Satan, God, and a club called Medusa’s

Former site of Medusa's after it burnt down.
Following the fire, Medusa’s was no longer. In its place an office building.

Unfinished business gets in your DNA. Like that guy from high school I almost loved, but feared. He symbolizes much of what I didn’t do and now regret. He’s in my dreams from time to time. Because I don’t do what it is I want to do. His ghost lingers over all I’ve let drift.

If I could go back I’d change…but what would I change? When would I change it? How far back do you go? Because you could go all the way back to childhood but you’d just end up accumulating different regrets. I’m obsessed with high school. I wasn’t popular, but I wore that like a badge. I knew it meant I was better, more artistic, smarter than the cheerleading uniforms bouncing through the hallways on a Friday afternoon before the pep rally. Pep rallies. A time my outcast friends and I used to troll for older boys and pass private notes like they were Pentagon secrets.

Until Satan and God and a club called Medusa’s. Before midnight on Saturdays it was a juice bar. After midnight, bouncers kicked underagers like me out. They kind of did. It really depended on whether they thought you were cute. Anyway, I didn’t like to drink. I just wanted to dance, and do things my parents feared. But my overactive guilt complex required absolution. I told my mother about the upside down crucifixes, gargoyles, and twisted angels hanging from the walls while The Sound of Music played ironically on a 20 foot screen overlooking the main dance floor. My mother grounded me for life. No, I’m serious. She grounded me until the age of 18 or until college, whichever came first. No phone. No television. No activities of any kind. Her one stipulation. Go to church. And as long as I did stuff with church kids, she’d allow me day passes.  She picked me up. She dropped me off. Until it became too inconvenient, then she let me drive myself. And by that time, I’d stepped fully into Stockholm Syndrome. Church became my life. Church kids. Church writing. Church membership. It lay the groundwork for my life. Every decision I made until the age of 29 shot out from the center of a rigid, literal interpretation of the Bible.

I killed myself. Not to be overdramatic, but I think there’s a certain truth to it. I killed my potential. The person I almost became. The one Mr. Banacheck identified in our Cinema Studies class when I was a Sophomore. He wanted to mentor me. He saw that I had promise as a writer.  He was Jewish and secular. Two things my mother could not abide.

And now, more than 10 years after I shed the shackles of my faith I still feel too guilty to write freely. I went in the wrong direction, forged the wrong neural pathways. The ones I need do not exist. Writing in my voice feels much like learning a new language. In youth your brain moves freely to find its truth, like an amoeba shifting between poles. I sense my truth, but I can’t access it. What if it’s too weird? Too gross? Too overtly sexual? What if that makes me too broken? What if people see it and know my worst secrets? And judge me. What if it costs me work? When you’re young you don’t fear because you don’t know what to fear.

I dreamt about that boy last night. He lives in my basement and he loves me, desperately. I’m dating someone else. A safe boy. A church boy named Jim. He actually existed. Jim was Tracy’s boyfriend for four years. We thought they’d marry. They were the most popular couple in the group. Athletic. Good looking. Fun. In my dream I am Tracy. I mean I’m me, but I play Tracy. I long for this other boy living in my parent’s basement. My mother refuses to let me see him. Until I tell her she cannot stop me because I am a grown woman. She realizes I am 18 and her spell breaks. I descend the stairs and say to the boy, “I love you. I will always love you. I’m breaking up with Jim, just give me time.”

“You’re so confusing,” he says. “You East Coast girls are so confusing to us on the West Coast.” This is a dream statement. He and I both lived in the Midwest. We spend the rest of the dream in a push-me pull-you state. Much like the actual dynamic in our high school days. I did love him. As much as a kid can love another when she barely knows herself. But knowing myself now I know that I never loved any other until I met my husband. This particular boy haunts my dreams because he was the last significant contact I had with my authentic self before I got lost in the forest of faith.

Our identities are shaped by the people we love. Entire selves emerge from the fires of our deepest connections. The people I loved, the men I knew all had to do with a false self, a supposed self, a self created for safety’s sake.

Most of the time I don’t think about this boy. Actually, I don’t think of him at all in my waking hours. But in sleep he visits to find resolution and I wake aware that resolution never comes.

