A good friend of mine, someone I’ve known almost all my life, just turned 50. To kind of celebrate this milestone, he’s been posting these wonderful memories where he picks a year from his 50 and shares a very detailed memory involving someone important at that time and then, at the end of his post, he gives a link and asks for a donation to a charity or a group that is meaningful to him. It’s amazing to read. But, then again, he’s always been a truly amazing person.
What keeps striking me is the depths of his memory. He had one that actually involved me from his (our) first grade year. I read the post, knowing full well that I was there for everything he talked about, but with absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I mean, I knew that the setup was factual – we were taken from our first grade classes and began spending time with the school librarian doing different things. It was our district’s fledgling attempts at a program for gifted students. I know it happened, I know the teacher’s name. I remember being told that I was too fidgety. I remember NOTHING else.
This is typical for me. There is something either missing or blocked in my brain about much of my childhood. I have memories basically based on pictures I’ve seen over and over – factual accounts with the 4 Ws (who, what, where, when). No why. I’ve talked about this before on this platform. Sometimes it really, really bothers me. I hate that I can’t remember really influential moments or things I’ve done. It’s upsetting, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I try not to dwell.
Here’s what I do have. I have feelings. I have waves of emotion that are linked to sounds, smells, sights. Like, a song will come on that is linked to a certain time in my life and I’ll be hit by a wave of feeling. Tension, relaxation, peacefulness, yearning, pain, embarrassment, etcetera. And the feelings are rich…..deep………full of truth and memory.
This time of year is one of those feelings. I’m sure all adults can relate. The time after school lets out for the summer. The feeling of freedom, of relaxing, of possibilities.
It hits me hard every year, but this year it was visceral. I got hit one recent evening, driving with my windows open, with the smell of fire. And it hit every single cell of my body. I wanted, right then, to go back to the summers of 1985 or 1986, sitting around a bonfire on a summer night after spending the day swimming or driving or hanging out. Beers? Maybe. It depends on the location. It was 1985, after all. Sitting in the grass or on a log. Music in the background – probably either The Nylons or classic rock. There’d be singing along, whatever it was. There’d be stories and definitely loud, loud laughter. Tim would be there. Jannah. Dean. Kristin. Georgette. Maybe others – Brad & Mike & Kelly & Andy, maybe Connie. If it was at Tammy’s there were many , many more. There would be both loneliness and a strong bond fighting each other for dominance. I mean, when we had each other we were never REALLY lonely. But as with any group of young people, there were always unspoken feelings, needs & desires, fights and dreaming of something we thought we couldn’t have. So we weren’t ALONE, but I think each within us was still lonely….or maybe LONGING is better…for something.
Anyway, that smell, that quick waft of burning logs on the summer wind, made me yearn, deeply, to go back. Maybe it’s those early summer feelings of freedom & possibilities I was yearning for. Maybe it was the connection of friends when you feel like nothing will ever part you. Maybe it was a simple old woman’s wish for fewer responsibilities and “have to”s. I don’t know. But it was so very real.
No. Wait. It’s not that it was real. I mean, it was real like smoke is real. I could see it, smell it, feel it and probably thought I could just reach right out and grab it. But, like smoke, it wisps away, teasing you that no matter how badly you yearn, you’ll never wrap your hand around it. And while so much of me is glad that I’m at this stage of life, part of me craves that feeling of youth. That feeling of invincibility and possibility. That feeling of minimal responsibilities and seeking fun. Being able to sink down in front of a bonfire on a weeknight surrounded by friends and, yes, even drink too much with them. Of desiring things you haven’t had or haven’t experienced. Of climbing in the car and driving to Lake Geneva or Glacier Park or Fontana or even just to the end of the road and exploring. But we can never go back.
This also happened to me with a song recently. Well, 2 songs, actually. The first one I could identify why the feelings came. The second I couldn’t.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.
Suddenly, it was summer of 1991. I’m driving down South Lake Shore Drive out of Lake Geneva over to the south side of the lake where my family’s cabin was. My boyfriend at the time was in the passenger seat. Windows are down, hair is flying. I am singing the shit out of this song. Probably annoying him. I don’t care. For some reason, I think it’s Memorial Day weekend, I’m not sure. Maybe July 4th? Not sure. But it was a holiday weekend because he was able to come up from school at U of I for the weekend where we camped out in the cabin with another couple. We were free. For a couple days, anyway. We could wake when we wanted, swim if we wanted, hang out in the cabin or drive into town, get breakfast at a downtown diner. Play games, watch videos. It was a taste of adulthood without any responsibilities. Hearing the song again, I could feel it all. The wind, the lake air, the crazy sweat from the uncooled cabin, the cigarette smoke, the cold Diet Coke, the pasta we made for dinner, the feel of the lake water as I dove in, the annoyance of no window coverings on the lake side windows. But most of all – the YOUTH. I could feel the youth.
