Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wrestling at 2 am

By Terri Lively

It’s 2 am. My children and husband are barely stirring as our home is blanketed in the thick quiet of peaceful sleep. I know this because I am wide-awake, mind-racing, toes curled under the covers wrestling with my what-ifs again.

The story of my present insomnia begins when I was 8 years old. I auditioned for my big brother’s high school production of The Miracle Worker. I was cast as the “Little Blind Girl”. I had five lines and four of them were exactly the same. But they were mine and I made the most of them. From then on, I knew what I wanted to do.

Over the next 18 years, I worked in all parts of the theatre, set building, costume design and construction, stage management --you name it…I did it. My favorite, by far, was performing. The explosive roar of applause during curtain calls was more addictive than chocolate, nicotine, or heroin. Okay, heroin is probably a little more addicting. But the point is I loved it. I blame the look-at-me gene.

The look-at-me gene was named after a Christmas morning somewhere in my mid-twenties when in the spirit of trying to move things along, I would call out “look at me” when it was my turn to open presents. Unfortunately, the moment has been recorded on video and distorted amongst my family to be desperate plea for validation on my part. Regardless of its origins or intents, the name of the gene stuck. And I got stuck with it.

I also blame the look-at-me gene for my choice to major in Theatre at college. I made my announcement from the back seat of my parent’s car one afternoon. My parents were flabbergasted but I had this covered. “Don’t worry,” I explained. “My minor is music.” I’m sure that neither of them worried any more after that.

So I took some headshots, went to some cattle call auditions, and started my arduous climb to the top. During summer breaks and after graduation, I was a working actress. The contracts were all pretty crummy in retrospect, but the best the Midwest had to offer.

Each job was a victory but they also created challenges both emotionally and financially. For instance, everything I owned could fit in the trunk of my car, aiding the success of my nomadic existence. Husbands, kids, health insurance, 401k plans -- they were all the stuff you had to sacrifice to be a star.  So I toiled on convinced that I was paying my dues and could overcome adversity if I loved it enough.

In spite of my youthful optimism, I had moments of pragmatism. I decided that while I loved the art of theatre, rent isn’t paid by art and you can’t eat rainbows and sunshine. The money was in commercials, television, and film. I could see that my geography was holding me back.  If I wanted to take the next step, I needed to move. West.

I had no job in California, no place to live, no agent, and no idea of how Hollywood worked. So when I announced to my parents that I was moving to Hollywood to live with my unemployed best friend to work on being “discovered”, they were so overjoyed that they couldn’t speak. “But don’t worry,” I explained. “I have a savings account.” I’m sure they didn’t worry any more after that either.

I didn’t last long. Four months to be exact.

There were a myriad of reasons why I quit acting. One reason was my dwindling bank account as my expenses continued but my income did not. Another reason stemmed from a nagging feeling that I was not as unique as I had once felt riding high in the summer-stock circuits of the Midwest. Nearly everyday I met a girl who looked like a different version of me who had just moved out from East Bumble, Flyover State, to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. But the reason I usually give to people is the poop tunnel.

When I wasn’t submitting headshots to casting calls from Backstage Magazine, I was an office temp, my answer to the need for a day job. Thankfully Mom had at least convinced me to take typing class in high school. On a good day, I could type 75 words a minute. Bad days I could still type 75 but 55 of them would have typos. Sadly since this wasn’t the 1950s, I’m not sure why this skill was so important but it looked good on my application anyway.

I worked at an architecture firm in downtown Los Angeles in one of the famous skyscrapers pictured in countless films and movies. Parking in the building was exorbitant, however, costing easily half my take-home pay for the day. So, like all the other smart (poor) people I parked across the 101 Freeway from downtown and hoofed it a mile or so to my job everyday.

The entrance ramp from downtown to the 101 North is 6 lanes of treacherous asphalt that was intermittently vacant or frenzied with the rhythm of traffic. Only a fool would try to cross the actual freeway on foot. All that was missing were floating logs and boing-boing noises as you try to scamper across to safety. My Darwinian instincts always directed me down the steps that led to a dank and gloomy tunnel. Of as I refer to it, the poop tunnel.

Named for a revolting pile left at the entrance by something or someone, the poop tunnel takes you safely under the human Frogger game above. Everyday, I averted my eyes, held my breath and fought my gag reflex as I scurried down the tunnel to the other side. This was not part the glamorous life I imagined when I was 8 to say the least. My look-at-me gene had not prepared me for the reality of my poop tunnel path.

And one day it occurred to me that I didn’t have to do this.  I could move back home, fall back on my outdated typing skills, have health insurance and everything else that I had postponed to be a successful actress. I decided that if this was what it meant to love what I did for a living, then I didn’t love it enough. So I quit the architecture firm, quit submitting my head shots, and quit California.

Over the next two years I assimilated into traditional society. I got a real job with health insurance selling radio time for 100% commission on a terribly ranked radio station in Kansas City.  I picked a primary care physician, signed a lease on an apartment for a whole year and bought furniture that would not fit in my trunk.  All the time ignoring the feelings of failure that gnawed at me.

Then I met my husband. He was funny, charming, and a permanent resident of California. So I moved West again. But this time we needed a moving van for all that furniture. We bought a house, got a dog and a cat, had three kids, and a happy life. All about 60 miles south of the poop tunnel. And in spite of the fact that my life is now happy and full of love, I still wonder what might have been.

What might have been would probably have been depressing. Poverty, desperation, and compromises that make me uncomfortable even speculating about would more than likely have been my reality. But even knowing that I still ask, what if?

