I’ve been wanting to share this story with you. Thank you New Orleans Film Society for inviting me to be a contestant on the game show Underrated/Overcaffeinated to give a D$$$ style TED talk about how ARRIVAL is a 100% real blueprint for how to access information from the 5th dimension of consciousness. (*If you said a banned cliché word, the penalty was a coffee shot. There was also a time limit so I spoke at Aaron Sorkin speed. Thx Katie White for recording on the video machine. #psychicthefilm)
“Shot over the course of two days on Memorial Day weekend, Actress Dana Sorman turns Writer/Director for short PSYCHIC – the story of a $10 palm reading which escalates when a woman receives an unexpected offer to rid her of the cause of her ongoing existential crisis. To coincide with the film’s online release today, DN spoke to Dana about the twists and turns of transforming PSYCHIC from a traumatic personal experience into a successful proof-of-concept short and beyond.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW ON DIRECTORS NOTES.
I feel like part of my Jewish birthright is to be wealthy. And somehow I’m letting everyone down. Or they’re all letting me down. I can’t tell which. Being rich was really important to my dad. He worked hard at it. First he married rich. Not my mother, the woman before my mother was super rich. Her dad had a yacht. But my dad said it didn’t work out because he didn’t love her. Like that matters. After that he decided to try to become rich by playing blackjack. Growing up we used to joke that when we couldn’t locate my dad at his job during the week that he must be at his “aquatic office” which was our codename for the riverboat casino in Hammond, Indiana. I’ve since learned that if you’re not sure if your dad is at work or a casino, that’s called a gambling addiction. But somehow he played if off like he was fucking James Bond on some secret mission to secure us a better life. It was probably the suits. My dad knows how to kill a suit. I never went to the riverboat casino. It wasn’t my aesthetic. But I did join the family for pilgrimages to Vegas. 11 times before I was 25. Until recently, I had never crossed the Atlantic but I’d seen the fake pyramids at The Luxor. The fake Roman ruins at Caesar’s Palace. The fake Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. And I had a 100% real authentic black suede bag from GUCCI (until I gave it to a #psychic as a sacrifice...) See that was the thing. When he lost, we all suffered. But when he won, we got to buy some cool shit. Which when worn the right way, made us all seem rich. But feeling it… that was another story
Let's talk about #comps. Comps, as they function in Vegas, are awarded according to the amount of time spent on the casino floor. Meaning you could lose $50,000 on one spin of the roulette wheel and not receive so much as a free keychain from the hotel gift shop. But if you did your time and wagered enough to make it worthwhile, you were looking at free dinners, show tickets, tables at the club, cabanas by the pool, a penthouse suite. Hell, one time they even reimbursed our airfare. But nothing was guaranteed ahead of time. You had to shell it out first then the bill was settled at the end. And the tone was set when we arrived and saw the condition of our room. Depending on my dad’s play during the previous trip, we would either be in this massive suite with two-story ceilings, four bedrooms, limestone floors and a butler. OR… adjoining regular rooms with a sectional couch and a berber carpet. When we showed up and got the regular rooms with the carpet, I could feel my dad’s chest tightening. He’d get on the phone with his host, Elmo, to complain. "My hands are tied," Elmo would say. "You gotta give me more time." And so it would begin; in almost always the same sequence. On the first night, he’d spend a few hours before dinner playing blackjack and be up a few thousand. He’d bring his chips with him to the restaurant for dinner and play with them in his hands at the table. He’d be happy and we’d all say, “Let’s go home!” He’d laugh and say, "No, no. It’s fine. I won a little. I don’t need to play anymore. Fuck Elmo and fuck that berber carpet."
