Boiled in Oil
by Melanie Anne
Part Three: A New Covenant
O.J.'s Last Run
Author's Reminder: After my break-up with Andy, I lost any interest in keeping a diary. I was still publishing the cyberzine, The Subversive, for the transgender community, however. Each month, my editorial revolved around the same personal issues I had dealt with in my diary. The difference being: the editorials were explorations of a single topics of concern each issue, rather than random thoughts regarding all of my concerns, as was my diary.
To bridge the gap until I returned as a diarist, I am republishing these personal editorials as a record of the events and experiences that occurred during these "lost months".
I was up at 5:30 AM this morning, crying. I hadn't been able to sleep well all night. All the previous evening I had been watching O.J. Simpson advancing down the highway, less like a police pursuit than a funeral motorcade. And in a sense, that's what it was: a procession carrying a national icon to its final resting place. Only problem was, the icon died, but the man continued.
Many of you are aware of my efforts to avoid becoming an icon in the gender community. You do a few good things and people come to expect it of you all the time. In fact, they get mad if you don't perform according to their satisfaction (as if it were any right of THEIRS to determine what was and was not acceptable behavior for an icon).
And, of course, that is what we did to O.J. We wanted to believe that he could do no wrong so hard ("Say it ain't so, O.J.") that we wouldn't let the man off the hook. Commuters got out of their cars and lined the highways. People brought out signs saying, "Go, O.J.!", and waved them when he passed. People were describing O.J.'s last run like it was a scene from "The Fugitive" or "Thelma and Louise". But this wasn't a movie character pressing on in a heroic final thrust. This was a movie ACTOR, confused and alone, running in circles because he had nowhere to left to go.
But this is not why I was crying.
The software project I have been working on full time for the last three years was finally released on June 11th at the ShowBiz Expo. I had been under incredible stress the whole time: trying to make ends meet financially for my family, going through SRS, having little time to devote to my children, and having to seal off the emotional side of my life so I could concentrate on the logical side. So, when the manuals were bound and printed, the full color boxes assembled and shrunk wrapped, and the product actually sold, the relief was unbelievable.
But this is not why I was crying.
My eleven year old daughter Mindi graduated from elementary school on the 13th of June - the final day of ShowBiz Expo. I left the trade show in the middle of the day and returned later so I could attend my daughter's ceremony. She is such a bright child: in the GATE program (gifted children) and one of the six fifth graders in her school district to represent the district at the county-wide math competition last month in which 28 districts competed. (Her team won fifth place in the Math & Science category). So watching her graduate was thrilling to the center of my heart.
But this is not why I was crying.
I was crying because Mindi had been rather fidgety lately. It was getting so she couldn't sit still. We decided to take her into the doctor for a checkup, but to wait until after her graduation. So, the day after she moved up, on Tuesday the 14th, we brought her in. The preliminary diagnosis was Tourette Syndrome.
This is why I was crying.
Her symptoms hit like a switch had been thrown. One moment she was a healthy, precocious eleven year old, the next she was a confused child who limped when she walked and dropped whatever she picked up with her right hand.
We have an appointment with the head of Pediatric Neurology for Childrens' Hospital next Thursday, at which time a more knowledgeable diagnosis will be made. Being the research type, Mary and I have investigated Tourette and know it pretty well already. And Mindi's symptoms match it to a "T". Of course, we shall have to await a professional opinion, but if it is not Tourette, it must be something equally disturbing to result in the symptoms we've seen. Tourette is NOT degenerative (thank God!) and will not shorten her life. But it may severely undermine its quality.
So, here I was all week: noticing the aspects of my little girl's personality that were altered or missing; watching her stumble as she walked, and thinking of all the lost potential in this special child. And then came the news about O.J. - someone else with enormous potential: potential that also was being wasted, stolen, even as we watched. And that is why I slept uneasily and was up at 5:30 AM crying.
But crying is not all I did. As is my way when I am troubled of heart, I write. Here are the notes I penned as the sky went from dark to gray and I shed my feelings to the page:
"I don't know my daughter anymore. She seems like a different person. I can no longer predict her responses. I look for reactions I used to share with her: laughter at a particular joke or a secret smile, and its not there."
"Its like my little girl died and this one was left in her place."
