Carrie and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

I’ve had some rough years. It might surprise people to learn that this last year was one of the roughest. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? My first novel came out, I did a ton of comedy, I started new comedy rooms, I traveled. On paper, it sounds like a bang up year. And also on Facebook, always on Facebook, it is a bang up year always. But here on the blog, my friends, we can be real with one another.

Firstly, a note about Facebook. Self-pity sucks and you see a lot of it on FB. Even if I wasn’t a comic and an author, I’d try not to be too self-indulgent with the woe-is-me posts. But I am a comic and an author, and I am constantly selling. Selling books, selling shows, selling myself as a fun go-getter. It’s not hard. I am a fun go-getter. Facebook is a wonderful social tool for keeping in touch with old friends, and it’s a sales tool. It is a sales tool for everyone. They are selling you on their perception of the world, on how they want to be perceived, and if nothing else, on what they think is interesting. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, but I always find it curious when people find the supposed success of others on Facebook a source of sadness. Facebook walls are like display windows at Pottery Barn – everything you see is for sale. Do not compare your actual living space to the artifice.

In any case, while I am a fun go-getter, I am a lot of other things, too. Like a lot of comedians, the Swamp of Sadness is well known territory for me. It had been creeping in around the edges for awhile, but then it reached Artax-drowning levels last winter. (These are Neverending Story references, in case you’re wondering.) Here was the tipping point. October of 2014, I was hanging out with my ex-husband. Our divorce took a very long time to become final, but the court date was about six weeks out at the time. He had bought a bear-shaped container of honey and mentioned that it made him sad and/or nostalgic to buy it, because I have always loved honey bears.

And that is when I had a very, very terrible thought. Why are we even getting divorced, I thought. If you like me enough to become vagely sort of sad when purchasing a honey bear.

That, my friends, is where my sense of self-worth actually stood in October of 2014. The thought had come along in a lighthearted, joking manner, but when I saw it, and absorbed it, anxiety settled in. Settled in deeply. I realized I had been separated for two years but had failed to improve as a person in some fundamental ways, ways that very much needed fixing. This is when things started to go off the rails. I’d been separated for two years. By all appearances, my life had dramatically improved in that time. I’d sold a novel. I’d created a new life for myself. This was thanks in large part to the massive influx of support that came my way after my ex left. New and wonderful friends taught me a new and wonderful way to live, family and old friends gave me love and support galore. All of it was needed and appreciated and wildly helpful.

But I was also running on adrenaline. And when that adrenaline ran out, I appeared to be doing great. So much so that people didn’t really believe me when I told them otherwise. I told people close to me I was struggling. One replied, “But the great thing about you is, I never have to worry about you.” It was a sincere compliment, but it only served to reinforce a feeling of isolation.

I decided to go to a counselor. He gave me a diagnosis of, “Being a girl got you hurt.” And honestly, that really did work for me. Still does. So I thought, Cool, I’ll work on embracing my femininity. But every time I went there I’d have some happy news to report of what I thought was progress and he’d shoot it down. The message I received was, “Being a girl got you hurt. That’s your attempt at trying to be a girl? You’re not very good at it.” And you know, it really got to the point where I wanted to punch that son of a bitch in the mouth.

Although I was struggling and depressed, I am nothing if not a fun go-getter, so I decided to fix my problem another way and spent six weeks in Charleston, writing. I got a ton of writing done, made several wonderful friends, and did a six week strength training class. And you know what? The strength gains I made in that class were insane. It occurred to me, you can’t gain this much muscle and strength without a lot of testosterone. I am who I am. And thinking those things really made me want to go back and punch that counselor in the mouth.

It was during this time in Charleston that I discovered Conor McGregor, my in-some-ways spirit animal. Conor’s absolute self-belief and joie de vivre were a tonic for my soul when I desperately needed one. Because let us be honest here – I cried a lot when I was in Charleston. Like, a lot. I felt alone and broken and left behind, my current self did not compare favorably with where I felt I should be in life. Now,  I was still doing a lot better than I had been back in October of 2014. I was in the process of healing. It’s just that these things take time.

The day after I got back from Charleston I found out that Simon & Schuster had decided to reject the two novels I’d submitted to them. I’d had a decent amount of low lying anxiety about those books, so I wasn’t surprised. I learned this news at an Underwear Comedy Party Show, a show where comics perform in their undies. I got an email from my agent, absorbed the bad news, got on stage, and did really well, actually. Driving home, however, I felt devastated. I remember hearing God tell me, “Your next book must be Ezra.” I didn’t doubt Him, but rejection at that moment in time was just what the doctor ordered – if you wanted a sadness relapse! (And yes, sometimes somebody talks to me. It’s rare but it happens and the voice is never wrong and I believe it’s God, to summarize the experience.)