The next day, my mom, brother and I would head for the pool. My dad wouldn’t even be in the room because he’d still be playing from the night before. He’d come join us outside around 3pm to smoke cigarettes. He’d say he was thinking abut booking a massage to relax. He can’t stand the casino, he’d say. He can never sleep here, he’d say. Stop ordering so much calamari, he’d say. Don't we know how expensive the calamari is? Can’t we see how much pressure he’s under? These were signs that my dad was now losing. He’d leave after about 45 minutes. I’d look to my mother who’d glance up from the pages of her romance novel and say half-reassuringly, "He’ll win it back. He just needs some time. This is how it goes."
We don’t see my dad again until dinner. He’s got a sunburn and he’s sweating through his white collared shirt. He put on his gold Rolex. That’s his nighttime watch. His don’t fuck with me watch. His give me your best table watch. We’re seated next to a group of rowdy men, five bottles of Chianti deep. They’re laughing. How dare they. Don’t they know we’re in a tragedy? Every time they make a sound, my father’s hands grip the table. He complains to the waitress, the hostess, the maitre’d. Don’t they know who he is? They don’t. They all apologize and offer him another table but he won’t take it. This is his table now, he says. I order dinner but I can’t eat because I’m too stressed. The other men are winding down. It seems like they might even leave. Thank god, I think.
But then a dropped wine glass shatters on the floor and the men burst into guttural laughs. No: guffaws. That’s what they’re doing. They’re GUFFAWING and it’s like all of their joy is magnifying all of my dad’s pain until he leaps out his chair, to do what I don't know, but I turn just in time to grab his shoulders and say, “This is just like the Apple store. This is just like the Apple store.”
One time my dad threw a huge fit in the Apple store and made me return the computer he had just bought for me and then right after we left, he gave me his credit card and told me I could go back the next day and buy it again.
His eyes are glazed over but somehow he hears me and the story registers and he sits back down and we finish our meal. After, my brother and dad go back to the casino tables. My mom and I go to our rooms. Neither of us can ever bare to watch. I go to sleep and pray to the gambling gods for a break. Just get him out of the hole so we can feel safe. I will forego any shopping. I understand that when I benefit from the wins, it makes me complicit in the entire cycle. My Gucci will never be clean. Okay, I GET IT.
The next morning I wake up to an opulent spread of room service breakfast on the dining table. I love room service breakfast. My dad is pouring everyone orange juice. I can tell he still hasn’t slept but I can also tell he’s manic now. In this scenario, that’s good. It means the gambling gods have answered my prayers and we are now winning. My dad puts a pretend sad look on his face. Like a four year old who’s hiding a giant stuffed animal behind his back as if no one can see. For the next 25 minutes he gives the entire play by play. He comes clean about how much he was down (a lot) but then he came back from the dead, cleared his debt and almost quit except he went for one more round. He couldn’t help it, he says. He could feel it, he says. The deck was HOT, he says. And now… "Well, I’ve only got just the one chip." He opens his palm and shows me a blue chip with a gold decal that says 10,000 dollars. “Wow,” I say. “Just kidding,” he says. “I’ve got five more in the safe. Let’s go shopping!”
Okay, I know I just prayed to the gambling gods and said I wouldn’t go shopping. But don’t I deserve a treat for going through all that hell. Don’t I deserve a vacation from this vacation? While I’m negotiating with the imaginary pagans in my brain, my father is reenacting his favorite scene from Pretty Woman. “Excuse me. Do you work on commission? Big mistake. HUGE.”
We stroll into fake Venice with the fake gondolas on the fake channels that smell like the indoor waterslides in The Mall of America. We go into Gucci. A store we would never venture into at home, way outside of our real life pay-grades. But here in fake Venice with fake chips that equal real money in our pockets… We walk into motherfucking Gucci. And I see this bag. It’s a modest bag for Gucci. Subtle. Understated. I’m going to college in the fall and I don’t have anything recognizably brand name except for that Tiffany bean necklace my dad’s boss gave me for my bat mitzvah. But that’s so basic. I want to go to college with a look. An I have something to say look. A don’t fuck with me look. A this is my table now look. I slide the strap over my shoulder, look at myself in the mirror and say, “I’ll take it.”
