Nobody Knows. Not Even You.

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I am a strong personality. I take up a lot of the space in the room. I come from a long line of loud, intelligent, opinionated, talented, dominant space-takers, so I come by it honestly. I have no problem being the loud, entertaining, lifeoftheparty personality. Hell, I get paid to stand behind the bar and be exactly that, and I’m very good at it.

I don’t believe in astrology. I think it’s vague and silly and often put into terms that anyone could read into, which I find manipulative and also bullshit. But, there is something that appears in every description of someone born under my sign, (Pisces). It’s a water sign. A moving water sign, to be specific. Always changing, always in motion, not necessarily steadily.

And, while I don’t believe in astrology, and while I am a direct, take-charge, type-A sort of human, there is a strange quirk to my personality.

There is a fluidity to me. A malleability. A near-constant state of acclimating to those closest to me. An adaptability to the strong parts of other’s personalities. In my romantic relationships, I have always thought of this as being supportive of my other, but I’m coming to realize that it’s actually a more detrimental trait that might be driving me further from the heart of me. From my real voice. My real personality.

My high school boyfriend was an avid church-goer, and so I, too, became a church-goer, despite my dislike of organized religion and my lack of real belief. I dated a guy who loved fantasy novels, so I worked my way through all of Game of Thrones and half of the Wheel of Time series, despite my weariness of the looooong and exhausting descriptions of robes worn in various colors by people whose connection to the marrow of the story, I couldn’t follow. An ex of mine sold pot and made edibles, and so I found a way to be enthusiastic about weed, even though I have little to no interest in the drug. (I mean, if I want to be tired and hungry, I’ll just go work a few hours). Another guy I dated was a constantly working actor right as I was turning away from a career in theatre, but because of him, I pushed myself to auditions (which I absolutely detested) for a couple of years longer than I probably would have, had I been left to my own devices. Another ex of mine loved football with his whole heart, and so I wore a football tshirt from his alma mater, learned all the rules, knew all the names of all the players, and cared about football for the first, and only, time in my life.

I adapt.

I adapt to others around me. I take on parts of their personalities and make those parts my own, without realizing I’ve done it until I’m separated from the person.

There’s a scene in the dopey chickflick ‘Runaway Bride’ where Richard Gere corners Julia Roberts about how she likes her eggs cooked – because every ex fiancĂ© he speaks to says she likes them a different way – and it happens to be how each man liked his. I haven’t seen this movie in probably a decade, or even more, but that scene has always stood out to me, because I GET it. I UNDERSTAND that level of malleability. That unconscious desire to be what your other wants, and the subconscious shifting of your own wants and likes and needs so that they align with his.

I have been doing this my whole life. It’s only now, this year, that I’ve started coming into my own about parts of me that I’ve never bothered to figure out or explore in any way. (By the way, examining the SELF is super fascinating. You can learn all kinds of crap about yourself if you take your damn ego out of it.) But it has only been now, this week, that I am choosing to root it out, and learn what it is that I actually want. What it is that I’m actually doing.

To circle it back to Julia and Richard, I’m going to figure out exactly how I like my damn eggs.

I Don’t Care Where You Went to School

A man sat down at my bar the other night, towards the end of the evening, and ordered a glass of white wine. (Actually, he ordered a glass of Sancerre, and even pretentiously pronounced it with a French accent….which I can’t REALLY sneer at, because I do that too, but after the rest of our interaction, even this minor thing makes me roll my eyes).

Anyway, as I was going about the beginning of closing down and cleaning my bar, this man asked where I was from (as most do after the first “y’all” slips out), and I said “Texas”, and he said the most common thing that people say when they hear that word—“How did a girl from Texas end up in New York City?”

I hate this question. First, because it implies, incorrectly, that Texans never leave Texas. There is a HUGE Texan population in NYC. I work with a staff of 12 at my restaurant, and 3 of us are from Texas. 3. A quarter of the staff of this small wine bar in Manhattan. Texan. Second, because it’s no one’s damn business why I moved here. Third, because it also seems to say “why would you move across the country to tend bar?” Which, again, is no one’s business. And also, HOW did I get here? I booked a one-way flight SEVEN YEARS AGO, and worked my ass off since then. That’s how.

