Kurt and I have a collection of framed pictures and posters waiting to be hung in our place in L.A. because neither of us have the interior decorating gene, and because many of them are related to my career and I have, over the years, come to see them as reminders of what I haven’t accomplished rather than for what they actually are which are reminders of my actual successes.
In July of 2012, sitting poolside at my apartment building in Koreatown-adjacent, I got a call from a staffing agency with a potential job. After the call, I opened Twitter and without thinking too much about it I tweeted:
The Tweet went viralish. At the time, it seemed like it was everywhere. In reality, it got retweeted fewer than 1000 times, but back in 2012, that felt like a lot. And tbf, people did screenshot and share it on other platforms a lot. There was a reddit thread (for what that’s worth) of hundreds of comments about it, mostly having to do with the state of the economy, probably because most dudes on reddit are the kind of dudes who don’t think women can be funny, so they probably thought I was actually making a comment on state of joblessness in the U.S.
For the most part, the tweet attracted some very positive attention for me. I had taken some time off acting, and I think the tweet served to remind people that I was still alive and kicking. My Twitter following doubled overnight. I was approached by a literary manager who said she wanted to rep me for a memoir. A Broadway director told me he would love to work with me. I got to work writing a new show.
The show I wrote, “Fuck Off, I Love You,” which had its premiere at Joe’s Pub on Monday, September 17th, 2012 (Insider’s tip: Don’t schedule a show in NYC on Rosh Hashanah. It turns out a lot of Jews find this holiday more important than watching me sing “Banana Split for my Baby.” Go figure.), included a poster-sized version blowup of the tweet heard round the world (or, more like, “heard round the ten block radius that makes up the theater district in NYC.”).
A little side note here: I had forgotten how quickly I wrote that show. Honestly, writing, picking songs and having them arranged, and rehearsing a show in six weeks is a feat I forgot I was capable of. Kudos, me!
About a month later I found out I was pregnant. Very pregnant. Almost 11 weeks. My director and I decided to do the show again, this time using it as a platform to announce the pregnancy. We did the show on a Monday night in mid-November, 2012, just after Hurricane Sandy had ripped through New York (Insider tip: If a hurricane happens a few days before you’re scheduled to do a one-night only show, cancel it. Turns out people who have no power due to a weather “event” don’t want to watch me sing “Banana Split for my Baby.” Go figure.).
Notice I am blaming disappointing audience numbers on circumstances beyond my control rather than on the possibility that people just didn’t want to come see my show, or that my marketing budget was zero dollars. I am choosing to blame outside circumstances for a reason.
Not long after I did the breast milk tweet, some douchebag on Facebook reposted it along with a comment that I needed to stop complaining, and “shut up,” and package my breast milk, “bitch.” I know. SUPER charming. He probably gets laid a TON. I reposted his post and invited people to tear him a new one. They did, and he sent me a sniveling apology and said he was directing a community theater production of TSG somewhere. I didn’t reply because duh. But cool anecdote, bro. Who cares? Also, good luck directing a show about a little girl with PTSD who has become hardened and learned to shut down as a response to shitty people and death. Seems like you have a good handle on complicated women and their complicated feelings.
Then, on Oscar night a few months later, another Facebook douchebag tagged me in a post in which he said something about how Quvenzhané Wallis should ask me what it’s like to be a footnote in history. He tagged me. He went out of his way to make sure I saw him insult me and a nine-year-old girl together. Classy.
A couple years after that someone very close to me (family) told me I would never achieve my dreams as an actor. To my face. And apropos of nothing. I won’t say who the person because I don’t want the weight of having publicly shamed them hanging over me at every family gathering. Though it will be in my memoir… Sorry about, NAME REDACTED.
I’m ashamed to say that those comments, along with a handful others, blew me back. I am a deep believer in the idea that one bad review cancels out 99 raves. I know it isn’t logical. I know it’s impossible to please everyone. But over the years, I have somehow managed to let the few naysayers drown out the tangible proof of my talent and success. I’m not proud that I have let these people become the trolls in my head, but they got under my skin.
Over the years I managed to convince myself that the reason I won a Tony was because people were amazed that an 11-year-old could walk and talk at the same time. My show posters became reminders of how long it had been since I was on Broadway, rather than what they actually are: Reminders that I was on Broadway. A couple years after “Fuck Off: I Love You”, Kurt had the poster-sized blow up of the tweet framed. And there it sits, collecting dust with the other posters, because I have let it become a symbol of my failure, rather than a mark of success. Instead of feeling pride in the joke itself, as a stand alone thing, I am reminded of the small audience turn out. Instead of pride, I am reminded that I haven’t gotten a book deal yet. My Tony Award seems to whisper, “Yeah, but what have you done lately?”
Even when people congratulate me on doing a great job raising Monty, I find a way to chalk it up to luck of the draw rather than on my intentional hard work.
Tomorrow I am putting those posters up in my hallway. And every time I walk by them I’m going to be reminded of my talent, my work, and my success. The next time someone asks me what it’s like to be a footnote in the history books, I’ll ask him what it’s like to not even have made it into the history books. I have worked. I have succeeded. I continue to work and succeed. And if that doesn’t mean I’ve already achieved my dreams, I don’t know what does.