Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Face To Face with the Man on the Street (Or Rather, On the Jogging Path)

Dear Guy on the Street Who Just Shouted at Me to Smile:

Actually, in all fairness, you didn't actually shout at me to smile.  To be specific, you said... and I quote, "Hey, baby, why aren't you smiling on a day like today?  What's that face for?"

Since I wasn't aware I was actually making any specific face at the time, I was taken aback by the comment. I had to stop and imagine to which face you could be referring. See, for a moment, I was thinking about myself, and not you, and while I realize that this is rather unforgivable, I confess it happens most of the time. But I imagine, since I was on a running trail, dragging my sorry, too-large ass off the couch for the first time in a long while, it looked something like this.:

That's my "God this is truly annoying, my blood sugar is low, and I could really use a taco" face.

It could also have been my "I'm trying to forget I'm on this running trail by thinking about what I will be writing after I've finished this running tomfoolery and gone home to write" face, which looks something like this:

Or it could be what I call my "Urban Warrior" face.  I don't think I have a picture of that face, but it can be best described as a kind of "I'm either homicidal or crazy or both, so stay the fuck out of my way" face.  This is the face I created when I turned around fifteen and started getting real boobs.  I created it for men like you.  Men with no boundaries.  Men who believe that my sole function in life is to give them something pretty to look at.  See, back then, I used to look more like this:

And because i looked like that, men began letting me know that they were paying attention.  To my face. To my tits.  To my ass. To my body as a whole, and how it pleased and displeased.  My mother, who was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, discovered the same thing around the time she turned fifteen as well.  Usually, her face looked like this:

I was raised in a woman's house by a woman alone.  She once told me, "If you adopt the right attitude, you can walk down any street in any city and be pretty safe.  You cannot be weak.  You cannot show fear.  You cannot look lost or confused.  No matter what, you belong there.  No matter how lost you actually are, you're right where you meant to be. And anyone who tangles with you is in for the fight of his life. People won't fuck with you."  (Note: Nobody fucked with my mother.) So I began to watch her.  When we were on our home turf, she was amiable enough, friendly enough.  But when we were someplace new or strange or out of her comfort zone, the face became hard and kind of ferocious.  I studied that face.  I learned that that face kept men -- men like you, actually -- away from her.  They called out, but they kept their distance. And that's what a woman alone most wants. To be able to walk down a street she doesn't know, or jog on a running path by herself, without having to be worried about being approached by a stranger who wants something from her.  Maybe just a smile.  Maybe more.  Maybe he's just looking for a way to break the ice because he's lonely.  But I have to wonder why he would choose a shout-out as a mode of introduction.

You see, sir, the face I was probably wearing - my "Urban Warrior" face-- was invented for men like you.  Men without boundaries or propriety, who truly believe that women -- all women, of all ages -- were put here to smile at you and make you feel worthy.  Because I was raised by a single woman in a single woman's house, I was raised with no such idea about the world.  I have never been trained to believe that as a woman out in the world, my job is to make men feel better about themselves by plastering a fake smile on my face, even while I'm engaged in a very personal, very internal effort (i.e., jogging to get back into shape).

You may be a perfectly nice man, who simply learned unacceptable modes of behavior from the men around you. You may be a husband and a father and a grandfather to girls - girls you may treat as if they were princesses.You may have never even swatted a fly.  But by shouting out to me in a public place, by trying to augment my behavior to accommodate your aesthetic, you have over-stepped your bounds.

The fact remains that Ted Bundy got almost all of his victims by playing into the societal training that woman receives to be "nice". To be "helpful".  To let down her guard, or be shamed into doing so, because she's not being "nice" and "helpful" enough. You're no Ted Bundy, you'll argue. But I have no way of knowing that. Until I know differently, all men who are unknown to me (and some who are, for that matter) are Ted Bundy, and will be treated accordingly.

