Friday, April 23, 2010

Friendship is Forever

I'm really lucky. I have epic friends but I have also made some tragic mis-steps in friendship. It's absurd that those are the ones I focus on- that haunt me.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I began a friendship with a girl who was also pregnant. I'll call her Marie. She gave birth two months after I did and I went to her baby shower. She was the underdog in the group I was hanging out with. The less popular one, the one that was made fun of and then ostracized eventually.
This always pissed me off, the games within the games. The nice thing about being a part of a group of misfits was that no one was excluded, anyone could come and be a part of things but some people are ridiculous no matter what and are just there to make you feel bad.
I existed within the subsets of group and people mostly because I refused to take sides and to ostracize people. I wonder if everyone didn't say "That Vanessa, she'll talk to anyone."
But truth is- I have always felt a kinship with the underdog and no matter what I always root for the misfit and this girl was in need of a friend. So, we began as most begin- with a common bond. We were young, single mothers trying to go to college, living with our parents who were driving us crazy. We couldn't wait for the boys to get to kindergarten so we could get steady jobs and steady lives- and we both had massive dreams- she wanted to be a singer and you all know what I wanted to be-
In the beginning, we talked on the phone a lot and kept one another sane and she would come over and visit when my parents were out of town. We used to stay up all night and play trivial pursuit. We had a pretty great time together, she was smart, funny, and I kind of tolerated her less than stellar traits. I mean, we went to musicals together, when the boys were older, we went on vacation together, went on road trips- went out to see bands.
I listened to her pain of losing her best friend- one day the girl had just called her up and said "the friendship is over, I'm done with you." no more explanation than that.
I was so critical of that moment for her. Loyalty is kind of a given for me. I'm ridiculously loyal to a fault. I have defended my friends and forgiven my friends, many times to my own detriment- but it is of paramount importance to me to be a good friend. There is no excuse for not being a good friend.
One of the things that bothers me is how long I allowed her to not be a good friend to me- but to hurt and hurt and hurt me. I think I was made to survive suffering. I suffered through my abusive father and suffered through my abusive boyfriends but it took me most of my life to figure out that I had an abusive friend.
Marie was the best friend you could ever have in crisis. And I had a lot of them. My life was drama from one minute to the next and I was often in need of rescue from one situation or another. Sometimes, I confess, I was so uncomfortable with the quiet that I created a drama so that there would be noise. I'm not proud of that.
She would often tell me I needed therapy and at the age of 24, I entered therapy. She might have been shocked when I actually did it.
It was the slow slide to the beginning of the end of many things for me. For the first time in our relationship, I got a voice. You know, if you tell someone to stand up for themselves enough times, eventually they will stand up to you.
It was the end of my tolerating abusive relationships. And that included her treating me like crap whenever she felt like it. I had tolerated her discouraging me from pursuing things she didn't approve of, tolerated her jealousy of my other friends, tolerated her calling my answering machine the day before New Year's eve, making plans with my answering machine (I actually had other plans) and then getting mad at me on my answering machine when I wasn't home on New Year's eve (I was working!) and going out with my ex-boyfriend instead, then bitching at me about it later...
Confused yet? We didn't speak for three months after that incident because I wasn't going to be held responsible for her making plans with my answering machine. But I got nostalgic and missed her and called her on Easter...
It went like that for a long time. She could be the nicest person, the most generous and loving, the most supportive friend- or the most evil, nasty, insulting low down cruel person you have ever met. She was babysitting one night at my parent's house and she left our boys outside on the back porch at midnight and they played with lighter fluid. They were eleven. When her son had third degree burns on him from lighting himself on fire, I rushed home from work, got someone to watch the kids and stayed up all night at the hospital with her.
The kid's father wasn't there but I was.
It was a tragic accident and I wasn't angry with her for her negligence of not watching the boys or properly keeping an eye on things because she had suffered enough. Never mind that my child had minor burns as well- and the accident was one hundred percent her son's own fault- she sued my parents.
Yeah- she tried to do that. Even though my parents were out of town and she was the responsible adult, she decided since it was their house, she would try to sue them.
