to me.

Don’t hurt yourself.

This isn’t what you what.

I’m not what you want.

Look at me.

Right. Cause I want to do this. That it?
I want to put everyone through this shit?                                                                                I wish you’d listen.

It’s so hard.

God, just, stop. Stop saying it’s fine. Stop telling me I’m okay.
I’m not. Obviously I’m a mess. I see. I get it. Obviously I’m not okay.

No. I’m sorry. It’s just… It’s just a really bad day.
I know you do…um…I guess. Get me noodles. 7 1/2 heat. No five. No. Yeah. 7 1/2…
I’m going upstairs. Just…just put mine away if I’m asleep.

(LISTEN)

I’m just doing laundry. It’s no big-

It’s fine. I’m almost done.

I know you didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to help.

Well, no, I didn’t want to do laundry, I’m not weird. I just thought-

What? No, I didn’t do anything. Ok, I smoked today.
I’m sorry. I know you don’t like it, but I grabbed lunch with Mark.
It was one.
Am I missing something? Are you okay?

No, I’m not trying anything. What happened today?

See? Just sit down. Don’t worry about it. We’ll order some pad thai.

Ok. How am I supposed to know?

You said you didn’t want to.

I can’t read your mind. I want to listen. Talk. Answer.  I’m listening.

What have I been doing? I’m trying. I’ve been trying.

I don’t need to.

Of course I want this.

Why would you say that?

I am. Please stop.

It’s me. We don’t have to.
You don’t have to with me.

I know, baby. You’re okay.

I’m sorry.
It….,no. It’s not okay.
I know you’re not okay. It’s not your fault. And I get it.
I don’t have an answer. But I’ll listen.  I want to help.

Ok. I’ll be down here.

(answer)

Dating the Talent

I was actually serious with this.

I was actually serious with this.


I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown when I read her introduction to ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. Ms. Brown is a researcher-storyteller who focuses on shame and our inability to connect. Ms. Palmer is a rock musician who lives her life asking and giving and being vulnerable in a way I never could. The theses of both these writers compliment each other and I wanted to learn more.

In a completely unrelated event, with him not privy to any of this information, my boyfriend sent me a link to Brené Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability. We’re on the same page that way.

There’s one important page in our book, however, on which we are on different pages. Different chapters. Nearly different stories.

I have shame. I have vulnerability. I have inability to connect.

And I have no talent. He has it by swollen handfuls. 

At least, these are all things my head tells me. Granted, my head can be a right brutal bastard. Others might not say so about me. They might have nice works and compliments and proof to the contrary. But for me, today, behind the computer, fighting the words, I have no talent.

But if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. I can’t sing. Or play any instrument. I can’t paint or draw. Truly. My worst grade my freshman year of high school was in art. You can see why. And aside from doing,  I can’t speak about art or history or art history. I don’t know photographers or understand lighting design concepts.

That’s hard medicine to choke down, no matter how much honey you add to the spoon or how strong a chaser that follows it.

I hate not being talented. That’s obvious to the point of hyperbole. But I really, really hate it because I really, really want it. Again, giant obvious.  We all want talent. To be good at something. To be sought after and seen. To feel contributory and valued.

I love creativity and artistry. I will flock to it and stare. I will flirt with it as much as my social anxiety allows. I once gawked and had absurd and inappropriate romantic thoughts about a dossier at the Corcorn Gallery of Art in D.C, not because of anything he looked like or who he was as a person, but because he spoke with nerd-zeal compassion and authority on Stanley Kubrick’s use of facial distortion as a societal commentary in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Entrancing.

The gripping attraction is  because I want to be physically near it.  Feel it. Pretend as much as I  wish with my green-tinged little heart that I had it. Not just faking it. Real goods. The talent that takes up space and air as much as another body in the booth next to you. Maybe I just want some of its skin flakes to entangle with me so give me a bit of something. Because up close, seeing how it’s made, makes it even more beautiful.

My lovely boy is talented. Extremely talented. A photographer. A writer of poems and novels and maker of worlds. A painter. A musician and crafter of songs.  He might say I exaggerate. I care about him, so maybe. But maybe not. I don’t have the goods to participate in the art so I try to facilitate. I buy booze. I make food.  I try to help think of the right verb that means ‘to ask strongly’ but isn’t the word ‘ask strongly’. I provide space and distance and understanding. Well, I always provide space and the sundries to allow creation. It’s as close as I get to artistry some days. To my own disappointment, I have struggled with distance and understanding. With enough conversation and openness from him and more trust by me,  I’m getting it. Getting better at being his audience, listener, problem-tinkering lab assistant. But part of me will  still always selfishly wish it was me as creator. 

Maybe I’m just hard on myself. Not appreciating the work I do accomplish in my possible world. 

