An Essay for Self Discovery

Creative types see or hear it every day: just be yourself. But what if you don’t know who that is? Since moving to a new city a year ago (add in Covid-19 for a little spice), I’ve had a lot of time alone in my own head. And I’ve come to a conclusion that I’d like to try to put into words.

I’m an extra.

Let’s begin at the beginning. I was a dorky kid. I hated wearing dresses and doing what the other girls did. I preferred playing with boys at recess and when I wasn’t in school, I built sandcastles with tar and rocks from the street. I pretended I was a witch and could travel to alternate dimensions. All this I did by myself. There were two neighbour girls on my street. One older than me by a few years and one younger. These two girls seemed to come from more affluent households. And I spent as much of my time with them as I could. Every day until their parents called them in for supper at 5 every evening. But I always did what they wanted. We played “house” and cared for baby dolls. What did I really want to do with those dolls? Cut them open and perform surgery. I got pretty good at “stitches” as a kid. Really good. I even learned to make my own costumes based on the characters from the novel I still haven’t written.

I also became a very proficient jumping roper. One day at the local volunteer fire department, there was a jump rope team performing. They invited kids to come up and try it at the end. It was easy. It came naturally to me. From then on, I spend every moment when I wasn’t playing with the neighbour girls making up jump rope tricks and pretending to be some kind of jump rope dancer. I did interviews for all the late night shows where I explained how certain tricks got their names.

Eventually I joined a competitive and exhibition team and competed in and placed well in tournaments with people from all over the country. More on that later.

At school I never had real friends. Certainly nobody I still talk to today. I’d say I had some good acquaintances, but never good enough to be go to a birthday party. I was invited to one once in third grade. I think I took the blame for decorating her camper with stickers. Her guardians yelled at me, I must have yelled back. I probably said “fuck”. I don’t remember. I was real edgy in 3rd grade thanks to all the “third grade jokes” my dad and brother used to tell. All I know for sure is the next day, one of her friends said to me “She told me to tell you that you’re not to come to her party.” Yeah. This girl was well-spoken in 3rd grade.

Throughout middle and high school, I had two or three of aforementioned acquaintances that kept me on rotation. We would hang out for a while, and then after a bit I’d get dumped without explanation. Once I thought I found a group of true friends who accepted me for what I was. We had a zine and everything! We all adopted Powerfuff Girl personas. I had never seen the show. My family could afford cable. But I pretended to identify with the little green one because I’m dark-haired. One day the leader of our clique stopped talking to me. She refused to even acknowledge me. After a while the other of our trio told me that the other girl’s mom thought I was gay, so she wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore. I had a best friend from my jump rope team. I took on a new name to match hers. We told everyone we were twins. I still don’t know what made her start to hate me.

When I lamented my loneliness and boredom to my mother, she told me stories of her own childhood and how she had to make her own fun and be her own friend. She also used to tell me that she was my mother and not my friend. But once I got to high school, she was my best friend whether she wanted to be or not. But even at home, I wasn’t myself. I had a brother to contend with. He expended a lot of parental energy. There was a lot of anger in our house. That left me scared and to myself a lot. I kept a lot of things to myself. I didn’t want to pile on. I was hella Christian. I believed Halloween was evil. I only listened to Christian music. At church camp one year, I was lonely and joined all the cool kids who received their calls to ministry. I didn’t have to make myself cry. Tears came naturally because of how badly I wanted to belong to the group. I did all this to fit in with my own family.

I went to kindergarten through tenth grade with the same 60 kids. Some of them were nice to me. Most of them completely ignored my existence. But there were a few who said things like “You’re fat. Ew.” And “She would be so bad if it wasn’t for her hair.” And “Why don’t you talk? Do you speak English?”

