Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Let's Pretend We're Zombies!

It's brain injury awareness month, don't ya know! They call this an invisible injury and usually it is. Some of us are in wheel chairs and drool or sport skin scars. But far more walk among us, pretending to fit in, memorizing social cues and trying to remember when to apply them, trying to function as best we can with an abundance of naps in between. We work very hard to not let anyone know how hard we are working. When our weaknesses do spill over into the public eye, we find that some people can't understand and cause problems for us. This tempts us further underground, hiding our issues even deeper.

Because of the invisibility of my injury, you just have to take my word for it. There are no scars, no drool, no medical tests, and less and less now is there even a cane, which you think I'd be happy about. But recently at Coyote's basketball game, a woman told me that the seat I was sitting on is reserved for moms with kids and old people. Her stink eye told me that she thought I should stand with the other grown-ups, not act like such a prima donna, hogging one of the few seats. Meanwhile, I was just happy to finally be able to sit through a whole game, no ear plugs, no sunglasses, no crying. But I'd didn't have my cane, the one visible cue, and she had no way of knowing. I smiled and stayed in the damn seat. The hell if some stranger, no matter how well-meaning, is going to tell me what I should be able to do.

I expected to be back at work by now. I was looking for work when the exercise equipment walloped me thrice, lo these three and a half years ago. This is not the life I envisioned. I once saw a very a different life ahead of me. I'd postponed graduate school to put Huck through school and support our family as we transitioned through all of our moves. But I thought I'd be back at it by now. I always knew I'd return for graduate school. 
funny, random thrift store find completely unrelated to blog post

I've bemoaned the squandering of my youth with travel and adventure minus any semblance of setting up my future. While my peers ground through college, I partook of the pleasures of the world and amassed a lifetime of wild tales up until the point I had a child. Around 30, I began to realize that perhaps I'd made the wrong choice. The careers of my peers were beginning to show fruit and some of them were even starting to travel with their jobs, staying in hotels, not just camping tent-less outside the gates of Palenque. Someone recently called that time in my life "eventful," and it was. I could not have crammed in more events. I had all of the events.

Sometimes now, post TBI, I'm grateful that I chose adventure over career. I could not do those wild things now and what memories I have, I cherish. If I'd pursued a career, I would not be able to do it now and all of that work, that sacrificing of doing what I really wanted vs. buckling down and following the more certain path, would have been for naught, not that I recommend this path.

Now I can't pursue a career. At least not any that I envisioned for myself. I can't imagine taking a GRE or LSAT. I can't comprehend how graduate school would work. And that future I saw so clearly for myself, the career and it's monetary rewards, is vanishing. It's a ghost. I still see it sometimes but it's image is blurred, beyond the veil. I reach out, but feel only a chill in at my fingertips.

There's a grief process. Every few months it raises it's angry head as I grieve my future. For a few days I feel worthless, useless, pointless. Even if I could just contribute to our family's struggling finances, I could feel better. But the answer to this grief is never going to be outside myself. There's nothing out here that's going to make this go back to what it was "supposed" to be. The work, my job, the fix, it's internal, and slow going.

There's something about hating my situation which seems to validate it. I don't think that's a great way to think but it happens. Because my disability is invisible, because it means you just have to trust that I feel the way I say I do (although most friends can see the good days and bad days written all over my face), it seems that the best way to prove that I didn't chose this, don't want it, and am not just making it up, is to hate my life.  

So, this crazy plan, when we look at it closely, is to hate my new life as a way to seek validation from others. The fear is that if I consent to love my life now, as is, people will forget that it does indeed still come with limitations. They'll call me a "kept woman" or a "domestic prostitute." They'll forget I have limits and demand more of me and when I don't deliver, they will be angry with me and will let me know, making my life unpleasant because I am not performing in the way they feel they are owed. This is not merely an academic question; it's real. The solution to their anger at not getting what they want or imagine they deserve from me is actually inside themselves, but they don't know that and will work to make me miserable until I deliver, which is never going to happen. Entitlement to my time and energy is no longer anything I'm willing to consider as real. The what-other-people-want part of my hatred for my new life is less and less relevant.

