Thursday, February 21, 2013

Be Not Proud

I’ve always considered myself lucky that death tends to stay pretty far from me.  I could probably name a dozen or so people I’ve known who later died, but it was someone from whom I had been estranged for a number of years.  Even then it was never someone I knew very well.

A few weeks ago I awoke to a message from my oldest friend:

“So my car wouldn't start this morning, and also one of my oldest friends (and first serious girlfriend) died of cancer early this morning. You probably remember Kristin.

“Is it too early to start drinking? Can I get a ruling?”

My first reaction was, “I would have that drink, but only if you do not - for one second - pretend it's because the car wouldn't start.”

I do remember Kristin, and well.  I first met her when I was 16; she was dating a newfound friend, and when I became adopted into his social circle, naturally she was one of them.

She was certainly the most unique of the group, and not simply because she was the only girl.  This was the mid ‘90s, when paper and dice role playing games still got most of us socially ostracized by the smart, attractive, ambitious, and female.  Yet here she was amongst us, playing Rifts with all the humor and imagination at her disposal.  She was fiercely competitive, too.  Watching her play Risk or Magic: The Gathering made me wish those were games one started by picking teams so I wouldn’t have to go against her.

She was just beginning college, studying to become a chemical engineer.  Most of my memories of our social time included her bringing an armload of books, pouring over them with the utmost determination while the rest of us talked and joked.  It would be another two years before I started at the same college myself.  I remember the days of sitting around The Flying Tomato with the most diverse group of people I had ever known, and the late night study sessions at IHOP with much of the same company.

Her drive was so fierce that she once attended two different colleges – in two different states – in the same semester.  She would take Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes in Texas, then drive to Oklahoma on Monday night.  She’d take class on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Oklahoma (skipping her Texas Wednesday class), then drive back to Texas on Thursday night and attend her Friday class.  Then she would wait tables all weekend to support herself.

Not only did she succeed with this schedule, she got a full ride to graduate school where she finished a 2 year program in a year and a half. 

In my second year of college we saw a play together.  At the end of it she told me she was proud of me for choosing to become an actor and sticking with it, because she recognized that wasn’t an easy goal to reach.  I was stunned at the notion of what this woman would consider to be “not easy.”  That statement from her was one of the most defining moments in my life.  I saw value in myself reflected in her eyes, and I knew I was on the right path.  In this way she helped shape who I have become every day since then.

I didn’t know her exceptionally well, and certainly not lately, but I was always awed and impressed by her.  I was lucky to be a guest at her wedding in late 2002, and I don’t think we ever saw one another in person again.  There was sporadic Facebook contact, but most of that was passively reading status updates and seeing pictures of her children.

I have always regretted that I never showed Kristin the side of myself that was a substantive human being.  For some reason I only ever put on my most goofball persona in her presence.  I can only justify that I loved hearing her laugh, and I could do that often enough, but I always felt I was costing a deeper relationship by struggling to make the joke.

I may have been a bit wrong about that.  Last June I hit a rough emotional patch, and I reached out through a Facebook status post asking for support.  I was overwhelmed by the response – some 50 or 60 people sent me either public or private messages of support, and Kristin was among them.  She wrote simply, “Wish I had your number and could help. You always helped me.”

Of all the messages I got, this was one of the most encouraging, and absolutely the biggest surprise.  My first thought upon reading this was I don’t remember doing that.  But clearly I had been there for her in a positive and memorable way many years ago.  Apparently she had better memories of me than I had of me.  She gave me her number, and I texted her a response that was lost when I lost that phone a few weeks later.  It wasn’t much, but it amounted to “Thank you, and we’ll talk again soon.”

Soon never came.  In October she was diagnosed with cancer.  In November there was a Facebook page set up called Team Kristin – No One Fights Alone.  She, her husband, and their three sons moved back to their hometown to be closer to families.  At the end of January she died.

I never even knew she was sick.  I found out all of this only after the fact.

When I was in need she reached out to me and made me feel so much better with the simplest gesture.  I’m hurt and I’m angry that I never got the chance to repay that gesture.  I’m sad that I lost touch with her for so many years.  I’m embarrassed and scared to even post these words where her family and close friends can see them because a part of me feels like I didn’t know her well enough to have the right to speak for her.

Yet she is the first person I ever met whose death moved me to tears.  I have to say something.