I was an athlete by the time I got to high school. Jump rope, gymnastics, martial arts… All my frustrations would disappear while I jumped rope in the street or learned back hand springs in the yard. I tried cheerleading for a little while. I loved it. It was like singing and gymnastics combined. Very athletic. And I was really good at it. I could throw a brilliant basket toss. I was the only one who was willing to tumble on the gym floor. One time, I landed a back layout on my chest in the middle of a game. But I was also an accomplished breakdancer, and just did the worm. It’s a fond memory. I can still do a killer toe touch. But nobody told me that small town cheerleading isn’t about athleticism or how well you can turn a disastrous tumbling pass into the coolest thing anyone’s ever seen. It’s about being a perfect girly girl. They wore make up and did cute curly things with their hair. They talked about boys. I wasn’t allowed to wear make up. And boys had never really interested me. I pretended to be want various of them to be my boyfriend. Oh how I pretended! I just wanted to fit in. I tried so hard, but I was never anything other than what I could do for the squad. I was a walking backflip. I was a muscle made only for throwing. If they did involve me in conversation, it was just to get me to say something embarrassing to one of the popular boys. See, the other cheerleaders figured it out long before I did. I would do anything to feel included.

In 6th grade, I embraced the fact that I couldn’t understand spoken English for shit. I started learning sign language from books and a substitute who filled in for my teacher when she had a baby. I taught myself to read, write, and speak Japanese after reading Memoirs of a Geisha in 9th or 10th grade. I’ll tell you, katakana was great for cheating on history tests. My school was too small to have any languages other than French and Latin. So I took up French. But I wanted desperately to learn Japanese for real.

I applied for an exchange trip in 10th grade. I wrote my personal essay in Japanese. I still don’t know how my family paid for that trip. In the summer after my 10th grade year, I went on a two week exchange in Shizuoka Japan.

When I returned the the US, my mum took a job at McDonald’s so they could pay my tuition to a public high school in another district. This school offered Japanese. I tested into second year.

While I was at this school, I kept up with my French and also started learning Spanish. I remember vividly the moment when I was first able to think in French. I couldn’t think of the English for “église”. I still bombed the AP exam though.

In addition to the extra languages, this school had an after school drama club. My previous school didn’t offer any theatre classes except for seniors. But I knew I had the performance bug. Jackie Chan movies and jumping rope at shows for appreciative crowds were my gateways to acting. Well, the first time I tried it was a community theatre production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My mum took me to audition and ended up auditioning with me. She got a role. I got to fill out the scenery.

But maybe at this new school I’d get another chance! And I did. I actually got cast in a play! It got cancelled. They put on Nunsense instead. I was not cast.

It was about this time that I became obsessed with the internet. I joined forums for the Wheel of Time fans. I taught myself HTML and CSS by viewing source codes. I built websites on Expage and Angelfire for cats, ghosts, and Jackie Chan (numberonechanfan). I also had a deviantart page. I think that still exists, actually. I posted my poems and sketches. I thought I was real deep. But I still hadn’t read any Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, I was kicking butt as a jump roper. National tournaments, staffing at camps, training new jumpers.

Until I was kicked off my team.

I still don’t know why. But everything I had worked for for 11 years and all my friends were gone in a single evening. I still wonder what was so wrong with me that they couldn’t stand to try to talk to me. This is probably one reason why I’m very forthcoming a when it comes to my expectations and feelings. I don’t think anyone should not be given a chance to fix their mistakes. And nobody should live their whole lives wondering how they’re broken.

Then it was time for college. Despite having a “little voice” and no acting experience, I decided to study theatre. Several times I tried to join the acting major. I never got in. Acting is one of those things that you have to already be good at before you can learn how to do it. And I was nervous. I’m sure my auditions were dreadful to watch. They saw somebody so eager to fit in and be included. They didn’t see any acting from me. I didn’t know how to audition or what plays I was supposed to have read. I quickly realised just how behind I was. Every one of my cohorts had gone to theatre camps, played the lead in South Pacific, or done some commercials as kids. And then there was me. I loved Kung Fu films and the Princess Diaries. You know, the one where the frizzy headed girl with glasses gets a makeover and suddenly people love her? I wonder why I was into that…

So I studied film production and technical theatre until I couldn’t get my last two classes: Shakespeare and vocal performance (acting students got priority). So I went on an exchange in France and got my BA in French instead. That was one of the best times of my life. I went to classes on Ancient Egypt and Breton history. I took four-day weekends every week. I probably walked a couple thousand miles. And I met two people who I still plan on going back to Rennes with someday. I found out I would be graded on the journal I kept and not on the grades I received in the classes I took. So I did my best to make sure that journal was overflowing with ticket stubs, stories, receipts, and little doodles of the places I went on my weekend excursions. And while I was in class, I focused on trying to learn the language.

