Between the Lines

You remember watching television with your parents as a child. A film, a show, a play – you didn’t specify but you told them, “I can do better than that.” And I listen to your words in the interview room and nod my head. I was exactly the same. Eight years old or nine, convinced that I would tackle a part differently from what I saw on screen, that I had the emotions I saw someone else play right up my sleeve. And yet the difference between you and me? Your parents were actors, they took you seriously. They knew what it takes to get you to audition for a part I longed for but would never play.

So while you started following your heart, I was just thinking what you said out loud, because my family mocked me whenever I expressed my wish to be in front of a camera. And whenever I got frustrated or acted out against the restraints I felt, they would just kid me. “Stop being so dramatic and save that for the stage you claim to crave,” they’d say or, “The circus is in town, maybe the clowns could use your tantrums as inspiration.” No support for my honest wish to be a performer, just words that hardened me as I grew up.

Always interested in characters and words, I fled into my stories then, the ones I recorded daily in my head to escape the folly of a common life I didn’t want to lead. And as I watch you answering my questions, listen to what you so eloquently say, I remember other interviews I’ve seen with you over the years. And although seeing you up close and personal makes a difference, your words have always touched me, even when only expressed to me on screen. A day-dreamer you once claimed to be, a person with a rich world inside your head. Well, I relate. Only I didn’t get to express myself as an actress, which saved you from the nuthouse as you said while I often feel I’m stuck in mine because I lacked your skills to plot my escape.

Although I have learned to express myself on paper, I miss the chance you have to embrace the child I used to be for so very long until I had to bury it so deep inside to survive in the real world. Your life of make-believe is what I crave, not because I think it’s charmed somehow or simple, but because a part of me is missing and I don’t know how much longer I can stay sane. I work my day job, go through the motions and hate it more every day. Imprisoned behind a desk that isn’t mine, I feel suffocated by the tasks I am entrusted with until I go back home to create my stories and release that part of me that’s been kicking and screaming inside my head all day.

I need to write these days like I need to breathe and yet there’s this hole in my heart I need to fill. I want to write whole worlds for you to enter but at the same time there’s nothing I long for more than to express myself not only on paper but also in person.

“You belong on stage,” a friend once told me as I read a story out loud to her in college.

“That’s where I want to be,” is what I whispered in response because I never learned to admit what I wanted without shame. Instead I was taught it is vain and ludicrous and wrong to be an actress. “That’s what other people do, extroverts, people with a mind that’s not quite normal.”

Well, guess what, mine isn’t either. That’s why I never truly belong. And the empathy my family has always praised so much when they see interviews with their favorite performers, the sensitivity of an artist, it’s all right there inside my heart, locked away since the days of my childhood when they didn’t mean to be cruel but laughed at me just the same. When they shrugged me off with my urge to put on shows and learn monologues by heart, when I wanted to take singing lessons and tap dance instead of pottery and piano. When I started being afraid to utter how much I longed to be just an actress, not a person who’s important or famous, but a woman who could explore the world through other people’s stories. But instead I was told who I was supposed to be and unlearned to be something other than a well-behaved member of my middle-class family.

So here I am sitting now, a glass of wine an increasing necessity while I remember clinging to your words so easily expressed about a world I still long to be part of. That’s why I love your work so much, your attitude, your honest smile while every anecdote you regaled me with breaks my heart but also revived my inner child.

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