On the Issue of "Issues"

Found: Lost marbles

I debated writing this post for quite some time. I don't often speak about it, but for many years I lived with a monster. I  had a drunken stepfather. Most fourth-graders don't have to contemplate exactly how far they will take things to protect their family. They play with Barbie. I was slinking out of my bedroom to grab an apple cider jug, ready to smash a grown man in the head with it if he didn't stop hitting my mother. He became especially abusive toward me when I reached my young teenage years and it started to show that I was female and that I was "gifted".  The combination was intolerable to him. For many years I was under a kind of modified house arrest, leaving for school or work and only going out if mom stuck her neck out and hustled me out the door if he was out drinking rather than in drinking. During the worst years, his abuse took on a quasi-religious and highly misogynistic flavor. He tried to isolate all of the members of the family because he thought we were plotting against him, and we had to sneak time to talk to each other. I would dash to my brother's room to say "I love you littlebrother". In turn, he would give me stolen art supplies. These clandestine little meetings were instrumental in making me the artist I am today.

I was drawn to Tennyson, Tolkein, folklore, and history. Because I was alone with my books much of the time, I developed a formality based on the language of  the era I was reading from. Because  I was dealing with heavy secrets for an adult to carry, much less a child,  I was shy and had a brittle edge that was too serious for my age. I sometimes still show traces of that anachronism and have a love/hate relationship with solitude. Alone was a prison, but alone was also safe as long as the bedroom door didn't explode open. I was, as Patrick Stewart so eloquently puts it, "an expert on the escalation of violence."  In my older teenage years, I would draw the anger toward me, with all of the arrogance and courage of adolescence, in order to ensure it was focused on me rather than my mother and brother. I thought I was protecting them as my stepfather grew increasingly enraged because I refused to flinch, cry, or look away when I was hit or screamed at. As an adult I was eventually able to scare him away from my family. His legacy followed me in emotionally abusive or simply unhealthy relationships until I learned that just because someone wasn't slapping me around, it didn't mean they were a good match. With that knowledge, I broke that pattern as well. I was a poster-child for PTSD until I learned to deal with it.

Why do I bring this up now and what does it have to do with the image industry?

Firstly, my introductory lesson in camouflage makeup was to hide my own bruises or disguise a swollen lip, before fixing glasses that were struck from my face and checking myself in the mirror so I could go to school. I drag dark memories into the day because I agree with Sir Patrick Stewart on a very important truth. Light must be shown on such abuse to help others and I am not ashamed to speak about what happened.  

Secondly,  I bring it up because in the arts, we tend to be a tribe with a disproportionate amount of people who have scars, who have suffered trauma, or who have a form of mental illness. The arts provide a voice, but it can also be a meat-grinder. We have a lot of people who don't know how to handle their issues in order to be successful.  It is amazing how often I have heard variations of "you don't know me," or "you don't understand,"  when someone has flaked, has completely flipped out on someone, or tries to justify bad behavior. I bring up my own past to say, yes I have scars too, so I am speaking  from a place of understanding when I say...the industry will not be your therapist and frankly, with the amount of people dealing with their own crap, you don't want it to be.

Whatever happens in life, we have a measure of control over our destiny. We are not helpless. We can choose to adapt. We can choose to move forward. We can choose to make use of support systems outside of work. I chose to live well, to persevere, to draw knowledge and strength from my experience. I chose to help others. I chose to examine my weaknesses and make a conscious effort to train myself out of them. For example, thirteen years ago I was so painfully shy that I could not go to a pub without a book of ballads in my pocket as a security blanket. I made myself go out, went to the clubs in outlandish costumes, modeled nude, did public speaking, performed before crowds in spite of my stage fright...I trained myself to become a social chameleon. Now, I am at home in whatever room I occupy from blue collar to black tie. I can work the room and own the space if necessary. Rather than allowing myself to be broken, I sought out new strengths, new skills, and new challenges to overcome. I took it one goal to the next.

People don't know me as Lucinda, the victim of many years of physical and emotional abuse. Because I don't define myself that way. It is only a footnote in my story. They know me as Lucinda, the person who has an inexplicable depth of character and great reserves of strength. They know me as the person they can turn to when they want a mentor for developing that power within themselves. It is a kind of alchemy to turn your pain into gold.

Horrible things happen through chemistry or circumstance. We can choose whether we will perceive ourselves as victims or as survivors. That statement has made some younger artists that have come to me for advice very angry. Often times, they were at a place in their life where they identified themselves as their illness or trauma, as if that was their identity, the thing that made them unique. And how dare I challenge that image that they had of themselves? How dare I suggest that that is only a part of who they are?

There is a difference between having an illness or trauma, and being owned by it. If we're too wrapped up in the idea of sickness or trauma as self, it becomes our own special snowflake syndrome. It's healthier to focus on what else makes you unique and valuable, especially if you are wanting to function in the creative and image industries, especially fashion or film. What is your talent? What is your skill? What do you bring to the table? Your clients and coworkers want to know what it is that you can provide them, and they want to know that it is more than baggage (however fashionable) or a chip on the shoulder.

I have even seen people in the arts get competitive over who was the most emotionally shattered. This is not a selling point. Your coworkers or clients did not cause your challenges, nor should they bear your burdens. They shouldn't be expected to handle you with kid gloves. They don't care what you're working though with your therapist  They want to know that you can do the job  by showing up on set, while conducting yourself in a  professional manner. Whatever sympathy they may have over your fight with your boyfriend, fades  quickly when you show up to set late, drunk, and surly...repeatedly. This is a field that is fast-paced and requires teamwork while also being highly competitive. Social skills are vital. If you haven't the coping skills to manage, then go acquire them or find a better career fit. No matter how close you may be with someone off-work hours, there is no "you poor dear" on-set or backstage.  There simply isn't time for it.

In her book "If You Have to Cry, Go Outside" Kelly Cutrone wrote:
 When my employees make a mistake, I want them to fix the problem as quickly as possible and move on. The last thing I or any other boss wants to hear is, "*Wahhhh*, I was just trying to be helpful, *wahhhh*!" That's why I officially banished crying to the sidewalk outside. You think I'm a bitch? Fine. Go sit on the street and call your friend and talk shit about me all day. Just get out of my office and stop psychically blowing my vibe and that of the  others who came here to make money and be serious instead of being jokers. We may cultivate a purposefully casual atmosphere in our offices, but that doesn't mean we have a casual attitude about work. If we as women want equal rights in the workplace, it's time for us to start acting like equals. You call yourself a feminist? You say you want to advance the women's movement? Then acknowledge that you're no different than anyone else and deserve no special treatment. Haul those FedEx boxes and don't give me or anyone else the luxury of seeing you lose control of your emotions in a professional setting. Once you enter a workplace, you're surrounded by grown-ups, not friends. Your boss is not your boyfriend, and she's not your therapist. She is a person who is paying you to do a job. If you (or she, for that matter) think otherwise, you will be burned. 

I had a bride who was also a friend who invited my long-term boyfriend and I to her wedding. I did her makeup and then he and I attended the wedding and reception as a happy couple. I made a point of not letting her know we had broken up the night before. She didn't need that on her day. It was not the time or place. We need to be aware of those boundaries between our personal lives and doing the job. That is where reputation is built, and you want it built on your strengths. That same bride has since bought my services as a gift whenever her friends get married. 

I don't talk about my younger years at work because it is not what I am there to do. I am at work to work...and to work at my best. I am never formulating excuses, and phantoms of my past will not define me. In fact, until this moment, most of my associates had no idea of this aspect of my story. Friends and family are there for support and you should contact them if you need them, nobody should have to suffer alone. Coworkers in this industry may empathize, as many have endured their own trials, but they won't necessarily sympathize when there is work to be done. My role is one of the most nurturing and intimate on a crew. People want to talk to me and I am happy to listen and treasure their trust. However, even I have had to tell more than one model, "I'm sorry the designer pissed you off/ you didn't pack a granola bar/your boyfriend caused drama at the event/ whatever...I have five minutes to get you down the runway so get it together and chin up. Be as angry/sad/crazy/hungry as you want, once the event is over and the clothes are back on the hangers. Then we can talk."

The clock doesn't stop, deadlines don't stop looming, and the crew isn't going to hang around all night for one person to have a meltdown. "The show must go on." If Freddie Mercury could perform like a rock god when he knew he was dying of AIDS, you too can pull it together for a few hours on set.

Just after Y2K, when my life in this city was spooling up from the $2.00 in pennies I had to my name, Vas Littlecrow scouted me as a model and told me "All this pain and suffering will be great for your press releases." I can see her point...but it is only great if I live my life as a success story. I hope you can live your lives as one as well.