I was 3 credit hours from a theatre studies degree, but I couldn’t put off graduation. I had joined the army when all of my friends got jobs at a rich kid summer camp. Some of my favourite authors at the time had done military service, so I figured I’d give it a try. So I had to graduate on time. One such friend was a tall blonde dancer. Beautiful like an elf. But nerdy. Rich nerdy. Well educated nerdy. Expensive sports and theatre camps nerdy. And I wanted to be her. I started wearing make-up because of her. Another friend was absolutely hilarious. I still think if she wanted a career in stand-up, she could have it. And she was the effortlessly beautiful type. The kind of gorgeous that made me want to dye and straighten my hair. I remember going to “Yay Jesus” with her a few times in an effort to pretend like I cared about religion as much as she seemed to. Our other core friend was a gaming nerd. She was also hilarious and didn’t act like she gave a shit about what people thought about her. I started playing World of Warcraft because of her. Gods I must have been annoying. Several years later, one of these friends told me that the reason everyone stopped talking to me was because I was too negative and sad.

I wish they would have told me before completely forgetting I exist.

I had pretty well sworn off friendships by the time I went on active duty. They caused nothing but trouble. And then my whole world changed when I became disabled and met John, my husband. Two things I never even had on my radar, and they both happened in quick succession.

I talked to my therapist about him in the early stages of our relationship. I asked him what I should do about this guy who wants to come take care of me after a procedure. He said, “Let him.” So I did.

The next thing I knew, I was getting discharged from the Army and headed to Knoxville so that John could pursue his PhD. I had nothing in Knoxville or even in the south at all. My original post-army plan was to go to Vancouver and work as an extra in all those CW and Sci-fi shows. Plans never survive first contact, and my first contact took me to Knoxville.

I worked in bridal stores. I loved dresses. Being surrounded by all that fabric reminded me of sewing costumes when I was a kid and working in the costume shop while studying theatre. But I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t wear the right clothes. I had tattoos. I didn’t have the right accent. I was to the point in a world where everyone wants to talk about the weather. I had leadership experience, which is the downfall of many vets as they reintegrate into the civilian world. And when I asked for leadership roles, I was told I didn’t have the look or personality.

So I went back to school. This time, I was going to be a teacher. Did I really want to be a teacher? No. I didn’t want to fight with the VA to convince them to pay for an advanced degree in linguistics or creative writing. But in hindsight, I should have stuck with computers.

As an army vet and world-traveller, I went to college this time with a lot fewer damns to give. I wasn’t there to make friends. I was there to study. I accidentally did both.

I saw the theatre department was having auditions for a play called Macbeth is the New Black. I knew a monologue for the play, so I auditioned with it. And I was given my first speaking role in a play. From there, I performed in two other shows put on by the college and about ten other community and local professional plays. Once again, I became once again obsessed with performing. I found my way into got the local burlesque and drag scenes. I got together with some folks who signed and made some ASL music videos.

But Shakespeare became my passion. Every play was a string of little language and history puzzles. Learning a play and a character made me feel like a heroic anthropologist and linguist. I knew if I wanted to be really good, I’d need to take a class (because I couldn’t take the Shakespeare class while studying for my theatre degree). So I applied to the British American Drama Academy in Oxford and the Stella Adler Shakespeare intensive in NYC in the summer of 2017. I got into both. Remember how I was so bad at acting while studying theatre? Well, what happens after you’ve survived living in a foreign country and the army is a bit of a confidence boost. Turns out, you have to have some confidence. I chose BADA because they actually sent me my acceptance letter. Also because England has always been a grounding homeland as I’ve been a wanderer.

One of the masterclasses at BADA was from a guy who told us that the best Shakespeare is done in the actor’s own voice. I think about that lecture a lot and wonder if there’s any truth in my voice.

Recently, a fellow linguist (Oh capital!) I met at BADA posted about 200 pictures of everybody in the opening party at Oxford. I’m not in a single one. Why is that? I’m background talent. I spent a lot of time watching others interact, but not interacting myself. They had fun in the pub together as a group. I had fun in the pub watching them. I had fun imagining the worlds win which I felt comfortable in a group like that. I found a cute club with delicious mixed drinks and live jazz. I walked the six mile round trip to Wolvercote Cemetary to see Tolkien. I ate and drank alone at the Bird and Baby. I cried at Shakespeare’s grave. I almost missed a masterclass because I got stuck at a cycling event in Wallingford. Yes, I made some friends. But the the adventures I had on my own were far more numerous and comfortable.