 

 

Julio

Jose. Juan. No, Julio. Perhaps. I remember images, but not names. Never names. I worked at The Bailiwick Repertory, a Chicago theater in Boys town that featured plays and baudy shows celebrating the LGBTQ experience long before it was an acronym. It was a holdover from the 80’s, when the transgendered weren’t acknowledged, much less talked about, and being gay was a death sentence.

The Bailiwick also programmed works of new playwrights and gave new directors, like me, opportunities. But Aids had decimated the artistic community and by the early 90’s The Bailiwick grew desperate for more main stream audiences. No one came to see gay theater on the main stage and the only people interested in new works were other theater people. An artistic director and acting coach of mine once said, “You can get comped to death in this town.” His theater went under.

But before that, Julio. Yes, Julio. He came through town touring with a Mexican theater group one icy February. It was an Irish play translated into Spanish. Something haunting. Maybe a Yeats poem or a Wilde play. All male. The performers were gay, except one. Perhaps the straight guy was Jose? Nope. Can’t remember.  Simply a vacuum behind the face and the hot sinewy arms late at night as we slept out a storm on a wooden floor, the snow too blinding to leave. Julio slept in the bed above. He was sick. He warned me. Or simply told me. “He sleeps with someone in every town.” I think he said. Or maybe I asked.

The following day in rehearsal No Name no longer looked at me. He’d wanted one night and I wanted forever. I alway wanted forever. Once rejected, I no longer existed. A hole opened up within me, a familiar sinkhole. It stole my breath. It followed me everywhere anyway. I experienced momentary relief in the eyes of beautiful men who considered me beautiful, until they didn’t.

I found Julio elsewhere in the dim theater and sat next to him. I half expected him to leave. Instead, he turned and gently touched my arm. “Hi, Amy.” My name never sounded like that. I felt seen. Have you ever needed that so much in your life you thought you could die and just at that moment someone offers it? Without needing anything in return?

I don’t know if I said anything. Words often felt like sharp rocks in my mouth. I’d just as soon spare myself the agony of saying them. But I must’ve. He must’ve. Because at some point, as we sat together, he said, “You slouch. You’re so pretty. Do you try to sit up?” I thrust my chest out and sat up straight. “No,” he smiled. “Not like that.” He touched the back of my neck with one hand and my abdomen with another. “Take a deep breath.” I did. He tipped my chin forward and pulled the back of my head up. “Release your breath and tighten your tummy like this.” He demonstrated. “Pretend you have a cord from the ceiling holding you up here.” He tugged a little on my neck. “There. That feels good? Now breathe.” I sat up straight, my body felt right. “Everything feels loose, but like it’s supposed to,” I said. “Yes, you’re open now,” he said.

He was dying. Aids. In my memory he’s wearing white linen. But that can’t be right. It was a brutal February. Nevertheless, every time I see him, he’s in white linen and his feet are bare. He could’ve been 40. It’s hard to know now because, while his eyes shone like jet, his face was gray. He died that year I think. But one brief conversation left its mark.  I can recall the warmth his touch generated in my body even now. Not erotic. Something else, like the warmth sunlight offers after a storm. That’s not right. Too sentimental. I don’t have the words.

But the moment got lodged deep. Each day, at least once, I stand up straight the way he taught me. It’s involuntary. That’s what’s odd. I do it and think of him in his white linen on that freezing February day, wind howling through the walls. And I don’t know. It’s like, just the memory of him, and I can breathe. I don’t know what any of it means.

Ruminations on the Why of It

TCRiggs wrote a response to my last post I thought worth sharing. A personal essayist struggling to find her voice might find the following interesting. The essential question, “How much time does one give a thing before it’s safe to write about it?” 20 years? Perhaps. She also suggests perhaps turning to fiction. She keeps a level of anonymity on her blog.

But what if it’s too late for that? What if the damage is done? I mean essential damage? That’s what I’ve done. I’m really good at tearing down the foundation of a thing. Exceptional at destruction. Here’s my response to her:

Anonymity is good. Fiction even better. But I am working on a brand and it conflicts with every area of my working life. I write to a small subset and write myself out of others. I’ve struggled with this and for decades I haven’t written at all, working for little to no money in other industries and profoundly frustrated. Unable to construct a sentence. I’m unsure of the connection between them, why must one exist to the exclusion of the other?

But it was when I started to write those things closest to me that I found words again. Much to the detriment of many things. I don’t want to. I don’t try to. But when I stop, then I stop writing.

