I remember turning six years old and inviting the entire kindergarten class to my birthday party and almost everyone showed up. I was completely shocked that any of them came to my party. I thought only your friends who cared about you would come to your party. And I didn't have any actual friends. When my mother arranged this party, I had some major anxiety. Not realizing at the tender age of five that the parents would happily drop off their kids for an afternoon without regard to the status of actual friendship. We played pin the tale on the donkey and everyone laughed and participated and it was joyful. For the first time around my classmates, I was not afraid to speak out loud. I felt like a princess for a day. And they actually seemed to like me that afternoon. At least there was a sense of genuine kindness from all the kids there, happy to be playing games and eating cake and doing something different from their normal routine.
There is a picture somewhere of me at that party with a paper hat on my head. We made those hats at the party and mine had a little construction paper red Indian feather in it. I had been in the same class with these kids for the better part of a year and could barely speak a sentence to any of them as the shyness was too deep, too terrifying, too crippling.
But on that day, I discovered I could be on the stage as the birthday girl and I could act like the star I wished I was. I had just discovered my secret desire was to be an actress. I could play the part of the birthday girl. The following Monday, I went back to being the girl no one spoke to who was too afraid to speak. I felt a small pinch of sadness as things went back to as they had been before. Nothing had changed and I was just another year older.
When I was eleven, I was allowed to have my first birthday slumber party. I had just discovered Billy Joel and was given the album Glass Houses as a present. At that point in my life, I had a best friend and she made everything possible. Deep dark secrets flowed out. The friendship was strong and steady and I could rely on it being there even after a silly argument about something stupid.
She had her birthday slumber party two months before mine and it was pretty cool. So, naturally, I wanted to have one as well! It was a small, intimate party. Five girls. Lots of giggling, pizza and cake. We stayed up really late. Someone's bra got dunked in water and frozen, and we tried to levitate one another. We talked about ghosts and a little about boys- but mostly we were fascinated with movies, music and the supernatural. And of course, we played truth or dare!
We went back to school on Monday and giggled in the hallways about the private stuff we had shared. We now had inside jokes and knowing glances. There were secrets in the air. Mostly, with a few notable exceptions, but mostly, I have chosen my friends well. These were loyal and kind girls. They are all outsiders of some sort or another so no one blabbed all the incredibly private stuff we confided with one another all over the school. Even if we were not all terribly close all the time, these girls had honor.
I had waited impatiently to turn sixteen. That for me was a magical and mystical age in my imagination and all things wonderful would happen. Right? John Cougar Mellencamp said so. "Hold on to 16 as long as you can, changes come around real soon, make us women and men." Truer words were never spoken. You can only hold on to it for a year, though. That's all you get.
I wanted to drive. I wanted independence. I wanted to eat the world. I was brave and bold and daring and I was going to do great things! But what I really wanted was an epic party. I had a really awesome gay bestie Jon, and his birthday was six days before my birthday, which fell on a Thursday that year. So we decided to have a double party. He was turning seventeen.
I lived in two worlds back then. My friends from school and my Rocky Horror friends. Crossing the two was not really that great. The girls I went to school with did not understand my fascination with Rocky Horror. Why would I want to dress up in weird costumes and hang out with gay people? Lord were they missing out. I loved my weird life with them. I was out of my shell and I could talk to anyone while wearing my underwear. I could put on white face makeup with dark eyeliner and slap on a maid costume and be that character. Three years I spent memorizing every line in that movie and matching every action on screen for every character. It was my first "acting" experience and I was killing it. Plus no one ever recognized me outside of the theater.
I handed out a few invitations at school and they were all enthusiastically accepted. I was nervous. "When worlds collide (said George Pal to his bride) I'm gonna give you some terrible thrills.." like a sixteenth birthday party!
At school, I confided in one friend that my Rocky Horror friends would be attending. Slowly all those school friends that had said they would come dropped out one by one. Their lies were transparent and obvious. "I forgot my parents had something planned I can't get out of..." I was kind of relieved. I shouldn't have tried to bring those worlds together. They didn't belong together. Those conservative girls at school would never be able to deal with my gay friends, my weird friends, my older friends, my rowdy friends, the people who spoke their minds and were unafraid. No. They didn't really understand me or them. They did not and would not fit in at this place. I was always chameleon enough like to change myself to fit wherever I was. Growing up in different countries, different schools, I knew how to alter myself to slide into whatever role I was supposed to be playing to make everyone else comfortable. The good girl. The punk rock girl. The rebel. The excellent student. The whore. The virgin. The wallflower. They were all familiar roles for me to play. But Rocky Horror people were my people. They were my authentic group of authentically different people. And the girls I was friendly with at school shrank away from what they did not understand.