I am done with that. If this is my life now, if this is it, I AM going to figure out a way to enjoy it. If you don't believe me, that's not my problem. I AM going to love my slow and empty days. I AM going to enjoy not signing up for a billion meetings and groups. It makes no sense to be stuck here, in this life AND on top of it all, refuse to enjoy it so that I can prove something to people whose opinion I can no longer value while also valuing myself.  I'm going to have fun here, not being "too busy" all of the time, not having 1000 projects pulling me in a 1000 directions, not saving the world. It sounds a bit like a pointless life, but if a pointless life is what I get, then that's what I'm going to enjoy. I will likely continue to have days where I feel lost, but as the poet Ahunnaya says, "I'm on a road with no destination...I'm not lost. I'm on my way."

In that spirit, I auditioned to be a professional zombie extra. That's right. I'm embracing both my "extra"-ness and my zombie-ness. I've spent three and a half years training for this, talking about brains, moving like a zombie and being background in other people's stories.

I think it might be fun to see myself if a movie or show, to yell to my kids, "Look! That's me! I'm right behind the main actor. No not that guy, but I'm behind him. Look look look! That's my hair sticking out there!" I think it would be fun to do something with no need for it to be something more, not as a rung on a ladder, but as it's own thing, a side thing, not the main thing. And perhaps I want to see myself as an act-or, part of the action, initiator of action, just a little bit.

Noel Coward's Elvira!
I don't know if I can act now. I once could.

My first audition ever was the worst thing ever. It was a cold read. I stood on our high school stage with a real actor, my soon-to-be boyfriend who was already making me jittery and full of nerves, and everything came out of me wrong. I was so embarrassed. I was opening my mouth to ask for a redo when the director clapped and yelled, "Excellent! Excellent! I'll let you know!" I was shocked. It was not in any way excellent! But what did I know? I was just a kid. Based on his response, I fully expected to get the part. But when call backs were posted, I didn't even get to be an usher. I have hated that man ever since. Such a fucking liar.

But I kept auditioning and eventually got rave reviews and even the offer of a private jet to fly me to rehearsals which I had to decline because life is full of impossible choices, always. I once played the female lead opposite Bob Jackson Paris, 3x Mr. Universe and a once-famous soaps actor. But now, I can't memorize hours worth of stuff. I can't do the dramatic storytelling. I can't do community theater. But my emotions are very close to the surface, if a little wild. I'm not sure I can command them and express on cue, but it's worth a try. Plus, I have resting-bitch-face and it seems like that might make a good base for a scary zombie, at least that's what my kids say.

I had the idea to sign up and within a week I had my audition. 

A cattle call, hundreds of us lined up. Our names were entered into a computer and we were assigned a number on a sticker: "Hello, my name is 179." We queued up in the children's church room of a suburban church which seemed appropriate since Jesus could be classified as a zombie after he rose from the dead. This church had a complete stage set up for the kids with a little house, a giant tv, and a car. This is a far cry from the reservation church I attended as a child where the double-wide we lived in doubled as the children's church.

Once assembled, 50 of us filed into a yellowish gymnasium that smelled of rancid floor polish.  We were called up in groups of five where we had five minutes to display our best zombie. There were three types of zombie and we were asked to cycle through the types very quickly, according to the music, as we "chased" a "director." There were slow zombies, fast zombies and mind-controlled zombies.  After the zombie dance was over, we filed up to the judges and screamed our best and scariest screams at them for a minute or two. And then we returned to our seats to suck on some cough drops and sooth our raw throats.

There were all sorts of people there. ALL SORTS. There was a super tall lady with a high pitched voice. There was a man with no arms or legs. The woman next to me was heavy set, 41, and her eyelids were loaded with hot pink eye shadow. There were old, cougary looking women and a girl wearing thin, see-through leggings. It was, however, mostly men and they all look alike to me. The one in the rainbow unicorn sweatshirt talked constantly. Another had been an extra on the last season and everyone grilled him for details.

There were a lot of smokers and it was annoying to be enclosed indoors, even if it was a gymnasium, with that smell. And a lot of people looked like zombies already, even without the make up. I may have been one of them.

