I leave for Paris in 5 days.
The trip is supposed to give some perspective, a palette-cleanser, a way of looking at my life from a distance and maybe of attempting to figure it out. Trying to figure out how I’m not just going to mooch off my parents, find some calling or vocation, do something, anything, commit.
Clarity, I guess, is what I’m looking for.
That, and a good croissant.
But even leaving behind New York City, which I haven’t left for more than a day in 2 years, there are those things that are difficult to leave behind. Traumas, bad memories, the moments that flash before my eyes and make me feel dizzy or nauseous or even just aversive, shifting from thought to thought.
These “traumas” as I call them can be big or small. They’re not “repressed memories” in my understanding of the term because I can remember them. They’re “averted memories” memories I see and then choose to avoid because I don’t know how to or fear to unpack them. They can be great or small, ranging from the time I defended the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at age 14 in front of a camp meeting of liberal New Englanders (relatively trifling) to the incident in which a classmate died in Georgia that I was involved in.
They represent moments of shame for me, a difficult emotion to process, moments where a schism occurred between the Nicholas of a currently formed identity and the Nicholas realizing the incapability of his identity to function in the face of an event. Moments I could not at the time properly understand, only understand somewhere underneath that I couldn’t understand them. These are the moments when an insane person sticks to their logic, insists on their sanity. Our minds are made to protect themselves after all.
These are the moments that flash before my eyes when my mind wander sometimes, associatively, loaded like IEDs, derailing my thought and sending me reeling. In middle school they were so bad, they manifested as migraines and my parents brought me to a neurologist who, noticing no physiological reason, suggested therapy. I remember 13-year-old Nick hoping for a medical reason, just so there could be a cure.
My panic attacks have lessened over time and I no longer get those dwelling migraines. But these are the moments which in college caused me to say “I hate my life” and which now cause me to say “Eva”. Both are ways of distancing myself from those thoughts, either through separating myself from my own actions (The “Nick” who is capable of hating another “Nick”) or by reaching for the safety blanket of love or affection that I used to take as a form of absolution: my ex.
When I look now at myself and my loneliness, some of it is certainly a desire for connection, for a relationship, for that spot in the bed, a hug, a kiss. But some of it is also a want for that absolution again, a way to ignore those aversive moments, to push past them.
I thought about that this week, as I thought about going away to France.
I decided I wanted to unpack them, to look back on them. To try to disarm them as best I could.
I decided to face some of my demons, deconstruct them and see what I could find. At least by discussing them, I could maybe repair that schism, with enough distance, I could understand moments that had only shamed me before.
With perspective, or clarity, some freedom.
I told my therapist my theory and she agreed.
“Do you have any particular one you want to start with?” She asked.
“Well,” I replied. “I’ve got one on the top of my mind.”
About the title:
I worked at a popular TV show as an intern for one semester. When I was there, a person I respected saw that a former intern had been interviewed by a local newspaper about her experience and they at the show were very upset. I think things did not get too out of hand, but why give people reason for anger?
The people who know me know where I worked. The people who don’t can assume, or does it even matter?
That was my life then.
You’ll forget, I was just graduated from film school at the height of the “recession” in late-2009 and despite our propensity for maintaining the illusion of mental homeostasis, I was a very different person back then.
I had wrapped work on my thesis film, but hadn’t yet gotten rejected from every film festival to which I applied (literally). I had been hooked up with this internship by the only connection I had through family (a friend of a friend). I had been not stridently insane or dirty in my interview and had thus gotten the job.
One thing was just that I was desperate. I had no idea who I was or what my life would be. College had ended only less than 6 months prior. Already, I was amazed at my ability not to get production assistant jobs, not to have a production company myself, not to have anything lined up.
School and the internships I did during it were the only paradigms I knew. In these places, my persona was relatively flamboyant as a front for insecurity. My motto was “accept me or fuck you” and I made my films in school about myself, had big opinions, always asked questions. I was a socially-clueless semi-douche, which could work in film school.
At the show though, people didn’t know what to make of me. I would carry around DVDs of my thesis, ask people to watch my film, ask for notes, ask for their story of how they got into the TV game. I searched for some sort of mentor, someone who would adopt me. I was “a barn” as the Magic players I hung out with would say, short for “barnacle”, someone who attaches themselves to someone big and strong and sucks on their underbelly for nourishment.
It would be easy to say that I was desperate and flailing, but it was more than that. I didn’t know who I was or what I could do with my life. I didn’t have much in common with the other interns, mostly current college students and what’s more they didn’t seem to like me. So, lacking social ties, I made a persona I wasn’t even fully aware of.
“Why are you doing this schtick?” One writer asked me at one point.
“This is me. This is what I’m like.” I told him.
“No it isn’t, but that’s fine.” He said.
I was playing a heightened version of myself, calling everyone Mr. and Ms., acting like I was in a movie or a sitcom or a comedy bit. It seems insane looking back on it, but one defense of the unliked is to become unlikeable. A shell by which to defend others from piercing your real self.
So there I was, with no friends, working every day, out of my mind, really. One day, I asked to watch a rehearsal when someone else asked me not to and the assistant production coordinator cornered me and asked me if I was after her and I was so taken aback .The truth was, in that character I played, there was no room for anything but my manufactured, isolated self.
And the way this came to a head was with a producer. I asked to show him my movie, as I did so many others and he said yes, but blew it off for a while. One day, I stopped by his office and asked him why he hadn’t gotten a chance to watch it yet and he went off. He told me I was a bad intern and that I should stop kissing up and just shut the fuck up and do what I was told and nothing else. I asked him if he was joking and he said no and we never talked about it again.
The only person I told was the security guard who was one of the few to realize I was fucking out-of-my-mind but at least not inherently spiteful. He told me a. to stay away from the guy and b. that it wasn’t all my fault, that producers are stressed, that I was here to learn.
