Changing of the Guard

About a year ago, if you’d asked me if I’m a guarded person, I’d have told you absolutely not. I write books and scripts that usually come out of some story from my life. I write quite publicly about my life online, for Pete’s sake. Clearly I don’t have a problem talking about myself. But I don’t write about everything here, and in the last month I learned quite a bit about my guard. Mostly I learned what happens when it goes down, even just a little bit.

The other night at the bar with Ray and Jeff, before stee showed up, we were talking about how often we cry. One admitted he hasn’t cried in about ten years. “I don’t know why. I just don’t.” The other said he cried all the time, every day. Commercials, phone calls, thinking about people — any of those things can set him off into tears. I don’t usually cry. Unless I’m in a phenomenally sad period in my life, I go pretty long stretches without crying. For me it usually hits as a surprise.

I don’t cry at work. If I get close, I go and hide somewhere. After this moment six years ago, I never forgot that shame of walking back into the room (the boy-filled room) all red-faced and freaked out because I was so upset about some stupid fart joke or whatever.

I do, however, have something inside of me that makes me break and weep uncontrollably as I drive from the 405 to the 101 to the 134 (it used to be the 5, but we moved). I figured out recently that it might be because it’s one of the few long stretches of road in Los Angeles that doesn’t involve that many turns or merges. You just kind of go, and if it’s late at night you aren’t going to have to do that much stopping, or worry about turning six lanes into two. It’s the only time while driving in Los Angeles that you can maybe relax.

And when my spine relaxes, even just a little bit, that’s when the tears start.

I just remembered this: movement class, many years ago. Stupid alignment stuff, where the teacher’s always trying to touch you to fix your spine. And in this class you had to be on your back in front of everyone while the teacher touched you. I tried to get out of it, waiting until the class was over, hoping they’d run out of time and never get to me. The teacher must have smelled my hesitation and fear, because there was no way I was getting out of it. Within three touches, I was bawling. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the touching, from professors who want to show me how much emotion I store up in my muscles. I know I do. It’s there. I can feel it. But I don’t need to show everybody my messed up, emotionally-bottled spine, right before Shakespeare class. Time and place, you know?

I wrote not too long ago about crying because it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I didn’t used to think I wasn’t a normal crier. (This is before I remembered that story about weeping during Movement 305. That’s probably not a good sign, that I cry when near strangers touch me.)

People don’t usually talk about how often they cry, so I have no basis for comparison. I’m not usually sobbing at the end of a movie, and it’s a rare book that gets me weepy. I think I just keep myself thinking, and that keeps me from dwelling on emotions. Or maybe, as Liz used to say, I have a cold, black heart.

She’s not the only one who has commented that I have an ability to be removed from something that should hurt, that I smile when I’m sad. This isn’t something I’d think about myself. I still consider myself an actor. I’d like to think I have emotions available for use at any time. But ironically, the day I was supposed to cry in class (a Noel Coward piece, even more ironically), I couldn’t do it until the scene was over. Then I couldn’t stop crying.

When I think I’m supposed to act a certain way, I tend to act differently. I’m not trying to; it just happens.

But if I’m looking at you, and I care about you, and I think for a second you’re disappointed in me? Bam. I can’t hide those tears. That’s not really sadness, is it? That’s fear and shame and stuff that’s wrapped up in self-worth. My guard is all about that. What will you think of me if you see the stuff that’s messy and dark and sad? I was the kind of teen girl who was into drama and late-night poetry. I wore my dark stuff on the outside. It did not get me invited to the cool parties. And not that I wanted to, but there’s something about living in your drama, wearing it on the outside for all to see, asking everyone to validate your pain, that I just got over at a certain point. It’s my own shit to deal with.

When I do confide in a friend, I find myself apologizing all the time for bothering someone with my dumb problem. This is something I learned about myself this year, too. I’m trying to be better about that. I’m trying not to feel guilty for needing people. I’m trying not to delete that sentence, because I think it makes me sound like a martyr. Eee, I already miss the guard. I now don’t want to post this entry.

Oh, whatever. Here’s where I’d write something demeaning about myself. And how meta I’m being, taking myself down and breaking myself apart. But I’m still doing it in my blog, which is pathetic. And blah. And ugh. In acting class they tell us to make a sound for your emotion. Right now I’m BBBRRGAAAAAHBLABLABLA.

Well, this entry is so stupid-long most of you probably won’t bother to finish it anyway. (Hi! That’s my self esteem talking. Say hi to my complex, everybody.)