Why does it bother me?  Why am I not just immediately thrilled when he reaches a watershed word count or does gorgeous shading work on a charcoal portrait? Is is simple jealousy? Why do I immediately reverse and compare that to myself, with strong and hard criticism. Yelling in my mind that I’m not the one writing. I’m always so humbled and thankful that he shares his work with me. That he thinks enough of me and my instincts and opinions to let me have the first look. Because I want to connect. And I love that he makes himself vulnerable to my gaze and giving me permission for deeper dissection. But so often I’m too busy listening to my own thoughts belittling me and my attempts that I can’t give the time and focus that his work deserves. It’s gorgeous work and I am so thankful he brings me into his fantastical worlds and lets me play.

But in real life, why aren’t I  enough? I’m crazy about this man. Why do I feel like if I’m not keeping up with his every creative beat that it’s not enough? It’s not him saying it. He has read my pieces and sat through my plays and offered not only commentary but heaped praise. Not generic lauding. Thoughtful, honest verbal applause when and where it was deserved. It’s an incredible feeling. To have someone you care about, in turn, care about what you love and what you do. Maybe time to do the same, consistently, intentionally, sincerely for him. Less grousing in my anxious brain about how everyone is better than me, especially the unafraid writer in front of me asking me to listen. How about I shut up and get to work. Stopping lamenting how some of my life choices prevent me from writing and use what I do have.  Actually get better at what I love, instead of wishing I could do what he does.  Keep pushing to  give him, and me,  things to look at, not because I want to prove or compete or to silence an inner doubter, but because I just love it. And I want to share that excited ‘look-what-I-did’ with him.

This is my new, big want. Not just to be a better artist, or any artist for that matter. But to be better at trusting. Trusting that being someone’s first, constant audience is necessary art work. That listening and supporting is a vital gift that I can give. Something I can be good at, even if it means being vulnerable or ashamed of my own lack of work or my perception of its lack of quality. That being genuinely proud and excited for his success can only make him and me and us better. I need to work at being a better artist. Always. But right now, I want to work on being better backstage, taking care of the talent.  Because doing that, also takes care of me.

 (Addendum: He read this last night, while I read the latest chapter of his novel. He liked what I wrote and also disagreed with bits.  He told me I’m talented. He  told me some of what I think is bullshit. He reminded me of what I am and what I can do. We talked and listened and shared and,  for a moment, he was dating the talent. Then he told the talent to put her phone down and go to bed. )


Fat Fucking Red Lines


It’s really hard to take criticism. I get that. 

Once during a writing class in college, I eagerly submitted my first fumbling screenplay attempt to my professor. She was a fantastic playwright and I wanted her to love it. I wanted her to love me. 

She didn’t. 

She thought it was fine. Then she told me it wasn’t a screenplay. It was more a stage play. And that I needed to lose half the dialogue. 

Gutted. Red lines all over my pages and all over my heart. The amazing writer next to me instead got the professor’s phone number and an offer to collaborate in the future. I wound up with an A in the class, but I didn’t care. I didn’t get it. 

Once after the opening night of a show, I asked my director for notes. He said he usually didn’t offer much after rehearsal ended. Then proceeded to give me paragraph after paragraph of blistering critique. My accent was wrong. My walk was wrong. My interaction on stage at a crucial, emotional moment was wrong. 

Again, gutted. I didn’t get it. 

But I fixed the problems. I learned to write better dialogue. And less of it. I learned to keep a firm hold on the characters I worked on for weeks and show them on stage despite opening night nerves. I worked. I got better. I got it. 

As hard as it can be, hearing criticisms about your work or your art is one thing. Hearing them about yourself can be earth-shattering. 

I’m not taking about cruel words or insults hurled carelessly in anger. I can let a ‘bitch’ or an ‘asshole’ from some troll roll off my back. Those words don’t have the bite. But when someone you care about, a person whose opinion you seek and respect thoughtfully says “you’re doing this thing, and it’s becoming a real deal-breaking problem”, those words crash in and leave rubble around your heart. 

New things are hard for me. I don’t pick up new concepts or skills quickly or easily. I need extra time and help and sometimes diagrams and laser pointers. 

It sucks. But I’ve adapted. I’ve learned to take notes and leave clues for myself. I allow extra time and plan for melt downs and mistakes. 

This is frustrating me and exponentially so for the bright people I am lucky to have by my side. They seem to attack a new challenge with zeal and joy. I, on the other hand, scream “I don’t get it! I’ll never get it!” and run away, tears streaming. 

It’s bullshit. And last night, I was called on it. 

I’m attempting to work on my new novella in Scrivener software. As we saw above, it’s a new thing, and I don’t get get it. At this early stage, also pretty sure, I’ll never get it. So, I fussed and pouted and danced my ass off at my own private pity party. The best kind, I feel. More snacks and booze for me. 

