Muse Control: The special people who inspire us

There is a card I have framed on my wall that quotes H. Jackson Brown Jr. It reads: “Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.” The entertainment profession is difficult and heartbreaking but there is something deep inside many of us that won’t give up despite a convincing argument we should. But while there are many people who can discourage us, it is the people who encourage us who also bring us inspiration and enlightenment. In my case, these were honest to God true heroes and superstars. They were and continue to be my artistic inspiration. They are my muses. The first of those heroes for me were two dance teachers I met while growing up in Houston Texas. I met them both as a young teenager studying musical theater at an after school program. Gary ‘B’ and Bill ‘H’. Not only did they have incredible skill as actors, dancers and singers, they had incredible generosity of spirit and kindness. They had tremendous passion for their craft and real ability for passing their knowledge on to their students with wit, charm, and humor. It made the experience for many of us that much more heightened. It also translated into enhancing our work as performers and artists. Gary ‘B’ and Bill ‘H; really taught all of their pupils in two ways. Along with being instructed in the classes they taught, the students had the added benefit of seeing the shows they were in and observe them in the roles they played. It was not only their skill that had such a profound impression on us, it was their charisma and stage presence. I would be so excited the day I was set to take a class with one or both of them, I would have butterflies in my belly all day in school knowing I would be spending time with these incredible men. I know I was not the only one who felt this excitement. There was an electricity in the air among all the pupils the second they walked into the room. Both of them got jobs in Broadway tours and later original Broadway shows. While all their students were extremely excited for their career and artistic accomplishments, many of us ached to see them go. It was their life force and amazing energy that touched us in many ways. Life felt a little empty after they left.
Still, I personally would go on to find additional heroes in my life. One in particular touched my life in a profound and memorable way. While attending the High School for the performing and Visual Arts in Houston Texas, an extremely talented actor was hired in my junior year of high school to teach acting and musical theater studies in the drama department. He had moved from New York to Houston after having a career as an actor and musical theater performer in several original Broadway shows. Mr ‘B’ had insight and knowledge not only as a professional actor but as a human being. He knew of the hardships and the humiliation of working as an actor both personally and professionally. Yet he shared those experiences with humor and without bitterness. He knew that every experience good or bad, made him a wiser, more compassionate, and well rounded human being. The experiences he shared with his students demonstrated how every life experience he encountered made him a better artist and a better teacher. He led by example. He never discouraged any of us. The insights he gained and passed on made us laugh, smile and more informed. He had that kind of love and devotion for the craftsmanship as well as those who aspired to be a part of it. Mr. ‘B’ had a way of making us all feel that we were all a part of something bigger than ourselves. Even if it would not be our choice to go further with our pursuits as actors, we were in his view artists just the same for having the dicipline and the inclination to study the work. For this feeling alone, I am truly grateful to Mr. ‘B’ as well as the institution that allowed him to enrich my life along with my drama classmates.
At home, I was rarely treated with that kind of respect and encouragement. Along with my dreams to be as successful a musical theater performer as Gary ‘B’, Bill ‘H’ and Mr. ‘B’, my parents were demanding other things of me. My father wanted me to be a star athlete to make up for the fact that my brother had severe develpmental and learning disabilites. Among his tutoring me in other sports, he used to give me tennis lessons. I sensed during our tennis lessons that the reason why he was so loud in his instructions on the tennis court was so that players in near by courts could overhear. I realize now that he arrogantly thought others could benefit from his instructions to me. Really the tennis lesson was his way of gaining attention for himself. It’s also evident now that his intention of developing my skills as a tennis player would be so that if I played well, he could take credit for it. My father taught from a place of complete narcissism rather than from a place of passing along a real love of the game. The result was his instructions were confusing. In the end his tutoring was a complete setback to the real progress I was making when I studied the game with a professional tennis coach. The experience of my Dad teaching me tennis weakened my game as well as my enjoyment of it. His judgments of me were often so brutal that it hurt my confidence in other sports and artistic pursuits. However for all my father’s incredible narcissism, and relentlessness, he at least had a sense of responsibility as a parent. Of the two parents, my father was the more even minded and reasonable one. This applied to me only. My brother’s relationship with my father was a different story all together. My father ignored the advice of therapists and specialists in the mental health profession and acted with severe and selfish disregard for my brother’s illness. His refusal to really understand and accept my brothers’ limitations might have actually worsened my brother’s mental condition. His relationship to me however was far more reasonable. He appreciated the dedication I gave to my musical theater and dance studies and supported my endeavors. My mother was not always so