My mother was horrified but mostly because I was more grown at sixteen than she was at twenty. There was little sweetness about my sweet sixteen because I didn't want to be that girl and when all my Rocky friends showed up, it was too much for her. In a completely tacky move someone yelled out "Blow out those candles, girl, we know you've had lots of practice blowing things."
We all laughed.
Because that was how we joked. It didn't mean anything in reality.
But for my mother, it was the thing to send her to her room crying. It's horrible to be a mother of a sixteen year old girl that someone sexualizes. I didn't know how devastating that was until she mentioned it many years later. And I felt pretty sad she had been through that.
But at the time, I just wanted the boy I was in love with to show up and kiss me. And eventually he did- with his girlfriend. Then, he asked me to have a three way with them. Ew. No thanks.
My eighteenth birthday. A milestone. For years I had planned to run away from St. Louis on that very day. Here was the thing I had dreamed of to get me through the angst.
I was going to pack up all my things, get in my car and move to Los Angeles, California. It was where I belonged. I was going to be a very famous writer and actress and I was going to eat the world. And the day my life was going to really begin was the day I turned 18.
I sat on the porch of my apartment that day, wistfully sighing.
It was a beautiful day. My birthday is in mid May. I had a lot of beautiful days but that day was particularly pretty and I remember sitting outside. Warm breeze. The smell of spring flowers in the air. I had lived with my boyfriend for exactly one year. And I already knew I was moving out. Moving away from him. He did not really know it yet but I knew we were over. Moving back in with my parents. Because I had to. Because I was five months pregnant. I was not going to California that day.
I thought to myself "Well, you can vote."
It was one of the most bittersweet birthdays I ever had. My life could not have been more up in the air.
Twenty-one. The legal drinking birthday. My mother was very excited to take me out to lunch at the Danielle in Clayton and I ordered a mimosa. She insisted on buying me my first legal drink. She knew I was hiding a pregnancy. I was about four months pregnant and not showing at all. But I didn't really know she knew. I took about three tiny sips out of the drink and told her I didn't really like it. This was not a lie. I did not really like it. She smiled and let me order a soda. Later that night, she babysat my three year old son while I went out bar hopping. Everyone offered me free drinks. I said no, of course. I just wanted to go in to the bars. I was never much of a drinker any way! No one could understand why I did it. I just wanted to go in where I was now allowed inside. I went in to Blueberry Hill. It was stupidly exciting.
I went over to Illinois to this bar where I met my ex boyfriend and hoped I would run into him. He was the guy I loved who dumped me the day I told him I was pregnant. He wasn't there, he didn't show up. I was wistful and sad but I had not lost hope for my life. It was going to be okay. Things change. You roll with it.
My 22nd birthday. I had a friend who wanted me to help her drive out to Los Angeles to move there. We planned a road trip and I was going to fly back. We were out in LA (where I was born) for my 22nd birthday. They asked me where I wanted to go. Disneyland! So we went. It was pretty damn awesome. I was very sad I wasn't moving there myself but so happy I got to go. It touched off a whole new chapter in my life.
My 30th birthday. I was pretty miserable. It was a Monday night and nobody wanted to do anything. My mom made me roast beef for dinner and a chocolate cake with the frosting I liked. How I miss my mother making me a cake. It was the care and love that went into it. I waited around until very late because my boyfriend was closing at Blueberry Hill. Honestly, you would think he would have taken my birthday off but no, he did not. I lumbered up to Blueberry Hill with my huge pregnant belly. I was three days away from giving birth to my daughter. I remember that it was graduation weekend for Washington University and all the students were up there partying. On a Monday night. Seriously! It was very crowded with all the most annoying students ever. And the vomit was everywhere. Drunk graduate vomit. Yay.
It was so anti climactic. Turning 30. I thought it was going to be this big event. It was not.
But these are all the birthdays I remember the most.
I've been thinking a lot about fear and survival lately. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of change. And this is probably the biggest one. Fear of trying something I am afraid of and ending up disappointed. I've been thinking a lot about where I have come from and where I am now. People have called me fearless. I'm not. I have a lot of fear.
But much bigger than that has always been my desire. My desires have always been greater than my fears. I never desired to jump out of a plane but I did desire to jump on a stage and in a way that was just as large a fear as jumping out of a plane. And I always begin with "I am terrified but I am going to do it anyway."
And yes, regrets. But mostly not.