When I’m with other people, I never quite feel I belong. I’m too weird, too quiet, too loud…

When I moved to Knoxville, I tried to ignore those insecurities and get involved. And once you establish yourself in a community, leaving it sucks. For years, I had tried to be as out of touch with people as possible, because I knew I would leave. And I did. And all was well. But in Knoxville, I made the mistake of making friends. I was heavily involved in the theatre community. And from that involvement, I gained a sister. And there’s two other people who still talk to me from time to time.

Now I find myself in a new city with no contacts or connections. The friends that I have here are ghosts. The people I admired so much I forced myself into their perceptions of who I should be. Just those ghosts and the movies in my memories. I think about them every day. Sometimes we text and laugh at cat videos together. But mostly, their lives have gone on. They have distractions. I have none. I think about them constantly.

Other people have always been the main characters in my memories. I’ve been an extra in my own story. The story always continues without me. I wonder if the people who have real estate in my mind have me in theirs. I wonder if all of my own history is tied to other people, how can I be anything other than the not too short, not too ugly, not too deaf, not too white, not too tan, grey shape in the background of their memories.

I feel like my whole life has been spent trying to be what I’m supposed to be, but not who I am. And most of those people I followed stranded me alone.

So these few who have stuck around for me, I wonder if they know me. Or do they know the ghost of who I could have been if I’d have let myself?

Which me did my husband fall in love with?

Can these people tell me who I am? Can they tell me how to be myself?

All the pros tell you that’s the key to a successful audition, novel, painting… Just be yourself. Who can tell me what that is?

I think of my actions when nobody’s watching. When I was lonely as a kid, what did I do? I dug in the dirt. I built websites. I wrote stories and poems. I jumped rope. I learned languages.

When I was lonely in college, what did I do? I played the system and had a brilliant time trying to survive in France. I learned to love whiskey. I walked for hours at a time. By myself. At night. I took incredible risks.

What did I do in Knoxville, when I should have kept to myself? I turned again to art. I went out. I joined a community. I started a theatre company. I went back to school. I got in touch with the deaf community.

What did I do when I was lonely in Oxford? I walked a lot. I studied. I watched.

What do I do when I’m lonely in my new city? I walk. I write. I make sign language videos. I swing a sword around. I talk to the toad who lives in my yard. I snuggle my fluffbabies.

Who am I? (<- That’s a good film. Jackie Chan.)

I’m quiet. I hate speaking. But if you learn my language, I’ll never shut up. I want you to love me as much as I love you. I’m studious. I’m brave. I’m crude. I’m no-nonsense. I’m confused. I’m insecure. I’m weird. I love animals more than people.

I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I’m not a hyper feminine person. I’m not an extremely masculine person either. To hearing people, I’m deaf. To deaf people, I’m hearing. I’m not the greatest actor or artist, but I’m not the worst either. I’ve carved out my place in a lot of grey areas.

Do these traits make a compelling and memorable protagonist? I may not be cut out for more than background talent as an actor, but can I play the lead role in my own life yet?

And I also wonder, do those people I used to cling to so desperately feel the same way about themselves? Are the people who seem so sure of their identities faking it? Are we all background friends?

I think I’m on a path now, toward figuring out who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. But the path I’m on has taken more than thirty years. I may never know. And maybe that’s who I am. Maybe I’m just a questioner of existence. And maybe in the end that’ll be good enough.

 

 

Have I set myself up for failure?

Everything I’ve done my life was a conscious choice to help make me a better artist

And now I’m reaping the “benefits” of my choices.

When I was in first grade, my teacher rattled my brain with a handshake as she told me that I had written the best story she’d ever read.

I think that’s probably when I became a nerd.

From third grade until probably middle school, I wrote and drew a comic book about an average teenage girl named Lezlie. She had a little brother named Sam, and several cats and dogs. But the interesting thing about Lezlie is that her best friends were twin aliens. Yep, the bug-eyed, oblong-faced, green dudes. One of them was named Alex. Alex’s sister’s name has long since departed my memory.

In sixth grade, I discovered Fanfiction. Though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what it was called. My friend and I wrote in spiral bound notebooks of our adventures as NSYNC fangirls. I filled at least three books.

