A Portrait of the Artist as a Grown Woman

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Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a dream. There was inspiration and motivation and daring and excitement. She was going to conquer the world and with a voice in her ear and endless story in her heart she knew that she could.

*                          *                           *

The land of creation is populated by liars. Its waters look deep but when stepped in are shallow, and the language is not how it sounds.

–How is it yes means maybe and maybe means don’t hold your breath? She never could understand or remember. She never learned to speak WhatsInItForMe.

But there are sparkly people, too, and she loves them! There are brilliant ideas and shiny talents; there is work and play and work and collaboration. O the collaboration! Yes, she says, and yes again. Let’s do something, or another thing, or lunch. A new project, new spark, new yes and yes I will Yes.

*                          *                           *

How can a world so small and crowded feel so empty sometimes? She has uncovered the challenge of living in the world while working in her head.

–It’s far better than the reverse, she reminds herself.

She watches friends change and fade and move on to better things, to better people. One by one some give up. She dreads the day she is faced with the same decision, wondering how one could possibly stop.

–Better odds for the rest of us. She secretly loves the acquired wisdom such ugly understanding betrays.

*                          *                           *

–This work is fantastic! Can you make it less ‘smart’?

–I love everything about this. Can you make it about a man?

–A brilliant new voice! Can you take out everything that makes it different?

Some create while others calculate, she learns. She wishes the calculators had as much faith in humanity as she does.

Stupidity and fear increase with power. With each note she leans to find the useful in the self-indulgent slop. She realizes she has a choice. Not every suggestion has to matter. Even if it’s right, she decides if it’s right for her. She learns to listen to herself.

*                          *                           *

Success is a carrot dangling, tantalizing up ahead. There is work, and money, but never the meal. She drags the weight of experience one step closer and grasps; victory keeps pace. One more step, one more reach, one more miss. With each try the weight gets heavier. Her legs get stronger. The distance gets smaller. But there is still distance.

She played Lucy once in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It sucks to be on the other side of the football.

*                          *                           *

–Why can’t my work speak for itself? Why do I have to learn to market to people?

–If only it worked that way. This is a business too, she explains. People have to see the dollar signs.

Mentoring reminds her how much she knows after all the years, how much she has to offer. It is good to give back, help, feel useful. She hopes they won’t look close and see she’s a fraud.

–What is the best strategy for breaking in?

–When you find out you can tell the rest of us.

She explains time and again there is no best way. Everyone has a different story. Everyone has the same answer: whatever works. Time and again she watches their faces fall to frustration. She remembers the feeling. It doesn’t get better, she wants to tell them. Unless it does and she just doesn’t know it yet.

–It really is true that if anything else can make you happy, you should do it.

–They tell the same thing to clergy, her student replies.

–Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

Isolation, devotion, a calling. The joke works because it’s true. She wonders if she accidentally took a vow of celibacy at some point.

*                          *                           *

Night is dark, but feels darker. The city moves constantly, yet nothing changes. She wants desperately to give up. What if the years ahead look just like the ones stretched behind?

Stopping would be easy, logistically – she could teach, go back to school. Stopping spiritually is impossible. The voice is there. She has something to say and the ability to say it. Her drive to be heard will never fade; stopping just means desire with no hope.

But she lacks means. Substance and skill are useless without means. It feels like the means will never come.

Death would stop desire. She briefly considers it; the moment is one moment too scary. Her practical side objects: too much willpower, love, guilt. She wishes there were better reasons to get up.

–OOF. Okay, I’ll feed you! Now please get your fuzzy butt off my bladder.

She is reminded why she adopted the cats in the first place. Who rescued whom, really?

*                          *                           *

Nov. 9: Another birthday without the gift of work from anyone supposedly invested in my career. Another day is frustrating enough. If I make it to 40 in the same situation, it may kill me. Although I’m pretty sure I said that about 39. And 38. Time for champagne!

Nov. 26: Today I get to be with family. As rough as the last 13 years have been, at least I haven’t had to deal with parental disappointment or a lack of love. I give thanks for family.

Dec.1: It’s tempting to hate the agent who refuses to sign female comedy writers, but he’s not wrong. The odds are for-never in our favor re: work. But my motivation is starting to return. Spirits are up.

Dec. 27: Winter is coming? I’m pretty sure it’s here. A Game of Thrones marathon can ease me through the end of the year, but I need preparation to survive. New projects; new strategies; new sparks. Time to work.