"That face" is for you.  "That face" has helped me walk down streets in the roughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Kansas City on the darkest of nights in the wintertime, unscathed.  "That face" saw me through a moment where I got lost in New York City at 19, took the wrong subway and wound up in Hell's Kitchen.  This was pre-Giuliani, pre-"I *heart* New York" Hell's Kitchen -- tight neighborhoods where no strangers were welcome, let alone some blonde Valley Girl tourist.  But "that face" allowed me to -- after the sweet bodega owner took pity on me ("that face" and all) and told me how to get back to Manhattan -- make it to the other subway platform and get back to my hotel.

"That face" is my only weapon in a world that teaches women that we're bitches if we turn a man's advances away, and whores if we don't.  It is the weapon I use in a world that has taught me since childhood that my job is to make it out of this world without getting raped, instead of teaching its men simply not to rape.

So, kindly sir on the running path, thank you for your concern about my face.  No need to worry. I'm pretty sure that my face is just fine.  See I have a few other faces.  Let me treat you to a few that you will never see in your lifetime.

This is my face when with my two best friends in the world:

And this is my face at a birthday party for me, with my friend Valerie, who has known me for... well, let's just say we were embryos when met and leave it at that, shall we?:

And here's my face I save for my darling grandson, who is very funny and wacky:

You didn't see any of these faces because you're not entitled to them.  You don't deserve them.  They don't belong to you, because you haven't earned them. My face belongs to me, just as yours (complete with that loud mouth of yours) belongs to you.  And I'll make the call as to who sees what, if it's all the same to you.

I hope this explains my "face position" once and for all, and alleviates the overwhelming anxiety you seem to feel regarding my facial expressions.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No One Here Is Amused By My Antics

I was on the phone with a friend a month or so ago, shortly after I'd given notice at work, discussing things that I needed to talk to my bosses about before I left.  He suggested I take the opportunity to "go rogue".  And we laughed, because... like... what are they going to do? Fire me?

"Amanda's dangerous when you let her off the leash," I joked.

After we hung up, though, something about the conversation stuck with me.

Off the leash.


Let loose.

Me, unregulated...

Amanda Without Borders.

I had a t-shirt made back in February that came to me one weekday morning as I was battling nausea and stress, preparing to rise and ready myself for work.  The result of the shirt can be seen at the top of this post.

"No one here is amused by my antics."

It was when I made that shirt that I began to think that I might have to leave.  And more and more, I began to see that, in spite of the dangers and fears, leaving was absolutely positively the right thing to do. Not just leaving this particular job, at this particular company.  But any job like it, at any company.  Because, regardless of how sweet one's corporate boss is (and I've had some truly great ones), no matter how understanding or tolerant, the truth is -- no one here is amused by my antics.  They're busy trying to get their work done.

My antics are who I am, though.  Antics are, in effect, my business. My weird way of looking at the world doesn't fit with most people's.  I'm out of step in a corporate environment, because, honestly, no one gets me.  When the world is looking at you with that RCA Victor dog look - head tipped to one side, trying to figure out what manner of beast you are - it's a little defeating and demoralizing.

"Normal" people.... people who live in a world that isn't punctuated by make-believe, by character development, by plot twists, separated into three acts and starting with literary exposition.... generally assume that I am "being funny" or "being dramatic".  As if it's a lifestyle choice.  What I'm "being" is actually just... me.  The real me.

I've come to realize that being creative is like being gay.  It's not something you choose.  It's just something you are, something that's innate and essential to the core of your identity.

Lady Gaga said it best: You're born that way.

When my daughter was quite young - maybe 10 or so - she asked me what I'd do if she ever came to me and said she was a lesbian.   I had already thought about this, since there's at least a 10% chance with every child that they will be gay, and you'd better figure out how you're going to handle it if they are.  I answered honestly -- that I would tell her I loved her, that I supported anything she chose to do, that I would help her anyway I could. Except one.

I told her I would never support a decision to live as a closeted homosexual.  I came from an era where all homosexuality was hidden in dark places, as if it was something shameful and ugly.  I've seen what it does to people. Coming out is hard on everybody.  But living a lie about something so profoundly a part of one's nature as whom one loves is a travesty and soul-killer.  I told her that I would never support her in self-shaming behavior.

