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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How We Learned to Love The Things That Suck: Aha Moments

You never know when an aha moment will arrive, or what will cause it to come about. Sandwiched in between two weekends of Dezart Performs' - the theatre company I co-founded in Palm Springs and continue to shepherd - biggest production to date, a powerful aha moment struck.

I have never thought of myself as much of a people pleaser. I don't have many of the typical symptoms - I don't care awfully much how I look, I have no problem saying no, I feel no guilt about sneaking away for an hour of me time, or feeding my children breakfast for dinner instead of taking the time to concoct something more nutritious.

But on Wednesday afternoon I experienced a hit by a truck realization of this complicated triangulation of my, not people pleasing exactly, but approval seeking behavior that has railroaded me to exactly right here.

It is easier to talk about these kinds of realizations when you can think, "If I had it to do all over again I would..." I have been stubbornly adhering to a no-regrets policy. The early iterations were "Everything happens for a reason" all the way to "It's in the universe's hands". But in recent years, and particularly this year I have been growing skeptical that the universe actually KNOWS what it is I want in the first place. I can actually finish the sentence now with no compunction or fear of hurting other peoples feelings. I really now know what I would do if I had to do it all over again.

Well, maybe the universe wasn't the only one who didn't know what I wanted. See, I grew up in a family of semi-stoics. They could laugh, but there weren't exactly heartfelt conversations around the dinner table discussing the college prospects of the children, or reminisces of the adults' past missteps. Everything I knew about what my family, (and I include my grandparents in that category, though we didn't spend regular time with them, only holiday time, their influence was prevalent) I had to ascertain from unspoken messages. No one ever said to me directly "You must go to college", although my mother did say when I graduated high school that I did have to either get a job or go to school full time (I did both). No one ever tried to dissuade me - and I am grateful for that - from pursuing acting as a career. But on the other hand, neither did they seek out ways to support me, or take it all that very seriously. I suspect the family-wide attitude about it was that I would grow out of it.

So throughout my adult life I have been running in parallel tracks. One down the road of the kind of life I have always wanted to have, a creative life. The other track I have been running on is more like a treadmill, trying to prove to my family and the world at large that I am smart, not ridiculous, and an all around hard worker, not the obviously lazy clod that someone who wants to be an 'actor' must be. Clearly, it is not the fault of my family that I chose these paths. It was my interpretation of the unspoken rules and mores of my family, which I often ran afoul of in childhood and certainly put way too much stock in as I got older. But I was just never a 'go it alone' kind of gal. I couldn't have pulled a Demi Moore and rejected my family of origin to pursue my dreams. I would have been a puddle of emotional baggage, some sort of addiction just waiting to happen. What I just could not fathom, and thought I could not possibly tolerate, was the rejection of my family.

And how I came to finally realize all this was in a few short hours when that aforementioned truck hit me. I've been helping out the PS High Theatre teacher, helping some students get ready for festival performances next year. On that particular day, a visiting lecturer from UCLA was in to speak with the kids and help them with their August Wilson monologues. She is roughly the same age as I, but way, way ahead of the acting curve, not just in career success but also knowledge as well, and as she spoke this dread crept over me, the dread of realizing how exactly it is you have come to waste large chunks of your life. I'd always thought that I was pursuing my dreams, but in fact I'd been on those two tracks and the one I'd most often jump to when the gap between them got too wide was the "impress the world" track, leaving the acting track to go around the mountain without me. Here and there I have been able to pick it back up but the need to convince my family that I was smart in a way that THEY would be impressed with always won.

Wow.

And now what?

This is a fairly good place to end the year though, and this series of blogs. I don't think I have learned how to LOVE the things that suck so much as to tolerate them without having a heart attack. And there have been some mightily sucky moments this year, which is why there are so few blogs from me in large chunks of the year. I have a high tolerance for pain, and not getting what I want. But as I get older I am less impressed with the ability to be patient and reasonable. The more so as those around me seem to feel free to be disagreeable while I am expected to be patient and reasonable. I just might try being selfish and unreasonable in 2012. Yeah, that would be good. Everyone is always making "good" resolutions for the new year. I might just make mine bad.

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