Monday, March 05, 2012

Pace Yourself, Part 1

It’s my fourth year volunteering at the Nameless Award Ceremony, third year working as a stand-in, and though the Stage Manager doesn’t know I’m a writer, he’s slated me to stand in and fake win two writing awards. Ah irony.

Last year I fake won group awards, so I had a team behind me, this year I’m fake winning by myself, holding the award and facing the gigantic empty room with the microphone that’s herky jerky-ing up and down to reach shorty me and my mouth.

Other stand-ins have gone up and thanked the voters, their fake crew, told their kids (possibly fake, but why would you make that up) to go to bed, or they get to have that slumber party. A lot of them thank their parents.

While I’m waiting my turn to go up and fake win awards for movies I didn’t write, I’m checking my phone. My Dad, the Great Stoic Cancer Fighting Cowboy Wonder had a second set of scans taken on Thursday. His first set was taken eight weeks ago, and showed a miracle – the experimental drugs appear to be working, the tumors are shrinking, cancer has disappeared completely from one important lymph node, everyone is very encouraged.

The last I heard from my parents, if there is good news about this second set of scans, they’d hear on Friday. If it’s bad news, they won’t hear until Monday.

So here it is on Friday, and I’m sitting in a gigantic room, in a chair meant for someone else, for a film that I didn’t make, and I’m ADDing like an idiot, constantly refreshing my email, where is it, where is it, where’s the news, is there any news? Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe it’s not bad news. Maybe the doctor took a three day vacation and didn’t tell them, and that’s why they’re not going to hear anything until Monday. Because it’s noon here on the west coast, which is 2 pm Alabama time, surely they would’ve heard something by now, right? Right? If it was good news?

But it’s now my turn to fake win! It’s a bit of a jumble to get to the stage, it’s not the most direct route, I don’t wanna run over my camera guys, and la la la, and here I am walking up to the stage, and here I am holding the award (the real award, last year, we rehearsed with pieces of paper), and the fake presenter is telling me congratulations, and I face the herky jerky microphone. And I say thanks.

Thank you to the voters. Thank you to my fake crew. Thank you to the organization. Thank you to the stage manager, because they always get a kick out of hearing their name amplified over the loudspeakers.

“And I’d like to dedicate this to my dad. Who taught me to never give up, and never take no for an answer. Thank you.” I’ve learned over the years that you always want to end your fake speech with a definitive “thank you” so that the director instinctively knows that your speech is over and automatically cuts to the next camera and sound cue.

We all walk off stage, I give the award back to the fake trophy gal, who smiles at me, “that was a really great speech!” I say thanks again, and make my way to my next category as a stand-in for a Best Actress nominee, which I’m not winning for, so I have a chance to check my phone for an email that is not there.

And I’d like to dedicate this to my dad. Who taught me to never give up, and never take no for an answer.

It is a nice speech. A lovely sentiment. It sounds great. But it’s not true.

My dad didn’t teach me either of those things. My dad isn’t really the Teaching Lessons type dad. It doesn’t mean I love him any less. It doesn’t make me a more malfunctioned person, because I DID learn those things, just not from Dad. I learned them gradually, by continuing to survive year after year here in Los Angeles. Most of the standard lessons that one learns In Order To Be A More Mature And Better Person, I’ve learned out here, and usually through the So Faint It’s Barely There presence of God.

And I’d like to dedicate this to my dad. Who taught me to never give up, and never take no for an answer.

I have no idea why I said that. It came out of nowhere, I didn’t think of it ahead of time, and it came so smoothly from my mouth that it was if I was Christopher Plummer and rehearsing one acceptance speech for multiple awards.

This is horrible, I’m thinking to myself, as the next award is called, and all the stand-ins shuffle to their next category, which for me is a stand-up in the audience to introduce a movie clip. First time I’ve done that, and it’s pretty easy when they’ve mounted a mini-teleprompter on top of the steadicam for me to see. I smile into the camera, hold the microphone and say I’m somebody I’m not, say the pre-written joke (which isn’t that great), the clip is introduced, and I go back to the stand-in shuffle. Surely there must be something you can think of that Dad taught you. Come on, THINK.

