2010 was a year of transitions for me. My divorce became final, I sold and moved from a beloved home of thirteen years, bought a fixer-upper, renovated it and moved again finally to the remodeled home. It was a year of tremendous upheavals and closing chapters. I had a film project that I had commissioned that was usurped from me, and I had to go to legal battle over another situation. Staying buoyant through out it all was the biggest challenge and this was done purely for the sake of my two daughters. If I had the misfortune of being without them, I probably would have run naked into the mountains without a care if I survived. Or I would just lie in a heap in a dark closet until the basic need to survive would pull me out of the darkness and into some sort of semblance of civility. What contributed to this mild depression was the feeling of being completely alone in a world where truly to survive means you have to be tough. I think this last year, at the age of 40, I finally grew up. I realize I was really as naïve as a child all these years. Marriage shelters you, and since I had been with my ex husband since the age of 21, I truly had been in cocoon. Music has been my salvation in this purgatory: Bon Iver, Oumou Sangare (Incredible African singer) and recently Bryan Ferry have been the soul food I've been living off of. Artists are what are "getting me through the night." Thanks Bryan Ferry.
I'm preparing for a reading of A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the greatest plays ever written. Tennessee Williams truly was touched by genius, God, muses whatever you want to credit his gift with. I'm reading the part of Stella, which I can completely identify with, yet Blanche is the one who breaks my heart and bleeds me every time I crack open the play. Coinciding with this reading for Streetcar is my ninth -grader daughter's school reading of Lord of the Flies. Colette and I get into my new wood slab bed, which is my step toward the modern masculine, away from the feminine fluffy nuptial bed I once had, and begin to start our literary voyage of terror and fascination to the island where Ralph and Piggy try to make sense of the savages. I begin reading so she doesn't have to enter this place alone, but also because, like a moth to a flame (Blanche), I cannot for the life of me put the book down. As I read out loud about Simon's death, Colette begins to sink deeper and deeper into my white down comforter until all that is exposed is her right ear. "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!" I read horrified by what I know is coming up.
"Mommy maybe we shouldn't read anymore" I vacillate about whether we are helping or handicapping our kids by sheltering them. I decide that I would have been better off in the last year had someone read me this book. I'm reminded of that other great Tennessee Williams play Suddenly Last Summer when the flock of birds ravage the baby turtles and the villagers prey upon the boy. Perhaps this is the real world where Darwinian urges get the best of humanity. Perhaps my thinking that life is a poetic romp where contractors, fellow screenwriters, landscapers, mentors, won't take full advantage of me is just a complete farce.
I am an absolute lover of all the kitsch that comes along with Christmas yet this last year was a real test. The moment I had been dreading more than any other was the purchasing and decorating of the tree. Perhaps it just brings up memories of the fourteen years our family was in tact. Maybe it's because this year the love I had for the last two years wouldn't be driving us in his big Tundra truck to pick out our tree. Maybe it's because I had to hear about how my ex-husband and his younger girlfriend, my doppelganger were decorating with my daughters. Blanche wouldn't have been able to do this either. It's just all too much; the memories, the once cheerful sounding ballads, the walking through the aisles of green boughs smelling the nobles and the firs.
The older I get, the more it seems the world is really split between the savages and the Blanches. For example Sarah Palin needlessly slaughtering the moose for publicity: "kill the beast, cut his throat, spill his blood"! Not unlike the little heathens tearing apart the sow or Simon in Lord of the Flies. Do the Palins really succeed in this world? Piggy does die a horrible death and Blanche gets taken to a sanitarium so is this the lesson? Be tough, hard, strong, be the hunter rather then the prey?
Last spring we had an upsetting situation where all the trees on the property we were living on were chain sawed down. It felt apocalyptic with all the sawdust clouds and debris strewn on the once lush lawn. My little daughter Charlotte started running through the devastated garden screaming "savages, savages!" In a state of shock trying to process the destruction, I remember thinking, where in the world did she learn that word? And: how absolutely perfect it was to describe this sad little chapter in her young and up to then sweet life.
I have witnessed much tragedy in my life, a violent revolution in Iran, rape, the murder of a classmate in high school, but this little daughter of mine running through the stumps of once hundred year old redwoods screaming "savages" seemed to gut me on a whole other level. Blanche couldn't deal with the savages. Simon and Piggy were in the end slaughtered by them, the baby turtles in Suddenly Last Summer off the Mexican Rivera are just surviving by pure luck or chance . . . but there is always Ralph. He does survive. He doesn't conform to their baseness. One of my most favorite quotes is Stella Adler stating that to be a great actor one has to "have the skin of a rhinoceros but the soul of a rose." This is applicable for all of us.
A few days before Christmas, after much grumbling, I gathered my girls in my little Prius, (alas the days of the Tundra -driving -wild -man- boyfriend have vanished), and drove to the Christmas tree lot. Of course we had to run into a beautiful actress friend who is happily married and was glowing at her opportunity to pick the perfect tree. This stings I thought to myself "I was there a few years back. What happened?"
Every year, Colette gives me a little grief about the size of the tree. She is one of the sweetest teenagers ever so I put up with it but when she demands for the twenty foot tree I have to remind her that our new house doesn't have the grand 20 foot ceiling but a more cozy 8 or 9 foot roof. We finally compromised on a rather tall tree, maybe 10 feet. Crankier than ever, I got the girls home to wait for the delivery. When the tree arrived we realized with despair that it was too tall for the house. I began to wonder if we could saw the top off the tree, but what kind of Feng Shui nightmare would it be setting us up for? The delivery guys basically stuffed it in the corner and scrammed before I could figure out my yuletide tree rights and ask to exchange it. Now I really felt like crumbling. The Blanche in me wanted to just disappear into a hot bath and fantasy. The Ralph in me put on some Christmas carols, lit the fireplace, and began getting the decorations out. I tried to swallow back the tears and the black thoughts: "Is this the way Christmas will be from now on? What happens when my girls grow up? Will I be putting up a tree all alone then? Can I afford the $150 the tree cost? Will I ever work again? Have I piqued? The tree was bent from three quarters up. Charlotte kept saying, "The tree is bowing to us mommy." "Yes my love the tree is bowing and blessing us with its Christmas beauty."
The girls finally fell asleep and I was by myself. I had done it. I had bought my first Christmas tree alone. I had put the lights up without breaking my neck. I carried the heavy boxes of ornaments, and found a way to make the whole situation from being a total disaster. I was not Blanche after all. I was Ralph.