I started watching the ‘Tales of the City’ mini-series a couple nights ago and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve never read the books nor do I know much about them except that there are some queer folks in them and they take place in San Francisco. The mini-series is a lot of fun and exudes a really groovy energy of what its like to move somewhere far far away and build, from the ground up, a new family. It’s scary and exciting. Mary Ann Singleton takes the leap from Cleveland to San Francisco without knowing anybody (except Parker Posey, of course!) and I love watching/reading stories about that leap because its such a scary one to make… and each of us has our own leaping tale.
There’s a line in the film when Mary Ann asks someone “Are you from here?” the response being…. “Nobody’s from here”. It’s stuck with me, as I’m sure its done to countless viewers before me, because its rings so true. Even those folks that come from not so far away still had to make that leap from point A to point B.
I attempted to leap twice. Or sorta three times now I guess. The second being going off to school which didn’t work. The first one happened when I was seventeen. When I was in high school I used to write people fan letters anytime I really liked what they did. Throughout those years I would save up money and come to New York for a week or ten days and stay with my friend Corinne and spend literally all my time seeing shows. On one of those trips I saw two hit Broadway shows both directed by the same award winning director. I was pretty excited by both shows…. and the two being so different from each other, I was enthralled that the same guy directed both. As soon as I got home to Georgia I wrote the director a fan letter.
A week or two later, I walked down to the mailbox as I did everyday and picked up the mail…. sorting through an endless selection of J Crew, LL Bean, Coldwater Creek, and Chico’s catalogues…. there in the stack was a small envelope with my name handwritten on it and on the back, the return address named none other than the Tony Award winning director himself!
I tore into the letter and furiously read through it all. It was handwritten and I couldn’t help but imagine this guy, this current idol of mine, taking the time to put pen to paper. I stood in the driveway re-reading the letter over and over until I finally called my mom and told her the groovy thing that had happened. Then I must have read the letter twenty or thirty times again.
I think what was most exciting to me was that this guy, this guy who’s work I’d seen on a Broadway stage and had idolized for it had stepped out of the picture of fantasy and reached his hand into the picture of reality and waved hello. Like if Rosie had thrown a Koosh Ball toward the camera one day and all of a sudden the thing came pelting out of the television set and into your living room.
Then, over the next several months, we became persistent pen pals…. writing back and forth about what we were both up to…. him directing Broadway shows…. me directing a community theater production of “Durang/Durang” (which was so poorly received, we cancelled our Saturday night performance and just went to have dinner at The Oliver Garden). It was so thrilling to have someone from the world I read about every day being aware that I existed.
After six months or so, I began planning a trip up to New York for the fall. I had my usual list of things I wanted to see, things I wanted to do, etc. Then, one day, out of the blue my director friend asked me that since I was going to be in New York already, would I have any interest in working as his assistant on a show he was directing on Broadway.
It would mean staying in town with Corinne for an extra week or so and more importantly being in New York for almost the entire month of October. I nearly SHIT MY PANTS. I called my mother immediately, trembling with excitement and told her the news….. I called my dad, I called my friends, I called everybody I knew.
I convinced my parents to let me do it, I convinced Corinne to let me stay, I booked my ticket to New York, and off I went. It was a few weeks of the most surreal experience I’d ever had at that point. While I was there to get people coffee and water and sit quietly, I was still intensely transfixed…. people I’d seen on Playbill.com since we’d first gotten AOL we were standing in front of me in the room talking about their experience at Jerry Herman’s Labor Day Party. I could barely wrap my head around it all.
When the experience ended I was hooked…. on New York, on the friends I’d made here, on doing shows, everything and I knew there was no possible way I could go back home. While I was only seventeen, not yet finished with high school and at my core a little freaked out by New York…. I felt, I HAD to stay here. That by going home, I was admitting defeat, and by going back to the easiness of Rome, Georgia I’d never give New York another try.
So I searched all over town for an assistantship or a apprenticeship or internship- any excuse whatsoever to stay here…. and finally found something. I lied about my age and claimed I had a BFA from the college located in my hometown and found a job. I worked on a couple more shows over the next few months and continued to live this New York life I’d created for myself. I didn’t know that many people, I didn’t really have any money, and I was far too young to go “out” but I was living in NEW YORK so I told myself that this was it. I had officially grown up.
It didn’t work though. In the end I got too homesick to bare it….. and I broke down and came home. I felt incredibly defeated by the whole thing. Like I’d never come back to New York again… which was an intensely confusing sentiment as New York was the only place I ever imagined being.
After that, came leap two, college…. which didn’t work for a million reasons…. and I began to wonder if I’d spend my whole life leaping over and over and never sticking.
Then I made my third attempt almost three and a half years ago. I’ve come to realize that there’s no such thing as sticking, there’s always a chance of leaping again in a direction you’re not planning on… and that’s exciting. Its been scary and bumpy every day…. some days worse than others but if you can just make the leap, I think thats half the battle.
“Nobody is from here.”