Oh, hello. PSYCHIC is screening at The Museum of Modern Art in New York as part a weeklong curation championing contemporary films directed by women early in their careers. Holy shit, WE ARE EXCITED. The films were programmed by curators Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at MoMA; Caryn Coleman, the founder of The Future of Film is Female; and Kentucker Audley of NoBudge. PSYCHIC will screen alongside eight new American short films on Sunday, July 29th at 7pm. Q+A to follow with Caryn Coleman and all of the filmmakers! See you in N E W Y O R K. Tickets on Sale 07.15.2018.
We're going to Marfa! Thank you, Marfa; you're the coolest. Jenny Ulmer <<<you magic unicorn>>> thanks for stitching this bespoke poster I love with all my heart. Follow us @psychicfilm #psychicthefilm for updates and to see all our artistic, visual references for the film.
SCREENING | SATURDAY JULY 14TH | CROWLEY THEATER
SHORT | USA | World Premiere, 13mins.
Marfa Film Festival, Marfa, TX | July 11 through July 15, 2018
Seven days ago, I woke up to a 7am text from Ian Keiser with a link to a filmmaking contest to promote the premiere of A Wrinkle In Time. I felt angry. I spent 45 minutes reading the official rules fine print looking for a reason not to enter. I couldn’t find one. The brief—create a two-minute (or less) video expressing your vision as a filmmaker that incorporates the line of dialogue, “Be a Warrior,” and responds to the theme of individuality versus conformity. I didn’t have an idea but I called some friends who own a gorgeous concrete mid-century house with a hexagon shaped pool and asked if I could film it there. They said yes but the pool is currently drained and scheduled to refill on Sunday. I said, perfect; wait for me before you turn the water on. That night I pulled into my driveway and a poem fell out in one piece. I borrowed a wetsuit, ordered a high powered flashlight and a $14 pack of gels from Amazon; entered the 7th level of hell (the AT&T store) to upgrade to the iPhone X and spent 15 minutes before sunrise teaching myself how to use it. When I picked up the wetsuit from Lisa Gallo, I asked if she would come over to help me shoot it. She did and we experimented until just after sundown. The next day, when my computer crashed while editing, Doug Tyler and Kattie Roewart generously let me come over to use theirs. I recorded the VO in my kitchen at midnight and finished the cut this morning back at Doug’s. (Their 2-year-old daughter Penny was my post-production supervisor.) I’m grateful for technology and friends and wetsuits. But most of all, keenly aware and appreciative of the flow. Thank you. 🌊🌊
One summer my parents said I could go to sleep away camp. When I was having a good time, I didn’t write them any letters. When I was feeling homesick, I wrote them some letters. The next summer, when I asked if I could go back to camp, my dad said no because “I hadn’t enjoyed it enough.” I felt bad. Like I had screwed up how I was supposed to experience camp. The real reason I couldn’t go back to camp was because my dad had lost all of our money in a cocaine-fueled blackjack binge in Vegas. But I didn’t know that. So I started performing. Well, it probably started earlier. But certainly from then on whenever my parents let me do something new or took me to see something special, I would automatically fake-smile and pretend to love it. Like when they took me to see Cats. I was nine. I fucking hated Cats. But I thought maybe one day I would like to go see another play so I better not fuck this up. I got so good at performing, after a while it was hard for me to tell when I was doing it.
When my parents would fight, sometimes it was like they were in a play and my brother and I would watch like we were in the audience of one of those crammed blackbox theaters with no a/c and zero protections from the blunt trauma happening inches from our faces. My mom would occasionally break the fourth wall. She’d turn to us in the middle and say, “This is not how people who love each other, treat each other.” My dad did not like it when my mother broke the fourth wall. “You’re making me the bad guy,” he’d say. My father also didn’t like being typecast.
My dad was a trial lawyer. He would come home after court and reenact the scenes from the day. He played all the parts. The judge said this then he said that. The jury’s faces looked like this. Opposing counsel objected. Overruled. I didn’t fully understand it but I knew that he was proud of his performance and that I was not allowed to talk. My mother would hold my brother and I while we were watching. Her palms pressed flat against our chests, physically holding us back, instructing us to be still. Don't tap the glass, you'll anger the animal.
When I’m in bed with a man, sometimes they’ll say, “I can feel you’re holding back.”
I know what they mean but it’s been so long since the software was installed, I can’t remember which folder it’s saved in and even if I could—maybe there are some things you can’t ever de-install.
The last time, it was said by a dreamboat investigative journalist whose mother is a bipolar-former-ballerina, and father is an artist-turned-landscape-designer. He’s in therapy two-days-a-week on the east coast where he lives. It was New Year’s Eve and he left town the next day. He was, in every way, exactly my type.
I was recently dating someone—local—that I liked. This is rare for me. I don’t often date. My friend who is in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous says I don’t date often because I’m “love avoidant” or “sexually anorexic;” she’s not sure which. Maybe both. She invited me to a meeting; I didn't go but I spent three hours that night reading about it online.
Okay, I’m going to divulge something that is like way too much information but this is a storytelling show so I feel like that’s probably the point. So I’m just going to say it really really fast like I’m ripping off a verbal bandaid. Since I discovered the internet, whenever I wanted to masturbate, I would log on to literotica dot com, click on story tags, and read the ones labeled "father/daughter." I KNOW IT’S SO FUCKED UP IT’S SO FUCKED UP. But I know I’m not the only one who’s so fucked up based on the tens of thousands of stories that exist, let alone the number of people who are reading them.
When I was with my ex-boyfriend years ago, we would role-play and I was very good at it (for obvious reasons) and he was, such a sweetheart but never really able to match my intensity or believability. We still had phenomenal sex, the best sex I had ever had, the best sex I still have ever had. But don’t you dare tell him I said that.
And because I was asked: the sex wasn’t the best because of the role-playing. It was the best—isn’t it funny—this is the part I don’t want to be honest about. This is the part that suddenly feels too personal. The sex was the best because there was something about the way he was with me, the way I felt when I was with him, that made me feel like what he was doing wasn’t only for him but also, for me. So I let it be for me. And when he went down on me on his balcony on the 26th floor (he was also rich, did I mention that?) I relaxed and I felt my feelings (my real ones) and they overwhelmed me and he held me in his arms and I narrated my emotions because that’s what I do when I’m nervous, I overly verbalize, and I said, “I think I might cry, is that okay?” And he said, “Of course.” So I cried and when I finished he asked questions but he didn’t look at me like I was some basket-case, worst-case-scenario from a GQ column. I explained that I cried because he gave me a huge orgasm. He grinned an enormous grin and from then on, crying equaled “he is a sex god” and not “maybe there is grief inside my vagina.” So it went like that. For a little while anyway.
Back to masturbating. A couple months ago, I noticed the stories on literotica dot com were no longer yielding their usual effect. I wasn’t getting high. So I did something unusual. I stopped reading them and just kind of got off on being myself. I walked into my therapist's office that week and said, “I think I’m getting less fucked up.”
Now back to the new guy: recent, local new guy that I like. On our first date, he seems nerdy but intelligent, which I love, sweet, emotionally available. At one point he takes off his glasses and wipes his brow in this dramatic gesture to show me he's affected when I tell him I don’t speak to my brother. He gets sexually excited when I use the word “posthumous.” He says my questions are so good he feels like he’s being interviewed by Vanity Fair. It was good, romantic, promising. We spilled out of the bar, making out on the walk home. The kiss was: in range. We were in front of my apartment when the making out got a little more intense, heated and he said, “I think I should come upstairs and tuck you in.” Now I was already feeling the chemistry but when he said that, the way he said it, my pussy lit on fire. I got a head rush. I was high as shit. And it wasn’t the four glasses of Maker’s Mark I had had at the bar. I responded by running away, literally, up the stairs into my apartment, locking the door behind me. I was excited but underneath was fear. Of him and of myself.
