This post was written back in 2005 on Blogger where I first started MindLib. Given the current climate, I thought it was worth a re-post here.
September 21, 2005
So I kind of went off on the guys at work. I’m the only woman in the production office and therefore privy to the sort of raunchiness normally reserved for locker rooms. I was naïve enough to believe that since we share an office environment there would be some limits set on sexual innuendo. But the film industry is a notorious boys club and I learn this more each day. At first I tried to ignore it, though I certainly couldn’t laugh at it. A crude joke or two doesn’t get to me but it’s the constant and degrading critique of women’s bodies that pushes me over the edge. Mind you these are men who, appearance-wise, are in no position to judge other people.
None of the remarks were directed towards me and I get along quite well with these men. Most of the time they are smart and funny. I thought that I should set a subtle example with my refusal to participate in the sexual gauntlet or maybe say a few words aimed at balancing the scales. But it’s gotten to the point where even my opinion is shot down as being without merit. I’m still not used to the discrepancy between the environment I create with my own work and the environment I have to deal with in order to make money. I’m used to being the producer/director and to having people treat me with respect. But in my daily routine of earning of living I have to put up with men who condescend to me for no apparent reason other than my sex.
When I first started the job I had a whole debate with the production coordinator about how the female nudity in the film and all dialogue directed towards or about the female characters was degrading. I understood the object of the film was to make money but I felt badly that any actress would subject herself to it simply to get a job. We agreed to disagree and the coordinator tries to keep his mouth shut around me. But then the dailies came in and the men in office watched a barely 18-year-old girl bare her breasts, and another girl shower nude, and then proceeded to evaluate the girls on breast size, butt size, etc. There has been a barrage of remarks about the four women in this cast- all of whom were chosen for their sex appeal.
Today someone made a remark about how Tyra Banks proved on her show that her breasts were real. The producer then commented, “It doesn’t matter because she has cellulite.” I said, “Why do we have to judge a woman on something over which she has no control?” The producer promptly shot me down by saying that any woman could eliminate cellulite by changing her diet and exercising. This is the same producer who likes the skeletal, drug-addicted look on women. While diet and exercise play a part in cellulite, that’s not all there is to it. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that and thin women have cellulite too. He refused to even hear my opinion until I suddenly crumpled a piece of paper in frustration and snapped, “Forget it.” Then they were all ears and I couldn’t help venting over the completely inappropriate conversation I had been subjected to for the last two months. The producer said that he didn’t condone it but that it happened because “they were human.” I said, “Well, I’m human too, but I don’t come in here and talk about the size of your c— because that would be disrespectful to you.” That shut him up. Now the men are gently tiptoeing around with golf jokes and it’s the first relaxed afternoon I’ve had in a while.
After I vented I wondered if it would cost me future work. Maybe guys don’t want to restrain themselves and having a woman around is cramping their style. Maybe they won’t call me for the next gig because I’m too sensitive or emotional. But hang it, I’m much older and wiser now. We women have an uphill battle in this industry and why is it ever okay to listen to and accept the way men speak about us? How will it change if we don’t raise our voices? It’s interesting though…the producer treated me better today than he has all month. Yes, I do have a brain and breasts all at the same time. Astounding, isn’t it?
This week I learned that the legendary Marta Becket passed away in January. I had no idea. I visited her opera house for the first time on Christmas Eve but her impact on my life hit back around 2009-2010.
I was divorced and had left my beloved Santa Monica for a studio in Koreatown with an actual paper-thin Murphy bed that folded down from the wall and was possibly the kind of bed you get in hell. I hated my new neighborhood, I was free but alone, I was nursing yet another heartbreak and creatively things couldn’t have been bleaker. I used to sit in the generic apartment-furnished armchair, staring out at the brick building next door, where people would literally scream out of their windows at all hours for reasons unknown. Because they could, I guess.
My mom told me about this amazing documentary she’d seen called Amargosa and I immediately ordered it from Netflix. On DVD. When I saw it, I was deeply moved by Marta’s story – one of a frustrated artist who took a giant leap into the unknown to create something that didn’t make any sense at the time. She left her metropolitan New York world behind to settle in Death Valley and refurbish a dilapidated performance hall, where she danced to a crowd that she literally painted on the walls – because there was no audience – until National Geographic discovered her.
The story of a woman without an opportunity to create the kind of work she wanted to, stepping off the grid to start living a different kind of story, spoke volumes to me. I felt the stirrings of something akin to that for myself or the idea, at least, that something else might be possible. As soon as I finished the documentary I rushed to find out if Marta was still alive and performing. She was, but she was heading into her final performances of the The Sitting Down Show because she could no longer dance and was ready to retire. I was determined to be there but a winter storm hit; those isolated Valley roads were flooded, nearly impassable, and phone lines were down. The Amargosa website warned of treacherous travel and I sadly abandoned the idea.
Several years passed. I sort of forgot about visiting the opera house although Marta remained an inspiration to me. I thought of her often, whenever I floundered around wondering what the hell I was doing in Hollywood. Every time the thought arose that I should create my own work, forge my own path, I would beat it down with resistance but then Marta would be there, like a beacon in the background. More time passed. I saw Diane Bell’s first film, Obselidia, and its scenes at the Amargosa Opera House reminded me that Marta’s legacy was still there…waiting.
