The sound of metal against metal was more jarring than I ever imagined it would be. It shook me to the core and lingered long after the initial impact. I suddenly found myself unable to make decisions. I didn’t feel injured, but I didn’t feel anything. I lay unmoving. Not because I couldn’t move, but I didn’t want to. I couldn’t think. Well, I could think just fine, but I didn’t want to. I watched the scene unfold before me as if I were an outside observer, not an active participant. I saw my own face, white with shock, immobile but unblemished. I saw my sudden dive into hysterics as a kind bystander asked if I was ok. I saw myself try to talk, but I scarcely remember anything I was trying to convey. I was too shocked to even help myself. I remember thinking “I’m glad someone stopped to help that girl” before realizing that I WAS that girl. But I had already left my body behind with all my emotions. How did this even happen? I was always so careful. But careful seems like a silly idea now. I knew it had nothing to do with me and it was simply a careless accident, no one was at fault. The driver of the other vehicle was alert enough to participate in the conversation now. I watched him try to get a meaningful answer
The sky beckons me upward and I leave the earth behind. My ability to give a shit about anything worrisome fades away exponentially as the distance between my body and the ground quickly grows. The houses look like small, square dots on a map I could care less about deciphering. I can’t even distinguish the people from the trees. This moment leaves me in complete bliss. Never before have I felt such a boundless freedom. I’m no longer tethered to solid ground as the sky opens up an entirely new world of possibility. I would have thought that by now the fear of falling would have overtaken me entirely. Instead, a sense of euphoria overwhelms me and I laugh in the face of all of the previous moments in my life laden with fear. Fear seems so insignificant now. As the entire lay of the land stretches beneath me, I feel invincible. I might not know my future, but somehow this aerial perspective makes me feel omniscient and I know that everything will be ok. I never want to land. My euphoria lessens slightly at the thought of eventually returning to earth. I shake the thought from my mind and continue my ascent. It’s funny how the clouds have changed in this new perspective. From the ground, I always imagined holding them in my hands, a solid fluffy, arguably unattainable mass. And now I glide through them effortlessly, laughing at the notion of once having considered them tangible. I remember lying in the grass as a child and looking up at these clouds, trying to find intentional shapes in their unintentional formations.
I sat alone in quiet discomfort.
But, I welcomed this sense of unease, because I knew it was a catalyst for change.
I would rather be uncomfortable for a moment then find myself consumed by the shallow stagnant waters of complacency.
I knew change was necessary and inevitable if I desired any sort of true progress in my life.
Treading water had become second nature to me, but was no longer serving me as well as I had always pretended.
I lied to myself saying I wanted one thing when I knew I desired another.
It wasn’t an easy decision.
One choice was the easy option, where I would leave my true aspirations behind, to be experienced only in dreams.
The other choice meant digging out the bits of my soul that I usually left locked away, ashamed to admit that someone like myself would have such grandiose aspirations.
I didn’t esteem myself highly enough to believe that I was one of those people who achieved lofty goals.
But now, I was at a crossroads.
I knew from this moment onward in my life, I could either uncover my honest ambitions and pursue them with abandon, or succumb to complacency.
Either way, my life will continue on.
It’s simply a matter of choice.
Do I want to remain stagnant and continue to live mostly in dreams?
Or do I want to relinquish my desire for comfort and consistency and make my dreams a reality?
Either way, it’s a risk.
One decision would mean forever taking a willing seat as a bystander, never leaving the comfort of my observational prison.
The other would mean that I would have to abandon my safety net requirement of consistent outside validation to bolster my own self-worth.
It was truly a matter of esteem.
Whether or not I was able to give my dreams the merit they were due.
Whether or not I could muster the strength to believe that my aspirations for success were just as valid as anyone else’s.
One choice would cause momentary discomfort, knowing it would involve changing the patterns already ingrained in my previously sheltered life.
The other would ultimately lead to my discomfort for the rest of my life, knowing I’d chosen stagnation over success.
I’ve made the choice to stop treading water.
As a child, I had a very narrow view of what my life would be like as an adult.