"I am torn because I can't hold onto either the view that Mindi is dead and I have a new little girl I have to learn to love, or that my Mindi will return to me if I only have the strength to wait it out. It is a question of embracing or abandoning hope, and I just can't seem to make that choice right now."
"Mindi seems to be handling it all very well. She appears perfectly happy. But is this because she is young and therefore able to adjust, or that the disease has already robbed her of her memory of who she used to be? That could be a blessing to her. But I wonder if she is simply unaware that this condition could be permanent...."
"Our family often watches TV together. We have "group personality" wherein I can predict when we will all laugh or comment. We all know the kind of subject matter that leads to certain responses and act on non-verbal cues to respond in unison as a group. But last night during television, only Mary, Keith, and myself joined in. Mindi sat there as if she were an outsider visiting for the night who didn't know the routine."
"Mindi is very dismissive in conversation now. Topics that used to open deep and insightful discussions now only garner phrases such as, "Oh, okay", "I see", or "Uh huh..."."
"Mindi has always been a creative and productive little girl. Always constructing something or working with her art. It was a rare day when she did not present me with some new work or ask me to help her with something. I was often pleasantly surprised at what she just went out and built all on her own.... She has not made anything in the last two weeks."
So, these were my notes that got me through the night. I have been giving Mindi V-8 juice three times a day in the hope that some enzyme might re-stimulate the neurotransmitters that are not being properly produced, which leads to Tourette. A long shot, but it certainly won't do her any harm.
When I see that the symptoms are worsening, I bring her another can of it, and afterward she seems a bit better (perhaps just from being cared about). So, today, I noticed she was really stumbling and brought her a drink. She saw the V-8 and said, "Oh, you noticed too, huh?" I said I had noticed her fidgeting, and that sometimes it made me cry. She looked up directly into my eyes and said, "You don't have to cry, Mel... It doesn't SEEM like anything is wrong." I went in the house and fell apart. That is when I decided to write all this down for the editorial of this issue of The Subversive.
Why write of something so personal to so many people I don't know personally? Well, the final note I wrote early this morning before the sun rose probably expresses it best:
"Writing, for me, is not therapy; it is a form of suicide. Self-awareness is painful - too painful to bear. When my mind turns inward , I am drowned in hurt and lost in fear. So I write those pieces of myself out onto the page. I dismantle myself thought by thought, feeling by feeling, until nothing of me remains. For only then is self-illumination extinguished, so that my mind, like a flower drawn to the sun, turns outward toward the dawn of hope that brightens the horizon."
Through my words I can survive; through my words I can be happy.
Well, that's enough of a downer for one issue! Time to change the pace and enjoy something a bit more upbeat!
"Melanie's Night Out with Spielberg and Lucas"
USC needed money, so they threw a party. And what a party it was! Invitation only to the First Annual Excellence in Media Award. And the very first award was presented to George Lucas. All of which means they found a way to get 500 people to cough up $500 per plate to join Mister Lucas in celebrating his award.
Now, how does Melanie fit into all this? Well, as many of you know, I work at Screenplay Systems with my old USC buddies, Chris and Steve. Chris is the VP of the company and Steve is the President. Steve got his invitation in the mail and decided that it would be good for himself, his fiancée, Chris and myself all to attend at company expense. Actually, he came into the conference room where I was talking with Chris and he said, "I think we ought to go to this". And I thought, "He can't mean me too. He must just mean Chris". Nope, me too!
Well, I didn't have a thing to wear! In all these years, I've never worn (much less purchased) an evening gown. But, I figured I was going to need one (and besides, it was a great excuse!) so I skittered off to Bullocks on my lunch break and bought one. I have to admit, it is a lot of fun looking for a dress in the $200 range! And (believe it or not) I found one! A nifty blue/purple dress, open shouldered and drawn to the waist. (Size 10 if you want to know....)
Anyway, the evening arrived, and I went home, changed and then returned to the office to meet the guys. I was wearing the dress with strapped black satin high heels, sparkling gold bracelet and matching necklace and earrings, my hair done up with a frilly black satin bow. I felt like Cinderella!
I drove with Chris in his cherry red Toyota sports car. When we arrived, the valet opened my car door, and Chris and I stepped up to the main entrance of the Beverly Hilton. They had greeters at the door who ushered us in onto the red carpet they had laid, and announced our arrival. What a kick it was to saunter down that red carpet with all the television cameras and lights recording us, while autograph hounds lined the satin ropes along side. I began to get the feeling there was more to this evening than just George Lucas. It seemed more like the Academy Awards!