My heroes are the rebels and the cynics. I’ve always felt that cynicism is thinly veiled hope. A cynic sees the world for what it is, but knows it’s potential for more. A glutton for punishment, she never stops hoping even when things are at their worst.

When I read Hunter Thompson’sThe Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, it unfastened a latch within me. I recognized something in his writing, a thing that felt like me. Not in the subject, not in the content, but in the how of it. In the rage of it. And in the self-awareness of it. There’s beauty in his disgust and self-knowledge. In the last sentence of that essay he recognizes that he and his subjects are one. They disgust him as he disgusts himself. He never judged himself for it. I judge myself for everything. So on the page, I fight for his courage.

There are others who inspire me now, but it was Hunter Thompson who taught me to trust my voice. I’m somewhat transgender in my writing. My voice sounds like a man’s. A friend once told me that, and he didn’t mean it to flatter. But I don’t mind anymore. Except that the world still wants girls to sound like girls.

There is always luck in success and Thompson was the writer for his time.  I’ve been mining the depths of my life and I cannot find it. That thing that makes me unique. That thing that people want.

As for making money in the meantime, there are many things I’m good at, but one thing I want to do more. And when it’s in opposition to those other things, it creates constant tension. I’m looking for work, I’m not writing. I’m writing, I’m not able to find work because of what I’m writing. Now it’s all out there. It was unwise. It was unrealistic. It was perhaps, wishful thinking to imagine I could give the finger to the man and expect the man to give me a paycheck.

Since this exists on the internet, I have to find sympathetic employers who can see what I do and value it, not fear it. Whether or not I meant to, I created this. The secret will is a powerful thing. And so is the Internet. I’m deep into it now.

One Potent Mash Up

Go for the jugular or don’t go at all. If you don’t write from the gut, then what’s the point? Losing friends, family members, jobs, means you’re on the correct path. But you better be right, even when you make mistakes. It better be true. If it’s not. If it’s made up. If it’s cruel for cruelty’s sake or to make yourself look good, then you don’t deserve the title of writer.

But I’m not a journalist. I don’t have the stomach for it. My facts are subjective, therefore opinions. Listen, I don’t write to smear. My observations are just that, conclusions strung together on a clothesline  of experiences.

You should deduce from that that I’m a coward. I don’t fact check or interview sources. I vomit my positions onto the page and press,”publish,” without a second thought. Until about 24 hours later when, like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge Over the River Kwai, I think, What have I done? I had to remove another post. This time it was a judgement call and not a corporate directive. Social media is a bit like walking into an interview and spilling your guts to a future employer about everything you hated about your last job.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I had to do it. To write that. To lash out with my words. Because they’re good words when they’re close words, yes? The closer they are, the bloodier they flow. Because no one cares about bloodless words. They want a murder scene, carnage. They want assassinations carried out by the person who cares the most. The one who will stab 27 times. Overkill.

That’s me. That’s what I do. That’s what I want. To hurt. I think. Because I hurt. And you hurt me. And don’t you deserve it for being cruel and stupid? I’m smarter. That’s my weapon. And I hold a grudge. Until I don’t. And then I toss  your body into the river. I won’t even watch you go.

And for what? For who? I don’t know what I serve. Because I’m not serving myself. Jesus, let it go, Amy. Because I can’t. I just can’t. Not until I write it and not until someone reads it. And honestly, I don’t want the subjects of my ire to read it. I don’t want anyone who misunderstands the point to read it. The point that it’s about the writing less so the subject. Don’t listen to what I say, but how I say it. It’s the words that matter. Yes, the subject. Of course the subject. But we all say the same things. We just don’t say it in the same ways. And it’s the ways of saying things that matter to me. That’s the skill. That’s the craft of writing.

I wrote something and I lost a family member. Snip, in one essay, snap. That was a clean break. It’s one I think of nearly everyday. Turn it over, study it. Wonder if it was worth it. Ask myself again and again, Why? Why did I write something like that? Couldn’t I have left some things out. Just at the beginning. Just those few sentences. Everything would be so different.

That’s right. Everything.

But if you’re going to tell the truth, even when you make a mistake, you better be right. And I was right. But do you want to be right, or do you want a normal life with family and friends and frustrating jobs filled with secrets and shadows and unspoken wounds. Why not? It’s what everyone else has. Social constructs hang in the balance. Why would anyone in their right mind rip that apart? No really?