The other song was Fleetwood Mac. Say You Love Me
I heard this one because my band is adding it to our repertoire. When the first chords hit, I got goosebumps and the same feeling. This time, I don’t know why. I couldn’t scrounge up a memory about it. But something within it brought me back to younger days.
So that’s how memory works for me. I may not have detailed stories I can share. I may not be able to give you the “why” of anything from the pictures in my mind. But I have this. These deep, visceral, sweeping feelings that take me back. From one measure of music or one whiff of something, I can tell you whether it’s good or bad. And, if I’m lucky, I can succumb to the deep intake of breath it creates and the resonating, almost moaning sigh from going back to a time when I could relax and be free. Maybe that’s all I’ll get. I’ll find a way to make that okay.Tweet
I’ve been back from London for 2 weeks now and finally things are settling down. Steven’s musical has opened (Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), we’re back to routines, and I’m catching up on the pictures I need to process.
While I was there, I bought a little journal and journaled at least the first 3 days. I didn’t get much more done as I was actually doing things and processing the pictures I’d taken. But I wanted to share the journaling I did do about those days.
Day 1 – March 25, 2018
Wow. I’m actually in London. I successfully navigated Heathrow, even though it too, nearly an hour to get through passport check. And I couldn’t remember the name of Maggie’s school – I worriecd they’d think I was lying!
But, my GOD, the walking! After immigration, I got my suitcase & found an ATM, where I couldn’t get cash. GODDAMMIT!! But I exchanged the US cash I had at a place by baggage claim. Then walking forever to the tube.
I navigated the tube well. Got my ticket, found the platform, and found a seat. My huge suitcase quickly became an issue as I was having trouble getting it between my legs, so it blocked a seat, which annoyed other passengers. Finally did it, though.
Got off at the correct stop (YAY!) and found the hotel. Oh. wow, this hotel. It’s so lovely and charming while also being luxurious. My room wasn’t available yet as it was only 10am, so I ventured across the street to Muriel’s Kitchen, a small restaurant with breakfast fare. Eggs on toast, stripey bacon (so good). The egg yolks were orange, which surprised me and I’ll need to research. I finished and didn’t want to take up space, since people were waiting for a seat. I went outside to wait for Maggie. A lovely flower vendor making astonishing bouquets was just around the corner in a little square outside the tube entrance. Pigeons, children on scooters, people walking their dogs. So many languages, looks, journeys, stories. I watched the black cabs & red double decker buses.
The hotel is marvelous. Lovely bed with a fresh & modern color scheme. The bath has a shower to die for. Hot, fierce, and refreshing. Then I pull the towel off the rack and it’s WARM. Bloody heated towel racks, y’all. Absolutely amazing after my long, grungy flight. Maggie waited for me as I refreshed & then we ventured out.
She took me to a local Thai place where she’d been before. I wasn’t tremendously hungry as I’d had breakfast on the plane and then food at Muriel’s Kitchen, but I had some fried rice and a glass of wine. It is so different relating to Maggie as an adult – having a glass of wine, discussing life and issues. She is so mature, and has a lot of clearheadedness for a 20 year old.
We walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was quite impressive. A very different type of museum with sculpture and artifacts, but also neat exhibits like fashion & a wonderful theatre collection. With England’s great theatrical history, it’s marvelous to see the impact recognized on a national scale. I was especially taken by the collection of costumes, not only from their “panto” but also from big West End shows & film.
Super cool was the collection of set models. I’ve always be so impressed by Lew’s set models and these are just as impressive. Seeing how different set designers interpret different shows is enlightening & so beautiful.
There was also a great exhibit by a photographer who’s famous for dance & theatre photos. There were 2 that really grabbed me – one of the Queen Mum in a garden & one of the Blairs in an unscripted moment. Both were honest and unposed, capturing more of who they really are inside. Of course I didn’t get a picture of either one, but they showed me more of the kind of photographer * want to be. Anyone can shoot a portrait. It takes heart and skill to get beyond that & find honesty.