I texted him the next morning: "It was hot when you said you wanted to tuck me in, I wanted you to do it therefore I had to run away." He said "I'm glad you ran away, it was the Makers making me be bad. Thanks for being a good girl."
We continued dating and he courted me. He planned proper dates, he was communicative, romantic, clear about his interest, made space and time for me. I was smitten. But when we would make-out, something energetically shifted. He became aggressive, dominating, controlling. He grabbed my jaw and pushed my face into the bed. He told me he couldn't wait to pound me so hard from behind because he knew I could take it. He said he'd cover my mouth so no one could hear me scream. My arousal morphed into alarm. He said he was just playing. It was a very convincing performance. I was scared shitless.
I didn’t know what to do. Up until I got “un-fucked up” three months ago, I imagine this would’ve been right up my alley. But suddenly, feeling like a little girl afraid in the presence of a man, was less appealing to me.
I should also clarify that the phrases “good girl” and “I know you can take it” aren’t inherently bad or abusive. I know this because I googled it. I wish things were always either—inherently bad or abusive—or not. Life would be much easier to navigate. But it was the way I felt when he said them to me that let me know I was not in a positive situation, for me. Yet still, I continued because… I wasn’t entirely sure. Because I’ve experienced trauma in the past, I worry the trauma has infected my instincts. Made me prone to overreact. See things that aren’t really there. So I ignore, hit override, say things to myself like, “Just try... because when you’re old, you’re going to regret all these chances you’ve wasted.” My therapist is working to rewire my thinking around this. I ask him to repeat the following over and over so that maybe one day I’ll believe him: The trauma isn’t inside of my instincts. The trauma shows up in the way I do not trust them.
When I was 16 years old, I discovered I could use a foot massager in an off-label way. It was effective, I came. Quickly. But I was wearing a bathing suit and on my way to work as a lifeguard so it was inconvenient. From then on, I trained myself to get just to the brink and then stop. Hold myself back.
When I would come home after spending time with this guy, I was exhausted, emotionally drained, adrenals tapped. But I would masturbate still. Inexplicably. I guess as a way to self-soothe. Process my feelings. Re-create what had happened in way that would not scare me. I let my mind drift to something that would turn me on, make me feel better. I imagined myself. Inhabiting myself. No performance. No fear. Only the power of being a woman.
This book is scary even to someone like me. I’m encamped in deep Malibu in an apartment extended over the beach with a 15-foot-window of pure ocean. I thought it would be restful but I forgot the ocean is terrifying. Or maybe agitating is the better word. It's like I think nature will cleanse me--and maybe it is--but I’ve got a time limit. When I climbed through underwater caves in Belize, after about two hours my legs gave way underneath me. I kept falling in four inches of water. I had zero strength left. It was dark, I was panicking. It was going to take the same amount of time to get out as it had going in. I thought it was a deficit in my athleticism but there were also dead bodies down there; skeletons of children sacrificed by Mayan Shamans, now tourist attractions outlined with glow-in-the-dark tape.
So, maybe it was something else, too.
I was scared of the water growing up. Even in the tub. I kept imagining a shark or hurricane circling the drain. I wouldn’t put my head under until the third grade. Once when my mother was out of town, my dad gave me a bath and dumped a bucket of water over my head and you would’ve thought by my reaction that he burned me with hot coals. When I was 16, I became a lifeguard. Typical me. Oh, you’re afraid of the water? Go get certified to drag a drowning body from the bottom of a 25-foot-pool. I was really good at treading water. I could last forever, even holding a brick over my head (as was required for the test). I could’ve worked at the beach (the far more glamorous position) but I never wanted to have to save anyone from the lake. I didn’t think I could.
