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.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Flowers Are A Girl's Second-Best Friend

On this Wednesday before Valentine's Day, can we talk a moment about the gift of cut flowers? I have heard at least three men say they "don't believe in cut flowers" as a gift, because it's a waste.  Because they're only temporary.  Because they die.  They have proclaimed proudly that they buy their wives living plants, because they "go on forever".

While it's true that it is the "thought that counts", the thought process here is flawed, and I'd like to discuss this.

First of all, I have met a lot of women in my life, and regardless of what they tell you most days of the year, a bouquet of gorgeous flowers -- unless sent by a stalker, or inadvertently bearing a card addressed to the "other woman" -- is rarely the cause for unhappiness in a woman's life.  Especially on Valentine's Day.  Even though the flowers are temporary, and will only die in a week or so, they are lovely while they are lovely and they represent something ethereal and beautiful that most women (and some men) "get" on a deeper level.

Second, when you give a woman a living plant, it won't generally "go on forever" unless she is prepared to take care of it.  It sends a message that these men probably haven't considered.

To wit: "Here, honey... you take care of the kids, me, the house, your job, the pets, our social calendar, and all the other things that you handle in the course of your day... My way of saying 'thanks' is to give you one more thing you get to care for."  (One of the men claims he handles all the gardening and plant maintenance in his home, but I know this man, and doubt the voracity of this statement, even if he thinks this is true of himself.)  Most men have little idea of what women do in the course of their day, particularly if they are wives and mothers and they have jobs as well.  Statistically, the division of household and parenting chores is not evenly divided between men and women.  According to a survey by the UK's Daily Mail, working women spend approximately three times longer on household responsibilities than do men.  That's not just in London.  That's worldwide.

I'm not indicting men for this. This is often the result of women who have been raised to believe that they must take on certain tasks, and have never considered not doing them.

I'm only bringing this up to say that most women already have their hands full caring for small helpless things, like kids and pets.  They don't need anything additional added to the mix as a "gift", regardless of the thought.

Cut flower arrangements are totally impractical.  They have no active function, no purpose, no task to perform. Their only justification for existence is that they are beautiful. They smell good.  They make a dark, empty corner of a house come to life.  They are fragile and temporal and tender and delicate.  They exist only to warm the heart and make it sing.  They are worthy of love not for what they do, but simply for being.  They are, in fact, delightful.  Especially if they are only available at certain times of the year, like Valentine's Day.

Gentlemen, when it comes to your women, do what you want. Give what you can.  But also know that if you choose to give flowers to set on her desk at work or a corner of the dining room, you will be rewarded in ways you might not have expected.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 03, 2014

For Us Or Against Us

I have stated on this blog in the past that I have mixed feelings about Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who brought the entire NSA surveillance fiasco to light.  Most of my objections regarding Snowden revolve around his sketchy motives and his demeanor that makes him appear as though he's a publicity hound.  I have stated that I never got the feeling Daniel Elsberg particularly wanted to be famous for exposing the Pentagon Papers.  I get the opposite vibe from Snowden.  While I think it was important that the NSA's activity be brought to light and made transparent, I am uncomfortable -- deeply uncomfortable -- with the idea that a person would blow the top of a secret government spy agency simply for the self-aggrandizement.
Now that several national newspapers are angling for clemency for Snowden, there is sure to be renewed discussion about why he did what he did.  Is he a freedom-loving American, truly motivated by a desire to take us back to pre-Patriot Act protections against unwarranted search-and-seizure methods by the government?  Or is he a shallow opportunist angling for his 15 minutes of fame?

At this point, I neither know nor particularly care.  The NSA has been outed, the government has had to come forward and take a stand saying everything they're doing is hunky-dory, and that's that.

I am disturbed though by this black-and-white characterization of Snowden is beginning to form.  At the bottom of the HuffPost article, there's a little survey asking "Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor." HuffPost readers get to click a little button by either "hero" or "traitor" and neatly wrap up a complex and multi-layered situation with the mere point-and-click of the mouse.

Why? Why does Snowden have to be either?

I can find nothing that he's done to make him much of a hero. But neither do I find his behavior traitorous. He's made a bit more transparent an intelligence agency that has quietly been building steam and strength since it was formed in 1952.   Unlike the CIA, the NSA is absolutely entitled to spy on American citizens on American soil.  Now, they're being allowed to do it wholesale, without benefit of a warrant or judge's order. Somebody should be keeping an eye on that, don't you think?

But Snowden is no hero, either.

He's kind of a conniver and a schemer who used a classified position to get the goods on the government.  It's like asking a two-bit conman to testify against a mob boss. You're glad he brought the mob boss down, but you wouldn't invite him to Thanksgiving if you could help it.

What happens with regard to continued or broadened NSA surveillance remains to be seen. As I've said before, I'm glad there is an awareness now of just how much harm the Patriot Act has done to erode Constitutional freedom in this country.  We have spent the last twelve years, allowing our leaders to govern us through fear and threat.  And as such, we have gotten precisely the country we ordered out of the catalog.

Now, we know.  And we do have Snowden to thank for it.

So I will say "thank you" and send him on his way, without a title that burdens either of us.