And I stopped speaking to her for a very long time- I think it must have been a year because I told her this might destroy any trust I had left with her and she continued. Of course the case was thrown out before it ever went any where.
And she called me up one day to apologize and I forgave her. And tried to move past it. At some point after this, she gave me a cute blanket for Christmas or my birthday and it says "Friendship is Forever" and we said to each other, if our friendship can survive what was in our past, it can survive anything.
And I thought we might make it. But it became increasingly obvious over the next few years that she is an abusive bully who would do whatever she felt like to make me feel bad about myself and tear me down. She tried to bully her way into being my maid of honor (though that honor was long ago promised to my best friend from childhood) in my wedding and then proceeded to insult me because I wanted to wear a white dress.
Yes, she actually told me that I would be stepping on everything she held dear in her life if I wore white. That got her kicked out of the wedding party. I could go on with the litany of her abuses- the time she told me my son should have been an abortion-
I don't know why I felt I should keep forgiving her. Because friendship is forever?
People would ask me, why do you put up with her. I would defend her good side but the fact of the matter is that I was in an abusive friendship.
The final straw was when I located my son's half sister on my space and sent her an email- the girl was fifteen at the time and my son very much wanted to meet his father and his sister, so I reached out to her (this is a long and complex story) but Marie said "You are no better than a child abuser."
and that began a litany of nasty emails back and forth with one another.
I'm not proud of some of the things I said to her- I don't know if she regrets what she said to me but at the end I told her I did not see any hope for this friendship unless we went to therapy to seek some help and she said she would think about it. Think about it? Really?
That was it. I realized for the first time- I was better off without this friendship. That I was done. Forever. That this frienship was over forever. I didn't need to go to therapy with her to fix what is irretrievably broken. I have real friends who care about me who don't tear me down and make me question myself, who don't constantly try to make me feel bad about myself, who say things with my best interests at heart. I wanted her to be something she would never be. A friends without jealousy, nastiness and conditions on her kindness. So I let go.
It took me such a long time to realize I was in an abusive friendship- that she was abusing me on the most base of levels and that her hypocrisy was intolerable.
She used to find reasons to try to separate me from my other friends- she hated everyone I liked. And these people were not allowed to make mistakes. I was supposed to forgive her atrocities but she wanted me to judge harshly the most minor of indiscretions from others.
The long and short of this is that blanket still exists and I still keep it in my house as my badge of survival and thank God I didn't have that friendship forever. I've been in recovery from her for three years now and have never been so happy to have someone out of my life!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


In 2000, John and I moved into our first apartment together. We were pretty excited to be out from under our parents and together on our own for the first time.
At the time, I had almost paid myself out of debt and it was a pretty fresh start. My kids were starting at a new school and both of us were working full time. We kind of ruled the Loop from end to end.
I was a manager at Cicero's and he was a manager at Blueberry Hill. There were lots of things I liked about my job but it wasn't really a calling for me. There is a huge difference between things I am good at and things I should be doing. For example, I'm quite good at math- but I don't like it, have never had a passion for it and have no use for it except to count my money with.
So, I was pretty good at being a waitress, a bartender, running a restaurant and managing people, writing a schedule and being a boss. I was pretty good at smoothing over pissed off customers, hiring people, firing people- relating to my employees and doing all of the things that were necessary in my job.
But I was pretty miserable most of the time. Some days I would go in to work and feel as if the essence of my soul were being sucked out of me. I felt trapped, depressed and in some way resigned. I was a little like a caged animal some nights. Generally, things began slipping as the motivation to do the job started to dissipate. I need a challenge, I need something different. I need to do something bigger than me.
I began to feel as if there was no way out for me, but being who I am, I began to plot my escape from prison. I knew close to the end when I was nothing but whiny- it had to be over soon.
I remember deciding I was going to open my own live theater. I went out and bought business planning software for my new computer and I designed a logo and a whole ad campaign for my new business. I called it "Inspiration Theater" and it made me happy just to dream about it. I made business cards and everything.
I suppose everyone at work thought I was a bit nuts but I set my mind on it and I was going to find a way to do it.
Now that I had the dream, the goal, I decided that I had to find out everything I could about running a theater company so I began from the ground up.