There’s a swell now, or so I’m told. The waves are huge and the sound is so fucking loud. I feel like Joe Pesci in MY COUSIN VINNY. Someone take me to jail so I can sleep through the night. In West Hollywood, I walk for two-hours at midnight and feel completely calm. Here: I sit on the sand facing the ocean in broad daylight, the waves cresting far above my head and think—that’s me. I’m 70% water and that ocean is inside of me with all its undertows and riptides; violently kicking up sand, kelp, rock; foaming at the mouth on its way to shore. No matter how far back I sit, it always gets me.
Sometimes I miss Lake Michigan.
I was at my therapist's office tonight because #therapyfridays. It was raining. There was a leak. By the end of the hour it was literally raining in the office. Like the LACMA rain room but without sensors. I was helping him move furniture. I sat back down. He pulled the rug out from under me and a floor lamp crashed down on my face and gashed underneath my nose. Blood. My entire face seems to be moving in a weird way. Too much, like it's no longer attached. I'm in Woodland Hills. What do I do? I hear the voice of Maura in TRANSPARENT. S03 Episode 01. "You're Jewish. Go to Cedars." My therapist drives me an hour to Cedars. I ask the triage nurse if I need stitches. She says something about glue. I text my boss and Hannah Sloan. Because, you know, aesthetics. They say I should insist on seeing a plastic surgeon. The ER doctor is very nice. She says the plastic surgeon on call is "amazing" and they went to high school together. Ok, call the plastic surgeon. Hannah calls one of her collectors, Dr. Teitelbaum. He asks to see a picture. Teitelbaum says my skin is cut through, there will be a scar but it will be scarcely visible and the doctor coming is very good. The doctor shows up. He's wearing a nice cardigan over his scrubs. I say the sweater is giving me confidence. He laughs. I say I'm not joking. Aesthetics matter. Also, Teitelbaum says you're very good. He says, I love Teitelbaum. He taught me breasts. He injects my face with a local anesthetic and says, "I once had my hands in Robert Rauschenberg's intestines!" He wanted to be an artist. While he was a resident he saw Rauschenberg's name on the board and insisted on being his surgical consult. He was admitted for bowel obstruction. He asked him: how did you become you? As an artist. Rauschenberg said when he was in school, Josef Albers (the head of his program) fucked his wife. So he decided to fly in the face of minimalism and collect/collage all of these objects as a rebellion.
Six sutures and a preview of what I'd look like with lip injections. Do you think I'm the only one to ever get stitches wearing a beret? #nofilter
Rochelle Esserman Benjamin died this morning. I'm not 100% sure of her age because for much of my childhood she insisted she was 66. At her request, I called her GG (short for “greatest grandmother,” she had excellent self-esteem.) GG was an artist. She graduated RISD and became an interior designer. I saw many beautiful examples of her work but my favorite was the pair of cast steel orangutan sculptures she designed and installed hanging from the ceiling in a two-story living room in Northbrook, IL. GG was chic. GG was fierce. Her idea of casual dressing was a monochromatic turban, cape and silk scarf wrapped in a big bow underneath her chin. Every once in a while, GG would take me shopping. I was not allowed to buy individual pieces; only outfits. After Hanukkah, I walked back into fifth grade in a chunky purple cable-knit sweater, fuchsia corduroy mini-skirt, opaque purple tights and a purple bowler hat. This outfit did not make me popular but it did make me interesting. That’s one thing GG taught me. Being pretty was fine but having a look gave you power. It meant you had something to say. GG had a lot to say. Apparently the last thing she said to my uncle was to please “get hair.”
Aesthetics mattered. She wasn’t that into being Jewish, she preferred being French. My mother introduced me to Miriam, Rebecca and Rachel. GG showed me Philippe Starck, Louis XVI, Corbusier… International stars, too: Eames, Wegner, the list goes on. I spent many afternoons playing in her office, drafting my future split-level modern ranch in between shifts running my restaurant out of my grandfather’s basement. A WWII, purple-heart veteran, my grandfather was always in the basement organizing papers, drinking Cutty Sark on the rocks, waiting for GG to return from her latest adventure. She traveled, she sang and danced in the streets, she went to see an all-male, nude review. Her only comment afterwards was it would’ve been more aesthetically pleasing had they all been erect instead of “flopping around all over the place.”
