It feels really silly. This morning I got to drive through the Warner Brothers lot for a meeting, and I squealed like a child when I saw the E.R. set — the ambulance bay and Doc Magoo’s. Then I bounced in the passenger seat when I realized we were next driving through Stars Hollow, the fictional city where Gilmore Girls is set. I still get very star-struck and awe-struck at this town, this place that sometimes feels like I fell into my television.
I think about how often I’ve had to give myself pep talks over the past year. There’s a certain falseness and pretentiousness that comes along with trying to be a part of this industry. I almost feel the need to apologize sometimes for not striving to be a scientist curing diseases, or a social worker helping orphaned children find homes. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer if I wanted to. I have the discipline; I just didn’t have the dream. And sometimes I do feel guilty that I want to live in Hollywood and write stories that make people laugh. I feel like I couldn’t possibly contribute to the common good that way. How could I leave this place a better world than when I got here? Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to try and do in some way?
There was never a time that I felt more insignificant than after September 11th. I’ve never felt so unimportant and useless in my life. Way over here on the other side of the country, I had no way of reaching or helping my loved ones that were so close to such horror and fear. I had never felt such fear and depression. Anger mixed with utter hopelessness. Useless. Powerless. Stupid.
I lost two jobs on October 1st and I was suddenly very unemployed. It was impossible to be angry about it. I was scared, sure, but there was no way I could feel insulted, or take the lay-offs personally. I was getting fired along with a nation. I was joining a very long unemployment line.
A partial manuscript and a description of Why Girls Are Weird went out just after Labor Day. It took a long time to hear back from publishing houses, but the overall feeling was that nobody knew what kind of books people were going to read after something so horrific. Remember when everyone was asking when it was okay to laugh again? With every rejection I felt nothing. No, that’s not exactly true. It felt like the sting of a mosquito bite after you scratch your skin open trying to stop the itch. The pain is welcome because at least you can see blood. You see proof that you were uncomfortable. I knew every letter was going to be a rejection. I just wanted them all to hurry up and arrive so I could stop feeling so stupid.
I didn’t want the book to sell. I wanted everyone to tell me it was crap. I was sure that it was. Not only that, I didn’t care what happened because it felt insignificant. Everything I had done was insignificant.
I called my dad. In one of the very few times I ever told my father about my deepest feelings, he understood what I was going through. He told me that the last time he saw the country feel this way was after Kennedy was assassinated. He said that everyone was shocked, depressed and was unprepared to feel so small. He told me that the thing that knocked America out of depression and into a good mood again was the arrival of The Beatles.
He said to me, “You have to keep trying to make people laugh. It’s the only way they can stop crying.”
Up until then, my father hadn’t ever given me words of encouragement. He would usually tell me why I shouldn’t get my hopes up, or how whatever milestone I’d just crossed was very small compared to the ones up ahead. He’d ask other options, concerned that I’d never make enough money to make ends meet, and that I’d live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life. This is the man that wanted me to minor in nursing so that I’d have something to fall back on. I was getting encouragement from the man who said I was wasting my mind “Playing Dress-Up.”
But maybe Dad was just feeling insignificant too, and hoped that the one thing he could leave behind in this world that made it a little better was his children. If he saw the potential in me, then he could rest easy knowing he’d done his part. He made me, and I couldn’t have done any of it without him.
Losing Dad this year brought back those feelings again, of being small, helpless and sad. Wanting to do something, but feeling tied, trapped. Wishing I had done more, could do more, would do more before everything was too late. The sting of hindsight is so sharp you can smell it. You rewrite the dialogues in your head until you have to cast the memories with actors because the real people never would have said those words.
Lately I feel insignificant because I’m just a body that takes up space here until I’m gone, and everyone I know will one day be gone and everything feels so temporary. I feel insignificant when I look at the enormity of that statement, and know that I spent fifteen minutes today guffawing and slapping my knee because I saw the gazebo of Stars Hollow. A television set gave some kind of meaning behind what I’m doing, as I’m struggling to make ends meet, as I work all day trying to land a job, a gig, a paycheck, as I keep on moving forward hoping that it’s all going to mean something in the end — it’s so hard when I know that every passing second is one I’ll never get back. Did I live that minute the most that I could? If I could go back and do it again, would I change it?
When I get to thinking about all of this too much, I find that I can’t move at all. I just stop and worry. I cry. I wish that I could do more, fix more and help more. I don’t want to be a hero; I just want to make a difference. I don’t want to have to trust other people to do it because I ran out of time.
I was pretty surprised that the book sold because I spent many months telling myself just how worthless it was, how unnecessary and ridiculous it was. Even now when someone asks about it, I often cut it down, saying, “It’s not gonna win a Pulitzer, you know?” I don’t want anyone to think that I feel I’m hot shit because some pages are going to be bound and sold. This book isn’t going to save anyone’s life. It’s not going to stop someone from hurting themselves or someone else. It’s not going to make the world move differently. I’m just one person.
Maybe I’m not one of those people that make you sit back and go, “What the fuck have I done with my life?” You know those people that just kick your ass with all they’ve done, and then you find out they’re five years younger than you are? You get so mad at yourself for wasting time, for lollygagging around while that person was out kicking ass. That person didn’t spend an entire day “cleaning TiVo,” a process that involves burning the thirteen calories required to push your thumb on a button fifty times over five hours. That person didn’t sleep until ten because a meeting was cancelled. The ass kickers find other ways to kick ass because they don’t let their own insignificance get in their way. They don’t bother to knock themselves down. They can’t. People suffer when they do.
I want to be an ass kicker. But it’s easy to belittle what it is that I do. It’s even easier when I have very little income (not that income shouldn’t matter, but it’s the closest thing to a report card these days. pay your phone bill? A-plus!). It’s very, very easy to be discouraged when I tell myself I’m wasting my time. That’s when I think about how my father chose that one time to tell me not to give up, after all the times he hinted that maybe I should plan other careers, the one time that he heard I was really considering stopping and doing something else, he cut all the bullshit and told me that I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going because it was the only thing that made me happy.
My father didn’t know all that much about me. In fact, I learned only a few months before he passed away that he thought I had a drinking problem. It’s so absurd that everybody laughs when I tell them. He just knew I performed in a few bars and many of the stories about my friends involve parties or whatever, and he just assumed I got shitfaced every night of the week. He didn’t bother to ask if that was true. So when I think about how much he didn’t know about me, it makes me realize how true something must be if he’s got it right. I’d never told him how I feel about writing. He just read my webpage. I didn’t even know he was reading. If I had, I certainly would have cut down the parties and bars talk. Jeez.
So it’s when I’m feeling insignificant that I remember one of the few things my father knew to be true about me was that I was a writer. I was fulfilling his dream. I’m sitting now beside a box that contains his unfinished novel. By this time next year, the one thing I know my book will produce is my father’s significance.