Jan. 1: Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated story of my future. Stand me now and ever in good stead.

Los Angeles 2016

[My thanks to James Joyce for writing something I struggled with the first time, started to understand the second time, and have loved every single time since.]

How Do I Love Me (Let Me Count the Ways)

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Narcissus didn’t stand a chance. All he had to do to live a long and healthy life was avoid reflective surfaces, yet there he sat, in his prime, wasting away on the edge of a lake. Seems pretty weak – except it was inevitable. While he certainly wasn’t a perfect man, Narcissus did have a really, really good-looking reflection.

It is well documented that my heart and I have an unhealthy affinity for narcissists. This is clearly not good for me, as evidenced by the fact that my most successful relationships thus far are with my two dependent cats and a ’96 Toyota. I have tried to kick the habit time and again, but I keep running into the same snag: the problem with narcissists is that there is a lot of awesomeness there to adore.

The original Narcissus was literally part god. He was the love child of the river god Cephisus and a sexy nymph named Lyriope, so his esteem for his own physique was 100% legit. Even Apollo – the real-deal god, not the pilot from Battlestar Galactica, though I personally would take either – was infatuated because Narcissus was so frakking pretty. While I have never had the pleasure of a romantic entanglement with such an exceptional beauty, experience has taught me that every narcissist has some remarkable trait that makes him worthy of affection – his own as well as mine.

(Of course, there are also plenty of folks with a completely unfounded esteem for their own greatness, but we should label them accurately as what they really are: delusional asshats.)

Like Jane Goodall of the Ego jungle, my years in the field have brought me vast knowledge of these cold yet fascinating creatures. They are not all alike, but they are all capable of driving a lover to despair. In hopes of saving even one future Aminias – the Narcissus admirer who kills himself in the Greek version of the myth – or Echo – who in Ovid’s telling retreats to the mountains to end her days in lovelorn solitude – I feel obligated to share my research with the world.

Within the Genus Narcissa I have so far categorized three distinct Species: the Passionate Artist, the Depressed Intellectual and the King of the Room. Which makes me Dorothy in a very F-ed up version of The Wizard of Oz.

Artiste Passio is the most classic species of narcissist. This guy is all about his talent, which only makes him increasingly talented. I have pined for brilliant writers, hilarious performers, and more musicians (okay, bass players) than I care to admit, but regardless of medium the outcome is the same: there is no room for anything but “the craft”. Sure, these Artists love the attention, the admiration, and the praise we shower on them, but that is all they love. From whom the praise flows is irrelevant – unless that “whom” happens to have financial backing. Shutting off the affection faucet will often get the Artist’s attention (he might even take steps to keep it flowing freely), but do not mistake a love of being loved for actual love of the lover. We are merely faces in his adoring throng.

A more controversial species is the Literati Depresso – not because it is controversial to be depressed (heck, it is practically vogue these days), but because calling a depressed person a narcissist isn’t exactly PC. I don’t care; I have had enough relationships with depressives suffering from everything from chemical imbalances to Woody Allen to know that a certain amount of self-obsession is needed to maintain that level of inner torment. It takes impressive focus and mental agility to see every interaction as a reflection on themselves, analyze all new information in terms of how it impacts their life, and suspect that every personal thought might hold the secret to their impossible existence. No question, these Eeyores have remarkable brains, but rest assured there is no capacity reserved for wondering how we are feeling today. (Unless it is how we are feeling about them…)

Rex Locus is the third and most insidious species of narcissist – the King of the Room. This is the guy with Personality. Mr. Awesome. His defining characteristic is that people love him, but the problem is his lack of ability – or possibly courage – to sincerely love anyone in return. Narcissus loved that Echo followed him everywhere, so he called out that she should show herself; when she rushed out of hiding and hugged him, he recoiled at the intimacy and literally shoved her aside. The King of the Room does the same. His ‘why’ will vary from one to the next – he’s a loner, he’s a rebel, we aren’t perfect, we’re too perfect – but it will always be some version of, “Uncertainty and vulnerability scare me! So…. I’m gonna go meet a room full of new people now.” Like sharks they keep moving forward, leaving us to flounder in their wake.

Still, we chase these narcissists time and again, keep Echoing their greatness, and we probably always will. Pain fades over time, but Talent, Intelligence, and Charm remain potent drugs. Narcissus didn’t stand a chance against his own beauty; how can we Echos be expected to resist?