10:27 am - THU 9/26/02
I was interested in the book, not because it was an "Oprah Book Club" book--I never chose or chose to not read a book based on that--but because of the premise (After her mother goes to prison for murder, a young girl goes through a series of foster homes. The book details her struggles to get through these various foster homes intact, deal with a strained relationship with her incarcerated-and-extremely-controlling mother), and wrestle with growing up.
When I read the book and got to the end, I remember being disappointed; "Astrid"--I think that's her name. Or was that the name of the mother?--doesn't really win any big prizes in the end. Her great reward for dealing with all the adversity she faces in the story is, basically, that she survives.
(You could say that someone not getting any "prizes" for dealing with a tough life is realistic. But we're talking about a novel, here, and I was looking for something a little more uplifting than that.)
More recently though, I've been thinking about the other thing I came away with from the book; "Astrid's" relationship with her frankly insane mother is so strained, so difficult, so poisonous, that she might have been better served if there'd been no relationship at all.
Like me with my mother.
Now, my mother hasn't killed anyone that I know of, and isn't likely to be played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie based on my life, but she was a drunk, who had at least two children out of wedlock (Back when that was a bad thing), who married a guy who ended up in prison, and in general doesn't seem to have been "The Queen of Good Decisions".
(The first and only time I communicated with her--and I assume it will be the last time as well--She had been sober for some time. So she finally squeezed out at least one good decision.)
I didn't realize I'd had illusions to be dashed, but when I first heard this rather pathetic tale, I remember feeling a keen sense of disappointment; I might have had a tough time of it in foster care, but the alternative--a fat, drunken mother, constitutionally unable to make a positive decision for herself, let alone her children--isn't likely to have been that much of an improvement.
It seems I was destined to have a tough go of it early on no matter what...
I hadn't realized I was still hanging on to "If only...", to "What if?", to the fantasy that I would really have been something if life hadn't crapped on me from the get-go.
So I'm actually glad my mother sounded like a loser. I'm glad I had to give up that notion I didn't realized I'd entertained. Life would never have been all cake and ice cream for me (As if it is for anybody...).
A more recent "If only..." concerns my being out here.
I've often found myself wishing I had done this twenty years sooner. This doesn't feel like a middle-aged man's game. The energy, the enthusiasm, the invincibility of youth might have served me better out here than the fatigue, the fear, and the frustration of adulthood.
I think about the people my age out here who have half a lifetime of credits and classes and technique that I lack. I even think about the people who came out here at an early age, threw themselves at the Tinseltown brick wall of humiliation and indifference and gave up, who are living their lives, having their wives and husbands and children and their normal lives, while knowing that they "took their shot".
But I didn't come out here 20 years ago, and even if I had, there's absolutely no guarantee I would have succeeded. There's not even any guarantee I would have failed gracefully (Jane suggested, early on in my time out here, that I might very well have come out at the best time possible, as a person and an actor, and who knows? She may very well be right).
The "If only...", the "What If?", is meaningless.
What happened, happened. What I did, I did. What I failed to do didn't get done.
I could spend all my time weaving alternate histories of my life--What would have happened if my mother had kept me? If I had stayed at the Pupos? If I'd stayed with Beth (Either one)? If I'd left Lansing early on instead of hanging out for 20 years? (My first thought about that?--There'd have been no Jane.)--but what would be the point of all that?
I've come to realize that any "alternate history" would have it's ups-and-downs. In one, I'd be struggling to keep my marriage afloat and pay bills, dealing with pressures on the job, and trying to make sure the kids don't become burdens to society. In another, I'd be wondering if anyone really cared about me for me, or if my money and fame was all that mattered to anyone (Worrying about how I was going to keep the status I'd worked so hard to attain, and wondering why all that money and fame and success wasn't making me happy). In still another, I'd be a serial killer, or a bum on the street, or dead. The possibilites are endless, far beyond my limited imagination.
(The point here is not that I'd be unhappy no matter what, but that there'd be problems no matter what.)
Here's what I am. Here is what I have. The past is gone. The future is unwritten.
To steal a line from a fellow Diarylander, "Life starts now".
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