Anyway, after some pestering from this guy, I finally said “I wanted to do musical theatre”, to which he replied “And what do you want to do with musical theatre? Perform? Direct? Write?”
“I wanted to perform.”
“Perform what? Rogers and Hammerstein? Book of Mormon? Wicked? Les Miz? Sondheim?”
“All of those fall under the umbrella of musical theatre.”
“Are you a better dancer or singer?”
“I’m a far better singer than dancer, but I’m a better actor than singer.”
Pause. Head tilt. Blink. “Hmmmm. Interesting.”

(Is it? I don’t think so. But whatever.)

He continues, “So do you want to be an actor or a musical theatre performer?”
“Those aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“Yes they are. One is an actor, the other is not.”
“No. That’s simply not true.”
“Mmmmmmm, well, I went to Yale and have an MFA, so I THINK I know what I’m talking about.”
“Welp. You’re wrong in what you think.”

I mean. The audacity of the man. This is a STRANGER and I am aware that I appear to be “just a bartender” from a backwards state full of country-folk, but I assure you, my job is not who I am, and I am not what anyone would call uneducated. I couldn’t believe that anyone would feel comfortable saying something like that to anyone, much less to someone they DIDN’T know.

Anyway, I walked away. But it’s a bar. I’m sorta stuck behind it with the people who are sitting at it. It’s my job. So I ended up back down where he was due to having to DO MY JOB, and he decided to continue talking to me. (I’m not sure why, because I had been significantly chillier towards him.)

“So are you pursuing it now?”
“No.”
“Why not? If you moved all the way here for it?”
“Because it stopped being fun and I don’t want to.”
“What stopped being fun? Do you just not like other actors?”
“Did I say that? No. I stopped because I wanted to. I didn’t way to do it anymore. It was draining and heartbreaking and exhausting and I decided to quit.”
“But, don’t you feel like you have a responsibility to your God-given talent? You shouldn’t give up.”
“It’s not ‘giving up’. Let’s keep in mind that you don’t know me, at all. I chose me and my happiness and my peace of mind over musical theatre. The only responsibility I have is to my own self and what makes my life richer and more fulfilled. Theatre stopped being that. And as far as ‘God-given talent’, I may have been born with a slight affinity for performing and acting, but I worked my ass off and spent thousands and thousands of my and my parent’s money to fine-tune, hone, and work on my craft. It’s 10% talent and 90% hard fucking work. I understand you went to Yale and think you know everything, but you don’t know me from Adam and I suggest you don’t presume to. Here’s your check. Have a nice night.”

Sibling-hood

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My little brother has started a blog.

“Little brother” is a bit misleading. He’s younger, sure, but he’s a foot taller, and weighs over a hundred pounds more than I do — (although my weight comes from softness and curves and his is straight muscle.)

Anyway, he started a blog. In it, he detailed a few things about his childhood. I haven’t lived in the same house with him in over a decade. He’s four years younger than I, and therefore we didn’t go to high school at the same time, or have any friends in common. We grew up across the hall from each other, had the same family, the same vacations, the same traditions and rituals, hung ornaments on the same Christmas tree, but we had extremely different childhoods.

He was a handful – hyperactive and loud. He wasn’t a bad kid, but he had the reputation of being one. He wasn’t a good student, couldn’t sit still, and was a casualty of the 90s fad in rearing children with “ADHD”, meaning he was always on one form of prescription drug or another.

His natural tendency toward being disruptive had the effect of making me MORE docile and rule-abiding. I walked the line. I got good grades and was in the house by curfew, and sang in a church choir and was, generally, pretty boring. At an age and in a time when kids were skipping school and having sex and doing drugs and going to parties and getting wasted and basically acting like teenagers, I remember being terrified that my parents would find out that my friends and I had gone downtown to watch “Rocky Horror” at midnight – stone sober – with my friend Amanda’s mother waiting up for us to make sure we got home. I was a very rule-following teenager.

But I felt like I HAD to be that way, because David? David was work. My mom always seemed to coddle him, because my dad was way WAY too tough on him. (Of course, he was tough on me, too, but in a “she’s going to be fine, she’s smart, she’s talented, she gets along with people” sort of way, while he was tough on David in a “he’s a fuck-up, he’ll never amount to anything, he’s failing his classes, he’s getting kicked out of school, his teachers can’t handle him” kind of way.) All of this had the unfortunate side affect of drawing a firm divided line between my brother and me. Instead of bonding together against the irrationality of parents, we were natural rivals, with me feeling like my good grades and my non-confrontational personality never garnered the same attention that David’s antics did, and with him feeling like I was the “favorite” because I was never in trouble, rarely yelled at, and therefore, the one our parents liked better. (Obviously, hindsight has shown that these are extreme ideas, and neither of us was right in our opinion of the other, or in our hurt feelings, but anyway.)