I think I dreamed my way into this happening for me. It was all I thought about, all I talked about and when one of my regular customers asked me to be his Assistant Director, I could not believe some of this was beginning to become reality.
OKAY- the reality of this is that it takes a lot to run a theater company- I knew from my first experience, I was going to need a lot more experience, but I was ready to learn it ground up and I did. A lot of people took me in and taught me so much.
Life does funny things to you. It all seems so impulsive looking back now- maybe it was. Maybe I just envisioned this until it came true- I don't know. I was driving one day- cannot remember where I was going but I turned the car around and I literally decided on a whim to go by Webster University and the next thing I know, I had signed up for classes and re-enrolled as a degree seeking student. I hadn't planned to do it that day, I just did it (I am so glad I did it)
I went home and told John who was shocked and a little pissed off. "you could have discussed this with me before you did it."
I told him I didn't have to discuss anything with him, this was my life and I was going back to school. I don't think he meant it in a mean way or anything but I couldn't handle anyone saying that was a bad decision.
So, nine years later, I had a lot of experience but still no theater company and of course, I had dived full force into film as well. Last Spring, I decided to produce my own short film. I knew I was going to need a name for my production company. I didn't have to sweat over it, I knew exactly what I would name it, I simply worried it was already taken- but luck was with me-
Inspired Productions was not taken. That's the name of my LLC- and I made sure and included the future possibility of a theater company with that name when I registered it, I put down the company was for film and theater. Dream it. Be it. Live it. I still can't believe my own determination took me here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sex and Power in life and theater

I'm directing another play. A great joy for me. I love doing this work better than anything in the world. When I am there- acting, writing, directing, I feel very strongly that this is my purpose. Sometimes it seems to me a very frivolous purpose but other times a very meaningful place to be. If I do this right, I will touch people and change them the way I have been touched and changed. I cannot describe fully the exhiliartion I feel when I create.
Art for me is about realization and moments of inspiration.
I'm particularly enjoying this play that I'm directing because there are some really meaty themes to be explored- it's about a bi-racial man in New York who has the power to heal people. He's a reluctant healer (the best kind, if you ask me)seeking not to sell himself or his gift but has hidden from it his entire life.
I have done some things in directing this play which I think I'm going to incorporate into rehearsal from now on. After our first full read through, I scheduled a rehearsal where all we did was talk about the characters and explore their relationship to the world, who they were, where they have been, what each actors feeling was about each individual character.
I went around in a circle and each person has a chance to say who his/her character was, why he/she was there, why he/she was important to the story, and what he/she brought into the room with him/her.
I expected this to be helpful to the cast but it was more than that, it was kind of transformative for me. I realized that I was going to be able to bring out deep, rich characters and I was so happy about the way this turned out. Each actor really jumped into the exploration and was completely present in their character. I loved the conversation. Everyone was welcome in this discussion and the actors gave valuable insight to one another.
One of the characters in this play is a battered wife. Another is a black woman who married a white Polish man in the sixties. They are very different women but both have a rich and complex relationship with sex and power.
I have thought deeply about this from time to time. I have not disclosed my own past as a battered wife to the cast because there's no purpose to that disclosure- I'm not hiding it at all but I have not found it to be relevant. In addition to the fact that this character is completely different from me. I feel nearly no kinship with her except for this one thing in common.
We also have this delightful drag queen in this play, what a fabulous character she is. Someone in the cast noted that a lot of times men become drag queens because they feel more powerful as women.
The women and I exchanged a look with one another when he said that. What? Really? Give up your masculinity to seek power?
Then I realized of course, sex is incredibly powerful. Of course it is. Lots of times, drag queens have been ineffectual or not that attractive men. Makeup and hair and accessories often make them beautiful, lavish peacocks... I said that right, not peahens.
Sex is our female celebrated power. Look at Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn- changed the religion of an entire country. Attraction is a powerful, inarticulate, irrational thing. Men have this, too but we have cultivated generations of women to use it to gain power.
Whenever I would have a boss who dominated me excessively, the kind you hate who is mean and unfair and cruel, I would inevitably dream I seduced him and had wild sex with him. This was usually with a man I despised who I was not attracted to in any way, but sex was the way I could subconsciously control him in my head. I wonder how much of this is evolutionary.