At new schools, teachers and kids I hadn’t met yet used to think I was mean, or that I didn’t want to meet anyone. They’d often later admit they were intimidated by me, that I didn’t seem to want to make any friends. The fact was I was shy and terrified and convinced nobody wanted to know me, and the second I’d make a friend I’d move again. So maybe I did build a guard, from all of those moves, to protect myself, just a little, for the inevitable time when everything would change, when everything I knew in life was going to end and start over again.

Does this sound like I’m dropping my guard? Because honestly, this sounds like shit I’ve written before.

Here’s what I know. Over the past month I found myself not working for the first time in forever. I had nothing due, nothing coming up, nothing I had to do. It was just me and me and me. There were times when I had nothing but a six-hour plane ride, or a two-hour train ride, or a night alone in an empty apartment. Just me. And it was the end of the year, and everybody’s catching me up on their past twelve months, and I’d go back to wherever I was staying that night thinking about how everybody had a pretty rough year, one that challenged them and made them have to work really hard and it seems like everybody’s trying to take a deep breath and enter into this new year with a positive attitude and gumption and all the stuff resolutions are made out of.

This past weekend we went out to the desert to celebrate our one-year anniversary. I was going back to the place I’d been earlier in the year. This time I was going to show stee my old neighborhood.

While driving through Palm Springs, stee asked, “Does this place still skeeve you out, or are you okay with it?”

“No,” I said. “It still pretty much sucks.”

stee said he wanted to give me some better memories for that city. We went out to a steakhouse that night, because he knows if there’s one way to see me smile, it’s sitting next to me while I eat a New York Strip.

One morning I got up early because I kept dreaming of Dad. I sat by the pool with a cup of coffee, my iPod, and Spook. I know it was a combination of the following:

A) Reading a book about people trying to contact you from the dead.

B) Listening to a Candy Butchers song called “Painkillers,” about losing someone you love to cancer. [“Somehow I think she returns to show there’s nothing to fear anymore but I cannot sleep because I’m worried about her, the painkillers clouded the angels around her / There are times that I barely get by, well I hope that you understand / There are times all I can do is cry, well I hope that you understand.”]

C) Not nearly enough coffee.

D) Actually feeling relaxed for the first time in a very long time.

Oh, look. I’m making a list. Distancing myself from the emotion. Anyway, I broke. I was out by the pool while people who only spoke French splashed all around and that Candy Butchers song just makes me ache, it’s so sad, and I thought about not just my father, but all the people I don’t get to see anymore. I went all over the country over the past couple of weeks, and there were still so many people I didn’t get to see, people who are just gone. They’re just gone, and there’s nothing I can do about it but think about them and hope they know I love them.

That night, we drank a very fancy bottle of wine and ate the top layer of our wedding cake while watching the video from our wedding for the first time. And I cried some more. I cried a lot. There were more people in the video I don’t get to see, and I thought about all the people I met this year who I didn’t even know back then, and how it’s just this tiny little night in our lives and how big it is. And I learned that while at first I didn’t think I could tell the difference between a fancy bottle of wine and a ten-dollar Trader Joe’s variety, once we were on our second glass, it was quite clear we were dealing with a different kind of drink.

Then I read Never Change. First of all, I have to put the guard back up to say I had a very fancy Hollywood moment getting the book, which was Fed-Exed to the pool out in the desert so that I could read it because they liked my script. And I know it’s stupid and shallow, but ooh, did it feel Old Hollywood enough that I wished I had a martini and a long cigarette while I paid the boy who fetched me my pages. And it would have been better if I was in an enormous white robe with my hair in a towel and my face in a green masque. Regardless, it was still very cool. Which is why I ripped into it with so much glee. And then:

More cancer stories! And wow. A fantastic book that I read very quickly, but there I was, crying again. This time stee was taking a nap and I was finishing the book beside him, weeping so hard I was shaking the bed and woke him up. Now. I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry. I remember the first time: I was reading Where the Red Fern Grows in a classroom in the fifth grade. I cried like a baby while everybody else was finishing a math test. And while the other kids teased me, the teacher found out what I was reading and got all teary with me and told everybody to shut up. I think about five books have made me weep in my life, so it got me wondering if this book was that good, or if I was letting down some mega-guard after three weeks of feeling lost and battered and on some kind of mission to figure out what’s supposed to happen to me next, or if perhaps I was broken. Like broke, inside. The guard got a crack and it’s running, like when a stone hits a windshield in Texas and the summer heat makes the crack streak across the glass.

