When I was nineteen I remember living in the city for the first time. You would have thought that I was on top of the world. Instead I was a complete disaster. Running around like a chicken who had her head cut off in Chinatown, I was a mess. I wore hair extensions but the truth was, I didn’t know how to wear them right. I wore fake eyelashes but was allergic to the glue, therefore got a rash on my eyes and couldn’t open them. My lip color was always wrong. I wore all black to hide the fact that I hid my pain by bingeing or just eating crap at the local Starbucks.
Why the hell couldn’t I get it? Why did I feel so ugly, so unworthy, so uncool when I woke up in the morning?
I wondered why my weight yo-yoed. I tried everything to control it from things that are safe from the drug store to things that could probably give you a heart attack. While there was exercise, it never seemed to work either. For a wrinkle in time I was a smoker, which is not a good combo to be a jogger with. Both together just made me crazy. I tried living on grapes. But then I would just get hungry and eat a bunch of cookies. I tried living on coffee but everyone just wanted to kill me.
Yet everyone kept writing me from my hometown, telling me how proud they were. I just wanted to tell them how I felt like this unsure, unpretty mess all the time. I tried to fit in with the good girls. But they were too good. They were judgmental when you swore, and the campus Bible Study had too many crazies. I felt unwelcome, and the whole youth group/soldier of God thing wasn’t my scene. I also tried to fit in with the bad girls. They were more fun. But again, I was a terrible cigarette smoker and couldn’t sleep around nearly as much.
As time went on I tried the hide the fact I was fabulously awkward. The summer between my frosh and soph year of college I dated several male comedians. Unlike them, I actually displayed some skill. My classmates and others around me goaded me to pursue my dream of performing with my puppet children. I did that fall, going to school by day and hitting wherever would give me a stage at night. While I was dressing better, still the lashes minus the fake hair, I still felt out of place like the weird girl. The jeering from middle school was fresh in my brain, and high school had been no better. Boys didn’t want me unless they needed help with English homework or wanted to know something about history.
I got some attention for being a good ventriloquist, but felt shy when it came to all the people I had to interact with. I classify myself as a shy extrovert, someone who will be the life of the party but for the most part is a loner when the party is over and before it starts. I also felt overwhelming stage fright. I didn’t know why. I was so outgoing. Maybe it was because my first year of college I had a scene study teacher, jealous of my youth and the youth of most women, who made me feel like crap for being so outgoing. Plus I wanted to talk to boys. I wasn’t much of a dater and still am not. But the good thing was, there was always alcohol.
I started drinking to calm my nerves, to make it easier to talk to boys. It was for a while. The summer between sophomore and junior year of college I performed just about every night. Aside from the nights I had class the next day because I took summer session, I partied after my shows for the most part. I drank a lot of Jacks and Cokes along with Long Island Iced Tea. I was a good NYU woman by day, and a good student of comedy by night. In between I fell off of bar stools, pretending I was some sex pot like my idol Mae West. In reality I was like a kitten, scared of her shadow afraid to look at it. Nonetheless, I told myself if I acted cool and looked cool everyone else would get with the program.
That summer I remember things going extra well too. I was a regular at Pips before it closed down, and was putting down some nice sets. I had adventure after adventure, and even got to meet and open for Otto and George for the first time. I had met and worked with one of my heroes. But I had a broken heart. Yes, a boy I had wanted had broken my little heart. And to make it worse, I called him drunk and told him how I loved him. It didn’t go so well. While I tried to tell myself I wasn’t awkward, I wasn’t stupid, I was good enough, I didn’t feel that way.
That fall I felt more awkward than ever. Everyone had a boyfriend but me. That’s when I met the ex-fiance. Right away, he wanted to be with me and made me feel special. Part of me was scared because he came on so strongly, but the other part of me wanted him because I was convinced no one else wanted me. Soon he became my world. My ex sensed my feeling of awkwardness, and manipulated it to his advantage during the course of our relationship. Once he said to me, “You know, you are socially awkward, right? My friends even think so. But don’t worry, you have me.”
Soon this man took control. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my old friends. Then he made me choose between him and the puppets. He went so far as to tell me that he loved me, and to take advantage of the fact he wanted me because no one else did. The fights got terrible and violent, and the insults got worse. I was feeling beyond awkward, I wanted to crawl into a hole. After offering to kill his mother to get the insurance money to be with me, I got the strength to leave an awful relationship. Looking back, I was with a manipulator who made a career of using women. Plus because he felt awkward, he zeroed in on mine therefore making it easy to make me feel less than.