Joke’s on everyone, though, because I ran away to one of the biggest and most expensive cities in the world to sing, dance, play make-believe, and pour wine, while my brother owns an extremely successful business with ridiculously loyal clients in the form of a personal training gym outside of our hometown in Texas. (Who’s the fuck-up NOW, parents?? Hahahaha)

My mom was in town this weekend for a wedding, and she said, kind of off the cuff “oh you and your brother are so much alike.”

….since when? No one, in the history of ever, has said that my brother and I are anything alike. We don’t even look alike. We barely look related. He’s giant, and I’m small. He’s dark with curly hair and a pronounced brow. I’m fair with a dimple in my chin. Our only physical trait in common are big, dark eyes, that my granddaddy always maintained were his mother’s eyes.

But as my mother started listing the traits she thinks we have in common, (including a lot of things that will sound like flat-out bragging if I write them here, so I won’t), I found myself getting more and more flattered and hoping more and more that she was right and that we did share those traits. If I have even half of my brother’s brains and compassion and thirst for knowledge and ability to overcome, I think I’ll be ok in this life.

That’s Always Been Your Truth

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So I have this friend, Joshua Cale. He has been family to me for the last decade. We dated on and off in college – ya know, when I wasn’t moving home or getting married (or getting divorced) or trying to plan my way to NYC – and managed to stay so close that my parents think of him as a nephew. (I have a text chain that’s just him, my mom, and me. Ridiculous.) He knows me, quite possibly, better than almost anyone on the planet. The actual me, underneath the sarcasm and curse words and hair.

He is also the person I dated after I made my mad dash back to Texas from Colorado. Before I ended up back in my hometown, trying to scrape together some semblance of a plan for my future. He was my safety net when I needed it, and we have spent the last decade being a support system for each other. Which is pretty amazing, when you take into account that we live on opposite sides of the country, and that we could easily have splintered apart and lost contact after our break up. But, instead of hating each other, we took our wealth of knowledge about each other and our families and our care and love for each other and funneled it into a deep, astonishing, unshakeable friendship. (A far more mature decision than anyone could reasonably expect from a couple of 21 year olds. Good work, us.)

So when Ben and I got back into contact, he was one of the people on my side of the story who I fully expected to have all of the opinions. Thanks to my ping-ponging between the two of them for a year or two when I was young and dumb, Joshua has no love lost for him. But, because of the following decade of friendship after that disaster, I only got a few gentle jokes at my expense and some good natured teasing. (And even that was super mellow, in comparison to the past.)

And then Joshua asked me, point blank, how Ben’s visit last week was. And even WITH my solid understanding of our friendship, and even though I KNOW Joshua would not be affected, I was still hesitant to be as open or honest as the question called for. I skirted it for a while, until he finally just said “Jesus, could you just give me the juice, here?”

So I did. I told him all the things he asked for. I didn’t hold back and I didn’t try to trim the fat of the experience. I just told him. The long story is too long for right now, so the short story is, his trip was wonderful. It was magic. Joshua then asked “is he it?” To which I replied, “he’s always been it.”

And then he said, “yeah. I’ve always known that. You’ve always been searching for something as real as you had with him, and you’ve never yet found it. That’s why. He’s it for you.” (And then I got all teary, because how DARE he know me better than I do. So frustrating.)

And then he asked, “Do your parents know that this is happening?” I told him my mom did, but my dad doesn’t.

My dad.

My father remains, to this day, convinced that Ben somehow lured me into marriage to improve his own life. Not only is this just…wrong – it’s also a little insulting. I inherited two pretty strong traits from my dad – independence and stubbornness. (This isn’t really a point of pride. These are my most difficult to relax personality traits.) But, because of this, there is NO WORLD in which any man could have “lured” me into anything that I didn’t want, with everything I had. I walked into that lunacy with both eyes open and both of them focused on Ben. And it was crazy and we were stupid and young, and it was clearly (ah, hindsight.) doomed, but I certainly wasn’t tricked into that situation in any way. 10. Stupid. Years. And my dad is still sure that I was some kind of innocent victim in this story. (Categorically untrue—but understandable. His family and friends think I’m the villain, mine think he is. He and I are over it.)