I just wish I had said any of this to her when I had the chance.  So I entreat you, if someone is truly important to you, even a little, tell them how you feel.  This experience is going to cause me to reach out to three (off the top of my head) I haven’t spoken to in years, though I think about them all the time.  I never again want to wake up and learn it’s too late to share something positive.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Either Lay Down and Whine, Or Stand Up and Fight

I spent the month of January in Southern Illinois filming a movie.  While I was there I put on 40 pounds – five pounds more than I lost from March to December of last year.  There was a Gold’s Gym nearby and we had free day passes, but I didn’t go very often.  There were also free breakfast sandwiches in the hotel and the on set catering was both plentiful and delicious, and I took part in these things VERY often. 

Noticing I was a bit bummed about the way I’m looking and feeling, someone very important to me sent me this:
“Don’t worry about your body. It isn’t as small as it once was, But honestly, the world needs more of you. You look in the mirror like you’ve done something wrong, But you look perfect. Anyone who says otherwise is telling a lie to make you feel weak. And you know better. You’ve survived every single day, for as long as you’ve been alive. You could spit fire if you wanted.” ~ Clementine von Radics
I get this. I respect this. But this is not for me.
From March to December of last year I exercised and I dieted to unprecedented levels.  Not only did I lose weight, which was the goal, but I also invoked my sense of discipline, sacrifice, accomplishment.  I set a goal and I met it. I took August and September off from the gym and I didn't backslide, I didn't gain any weight, and I thought I'd entered a new phase of my life. Especially when I went BACK to the gym.
This new phase allowed me to run my first 15K. This new phase gave me the ability to carry out some awesome fight choreography during A Klingon Christmas Carol. This new phase gave me what I needed to be able to carry out an amazing burlesque duet. This new phase allowed me to put something back into the world, to help create something for others to enjoy. Believe me when I say I could not have run so far, leapt so high (literally), or lifted or spun Hedy around had I been at my previous physique.
This whole January I lost all discipline and control. Almost every morning I had a breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese croissants until I nearly burst, then I went back to bed. Every time I had the catering I filled myself until I was uncomfortable because the food was just too delicious to pass up. It was so easy to excuse myself away from the gym, so I stayed in my hotel room and watched TV and played video games and gained literally everything I lost last year. I wish this was an exaggeration, but it's just not.
The whole reason I started exercising last March was to fit into a vest that now no longer fits again. It was a present, and when I first tried to put it on I realized I needed to lose at least four inches off my waist before I could button it.  By July it fit.  I put it on in November and it was loose on me;  I could button it and slide a hand into the gap between my gut and the fabric. Yesterday I couldn't do more than one button. I tried the second one, but it would have broken before it met the other side.
When I get fatter I lose confidence because I don't like the way it feels on me when I move around, or even when I'm sitting still. I hate the bloated feeling. I hate that I don't move through the world as easily, which is to say that it's harder to even stand up or walk around. Grace evaporates. My muscles haven't lost any of their strength, but now they have to haul more weight around. Weight which also moves my center of gravity forward, makes me feel off-balance. Also my back injury hurts more.
I don't understand the statement "The world needs more of you" as justification for gaining weight. When I'm bigger the world gets less of what I'm capable of putting into it. I look in the mirror like I've done something wrong because my weight gain was a result of losing discipline. Because I kept taking from the world in the form of delicious meals, which inhibits my ability to put anything back into it, and my net value as a human being drops.
This isn't to suggest that nothing good came of January. I had a hell of a career opportunity which paid off wonderfully. And I was a part of creating something for others to enjoy. But I also quit writing in spite of the fact I still had things to say; I just didn't have the energy to string my thoughts together. I blame this lack of energy on my hedonism and inability to sacrifice ANY temporary comfort for self-improvement more than I blame my wonky schedule.
Yes, the shooting schedule screwed my sleeping hours around, but I know better than to have let that become my excuse. It's not like I got back in February, looked down, and suddenly said, "Holy shit, where did THIS come from?!" I felt it happening as it was happening, and I knew the cause, and I knew I was going to hate it, and I made the choice to do nothing about it.
Now I choose to go the other direction. I'm back to the grocery store purchases and gym habits that gave me my previous physique. I don't even write all this to lament my position or to fire back at the above statement; I write all this to re-sharpen my writing voice and get back to SAYING something. To DOING something. To improve myself so I can put something into the world rather than merely taking from it.

I don't judge myself based upon who I am or what I look like. I judge myself based upon what I DO weighed against what I'm CAPABLE of doing. It's an ever-shifting dynamic, and I hope to perpetually endeavor to keep up with the shift.