Pay It Forward

Commit yourself to a mighty purpose.

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I was saved, in large part, by reading and acting.

Growing up, my friends, my hope, my pleasure, my education all came from what I watched and read. As this was before the internet, this meant books, magazines, television shows and movies.

I had friends, sure. And a family. But I didn’t trust most people, with good reason due to early trauma. So I turned to other resources for help. To what was available to me as a child: books and television.

Through them, I could enter into other worlds and become a part of them. This saved me from the intense loneliness I felt, the extreme “otherness.”

I have no doubt that were it not for books and movies, I would have descended into a kind of madness that might not have turned out so well.

Fortunately, I had a library and a television at my disposal. They brought me works that gave me hope that another life could be made for myself. They gave me company. They gave me connection.

Today, as I navigate my life as a performer and as a writer, I can think of no higher purpose for myself than to create work that can do the same for someone else.

I am on a never-ending quest to examine and understand both the light and the dark sides of human behavior. I’m drawn to works that explore and celebrate the human spirit. Stories of how people rise above the problems of life and the human condition to make change and follow their hearts. I have a soft spot for the seemingly ordinary moments and people in life: the underdog; the unsung heroes; the quiet, small moments that can sometimes hold a lifetime.

It’s my mission to collaborate deeply and bravely as an actor and singer with all of the people who make up a production, so that together we can create stories to inspire, educate, elicit, and evoke. To wake people up so that they may live life more fully and authentically and to embrace their lives.

I also volunteer as a reader with SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s BookPALS program. I read storybooks to kindergartners in hopes of sparking a lifelong relationship between children, reading and books that I hope will help them navigate the murkier waters of growing up, of life.

That is my mighty purpose. What is yours?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: mighty

The Comeback Kid

“Are you a boy, or a girl?” she asked, lip curled in a grin that implied she knew but just wanted to make me feel small. It worked.

“I won’t even dignify that with an answer!” I said…

…silently, in my head.

I felt the familiar rush of shame blush my cheeks a rosy pink, and stood, frozen, eyeing the group of kids standing behind the most popular girl in my new school.

My heart pounded in my chest so hard I feared it might explode through like a fist.

That image gave me some comfort: the blood would splatter all over Susie (Jenny? Brittany?) and crowd, so there’d at least be that.

Ruing the short haircut my Mom had talked me into just before we moved, my flat-chested, barrel-like bigger-than-most-girls-my-age body, and my fair, freckle-speckled skin, I tried to think of something to say that would get me out of this encounter with some teensy shred of my dignity in tact.

This was it. The way I handled this moment would set the tone for my future in this new environment, this new social strata. I searched the memory banks of my mind for some comeback that could get me out of this mess relatively unscathed. Perhaps even ahead in some way, having won them over with my wit under duress.

Nope. I got nothin’.

I felt a bead of sweat drip from under my left arm, causing a tickling sensation that, unfortunately, made me start to giggle. Hearing myself giggle made me feel a bit hysterical, which then caused me to actually start laughing hysterically.

And so what I actually did when faced with the elite of my new school was I stood there like a laughing hyena while they stood and stared in a mix of disgust and curiosity.

Eventually, the ringleader (Alyssa? Mandy? What was her name?) flipped her blond hair and said “Whatever!” as she turned and led the rest off.

Alone again, after the hysteria had crested and eventually receded, I took a deep breath in, and gave myself a silent “Welcome to your new school, Loser!”

The laughing jag had worn me out and left me with a hollow feeling that I knew all too well.

It was gonna be a bumpy year.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dignify

 

 

Flight

I lay on my side

Face away from the door

Stay still, slow my breath

Pray he thinks I’m asleep

Then a breeze shocks my back

The sheet lifts, the bed shifts

Hot breath at my neck

No luck tonight, fear chokes my heart

I go into a trance, nothingness

The familiar comfort of the void

Leave my body, don’t need it

My soul and I, we float into the wallpaper

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: trance

Three

Once upon a time there was born a little girl

Who was adored by all, like a precious pearl.

Her two older brothers, announced proudly to all

That they had a little sister now, too busy to play ball!

And so things unfolded, and all was well.

For the next few years or so, things were swell.

Until one day, much to the girl’s chagrin and surprise,

She somehow graduated from adorable to pest in their eyes.

She followed them around and pleaded to no end,

But they’d outgrown her and had other things to tend.

And soon she, too, had lots of friends and things to do.

Each had their own life, each had their own crew.

The years flew by and their lives flew on,

And came the time when their parents were gone.

And though they each had families and lives of their own,

The girl-now-woman came to know that their love was a keystone.