We designed my first apartment in Chicago together and reimagined furniture originally bought for my mother's childhood bedroom. We went to the Art Institute, Victory Gardens (where she always slept through the play), Steppenwolf (more sleeping…) She asked me over and over why I was never dating anyone and once tried to set me up with someone she did not know and who lived out of town but whose parents had a tasteful foyer. Two years ago (when I took this picture), she wondered if the answer is because I “wanted to be free…” Her styling for me progressed—a silk chartreuse green, tie-neck blouse paired with suede, leopard print pants; a ballet pink stretch satin top with hunter green windowpane, wide-legged wool trousers and red leather kitten heels. I once asked her if something matched. She instructed, “It doesn’t match; it goes.”
In addition to making the world more vivid and exciting, she also self-published a book of letters; a lifetime of correspondence between her and her sister June. They had to self-publish because they often quoted other people in their letters and apparently that’s plagiarism. She designed mirrors and lamps that were gorgeous but too expensive to produce to ever be retailed in a showroom. She lobbied state representatives for years to legalize assisted suicide. She said what she thought and made what she conceived even if it was unpopular, unrealistic or illegal. She once slid her gigantic Cadillac underneath an 18-wheeler and walked out without a scratch. She was GG.
I first learned of the Stanford rape case when I read a column in Mercury News in which the “journalist” aligned himself with the rapist and agreed with the judge’s eventual lenient sentencing and the reasoning behind it. While I was reading the article, I felt defeated, sad and stressed. I had no idea how to respond and even if I did, hopeless that it would matter or deliver any kind of impact. Then I read the victim’s statement and was overwhelmed. Yes. This. Allll of this. Point by point, blow by blow. Heroic. Utterly heroic. Thank you for saying what I could not even conceive. Then I felt rage. Like, a lot of rage. A physical pain I’ve felt before resurfaced, underneath my right rib. I thought, okay—I need to do something. I’ll post the article and excerpt the section that bothered me most. I did. The pain did not go away. I went to hot yoga and barfed up a bunch of grief. Still there. I went to sleep and had a nightmare I murdered someone who was attacking me but I wasn’t exactly sure how and then felt really guilty about it. I woke up and a week later, the pain is still here. So I’m going to barf up my story now and let’s see if that does it. Here goes:
When I was 19, I was raped. I was unconscious. Rape is traumatic any way you slice it but there’s something specifically horrifying about suddenly no longer being the authority on what has happened to your body. Because you were unconscious. And the only one who can fill in the blanks is your rapist. We knew each other. We were at a party in his apartment. When I went with him to his bedroom, I remember thinking there was no way we could have sex because I had my period. So I would be safe. Halfway into making out and halfway undressed I remember feeling extremely tired. I closed my eyes and laid down on his bed. When I woke up, he asked me if I knew what was going on. That I had been moaning and incoherent. Then he said, “Are you just going to keep having sex like this?” He had raped me once before a couple months earlier. That time I was fully awake, sober and a virgin; I said very clearly I did not want to have sex at least 25 times. He pushed himself inside me anyway. Why didn’t I just get up and leave? Why did I go back a second time? These are the questions I still ask myself over a decade later on my commute to work, in the shower, when my mind wanders at dinner… I looked down and noticed that my pants were now off. I was confused, I had my period. He told me to look on the other side of the bed. I did and saw my bloody tampon on the floor. How long had I been unconscious? Was it five minutes? Was it twenty? An hour? Is it still rape if it only lasts a short time? Is it still rape if the only reason I know I was raped is because my rapist told me? The answer is yes.