predictable. As a teenager, Mom unfairly expected me to be the emotional support she couldn’t get from my father during their marriage or from her boyfriends after the divorce. Both my parents expected me to compensate somehow for my mentally ill brother. My brother was diagnosed with autism at a very early age. My father expected me to be the shining protege child since it was evident my brother would be faced with mental health challenges. My Mother on the other hand, expected me to make up for her personal disappointments about my brother. It was also up to me to make up for her lack of personal happiness. She often relied on me to act as her therapist, best friend, boyfriend, and personal assistant. If I couldn’t meet these demands, I was made to feel like I was a self-centered, emotionally retarded teen who was the root cause of her incredible unhappiness. My mother was an expert blamer. Nothing was ever her fault. It was always someone else s behavior in her view that caused her bitterness. My Mother drank heavily after the divorce. The drinking was a huge factor in her emotional problems, but looking back, I can see it may not have been the main cause. I couldn’t articulate it as a teenager, but I realize now that my mom was unstable. When she would tell me she “loved” me, I sensed it was not genuine love but a need on her part for me to love her back and adore her as a lover not as a normal daughter. I understand now that this was due to a certain amount of narcissism and unresolved emotional needs on her part. However, I didn’t or couldn’t understand this concept at the time, so I continued to believe that my uneasiness around her was my own fault. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the right deductions to reason to myself why I was uncomfortable and depressed around her, so it must be something wrong with me. My mother’s instability was something she hid very well from her friends and other family members. In fact most of her friends and family never or rarely saw the unstable side to her. My father was so obvious in his emotional abuse to her that most of my friends’ parents, neighbors and family members felt extremely sorry for what he put her through during the marriage. However my father might have had many problems but I realize now that Mom might have been equally to blame for the failed marriage. She could be equally as verbally abusive and manipulative. Yet it was the verbal abuse on my Dad’s side that was more visible to people and my Mother knew how to play the victim frequently and to her advantage. Doing this would give her more attention and sympathy from people. However when she was not engaging in plays for sympathy, she actually showed a different side to her all together. To most people in her life, she was charming, fun, sexy, and extremely supportive. Nevertheless those close to her like myself really could sense her instability and meanness. Part of her instability was her intense rage issues which I was the victim of quite often. I am convinced her attacks on me were partly the result of years of emotional and physical abuse from my father. Yelling and criticizing me might have been a helpful emotional release for her, but it traumatized me. Her anger and depression manifested itself in many passive aggressive ways as well. Once while traveling with me and my brother through Spain, we all had to share one room together for a night. I had turned around to put on my pajamas and my brother saw this and started touching himself inappropriately. Instead of explaining to my brother that this behavior wasn’t fair to me and he should stop behaving like that, my mother did very little to make him stop while explaining to me that he was attracted to me sexually. Her explanation I sensed put her in a power position and Mom seemed to enjoy it. In fact, she allowed my brother a lot of freedoms that other children wouldn’t have using the justification he was mentally ill and he “couldn’t help it” or didn’t understand. In reality, she unfairly and needlessly allowed for his developmental disorder to infringe on the rights of everyone else because she didn’t think it was fair that she should have to shoulder all the responsibility for his mental illness. To be fair to my mother, it was probably very difficult in the decades of the late sixties and early nineteen seventies to find the right kind of support and insight for parents who had mentally ill children. However it didn’t seem fair to me that others had to have their rights violated just because my mother was unprepared to handle this incredible emotional stress. What’s more, the infringement of personal space and emotional boundaries applied to everyone except my mother. When it came to my Mom’s personal happiness, she had no problem setting boundaries with my brother. Really what she was doing was making me and others compensate for his being mentally ill rather than having the presence of mind, sense of responsibility and maturity to work with my brothers limitations to help him understand and better adopt to situations in normal society. It’s too bad that my mother did not have a strong sense of responsibility to help my brother. It might have eased some of the relationships with his teachers and therapists. Like the trip in Spain, these experiences left me humiliated and incredibly uneasy. My Mother still insists to this day that we all had such a “fun” time during that trip. It might have been fun for her but it left me with a permanent feeling of disgust. From then on, I took with me my invisible Muse crown. It was my way of keeping myself emotionally insulated from the discomfort and alienation I felt around her. The invisible crown comprised the cherished real experiences I had with my dance and acting teachers as well as day dreams of meeting the same level of talent and spirit they had. I considered them my real family and role models even though I didn’t socialize with them much beyond classes and briefly after the shows they were in. Their presence in my life lifted me up and soothed my soul during a turbulent home life.
