Freedom To Be Myself On Stage, and Off

My mom gave me the July issue of Elle magazine for my birthday. It is about women in comedy and I wish every magazine was just like this one. I read Bridget Everett’s article about her comedy icon, her mom. I only know Bridget’s work through rave reviews and photos in Time Out New York magazine. They never took us off of their mailing list after we moved to LA and we kept getting them for free! It was our only bathroom reading for the first three years in LA and our regular bowels made it very hard to detach from NYC. My quiet toilet time would be a magic portal to New York art, music, literature, dance, theatre and other-worldly fearless night talent.

So I weirdly love Bridget’s raunchtastic cabaret shows and volcanic personality without ever seeing her perform! I recently got to see her move and speak as Maria Bamford’s best friend in Maria Bamford’s genius Lady Dynamite on Netflix. Bridget was hysterical as expected, so was Maria, as expected, and the whole show, as expected. Go watch that show. Anyway, all that being said, I was excited to read Bridget’s article in Elle:

My mom is an 82-year-old retired schoolteacher who raised six kids largely on her own, and she has no idea how funny she is. For starters, she always walked around the house naked, which was pretty wonderful growing up because she’s a big woman. It showed me that it’s just a body; it’s no big deal. She would go to the grocery store without a bra, so we’d call her “Beaver Tails.” She just didn’t care! But she’s totally beloved in my hometown. She’s turned into this old lady who rides around on a Jazzy with a cane, going through Kmart poking soldiers and thanking them for their service, then trapping them in conversations.

There’s so much in my performance that’s performed by her. Not wearing a bra on stage. Interacting with the audience. She was a music teacher, and when I was younger, my older brothers and sisters would all get shitfaced, and we’d stand around the piano singing songs from Barry Manilow and Lionel Richie and our favorite show tunes. That’s basically what I do for a living now.

When I moved to New York to sing, the only real singing I was doing was at karaoke bars, where I would just go crazy. It was mayhem. Literally ripping my shirt off, grabbing guys- it was the only outlet I had, but when I was doing it and getting reactions from the crowd, I thought, Oh, maybe I can take this to a legitimate stage and do crazy covers of songs and tell crazy stories. It’s a shamelessness and a freedom, which definitely came from my mother.

She came to my show at Joe’s Pub once, and I was so nervous. I mean, I sit on people’s faces and motorboat them. But there she was cheering the whole time, and at the end she came up to me and said, “That was freedom in motion.” It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

This inspired me. It made me cry. It reminded me that what I want most, what I have always wanted but didn’t realize until recently, is freedom to be myself. I looked for it and found the freedom part in improv. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, but only as a character. And so, after doing it on and off since I was ten, I stopped improvising. It perpetuated my addiction to pleasing others, to the fight or flight chemicals in my body, to getting a high from rescuing or fixing. And it gave me a false sense of freedom.

Once I saw that freedom was what I lacked and craved, I wanted to transfer that feeling I get on stage into my real life. It was mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, dumb-founding to imagine that I could simply have that wild abandon in my life. Not just on stage. I’m so happy on stage. I can taste the joy. The only times I had felt that in life was when I was helping others to the detriment of my own life. I only knew it as a high from a distraction. From creating a false, unreliable reality. A reality that kept me stuck in the same place, without progress or real growth. Alive, but chock full of old fears and confusion, which meant I was chock full of sadness too.

So I am retraining my brain to listen to itself. To learn that there are many things, people, outcomes I want to control so that I feel safe. But that not trying to control them leaves just me. And even then, I am learning not to control myself. I used to spend every millisecond of every day telling myself no. No, do it later. No, do it in a different way. No, do it more efficiently. All of these things usually led to it never getting done at all. I watched my life pass by. There were so many times I could see that because of my procrastination, I clearly missed opportunities.

I will say this next part in the past tense, although I am still currently practicing changing it in the present: My procrastination came from perfectionism, which came from fear of not doing it well, which came from fear that people won’t love me unless I’m perfect, which came from experiencing abandonment as a child, which gave me a fear of being left behind by the pack and dying. So I was used to being in fight or flight, all the time. The fear of death was a daily motivator and I had no idea.

So now I am learning to rely on what god is to me, my instinct, my higher power, a thing all around me that is also my inner voice. It looks out for me. Then when I remove controlling others or myself, there is not an emptiness, there is a flow to life. A momentum that is peaceful as a breeze in the summer sky. It moves forward. Naturally, organically, and truthfully. (This is not my default setting yet and is an uphill struggle. But neuroplasticity means that any-age dogs can learn new tricks. And happiness is a worthwhile treat.)

I’m getting to know myself better and am excited to put my newly-discovered calm motion into what I want to do. I thought that I needed to take myself out of improv because art didn’t let me be myself. But there is art that does. And there is improv that does too, I just wasn’t doing that kind. I’m excited to allow that freedom for myself in writing and creative aspects of my life. It’s new for me to see that I can have both freedom and be myself and it can exist in an artistic space too. I’ve only known being other people for so long. On stage and off. But art is expansive and we create our space within it by existing, in any way we want.

Thank you, Bridget.

And Bridget’s Mom.

And my Mom 🙂

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