The dreams stopped when I realized what was happening.
This has been a fascinating journey so far. And we are just at the beginning of rehearsal process. I love how I learn something new and fresh from each time I do this.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I have a movie

Attached is the opening scene from my film. Last night I took a look at the nearly finished version of my film. There is temporary music on it and we still need to get the sound mixing and finished score on there but I have a movie. Right now it is 32 minutes long.
I'm excited about it. I'm proud of it. I can't wait to publicly show it to everyone.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Feeling alive

Okay- every now and then I have to do something that is just a bit naughty. Can't resist.
I was travelling and stayed at a Days Inn on Sunday night- but I passed up the Hampton which looked better. I probably saved some money but when I was eating the less than stellar breakfast at Days, I had a sudden urge to see what the breakfast was like at the Hampton. So I hopped in my car and drove over there and... darn... it was a really nice spread. Cheese omelettes, bacon, waffles, apples and bananas, yogurt- yum- there were lots of choices.
Too bad I was full from the other breakfast. But I noticed the lovely indoor pool and hot tub. I could see it through the lobby glass and I had to go down the elevator to take a closer look.
I was in luck, there was no key card required to get in the pool room. I know, sometimes I am a teenager. I went back to my hotel, put on my swim suit and went back over and had a nice swim. It was a little naughty but totally worth it.

No Regrets

This was quite a busy last couple of days...and a few days ago, I had a long drive by myself to reflect on all of it. I like reflecting, ruminating, taking time for deep thought. With no distractions and the steady sound of the radio, I had time to think deeply, to begin to plot a story.
I believe great things spring from boredom. It is only when our base needs are met that our brain allows us to be truly creative-
On Wednesday night, I began my drive down to Galena, Missouri to pick up my ex boyfriend's daughter so she could attend my son's aunt's wedding. Does this sound odd? I know it does. Have you all figured out the family tree yet?
Let me go back.
I dated Bryan for three years and he is the father of my oldest son, Cory. In the time we were dating, I was a teen, we were together from age 15- 18, he is three years older than me. We officially and permanently broke up when I was 18 and Cory was a couple months old. In the time we were dating, I became very close with his mother, and his sister, Sara was a little kid, nine when I met her- but even then it was easy to see she would become an extraordinary individual.
Over the years, I stayed close to his family, and it was more than just me taking Cory to visit his grandma and aunt. There has always been a real bond anyway. She's the mother in law I always wanted. When I was pregnant, she begged me not to marry her son because she knew he would really destroy me-
Anyway, the fact that Bryan and I never married did not stop us from being family- we just were. When Sara grew up and went to college for a while there, she and I were attending Webster at the same time. We took a Latin class together and had lunch a couple times a week. I cherish those times because we got to spend some really great time together- and I got to know this amazing person who really is very much like a little sister to me. When she asked me to be a bridesmaid, I was deeply honored.
At the engagement party, they were lamenting how to get Sara's niece, Chelsey up to St. Louis to be a part of the wedding and spontaneously I said, "I'll go pick her up."
Now, understand, this child is my son's half sister, and my ex boyfriend's child. I had never actally met her before but I had corresponded a little with her on my space (that is another story about how I found Bryan again after he was estranged from the family for eight years.)
So, I know this is weird- that all of us would be okay with this arrangement but I don't like living by other people's list of appropriate behaviors. Chelsey needed a ride- they wanted her there. I have a car. I took my twelve year old daughter with me so Chelsey (age 17) would have some company-
Galena, Missouri is a little over four hours away- I drove down on Wednesday night, dropped off my toddler in Cuba, MO with the babysitter and Marissa and I stayed at a Days Inn in Ozark, Missouri. I didn't really feel like trying to take the trip all in one day, I mean, sure it was possible but I had bridesmaid duties and shopping to do and I didn't want to exhaust myself with an all day trip on Thursday.
I picked up Chelsey around noon on Thursday and that girl just got right in the car and seemed immediately comfortable. It was a strange and wonderful bonding experience. By the time I dropped her off six hours later (we stopped for a late lunch and at the Vacuum Cleaner museum- other story)we were like old friends and I was ready to adopt her.
