my big deal
This morning I found out that I got nominated for an Academy Award. A real one. I still can’t really believe it. I don’t understand exactly what it means.
I turned on the tv this morning to see if we would be chosen. We knew we were short-listed. They announced all the big ones – the famous people. I was half-awake but my heart was still beating fast. I hadn’t planned on even watching because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I had told myself I didn’t mind if I didn’t get the nomination and truly, I think I wouldn’t have been devastated because I hadn’t really even let myself want it too much. I’m like that these last few years – cautious with my hope but also with my despair. A rune stone I seemed to draw constantly in my ever-hopeful but terribly difficult twenties warned me frequently to “not collapse yourself into your highs or lows.” I didn’t listen for a long time but now it’s a well-practiced skill. Even so, I turned on the tv.
And we got it. I verified it on the internet and there it was on the official Oscars page: Nominee. I didn’t quite know what to do. I practiced a few things in my head. “Do I scream?” “No, I don’t feel like screaming and it will sound inauthentic and then I’ll remember this moment as inauthentic and I don’t want to be inauthentic.” Authenticity is the Holy Grail. It’s to the grown-up me what cool was to the junior high me. True but embarrassing and purpose-defeating to admit I want it. Spoils the effortless effect I’m striving for.
So I decided to take my cue from someone else, to see if it was a big deal based on how they reacted. Except the only people immediately available to me were the Strongheart Fellows. These are incredible young people that I currently live with, who would probably be impressed with what the Academy Awards are except they’re from places like Liberia and Afghanistan and were most likely too busy trying to grow up and survive Charles Taylor and the Taliban to watch Billy or Whoopie or even Jon Stewart, who is much more their taste and demo. Gabriel, the brilliant music-producer-in-training that I’ve known since he was a 15 year old in a refugee camp in Ghana, was the first person I told. He hugged me. He looked at me, trying to gauge my feelings. I looked back at him, trying to gauge his. “It’s a big deal,” I said, trying it on for size. “It is,” he agreed. Okay, we got that straight. Big deal. Check.
I went into a Starbucks and made a point of ordering my latte with whipped cream. “It’s a special occasion,” I announced to the barista. “I got nominated for an Academy Award today.” They all made a big deal of it in line and behind the counter. They gave me chocolate sprinkles on top. I felt lame and happy all at once. “It’s a big deal,” I told myself.
The rest of the morning went by in an unshowered blur. The facebook response was huge, and yes, it was a big deal. Not many people called. Maybe I’m unpopular. Maybe most people were just giving me “space to absorb” as one friend said when I reached her. I think everyone thought I had “special” people to talk to – but the truth was, I wanted to call people from my past. People who had known me when I was just starting out, who had been markers and guides, who would know truly what a big deal it was.
I’m staying in Austin, Texas right now – a town I used to live in full-time but now only know as a part-time returnee. This means I don’t have many friends here anymore but everyplace I turn is imbued with memory and meaning from my ever-hopeful but terribly difficult twenties. After I exhausted the Starbucks love (because it does get awkward after a while – a very very short while for them, I think), there wasn’t anyone to really go hunt down to share my good fortune with so I chose to go a very fancy grocery store that I used to love to wander years ago. I went inside and meandered around, gathering expensive cheese and fancy cookies, blood orange juice, random celebration foods. As I turned a corner, I suddenly felt myself whoosh back in time. I remembered walking in that exact place, almost twenty years ago.
I was homeless at the time. Not sleep-on-the-street homeless but close. Sleep-in-a–camper-on-a-friend’s-driveway, shower-with-a-water-hose, use-the-gas-station-bathroom homeless. It was this low-low, this period where nothing I touched seemed to go my way, that finally forced me to pull everything I had inside me to pack up and go to LA to try my dream in Hollywood. I had been in this exact spot in this exact store, wandering the aisles, killing time, and hoping for free samples when I decided to leave for LA. It wasn’t a graceful exit. It was hard and uncertain and scary and rough. I was homeless in LA (another camper, another driveway) but had eventually found my place and my people and my dream, which happened to be in the form of both film and the aforementioned young people from challenging places.
A therapist I had once (and I’ve had many – mostly great – ones) said “Where you have cried, you must go back and dance.” While I hadn’t cried in that spot and so didn’t need to return to dance, I think I must have done the zombie equivalent and gone numb back in that day, just to try to get by. Because what I felt suddenly today, as I whooshed back into the past, was deep deep feeling – unnameable except for relief. I cried, standing there with my fancy cheese and my expensive cookies that would have looked like a feast (and rent) to the homeless me. I cried hard and ugly, shaking with relief. Because I wasn’t that me anymore, because I had moved on finally, I was okay, I survived and I even did okay. I exhaled a breath I had been holding for twenty years.
It was a big deal.