Guise, I really appreciate all of the love and support coming this way for this weird little project I’ve stumbled into. One day I realized I was avoiding a lot of people from Portland because I didn’t end up doing any of the things I swore to hell and heaven I would do in New York. I didn’t know how to explain to them that I wasn’t actually running a theater company in New York. That I was directing rituals and not plays. That I was writing about Tarot and not even drama. Where to begin on all of this? I’ve had several dreams the last few nights of being naked in public. I have no subconscious. Sharing and baring is clearly something I find scary. Mostly, I’m afraid people will realize I’m not interesting, that I’ve led too cushy of a life, that I’ve made a very big deal about very little. Compared to many people I’ve met in this city, my rock-bottom was their Hilton penthouse. Then again, their own rock-bottoms are Hilton penthouses to even others, and so on. Some of my stories still make people gasp and they “can’t believe I did all that….” Sometimes, I can’t believe it, either.
I’ve also had pressure from some of you all to “get to xyz part….,” basically, so you can read stories about yourselves. 🙂 I get it. I flip through friends’ memoirs to see if I’m mentioned, and then go back and focus on the stories they meant to tell. We all do. We’re humans and therefore, obsessed with ourselves. But let me explain how I’m doing this so that you don’t feel slighted if you don’t get much of (or even any) mention….
1.) This is a writer’s block exercise for me. My novel has been stubborn for a while now. My exercise is to pick a chapter from my experiences living out here and write 800-1,000 words within an hour. No less than 800, no more than 1,000. Not one minute over an hour. It helps the rest of the novel, flow.
2.) I’m mentioning very few people by name for a couple of reasons: a.) Peoples’ privacy. Not everyone wants their stories told. b.) I may not have time in my allotted hour to get to everyone involved. c.) If I even tried to include every person I’ve met out here, it would be like the book in the Bible with all the begats.
1.) Please don’t ask me to correct my stories. They’re coming out in one shot and I’m purposely not editing them. Editing is the favorite food of writer’s block and I’m trying to wear it down. If you want to tell a different version of a story I’ve told, you are welcome to do so in the comments! (The exception being if you truly have a problem with the way I’ve depicted you, or if I included you in the wrong story by error. But don’t make me correct the color of your shirt on the one night at that one place…who fucking cares????)
2.) Please don’t pressure me to tell a specific story. Again, this is an exercise, not a story-telling marathon. I could be here forever telling every story.
3.) Please don’t ask me to disclose the names of people who have purposefully been left anonymous. If you think a story is about you, you are welcome to ask me privately. But I’m not going to reveal names of some persons, out of respect for them.
Okay. I’m about 600 words in, but I’m staring over, here, to do my 800-1,000.
Ghosts, Devils, and Stars….
New York had thoroughly kicked me out.
But I’m lucky in that when the Gods throw me down a cliff, they leave a nice antique fainting couch waiting for me. I had lost all of the meagerness I had achieved in my first nine months in New York, but had landed a job at a theater company in Connecticut on the shores of the Long Island Sound that squished itself into every corner of the definition of “quaint.” I didn’t know what my job would be. They didn’t know what my job would be. All they needed were more young people to overwork and underpay (but to be fair, this has been the situation in every theater I’ve ever worked in). After the work I’d done in NYC, having a job where no one screamed, shook burning cigarettes in my face, and where I didn’t have to keep a knife in my line of sight in case a co-worker ran a wrinkled hand up my uniform was quite a cushy thing indeed. There was a schedule where people like me were bussed to dormitories at night, so there were mandatory sleeping hours. The little town was on the edge of wealth and the apocalypse. Surrounded by historic whaling cottages and the Eugene O’Neill Homestead…it felt like we would stumble through a slash in time into a Gatsbian garden party. But many of the most beautiful homes were boarded up and we were just down the water from where nuclear submarines were slumbering. Locals kept iodine pills in their wallets to protect themselves in case of Doomsday.