I look back on that conversation and think, I was living as closeted creative.  I was a self-shamer. Every art I ever had - acting, singing, writing -- I have put on the back burner in favor of a steady paycheck.  I have almost certainly missed the acting/singing train (many people have told me so, in no uncertain terms).  That was a choice I made that I didn't realize I was making at the time.  I behaved as if I wasn't entitled to my art.  It wasn't a big money-earner, and my only important job was to earn money.

Now, I have another choice.  To live as a creative - with all the risks and discomforts that entails -- or live in the closet, as if somehow, my art is something shameful and dark and in need of hiding.

If I don't have the guts to take this risk now, to come out of the creative closet, wending my way past the colored pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks, over the bottles of Elmer's glue and tubes of glitter, and into the bright, unflattering light of day, then I deserve to die alone and miserable.  And I don't deserve that.  No one does.

Amanda without Borders.  Amanda, Unchained.  Off the leash. Out of the shadows.

Now... let's go find us a plot twist and have some real fun, shall we?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


[Excerpted from my forthcoming nonfiction book on my observations about living life as a full-time artist. The book is called "NO ONE HERE IS AMUSED BY MY ANTICS."]

I am not quite four years old when the Art Linkletter scouts come to Melrose Nursery School in Los Angeles, on the prowl for kids who say the darnedest things.  It is the end of summer, beginning of autumn, and though I have been assigned to the kindergarten-level classes, I will not turn four until early November.  This is the Age of Father Knows Best, when most kids my age are at home with their moms during the day and won't start school for another two years.  My parents are not together, my mother works, and I have been in nursery school for as long as I can remember.  I have been reading for nearly a year by now.  In another year, by age four and three-quarters, I will skip public school kindergarten and go straight to first grade.  
I am minuscule for my age and verbally precocious - probably obnoxiously so.  I am, it will be reported on every progress report and report card I will ever get, "loquacious and outgoing" which is teacher parlance for "has a vocabulary beyond her grade-level and won't shut her damn pie hole".   I am called in from the playground, much to my dismay, because this means I will miss my turn on the swings and for one of the smallest, youngest kids in the class, that's a big deal.  There are about twenty-five kids, and only three swings.  
It's dog-eat-dog.
I am taken to one of the classrooms with several other children and two grown-ups I've never seen before begin talking to us, asking us questions about our parents, about our pets, about our favorite games and toys, and how we like school.  I think nothing of this.  It's the early Sixties, and where children are concerned, most adults have very few boundaries.  This is long before "Stranger Danger" and it isn't unusual for total strangers to  come up to you and ask you your age, your favorite foods, and who your mother is, little girl, without so much as a by-your-leave.  Granted, given my size, most people assume that, rather than pushing the grand old age of four, I'm more like an older two or younger three, so when they see me in the toy section of Owl Rexall by myself -- where our mothers left us completely unattended regularly until that rat bastard pervert came along and nabbed Adam Walsh -- they probably assume I've wandered off and my mother must be frantic by now.  Looking back, I'd probably make this assumption, though I hate to admit it. 
I answer all the questions put to me (and some put to the other kids, because speaking out of turn is and always will be an unpleasant habit of mine).  I know that some of my answers have come as a surprise to my teachers, to Daddy Frank (the school's owner) and to myself on some level.  When the two strange grown-ups are finished with us, we are sent back outside, where I try to get into line for the swings again. When an older, bigger girl gets in my way, I take every inch of my tiny size and every thermal unit of my anger and righteous indignation, and I throw it at her, shoving her off her feet and to the ground. 
This guy thought I was a laugh-riot.
Back in those days, I knew just how to deal with Resistance with a capital R.