Dad was there in my childhood. Though he traveled a bunch for work, there were plenty of track meets and gymnastic meets that he was there for. I remember doing my best at whatever event it was, I remember getting whatever place I got. I don’t remember him saying anything particularly memorable, probably because he knew he wasn’t an expert. He wasn’t my coach, he was my dad.

It’s time for me to fake win my next writing award. This time I thank Mom, I feel like that’s fair. Each parent should get equal time, "I'd like to thank my mom, who bought me my first computer on which I wrote really bad short stories, and now I'm winning my awards for my scripts. Thank you!" As I return the award backstage, it hits me that I should’ve said, “I’d like to dedicate this to my mom, who taught me to never give up, never take no for an answer, and don’t hit your sister.” But she didn’t say that either.

As we break for lunch, and I’m pondering things over a piece of salmon and salad, a couple of vet stand-ins and I are making small talk, and I idly mention I’m waiting for an email about my dad and the results of his cancer scans. One of the stand-ins tells me about the passing of her father from stomach cancer, which happened years ago, was pretty swift (a little over a month from diagnosis to death) and was morbidly hilarious in how her mom dealt with it, including her dad passing away during the morning, and her mom taking her time to tell the kids about it, because “he’s dead, he’s not going anywhere.” Nothing like a parent battling cancer to bring out stories among your circle of acquaintances to make you realize, you think this is weird? You don’t KNOW weird.

But it’s slightly after that that I realize the one thing I do remember my dad teaching me. Or course I remember it, it was thoroughly embarrassing when it happened. Isn’t it just like our bizarre brains to remember the painful moments.

It was during that painful time in my life when everyone wanted me to be a long distance runner, and I totally and completely did not want to be, but my repeated pleas of I don’t want to do this were treated as tweener angst and she needs to learn to do things she doesn’t want to do and since I was not yet old enough to be able to drive away from everyone, I found myself at the start of a city-wide 5K or 6K race.

(by the way, parents who are reading this. If your child does not want to run long distance, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DO NOT MAKE THEM DO IT! You want your child to be active, totally fine. Work together to find another sport that the child will like. Your child is not shitting you when your child says they don’t wanna run long distance. They have a very good reason for not wanting to do so, and it’s not that they’re stubborn, lazy, or whatever. It’s because THEY KNOW THEY’RE NOT A LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, NOR DO THEY HAVE ANY DESIRE TO BE. They’re the ones forced to run, not you. You wanna force them, you have to run with them. If you’re not doing it, no fair to make them do it. Knock it off. Thank you. Love, Amy The Writer.)

I so didn’t want to be here. I knew I wasn’t going to finish. The race calculated its route by doing the same loop twice, and I remember there being an agreement between my parents and me that I would do one loop, half the race, and that would be enough.

I was at the starting line, I see them both on the sidelines, the starting gun’s going off, and in that brief brief moment between the end of the gunshot and before the crowd whoops it up, my dad’s voice comes through crystal clear:


I swear, it was like nobody else was at the race except for him and me, so clear and direct was his voice. Runners all around me started laughing. He could have said GO AMY GO! Or YOU CAN DO IT, AMY! Or IT’S OKAY IF YOU DON’T RUN THE WHOLE RACE, YEARS FROM NOW, YOU WILL BE FAKE WINNING WRITING AWARDS AT BIG MOVIE AWARD CEREMONIES! Nope, he said…


And I was so embarrassed. Later on, after I finished the one loop, and my parents took me home and over the dinner table, they laughed about how mortified my expression was upon hearing that.

In that moment, I remember thinking, oh GAWD. And why are they telling me that? Do they think it’s something I don’t know?! It’s half of a 5 or 6 K race. Of COURSE I know to pace myself! And Man, the second I get a driver’s license, I’m so not running cross country anymore.

PACE YOURSELF, AMY, PACE YOURSELF! That’s what my dad taught me. Through mortification and embarrassment, which can be much more effective tools than positive reinforcement, unfortunately. Seriously, ask any writer, and they’ll be able to quote you their most scathing review first before their most positive one. We’re weird like that.

PACE YOURSELF, AMY, PACE YOURSELF! Does not lend itself well to a fake acceptance speech, so even though it was the one thing my dad taught me, I didn’t include it in any other fake acceptance speeches at the rehearsals.

But then Monday came.

(this post is already too long, I’m breaking it up into two parts. Check back next week for the conclusion. In other words, pace your expectations. Dad would be proud of you.)

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