Here’s a little more of the personal back story, a reminiscence I share, in part to acknowledge this anniversary, and in part because I think it still rings true today.
In those days, I was a dancer uncertain where to put her feet. My training was in modern dance, a field that could hardly be called a profession. The brilliant and transcendent modern dancers of that time were admired for their asceticism, even if they “made it.” Most starved until they married well, or capitulated and went to teach in the suburbs. Some of my friends defected to show business, a career move that involved technical re-tooling, months of rigorous ballet and jazz training to prepare for auditions. With a lot of hard work and luck there might be income-producing work as a chorus gypsy on Broadway. I could not decide whether choosing this path would brand me as an artistic sellout, or qualify me at last for the world of adults.
This was by no means my only area of confusion in those days. The city I was so determined to make my home terrified me. Streets were a menace; solitude was suffocating. I spent days so paralyzed with depression I was barely able to leave my apartment to get to class. I clung to an amusingly mismatched relationship with someone I have since described as my baby-sitter.
My college classmates moved on to marriages and children and careers while I tried to make sense of a cold and incomprehensible society of others who seemed to know what they were doing but had no desire to do it with me. Remembering the utter loneliness and fear I felt in my first few years in New York is like revisiting a hometown that was wasted by natural disaster, or the sickening flashbacks of a wounded veteran years after the war. It’s easy now to understand why I tried to medicate this state with food.
There were brief periods of relief, usually associated with some dance performance or commercial work I often got through my boyfriend’s connections in film and TV. I always expected to fail at these things, was chilled with anxiety until they were over, and then disbelieving of my solid if un-extraordinary success.
A few years ago I visited the Museum of TV and radio with my sister-in-law who’d also done some acting work. We thought it would be fun to dig up old kinescopes from our early days trying to make it in the theatre. We found one in which I’d been a “dancing extra” in a live (meaning real-time) production for TV of Silas Marner, starring Julie Harris. She was fantastic! At the climax of the drama, a cleverly shot snow scene, Harris flopped down with her co-star, Sterling Hayden, on a wooden sled and crashed to her death, her little high-booted feet in the air, a thin scream of exhilaration turning to sudden recognition of her fate. The vintage kinescope that we replayed in the museum barely does justice to the wonder of watching Harris rehearse this and other intimate scenes with a quiet intensity that commanded the attention of everyone on the set.
I had been hired for a party scene in the show to square dance and socialize around a table of punch and cookies. There were only a few background shots of me in black and white, so very young and dressed to look even younger. But, even on the little screen in the museum I saw an actor focused, relaxed and alive every second on camera. I suddenly recalled the quick choices I’d made for the scene: to examine the spread on the table completely before filling my plate, to allow my sweaty and over-attentive partner to cause me to recoil before throwing myself into the dance. I saw exactly the sort of incidental player I love watching today. Back then, I didn't know that I knew what to do.
Discovering that – learning to trust myself and respect my process – that’s what discovering and writing about The Anti-Diet was all about. It still is. Happy 2013!