When you are young, there is nothing you can’t do, no problem you can’t solve, no insurmountable task you can’t overcome without hard work and determination. When you are older, you know that sometimes love is not enough, that the trade-off can be dear for the prize and choices must be made. Second-guessing is a habit for the mature missing the potential of our youth.

All the choices in our lives make us the people we are today, not just the ones of which we are certain. Insight gained from honest analysis of our choices and life consequences can be the most important thing that we share with our children, husbands, and ourselves.

Happiness can come in many forms, and success in acting was just one of many ways I would have been content with my life. The life I chose is more ordinary to be sure, but it is happy in its own ways as well.

I pin the what ifs for tonight. The wrestling match is called in favor of sleep. One by one my toes uncurl, letting go of my worries for now. I am content with my choices. My mind slows with the pace of my breath. As I drift off, I am reminded that sleeping around me is the career that I have fallen-back on. While there is no curtain call in my new career, their love is my applause.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

40 Something

By Terri Lively

So today is my birthday. My 41st birthday. That means instead of simply being 40, I am now “in my 40s.” You can imagine my delight.

Even though I have joined the ranks of the 40-somethings, I tell my kids I’m 29.  They know I’m not being honest, but they still can’t do the math to figure it out.

It’s not vanity that makes me lie. Okay, maybe a little bit of vanity. But mostly I mislead them because one time I heard a little tiny girl around 3 years old tell a room full of people at my daughter’s dance class that her mom was 47. Her mom just smiled with that frozen smile we all do when our children have just mortified us but we pretend that we don’t mind.

In the wake of that age-outing and resultant tight-lipped smile, I decided right then and there that I would not share my actual age with my kids. There would be no unwelcome announcements in crowded waiting rooms in my future. This won’t last though. Their math skills keep getting better and better.

All the deception aside, being 40- Something has some perks.

Here are some of the best things about being 40-Something:

You are always able to identify the mysterious object or toy on Facebook.  These photos show up from time to time of a toy that is ancient or obsolete by today’s standards. You are supposed to “like it” if you know what it is. I love these (not really so much). Honestly, what other purpose do these posts serve except to make the viewer who knows what it is feel old?  And don’t say nostalgia. This is a word used by old people to describe old people things.  

You can count on a left-handed compliment to help you practice your graciousness. You know the ones, like: You look great for forty.  Here is a hint to compliment givers: the compliment “you look great” should never have a qualifier. Or another one of my favorites: I hope I look that good when I am your age. All I hear on this one is:  I am so much younger than you. In all fairness though, I said this to someone in my unfiltered past...

You remember when game controllers had one orange button and a stick. They were called Joysticks (!) and they absolutely wrecked your thumbs. By the way, I am completely flummoxed by today’s game controllers. There are simply too many buttons with letters and arrow keys. Apparently one orange button and a stick is all my hand-eye coordination can handle.

You hear your music on the oldies station. The first song I heard on the oldies station was “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. This wasn’t on the soft rock, Christmas Music in October station either. It was programmed on the “Mr. Sandman” station for your grandma.  Apparently one of my friends recently heard a song by U2 on the oldies station. Of course you can tell I’m 40-something if I even know what an oldies station is or also by the fact that I have listened to an actual radio station in the past 5 years.

You are overjoyed to wear a bathing suit in public. I love pools and swimming. But I don’t love wearing a bathing suit in public, especially around the young and the kidless.

You know how to Fax. This is a lost skill.  In fact, if you played the sound effect for a fax, I bet a lot of people under the age of 20 wouldn’t know what it was.

You have made a mix tape.  Not a playlist, and actual, no-kidding-record-it-on-magnetic-tape mix tape.  Those of us who have done it know that you have to hit pause before you hit stop so you don’t have obnoxious clicks in your tape’s playback.

Your life isn’t complicated by things like Foursquare and Instagram. Okay, this one might just be me. I do know some 40 Somethings that use these social media wonderments. For the record, I just Googled how to spell both of these.

You can ski. Not snowboard but ski on two skis down the mountain. You can do a snowplow, a stem Christie and might even know how to parallel. (Snowboarders are so lost right now.)

You remember when thongs meant shoes. Before the visible panty line became a fashion crime punishable by ridicule, thongs were sandals that only had a strap between your toes. I say flip-flops now, but it was a struggle to make the change. I think the clincher was when I told my boss I needed to go put on my thongs and he had an uncomfortable look on his face.  Eeew!

You recall when Botox was a poisoning not a treatment.  Seriously, I typed this because I can see my “angry elevens” in my computer screen. But as much as I love these little lines that announce my age to everyone I meet, there is no way I am going to inject poison in them.  I earned these wrinkles by years of neurotic worrying and I am going to wear them with poison-free pride and super huge amount of facial expression.

You can tell that a waiter or waitress really needs a tip. How?  When he or she cards you on date night.   My husband and I were recently carded when we ordered Sake at a sushi restaurant. Now I have to say, we did look good that night, but not that good. We could barely contain our mirth as we dug out our IDs.  I fought my impulse to point at my crow’s feet and he fought his impulse to point at his hairline. But regardless if it was feigned or sincere, it worked. We tipped well.

So you can see there are a lot of benefits of being in my 40s. Honestly, it isn’t so bad. My joke is always that every day above ground is a good day. And getting older is definitely better than the alternative. Would I drink the blood of a 20-something to steal her youth and power? Not yet. But I might ask her to be my body double at the next pool party I attend.