Having made it through the day without sleeping in order to avoid jet lag, by 7pm, I was pretty cashed. Maggie and I said goodnight and I went back to my room and was in bed by 8:30!
So that was day one. I was overwhelmed and excited. Couldn’t believe I was actually there and really wanting to experience so much. I already miss it!Tweet
That stupid hashtag is way overused. Instagram celebrities using it for really good coffee or finding a nice parking spot or otherwise finding/getting some sort of cool swag. Puh-leeze.
You want to know what truly makes you blessed? Friends. People who love you. People who go out of their way to show you that they love you. Add that to the “coincidence” of having it happen when you might be feeling especially bad about yourself or your depression (or other mental illness) is acting up, and you’ll really, truly know what it is to be #BLESSED. So much so that I wish I could somehow embiggen that word to make it more meaningful. Or add a serious “MFer” to the end of it or something.
You may or may not have read my last post. That’s how I was feeling after the first weekend of my appearance as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I know. Ew.
But the universe or God or just the amazing kindness of people who care about me gave those feelings a massive can of whoop-ass over this past weekend.
Friday night, I knew my mom was coming to my show and she told me that 2 of my cousins were also coming and bringing their kids, which was more than enough. So nice that they wanted to come and share this lovely show with their kids, as well as support my return to the stage after so long! They live more than an hour away, so it was a big deal and I really appreciated it!
As I’m getting ready for the show, I had about half my makeup on and my costume. It was time for vocal warm-ups, so I had stepped out of the dressing room, talking briefly with my fellow cast members, when we heard pounding from what used to be the stage door, but now is just a door that stays locked to the outside. I was closest to the stairs, so I started down. About halfway down, I recognize the figure in the window, but my brain won’t allow me to believe it. It’s my brother, Andrew. With his daughter, Ella. WHO HAD FLOWN IN THAT DAY FROM CALIFORNIA. For one day. They flew in only to see my show and flew back the next morning. I was BLOWN AWAY. My brother, the professional actor, flew himself and his 3 year old from California, came to a night performance of my show and then got up the next morning and they flew back. And they did it because he loves me.
After the show, I ran down in my makeup and costume so I could show Ella. And she LOVED IT. This amazing child, who’s only really met me once, ran right up to me, sat on my lap, explored my makeup and costume and wasn’t afraid at all. And she was happy! I introduced her to the actress playing Ariel, too, but Ella wasn’t having it. As I introduced her, Ella saw that she didn’t actually have red hair. She said, “I’M Ariel.” Then Deanna asked her if she was a mermaid, and she said, quite sassily, “No, *I* have legs,” as she squiggled out of my arms and ran away. SO FUNNY.
It was so cool – the next morning I got to talk with Andrew about the show and get his impressions and feedback. It made me so happy to know that not only did he like my performance, he enjoyed the show in its entirety. For someone with his theatre/acting experience to be proud of me, meant everything.
Needless to say, after that surprise and the preceding performance, followed by Saturday’s matinee, I was TIRED. It takes a lot of energy to perform Ursula well. She’s constantly “ON.” Every moment is a performance for her – whether she’s complaining to her eels (the only beings she has to talk to) or putting on a show for Ariel to get her plan in motion, every single moment is carefully plotted and performed with clinical precision. And it takes a lot of energy to do. So by the time Saturday night’s performance rolled around, I was ready to perform, but knew it was going to drain me.
The audience Saturday night was every performer’s dream. They were on fire. The were with us every step of the way, laughing at every joke, applauding for every special moment, bursting into raucous cheers at the end of every song. They fed us every bit of energy we needed to amp up our performances and give that extra 10% that took it over the top.
Then comes curtain call. I’m the second to last one to bow and I have the delicious pleasure of getting to enter from far upstage and the cast parts to let me parade downstage – very Ursula-like. As the crowd parts and I walk, the freaking audience ERUPTS. Cheers like I’ve never heard. Then I see, in the last 2 rows of the main floor, a whole bunch of white fans waving and bobbing. I KNOW those fans. Those are the fans we’ve made for the high school musicals for the past 3 years to sell with the kids’ pictures on them. I know who makes those. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? (Actually, “what the fuck” is what I mouthed as I turned around and walked to my place with my cast mates.)
Without my glasses, I can’t see who the people are. I just see white fans. And blurry faces. As the stage lights go down, I race downstairs, get help removing my wig and costume, and run downstairs to see who the heck is here?