I took his advice and just avoided the producer.
But things kept declining at my job. It’s hard to go somewhere where you have no friends, even fake friends, every day. It’s hard when you don’t know who you are, when you’re stuck in this insane pattern to realize your own insanity.
Things culminated at the holiday party. I was standing by myself, getting drunk off free booze in the big, rented club, sad because I had no one to talk to. The other interns were never friends of mine and even the few staff members who tolerated me were busy chatting each other up and who was I to intercede.
I went outside, teary into the cold to write a drunk, pathetic Facebook message about how sad I was when the star of the show came in out of a car and high fived me. Me! I walked in the club and followed him around as everyone gathered. As I marveled, I thought to myself one thing: I must take this man’s coat to the coat check.
It made sense to that half-drunk Nick, looking back. As my therapist pointed out, the star was the only one who’d acknowledged me that whole night, who had been kind to me. I waited and waited and finally asked and he said “No, but thank you.” but then I hung around on the periphery since seeing him talk to people was the only thing that seemed interesting to me in that club. I didn’t see the producer who I’d had the run-in with on my periphery until he turned to me and said “Get out of here”.
I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what he meant. Get away from him? Leave the star alone? Leave the club?
I just stood there and then pretended not to hear him. It was a loud club. Who cared?
But he kept repeating it. Until I walked away.
I walked backed over to the intern tables, shook up. I looked for a sympathetic ear, someone, but people hadn’t talked to me, really, before. Why now? I went in the middle of a conversation and said:
“Wow guys, you guys won’t believe this, the weirdest thing just happened to me…”
And then six feet away behind the couch was the producer who made eye contact and then just repeated “Get out of here”.
“Get out of here. Get out of here. Get the fuck out of here! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”
Louder and louder. The whole party stopped, everyone turned. I didn’t know what to say.
“Alright, if you’re going to curse out an unpaid intern in front of the holiday party, go ahead, I’ll leave!”
And left I did, in tears, knowing even what shitty thing I had was gone.
The next day, I came in hung over. I felt like it was the day of my execution.
Everyone looked at me and knew, everyone wondered.
Somewhere in the back of my mind lingered that desperate notion. I knew now as I knew then, whatever I did deserve, I didn’t deserve that.
No one deserved that.
Everyone had seen.
But everyone was quiet.
Eventually, I was summoned up to the Executive Producers office who told me something very close to, textually:
“We all took a vote and decided we don’t like you. So we’re sorry for the producer’s profanity, but we’re not going to give you a recommendation.”
And then: “But you’ve learned something from this, right?”
To my credit, I was professional. I remember at that point in my life as now always marveling when friends could be professional, when they could leave their emotions out of certain parts of their lives. I never could and maybe never will.
I had one more day left, or maybe two. I went upstairs to do an errand and the secretary took a look at me and called my boss to get a different intern sent.
Even the PAs, my bosses, thought that was unfair. Why call me in if they were going to do that?
Thank god for that one writer, who took me out on a fake mail run, and tried to give me some perspective, tried to explain to me the frustrations and difficulty of even a successful TV show, the way people value mediocrity because mediocrity does not offend. I wasn’t ready to hear everything he had to say, I was too defensive, too broken.
But just that someone cared enough to talk to me, meant so much. I cried and cried and cried when I got home.
The last day, I left early, when people were saying their goodbyes. It was too much for me to hear, people saying they’d stay in touch, they’d miss each other, they liked each other. I didn’t want to make anyone consider whether to say that to me.
I didn’t want them to lie.
I left a note for one of the production assistants who didn’t even like me, who didn’t even dig me or want to be my friend: he just was able to operate on a non-bullshit professional level. He just treated everyone the same.
When I left early without other notice, I left a note, a little index card on his desk and it said:
“You always treated me fairly. I appreciated that. Thank you, Nick.”
I got calls, voicemails from the show later that day.
The second thing they told me when they got in touch was that I shouldn’t have left without notice.
The first was that they were worried I’d “tried to hurt myself”.
The audition/interview for the reality show I appear on was a month after the show.
I told this story there, with less perspective, just like showing a wound. I must have seemed crazy and desperate and sad.
Of course, I was.
And they put me on air.
I got teary unpacking this today as I left my session as I knew I was going to write about it.
There’s still that desire in me, that anger, that hurt.
It’s still hard for me to think about.
When I talk to people about faults I see in others, I admit they are faults I see in some incarnation of myself: self-involvement, knowing self-sabotage/incompetence, being “fake” to others, being a sycophant.
Looking at some of these: I exhibited near all of them on my time working on the show.
Previously, in previous incarnations of this story, it was too difficult to examine my culpability in it, my lack of insight. I was desperate for so lung, I needed to cling to my idea of self-“right”-ness.
Because if whatever I was doing wasn’t right, I no longer had a teacher to guide me, a lesson plan. I would lay victim to my own doubts including one of the biggest “aversive thoughts” I have: that I don’t make movies anymore or at least, for now.
Going out of the show, I used it on my resume. I found the couple wonderful people who tolerated me or cared for me. The writer who took me on the run remained a friend. My ex and I broke up, eventually. The tragedy in Georgia actually came right before this story.
I reiterate that I didn’t deserve what happened to me, that no one does.
But in order to move from victim to actor, one must get perspective on their own actions, be able to learn.
In other words, in order to change, one must know what they’re changing from.
It’s been two years now. I still see people sometimes. A concert in the summer. Improv or Sketch shows. It’s a small world I live in, even in New York City.
I don’t know if I’ll still avert myself from those people, from the thoughts, from owning who I was and whoever I am now.
Maybe I need some more perspective.
Maybe a trip would help.