So I told Joshua all of this, and he asked what we were going to do about the negative energy we were sure to get when we eventually open up about our being back in contact. And I said what Ben has said when I’ve asked the same thing — “I. Don’t. Fucking. Care.”

I don’t CARE what anyone thinks. I’m not a lost 19 year old, who’s too smart to be making stupid choices, struggling to be an adult and make adult decisions with my teenage understanding, anymore. He’s not an unsupervised teenage whirling-dervish who’s too smart and too good-looking for his own damn good, anymore. We actually ARE adults, now. We will do what we want. We will do what makes us feel good and what makes us happiest and we will do it whether anyone approves or not.

After saying all of this to Joshua, he laughed at me and said “Of course you don’t care. That’s always been your truth.”

I don’t know if that’s an accurate assessment of me, but I like it.

Falling, Flying, Tumbling Into Turmoil

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There’s just a lot that’s been happening in my life, recently. It’s all jumbled around in my head, and finding the words for it all has been difficult. But I suppose I’ll just try and start writing, and maybe it’ll get easier.

I’ve been in a state of hyper-emotion for the last month or two. Like I’m on the verge of hysteria or weeping at any given moment. I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this, and I’ll delve the deeper ones later. Right now? I’m gonna talk about a small, startling, cautiously exciting change —

My voice has been back for about 8 weeks now. Clear as a damn bell and hitting notes my vocal chords had forgotten how to create. I do not understand it. It’s been gone for four fucking years and now it’s just…back? My friend Taylor says that my vocal folds have been trying to heal themselves because that’s what the body does. I suppose he’s right, because I certainly don’t have a better explanation, and he would know. But it’s been back, and back in a serious way.

For my entire life, singing has been as natural to me as breathing. It’s not something I think about. I’ve been known to sing without even realizing I’m doing it. This has always been a fact of my life. So the last few years without that ability have been something akin to emotional hell for me. I have had actual crying heartbroken meltdowns for the loss of my voice more heartfelt and dramatic and traumatic than for the ending of relationships. I spent the first two years after its disappearance feeling bereft and confused and depressed. I started voice lessons and singing professionally when I was 5 years old. Suddenly, I was 26, and the one thing I had identified as – a singer – for two decades was gone. Poof. Vanished.

I still had a voice – actually, a far far better than average voice. It was still a voice that caught attention. Made people listen. Made people smile. Got strangers to ask about my musical background or my theatrical plans for the future. Got me a lot of free drinks in karaoke bars. But it was a voice that was operating at about 20% of what it could be. Of what it was. Of what it had been. And, even if others couldn’t tell, I could, and that was enough for me to back off from my twenty year long dream of being a Broadway actress. Of being Bernadette Peters. Of being extraordinary.

So I spent the first two years of my vocal drought floundering and stressing and weeping and railing at my loss. I couldn’t even talk about it. If I tried, I would start crying, and wouldn’t be able to stop. My sense of self worth, for most of my life, had been tied to what was, honestly, an incredible gift. The mantra of my childhood was “be careful of your voice”. So when it went, I had no idea who I was anymore. When it went, I had no idea what that could mean for my life or my future. I stopped listening to Broadway music – which I had listened to ALMOST exclusively since I was born – because the urge to sing was a PHYSICAL one, and my vocal chords refused to cooperate with the muscle memory. When people continued to compliment my singing, it took everything in me not to roll my eyes. Not to tell them that they had no idea. I stopped telling guests at my bar that I had moved to the city to pursue musical theatre. Because if they asked what I was doing with it, or if I was “in anything” now, I had no follow-up.

“Nope. Just bartending.” isn’t what tourists want to hear. They want to know that you’re a small towner MAKING IT in the big city. They want to know why a girl from TEXAS would move herself across the country and they want to know that she is succeeding. They want to believe that it can happen for anyone who puts their mind to it.

So I stopped telling people that. I said, shortly, “theatre” or I would wax nostalgic about the amazingness that is New York. (Tourists LOVE that shit.)

And then I spent the next two years getting over it. Mourning the loss like an adult who has more going for her than just the one thing, instead of like someone who has simply lost the only identifying thing that she believed made her special or set her apart. I learned that there are other things I love and am particularly skilled at. Wine, for example. Working behind the bar. Cultivating relationships with people and learning their very specific bar quirks. I put my theatrical training to use by being the happiest, bubbliest, most outgoing bartender on the upper west side. And, after a year, it worked. I managed to trick even myself into believing that I WAS all of those things. There’s a cliched adage about smiling making you feel happy even when you’re not. And there’s a reason that saying exists. It’s absolutely true. Eventually, I missed my voice less and less. It didn’t cripple me when I couldn’t hit a note. (Not being able to join in on Christmas carols was effing hard, but other than that…) I learned how to fill my life back up with all of the other things I was interested in and good at.