Then I started high school. After a trip to Japan in my sophomore year, I had an idea for an epic fantasy that I knew would take me years to write. I didn’t have the skills or confidence to start it while I was in high school; so I compiled notebooks full of notes, invented a language and created a dictionary and grammar guide, made maps, illustrated characters, and wrote outlines.

After some time travelling France with my best friend I met online, I started studying theatre at Ball State. I’m honestly not really sure why I chose theatre. I didn’t have a drama program in my high school, so I was woefully behind the curve in college. I persevered and learned how to let actors talk about their favourite roles in their high school plays. I also learned about story structure and how to analyse works. Design, acting, and Shakespeare captured my heart. After 2 years, I didn’t feel any more equipped to start my epic tale, however.

So I looked to some of my favourite authors for inspiration. How were Tolkien and Robert Jordan able to write such brilliant high fantasy? Well, they both had military experience. I decided to try it out for myself.

Between my sophomore and junior years at Ball State, I did an Army training course at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. It was harsh, difficult, austere, and full of extreme idiocy. For some reason, I loved it. I signed a contract and completed my last two years of college while participating in ROTC.

Just to be sure that I graduated with enough experience to be a successful artist, I decided to spend my last semester abroad in France. I had studied French since ninth grade, and had come to Ball State with a minor in french without having to take a single class. At the last minute, I abandoned my theatre major and completed my degree in French while drinking Irish whiskey in Rennes, Bretagne, France.

After graduating and returning to the US, I went on active duty and spent time at Ft. Lewis, WA; Ft. Gordon, GA; and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO as an IT manager. During that time, I painted periodically and tried NANOWRIMO once. Otherwise, I did nothing related to anything other than my job. That’s what military is. It’s all-encompassing soul-sucking stress.

When my military career ended in disability, I turned back to drawing and painting to help cope with my new normal. Woefully out-of-practice in all things creative, I was less-than-encouraged by my products. The professional artist itch began to irritate me once more.

By that time, however, I had a husband in grad school and a bunch of pets to support, and I needed to find something a little more practical than “starving artist” to make ends meet. I worked at several bridal salons and craft stores before going back to school and getting a second bachelors degree. This time it was education. I was going to be a teacher. Teachers get summers off. That’s a lot of free time to work on books and painting.

While in college round 2, I saw an advert for an audition. The theatre department was putting on a retelling of Macbeth called Macbeth is the New Black. I auditioned, and to my surprise, they offered me a role. For the first time in about 5 years, I was using things I paid to learn. From there, I played in several more Shakespeare plays and delved fully into Bardolatry with no concern for my own sanity.

The summer after graduating with my second bachelors degree, I went to Oxford, UK to study Shakespeare at the British American Drama Academy. When I came back, I started a theatre company with my friends so we could all max out our Shakespeare stats.

Before graduating, I was hired as a teacher in Knoxville. I taught English to speakers of other languages for 2 years. During those two years, I discovered that teaching isn’t anything like I expected. Summers off didn’t compensate for the daily stress of creating curriculum, breaking up fights, trying to be a therapist for kids with PTSD, trying to be a lawyer, and sometimes getting to teach. Being sick all the time sucked pretty hard, too.

When I moved to Durham, NC, I decided to try something else.

And now I’ve been looking for a year, and I’m not a step closer to gainful employment. I’ve even started applying to teaching jobs though I know that I don’t want to work in that environment again. I feel like I’ve got too many skills and experiences to really have a cohesive resume. I’m overqualified and under qualified at the same time. I’m spending all my time writing cover letters and resumes, trying so hard to get a “real” job. While in my free time, I paint and slowly put together the book that I finally think I might have the life-experience to complete.

I have an acting agent and out-of-state gigs planned. I’m starting to sell paintings and apply for art shows. My artistic style is finally starting to show its face. I’ve outlined two fantasy comic book series. I’ve started sewing costumes again.

And I wonder how I’ll be able to do all this once I get that grown-up job. If I get one. I mean, I’ve been applying for a year and I’ve only had 4 interviews. I feel like I’m being drawn to the arts—like my only option is to create for a living. I’m going to have to become an artist out of necessity. If I’m going to make ends meet, I need to sell art, book acting gigs, and write stuff. Though I have never wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I hate selling myself, that’s what it is to be an artist.

