Notes from the Road
Part Ten: Tempe
I think I’ve written before about feeling like a vague person. I’m not sure if I have…
Once, when I was a teenager, a friend of mine told me what his favorite restaurant in NYC was. I had lived there all my life, but I couldn’t point to my favorite spots. To be fair, NYC is always changing, and restaurants come and go before you get a chance to love them most of the time. But still, I felt like, as a native New Yorker, I should have deeper roots. I felt like I was from there, but not of there. Is that a thing?
Anyway, that got me thinking about other things I could try to point to as being definitions of who I was. I am Daisy. I like… Did I have a favorite color? A favorite band? A personal style? I felt like loose kelp on the surface of the sea, just going wherever the tide took me. I am Daisy. I am like loose kelp.
Evidence of this vagueness can also be found in my knack for letting others’ reality become my own. In grade school the boys teased me for being weird. So, I thought I was weird. Kids called me nosy. So I decided I was nosy and worked to be so not nosy that I became the person who knew everything months after everyone else. A shithead I dated in my late teens told me I wasn’t the singer I thought I was, so I decided I was a bad singer, and then worked to make that a reality.
It works retroactively, too. A few years ago, I had a traumatizing fight with my parents in which my stepmother counted the ways I had made her life miserable when I was a teenager. She painted a picture of me that made me look like every “bad kid” in an afterschool special. Never mind that I had achieved the highest honor in my profession, stayed in school, still worked professionally, maintained…grades, never got arrested, generally came home on time, went to college early, and didn’t even live with her for the vast majority of her time in our lives. I was a nightmare, she told me. I was married and divorced, and a single mom in her mid-thirties who was asking her parents if she could stay with them for a few months because she was in crisis. I was a failure.
I reached out to the therapist I had been seeing during the period of time in question. She saw me every week through most of my teen years, sometimes twice a week. I told her everything my stepmom had said, and she looked at me with surprise and said, “That’s not at all how I remember you being. And I just reread your file.”
Thank fake god I had her. If I hadn’t had someone so unequivocally challenge my stepmom’s account of me, I would have let that narrative take hold. I would have allowed her to rewrite my history. From then on out I would have been convinced that I had been a hellhound of a teenager and a failure of an adult.
Let’s pause here for me to say that my stepmother has since apologized for her words and we continue to work on repairing our relationship. I am not sharing this story as a means of garnering sympathy or inciting rancor. It’s just an extremely acute example of the power of someone’s opinion of me.
Something I’m learning (in therapy with this woman who saved my life retroactively) is that when someone tells me something about me that I know to be false, rather than remembering that their opinion doesn’t matter, I get livid. When I was younger I got guilty. Someone said I was shitty, and I would instantly feel guilty for being shitty. Today, someone tells me I’m shitty, and I’m instantly like, “You’re shitty, you shitty shit shit!” Though not actually out loud to them. No, instead I just let it fester in my gut and I complain about it ad nauseum.
Who has time anymore?
As I round the corner on 40, along with establishing and maintaining clear boundaries, I am also doing my best to not give a fuck what people think of me. I realize I’m an actor, and my livelihood depends on people’s opinions of me. So, let’s say, short of anything having to do with my career, I’m waving the white flag, putting in earplugs, and forging ahead.
My job, anyone’s job, in life, is to try to go through the world with compassion and love. That’s what I continually strive to do. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt (sometimes to a fault). I try to honor who people are and give them space to be themselves (Which should not be confused with accepting them into my inner, or even outer circle. I can honor you from afar.) I try to not let anyone walk all over me. And I’m trying to not let anyone tell me who I am. I am not perfect at it. Hell, I’m probably not that good at it.
But I am trying.