The next day I was hit with a pretty massive depression, centered on my house. I was still living in the house I’d shared with Evan for ten years. I called my mom and told her what was going on. She told me to move. I told her it wasn’t that easy. She said, “Well, I’ve given you the solution.” In what felt like a genuine miracle, a buyer immediately appeared out of the woodwork. So I moved. It’s three words, “So I moved,” but it was months of work. That house and shed were loaded with ten years of memories and crap. It was hard. But maybe not in the way you’d expect. Evan’s stuff wasn’t emotionally triggering for me at all, which was kind of great. But the older stuff was hard. The things of childhood, especially things from my grandparents, that was hard. The sheer amount of work was hard.

When I finally moved I learned something very important–those golden years of friendship in Clemson were rare and wonderful, and while I treasured them at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how unique that experience was. I became very isolated in Greenville. However, I’d continued to heal, getting stronger all the time, and I was able to turn that isolation into writing. Ruthless came out, I got a manager, I wrote the screenplay adaptation, I went to LA, thinking all kinds of great things were going to happen, and they totally didn’t.

I left LA feeling that Ezra was the only thing I had in the whole wide world. Finally, I surrendered and did what God had told me to do on Feb 13th of 2015 – work on freaking Ezra. I’d essentially been procrastinating since 2010, only working on it intermittently and halfheartedly. I’d put it off because I dreaded how terrible it would be to truly fix the book, and it was exactly as bad as I expected. For weeks I worked for several hours a day and made no progress. It was brutal.

By the end of December, I’d gotten a handle on Ezra, and started to feel a lot better. January 12th, I sent Ezra to my agent. Even though she said she wouldn’t be able to read it until the end of the week, I received notes from her that same day. It was close to midnight when I got the email. It was several paragraphs long, but it had one message – You did it. It is the best letter I’ve ever received. I cried while I read it. And that is where I stand today, a year to the day after Simon & Schuster rejected those other books, a year to the day that I knew I needed to make Ezra my next book.

I am left with a feeling of tremendous gratitude. Although the last fourteen months have been emotionally and spiritually difficult, they have been necessary. Growth and change can be painful, and I am totally okay with that. Life is so short, I hate to lose any more of it to stagnation. I have a wonderful life and I have been blessed with an incredible amount of freedom. Although my work isn’t always easy, I am passionate about the work that I do. I believe I am doing the things God made me to do, and in that I am remarkably fortunate. All of that said, super hoping the next period of growth and change is marked by happiness–and I believe that it will.

 

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given

Fledge, née Strawberry, with Polly and Digory

Fledge, née Strawberry, with Polly and Digory

Last June, I met my friend Tamara for dinner at The Blue Heron, a restaurant in Clemson. She returned to me my box set of The Chronicles of Narnia, my favorite books of all time. The table was small, and I set them down on the floor. We mentioned to each other several times that I shouldn’t forget them, but I forgot them.

I’d had that box set for more than twenty years.

I remembered before I arrived home that I’d forgotten them.

But I was strangely okay with it.

My hope was that it would make its way to a Lost & Found box and, after awhile, somebody would declare it unrecovered and take it home. Maybe it would be a cook with kids the right age, or maybe it would be a server who always meant to read those books but never had.

Outside of my parents, no one has had more influence over the way I think than C.S. Lewis. As an adult, I’ve loved and appreciated his nonfiction works very much, but nothing will ever compare to reading The Chronicles of Narnia as a child. They taught me about the kind of person I want to be and I’ve never outgrown them. C.S. Lewis was shamelessly traditional and sincere, espousing noble conduct, bravery, honesty, and valor. His stories were strong on redemption and forgiveness, good humor and adventure. His characters lived out in the world, lived in bright color, and fought for justice with cheerful hearts. What could be better than that? I wish I could write such things. I can’t though. If I could, I would, but I’ve been given other things to write.

Lately I’ve been feeling the itch to go back through the wardrobe door. It’s been too long since I’ve visited Narnia. I’m going to get myself a new set of the Chronicles of Narnia, hoping that the old has found its way to its new home. Whoever that new owner is, they received the best gift I’ve ever given. I have faith it wound up were it was supposed to go.

 

Body & Soul

A still from Force of Evil, which Polonsky wrote and directed. This film was part of the birth of noir.