Yes, we know the story. He stalked me after we broke up. I got the separate mailing address. You say, “Holy shit.” I say, that’s not all, he even had his ex-girlfriends sending me hate notes and posted pictures of me online with slut written over them. If I already felt beyond awkward this put the nail in the coffin. Breaking out of that relationship, I was determined to be cooler than ever. I hung out at the most expensive bars and dated trust fund boys, or really scraped bottom at dive joints dating guys who would make any mother cringe with their criminal records. I figured they lived off a hardy inheritance or stole me presents, what was the diff. I was at my lowest weight, never ate, and felt fabulously cool.
Meanwhile, I was a fabulous disaster.
My quest to be cool was biting me in the ass. I was partying too much and was out way too late. As a result my weight once again yo yoed. The guys I was dating went from being fun disasters to big disasters who came with parole officers. The drinks kept coming, but to the point where everyone was starting to shake their heads in distain. My old friends started to cut me off because they didn’t think this April was fabulous. They couldn’t stand her. After a while I couldn’t stand her either. I ate horribly all the time, I wore too much makeup to hide my acne from the grease in my food, I hated the people I was hanging around, and did I mention I was tired all the time?
So I made the decision to clean up. I stopped drinking, and the panic and anxiety returned. The sad truth was, for as much as I pretended, the feelings of being good enough never left me. I was just pretending the whole time. That’s when I decided to own up to my awkwardness. First I joined a gym, where I was so weak I could lift nothing but the bar. Then I started going to places to do comedy where I knew I would fall on my ass just to stop being afraid. As a bonus, I realized failing was part of learning, not a character defect. The added cherry on the cake was I made friends with a great many gay men who told me I was a fashion disaster as well as an overall mess, but embraced me because of it. In embracing me, many have done my hair and redesigned my wardrobe and still continue to do so.
When they see me, they say, “Do you really have to do that to your hair. Let me fix that so you will be pretty. With a little gay magic, you can be beautiful too.”
Overall, these days I like myself more. I don’t wear the tacky makeup that melts off my face. I occasionally fool with the eyelashes but not all the time. I don’t fuck with hair extensions. And I determine my self-worth, not others, especially not a guy.
The crazy thing is, ironically, over the course of this year I have gotten a great many letters from young people telling me not only how I inspire them, but how they admire me for having the courage to be who I am. Part of me always tears up a little, but part of me wants to let them know it wasn't always that easy. They also pour their hearts out about the things that bother them, such as social pressures to be cool and whatnot. Truth of that matter is, I always tell them and always want to tell all young people, from the time you are 17 to about the time when you are 23 you are a little bit of a mess. It's not a bad mess or a hot mess, it's just that you are trying to navigate your way through the adult world, trying to find your place and your niche. I let them know for as painful as being dumped or cheated on feels, or for as lonely as it is to feel uncool, someday soon they will laugh about these things. Pain is the touchstone to all mental and spiritual growth, and God only knows you feel a lot of it in those years.
I also let them know it's going to be okay, and that no one is perfect. And falling on your ass is part of growing up in the adult world. Whether it is being fired from a job, losing your check book, saying the wrong thing, discovering the hard lesson that no one drinks the punch at the college party we have to do it. It's in doing these hard things, these things we dread, that we become better people. And most of all, we discover who we are.
Yes, I am not perfect. I talk too much to the point where I blabber. Where I am in the best shape of my life, I wish I were more toned. I like my sweets and am occasionally a fashion disaster. While I like to go out, I also like to be alone where I watch documentaries. I am a wealth of useless information about literature and history. When it comes to guys I am extra shy about making the first move. I cannot help but wear my heart or politics on my sleeve. My life has had some dark points but there have also been a thousand points of light. Oh and I come with puppets. Most important, I have embraced myself and now I feel unstoppable.
I once attended a free seminar on comedy seminar where comedian and former Letterman booker Eddie Brill told us, “Cool is the enemy of comedy.”
That sealed the deal. By embracing the fact I wasn’t cool, and no longer trying to be so, I was on the right track. I’m not just painfully awkward, obviously awkward, socially awkward, but I am….