Today, I have no recollection what happened after the two grown-ups left Melrose Nursery School.  I just know at some point, I found myself at CBS Studios on Fairfax awaiting my "big break" on Art Linkletter's House Party, one of several children in a room, waiting for grown-ups to tell me what I was doing there and what was expected of me.  There were toys in the room - I do remember that.  Neat toys, too - Legos, dolls, Radio Flyer wagons, and a couple of tricycles, including a red one which I appropriated immediately and refused to share during my entire tenure in that room.  It was mine, and I wasn't going to risk losing it to one of the bigger kids. 
Hey, kid.  This is my tricycle.  Touch it, and things are going to get really ugly, really quick.  There's a new sheriff in town, she's riding a little red tricycle and she'll give you an elbow to the solar plexus just as soon as look at you. 
My memory of that time is very hazy, except that at some point they separated us into groups of four or five kids, and took each group out and sat us in the empty studio, with only our parents in the audience.  They asked us questions again -- about our pets, and our parents, our favorite things - which was confusing to me, because at least one of the interrogators had been at Melrose the day I was first scouted.  Wasn't he listening?
At one point, the woman who is asking us questions asked what we wanted to be when we grew up.  There was much hemming and hawing among my young panel-mates.  We were four-, five- and six-year-olds, for cripes' sake - we have to decide now?  The usual answers popped out of my older colleagues' mouths.
And then it was my turn, and before I knew what I was saying, my answer - completely truthful and completely a surprise, even to me, left my lips:
"An actress, a cowgirl and a mommy."
The parents in the seats laughed, the two staffers laughed, the cameramen who were milling around adjusting cable laughed.   
That gentle tittering sent an electric jolt through me.  Every hair on my body stood up.   I had said something and what I'd said had made grown-ups other than my parents laugh out loud.
After we were sufficiently prepped, out came "the Man himself" - Art Linkletter.  Of course, I had no idea who Art Linkletter was at the time, but he was nice enough and seemed to be uncommonly interested in all of us for an adult. I glanced up at my mother in bleacher seats, and she didn't seem to be panicking, so I assumed he wasn't an immediate danger to my person.  He was a very nice man who put us all at ease with his gentle manner and his easy-going affect. 
After our brief introduction to Mr. Linkletter, we were led offstage to await our "Kids Say The Darnedest Things" segment.  When we were brought back out, everything had changed.  The lights were full on and bright, the bleacher seats were packed with people I'd never seen before, and I couldn't find my mother's face in the crowd.  As it happens, for reasons I was never able to get him to explain, my father, who was sitting on the aisle near the exit door in the back, stood up just as we sat down, and I recognized his silhouette almost immediately, though I couldn't see much detail past the hotter-than-the-sun's-surface television lights used for taping back in those days. Seeing his familiar figure saved me.  I was, for all my bluster and schoolyard bravado, only three, and I surely would have failed miserably, had I not seen someone I knew in the stands.
From there, it happened really quickly.  Questions and answers from Mr. Linkletter, mostly answered by older, less intimidated panel-fellows.  Then he asked me if there something that my mother said to me all the time that made me mad.  Again, the words slipped out of my mind, rolled down the back of my cerebral cortex and landed flat on my tongue -mimicking exactly my mother's tone of voice - which was yelling at full volume - the very last thing my mother had said to me the evening before, which had made me quite mad:
This time, the laugh was from more than a few parents and stage hands.  It felt like there were hundreds of people (there couldn't have been more than 100, realistically), laughing in unison, including Mr. Linkletter, who made a surprised face and then guffawed.  This time, what I felt was more than a tingling sensation.  My cheeks burned bright scarlet, but it was only half out of embarrassment.  I remember that laugh as if it were yesterday.  It awoke something deep in the pit of my stomach - terrifying and powerful, but also fascinating and awe-inspiring.
Somewhere around my fourth birthday, I learned two valuable lessons.  If I said just exactly what was on my mind, without filter or editor, without restraint or good judgment, I could make people laugh out loud.  And also, I learned that hearing that sound was, for me, something akin to oxygen.
When I was not quite four, I figured out that somebody, somewhere could be amused by my antics.  I'll always be grateful to Art Linkletter for that.

Friday, June 06, 2014

I Resign.

Today, I wrote the following letter, put it on letterhead, and sent it to Human Resources, copying my bosses: 


And with that, it is over.  I resign.  Thank you. Sincerely.

I've resigned positions before (as you all well know, since I have blogged about it here).  But this time it's different.  I am not leaving this job in order to go to another job like it.

I'm leaving this job.  The whole job.  All of it.  Full stop.

