There’s a picture of me from when I was almost three, standing on a toy red baby grand piano. I’m holding what is probably my baby brother’s rattle. It’s poised at my mouth like a microphone and I’m singing whatever song Mike Douglas was singing on the television at the time because it’s one of my favorite shows and I’m going to be a famous actress singer when I grow up or possibly a nurse. In my other hand is what looks like business cards. I don’t actually remember what they were. I have no memory of this moment. In fact, for years I only knew the story of me singing on top of my piano and that my grandmother thought it had been photographed. I can’t say if this is related to writing but I can tell you that from before I can recall I’ve always been eccentric and “artistic."
At some point I lost the certainty and confidence I had in performing no matter who was watching and in the fact that my creative life would become successful or garner any actual fame and fortune or what my definitions were of those things at age three, then ten, then sixteen. I guess in many ways my story is similar to so many creative people. I think I read or heard somewhere, perhaps it was even Dr. Drew Pinsky and I hope not Dr. Phil McGraw who said that often artists are survivors of some sort of level of childhood trauma or traumas. I know that at the time of my parent’s arguments, divorce and later remarriages and my subsequent abuse, music and drawing and a now flickering drive to act and dance and sing helped me both escape and survive maybe a little less damaged than if I’d had nothing to help purge any of the drama that was my home life. But none of that explains why I started writing rather than just drawing and performing.
I guess maybe it’s time to confess that from sometime when I started hiding in the bathroom while my mother screamed at my father, about age seven or eight, I became adept at creating alternative realities in my head and inhabiting them in a sort of simultaneous way so that I was never ever fully engaged with the so called real world of pain, horror and abuse that became my childhood. These worlds came from books and films, in particular Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings. Later also from music and the imagined lives of artists and musicians I admired and envied. I added to and expanded on them and began to create my own characters and scenarios. For most of my adolescent years I had several different parallel universes and identities that I jumped back and forth between, while simultaneously living my regular life. I always managed to have friendships and complete my school work. In fact I got top grades and was considered “gifted.” I doubt anyone ever suspected how disassociated from reality I actually was most of the time. To be honest, it was only sometime in my thirties that I stopped inhabiting a parallel created world and became a whole person albeit at that time, I was only doing it off and on and I only had one other world going at a time. I guess I should also make it clear that at no time did I confuse my imaginary pseudo existences for the material world that I was always seeking to escape.
The other thing I should include was that from a very young age, I suffered from mild to severe stomach and intestinal illnesses as well as insomnia which were often caused by the GI problems. When I was old enough to read, I’d devour entire novels in a night or fall asleep an hour before the alarm went off in front of odd foreign films on Cinemax or really bad, dubbed soft core pornography. But by about age thirteen I usually read and re-read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I couldn’t get to sleep and if there were no good movies on TV.
One would think I would’ve tapped into this ability to create elaborate other worlds and the extra time spent not sleeping into some serious writing. But by puberty and its hormonal storms, coupled with verbal and emotional abuse, plus the abandonment by my father and sexual molestation by my step-father, my self confidence in my writing abilities were at the level of well maybe I could write, but I doubt it. Plus in my mind, acting held more of a promise of escape. Still I often had fantasies of becoming famous so I could get revenge by writing a tell all autobiography. In junior high school I did start writing semi-humorous rhyme. All of which has been lost. I think they were mostly about David Bowie and probably pretty terrible.
By high school I was writing short stories but still not confident and still focused on being an actress and a rock star. I was outwardly angry, frustrated with the easiness and boredom of school but terrified of life at home and of the seeming insensitivity and cruelty of boys. I was also crippled by shyness and stage fright and I squandered an opportunity to attend drama school in New York City after graduation. I have always had a love of film so my artistic passions turned to working with Karl Krogstad, an avant garde director in Seattle. And then I went to film school where I started writing my own film scripts and making my own short super 8 films and working with boys on their projects.
In 1995, out of school and living in San Francisco as well as one or two alternative realities, I floundered through a series of odd day jobs, weird relationships, various roommates and the occasional free-lance casting gig. I was creating mixed media collage and taking random photographs but after several rejections from the Sundance filmmaking programs and an at the time complete stubbornness against trying to get work in Hollywood, I was no longer sure what would become of my creative life. So I moved to London in 2000 to figure it out. I had some inkling of an idea that maybe I might finally start writing again. But poetry was something I felt beyond me, although a couple years before I’d fooled around with those magnet word tiles that go on the refrigerator while living with a man who was addicted to playing computer and video games but who was completely impotent.
In London, I didn’t produce much but I did start working with special needs kids and I did meet the man I would later marry, who would fairly quickly begin abusing me as if I was seeking a repeat of childhood history. We moved to Lithuania and then back to my late childhood and early adulthood home, Seattle. By this time I was journaling regularly. A practice I had begun towards the end of college. My now ex-husband read what I was writing and took them away. Around this time I also discovered Viggo Mortensen, a successful actor, poet, artist, photographer and immediately wondered if he could do so much, why couldn’t I push myself harder and be at least half as productive with my stuff. My ex-husband didn’t like him either. So I started writing my own poetry and sending out my art and photography to galleries and publications. The abuse intensified, so I moved into my mother’s place and filed for divorce.
Seattle has always been a place I leave after surviving intense experiences and challenges, so after my divorce became final, I moved from there to Los Angeles. Mostly because from visiting, I knew that it was like no other place and would be a blank canvas and also I felt drawn here whereas before I’d always felt complete disgust at the sprawl and what I perceived as ugliness and smog of L.A. Once here, I began going to open readings and workshops, in particular, the Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon workshops at Beyond Baroque. My first experiences at reading were of me feeling hyper sensitive, sick and terrified but eventually they have just become fraught with mild nervousness to acute anxiety.
I now write regularly and have a large collection of my own poems on my computer. Some of them have been published. Some of my art and photography has been published. I have featured at several poetry venues, including Beyond Baroque. I have gone from being a poet published in this zine, poeticdiversity, to a contributing editor to reviews editor to columns editor to managing editor here, which is quite baffling considering just four years ago I was often in tears in the bathroom because of a comment made during a workshop or after a reading. The little red piano was chewed up by a dog named Cappy, a great dane when I was six, so I can’t stand on it although I might stand on a real one if somebody asked me to. I almost met Mr. Mortensen at a party. He bowed at me. It was my Mr. Darcy moment. I know longer live in other worlds, except on paper.
I don’t know if anything woven into this abbreviated version of a life tapestry has given you or me any idea of why I write anything and why at the moment it’s mostly poetry. Maybe to stay sane but that’s the clichéd answer. Perhaps I write because I am odd but everybody is. So maybe it’s to connect. I know if I don’t do it, I become less grounded. It’s different from painting or collaging which I also still do from time to time, those things are hallucinogenic and gateways to other places but that’s another essay altogether.