This is the bed I’ve made for myself, and I’m finding it a bit too big, soft and cold. I’m too overwhelmed to fall sleep in it.

But as I’m getting turned down and turned down and turned down for jobs that I’d love and excel in, I’m more and more feeling like time spent on applications and cover letters would be better spent on building my brand, creating a new website, and learning about marketing. I think it’s time to give up on the American dream of gainful employment and lots of dollars and refocus on my own original dream.

It’s going to be hard. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But if I can overcome my genetic defeatism and fear of hard work, then I’m going to finally have something to be proud of.

The Legend of Georgia McBride

I had intended to see Honest Pint Theatre Company’s production of The Legend of Georgia McBride on Friday, but a mixture of hailstorms, fear of driving at night in the rain, social anxiety, and quality HBO programming kept me home.

So I decided to catch the matinee two days later.

It was a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, and my whole body was sore from 31 years of existence on planet earth. I laid around the house, watching Barry on HBO Go until about 12:30. Then I found myself scrambling to get ready to drive to downtown Raleigh for a show.

I’m glad I made it on time, because the show was almost sold-out! I paid for my ticket and took my seat. Since I attended on my own, I passed the time tapping my toes to the pre-show music while reading over a monologue from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

The stage was split into three parts. On stage right, was a small apartment with a cozy loveseat, tiny fridge and coffee pot. On stage left was a generous dressing room. I say generous because in my experience, a bar’s dressing room is a closet, dimly lit by fairy lights that provide just enough illumination to make the glitter-strewn floor sparkle. Down the centre of the stage was a runway lined with lightbulbs and backed with a curtain of sparkling silver streamers. Above this runway was a quaint hand-painted sign which read “Cleo’s” (which later in the play, became a fabulous rainbow light-show of a sign in a modern font).

Even more impressive than the set design was the acting.

As a trained actor, I sometimes find theatrical performances difficult to watch, as I disagree with choices made. However, this show was one of the most honest I’d seen in a long time. Actors listened to each other and responded accordingly in such a way that it almost felt like improv.

There was no interval, but toward the middle of the show, was a drag performance where the main characters performed about three numbers each. I never expected to spend my Sunday afternoon at a drag show. I am a frequenter of Friday and Saturday night drag shows, and have performed as a drag king a few times myself. So I know good drag when I see it. And I saw it during The Legend of Georgia McBride. I didn’t get a chance to look at the digital playbill (I don’t think I have a QR reader on my phone), but I still find myself wondering if they had hired actors or actual drag queens for this show. 

Furthermore, the subject matter moved me. I had never seen or read the play before. I knew it would feature drag, but I didn’t expect it to present it in the way that it did. No spoilers, but I was pleased to see representation on stage of healthy relationships, gender identities, and sexual orientations. I found myself near tears more than once as characters explored gender and sexuality.

Standing ovation well deserved.

One of the best experiences I’ve had at the theatre in a long time.

I can’t wait to see more from the Honest Pint Theatre Co. I hope I get the chance to play with them soon.

Typecasting

“Why did you pick a man’s monologue?”

John Gorrie, one of my teachers at BADA, asked me after I performed a monologue from King Lear.

I thought for a moment, but I’m no bard. I couldn’t put into words a good answer. My entire life of memories, wants, thoughts, and desires exploded into my brain all at once in that moment.  My heart knew exactly why I had chosen a man’s speech, but I just didn’t have the words or the time to create them.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve never liked the frills and the lace of “femininity”. I did girl scouts. Brownies, or whatever. You know what we did? Nothing. We ate candy in a half-lit church. I watched while the other girls chatted and giggled. My brother did boy scouts. Guess what they did. Cool shit. They went camping. They got to do archery. They learned survival and played in the woods. My mum was one of the leaders, so I got to tag along to boy scouts and watch.

I can remember countless times when my mum forced me into some kind of floofy dress for church or Christmas. It was usually Easter. She’d buy me a special white or pastel dress to wear to church. And now that I’m grown and understand that all things are finite (including money spent on dresses for little girls and time with parents), I wish I could have appreciated her gestures more.

But I just never enjoyed it. I wanted to wear pants and run around shirtless like the boys.

