I Guess I’m The Asshole, Susan Messing PART THREE, or Using My Words

Still working through the improv thing.  Trying to find the good along with the bad and the ridiculous.  Still writing it, between dealing with a bunch of two-year-old molars erupting in two heads.

 

Improv/sketch comedy is on a teenager’s circadian rhythm.  Late nights, many nights, Saturday mid-morning to afternoon.  Rehearsals scheduled after other rehearsals.  I’m in a show that had its first rehearsal last night…we open in a little over a month.  Three rehearsals a week (not what I was originally told) until tech week, which will probably be four or five nights.  Rehearsals scattered all over Chicago.  One night a week will be from 10 to midnight at a theater 45 minutes away.  I’m scared of my impending exhaustion.  I’m literally three days after ending the last show, which had half the rehearsals and a considerable crap factor. 

 

I’m also watching my boys dance to “Bingo” – they “dance” by bobbing and bending their knees.  Occasionally, L. will wiggle his shoulders.

 

J. just opened the grate over the fireplace, stuck his head in, and called, “Daddy?”  L. needs constant cuddling to deal with the teething pain, and has learned that if he says “Ouch,” he gets a kiss.  He keeps shoving his hand in my face, “Ouch.” And asking me to kiss his sticky fingers. 

 

I love this part of it, although the whining is like nails on a chalk board. 

 

I tell him to use his words.

 

I continue to do the same here, rather than let the improv experience fester.  The festering just focuses me on the elements that caused me pain, and if I use my words, I can also sort through the good, and the lessons in the less-than moments.

 

Just use my words…it’s easier to listen to and it gets more positive results.  (I promise myself a cookie whenever I finish a post.  I have glorious chocolate peanut butter beauties singing to me in a Tupperware container that is undeserving of their elegance and depth.  They deserve to be (a) on a gilded plate, surrounded by swirls of chocolate or (b) in my belly.

 ….

As I was saying…

My parents supported my singing and theater, although it seemed more a means to an end (college) than anything else.  The performing arts were celebrated as an avocation, but never did I mention that I might want to pursue them as a career.  This may have been because I never considered it seriously as a career.  I cannot say exactly what my parents’ reaction would have been.  For all I know, they would have celebrated it.  However, my gut tells me that they would have encouraged me to pursue a degree other than that in the arts.  “Communications” was a lightweight degree at our dinner table (although a degree is essential and better to have a lightweight one than a flyweight one…or none at all), one reserved for vapid telepromptor-reading bobble heads and Miss America contestants. 

No cards and letters on that, please.  I know the rigors of some of the communications programs at top tier schools.  I also think science degrees are for those with stones of stone.  I envy science majors, if only because I want to say I got a BS degree. 

I didn’t know what other degrees one could get in the arts and I didn’t think I was good enough to audition to get into any of these programs anyway.  I actually agreed with my parents that I should get as broadly based an education in college as possible.  My guess is that had I thought about or wanted to pursue acting/performing, my parents would have encouraged me to get a degree in something other than acting/performing – not to fall back on, per se, (although that would have played a part in it all) but to give me both the broadest foundation possible and keep all of my options open – after all, what if, after three years, I wanted to pursue something else?  This was all coming on the heels of the glut of applicants to medical and law schools in the late 80s and early 90s.  Time and time again we heard that those getting accepted to the top grad schools were those who did undergraduate work in an “unexpected” area – med schools wanted art majors, law schools wanted math majors.  It’s the same general concept as getting into an undergraduate program – what sets you apart as an applicant?  In what ways are you well rounded?  What differences do you bring to the program aside from all the other pre-med, pre-law dodos out there?

Can you tell I was raised in the highly educationally competitive east coast?  One top-tier college applicant ducked every time you swung a dead cat.  The whole random dead cat swinging thing is another entry for another time.  Maybe I will tack it onto the oft-promised, not-yet-delivered, half-done essay on with-it-ness.

Adding to my resolve to pursue an English degree (granted, not the most unexpected program, but, in my mind, it offered the world more than any other degree program)  were two family friends whose children both were actively pursuing the artist lifestyle while I was pouring over the Barton’s Big Book of Colleges (We Rate Our Schools!  Look!  Stars!  Social life!  Dining Halls!  Possibly accurate quotes from possible real students who may or may not have attended this actual school!)  I remember looking at the small schools in California that were literally 17 students learning to farm.  They stayed at someone’s house and farmed.  I, to this day, wonder how they got accredited as a college.  Dorm life must have been interesting.  Also, no women.

My parents had little tolerance for that, although it is possible that they had little tolerance for the fact that their friends’ artsy kids lived off their parents income for a long time after age 18.  some of them still are, and are flirting with middle age. 

We have a family friend who was very active in theater and had some important roles in off-off Broadway.  He played Puck in a NY production of Midsummer Night’s Dream.  All my parents could report back was how horrific (and sick and amusing) it was to see him in his tights.  “He should have been ashamed of himself, you could see…everything.” 

