my self-help memoir (feels silly but i’m doing it anyway)

so this is my effort to understand my life and what the hell i’m doing and what I’ve learned so far. I’ve learned that I tend to want to become the people I love around me. i’m an actor. the hard part is trying to  remember to slow down enough to remember who I am. some people can figure it out quickly. I tend to need a lot of time alone to remember who I am. and I don’t like that. I want to be around people. a lot. especially my favorite people but… it’s no good when I do that. because I forget who I am.

so yeah, we all have that. a certain amount of time we need alone in order to remember who we are and the voice within that speaks to us and knows what we really like or don’t like, think is funny or don’t think is funny, the voice that knows when to speak and when to hold your tongue.

I have dreaded writing this self help memoir for a long time. I have felt that somehow non-fiction is less important than fiction. who wants to hear this? there are so many self help books out there. why one more? well, maybe, but I also believe that the gift that I have to offer is the thought that your life, your stories, are completely unique to you and if you share them, you grow empowered and the rest of the world grows in knowledge, too. I don’t think enough people realize how powerful or interesting their life stories are. they’re incredibly interesting and not told nearly enough.

so it’s not that my life is any more important than anyone else’s. it’s that maybe if I tell my life story, maybe other people will realize that their story is incredibly important, too.

to top it off, I don’t feel funny. all of this stuff that i’m writing doesn’t sound funny to me and my goal all of the time is to be funny. so it’s killing me that i’m writing something that is verging on cheesiness, but fuck it. I don’t care. i’m going to be my authentic self and write whatever the fuck I need to right now.

the first story that comes to mind is…

when I was a kid, I was very good at sitting alone in my room for long periods of time. I could sit there for hours rearranging the books on my shelves (maybe I read them, too, I don’t remember). I would sit and daydream and sit and tidy things up and look out the window and sit some more. yes i’d go outside too and play with my sister or the neighbor boys – two toeheads named wayne and Kirby – but in general not that many kids to play with so I became good at playing with myself. and I didn’t think I was lacking anything because I didn’t have much to compare my life, too.

my mother died when I was 7. I don’t like saying this statement. it always sounds like a pity party. no, it’s not. in fact, whenever I do say it aloud to people I steel my nerves and grit my teeth to avoid absorbing any of their pity. I just say it as a point of fact because it was a life changing event. she had cancer. but it wasn’t a big dramatic slow going death. I hardly knew she was sick. I remember she lost her hair at one point and wore wigs. but other than that, I didn’t see her sick very much. she just went into the hospital at one point and didn’t come back. I don’t even remember the last time I saw her. I just remember my dad one day coming in the front door and kneeling down and motioning my sister and I over to him where he hugged us both quietly and said only a few words, maybe something like, ‘she’s gone to heaven now, girls.’ I don’t know. it was something simple though…

so why bring that up now? hmm. some things just form part of your identity. I eventually had a second mother, who was also very cool (passed away too but after a longer, fuller life), so it’s not like I was deprived. but still. certain things have an impact.

they say that the way you tell a story determines, in large part, your attitude towards it and towards your life. so, i’m not going to veer from the facts but I am definitely going to put a positive spin on the facts. that’s the other reason i’m writing this. to retell my story and dig up all the nasty bits and try to find some good in them. and to celebrate the good bits, too. that goes without saying.

it’s easy to look at things in a negative light. they say our brains actually have a tendency towards the negative. once a negative thought has been implanted, it’s much harder for a positive one to take its place. so ideally it’s best to start out with the positive.

so why did I start out with my mother’s death????? ughughughugh

ok, the positive spin. because, in a sense, it taught me early on that things are changeable and that in order to survive you have to adapt. my dad adapted. he didn’t let her death stop us. we sold our house and moved to California. and I don’t recall it being that difficult. it just had to be done. it was time. he wanted to ‘make it’ in Hollywood so that’s where we went. granted I don’t remember a great deal of conversations about her death. that’s one thing I’ve often wondered about in this day and age of therapy and psychology and support groups and analyzing the past. again, not judging what is right or wrong but we just didn’t talk about it very much. we just moved on. I suppose, in hindsight and after a few years of therapy myself, talking about those feelings might have been a good thing. that’s one thing my family seems to do well…. not talking about things. but, there again, is another good thing that eventually came out of this. I realized, eventually, how important it is to get things out. to vent. maybe it doesn’t come out in the best way possible but as long as it comes out in words then it’s a start.