Just as often as I was forced into dresses, I was with my dad doing “boy” stuff. I picked up snakes, played in rivers, shot guns, and told dirty jokes. As a “tomboy”, I got to have fun, be loud, be brave, get mad, get even…

When I look at Edmund’s monologue, I see my own existence. Though I am a legitimate child of my parents, I’m as underestimated as Shakespeare’s character.

Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got ‘tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,–legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Why am I less? I am just as smart and fit as any man. But for some reason, I’m not included. Only because society says I’m less than men. But nature? Nature, she’s the one who made me. People mock me. They call me ugly, bitchy, rude… But my nature is natural, and my nature is fierce. That fierceness, their cruelty, and the need for acceptance breed spite-fuelled ambition.

That fierce (vaulting?) ambition has led me to the stage. Since middle school, I wanted to be on Jackie Chan’s stunt team. I started martial arts classes. I choreographed fights at school. A friend and I recreated a fight from Rush Hour one summer. Then I found out that girls don’t get to fight in the movies like Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, and Brad Allen. So I tried my hand at acting instead. I sucked, but I’m determined. Determined to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m more than anyone expected.

I’m so thankful for theatre. In the theatre, I get to do those things I’ve always wanted. I’ve fought with hands, guns, and swords. No ladders or umbrellas yet, but I’m not giving up hope. Thanks to theatre, I’ve become melancholy noble, the trickster, the quarrelsome best friend… I’ve done things in theatre that shouldn’t be possible. I’ve done men’s things…

I guess, Mr. Gorrie, I chose a man’s monologue, because I fecking can. Because I want to. Because it speaks to me.

Because I’m masculine.

Maybe one day I’ll get to play the romantic lead.

Until then, I’m more than happy playing men.

Macbeth is the New Black

I should have written this 5 years ago. But honestly, I never expected my journey to take this turn. I never expected to find myself on the bumpy mountain pass that is Bardolotry. Better late than never, like a terribly missed cue. 

I was a studying teaching English to speakers of other languages at Maryville College when I saw an audition announcement. I had long given up my dream of acting or being any kind of artist. But this audition was for an all-girl’s prison version of Macbeth called Macbeth is the New Black. Macbeth had long been my favourite play, and I still remembered Hecate’s speech to her underling witches. I was in a history of the English language course, and had been learning about Early Modern English, so I thought it might be fun to whip out an old monologue. I had no confidence and no hope, so I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to do the monologue.

“Have I not reason, beldams as you are?
Saucy and overbold,”

I began, staring at each of the auditioners in turn.

“How did you dare 
To trade and traffic with Macbeth
In riddles and affairs of death,
And I, the mistress of your charms,
The close contriver of all harms
Was never called to bear my part
Or show the glory of our art?

I couldn’t tell you what happened after that.

My sister, Raine, who I had not known at the time, often tells me the story of our callback. As she played Lady Macbeth and I, Macbeth. She claims we had incredible chemistry and would have made a good pair.

But I don’t think I could tell you anything about callbacks.

However, Jayne Morgan, the director, must have seen something hard and delinquent in me. Not really hard to do, I guess, if I’m honest. I’ve been told a dozen and a half times that I intimidate people and exude a dense “$^@< off” aura. Really though, I think I was just in the right place at the right time. Jayne needed a big cast, and I could perform some semblance of criminal. Maybe she just wanted somebody with ink? Maybe that military bearing I learned had paid off? Maybe the confidence one gains by living abroad, training for war, growing tumours, breaking one’s spine, and blowing away all one’s &^@<$ in a pit of anxiety and depression does an actor some good?

Witch, Murderer, Caithness, and Rosa. 

I can’t even explain to you how it felt to see my name on a cast list.

Satisfying? 

And suddenly I was in rehearsals for my first Shakespeare play, and all the confidence I had found in the audition was gone.

I questioned every choice I made. I questioned every aspect of my body. Does my backstory really make sense? Am I showing my characters’ depths? Does that matter because I’m playing a character playing three characters? Could I really pass for under 18 (I think I was 24 at the time)? Had I been nice enough to my castmates? They were all so young, and I have always been a bit of a snake. That’s probably why Hecate’s speech has stuck with me all these years.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve alienated others due to my difficulty in understanding basic human communication. So I often ask for clarification. I need to know what’s expected of me in gruesome detail.  And for some reason, I’ve never been able to beat around the bush when it comes to asking for that level of detail. I would say that I’m blunt or to the point. Others would say I’m a bitch and a dyke. Those people are only about three-quarters right. And for this reason, I began to suspect that the cast and crew hated me and actively wanted me to perish so they could tap dance on my grave.