I am done with working in Business Affairs, in Legal Affairs, in law offices, answering other people's phones, minding other people's Outlook calendars, filing other people's paperwork.  As far as full-time, permanent employment goes, I'm done working for lawyers who are working as lawyers. 

I quit.

I'm a writer.  I write.

I have a couple of freelance jobs lined up, but they won't be paying much.  I'll take my final check, put it in the bank, be all miserly about spending it, and try and crank out the scripts that have been eking horribly toward their conclusions as I try and pluck what little energy and willpower I have left into a sentence here, a slugline there, a bit of action in the corner to your left.

I have been advising young artists lately NOT to get "fallback" jobs.  I don't mean, don't wait tables.  We don't want any truly starving artists here.   I mean, don't get too comfy in your fallback job.  One of the reasons waiting tables is so ideal, aside from the flexibility of hours, is that the job is, by most accounts, so wretched and offers such meager compensation, the idea of turning into a career would never occur to most people. 

But my fallback career offered a modicum of security and comfort that lulled me for years.  I made really good money, had full benefits, worked -- at least for 13 of the 22 years I've done it -- in a place that felt (and still feels in many ways) like home, amongst friends who are still my friends today.  Even in this job, where I've only worked for a year, I have made friends that I will take with me.

But if I get too comfortable here, I will never leave.  And I cannot afford to never leave.

I wanted to be an actress.  I wanted to be a singer.  And I was good -- very good -- at both.  But I waited too long to take the leap and throw myself into those jobs, and now those opportunities have passed me by.

I cannot throw another gift away because it's reached its "sell by" date.

It's crazy for me to do this right now - to leave a job that pays well, that offers benefits, that is in the industry of my choosing -- to risk being un- or under-employed again.  In a moment of hyperbole, I mentioned to someone that I'd rather sleep in my car than continue doing what I'm doing much longer.  He pointed out that, as a grandmother, this would be inappropriate.  He has a point. And I drive a clown car.  Even as short as I am, it would make for less than lush accommodations. 

Still, in spite of the risks, in spite of the uncertainty, it feels crazier not to.

It feels like the time is now. Or never.

And "never" seems like a place too dark and dense to contemplate.

So, "now" it is.  I quit.  I resign.  I have no idea what's going to happen. I guess, if I stayed here, I'd still have no idea what was going to happen.  At least now, there's a possibility of something better.  And really, isn't that what it's all about?

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine Love Story

I have been feeling particularly open to Valentine's Day this year -- not sure why, and I'm not sure I care why.  I thought, instead of my amorphous Seneca quote cover page, I'd take at least Friday - the actual day - to have a true, hearts-and-flowers, HappyValentine-y image for my cover photo.

So I set about Google to find just the one that made me smile.  The sheer number of Valentine's images on any search engine is staggering, let me tell you.  And many of them are cartoons and teddy bears (no, thanks), flowery sentiments (I'd rather not this year, if you don't mind), and images of Edward and Bella (still? seriously?) in hearts looking longingly at each other (do vampires get to celebrate Valentine's Day, I ask myself).  

Then I happened on a quiet little image from a Valentine promotion that a pub was doing last year - some special giveaway on Valentine's night during Happy Hour.  Aha, I thought.  This might be just the thing.  It was abstract, red on a colorful background, looking very much like a painting.  No slogans. No teddy bears. No vampires (thank the gods).   It was different.

Yet... also... familiar... 

I opened it up to full-sized in the browser and took a better look.  My eye was immediately drawn to the signature in the lower left hand corner.

"Sowards '01"

Yep.  I made it, twelve years ago, using an old iteration of UltraFractal and a filter program by Alien Skin called Snap Art.  I had it posted on an art blog a while ago.  Someone must have lifted it from there for their own use.  (Just a little reminder this Valentine's Day when you're considering posing in front of a digital camera for your Significant Other in that new negligee... Relationships come and go, but the interwebs is forever, kids.)

It still holds up, by golly.  I love art, and I also love the internet - both for reasons that are different, yet familiar.  

Happy Valentine's Day, my peeps.  I love you all.

(CORRECTION: I believe the filter program I used was Eye Candy, not Snap Art.)