My mother was not always mean spirited with me. At times she could be sensible, caring, and a good responsible parent. She also managed to get her college degree after the divorce and I was not only proud of her accomplishments but I also enjoyed hearing about some of the courses she was taking. She could also be extremely supportive of my career goals. She came to see me and cheer me on in all the shows I performed in throughout junior high and high school. She told me how proud she was of me and told me what a beautiful performer she thought I was. She also got me into modeling classes and paid for them and encouraged my modeling career. She really had the intention of being supportive to both her children. It was because she could be so genuine in her support and could show such concern for my well being, that I would be thrown and confused for days when she would rage at me for some infraction like forgetting to tell her when one of her boyfriends called. If I caused a problem for her life, all of the sudden her view of me was that I was the most irresponsible person on the planet and she might as well disown me because I didn’t deserve to live in her home. One night she came back from a date to find I had left a careless note about one of her boyfriends who called while she was out. To be fair and truthful, the note was not very kind and it was a bit thoughtless. Her reaction however was beyond rage. She threw my record albums in one of her dramatic shows of anger and then told me she “almost hated” me. She looked at me with such hatred that I believed her and was really frightened. I often tried to anticipate when she might be angry but I was not always successful. Hurtful accusations would come when I would least expect them. Because I was an impressionable teenager, I would find that because I couldn’t articulate a counter argument towards my mother’s emotional thrashings, her anger must be all my fault. It was during those periods I would feel further away from really accomplishing anything. It was also during those times that I felt alienated, scared and alone. If I couldn’t be a decent human being as my mother implied, then I guessed I would never qualify to be part of any other community including the respected theatrical community. It took me well into my fifties to realize how toxic and poisonous a lot of my Mother’s actions were. Additionally, I didn’t realize how much I was poisoning myself every time I considered and agreed with my mother’s point of view about my worth or limitations as a human being. My mother seemed more comfortable around me if I made a self-deprecating joke about myself. I got myself into this habit in hopes it would appease her anger towards me. It worked but unfortunately it became a bad habit around other people and it continued through high school, college and into my first twenty years of living in New York. Continually putting myself down might have helped ease my Moms resentment towards me, but it began to hinder my progress in my career. This habit also encouraged mediocre talent to agree with my self put downs and the two fed off each other. It also did not garner any healthy respect among my more successful peers and associates in the entertainment industry. In fact, it really held me back in so many areas of my life.
In everything I went through with my family, I have always looked to these teachers as the real role models in shaping who I aspired to be personally and professionally. I am so grateful to Gary ‘B’, Bill ‘H’ and Mr. ‘B.
As a showgirl in Nevada I had the great fortune of working with a popular entertainer at the time. Jim Nabors. He had a booming baritone voice, magnanimous stage presence, along with great comic timing. He was also one of the nicest men I ever met. He and I developed a nice friendship and I was grateful to get to work with such a charismatic and generous entertainer. Jim encouraged my pursuits of moving to New York after college and would often ask me how I was doing in my courses. Jim was my Muse long after I had moved to New York. All of these gentlemen made that strong of an impression on me. I would go on to have many different muses in my life but there were common qualities they all had. They were gracious, insightful passionate and talented. They were also nothing like my parents. These men had the talent, presence of mind, and insight that my parents never had. They had humility and character that my parents never had. Most of all, they had a love and devotion to the craftsmanship of music and entertainment.
I really wanted love and acceptance in my life. But the acceptance I got from both my parents came with ugly or unreasonable expectations. My muses never had such restrictions. While they never loved me in a way that I would often day dream about, they were kind, compassionate, caring and incredibly encouraging. Plus my muses possessed emotional intelligence that neither of my parents had or will ever have in this life time. They had/have character that I fashioned myself upon. I am grateful for their presence in my life because my life might have been unbearable without them.

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