So now….?

Now, I don’t think it would be overstating my feelings to say that I am Absolutely Fucking Terrified. I’m hitting notes. I can sing quietly. My voice isn’t going hoarse or raspy every other day. It’s here. Last week, Ben (THE ex) was in town visiting me (will expand on that topic another time) and we went to this ridiculously fun little Broadway music piano bar down in the Village and sang ALL the Broadway songs. This is a man who knew me in high school and college and with whom I used to sing for hours and hours. Most of our relationship was conveyed through music. He knows how I used to sound. And he’s a freaking great singer. And when we were singing last week, the LOOK he gave me—he was astonished. This newly recovered voice is leaps and bounds what he remembers from college, because of course it is.

So I am being cautiously hopeful that it’s here to stay. I know I could survive if it went, again, but I don’t want to have to fight my way through that emotional turmoil if I can help it.

I really REALLY don’t…

The Kitchen Diva

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m a feminist. I’m fairly loud about it. The idea that I’m not equal to men is laughable. (Or it would be, if people would stop acting like my uterus was the place to store their antiquated and backwards political and religious philosophies). I believe in equal rights and that woman are just as suited to run companies and countries and the world as men are.

Maybe MORE so, because of the lack of a tendency to use unnecessary physical force in order get our way.

But anyway, I’m a feminist. I just am. And I’m one of those really obnoxious “equal rights” people who march in protests and sign petitions and send letters to members of congress. As my friend Mark says, I’m an activist.

All of that is to say — there are very few things on this entire planet of earth that gives me more pleasure than cooking dinner for my friends and family. I love it. I love baking cupcakes and cookies and various treats for my coworkers. I love everything about it. I own four aprons. Frilly ones, with flowers and cupcakes and bows and other girly shit on them.

One of them is actually a HOLIDAY apron with Santas all over it.

The best gift I’ve been given in the last several years was the big beautiful shiny red KitchenAid stand mixer my friend Andrew got me for Christmas last year. (He says he did that because he was tired of having to stop in the kitchen section of every store we ever went into so I could lust after it.) I own a mini-bundt tray. I have a half dozen kind of sprinkles in my cabinet. My kitchen is shiny and gorgeous and spotless.

I would have done very well as a 50s housewife.

Except for that whole “I’m equal to men” thing and also the other basic human rights I’m always yelling about. (Racial issues, education in this country, the rights of homosexuals, immigration, etc…)

The Dry Spell

I went on a date last week.

It was fine. He was perfectly nice. Perfectly attractive. From Australia, so he had an awesome accent. He had a good job. We had a nice enough time.

But all it did was reinforce that I do NOT want to be dating right now. I just have no interest in it. Which is weird, because I’ve been fairly “boy crazy” my entire life. I don’t remember ever before genuinely having no interest in men. It’s really strange.

I wonder at this change in me. I assume it’s just a phase, but what do I know? My single friends, men and women both, always seem to be actively trying to “find the one”. They go on dates, they meet and sleep with new and interesting people, they have stories to tell about it, and I was like that, too, until a few months ago. The other night, I was supposed to meet up with friends and go out – have fun – meet people – and I opted instead to stay at home and watch movies. And I was blissfully happy with my choice. (To be fair, I get very very little “me” time.) But, still. It’s not like me. It’s very apathetic, and I am rarely apathetic. I am emotionally involved and evolved. All the time. But right now I’m just…numb? Bored? Disinterested? I don’t know.

My aunt is getting married in October. My grandmother sent me an email letting me know that I’m expected to come, but I don’t get a plus one, because my aunt has found a “very nice young man” who is ALSO not allowed to bring a date, and she would like to introduce us. My two responses to this idea were exasperation and amusement. I suppose it’ll be nice to have someone else youngish there to dance with. But regardless of his coming from “a VERY nice family”, the whole idea of meeting and flirting and attempting to stay in contact and manufacture attraction and worrying about my eye liner and choosing between putting on my heels or putting on my soft lounge pants is exHAUSTing to me.

This, too, shall pass, though.

Right?