I’m sorry if you can see me shaking because I’m holding the paper. I mean, not BECAUSE I’m holding the paper, but that just lets you see it better. And I’m probably visibly sweating. I tried to wear something to hide that, but I know it’s there. Bursting through clinical strength Dove antiperspirant bullshit - sorry. I shouldn’t start off this way. Talking about shaking and sweat. I know. That is a horrible way to introduce myself. I asked my husband about this piece and whether it was gutsy enough. He’s known me too long, I think. He wasn’t sure, because he’s seen every side of me, poor guy. And I was telling him that I’m presenting the insecure contents of my head. Cause I’m usually all, “Blah blah dead parents messed up childhood, but whatever who didn’t, I’m cool, it’s fine.” And you hear this and it’s like, “oh my God, she’s a mess.” So I’m sorry if this sounds more like that than something cool and moving. Ugh. My gut’s hanging out, too, because...childbirth and cookies. Wine. I’m so sorry.
Hands up, who wants to hear THAT bullshit for the next nine minutes? (throws hands down)
And yet...I listen to it all day long. Once it leaves my head and comes out of my mouth, this is what it sounds like. Apologies. Apologies for everything I think I’m doing wrong, which is anything I happen to be doing at that moment. Apologies to inanimate objects I knock into. Apologies and second guessing myself about rudimentary shit. Like breathing in before breathing out. Maybe I should try it the other way around? It is exhausting, this whole process, and I feel badly for the listeners. However, what everyone else has to hear is only half the story. The apologizing that comes out is a direct result of the mass amount of abuse going on inside my head. That sounds different. And it’s constant.
Like the sound of songbirds in the summertime, only it’s the sound of mean, horrible words in a constant assault; blowing through my mind like jasmine to the Isley Brothers. If jasmine is “oh my God, you’re so ugly and a failure as a parent and this lipstick makes you look like a hooker clown how do you stand yourself” and the Isley Brothers are me and I’m trying to walk out the door to go to work without crying. Oh, and I’m also trying to not show my one and a half year old daughter that self hatred is totally just part of being a woman. It isn’t.
Here’s the rational thing I know: If anyone said half the shit to me that I say to myself, I would never stop punching them in the crotch. Ever. My arm would tire, I’d switch sides and never. Stop. Punching. Their crotch. Their babies would be born looking like my fist. But apparently, if I say it to myself, all bets are off. Whee! Hooker clown failure comments all around!
I got a piece of advice from a casting director seminar years ago: he took his negative voice and made it a person. He asked this person to wait in the lobby while he went in to audition, and promised it that as soon as he came out, it was free to tell him how horrible he was.
A good friend of mine took this advice almost immediately and, being a consistently working and auditioning actor because she has a better agent and is more talented than me and I’m sorry I’m even using this example oh my God I’m doing it again, that shit WORKED for her. Bitch booked a tv pilot for Fox because she convinced Bernice, the name she gave to her negative thought monster, to stay home when she went for auditions.
I told my therapist about the constant ticker of negative narrative and the personification idea. She suggested we name mine after a really obnoxious celebrity. Before I could question this tactic, she added, “Like Jennifer Tilly.” I never had a problem with or a love for Jennifer Tilly before, but I figured criticizing the choice of spokesperson for my self flagellation was too much to figure out. I went with it. My negative inner voice is Jennifer Tilly.
So while I apologize outwardly, understand that an actress who lends her voice to Family Guy is narrating my vehement self hatred.
“This is going on way too long and it took you forever to get to this part. I’m the funny part. And everyone has an inner voice. Nice topic. Also, this monologuey thing you do is a lame excuse for actual writing and you shouldn’t really be here with these people. Why are you even here? I’m looking at everyone’s faces and they’re wondering what the fuck you’re doing here.”
My God. Jennifer Tilly is an insufferable cunt.