I assumed that, as an introverted child, I would naturally live alone.
I aspired to be an author living in a loft apartment in New York city with just my cat to keep me company.
As I got older, I would half-jokingly tell school guidance counselors that I wanted to take my guitar and live quietly under a bridge and play music for money.
I stuck with this answer for years because it always got a laugh.
Then, I switched to telling people I wanted to be a lawyer or a mental health counselor. Because adults like hearing kids say those sorts of things.
But I knew in my mind that I always wanted to be a performer.
I knew that I wanted to act, to sing, to entertain on a stage.
But I didn’t have the courage to admit that out loud.
For years I would come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t pursue that dream.
“It’s too materialistic,” I’d say. “I can’t handle being that egotistical.”
In reality, my self-esteem was too low to allow myself to believe that I was talented enough or attractive enough to draw an audience to actually want to pay money to watch me perform.
I tried to find a different passion, something that was more socially acceptable.
I wanted to help people and I wanted the world to know that I was doing something with the expressed purpose of helping other people.
I tried to force myself to like the idea of putting my desires last for the sake of saving humanity. I considered going into nursing or teaching because I wanted my life to have a purpose beyond being a walking sack of skin.
But, as the years progressed, I gradually realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any good by denying myself the things I loved most in life.
When I loved myself enough to give performing a try, I was surprised to discover that my talents were not only more than sufficient, but could help other people in more ways than I would ever realize.
When I finally embraced the fact that I am a performer, and that I’m good enough to willingly showcase those talents for others, that was the moment I truly began living.
In the past year alone, I’ve had more opportunities than I ever thought imaginable in which I was able to utilize my skills both to my personal satisfaction and to bring some kind of fulfillment to others.
It isn’t egotistical or vain when you approach performing, or any artistic field, from a truly authentic perspective. I’m not putting on a façade for attention, I’m not begging people to watch me. I’m simply using the talents that I have in the most productive way I can.
So no, I may never be able to literally cure a sick child or save someone from abject poverty, but maybe I can touch someone’s life in my own unique way.
Maybe someone will hear a song I’ve written and laugh because it’s ridiculous. Maybe they really needed a laugh.
Maybe someone will watch me act in a play and break down in tears because they saw something in that character that helped them come to terms with their own personal struggles.
Maybe my teaching a child how to play piano will give that child a creative outlet to turn to when they get older and feel as though the rest of the world has abandoned them.
And it helps me too.
I have an annoyingly overflowing well-spring of emotions rolling around in my brain and the arts – music, acting, painting, writing, etc – are the tools I use to sort through this mess.
As anyone who has ever shared their creative endeavors with the world will likely agree, there are few other moments as fulfilling as having a stranger come up to you and tell you that your art touched them.
Art has helped me understand people.
Without it, I feel isolated and misunderstood.
I’m not the best at communicating in a surface level “how are you today?” sort of way.
Because today, I might feel like green boxes speckled with tiny brown dots that sound like impressionism but feel like fois gras. And you want to cry but for some reason you’re holding back tears out of fear that they won’t leak out of the right parts of your eyes and you’ll drown in your sadness.
But you’re incredibly happy because there’s a Dalmatian sitting outside the window and you can stop thinking about wishing you were small enough to ride it like a horse.
But you can’t tell strangers that in day-to-day conversation.
But under the premise of “art,” you can.
It’s incredibly freeing.
It’s a cathartic experience unlike any I’ve experienced before.
To give yourself permission to be yourself completely and find acceptance from the world when you expected rejection.
Not everyone will understand when I answer the question, “so what do you do?” With “well, I’m a singer and an actress. And sometimes a comedian. And sometimes an artist. And a teacher.”
They might scoff because they live their lives differently and have a hard time considering any of those labels as “professional” or “acceptable career options.”
But I occasionally feel the same way when someone tells me, “oh, I’m an insurance adjustor.” or “I’m the assistant manager at the local branch of this bank.”
I don’t have those skills and the idea of doing those jobs literally terrifies me.