The written word is not the spoken word and the Internet is forever….But I gotta tell you, full disclosure, I’m glad that it is. It is my fail safe against my own remorse because my biggest regrets are when I must hide behind an anonymous curtain. I wrote several pieces for Salon that had to be published anonymously. The editors and lawyers decided it was best. No one wants to be a Rolling Stone. I don’t want to be a Jackie. But I’m not a Jackie. I tell the truth.

I want to write about it. I am never as good a writer as when I am spitting with rage. And when I write something I know is particularly imprudent, I want to keep it up.

But we live in a society for a reason. There are rules. And my rage along with this blog, a potent mash up for sure, could be my undoing. So best to keep it all under raps. And so here I go, back underwater. Perhaps an Ophelia, or just dumb doll, I’ll ride the tides and I may not emerge.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t you dare.

 

 

Tip Out Head

Everything’s been a little ish lately. My head is a sieve. My sense of direction is like a bat whose lost her homing device. That’s it. No homing device. I was late to the vet. Because I hate the vet. Because Chloe hates the vet. Everyone hates going to the doctor. But not everyone loses hair. And she loses hair she will not grow back. I was late to a job interview…a good one…so there’s no real excuse there.

But I am not becoming. And working in jobs I hate is no longer an excuse. Now I must face the greater obstacle. Me. And there it stops. The wall. I am the wall I cannot see around. I am the world I cannot step beyond.

I moved out to Los Angeles to shake loose my thoughts and tip out my head, that heavy thing filled with muddy waters and tiny rooms. Sunlight, lots of sunlight, I thought, might burn away the dreck weighing down my body. Instead I found the blinding sun didn’t purify, it scorched. I looked for a dark hole and retreated. Outside there was so much dust and sorrow.

I got stuck in many jobs I hated. As I was stuck in my head. See previous post. But I’m free now. And I’ve got to stop sabotaging it. See previous post. That post I wrote could follow me, if I don’t take it down. I should. I want to keep working in the beauty industry. Yesterday’s interview was for a beauty line I like a lot.

But more than anything, I want to develop a writing life. And to do that, I need to write out the immediate stuff. The stuff swirling around in me right now in order to get past it and write better stuff. Every writer goes through mediocre periods. What was it I heard Prince once say? “When you write as much as I do, not all of it’s going to be great.” See, that took balls. It took heart. It took demons to write like he wrote. It also took a vault. He never knew what he might use in the future. So, this blog is my vault. The difference between us; even his mediocre is better than everybody else’s.

I can get better. But only if I write all the time. So, forgive me. I’m going to be mediocre. And angry. There’s a lot of anger in this swirling pool inside my head. So, you may be subject to that as well. I’ve managed to keep it at bay for the last year or so, but I’m opening the flood gates, because good artists are not careful artists.

For those of you who prefer fun, funny, carefree reading. That won’t be this. Even my cat fiction is dark. I’m about to kill off my favorite cat in a cat dungeon at the hands of cat torturers. Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway, that was my first instinct, which usually means there’s a better one out there.

The featured image for this post is obviously Psycho. Hitchcock was great. And prolific. Can anyone tell me of a time when his prolificacy got in the way of his greatness? I thought not. Well, shoot for the stars, get the moon. Or a bird. As Tippi Hedren did.

I’ll stop now.

 

 

 

La La Land and The Slaves Who Drank to Forget

84185993-0
image: vox.com

Meryl Streep bared her soul while excoriating Donald Trump at the Golden Globes Sunday, January 8th when she received a lifetime achievement award. La La Land, the musical film starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling won seven Golden Globes that night, the most of any film in the history of the Golden Globes.

Streep represents why I came to L.A.: to make a difference, to tell stories that convey something, to find meaning in my work. I soon found out that anyone who’s making art is funding it themselves. Art is poverty. La La Land is business: massive, gorgeous, fun, and thin.

But even as Streep nearly wept for the country from her place on stage, The Globes, as all awards shows, speak for themselves.  Hollywood values entertainment more than truth. La La Land, a love letter to L.A. celebrates, as the L.A. Times observed, “the one thing Hollywood loves, itself.”  Hollywood blusters and preens. It spends sums of money that rival the GDP of most countries on films about nothing. It’s a business that serves, quite self-consciously, as an opioid to the masses, which the masses consume with vigor.