A still from Force of Evil, which Polonsky wrote and directed. This film was part of the birth of noir.

Abraham Polonsky has been on my mind lately. A lot. So much so it’s kind of weird.

Polonsky was one of the great gifts of my education at USC Film School. He taught a class called Content & Consciousness, but the class was really, “Come Absorb Hollywood History.” Polonsky was a pioneering writer and director. You know the look of film noir, with the one key light and the sharp contrasting shadows? You have Polonsky to thank for that. Polonsky inspired generations of filmmakers after him, including Scorcese, who made a documentary about the man.

Just like his signature lighting, Polonsky was a study in contrasts. A tough guy from the Bronx, he taught himself French by reading Proust with a French to English guide by his side. His heroes were like himself, bruisers with brains. A great hero who served in the OSS during WWII, Polonsky later became a blacklisted screenwriter. He loved to tell the story about how he was grilled before the House UnAmerican Activities kangaroo court. One senator asked questions pertaining to Polonsky’s secret service in WWII. Polonsky, knowing better than the senator that such information was still classified, refused to answer. A man appeared from the wings, whispered in the senator’s ear to tell him he was an idiot and needed to shut up, and the senator angrily declared that Polonsky was the most dangerous man in America. Polonsky loved it.

Polonsky as I knew him, in the mid-90's.

Polonsky as I knew him, in the mid-90’s.

But his stories that meant the most to me were the ones about his wife, Sylvia Marrow. They were married for 56 years before she passed away in ’93. She was the kid sister of his best friend and perceived as a pest until suddenly he realized she’d become a beautiful young woman. One day they decided to get married and did so promptly at local courthouse – no muss, no fuss. While Polonsky was writing great films like Body and Soul, Sylvia was pursuing her own artistry as a ballerina. She later added archeology to the mix, studying Native American ruins in Central America.

Polonsky said that the happiest times in his life were following her through the jungle.

I loved that image, and the fact these two wonderfully vibrant, dynamic people created a life of adventure together. He talked a lot about her in the classroom. So much so it felt as if she was still alive. Polonsky and I were very different politically and religiously. He came from Jewish-Russian stock, but was a proud atheist. That said, he talked movingly about the conversation he had with Sylvia on her death bed. He told her that we are all made of star matter and to the stars we would one day return, and that at some point in the future he would find her there and they would be reunited. Polonsky died in October of ’99 at age 88, not long after I graduated college. I hope he and Sylvia have had the reunion he hoped for.

 

Me & The Truth – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Did you know "let the chips fall where they may" refers to woodworking? I thought it was a poker reference, but then I realized that made no sense, so I looked it up.

Did you know “let the chips fall where they may” refers to woodworking? I thought it was a poker reference, but then I realized that made no sense, so I looked it up.

I make New Year’s resolutions. Once, years ago, I was at Mary Tannery’s house a few days after New Year’s and I was stressing over how to make two people get along, and I wasn’t even a part of the issue. I just felt it was my duty to bring peace to warring factions and my failure to do so brought me some pretty intense anxiety. Mary, in her inimitable way, pointed out what I was doing and how it brought needless negativity into my life. At that moment, I made my first real New Year’s resolution – to stop indulging my Middle Child Syndrome, as I referred to it. And I did. It wasn’t perfectly easy, sometimes I would still experience anxiety, but whenever I did I reaffirmed my resolution. That day and that decision changed my life for the better. Since then, whenever I am moved to make a resolution I do so – and stick to it. This is another New Year’s with a resolution attached.

I’ve been mulling this one over for awhile. My resolution is to be more honest. And even that right there kind of sucks, right? To be more honest sounds like a cop out from the get. But there are situations that require discretion. For example, I once had a friend struggling in a relationship. I had an opinion about it, but I kept it to myself until he asked for my thoughts. I stand by that decision, because if I’d been honest with him before he was ready to have that conversation it wouldn’t have produced anything positive. As it was, the talk was very beneficial.

And here we enter into my complicated relationship with the truth.

Of course, I don’t know of anyone who is 100% honest all the time. That’s just not how society works. I really don’t know how I compare to others, but I do know that back in the day, I had a Machiavellian streak a mile wide. It is my Scorpio nature. Over time, my Machiavellian streak became increasingly benevolent – the outcome I was maneuvering for was what I believed to be the best possible outcome for everybody involved. Frequently, my finagling was, in some ways, very self-sacrificial. I’d put myself through hell in the process of trying to secure the ultimate good. But it never even occurred to me that my judgment might be off as to what that ultimate good might be. Hashtag hubris, hashtag ego, hashtag pride. The idea of simply being completely honest and letting the chips fall where they may was terrifying to me, because then I would get the wrong result. Hashtag stupid, hashtag hindsight is twenty twenty, hashtag this is a true story.