There was no respect for the performance, for the craft.  It was something to be laughed at…almost.  It’s probably more precise to say that my parents, who are art supporters, just couldn’t get past the fact that he was living in a NY apartment where he couldn’t stretch his arms out.  On his parents’ dime.  My parents always took great pride in the whole “support yourself” concept.  Acting was frivolous.  Something to be almost embarrassed about.  Almost.  There was an absolute lack of seriousness about it. 

It’s entirely possible that our young actor friend wasn’t good enough to be taken seriously.  My parents respect him a lot more now, twenty some-odd years later, now that he’s working for an exceedingly well-known internet search company as a Vice-Muckety Muck.  The acting was play.  Play is what other people do.  He’s “grown up” and “responsible” now.  His creativity is lauded. Acting? It’s not what our circle should do. 

Our circle should take after the kids of my dad’s best friend.  He is a VIP scientist.  Scary smart.  You’d know the name, or at least the inventions and contributions to society for which is he responsible.  His kids are, as I understand it, perfectly brilliant and wonderful (I haven’t seen them in twenty years.  They were indeed actually lovely teenagers, so I can only image how off-the-charts awesome they are as adults.)  Make a difference. 

We had another family friend whose daughter typified what I call the “Annie” actress.  Loud, brash, always on, always belting even when in quiet conversation, even when not singing.  All performance.  No depth.  She was loud and abrasive.  Annoying.  Ethel Merman without the range.  She had Razzamatazz, though.  She seemed to take more than her fair share of a room’s oxygen. 

She was annoying and eventually became a cabaret singer.  She *gasp* dropped out of college and today, at age 40, is still living off of her parents’ considerable wealth. 

She’s still annoying.

“You have more talent in your little finger than she does…” my mother would scofff after we’d seen another one of her Teens! Do! Broadway! Review! (High School Musical, minus the nuance.)  This was not a nudge toward theater.  It was more a disparagement of the entire establishment…sort of a “Jackie, you do it for funsies and you still are better than Little Loud Sucks At It”

The weird thing was we saw a lot of theater in New York.  We enjoyed it.  We were a musical family…in the “musical theater” sense.  When that world touched ours…ouch.

Actors in general were not held in high esteem.  Newman got a pass from my mom for being an actor because of his charitable works.  John Stewart and Colbert are smart.  For some reason, 24 is good enough.  West Wing.  Anyone involved in any sort of Mel Brooks production.  When it’s smart, it’s good. 

I tend to agree with that.  I like smart. 

For as much as my parents sniffed curiously at their friends’ kids’ theatrical pursuits, and for as high standards as they had with professional productions, when I was in plays, my parents were there every night (although our plays were always only two nights.  It’s not like they gave up cruise opportunities or long-term commitments.)

I remember my mom always saying I was “the best one on stage.”  It wasn’t an order; she never asked me to be the best one on stage during auditions or rehearsals.  That was just the compliment.  Naturally, this goes hand in hand with other people being “less than” or “worse than” I was.  I can’t say as I ever believed her 100%, nor would I want to.  I can say that the insecure girl in me – the one who needed to be told she was good, nay best – listened very carefully to my mother’s critique of other performers.  She didn’t trash everyone.  She’s not Mama Rose, for Pete’s Sake, but she had a crooked eyebrow and a radar that pinged at every untruth onstage.  She pinged a lot.  

And yet, no matter how good I was (or was told I was), there was zero conversation about pursuing it professionally or in college. 

Theater and performing arts were not for people with my “potential” in so many other areas.  I should be changing the world.  Science.  Math.  English.  Writing.  “You could be good at so many things.”  Translation: You’d better be good at something important.

It’s not wrong to expect greatness of your kid.  It’s not wrong to make your kid believe she can change the world and has some sort of moral obligation to do so.

I never felt choked or burdened by this, although these days I do wonder if I’m a giant puffy ball of lost opportunity and missed potential.  That’s a crappy ball.

But dreams have a way of leaking out of the soul and pouring from the body, unless we restrain them, squash them, wrestle them until only our misery can contain them (even this, obviously, is imperfect.  Desires of the soul, if bound, will be heard somehow, even if it’s via a lonely ache that nags at the heart in quiet moments.).  I will always remember announcing in the chorus room after practice to a young boy who had a crush on me and was trying desperately to get my attention, “I want to go to either the University of Chicago or Northwestern so that I can also go study at Second City.”

When he said, “What’s that?” I knew he was the wrong guy for me. 

It was meant to be when I was fortunate enough to get accepted by both University of Chicago and Northwestern. 

I went to Chicago.  Second City came 18 years after a shy 17-year-old gal refused to pull her beloved teddy bear out of the car when she arrived at her dorm because she didn’t want to cling to childish things anymore.

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