I went to the emergency room. It was 3am. I asked for a rape kit. They put me in a holding room and brought me a telephone. On the line was a woman who apparently was the only one who could administer the rape kit. She told me because I had my period it was unlikely she would be able to collect any evidence. Did I still want her to come in? Yes, I said. Come in. Do the rape kit. She did. There was no evidence. They gave me a dozen pills to prevent pregnancy and boost my immune system in case I was exposed to any STDs. I spent the rest of the day vomiting.
I didn’t tell my parents.
I continued to “go out” and tried to behave like nothing had happened. Back then I was really big on not letting anyone think they had affected me.
A few weeks later the bill from the emergency room was sent to my dad. It was $1,000. My dad called and screamed at me for spending so much money. As if I had gone shopping at Neiman Marcus or something. (The last time I did that, he slapped the bill across my face. The same way he scolded our dog....) He told me I was at summer camp. He used to say that to me a lot. I guess to tell me that my life was different from his life. Not as hard. Or real. I yelled back, “You think I’m at summer camp? I went to the hospital because I was raped.” Long, long pause. He said, “I’m not mad at you for having sex.”
I hung up the phone and locked myself in the bathroom and took a bath. When I got out, there were a bunch of missed calls from my dad. I called back and he yelled at me for not answering the phone. Then we talked a little bit about what happened. He asked if I wanted to press charges. I said I didn’t have any evidence. Then he said something about maybe calling someone who knows someone in the mob, or maybe a friend in the Sheriff’s Department could drive up there and scare him. I said, thanks but no. Then he said, “I don’t think we should tell your mother.” She had cancer. It seemed reasonable to me that I shouldn’t upset her. I didn’t tell her. Six months later, she was dead.
I didn’t cry. A few weeks later, the planes hit the Twin Towers. I decided to leave UW-Madison and apply to the acting program at NYU Tisch. I was accepted. I studied “The Method” and spent the next six months releasing my emotions on stage.
That is why I act. To express myself in a way I cannot always access in life. That is why our stages and our sets and our theaters are so vital and must be safe places (for the audience as well as the actors, crew and staff) to render ourselves vulnerable. Here’s a link to the story about what’s been happening in Chicago:
To be in a position of power and use it to abuse those who are exposing themselves for the sake of storytelling is the most vile, base act of betrayal. After rape. Also, murder. This is a tough list.
I don’t know how to wrap this up. Probably because it can’t be.
I am not sure if this is necessarily related, it's certainly not on the same scale, but my stream of consciousness is taking me here so I am going to continue. When I was in high school, I confided in a teacher about some things that were happening at my house. At the time, I was co-choreographing a student-produced musical. The teacher was in charge of the production. After I told him, I got into a disagreement with a few of my student colleagues. I upset them. He responded by suspending me for a week. He said that I obviously wasn't able to separate what was happening at home with the production of the play. He said I was the problem. He explained my absence to the rest of the cast (my classmates) by telling them I was sick. Since I was still in school it was clear to everyone I was not physically ill. He told me that at the end of the week, I could come back if I admitted to him that he was right, that I could not separate what was happening at home with what was happening at school. I was completely despondent. Emotionally trashed. Since I couldn't go to rehearsal, I was now sentenced to spending more time at home; a place I was trying to avoid. I thought I would just quit. I couldn't imagine myself going back and saying what he wanted me to say. I mean, even now as an adult, I'm aware of how our emotions bleed from one thing to the next. Maybe I was the problem. But I still processed the whole experience as an immense betrayal and an attempt to control my feelings and my actions. At the end of the week, I decided to suck it up and do it. I walked into the auditorium and sat next to him in the seats. I said I wanted to come back. He said, then say what I told you to say. I said it. I finished choreographing the play.
In the words of the “famous El Arroyo sign” in Austin, Texas: “What if nobody was president and we all promised real hard to just be cool.”
That sounds good. Can we all JUST BE COOL, please. Also, honest and kind… Again, tough list.