I don’t envy you. Those of you who willingly work 9-5 helping our world work the way it does. I wouldn’t be able to do that.
I discovered yesterday that I have a hard time sitting in an office chair for more than an hour at a time without getting incredibly antsy.
As a child, I was plagued by the misguided notion that I would need to have a very “adult” job when I was older and that only certain “special” people go to be the performers and the artists and that I wasn’t one of those people.
I’ve since learned that this is utter bullshit.
And I am a performer.
I’m gradually learning to be more comfortable wearing this as a title.
I’ve finally stopped blushing when I tell people I’m a singer-songwriter.
The more I’ve grown to allow myself to view my dreams as legitimate and worthy and perfectly acceptable, the more I’ve been able to love and accept myself.
As a kid, I remember being surrounded by adults who always talked about jobs we would have in the future as though it was every child’s dream to grow up and join corporate America. And if you didn’t want that, then there was something wrong with you.
I’ve gradually been able to shed my façade and stop lying to myself and the rest of the world.
No, I never wanted to be a graphic designer. Yes, I loved art, but I really wanted to be on stage.
No, I never wanted to be a guidance counselor, I just said that because I like delving into human emotions on stage and counselors do that in real life with real people.
I was finding “real world” alternatives to my actual desires.
When, in reality, if I had just begun pursuing my true ambitions, I would have been much happier.
It was a tough lesson to learn, and I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve finally given myself permission to accept this truth about myself.
So, sorry mom. I’m never going to be working in a 9-5 office environment.
Except, I’m not really sorry at all.
I have a love-hate relationship with robots. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. As an exceptionally precocious child, I was always far too clever for my own good. Family trips to Chuck – E – Cheese would be completely ruined by my 5 year old frightened screams of “that isn’t a mouse, it’s a robot disguised as a mouse!” I can remember attending my friends’ birthday parties, frozen in fear as I watched this giant mechanical mouse sing songs to me from a stage. Sure, they might have plushy, comforting exteriors, but my small child-sized mind couldn’t stop from picturing their hard, electronic skeletons controlling every inhuman movement.
I blame most of my irrational childhood robot-based fears on the terrible animatronics that were overly present in 80s movies. I distinctly remember watching E.T. and being transfixed, not by the plot or the characters, but by the notion that these actors had to interact with a robot covered in rubber and pretend that he was an alien.
I remember being horrified each time any human would touch E.T. “Yes!” I’d think, “Let’s touch the rubber-wearing robot skeleton because his finger lights up! This seems like the best idea ever!” Tears laden with dismay would well in my eyes as I watched the humans live so comfortably next to a walking, talking mess of wires and electricity. “You stupid humans,” I’d mutter to myself, “it’s unnatural to love metal and plastic!” I genuinely think I would have preferred a world in which E.T. was a real alien. Admittedly though, I have a bias. I fully support situations in which a robot is supposed to actually be a robot. In other words, the adorable Star Wars creations, R2D2 and C3PO do not frighten me in the slightest. Ironically, this could be because I know for a fact that neither R2D2 nor C3P0 are real robots. In the movies, humans wearing robot suits play both characters. My heart goes out to both of those actors for the incredible struggle they undoubtedly had to endure. Without question, they lived, for hours a day, inside a suit filled with poky wires and uncomfortable metallic bones. Yet perhaps I could sense their humanity shining through their robotic exteriors and this is what suppressed my innate desire to hate all things robotic. Also, I just really love Star Wars. Yes, my fear of robots is irrational. Thankfully, robots are not yet fully integrated into our society so I do not have to face my fears on a regular basis.There is really only one situation in which I ever have to come face-to-face with my nightmares: Theme parks. Growing up in central Florida, my family had immediate access to all of the magic Disney World had to offer, including Walt’s beloved animatronics. As a child, I decided that these were not, as Walt had intended, at all magical and were instead undeniably terrifying. As a particularly self-aware seven year old, I distinctly remember riding “It’s a Small World” with my family while quietly pondering the rational behind the inclusion of robotics on a water ride. “Why would anyone take a building, fill it