My husband pointed out recently that, when I’m very sleepy, I’m uncharacteristically decisive. He brought our infant daughter into bed one night when she was crying, and I was very adamant that none of us would get sleep this way, no matter how cuddly she is and holy shit is she cuddly. By contrast, in my waking hours, I look to him to make sure I should feed her. “Right? I should give her food, right? Cause she needs that? Yeah?”
Decisiveness and action are the results of Jennifer Tilly being a heavy sleeper. Before I reach full consciousness, I am very certain of myself because the doubt takes up more energy than I have. There’s something to that, right? I should grab onto the idea that the vacillation sucks the energy right out of me? Yet, when I’m fully awake, my actions have a questionable echo: “Sure, you can let your baby play with your electric toothbrush...if you want to kill your baby.” No logic. Doesn’t fucking matter. The diffidence accelerates until I’m actually telling myself I shouldn't change the baby’s diaper because “she’s enjoying a story right now. And what kind of mother would ruin that? One that wants to kill her baby, I guess. You should change her, though. Don’t be an idiot.”
There is an upswing: This affords me the opportunity to say things like, “Shut the fuck up, Jennifer Tilly” and even lets my husband say things like, “Jennifer Tilly is not invited out with us this weekend.” I actually had to kick her out of bed once, ‘cause she was about to mess with me about my postpartum body while I was trying to have sex and you don’t DO that, you crazy bitch.
In giving my negative bullshit talk a persona, it makes it somehow a bit separate from me. Not in the “I don’t think my invisible friend wants you sitting on her lap right now,” way, but more of a chance for me to see what I do to myself at a slight distance. Turns out, I’m a huge fucking bully.
I critique the fuck out of my body shape when I see it in the mirror. At the gym. While I am in the middle of trying to work on that very goddamned thing. As though I can move my body around like it’s hair and it’ll stay if I just push my ass up enough. “Here’s what you would look like with normal thighs,” says Jennifer Tilly, squeezing my legs like a concertina. She’s just the worst.
I sit in crowds on the train or an event, taking stock of everyone there. Then Jennifer Tilly pops up with helpful reminders like, “I bet none of these people pee when they cough” or “Do you think any of them can look at you and just know that you tweezed a long white hair off your nipple earlier today?”
Sometimes, I now realize, I am fooled into a false sense of self confidence. I should be able to see it coming because it’s just too much. It goes past self love and delves into arrogance. That’s only so the fall is farther when she yanks out the rug.
“Man. You are so much smarter than everyone in this office,” she sighs. “It’s like, creative to them is American Idol and you’re way beyond them. You’re really talented.”
And just as a small smile creeps in, letting in the compliment, I hear “and yet here you are working with them because you are a failure and will rot in an office wearing stirrup pants and chains on your glasses. You cow.”
The craziest part about this process is that the stronger a voice I give Jennifer Tilly, the less I hear her. Believing that I am a good person will encourage me to do good things, whereas convincing myself I’m a sack of shit will result in shitsack behavior. Telling her she’s wrong is just telling my insecurities they have no place in my joy. Telling her to back the fuck up while I eat this ice cream lets me enjoy the damn ice cream. Pushing her out of the mirror or store window with my reflection allows me to focus on something good like my hair instead of something I can’t change in that moment like being really behind on new music. Playing with my daughter and going with my gut about what she wants and doing that stupid dance that makes her laugh is a lot better than wondering if I should maybe get new knees for Christmas and if I’m just failing her in new and exciting ways.
The voice is still there. She’s still loud. She still blathers on and I mute her with therapy, self love...and medication. Like, low level Zoloft. Not lithium. Calm down. But I have louder things - my daughter’s amazing laughter, my husband’s voice, a really good red lipstick after I’ve had my moustache threaded so it isn’t magnified with a red underline. Compliments on my form from gay gym instructors. Singing, writing, reading, watching. Whatever it is, if it makes me happy I’m turning it up lately, and that makes a huge difference. That woman’s voice is horrible. And I’m not even a little bit sorry.