They assigned me to the business office. The days were just as long, and it was chaotic. It was far from any restaurant or grocery store and organizing how to feed their staff was kind of low on the priority list. One day, I summoned the courage to ask my boss for a ride to town because for three days I hadn’t eaten anything but the stale raisin bran I’d found in the kitchen. Another time, I begged three different people to drive me to a store so I could buy shampoo. Angry Broadway performers and frustrated interns from colleges much more prestigious than my Alma Mater would pound on the office door looking for paychecks that I didn’t have. I was stressed and seriously grouchy and basically unpleasant to be around. Years later, I ran into people from that summer who said, “I really thought you didn’t like me when I first met you.”
Still, I felt safe. No pseudo-roommates were going to lock me out of my dormroom. It was a hard adventure, but it was one that fed and housed me. But my adventure had an expiration date and there was no plan afterward. The friends in Scotland and Ireland weren’t answering my emails. In the little time I had to research travel in Ireland/Scotland, I realized how weak the dollar would be and that I had barely enough set aside to last me a week, and no connections for couches to crash upon. Without money or a plan, I made a phone call hoping for a little light, not even a handout. Instead, I got a list of all the things I’d done wrong that year and a declaration that I had accomplished *NOTHING* in the year since I’d graduated college. I was alone in a dormroom, staring at walls as grey as the city that had just kicked me out, and felt nothing.
One thing I’ve learned is that when a heart breaks, you actually feel nothing. It’s a deep numbness that sets in as though someone goes in and rips out your capacity to feel. I felt as cold and grey as the walls of that room. “Courtney? Courtney are you there?” the angry voice said on the phone. I couldn’t respond because I wasn’t there.
My heart has been broken twice. The second time was many years later. But the first time was that night.
I walked slowly in the days after that. I got flowers in the post. I got phone calls. “Are we okay?” they asked. I didn’t know what to say. I’d made mistakes. I certainly had. But I didn’t know that I could try to do something all on my own and ask for nothing and still be the greatest failure who’d ever walked.
I called a friend, my cousin, and my boyfriend at the time–all far away. My friend and cousin were young and although supportive, wrapped up in their own lives. “Don’t give up on them,” my boyfriend said. “They wouldn’t give up on you.” It breathed a spark back into place of loss. And I started to feel. And when I started to feel, all I felt was pain.
The actors, producers, and administrators were busy and angry. I kept my head down and filed and filed massive piles of papers that choked the business office. At night, I’d sit at the pub. Once, I sang onstage–a very dirty song that made the Critic’s Institute snort their drinks back into their glasses. I later learned I was the only thing they saw that summer and liked. I saw fae dancing in the moonlight on the great lawn. I even showed them to one person who could then see them, too.
It was a Magickal time and I tried to be present. I was grateful to be in a beautiful place, with creative people (as cranky as they were), but I was still scared. I couldn’t go home and slip into the failure suit that had been carved out for me. But I didn’t know what to do. I had been pushed out to the edge of the world, it seemed–as far east as I could be from the place that no longer felt like home. The only other place to go was right into the Sound and snuggle with the nuke-subs.
Then, a few days after the heart-breaking phone call, a man I’d worked with in the business office asked me a question. “What are you doing after this job is done?”
“I don’t know,” I’d said.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Give me a few minutes,” he said and disappeared.
A day or so later, he and the Executive Director asked to see me. She was a rounder, louder version of Auntie Mame, who always wore jingling bracelets I could hear before I could see her. I’d helped her send a fax to the NEA when she was panicking one night about a deadline. She thanked me like I’d saved her son. Her name was Aileen. I loved her, immediately.
“Your focus and your poise would be assets to us. Stay here and be my assistant,” she said. “You could have a room in The White House.”
Someone liked my poise. Someone didn’t think my clothes were too dirty or hair too scraggly. Someone didn’t think I was a waste of space, education, and whatever else I’d been wasting. They wanted me. They would keep me.
Of course, I said I’d think about it, even though I already made my decision.
“I hope you say yes,” the man said to me, privately after the meeting.
His name was Drake, and he would become a big part of this chapter, indeed.