As I round the corner, I see something along the lines of this. (Not quite this organized and lined up, but these faces and fans.) Friends. Friends from more than 30 years ago. Friends I haven’t seen in 10, 20, 30 years. Friends who have FLOWN AND DRIVEN IN FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY. To gather, reunite, and support this one old friend who’s returning to the stage. Friends who love me enough (why??) to come in from NY, Michigan, Iowa, Seattle, and also from closer by. Friends who planned this gathering, bought tickets, gathered, and came. For me.
I have never been so overwhelmed in my life. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I felt like I was out-of-body. I’m looking at these amazing people and I can’t function. I can’t do anything but cry & hug & stumble over words. My head hurt. I couldn’t…..I just COULDN’T. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced an outpouring of love like this before. I kept thinking…why?? Why would they do this for me? I haven’t done anything for them. There’s nothing they’re repaying me for. How on EARTH could I have built up such a credit of love? I don’t deserve it. I can’t wrap my brain around it. IT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.
They gathered around me, taking pictures, sharing their love and their amazing positive feedback about my performance, and I just stood there, gaping and utterly flummoxed. Because this kind of thing is what you see on TV or for someone who’s worked tirelessly for years helping children with cancer or something.
I cannot possibly, no matter how long I type, convey my absolute, overwhelming feeling of gratitude for what my friends and my brother and my cousins did to show me love this weekend. You made me feel so special, so thankful, so overwhelmed with love. You showed me that how I feel inside – no matter how strongly I might feel it – isn’t true. That I’m worthwhile, no matter how I look. That I matter. That what’s inside me has made a difference somehow.
Amy, Tammy, Tim, Dean, Tammy, Jannah, Sonia, Cha Ron, Linda, Leon, Jeff, George, Tony, Kathy. And your families. YOUR FAMILIES. Who came along somewhere they didn’t know to see someone they didn’t know do something they probably didn’t care about. Thank you. There will NEVER be words. I hope I can do something like this for you or someone else sometime. I want nothing more than for others I love to feel what I’ve felt.
Oh, and I have to tell you guys something interesting. That night, while I slept, I dreamt of you all. We were all going somewhere – like a field trip or going somewhere on a visit or something – and all of you were there. We were laughing and walking and having a great time. In the dream, I turned my head to the left, and right next to me was Tim White. Smiling and laughing with us, traveling with us where it was we were going. He was with us when you gathered at Amy’s. He was with us when you all sat in the Opera House. He was with us when you came down and met me. He was with us at the PourHouse. I believe it wholeheartedly.
Andrew – I know you’re my little brother, but your opinion and love and support of me means the world. Before, you HAD to see my shows. You didn’t have a choice, you just did. This time, you made the choice. And I recognize the work, sacrifice, and time it took to do that. And I love you more than I can ever say.
Thank you all. You showed me what I can’t show myself much of the time. Acceptance. Love. Support. Belief. Caring. You are the ties that bind and I cannot believe that, 30 years later, y’all still care about me. But maybe I can believe it. Because I care deeply about all of you. Never let anyone tell you that high school friendships don’t last. Because they DO. If they matter.Tweet
Welcome to Self-Loathing 314: Not For Amateurs
This is my problem. I know who I am. I know what I’m good at (singing, photography, edification) and what I lack (conventional attractiveness, the desired body type, nuance). I also know that I tend to lean quite heavily toward the “self-loathing” end of the spectrum and, while I’ll say thank you to people who compliment me outside of my comfort zone, I never actually believe them.
These past couple of months have presented me with a new equation with which I am having trouble coping. Wait, let me back up.
I have never been one to whom the typical attractiveness compliments have been copiously used. I’m not “beautiful.” I’m not “gorgeous.” I’m not “sexy.” I’m not “hot.” There were times, back say, 25-30 years ago, when I might have been considered those things because I had a conventionally attractive (bombshell-type) body, I was young & fit, I had great hair and was pretty attractive. Here, I’ll throw in a picture of me at my height of attractiveness. I was 22 and hot enough to appear as a stripper in “Gypsy.” I was tall, thin, muscular but not jacked. You could see my collarbone. Hell, you could have taken a drink out of my collarbone. But even at this point, when most people would have agreed that I could be described as any of the above adjectives, I wasn’t. They might say I was “striking” or “statuesque,” but never the others. So, by default, my brain because accustomed to the idea that they don’t apply to me. I’m not a beautiful woman. No, I’m not a woman who would cause one to turn to stone, but I’m not beautiful.