with water, fill it with robots, then funnel people through it on tiny track-driven boats and call it entertainment?!” For me, Disney wasn’t the happiest place on earth. “They do know what happens when you mix electricity with water, right?” I’d ask my parents as they forced me to board ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’ “Yes dear, but this is safe. They wouldn’t let you ride it if it wasn’t safe.” I couldn’t trust these people. Instead of risk certain death, I firmly buried my face in my hands and my hands in my knees, “enjoying” the ride the only way I knew how. But what made our ‘20,000 League’ voyage even worse was that we weren’t simply floating on the electrically spiked water, we were IN it. Completely submerged. So, in the event of an inevitable leak, all of that nasty ass robot water would invade my precious personal space with no obvious means of escape. I cried silent tears and prayed to a god I hoped existed that he might graciously spare my family from such demise. My parents giggled nervously at my fear, telling the ride attendants,“oh, she’s fine. She’s having fun! Isn’t it adorable?” My dad would have to lead me, hands still covering my face in forced blindness, off the boat once the ride was finally over. “That wasn’t so bad, right? You survived! Look at you!” I may have survived this particular encounter, but that didn’t make me any more willing to trust that Disney’s animatronics weren’t hell-bent on my destruction. I had a similarly startling experience a few years later at Universal Studios, another readily available robot-ridden theme park in Orlando. My friends had coerced me to ride E.T. under the pretense that it was “cute.” As I’ve already made abundantly clear, there is nothing about E.T. that I find “cute.” They strategically placed me in the front row, on the off chance that a seat in a prime viewing position might somehow enhance my ride experience making it less traumatic. This, regrettably, had the opposite effect. About halfway through the ride, it became apparent that we weren’t alone on our suspended carriage. A small, robotic, E.T. head suddenly rose up in front of me and I nearly lost my mind. THEY TRICKED ME. THE BASTARDS. Only my screams managed to stifle their laughter. Yet, I remember leaving that ride feeling a surprising sense of invincibility; if I could manage to survive a ride on a floating bicycle driven by a robotic rubber alien, there was little else in life I wasn’t capable of achieving. This was also the day I slowly began to realize that you wouldn’t actually die if you touched a robot. My fears were partially relieved. In an effort to understand my loathing for robots and to attempt to assuage my unnecessary robot racism, as I grew older, I began researching robotics with an insipid curiosity. As an adult, I have an intense appreciation for the science behind these creations. I fully understand the amount of innovation involved in creating Disney’s infamous animatronics. As my understanding of robots has increased, my fears have gradually subsided. One particular book can claim most of the credit for removing the veil of animosity that clouded my perspectives on robot-kind. Reading Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” changed my life forever. Mr. Dick proposed a society in which robots (androids) actually had feelings. I felt genuinely conflicted alongside the protagonist Mr. Deckard whose job it was to retire (kill) androids who had acted out against humans. The entire premise of the book revolves around the idea that robotics had advanced to the degree that androids were now capable of acting with emotions that made them nearly indistinguishable from humans. Problems arose when androids, thanks to their newfound emotional capabilities, began to rebel. Mr. Deckard and other “bladerunners” would find these androids and administer empathy tests. These tests would determine, based on their answers to questions that elicited emotional responses, whether or not the prisoner was human or simply an android. Matters got even more complicated when Deckard ends up developing romantic feelings toward one of the androids, Rachael, whom he has been instructed to retire. “Wait just a gosh darn minute,” I wish I could have said to Philip K. Dick, “You’re asking me to believe that robots can have feelings?!” I was extremely conflicted because I genuinely cared for Mr. Deckard’s character and, despite the fact that she was an android, I loved Racheal as well. Upon realizing that Dick’s book had been made into a movie in the 80s (“Bladerunner”) directed by Ridley Scott, I immediately purchased said movie and watched it on repeat for days. My world had been turned upside down. “Bladerunner” made me feel something of which I never thought I’d be capable: empathy for robots. I cried actual tears when (spoiler alert) my favorite android, Roy Batty, died at the end of the movie. I began to see robots and my animatronics