I knew this couple once. very interesting relationship. he was this burly, macho but open minded to the feminist cause kind of guy. she was quite subservient, traditional, and yet bold and outspoken and gutsy for a 20 something year old. let’s call them Bubba and Betsy. they would have loud, raucous, obnoxious arguments (only words) but then they’d also have loud, raucous, high pitched moaning sex, too. I used to think, Wow! i’m glad i’m not in a relationship like that. and yet part of me was also like, Wow! I wish I had that kind of intensity in my life. at least they are getting the shizzizzit out. and not letting it boil and fester and congeal into dried up shards of pointlessness on the kitchen counter.

so yeah. getting it out. I learned, through hindsight, that it’s better to get things out.

and yeah, you can also reveal too much. I have definitely been guilty of that at times, too. it’s a fine line between letting things out to provide an opening for others to feel permission to let their shizzizit out. and then there is emptying the contents of your soul in such a way that tires out everyone around you and pretty much everyone else compensates by saying nothing in your presence just to ‘teach you a lesson’ and help you see that you’ve had your turn long enough. in other words, let someone else speak for a change.

but here, in this memoir, I don’t have the luxury of those little reminders of my voluminosity so I just have to use my judgment and try to imagine when you might be getting tired of me.

ok i’m not done yet. there are two other people who come to mind in terms of loquaciousness. no three. ok, I will try not to talk about all of them because then I really will tire you out. there was this guy. i’ll call him jake the pillowsnake. he was unreal. he was in a class I taught about interpersonal communication and the guy needed no teaching. he could talk to anyone about anything and he had no clue how charistmatic he was. well, he did, but he wasn’t cocky about it. he just simply loved people. he loved telling stories and he had not a drop of shame in his body. he would talk about his bowel problems. he would talk about his PE teacher who he and his friends used to call ‘moose knuckle’ and he would demonstrate in front of the whole class why they’d call him mooseknuckle. any topic, ANY TOPIC that we were talking about in class he would take as his cue for a story from his life but it never felt like stagehogging. he simply wanted to engage and he wanted to hear other people’s stories. he was a story sponge. and if no one else was telling stories, he was happy to share his but the primary motivation in him telling his stories was really to get everyone else to talk and that was his trick. you never sensed that he was being selfish about it. just open.

and another student. sarah. this one a young lady who grew up on an eccentric commune. not a hippie commune but also not really redneck either. just different. anti-technology. luddites of some kind. she, too, had no qualms about talking to anyone about anything. she was not stingy with her compliments but she was also not hesitant to call a spade a spade or whatever happy cuss word came to mind. I would walk into class and she would say something instantaneously about what I was wearing or the look on my face, whether or not I was even aware of any look or mood. she was an astute observer of life and she loved life. and she wasn’t afraid of conflict and if anyone ever tried to shame her or suppress her voice, she would only get louder and more strident about her opinion. she could not be held down. and that was inspiring. being around her was like an instant jolt of bravery. you couldn’t live small or think small around her. she wouldn’t let you get stuck in your little bubble. she’d insist on you coming out to play or at least waving from the window. she even gave me a special necklace at the end of the quarter to help me remember to ‘ward off anyone’ who takes away my mojo. she saw me on a few bad days and she didn’t like seeing me that way and so she gave me her special necklace to remind me not to let the jackasses get me down. I love her.

ok one more. I can’t help it. mara. amazing lady. A – MAZING. everything to her is ‘wicked.’ it was wicked cool at the live concert last night. that restaurant had a wicked vegan salad. love her! anyway, this woman has no problem going on whatever tangent her mind decides to go on. I have never in my life met anyone who is so unafraid of speaking her mind and saying what she thinks and yet also knowing when to hold her tongue if that will really not help much and even do more damage than good. she is one wise woman. but her mind! it’s a crazy wonderful thing. she could start out talking about volunteering at a food bank and then end up talking about how somebody’s shoes at the food bank reminded her of her aunt Sylvia that she grew up with in Massachusetts which then might remind her that she was supposed to send an email to her old friend at MIT. but then she would never really lose her train of thought because her mind is so strong and she would always circle back and finish her original thought. it’s not that she can’t focus. it’s that she is intensely interested and curious about everything. her curiosity about people and details and facts and events and place and food and colors and scents and animals is boundless and she makes you hungry to know life in all its entirety and on your own terms and not worrying about conforming to what anyone thinks she should wear or how she should talk or eat or walk. she just listens to her own heart and she cares deeply about other people but she doesn’t let what they think dictate what she thinks. also she will not for a SECOND allow herself to be treated like shizzizit so even though she hardly conforms to most people’s expectations of the length or breadth of a conversation or how much time you should spend saying goodbye to someone at the end of an evening, her quirkiness or outrageousness refuses to be kept in check by other people’s judgment. and if they judge her too harshly, she moves on and enjoys other company. or just her own. or at least people who are free minded enough to know that you can’t control or decide somebody else’s way of being. at the very least, she (I would say) believes that we all have an obligation to be kind and respectful and caring towards one another. but the rest? judgment about clothes or hair or job or who you date or how old they should be or what you can/can’t joke about or politics or anything… she will never tell you what to do just so long as you’re not harming yourself or other people. but she will speak up if she thinks you are and, again, I totally respect her for that.