And on the sixth day the slave drank to forget

Slave owners gave their slaves one day off a week. On that day the owner supplied the slave all the alcohol he wanted. In this way, the owner correctly concluded, the slave imprisoned himself. If a slave didn’t have time to think about his plight, he might not develop the imagination to escape it.

I always think about the slave owner and the slave whenever I see billboards advertising movies like La La Land. Inoculate the masses so they don’t develop the imagination to demand movies that feature real life heroes, people who truly inspire the working class to believe in themselves and take back the houses, jobs, and savings they’ve lost. Manchester By The Sea stars a troubled Casey Affleck who’s lost everything. I loved this film. It won one award: Best Actor.

Andy Cohen, architect of the Housewive’s franchise and arguably the father of reality television, told the New York Times he didn’t make people want what he produced, he just gave them what they wanted before they knew they wanted it. He predicted Donald Trump’s win. He understood what Donald Trump knows, entertain the people and they enslave themselves to your programming.

Deep Talk and Shallow Tales

A large portion of the country feels movies and journalism are connected. They feel both enterprises engage in a dance to hypnotize and deceive the country. And that’s not not true. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen are on tour right now. A mere 330 bucks gets you front and center for,  “AC2: An Intimate Evening with Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen—Deep Talk and Shallow Tales.” What’s more, when news anchors, like Cooper, get paid tens of millions a year, they’re no longer journalists. They’ve sold their souls to the same gods who employ men like Cohen.

I see a different connection between Hollywood and journalism: both have the opportunity to tell the truth, one with facts, one with art.

Journalism began as a way to reveal to voters what politicians did behind closed doors. It’s why politicians hate them and work tirelessly to turn the population against them. Beware of the politicians who rail against journalists the loudest. They’ve got the most to hide. Republicans have been campaigning since Nixon to get the population to turn on journalists. They’ve won. And here we are, with a president who promises to undo journalism itself.

No one is listening. People barely care. They’d rather not think. Because if they did they’d have to turn off The Real Housewives to read things, understand that not all politicians lie, facts are not biased, and there are journalists, Senators, and brave Congressmen and women who want to lead this country, who have a vision to restore it. But they can do nothing without us. They cannot stand against the tidal wave of corruption, naked power, and obscene wealth sitting in highest seats of power. We are facing the final blow to democracy, rule by oligarchy. And we just voted our favorite reality TV star into office.

Carrie Fisher In Memoriam.

rs-219516-gettyimages-459169976__
Carrie Fisher Courtesy of Rolling Stone

I haven’t written in weeks. I feel stiff and incapable. Everything I’ve tried to write in that time has been unfit for public consumption—rambling, self-indulgent, self-hating. That said, I’ll take Carrie Fisher’s death as an impetus and will write to honor to her. According to a family spokesperson, she died at 8:55 a.m., in Los Angeles, after suffering a heart attack on a flight back from London on Friday. I saw her in her last public appearance live on the Graham Norton Show on BBC America. She was funny, charming, self-deprecating, and sharp. It’s hard to imagine the world without her, or that someone so full of life last week will lie in the ground this week.

Since 1977 she has been my hero. She’s failed and started again showing as much courage, strength, and ingenuity as Leia herself. I’ve always told my students to push themselves into the market using whatever was at their disposal and never wait for anyone’s permission. Fisher could have faded into history after Return of The Jedi, but she didn’t. Most would and have, particularly most actresses. Who can carry the weight of such a character as Princess Leia then go on to seize other roles and carve out other spaces in Hollywood? Women fade more quickly than men. But not Carrie Fisher. She took smaller roles and all the while wrote and wrote and wrote.  She emerged as a force that no one could ignore. And while she never escaped the specter of Princess Leia, she never let it hold her back. Always one to laugh at herself, she embraced it, in the end, and was both Carrie Fisher and Leia simultaneously—finding that, perhaps the two had more in common than any of us really understood.

Forgive this sappy eulogy. I’m not saying anything others have not or will not say in the weeks to come. She was a national treasure and an icon in her own time. She was also a deeply flawed woman who never got in the way of her career or her talent. I wish I could say the same.

Oh Carrie, my Carrie, 2016 has been a terrible year and now we’ve lost you too.