All this weeping is nothing compared to Christmas, when I cried for pretty close to twelve hours straight. No, I don’t want to talk about it. My insides are cleansing, and I know it’s probably because I’ve gotten back into a running schedule and I’m taking care of myself better so the stress levels are down, but clearly my body and my brain are going through something.

I used to say the reason I always have bad dreams is because my real life is pretty good. Maybe I have the bad dreams because I don’t let usually let the bad stuff in during the day. I think I was so done with sad stuff four years ago that I wanted a period of time when I didn’t have to think about sad things, or hard things. I just wanted to have some fun. That’s not too much to ask, I know. But I don’t think I was keeping my life in balance. The dark with the light.

See, this feeling of something inside breaking, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s more like something got chipped, and I can see something’s on the other side of the mark. I think it’s something I need to be whole. To be human, as Liz might say. I first broke last month, and it got worse as the holidays rolled around, when all i wanted to do was get home to stee. So all the crying I didn’t do for a year, all the things I didn’t think about, chose not to deal with, it all arrived, waiting for me at the end of the year like a finish line. I’m just now getting to deal with some of it, with the challenges and loss. I’m not done dealing with most of it, because it’s the big stuff, life and love and all the stuff you can barely fit inside of your grasp, and while I’m not the kind of person who makes resolutions, this year I’m going to make sure i’m better at handling my shit, because I’m not doing anyone any favors by pretending.

I’m also aware that I use this website for procrastination, and if there’s any hint that I’m supposed to be writing something else right now it’s the fact that I’ve been updating like a motherfucker over here. I don’t have deadlines, per se, but I do have a new novel to figure out, a new script to start, and a program application to finish.

Over the weekend the voices started in my head. This is a good thing. These are the voices of the characters in my scripts, who talk me through another book. A couple of them started telling me a story. That makes me sound crazy, probably. I guess I don’t care. The guard is changing. It doesn’t matter if you want to be my friend anymore. My job is to entertain you now, not try to make you love me. Well, I need my agents to love me. And seeing as how I haven’t written a feature script for them to try to sell in years, it might be time for me to bust out a little Final Draft action.

I did show stee Palm Springs. He took pictures. We saw my old house, my old school, and the hotel where I lived for some time. It’s not a time I associate with happy memories, but I saw stee looking at it differently. He was imagining being ten, having the run of a hotel pool, with room service and restaurants and lots of company every day. And I suppose that’s how I thought about it for a little while, too. He made me remember the good times, like the cute pool boy who gave out towels (My mother reminded me that I used to volunteer to help him fold the towels, and I’d clean up around the pool for him, too.), or how I used to play with my sister for hours and hours in the pool, meeting kids from around the world who would play with us for the day.

Stee keeps things focused on the fun.

Playing games in Berkeley, stee and I giggle over some word in a Trivial Pursuit card. Probably “pole” or something like that. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, Jeff turns to me and says, “You do know that you’re Beavis, and you married Butthead. You know that, right?”

He said it not with disgust, but awe.

We were walking back from the river in Monroe, when stee picked up a huge stick and started swinging it. Chris shook his head.

Chris: “Pam. I do not understand where you always find these little boys to date. How do you do it?”
Pam: “Chris. I am a thirteen-year old boy with big boobs. Who is going to love me but a seventh-grader?”
Chris: “This is a very good point.”

I get a lot of email, and there are a few who write with this description of me that I don’t think fits at all. I realize when that happens it’s because I don’t write about all the sides of me, here. Not that I have to, or I’m supposed to. I don’t talk about the cats here very often anymore, nor do I write about the day-to-day lessons from my married life. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve learned enough lessons about what topics are best kept private. I’ve been doing this for so long that I’m also okay with being vulnerable. Sometimes.

Lately I’ve been pretty vulnerable. I’m lucky that the people around me don’t take advantage of that. I’m really lucky that instead their first instinct is to say, “I’m here, and you’re going to be okay.”

I think not one day has gone by since just after Thanksgiving where someone hasn’t asked me, “What are you going to do?” Usually the person’s talking about work. But it’s the big question, my Big One for 2006. What am I going to do next?

I don’t know. But I’m not going to pretend I’m too busy to think about it anymore.

I want to delete every word I just wrote.

Aw, fuck it.

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