ok so on and with not being funny but at least getting to the heart of things. what else have I learned on this planet earth? ok, well back to the earliest mammaries. next interesting mammary? so my mom died and we sold our log cabin in white rock, british Columbia, and moved into our friends’ backyard. we lived in a camper – my dad, sister, and I. they had a big backyard with horses and so we parked it somewhere near the barn but out of the horseshit. there was one funny night. ok now I just killed the ‘funny’ by announcing that it’s going to be funny but oh well. the camper had bunk beds and I, being four years younger and born on my sister’s birthday (irrelevant but random and perhaps interesting factoid), slept on top. one night I must have been particularly active because I rolled right out of my bed and fell – thwump – on the floor next to my sister’s bunk. my dad, who had hay fever and whose nose was humongous and red because he had been sneezing for a week straight given that we were living in a hay field, came over to see if I was ok. needless to say, in the totally nonsensical to the rest of the world but perfectly rational to us sort of way, my dad installed a seatbelt into the top bunk to prevent future mishaps from happening.

next up? highland park, east L.A. yup, that’s where we moved to from Canada. complete with gunshots at night and men whistling out catcalls to my sister and I (12 and 8 respectively) as we walked to Divine Savior Catholic school in our cute little plaid skirts. we also had this amazing house that sat on top of a hill and had literally about 200 steps leading up to it. so many steps, in fact, that the original homeowner had installed a freight elevator to bring groceries up with while they traversed the endless staircase next to it. I always wished I was small and light enough to sit on that mini elevator. my dad, being new to solo parenthood, relied on a small rotating menu of lovingly prepared simple meals like pork chops, chili con carne, and spsasghetti (that’s how I pronounced it). and then, like every other night (and I don’t blame him because now that i’m a solo parent I do it too), we ate out at this taco stand that had the most delicious fried chicken and burritos ever. only thing is I was too young to appreciate the onions in the burrito meat so I didn’t eat them but I ate the friend chicken and one too many banana splits (my dad didn’t like saying ‘no’ – god love him). we also ate one too many twinkies and bags of dorito chips (the huge size, one for my sister and one for me). again, dad, no blame. hey we were young and with no mom around to say ‘no?’ what else would any free wheeling parent do. my dad was and always will be like a kid at heart, so yeah. just lost a wife and mother to your kids? i’d probably let my kids eat all the doritos and banana splits they want for a year or two, too.




it’s amazing how…

when you begin to take care of yourself better, life gets easier. you have more energy for people. and when you have more energy to give people, they give you more back. and when you don’t? when you’re tired, drained, one step behind, the world pummels you down to the ground even faster. just take care of yourself, a little bit more and better each day, and life gets considerably easier faster and faster.

sometimes the world can still get to be too much. I had a tremendous amount of energy this morning. I took my time picking out an outfit, I got creative with what I was going to teach. I had time to luxuriate in the process. and then I got to school, and kept bumping into people who gave and received more energy. people smiling and saying ‘hi’ from past classes. other friends wanting to talk and I felt flattered and yet pressed to get to class but they ‘got it’ and it’s all ok. I had lots of energy. most of the day. until about 2pm and then I crashed but then I made sure I withdrew and didn’t get pummeled by life anymore.

people who love words… inspire me. people who make time for words. who don’t judge what kinds of words you use. people whose free minds allow my own freedom of thought. people who are willing to follow whatever tangent my mind goes on and who are willing to share with me whatever flippity path theirs goes… these are the people I adore. if I could quit it all today, I would and i’d open a coffeeshop or winebar just so I could people watch and drink something tasty and people gawk and listen some more. I would be endlessly entranced by them all.