And she held close to her heart the years when they’d been young,

For she knew them to be the love from which all other love had sprung.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: pest

 

 

 

 

Dormant Child

I hear you now

From within, so deeply hidden you had no chance of being heard until now

I thought maybe you’d flown away with the night and my innocence

Or maybe you’d been crushed by the weight of his body on mine

I held a funeral for you inside and accepted the loss

And then, one day, there you were; and at first

I could not recognize you through the warp and woof that my soul became

 

Here you are now

And I found you, and though you were unrecognizable to me

I knew and loved you at first sight with every fiber of my being

I’d never seen anything more heart-breakingly beautiful in my life

I drew your little burned body into my arms, your flesh black and peeling

Raw, red skin angering through the seared pain of the past

I loved you until the dead flesh fell away, until you pinked up and began to flourish

In the fore of my heart I let you pick your own room and decorate it pink and kitty cats

Let the other girls invite you to play and read you stories

I gave you hot baths and fed you warm milk and cookies, told you I was putting you first now

And I realized that you were more me than any me I had ever been before or would ever be

 

Now you are here

And you are my everything, you are the key, finally – the center of us all

You carry my truth, my play, my freedom, my deepest self-song

 

Now I am here

The parent who will protect you from that kind of hurt ever happening again

The mother who will love you like you are my everything

The woman who sings a self-song so beautiful it makes me cry to hear it

 

I hear you now

 

For Suzanne, with Thanks & Love

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: dormant

 

 

 

 

Petty Crimes of the Heart

When I was around seven, I became a criminal.

I started shoplifting from the neighborhood Safeway store. (It was more than just groceries then. It sort of had a bit of everything.)

My friend Vana and I did the stealing, together, at first. I don’t recall whose idea it was.

I think the first item we took was something really small and inexpensive, such as a candy. There was such  rush of danger to it. An adrenaline high.

I know I enjoyed the risky feeling of it. Of getting away with something. Of doing something wrong and not being caught.

There were a few more items, leading up to the very difficult-to-steal stationary set. It was a large box set, and the fact that I somehow managed to get away with it was more the real prize, I think, than the stationary itself. (It was grown up stationary, not even something I wanted.)

But the pièce de résistance was a gold ring. The ring probably cost $50, but it was harder to get to and it carried higher stakes if caught. I don’t even think Vana was in on this one. I was egging my own self on by this point. Pushing my own limits and capabilities.

I am still not sure why I felt compelled to turn to such lowly capers. We were not rich, but we were not in need. I had a room full of things. My needs were mostly met, at least materially.

I did not even enjoy any of the items I stole. I felt so guilty. I tried to thrown them down the storm drain, but could only throw away the first thing I took, the candy. The rest I stashed on the top shelf in the corner of my closet.

From that corner, those items taunted me daily. They called me “Robber.” “Stealer.” I was nauseous with fear most of the time. Fear of being found out. Fear of what my parents would think of me if they knew. That stash kept me up at night. It felt as if it was alive on that shelf. As if I was harboring a defenseless animal or something.

Finally one night, when I could not stand it anymore, I went into my parents bedroom and announced that “their daughter was a shoplifter.”

In a rush of shame and tears, I told the whole dirty story. As I had been up until that point an incredibly reserved and careful girl who made perfect grades and never rocked the boat, I have the feeling they felt that I had probably been under the influence of Vana, who they judged as wilder than I.

I led them to my stash and showed them the evidence of my sickness. Instead of being concerned for my sanity, looking back, I think they were somewhat impressed by what I had gotten away with stealing.

As punishment, my parents had me take the items back to the store and confess my sins. Luckily and unluckily, there were no repercussions from the store.

My parents seemed to feel that my real punishment was knowing their disappointment in me. And they were right in that. It just leveled me.

I still feel shame around it, even though I work at forgiving my child of seven for needing to take those things. She needed something. It wasn’t those things.

I say it was unlucky that there were no repercussions.

I think that my seven year-old was really lost. I think I was terribly lost. I think I needed help and attention but had no idea how to ask for it.

I didn’t get the help I didn’t know I needed then.

But I never stole again.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: caper

Split Decisions

Rose spit into the dirt, disgusted with herself, so mad she could barely see straight.

What jerks. She hadn’t been doing anything. Why did they hate her so?

She picked herself up off the lawn, peeling away the blades of grass that were stuck to her knees one by one, fingering the long dent-canals they left behind on her skin.

The kids had already moved on down the block, their laughter taunting her as they looked back, turning the corner.

She felt the hot flush of shame rush down the back of her neck and through her body, her fingers tingling, tears flooding her eyes.

She choked it all down and thought about what she could do. There was no where to go. No one to tell.

“This is just temporary, honey. You’ll see. In time, they’ll get to know you, you’ll find friends.” Her Mom tried, but she had no idea of the way things really were.

She folded her pain and confusion back into the loneliness that she carried with her always, and with lips pressed together with determination, she walked back home to the numbing relief and friendship to be found in oreos and chips. 

At least she had that.

#bullying #therootoftheproblem #foodisnotlove

Inspired by The Daily Post word prompt: temporary

Stalled

This time, I was gonna get it right.

I waited in the bathroom stall

until the other girls were gone

and I silently prayed as hard as I could.

Please, God, make me be better.

Please, please, make me like Katie.

She is so perfect!

Her long, brown hair so straight

she can sit on the ends if she wants to.

She’s so thin and pleasant and neat.

Not like me – plump, awkward, shaggy-haired.

If I pray hard enough, it will happen:

I will become her. On the count of three.

One — Fingers crossed tight….

Two — When you wish upon a star…

Three — please please please please please…

Ok. Here I go. The new me. I am Katie Koening now!

I open the stall and look in the mirror.

I seem taller. I smile her smile and think Katie thoughts.

Head out into the hall, head held high,

floating on my hope.

I get to the classroom

and enter, waiting for heads to turn.

My heart dives back into my stomach.

No one notices a thing as I go to my desk.

I am just same old me.

God has failed me again.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post word prompt: better