^ this is mostly about my marriage, but it’s also about some work situations and such.

After my marriage failed, my reflexive Machiavellian streak continued on. Early on in my days in my comedy community, a friend observed, “you’re a con artist.” And I remember thinking, “How do you know that? You’re not supposed to know that, nobody knows that.” However, there is a positive flip side for my innate talent for such things – it makes me a good producer. All of the things that made me a good con artist – reading people, spotting their talents, motivating them – became increasingly funneled into things like putting on comedy shows, book signing events, you name it. And as that energy was turned toward the good, I found I has less and less energy for con artist shenanigans. If you’re wondering what my con artist shenanigans might have been, let’s just say I really, really wanted to be on Survivor. And to this day I genuinely believe I would have been awesome at it.

These days, however, are different. I am tired. And the things I once worked so hard to make happen no longer hold any value for me. Truthfully, I’ve been in the process of becoming more and more honest for a long time. Some things, though, are still tough for me. I hate conflict. Especially in this world today. People argue so poorly. I miss the smart debates I had in high school. And how sad is that? High school should not be the high water mark of respectful intellectual debate. It is emotional trench warfare on social media these days. I am not sure the best way to be honest and productive in such venues, but I feel like I could do better. In my relationships I am also a lot more honest than I once was, but again, I could do better.

So, to be honest with you, I rather dread implementing this New Year’s resolution. My promise to stop my Middle Child Syndrome only required me to ghost away from conflicts that didn’t really involve me and then not worry about it. This is tougher. This is wading into conflict and facing rejection. Rejection sucks. I really don’t like it. Who does, right? But some tolerate it a lot better than others. I’ve never been in the business of sticking my neck out and inviting it to be chopped off. And I don’t know if that’s exactly how I’d describe this effort. I think the other idiom works better – letting the chips fall where they may.

 

Crossroads

Britney Spears in the movie Crossroads. She's crying because she just read this blog post and she's like, "Wow. This is really sad. But at least Carrie really enjoyed the good times while they lasted."

Britney Spears in the movie Crossroads. She’s crying because she just read this blog post  and she’s like, “Wow. This is really sad. But at least Carrie enjoyed the good times while they lasted.” 

Once upon a time, Britney Spears made a really terrible movie at Summit Entertainment. It had Dan Aykroyd in it. On the plus side, it had a good title. Crossroads.

A couple of weeks ago, it hit me that I was at a crossroads myself. Like a lot of realizations, it arrived in slow motion, long after I should have realized it. Semi-recently, I moved to Greenville. Prior to that, a lot of my best friends moved to Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, you name it. Other friends found themselves with new babies or in new relationships, marriages, or jobs. Change was afoot.

I am a big fan of change and very anti-stagnation. So with every friend who found themselves embarking on a new adventure, I rooted them on and wished them well. My beloved C.S. Lewis once observed, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” I love my friends, and was happy for all the good change that had come their way, so I didn’t quite notice until late the game that we’d hit the end of an era.

Of course, I too am culpable. Comedy and career took up massive amounts of my time and that certainly played a role. But I am less interested in the post mortem than I am in an examination of how awesome it was while it lasted. The parties we had! The characters! The best sitcom writers in America could not have invented Brenden or Dinger. From the lake days at the cabin to the Halloween parties, these were glorious occasions, with glorious people. Let it never be said that we didn’t know how to celebrate. It was truly the tie that bound us together. It was a beautiful friend family I had in Clemson.

To me, it is notable that nothing has rushed in to fill the gap. They say nature abhors a vacuum, but the vacuum has only sucked harder (she says eloquently) as time as gone on. If you know me at all, you know how I’m given to look to Providence in all situations. The quiet has been useful. My writing goals for the fall are only borderline achievable at best, so it is good that I am where I am. I’m in prep mode. For what, who knows? Hopefully something good, something fun and adventurous.

All the same, I won’t lie. I miss the calls for everybody to rally at Nick’s because someone had a rough day. I miss chatting with Chris McCune while running into twenty other people I know and love. I miss seeing Alrinthea pull into my driveway, making a surprise visit. I miss regular Coffee Club with Bo and Debbie. I miss my people. Even Darren.