It was ridiculous. Stupid. Worse, it was me being willfully ignorant. Refusing to look or listen. Not considering even an attempt at understanding. Not trying for a moment to get it. 

Lame. Super, super lame. 

But the calling out wasn’t what shocked me. It was how it was done. Not yelling. Not passive-aggressive sighing or eye-rolling. Just plainly put. Honest. Stern and with genuine and deserved, not really annoyance or irritation, but more disappointment. The message was clear, not judgement, just awareness. Him reminding me, “We’ve talked about this. This is a distraction. It could become a problem. I don’t want that. I don’t think you want that. You’re smarter than this. You’re better than this. Fix it. I’ll help if you need. But, you’re better than this. So do better. You’ll get it.”

My first reaction was to fight back. Except no one was fighting me. To argue and excuse. Those aren’t the right responses either. What I needed to do, as I’m learning with my own ignorance on intersectional feminism, was to shut the fuck up and listen. No, no, no..still trying to talk. I can tell. Be quiet. And listen. 

He was right. 

So far tonight, I’ve been quiet. I’ve spent lots of time looking at videos and tutorials on the software. I still don’t get a word, but I’ll go back to it. Maybe keep trying. Maybe not. But I hope so. 

No one put the red lines on me tonight. But I still see them. Hopefully, with enough work and trying and then more of both, I can let them fade. I’ll do better. I’ll get it. 

Still There

Still there. Frozen. Willing to make it to the other side of the thaw.

I really can’t call myself a runner. Feels fake and pretentious and smacks loudly of imposter syndrome. Much like my feelings of calling myself a writer or actor. But let’s just go with all those for just a paragraph or two.

If you’re foolhardy and masochistic enough to subject yourself to long runs, there’s a point of absolute despair. At least that’s how my legs and mind have seen it. It’s before the halfway point. Still miles to go. But you can’t see the end, no matter how you crane and squint and struggle.

You have two choices. You stop from pain. Or you keep putting your feet down and make mental offering to the gods that if you keep moving, eventually, you will get there. And they’ll get their pins of flesh.

Because you really want to get there. You’ve put a few bucks on this and spent some hours and want to post a picture of the end with a smile.

You’re still there. Frozen. Stuck. No where to go but through or back and either one is a path of barbs and booby traps.

Same mindset for many things. Finishing a novel. Learning French. Pushing out a baby. With booby trap taking on a whole new meaning of pain.

Same, I suspect and am learning with fear, for the challenges of love and relationships.

The fates have gifted me with a truly lovely young man. Young. Man. Handsome man. My fantastic boy.  I smile when I think of him. Smile more when I get to see him. The best ones are the secret few only he gets to see.

Yes. The fates give. But, the fates also want you to work for what you’ve been given. They are a snarky mistress, the fates, and they do delight in peril of the mind and heart.

Something happens to my brain in the best of our times. I can not help but not just acknowledging but dwelling on the hard bubbling just below the soft, lucious days and moments.

There are things I can’t do for this young man. Not won’t. Not haven’t friend. Can’t. Laws of chemistry and physics. And that makes me think about running away. Let him have the space for the fates to bring him the one who can.

I am quiet and surly and brooding and a nightmare asshole the size of a Gatsby mansion.

And then he touches my cheek and I melt and any thought of running away  sounds ridiculous and I want to slap fully any stupid brain that would suggest such idiocy.

Sharp, prickly difficulties aside, It’s a beautiful place to be frozen. With this tremendous person who inspires and challenges and cares. And warms you until you can feel the icy edges surrendering and you believe it will someday be warm again.

So for today, I’m still here. Still there. Still learning to enjoy every second of light and heat among the cold. Deep enough and sinking deeper so that I’m afraid that if I last until the thaw, everything will flood and at least some of me will drown. But I’ll risk that. I’ll take my chances on swimming. And I won’t waste a second fretting on what the next season brings.

Because I have coats and shoes and hats for them all. And I’ve seen his closet. Maybe he does too. If not, I’ve loved the heat and the ice and the singing in the rain.

Ugly Ass Cookies

 

 

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Wish these were a clever joke. Culinary equivalent of an kitschy, obnoxious sweater that’s somehow fun now. One of those things where I could throw in some sub set about how they sure are gnarly looking, but gods are they delicious.

They’re not. They taste like crumbling toddler biscuits. The ones that turn into carbohydrate paste from teething drool.  Like that. But with red chalky sugar coating.

I should be better at this.

Eight years ago today, I was in a hospital bed. No one was taking take of me and I wasn’t taking care of myself, because I was taking care of an infant. Exhausted to the point of delirium, I started passing out.  My body finally decided that if I wouldn’t put myself down, it would do it for me.