When I was a kid, my parents had an agenda that I am pretty sure was not ever about me. My mom wanted to go and live in England for a year, so we went with her. I know she liked showing me stuff. Castles, museums, cemeteries, plays, cool moats and bodies of water but I am sure at this point we went mostly because she wanted to go there. Along the way if I enjoyed myself or tolerated what we were doing or if I hated it, it was incidental. This is not to suggest that I did not get a whole lot out of these experiences. I totally did. This is not to say that she did not take me specifically to places I asked to go. When we were in New York, she took me to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building because I asked to go. She had been there, done that, she just wanted to go to the Opera.
But now in this reflection, I realize that the situations she put me in gave me lots of survival skills. At least part of every calendar year, we went to live somewhere else for two or three months. Pack up and go.
It was never the same location in England, always a different rental location. So, there I was. I had to navigate a completely new place and completely new people. Sometimes I never made a single friend and spent the summer reading books, writing stories and playing by myself. I thank her for the gift of solitude. It made me crave books and stories. And I had choices. I could complain and be miserable or I could find something about the place that I liked. I could usually tolerate a great deal for a period of time. Being lonely was hard sometimes but it was not the end of the world.
Once in a while, I would make a friend for the entire summer only to have to leave the friendship and face the reality that I may never see that friend again.
That was hard. But it taught me to value and cherish friendship and not take it for granted.
I was always in a new place and sometimes got lost, so I learned to search for a stranger's friendly face to help me if things became hopelessly confusing. But before that I learned to watch for landmarks and look at street signs to find my way.
When I had a child, for the first time in my life, I felt truly caged in. I couldn't run away from this and it became a lot to navigate. I had never felt quite so helpless. There were a lot of people telling me what I should do and I found that I was not able to just ignore them all and do what I thought I should. This did not feel like a temporary thing I had to survive for a little while. Even though, weirdly, in a way, it was.
Perhaps I had always thought that my dreams lived somewhere else and in the pursuit of getting there, that future that I dreamt of would happen. And my fear of that not happening or my fear of making those choices for someone else kept me from going anywhere permanently. Funny thing about that, though, wherever you go, there you are, even if you stay right here. There was no better version of me waiting somewhere else. There have been plenty of somewhere elses that I have been over the years. Plenty of those places I adored. And I return to them again and again.
But I realize now that my happiness is not ever going to be rooted in the destination that I am going to arrive next. My happiness is actually right here with me. I create it wherever I am. I create it in what I am doing. I create-- yes, I create--- and it makes me happy. My happiness is not dependent upon a person or a place but more I choose to be happy in different places. I'm going to make a conscious choice to find something awesome about where I am or what I am doing and find the joy in discovering that I can choose to be happy where I am by what I create. Not even necessarily tangibly but in each moment, I have made the decision to find something. I have chosen to not be miserable and to allow something to be opened up to me, and inside me.
Yes, wherever you go, there you are. It is the one thing that time and place and circumstance cannot escape.
Every year, my friends Paul and Kim have a smashing New Year's Eve party. I love their party. Partly because they are awesome and genuine people, partly because they are bummed if people don't stay til like five am, and partly because I always have some wonderful and meaningful conversations at their party. There are intelligent people there and they talk about real stuff. Music, art, movies, books, plays, deep and fascinating topics and there is always some person there I haven't seen in a while or a new person who is interesting. These two are the best in humanity. Always willing to help a new struggling starving artist, and they have a genuine love of life.
So, this year was no exception. We were there til four thirty am and had a great time.
And I was reflecting on things that I have done this year and accomplished.
It's been a year of struggle and triumph but mostly things came through.
I was thinking about two bits of tradition that are built around this time of year.
My grandmother was born and raised in Georgia and the Southern tradition is - on New Year's Day, you eat some blackeyed peas and you will have good luck all year.
At Paul and Kim's party, Paul always passes out some sort of green vegetable. Sometimes it is spinach, sometimes green leaf lettuce. You put it in your pocket or wallet before midnight and if it is there at the stroke of midnight, for that year you will always have the money you need when you reach in your pocket.
I cannot remember if I ate blackeyed peas last year on New Years. I think I forgot to buy some and didn't get to eat them. But I am not sure. I know that Paul gave me some spinach to put in my pocket last year.
And in 2015, that was important as I made my first feature film.
I could have used a little more luck and probably a little more money but I still felt pretty blessed to be watching that dream come true. Lucky me. I had just enough of each.
I did both things this year. Lettuce in my pocket and blackeyed peas in my belly.
I'm ready for what this new year will bring.
I only made one new years resolution. I will do my best to lose weight and be healthy. My movie is in the hands of a talented editor right now and we are zooming along. I am about to start rehearsals on a play I'm directing with an all female cast and I am bringing dreams to fruition every day. Just sending some thanks out to the universe right now.