theme park nightmares in a new light. These special little creatures were the forefathers to potential beings like my beloved “Bladerunner” androids. A future where humans and robots co-exist is not incredibly far fetched given advances in science and engineering. To this day, “Bladerunner” remains one of my favorite movies and I regularly force all of my friends to watch it with me. With a newfound appreciation for robots, I can go out in the world and admire human/robot interaction with curiosity and respect. That part in “Star Wars” when Luke gets his hand lobbed off by his father and has to use a robotic hand instead? – Creepy no more! Now, I can’t help but think, “good on you, robot hand! Look at you helping that Jedi! What symbiosis! What team work!” That movie “Short Circuit”? – Still kind of annoying, but now surprisingly adorable as well thanks to my freedom from unnecessary judgment of robot-kind. Some robots, however, will always be creepy, no matter how much I appreciate their existence and the scientific ingenuity involved in their creation. Point in case: Furbies. This mid-90s “toy” is one of the most disturbing things ever created. The way it sometimes “woke up” in the middle of the night complaining it was hungry or would occasionally talk in complete gibberish (likely satanic in origin) was more than enough cause for anyone to harbor an aversion to these creatures. Furbies scare me so completely that I’m still afraid that they never really turn off, even after you remove the batteries. I faced my robot – related fears recently on an intimidating large scale. A local community theater was putting on a production of “The Twilight Zone” in which they’d reenact a few of the classic episodes for audiences. This sounded like a fantastic bit of fun, so I decided to audition. I only read for one role. The episode involved a man living imprisoned on an asteroid far from Earth, and received a humanoid robot woman as a present. I read for the role of the robot-woman, Alicia. To my intense surprise, I was cast in the role! My immediate thought upon having to act as Alicia was, “oh my gosh. I’m basically going to be playing Rachael. I’m living Bladerunner. This is the most fantastic thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life! I can die happy.” Then, I realized the full weight of the character. I had to think like them. I had to think like a robot. Putting far more work into a character than is ever required for unpaid community theater, I began wracking my brain for insight into the mind of my arch-nemesis. I thanked Philip K. Dick and the sci-fi gods for creating “Bladerunner” to provide me with much of the source material for my character development. If there was ever a moment to truly face my fear of robot – kind, it was now. I couldn’t possibly play a robot as an actor if I was afraid of robots. That, in itself, is the most bizarre coincidence my life has experienced to date. Yet, thanks to a wonderful cast, director, and a literal life-time spent preparing for the role, my debut as a robot-woman was an undeniable success. Everyone who came to see the show said my acting was spot on (unless they were lying to me). I had a few people tell me that my movements were “eerily robotic” and “you really freaked me out.” Even my (spoiler alert) sparky, seizure-ridden robot-death at the end of the play was deemed a rousing triumph. I took pride in my accomplishment as an indication that my love/hate relationships with robots had now come full circle. I went from harboring an irrational fear against robots, to having to become a robot myself for the sake of theater. I imagine few other people have had the opportunity to literally become one of their greatest fears. I imagine I’ve emerged from this experience as a stronger, resilient, more accepting person. For the most part. See, this realization does still have something of a caveat. I’d be the biggest hypocrit of all if I didn’t admit that there is still something of a lingering fear of robots living in my mind. As long as we co-exist in harmony, this fear remains relatively latent. I continue to gather knowledge on robots. I keep my memories of my fears of robots as a child very close to my heart. I will watch “Bladerunner” more often than is really necessary. I will remember what it was like to act as Alicia, the robot-woman. All of this information, these memories, and this research are filled will ulterior motives. In the event of an inevitable robot-human apocalyptic war, I’ll be armed with enough information to defeat them. Always know your enemy.
You heard voices that told you among other things, that you weren’t good enough.
It was a lie, but it sounded as convincing as any truth.
You firmly believed that because that one girl wasn’t your friend, or because that one boy wouldn’t talk to you, that your life was meaningless.
You were convinced that it was because you weren’t pretty enough, or weren’t skinny enough.
