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Surprised-Not-Surprised (Books 19, 20, and 21)

Y’know, when I tell people about this project, they often ask if I have uncovered anything surprising. Anything I’d forgotten about, but of which I am happy to be reminded.



Generally: no.


The things that I have forgotten are of little significance. With the exception of a sexy interaction in a kitchen during college that I had utterly wiped from my memory until I read about it in a recent journal, the things that I have forgotten are forgettable. 


(Sigh. I remember when I was sexy…)


What is repeatedly surprising is the sameness of my existence. The same thought patterns that I have now were fully formed and expressed twenty years ago. There is some comfort there, I guess: sexy I’m not but consistent I am. But there is also something depressing about it too: have I learned nothing?


*  *  *


Some Sameness:

Here we are at the end of 2023 and things are good. I have a new play about to be premiered and published. My daughter is a happy, witty little kid who still showers me with affection. My marriage is great. We have a nice apartment in a coveted neighborhood. I feel valued by the people I teach week to week. I am doing all the things that for years I said I would do. For most of my life I believed that what I have now was the dream. For lots of people it still is.


Except that I’m an expert at shrinking. Drawing my dreams down pint-size takes up less space. To believe otherwise: This is not enough! I deserve to travel without the stress of credit card debt. A washing machine and dryer that I don’t have to leave home to use. A home! It’s okay to want my blog writing to go viral. To have my plays turned into movies. To be in those movies! Or other movies! . . . is to be someone else. Someone who likes money, who attaches money to her skills and services. Who fills an available space rather than apologizing if she accidentally elbows into it.


  *  *  *


There’s not really a title for the guy who teaches me The Paradox Process (tools that help people change thought patterns and negative perceptions.) Let’s call him my “Guy.” My Guy –who listens and counsels and guides me through exercises– recently pointed out that to get the things that I want (namely things that cost money), I need to change who I am. It sounds callous, doesn’t it? Like who I am currently is flawed. But that’s not the point. The point is that –for twenty years– I have been shrinky-thinking.


1-9-02  I am too tired to dream. Seems like so much is between me and a peaceful life: the dirty snow and streets of New York, a cramped apartment, and years of disappointment, dates that go nowhere, and friends that come and go, rise and fall, not to mention another year and a half of grad school. GOD I NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!

I wrote that 21 years ago. I hadn’t even moved to New York yet, and I’d decided it would be disappointing. What if I had decided that I was going to make lots of money and live in a spacious apartment and eventually buy a house?


What the journals teach me is that (surprise!) I’ve developed a pattern. To change the pattern is to change me. The new pattern is not so radical I’m going to have consistency and prosperity, etc, etc. It’s the letting go of the old belief that I probably won’t get all things I want, so I should keep my expectations low. My Guy points out that whatever I’m hanging onto is possibly satisfying others. Like I believe on some level that my smallness makes me more likable. Bearable. Acceptable. There is space for the small me. But will there be room at the table for the rich and successful me?


   *  *  *


Case in Point:

In the summer of 2002, after a dreary second year of grad school (conflict with more than one professor, dating disappointments, and of course 9/11), I had one of those floods of good fortune. You know when it’s so much goodness you almost don’t know how to manage it? 


Preparing for a grad school performance, 2001

I had written a solo play that I’d be performing in the New York Fringe Festival in August, and cast in the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof for June and July. And I’d spend May at The Actors Theatre of Louisville where my friend would direct my first full-length multi-character play for a talented cast of Acting Apprentices.


3-14-02  I’m so sick and have been so sad and this phone call was precisely what I needed. (The Artistic Director) was so kind to include in our conversation that he had seen over 1,000 actors and I was his top pick. He said I was “real good.” I’m so excited about the prospect of getting out of State College! I am thrilled to know where I will be come June 9.
 5-7-02  Things are so good I don’t know what to do.
5-9-02  How can I stretch this dream out? How can I make it my life? I want to be a writer and an actress and live like I’m living now. I feel insane, but raw and alive and maybe distracted with my own present tense; my present tense is better than I’ve ever been aware of before. 

It was as good as it could get.


At some point that summer I visited home and had dinner with a bunch of my hometown friends. It was the first time in years that I’d felt confident showing my face among these friends, most of them newly married and newly parenting. They all had real-people jobs and real-people partners. With all my good stuff going on I was able to say, “things are really great. I have all the things I want.” I could have stood on my hill of happiness, but suspecting that I was bragging, instead I started listing all the things I didn’t have: a partner, children, money, blah blah blah. 


What’s surprising-not-surprising about that episode is that

Even when things are good, I shrink.

And the good never includes money.

It never includes status.


Shit.


I don’t even know what steps to take to change this part of myself. But I sure as hell don’t want to stay the same for the next twenty years.


What does that unshrunk me even look like?

What does her journal say?

How do I bridge the me I am to the me she is?


   *  *  *


Also of note:

3-11-00.  What keeps me going? Plays. Plays that I write, that I believe in, that I have hope for. I believe that my plays may have a life of their own, separate from me. 

I mean… I think that every day.  I wrote it on March 11, 2000.  So, yeah, very little in these old journals surprises me. It’s only surprising how much stays the same.





Just Shit I Wrote That I Still Like


2-03-02 It’s nearing 9:30. I fight tears. I am far too sad a girl these days. Far too sad a girl for 27. For the prime of my life. Wisdom, in little doses, makes me sadder. I am my grandmother, I carry my father and mother’s dreams… and I must live on for Katie. What legacy am I supposed to fulfill? What jobs of hers must I complete?


4-6-02 I know that with the good comes the bad, with the bad comes the good. It’s just the way it goes. It’s a cruel joke. It’s a mean hug. It’s a happy funeral. It’s the way it fucking goes. I do what I do and wonder if any of it means anything; throw a handful of pennies into a fountain… which ones will make a fortune for me and which ones will be snatched up by the grubby hands of some snot-nosed kid?


4-6-02  I will put your puny authority to shame living wild, free, present, and true; and you, you tiny, embarrassed little monster, you will get none of it. Big mistake, asshole. You could have had a piece of my pie, my sparkling sky. I would share a star with anyone who helped me get there. But not you. Not ever you.


12-16-01  (Re. hopelessness and sore hamstrings.) The hamstrings are just the icing on the shit-heap.

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