These groan-ups (har har) would then basically play tag as a group for 5 minutes, tripping, groaning, squealing (in one case), their butts sticking out at jaunty angles, their shoulders cranked up to their ears like they're talking on the phone and doing dishes. The energy was wild, silly. And the judges kept yelling at the auditioners to stop smiling and giggling. But you couldn't help it. You're running around, chasing someone for the first time in probably 40 years and your grunting, what's not to laugh about?

My turn came and I basically remember nothing, it went so fast. I remember coming up to the half court line, feeling stiffer and more nervous than seemed logical. I took my position and then it was go time, a blur. I felt like a zombie. I WAS a zombie. I had no consciousness about where my body was and what it was doing.

Yes, I'd practiced at home. My kids had critiqued my zombie, helped me find the right face. I'd even watched the tv show, filmed here in Spokane. Whereas it was fun to see Fish Lake full of bodies and the local hotels and businesses, I hated the first season. The camera work was straight out of the porn industry, as was the acting. It was all an awkward set up, everyone just seemed to be killing time until the "money shot," which in this case was things like zombies on fire. The second season was awesome, the campy sense of humor finally hit my funny bone as the acting and directing seemed hit it's stride. This show now seems to know what it's doing.

I was as prepared as I could get and I can only hope that came through. I remember making eye contact with a few people at some point, but other than that, I was so utterly in character (at least in my mind) and beyond caring about how I looked that I have no idea how it went. They kept yelling at our group to stop smiling. I don't know if that was directed at me or any of the other 4 people I auditioned with but was utterly oblivious to. I do not think, when I can, that such absorption in to character is the best way to "act." Obviously being in character is good, but perhaps an actor should keep a little bit of self-consciousness about them, at least to the degree that they know what their limbs and face are doing and can pull some convincing moves. It is, after all, called "acting," not "being." I could have been the worst thing they've ever seen, causing them to later laugh so hard they choked on Lay's potato chips and required the Heimlich while peeing themselves. I might have been okay. I won't know for several weeks and I'm not holding my breath. The point is, I tried something new and that's pretty damn cool.

I like the story line where I get the job, despite it being minimum wage. It has a nice completeness and humor to it. I don't know if I get that story line, but it amuses me to imagine it. If I get the job, I can't talk about it! (No one said I couldn't talk about the audition.) What could be funner than having a secret job, one where you don't kill spies and take down foreign despots?

It's a job I think I could do. If I mess up, they'll let me know right away. One of my fears is that if I got even a part time office job, I'd fuck the paperwork up terribly but no one would know for several months because I look competent and I should be competent, but sometimes I'm not and I don't even know when that's happening. In this scenario, the office has few windows. Everything is beige, even the printer. The bathroom requires a key on a large rubber chicken. One day I'm tired, I'm not making sense, but dammit: deadlines! I push through knowing that I can recover with some chocolate and weed later. I forget to check my work the next morning, as I usually do, as I must. Months go on. The pay the people we well products to and bill the people we get parts from, but they don't pay because they aren't stupid. (Days later addendum: OMG! This sentence! It's the perfect example this fear of my incompetence going unregulated. I wrote it and it made sense then. I read it several times before posting and it made sense. But it doesn't. Oops. But at least now you don't have to just take my word for it that my brain vanishes from time to time and doesn't even know it. Back to the scenario:) The mistake goes undetected for months, years. It's worming it's way deep into the financial innards of this small company, like blood flukes. And then BOOM! Bankruptcy! It's not just me out of a job, it's EVERYONE, the whole world. But in the end, I'm sort of relieve because it was a really boring job and too taxing anyway, I just felt like I had to take it because that's what people expected, because I was too happy with my nothing life that people got suspicious. Plus, I wanted to send my kids to college.

If I were a zombie, they'd tell me right then and there if I was messing up.

If nothing else, the audition was an adventure. It was fun and funny, all those adults running and grunting. And my favorite part about it is that I expect nothing. There is no part of this that was in my visions of my future. There is nothing here that is a critical piece of a master plan. And that makes it fun. And that's what I want, to enjoy my life step by step, day by day. Fuck the master plan. That's never been my bag anyway, no matter how badly I've wanted it to be.
So I think I just celebrated Brain Injury Awareness month by auditioning to be a zombie. Be aware. Be very aware.


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