While I always WANTED to be the beautiful one (or the sexy one or the hot one or…..), I accepted that I am who I am and, honestly, I’d rather be accepted, liked, LOVED for who I am inside rather than for any subjective definition of attractiveness. Really. But down deep, like probably a lot of women, I would have been nice to be the hot one for once.
Now, believe me, I know that to whom it matters, I am beautiful. My husband believes that and says so all the time. So I do hear it. But sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have the physicality of my 22 year old self along with the strength and power within myself that I have at 49 and be able to wield that in the world. To flirt with whomever I chose without fear of being shut down with disgust. To draw attention when I entered a room and to know what to do with that attention. To know that I was good enough to pick up any person I was out with if I chose…..and then choose not to. I wonder what that would be like. Because when I was attractive, I had no confidence and was sure no one would be interested because there was always at least one other girl who was the “hot” one and it wasn’t me. I would never flirt with anyone, really, because I was sure I had no worth. On the other hand, now, at 49 and mumble pounds overweight, I have the confidence and power within myself to flirt and trade barbs with anyone and I know the power I have as a woman and I’m not afraid of it. It’s interesting to contemplate.
Anyway. :sheesh: cut to a couple months ago when I started rehearsals for Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am in this cast of unbelievable people. I mean, like WOAHMYGOD. Not only is every person in this show talented beyond belief, they are all attractive. Of course, 90% of them are under 30, so that helps, but they are also BEAUTIFUL, GORGEOUS, SEXY people who dance like Beyonce and sing like Sam Cooke & Sutton Foster. And those of us elders in the cast (4 of us) are not unattractive either. I would sit and watch these people rehearse their dances and, literally no exaggeration, my jaw is hanging open and I’m gobsmacked. Because I can’t believe what they can do and that they can look so amazing doing it.
As rehearsals continued, my interpretation of Ursula emerged. My Ursula is a combination of Tim Curry, Lafayette Reynolds, with a little bit of Patsy Stone, and a whole lot of plus-sized VAVOOM. She’s sensual, sexy, bawdy, and loves to masticate her words. And I think my interpretation surprised a lot of people. For some reason, I started hearing people call me “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “dead sexy,” and other things like that. Which…….I don’t know what to do with. I’m not those things. Ursula might be, but I’m not. I would poo-poo it and just blame it on the Tim Curry as Dr. Furter voice.
But it kept happening. People repeated it. New people said it. Straight guys in their early 20s. Gay guys in their mid 20s. Women of all ages. They’re using these WORDS at me and I don’t know what to do. BECAUSE I’M NOT, Y’ALL. You don’t understand that I’m not. You’re not allowed to use those words at me. It’s false and if you keep it up, the earth will open up and eat us.
I should have known. Because there’s only one thing more potent than the loving words of others.
When I processed the pictures that our social media manager had taken at a dress rehearsal (I without makeup or my wig), I stopped short and literally felt a kick in my stomach. There it was, the proof that not only was I NOT THOSE THINGS, but that everyone had been lying to me. And I shattered because, for the first time ever in my whole life, I realized that I had allowed myself to believe their words a little bit. And now I was faced with the proof.
Yes, they’re bad pictures of me mid-song with no makeup and a wig cap on. Yes, I look awful. AWFUL. But beyond that, I saw that the vision I had of myself in this costume, in this ROLE, wasn’t true. I wasn’t dead sexy, I was like a pile of mashed potatoes in a corset. My breasts and chest gooping out of the top like a bad cafeteria meal. My arms are the size of hams. My underarms are bigger than the thighs of others. I’m HUGE. Which is great for Ursula and she rocks that body. But it shattered my perception of ME. And sometimes it really, really hurts to accept the truth about yourself, especially if you’ve allowed yourself to feel good for a little bit.
I honestly think it’s easier just to view yourself negatively. That way, truth bombs don’t shock and shatter. I don’t know. Yesterday was bad. It was hard to come to terms with. But today I’m better. Because I accept it. I am a very large woman. I am nearly 50. I am not beautiful or sexy or gorgeous or hot. I am a beyond middle-aged housewife with raw bread dough for abs. I could probably change that a little if I wanted, but very minorly due to my knee problems. It’s best if I just accept who I am and stop trying to be a different, younger, more energetic, more electric, more vibrant version. At least that’s how I feel right now.
But I least I can live through Ursula. Right?Tweet