Cut to December, 2016. Bone weary, shattered, burned out in every possible way…I’m in the middle of packing up my life in a limited number of boxes that I can snail-mail home to Boston. I’m finally calling it quits. A friend has come to stay and this is my camping/hiking/national park exploring friend. The one who will join me on any wilderness adventure. Each time we meet, we excitedly plan where to go next. We know we have a short window this time. We’re both exhausted. It needs to be a place we can drive to in a day and one that won’t be closed from all of the snow. Then it hits me: Death Valley. All those years in California and I still hadn’t been. They were at the tail end of a winter storm and about to get hit with some epic flooding but we had just the right amount of time to miss the worst.
We hit the road late on Christmas Eve day and drove like demons to make the show. The opera house had confirmed via e-mail and phone that there was a dancer who was going to perform that night. Then there wasn’t because she’d been injured. Then there was because they were mistaken or at any rate she was still going to perform. We didn’t have time for any pit stops. We ate snacks in the car. The two-lane road out to Death Valley Junction was pitch black with no cell service, my aging car was insistently fogging up in the rain and we’d hit huge pockets of flooding that were impossible to see ahead of time. We nearly missed the opera house because the valley was so dark but we swerved in and I jumped out to tell them we were there. There was no time for a bathroom or food or even to buy our tickets. Marta’s personal assistant was manning the door. She said to go over to the hotel afterwards to pay for our seats but, for now, to enjoy the show.
The opera house was toasty from the wood-burning stove and I couldn’t get over the rough wood floors or the detailed murals. It was beautiful. The assistant spoke to the small audience of tourists, telling us that Marta still lived on the grounds and that she was too ill to come over but that she knew we were there and that “she is happy” we were. A young Dominican dancer had been tapped by Marta to perform. She explained in broken English how grateful she was because, in her home country, the opportunity to dance was non-existent. She danced a short program from Marta’s past, including some of Marta’s own choreography. She wore Marta’s costumes – delightfully out-of-style – and there were long pauses while she changed. A little dog in the audience quietly growled whenever a new costume appeared. The ballerina danced in front of scenery that Marta painted. The faded red curtain opened and closed jerkily. The dancer’s pointe shoes were worn to shreds. The entire experience felt like pure anthropology and I held both joy and sorrow in my heart.
Afterwards we walked over to the hotel and someone opened a vacant room for me so I could finally use a bathroom. The room was scrubbed clean but old and in some disrepair. We wandered around the hotel filled with Marta’s photos and memorabilia. We were left to ourselves in the vacant gift shop. The lobby had a Christmas tree, a cat lounging on a desk, and a guy playing the guitar for his friends. Finally an employee appeared at the front desk and seemed pleasantly surprised that we had stuck around to pay for our tickets. We were starving but there was still no cell service. I asked the employee if she could give us directions to a restaurant somewhere and she told us that the hotel’s cafe was serving a complimentary Christmas Eve dinner, courtesy of Marta.
I think walking into that cafe on Christmas Eve was the moment when, on a micro level, I started to heal from the burn-out of the previous few years. People from all over the world were gathered at the counter and tables. The employees were warm and welcoming and explained the menu. When they found out we were Vegetarians they said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” Even now, I cry when I think of it. To be in a place that meant so much to me as an artist, to be exploring a part of our American wilderness, to be surrounded by fellow travelers on a holiday eve…it was pure gratitude. Pure joy. I was remembering the core of who I was – the things I actually care about, the values that actually mean something to me. It wasn’t about booking a guest star or walking the red carpet or getting the next audition. It was about being in the world. Being present. Being loved.
Marta Becket changed my life because she lived hers with full authenticity. She surrendered to her art and allowed it to move her where it wished instead of trying to control or resist the outcome. She taught me that it’s not only possible to forge my own path – it’s desirable. I am forever grateful for her life and work.
The other night I was standing in our tiny, gritty, art space rehearsing for Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train. Got some productive time on a monologue with my two directors and then the entire cast listened to a former prison corrections officer share his experience with us. I love those moments when everyone is focused on the same goal–when the dots start to connect and you can see the pieces coming together. Mary Jane started showing up for me, for the first time, and I can finally see where she might want to take me.
I took the back roads home under a bright, round, moon under a sky of stars. I nearly hit a young deer–something that hasn’t happened since my Indiana college days. The road meandered between two lakes–the water so high and sparkling it nearly met the pavement. There were woods everywhere and a cacophony of crickets I could hear through the window. I rolled my windows down, let the spring air in, and the cricket-song moved me so much I started crying.
I feel like a desert wanderer who has finally found water.
In L.A., it was years between plays because it was so damn hard just to get an audition. And then, when I did get a play, there was always a sliver of hope that “someone” would see it; that it would “somehow” lead to “something.” Here, I don’t have that hope. I don’t have even a handful of friends in the area who will see me in this play, let alone someone who might cast me in a professional gig. And something about that is so liberating…to work again just for the sake of the work…to find joy in the pure experience–which I do. I was standing in that rehearsal and I suddenly felt a thrill go through my entire body. That hasn’t happened in a long time. It wasn’t because something had happened. It was just because I loved being there, doing the work, surrounded by other people who love doing the work.
And those crickets…God, I’ve been so starved for nature. In L.A., I’d work my ass off to be able to afford a three-day trip to a national park. It’d take hours to get out of that city of traffic. Now, everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by trees, water, stone fences, wildlife, history. I can see the sky. Driving home, I realized–I was as happy with these small joys as if I held the keys to the kingdom. I still want to be a working actor. I still want to make money and have personal freedom. I still want to be in the game. But it takes so little, so very little, to really make me happy. And I can’t believe how long I went without the smallest of joys and how lucky I am, at last, to feel them again.