You stopped dancing, something you’d loved doing for 12 years, because you constantly compared yourself to the bodies of the other dancers and the voices told you that you didn’t measure up.
You allowed yourself to be a victim of these voices.
You allowed herself to become a victim of a disorder that was all about control.
You felt this void, this unexplainable emptiness.
Feelings that you didn’t understand.
Instead of dealing with your emotions, you suppressed them by filling yourself with all you could eat.
Filled yourself up till you couldn’t feel anymore, then get rid of it.
Because it’s oddly cathartic being able to be the cause of your own pain.
To be in control of punishing yourself.
It was an endless cycle of binging and purging.
Though you were religious, your bible sat forgotten on the shelf.
More of an artifact than anything else.
A reminder of your past, and one that only added to your shame.
Occasionally you would pick up that book, that artifact, and flip through the pages begging for answers.
You wanted to know where the disease came from and why it plagued you, but you found no answers in that book.
You wanted to stop. This endless cycle was destroying your life, silently.
Your family ignored it, calling it “That thing you do.” They even joked about it.
But it’s not cute, it’s not funny.
It stole your voice. You used to sing. You had a lovely voice.
But the disease took that from you too.
It ruined your voice. It physically hurt to sing. You’d made yourself another victim.
Another reason to hate yourself.
Whether it was time that healed you, or sheer force of will. Or the kindness of a few loving souls that finally stopped the cycle, but it did stop.
It took every ounce of effort that you had to stop. It took every ounce of effort to fight the temptation to get rid of everything you ate as you watched your body change, not used to actually taking in food.
You hated your body for five years after that.
For most of your life you lived as a caged animal, either hindered by a disorder, or hindered by the fact that you still hated your body no matter what you did.
It would take another five years to heal completely.
But if I could go back and tell you, I’d tell you that it will heal.
And you will be ok.
And there will come a day when you won’t even think about it.
You won’t even remember that this was something you used to do to yourself daily.
And you’ll sing again!
There will be a time that you’ll think that will be impossible, but you’re wrong.
There will even come a day when you’ll come to love the sound of your own voice.
There will come a day when you finally believe other people when they tell you that they love the sound of your voice.
And you’ll finally be free.
Don’t lose hope.
It’s a long battle, but one worth fighting.
And I’m proud of you for sticking it out.
But just know that everything you’re going through won’t be the end of you.
And I look back on those years and it gives me strength for everything I have to endure today. Knowing how far I’ve come.
I look back at you. At that girl, that beautiful, strong girl who fought so hard to hide it, who fought so hard for control without having any at all.
One day you’ll truly find control, and you’ll realize that instead of making you feel trapped, that it sets you free.
It’s an inch layer thick, it’s a pick-up-stick, it’s a way to fall in line.
It’s a mask you wear, it’s so debonair, but at the same time, so contrived.
And you brush your teeth with steel wool and you comb your hair with flames.
And everything that once fell apart will fall together the same.
Do you even know who you are today? Would you recognize your name?
If it appeared to you, as if to say, “Hey you! You’re a pawn in this game.”
You’re a loner, a rebel, an outcast. A last god among men.
But your lone wolf pack has grown weary, and moved onward once again.
You’re a solitary M&M in a bag of otherwise boring trail mix.
But this bag of mix is a sack of shit. You’re a hypocrite! You’re a hypocrite!
So take your gold plated emblems, and your trophies and your smile,
And walk them away from, move them away from, take them away for a while.
I simply cannot bear to watch your life erode away
Your armor will tarnish; your shield won’t gleam,
and nothing is ever as good as it seems.
So take off that mask, toss it aside, I hope that you know that you don’t have to hide.
Eventually all of your fears will subside,
The only thing wrong is what’s wrong in your mind.
Fête champêtre, Fête galante, C’est masquerade, C’est farce!
Remove your mask, no need to hide
If you never look, then you’ll never find
Un petit peu de toi heureux
Arrêtez-vous! Arrêtez-vous! Maintenant!
(It was hiding right here all this time)