We were shown to the reception room which was already crowded with notables and more arriving any moment. So many interesting and immaculately dressed people. I glanced at Chris who was handsome in his tux, and I fit in perfectly by his side, grateful for every cent of the $200 I spent on my gown!
The lights flashed and we were taken down the hall, past the cameras again, and into the International Ballroom, where dinner was to be served. Chris and I both prefer to stand to the side of the crowd and watch, rather than trying to play Salmon and lunge upstream toward the center. Still, the notables were so thick that they spread throughout the room. At one point I looked around to see who was near, and within a five foot radius around me were George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Joan Collins! I had no idea this was going to be such a big event!
Soon, dinner was called, and we all made our way to our seats. Our table was just outside the center area where George and his friends were sitting. Our speakers for the evening were wonderful. Stepping up to the podium to congratulate George were Ron Howard, Sidney Poitier, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and our keynote speaker for the evening, Art Buckwald!
They played a little game with the audience, having some of the more notable members read famous lines from classic movies. Among those who joined in the fun were James Woods, Gregory Peck, John Singleton, Sharon Gless, Tyne Daily, and Michael Eisner.
Dinner was quite wonderful - stuffed chicken as the main course and baked Alaska for dessert. When the award was actually presented, a host of waiters rushed to the tables and poured everyone a glass of champagne so we could all share in a toast to Mister Lucas.
But the evening wasn't over yet! As a special surprise, the USC marching band advanced into the ballroom with the USC fight song, while Traveler (the USC mascot: a snow white stallion) galloped behind the tables and reared up to stand on its hind legs! Quite a finale!
Now I must admit, as I heard John Singleton speak, I wondered, "What is he doing here?" I mean, here's the guy who directed "Boys in the Hood" all about conditions of the poor and minorities, and here he is at a $500 a plate dinner! I wondered how he could keep touch with the feelings of those who struggle from day to day to survive. How could he have anything valid to say from his new found position of fame and fortune?
And from this, I wondered about myself. I looked around at all the beautiful people. I looked down at my beautiful dress. I realized that this was just the beginning of my movement into "elite" circles. But what would become of my compassion for those in need? What would become of my empathy with the kind of people who raised me?
I guess you do change when you change your surroundings and lifestyle. And, in fact, you SHOULD change. After all, remaining the same in a different environment means you'll never fit in. So, in a sense, you have to give up one aspect of your kinship with those that don't have the money, the fame or the power. But you don't have to give up your concern.
In fact, when you finally arrive at the top of the heap, its time to redouble your concern. Its when you actually get the power that you want to be most concerned with using it to help those at the bottom.
So what of a $200 dress and a $500 dinner? Should I shun these to maintain my "purity" of spirit? After all the dues I paid, should I not accept the rewards? After all, how many starving third-world children could be fed with that $500?
What it all comes down to is the question of whether or not each individual is responsible for the whole world. I used to think so. But now, I think not. I believe we can be concerned for the whole world, but no individual is responsible for it. Why, that would mean that no one could enjoy a movie or a dinner at Sizzler because the money could be spent on the needs of others. No one would be able to enjoy any desires until the whole world's needs had been met.
But would this not make the whole world a planet of sacrifice where we rob ourselves to support others? What a dreary existence, with no hope of pleasure, no dreams of joy. An austere extreme to be sure. And yet, the opposite extreme is even worse: to keep it all, squander it on oneself and let the needy be damned. "Let them eat cake!" et al.
Its not a simple question of "give and take" either. I've never taken anything from someone less well off than me, but does that stop poverty? No. It is the fact that I am fortunately born and aquatinted that secures my position: the very same factors that doom someone else. Equality is not enough when the world in intrinsically unfair. Just like the concept behind insurance, we must all carry the load to share the risk evenly.
There truly is plenty in the world: plenty for all. Its just that those who are fortunate keep all the plenty for themselves. So, what is the answer? Well, I believe that the first obligation of any human being is to cover the needs of themselves and their families. I don't mean the need for paying the mortgage of a three million dollar home, but the need of the money for a minimal, functional place to stay.