I remember one such encounter vividly. The three witches were rehearsing Macbeth’s Act I, scene iii. My line was

A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munched, and munched, and munched. “Give me,”
     quoth I.
“Aroint thee, witch!” the rump-fed runnion cries.
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger;
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.

The direction I was given was to try showing incredible sexuality on the “I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.” I tried it once, or I thought about it. But it just didn’t feel right. This was only partially because I’m not a sexual being at all and was highly uncomfortable attempting seduction.

The larger part of my confusion was due to the context of the play. In another scene, all the girls watch as the prison warden abuses and molests one of the other girls, the girl who plays Lady Macbeth. With this knowledge, my instinct was to do violence in retaliation against injustice.

I argued my case with Jayne, and she allowed me to make that choice and play with that emotion. It was a victory of sorts. It kept me in my safe little box. I didn’t have to seduce anyone. But it was also a win for my instinct. I had a hunch based on textual evidence, and I argued for it. But had I been too blunt? Had I offended my director? Does she hate me now, like everyone else?

I have always been so insecure.

Despite their hatred for me, I made incredible friends during the completely sold-out run of this show. The other girls and I stayed in our bunks (which were on stage, obscured only by chainlink fence), watching our peers act and the audience’s reactions. One of my cast mates often fell asleep and had to be nudged awake for her cue. One night, watching two girls kissing was just too much for a young couple. They walked across the stage in order to leave the theatre. How did we all stay in character that night? We didn’t. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one to subtly flip them the bird. Or maybe that was in character? OR maybe I was the character. I guess that’s another win that I’m only discovering five years later. An actor’s job is never done.

After our run of Macbeth is the New Black, I received a lot of good reviews. But I take every positivity with a large grain of salt. My favourite review though came from the app YikYak. Anybody remember that one? It allowed people to leave anonymous messages that could be grouped by location. Maryville College’s YikYak said something like “In Macbeth is the New Black, I liked the one with tattoos.” I don’t even remember what it said, but I was flattered. I should probably ask Raine for clarification. Hell, she probably posted it. She’s a gem, really.

More important than the pleasant reviews, Macbeth is the New Black made me fall in love again with language and history. I discovered the rabbit hole that is researching meanings and historical contexts, reading the Arden, and learning new old words. And once the play was over, my itch had been only partially scratched.

During some of our “on-stage down time”, Raine and I talked about language and history. Beldam, incarnadine, and he meaning of the name Fleance (which likely came from an Old English word fleon, which means to flee) were always up for discussion. She told me about Shakespeare on the Square which took place every summer in downtown Knoxville. She convinced me to audition for the plays (The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth) the following summer.

But that’s a story for the next blog post.

Hunting for Fae

I’ve not been working on my stories lately.

Writer’s block is a description of what I’d been experiencing, but a better word might be depression.

I went out into Maryville College Woods and walked for a few hours, chasing the wind.

I found my way into an orchard of sorts. Bumblebees zipped around pollenating the early-blooming flowers.

And I came out with a story.

I’m not outlining, I’m just writing and seeing what happens.

So far, I’m at 4k words with an 8k word goal, and I’m feeling really great about it.

Bindrune

I’ve been playing with my own identity lately. I wanted a simple logo that I can stamp on pictures or stories.

Here’s a first draft of something I came up with when I combined Norse runes Sowilo, Mannaz, and Hagalaz.

There’s meaning behind each rune, which I could tell you. But I prefer to keep my own meanings and warnings to myself.

Last Year’s (2018) Shakespeare Poster

I’ve been looking through all my files on my laptop lately. Because sometimes my cleanup is folders within folders within folders all entitled “cleanup [date]”. It’s a bit of a mess. But in the spring cleaning, I’ve come across old Shakespeare pictures and documents. I’m inspired to do a quick write up on each of the productions I’ve been part of.

Therefore, upcoming blog posts will cover my experiences with

  • Macbeth is the New Black
  • Macbeth
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • As You Like It
  • Cymbeline
  • King Henry IV Part I
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Training at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, UK

Looks like I’ve got a lot of writing to do.