It was fine. Such a silly trifle.  I was fine. Tired and dehydrated, but fine. (An absurd remembrance that I feel guilty and selfish even mentioning,  since as I write this, our Princess and General is fighting  for her true and valued life. We need you, Madam.) I was fine then. So, shouldn’t I be better now?

I have tried making these cookies every Christmas. They always turn out like garbage. Every god damn year. I am somehow, no better a cooke or baker than I was a decade ago. I’m really reaching and stretching to see if I’ve moved the dial on anything. How is that even possible?

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This is, apparently, a yarmulke for an ogre. It was, by intention, meant to be a hat for a human.

So no, not better at doing the art things, either.

Seriously, god damn it.

Am I better at being a mom?

Don’t know. Somedays I surprise myself with a good show. Lots of days I go to bed, absolutely secure in my failure. But, the kid seems okay and he’s still talking to me. Give it eight more years.

How about being better at taking care of myself?

That’s funny. Maybe I got better at being funny. I got to write and perform a thing a few weeks ago and people laughed. Maybe that’s what I have to put before the court of my insecurities for the years of work and failure.

But no. Definitely not better at taking care of myself.

I joke, a lot, that buying things and doing things and generally going out of your way is the only way to make people like you. On bad days, I include my especially hurtful ‘and be pretty and skinny and dress cute with sleek hair and a perfect eye’ caveat. More than a little frightful how much truth is in all of these slug lines of bullshit.

But can we at least appreciate my consistency and dedication to my theme?  Even the wording of my mental self-critiques is fatiguing. And that’s to me. Can’t begin to fathom the drudgery it is for those who have to hear my indulgent grousing out loud.

Like right now.  I’m still in the same metaphysical position. I’m sitting, slouched and run down, from trying to be all the places, and do all the things and make up the vast ground my heart and brain tell me I lack. I make the effort. I do. I show up. But what happens is, when I do show up and I do the things,  I’m a tired, cranky, anxiety-ridden bitch.

But isn’t that what you have to do? Don’t you have to try? Don’t you have to at least meet the universe half way if you want any chance at happy?

Or am I just full of a holiday sad and sit empty-armed and looking for pity?

Good chance. Or maybe I just really wanted coffee and a good thumbprint tonight and I’m pissed that the fates had other plans.

I want to get better. I want to get a handle on those damn cookies and that forsaken hat. I want to be a less neurotic mom. I want to be a less anxious and miserable person to Netflix with on a Friday night. I want to be present and hearing what is said and seeing what is meant and not filling in the blanks with my own imagined callous intention and not trusting the truth from someone trying to care. I want to work on crafting sentences shorter than a chapter of Austen. I know if I keep fighting, I can see more clearly the balance between expressing joy and concern and affection and not letting that give drive you into a sick bed.

That stuff won’t come in a  stocking. But making taking a minute to say it and type it and let the universe know I’ve started walking in its direction, maybe that’s good. IF I keep walking, maybe there’s something better to come in the winter days ahead.

Merry is not always possible. Nor is bright. But here and trying and getting back up has to be.

Cheers.

 

 

Under Covers

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Under Covers

I always hated being under covers.
A frightened girl, tucked in bed
scarves tied to keep everything
in perfect place.
Believing in ghosts,
hoping for vampires,
I hid in corners, closets
and once in the back of my best friend’s mom’s
rusty hatchback.

But never under covers.
At least not all the way.
It’s awful under there. Scarier than out,
close and hot.
You can’t see what’s coming
until it already has you.
Covers.
NIghtmare-making fabric coffins.

But here I am
asking and
grateful for and
happy under covers.
Someone else’s covers.

His aren’t the heavy, damp clinging ones
I always knew.
Where your own sweat constricted and pulled and tightened
your own suffocation.
These, his, are loose and linen
light and kicked off and
breathed through.

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Covers I want under.

And I don’t understand.
I’m afraid of covers.

I know I can’t survive under there.
Febrile and scratching and anticipating
worse than what really is.
And I know I can’t sleep above them
lying above them, raw, exposed
cold and threatening numb.

But under covers?

So many arms and legs
throats and necks
dark rents
So many.
There can’t be space for everyone
to exchange,
because my ribs are always convinced
that there’s not enough room and
a cover might as well be a corset.

Am I learning to breathe under there?
Because I am
washing sheets and tumbling dry
watching them fall and
willing the corners to curl around me.

Under covers seems finite
Only so much air
only so much pushing protection
enveloping escape
releasing rescue.
One day, some day, the air may be gone.

May.
But today
I want to crawl under.
I want to stay and listen
for ghosts.
No longer hoping for vampires.

Instead, wanting
the quiet and heat and feeling good
feeling me, reaching us,
allowing our under space
wanting to last
as long as the covers will hold.

 

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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.