"I need my big house", says one, "to entertain clients so they will keep ordering so I can keep my business so my family can eat." Bullshit! "I need that new video so I can keep up to date with the latest techniques in the art and remain competitive", says another. Bullshit again! We don't NEED these things! Surely, there IS a relationship there that is valid, but the relationship is not causal. These items are truly not REQUIRED in order to survive. And beyond survival, there is no need.
All right then, so we cover only our true needs. What then? Then, for every dollar we spend on ourselves, we should spend a dollar on others. You buy a pack of cigarettes? Put just as much into a jar for the hungry. You spend ten dollars to gas up your car for a trip to the beach? Put ten dollars into the jar. Buy a magazine? In the jar!
Now, this is a hard thing. Life is so full of stress and uncertainty these days, that we need some pleasure and entertainment. And also, when all your friends are driving nice new cars do you really want to drive a beat-up old wreck just so you can share the wealth? Of course not! And you don't have to. Because, if we just share part of what we have left over after keeping up with the Joneses (not keeping AHEAD of the Joneses - just UP with them!) there would be no hungry people in the world. Medical research funds would be turning away money, and loneliness and abuse would be a thing of the past.
So who's going to start it? Well, its unrealistic to ask those in the middle class to take the first shot. And certainly the poor aren't going to have any surplus. And the rich, of course, aren't going to part with a dime. So, who's going to start it? Well, I will. I'm not alone. I'm not the first. But each one of us can ask "Who's going to start it?", and each one of us can answer, "Me! That's who!"
This is how I can justify a $500 dinner: by giving another $500 to feed the hungry. This is how I can justify a $200 dress: by giving $200 to the homeless. This is how I can justify my life: by sharing with others as much as I spend on myself for pleasure.
I'm sure I won't be able to bring myself to jump right in and do this right off the bat. But I'll do something. And the 50/50 split between "me" and "we" will be my goal. I'm sure I'll not be honest all the time. But I'll be honest some of the time. And each time I am, someone else will benefit. So I won't throw it all away the first time I slip up or cop out. No, I'll just keep trying, and every once in a while I'll do it right. And even THAT would be enough if we ALL did it!
I could start this anytime. I think I'll start now. In fact, I've already started. And wouldn't it be a good idea if you started too?
The Story Software is Loose!
Fourteen years after Chris and I came up with the theory, and four years after we began working to create a software product from it, the software has been released!!!
For those of you unfamiliar with the story software, it is based on a whole new theory of story that sees each story as an analogy to a single mind trying to deal with a problem. In other words, all the characters, the plot, theme, and genre represent aspects of that mind - either mental processes or attitudes the Story Mind adopts in its effort to resolve the problem.
Based on this concept, Chris and I developed a computer model of the functioning of the Story Mind that was implemented into software by the company president, Steve.
We announced our theory publicly two years ago at the ShowBiz Expo, here in L.A. One year ago, we demonstrated an early version of the product. This year on June 11th we began selling our first release version!
Our booth at the trade show was constantly swamped by as many as forty people watching our demonstration. Several stayed on to watch for over an hour at a stretch! Needless to say, we sold a lot of copies!
Also, the software has attracted national attention in the press. Just last week we were interviewed by
Wired Magazine. Next week is the Daily Variety. Both CNN and Newsweek have taken an interest.
The academic community is intrigued as well. For example, we recently demonstrated the software for Dr. Marsha Kinder's Narrative Theory class at USC, and successfully fielded questions from post-graduates and PhD.s in Narrative Theory. In addition, M.I.T. has invited us to present our work to their Narrative Intelligence division later in the summer.
The theory offers many scientific and philosophical perspectives that have not been presented before. Among these is a detailed description of the differences in mental functioning between men and women, which greatly impacts gender relationships and issues of gender identity.
Well, I just wanted to let everyone who has been following the progress of this effort that we are out there doing it, and everything is going extremely well! So, look for the software on the shelves of your favorite software store in the coming months, and keep your eyes open for even more applications geared toward personal problem solving and relationships that will be based on the same "engine".
Thanks to all of you who supported me in spirit and listened to my seemingly endless monologues about the theory and its ramifications. We are on the way! (And just imagine their surprise when everyone is using it and my background ultimately surfaces!) A little respect for our community? Probably not. Oh, well....
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