Archive | Past Matters

The Hazards of Building a Bildungsrosman

One of the weirdest things about writing a book about my early life, which is what I mean when I call this memoir a bildungsrosman, is that there are days when I’m channeling my elementary school self or my mother at 16 or my dad at 26–people I’ve never met before, basically. Somedays this is interesting, others it’s plain devastating. Today’s one of the devastating times and it’s like I just watched the goodbye scenes in Terms of Endearment; ain’t no way I can hold back the tears pouring down my cheeks though I don’t even notice them until I feel wet on my cheeks and even then assume they’re springing from a leak in the ceiling. Metaphorically at least, this may not be so far from the truth. It’s all coming down.

The #MeToo of My Tween Acting Career

This morning, as the sun rose wanly here in Truro (yes, I’m back for the rest of the month), I caught up on the Harvey Weinstein revelations. Nothing unpredictable, I’m afraid, which made them all the more appalling. Woman after woman coming forward with the same clutch of details: the bathrobe, the massage requests, the obsession with showers, the need—nay, the demand—for sexual attention. What angered me most: Harvey claimed he was offering career ascension to these hundreds—maybe thousands—of young women, which is loathesome unto itself. But all he really was saying was: If you submit to my sexual demands, I will not harmfully, aggressively cockblock your career.

He is a larcenous pig not unlike, say, our alleged president.

As the estimable Gloria Steinem has written—as the Academy of Motion Pictures itself has acknowledged—such predatory behavior is hardly unique to Weinstein. Instead, this “isolate and destroy” brand of toxic masculinity has meant that we women have felt damned if we do and damned if we don’t in terms of sexual resistance.

Again, not news to anyone walking as female in this life.

But Sarah Polley did raise an issue I hadn’t considered in 15 years. In this week’s New York Times, the director addressed her reason for walking away from acting: She felt like prey. Scratch that. She was prey. And it made me think about my own career as a tween actor.

I never talk about why I quit acting. The truth is that it’s probably no loss to the world. As as an adult, I’m good enough on stage or in front of a camera as a commentator but not especially adept at pretending I’m anything but myself. As a young person, though, I really, really wanted to be an actor and experienced a surprising degree of success. Continue Reading →

‘Don’t Blink’: The Legacy of Dick Gregory

It’s 3 am and I can’t sleep though I usually am dead to the world by 9:30. I keep thinking about Dick Gregory, who gave us so much and lit up even more. I have a theory that public people pass over just when the world most needs to receive the message of their lives. So when figures I deeply admire die, I try to hear what’s being said.

In Mr. Gregory’s case, he had jokes but was not pop culture; he was culture, pure and sharp. Sharp-dressed and sharp-toothed with kind, sad eyes that scarcely blinked when it came to taking it all in. “I’m not a comic; I’m a humorist,” he said, and showed us the difference. With his kindly, kindling wit, he never sang for his supper but cracked on love and hypocrisy, diet and addiction, and, always always, race. He talked about our blood legacy, the generations of backs that refused to break, the greed and loutishness that was as American as apple pie. He was a bridge who assessed the toll already taken. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy