we can learn from anything and everything

the questions we fielded could be of any variety, any flavor. being at the ready to discuss anything and everything was paramount to our employment, as was silence and knowing the situational needs for the differences. groups split between roles and duties more then. age played a part, but it was really more for a lot of reasons that make far more sense now that we’re older and have lived a bit outside our profession. personalities, ages, bandwidths. we all needed a break sometimes, but what we all truly yearned for was to be understood and heard. in the office setting, that was rare especially on a communal level, but as the emotions expressed around us grew, our abilities to disarm our heated reactions to them needed to as well.

in our group of rag-tag assistants, we were all some version of social workaholics. we have all professionally meandered and most of us now do pretty different things from one another, but it appears that we all retain that same quality. i imagine it was part of why we were chosen to work at the company in the first place. it was a small and exclusive place, with implications that were quite far-reaching. a docuseries we watched recently on a pretty big cultural event of the 90s interviewed one of the company founders as the pr representative for the project. the fraught and harried energies my colleagues and i embodied, the shenanigans we unknowingly emulated, now have an entirely differing meaning than they once did.

when the assistants got together, topics for commiserations spanned wildly. people often thought whatever the situation was that they had encountered was worse than that of their friends’. they almost always were gobsmacked and filled with grave contrition when they heard of the other happenings. peoples’ shadow sides are at times endlessly fascinating, our own included, but having a professional accountability for how others covertly addressed their peccadillos in efforts to hide them quickly became disheartening.

a direct boss shared the account of an urban musician/actor type with a woman on the music team. i believe she was for a while the sole person who held a senior position focused in the business of music personalities, and she eventually helped to create that department there. much of what we now associate with the beginning of competition-based talent reality programming was spearheaded by her efforts. she was tall and gorgeous, and steadfastly opinionated, which rounded out the accidentally emasculating trademarks of the power she commanded. without effort, she intimidated me on about every level, but despite our decade of age difference and great height disparity, we were positively compared and correlated a lot. immature me was giddy at what i felt to be such high praise.

she and i sometimes ideologically butted heads, but what for most others amounted to frustrated tears sparked smirky laughter in us both, and we never parted ways angry. our mutual aggressiveness made us dominant forces on that team, and she made me better and stronger for it. as i sought success, i endeavored unconsciously at times to align with her prowess. there was no place for either real or perceived weakness in that field, and she helped indoctrinate me to that early. when she refused to go on a work trip for our shared client, i was the obvious next choice. the reasons for her refusal would soon be evident, but to my detriment in this case, her reasons for not wanting to go in the first place weren’t ever discussed openly.

late one night soon i was boarding a private jet carrying the cast of a film to new york city. on such excursions, the highest ranking famous person often chose the food that was to be brought and served on board, and the choice of cuisine for this flight was a favorite of the man i was traveling with and his entourage. all three of the men traveling with him, now existing as his security detail, had served time in prison for murder. their grilling of me about my asexual and non-racial past aggressively defied all the professional boundaries i thought i had, and the other cast members fearfully watched the interactions from behind their efforts to sleep. while we mercifully didn’t chat for too long, my reputation as an unflappable representative was thusly, sadly, cemented amongst the group. the bar for their efforts to break me had been raised, though, and i was none the wiser as i tended to my deflated ego.

as we landed and got into our waiting
car to take us to the hotel for a quick shower before our day set full of public appearances, i was gruffly advised to not share our location with any press. seeing as that was stating the obvious, i chortled demurely, assuming that my having passed the humiliation test the night before excluded me from having to endure more. mistaken in such logic, once checked in, they bolted, leaving me to explain their absence to producers, my boss back in la, the other actors, and among others, the on-site studio representatives. my chagrin was only emboldened when they appeared suddenly hours later, having had the driver of the chauffeured vehicle quietly take them sight-seeing without checking in. they were rumored to have gone to the statue of liberty.

years later i ended up working with another cast member from that movie who was on that flight. the expression on his face when we realized the overlap was one of fright and confusion. that he thought that was how men were to act in this business was appalling. his surprise that i still had a job was humorous to me, but really, another veiled demarcation for the industry at large. it brought back the whole experience, and i saw it how he must have, and the other women present. and the director and the studio execs. how young i had been aside, that was a harrowing experience. the jet not withstanding.

experiences are the spicy learning lessons of life to some. mine have run the gamut from horrible to kind, selfish to generous, depending on a myriad of subjective circumstances. part of what made that job so enticing was that you never knew what you were walking into on any given day. there were ideas of trajectories kf course, depending on what was coming out when, but before we lived in a non-pre-planned technological world of 1s and 0s then, and everyday was different. when i was first sidelined with my autoimmune disorder, that was how i described the life of deterioration i was living in. there was no rhyme or reason to my fluctuating musculature or neural paths, so things literally felt and seemed different all tbe time. what looked to be a lack of planning was really my effort to relax and be ready for anything. it took years to determine that, in fact, that wasn’t a known experience and i was essentially speaking gibberish. of course i sounded crazy.

the unknown is a scary concept for some, but not knowing is how i grew up in this business. probably before that, too, or excelling in this quagmire would have been nearly impossible. i see now though that while we may have to look hard, there is always some good to be found in with the bad. maybe lessons we succeed through are reassurances, reminders that this too shall pass. ms is far from the worst thing i thing i’ve lived through. some of the memories i have are dark and twisted, while others are light-filled and beckoning. time lets it all be just an experience. note to self: take it all in while you still can. and if someone wants to go sight seeing, set it up so it can still happen another day. we’ll all thank you.

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