At one point, on the drive back, she said "If you had stayed with my dad, I could have been your fourth child." which just pulled at my heart strings. She's having huge issues and is estranged from her mother and that just brings out the maternal. I have a soft spot for girls who are a little lost without a mom.
I have to say, my ex hit the cool kid jackpot. He's such a pain in the ass, I have no idea how he pulled that one off.
In fact, the child I had with him who he subsequently abandoned- and while I love him dearly- was a huge challenge.
Drugs, rebellion, nasty temper, capable of violence. Just like his dad. Irony.
Bryan gets the straight A student who is endearing and charming and sweet?
The Universe is amused by its irony. Me- not so much. But Bryan has two boys to raise yet, I am sure he will have his own set of challenges.
So, okay, I'm over it and have for the most part forgiven Bryan for his trangressions against me. I have my moments of bitterness- being abandoned in the delivery room so he could continue to get drunk at the bar wasn't fun. Surviving being beaten up while pregnant with his child, not fun. But it made me strong. In fact, I wouldn't change the fact that he left me alone in the delivery room and ran away, I'm absurdly grateful that he was a coward.
I did not know my own strength and fortitude to go through that alone. For the first time, I knew my own strength, could feel it coursing through me. I was a survivor.
So- the day after the wedding, I drove back to Galena with Chelsey and I didn't take Marissa. I dropped off Chelsey with him- the first time I have seen him since Cory was a baby- I went and checked into my hotel and he dropped the kids off with Grandma and we met up at Ruby Tuesday for a drink. I had hot tea. He had a beer. Some things never change.
I invited him to that meeting. I felt some sort of need to bookend things. I need to forgive him and he needed something. I think the whole time he was thinking he was holding himself back from something romantic. It's not there. I feel no attraction for this man. I know a good deal of the things he says to me are bullshit exaggerations.
For him, I'm the one who got away. For me, he is a reminder of the life I escaped to fulfill my potential. He is a reflection of the way I survived my own foolish choices. I look at the way he is living and know absolutely that I would not live like that. I have no doubt I made the right decisions in the long run.
When he first pulled up in that white car with the two little boys in the back, and they got out of the car, he tenderly asked them if they wanted a treat from inside the gas station, and gave them each a dollar and sent them inside to pick out what they wanted- my heart hurt. I had never seen him be a father, and while my son waited and hoped and cried at night because he didn't know his dad, grew up without one and felt nothing but abandoned, no matter how I comforted him, I questioned my decision right then and there. I looked at Bryan and I felt like a knife slid into my stomach. I had no idea he was capable of being a parent. I could not breathe.
In a moment, I was back there when Cory was a year old, screaming when Bryan tried to come near him because he was a stranger to him. He hadn't bothered to see him in six months and Cory had no idea who he was and didn't want to come near him and didn't want him to touch him.
I called Bryan a few days after Cory's birthday and told him. "You have a decision to make. Your choice is this- quit drinking, quit drugging and be a father- show up twice a week minimum to be in his life. Clean up. Get a steady job, pay child support and spend time with him. Or go away, and stay away until I call you when he's ready. I'll give you a couple days to think about it."
But I knew he would choose drugs before I ever gave him the choice. I just gave Bryan a way out and I believed Cory would be better off without him, because with him promised a lot of pain and disappointment. When Bryan called me up a couple days later and blew up in my face and told me he was going away, I wasn't surprised. This was the first time I had ever questioned that decision was when I saw him with those boys- and I thought, did I deny my son a father?
Later on at Ruby Tuesday, Bryan started to tell me about the meth years, and the years when he was a drug dealer, his brief time in the porn industry. The times he went to jail- oh it went on and on. Just this year, he and his kids have moved four times and changed schools just as many times. This is what his kids had lived through with him in the home.
This is not a life I would have tolerated. This is not a life I would have let my son live. He went through some rough teen years but he came out whole on the other side because he had a better way to live modeled for him- in part- the other part, I just got lucky.
I took a huge sigh and knew it was okay. I knew I did the right thing. No regrets.