Tell me something about a person or time in your life that changed the direction your life was taking in a dramatic fashion. Why did it make a difference for you then and there, and what would have been different for you if you hadn't had that encounter?
I am very grateful for many people who have been there in my life. My parents, first and foremost. I don't know what I would have done without my husband, my sister, my friends from my hometown, and my friends from college and after. I'm grateful to the Boinodiris clan for establishing and allowing me to be a part of WomenGamers. There are many folks I could list.
However, when I read this question, I think of my mentors. I mentioned Nora Kizer Bell in a previous post when I heard of her recent death.
I'm grateful to Sue S., a wonderful journalist from my hometown with a fantastic sense of humor who nurtured me by giving me certain books she felt I needed to read. I'm thankful that Tucky T., my hometown librarian, was always so kind to me whenever I came to the library. I've loved books pretty much since I knew what a book was, but her encouraging enthusiasm made it a welcoming environment.
I owe a great debt to community theater, and to my parents for supporting me in pursuing acting. Johnny M., Susan H., Steve M., and others. They gave me so much more than an activity to keep me occupied in a sleepy Southern town.
I don't know of anyone out there who hasn't experienced insecurity, and for those pre-teen and teen years, theater was the best outlet imaginable for me. I didn't have to be my slightly-gawky self: for a while, on stage, I could be someone else. It wasn't just an escape, though: it gave me a lot more confidence, and without being immodest, I was decent enough at it to be at least a medium fish in a small pond.
Coming 'round to your specific question, if I had to name just one person who changed the direction my life was taking in a positive way, that person would have to be Helen G. Helen is a story in and of herself. I often think of her as the last of the grand dames. She has done everything, and she did it before everyone else at a time when women generally didn't. She needs to write a book, I tell you. She was recognized and decorated for her service in WWII; she's met Clark Gable, she helped pioneer some of the physical therapy still used with veterans today; she designed and built her own theater, she taught for years, and the stories of her travels to amazing places would entertain anyone with even a spark of wanderlust.
However, Helen was important because she walked in and said "I'm not here to be your friend." And she wasn't. She was there to be a teacher, and perhaps most importantly at that time, to be a savvy psychologist. She quickly picked up on the fact that the way to get the best performance out of me at that age was to make me mad enough to want to prove her wrong. Again and again, over and over, we would do a monologue from Chekov's The Seagull. She pushed hard, and I pushed right back. We've both got an obstinate streak in us. *smiles* And yet, two decades hence, I'm inclined to say to myself sometimes "What would Helen do in this situation?"
The love and dedication she demonstrated by putting the energy into demanding so much from me was what pushed me to the next level as a performer. It is due to her efforts that I succeeded in being selected as one of 40 students in the entire state of South Carolina for the Drama program at the Governor's School of the Arts.
That program did more to transform me than almost any other experience I've had in my life. When I returned from it, I knew there were others like me; that I wasn't alone. When I returned from it, I knew I hadn't been selected because of who my parents knew, but because of my own skill and merit. When I came back, I was changed for the better. I knew what I had was good enough. Oddly, it gave me the confidence to say no to pursuing a professional acting career. I weighed the options, knew the risks and the ratio of success, and having gotten to Governor's School was enough for me.
What would have been different for me if I hadn't had that experience?
Quite a few things. I learned that no matter what one's backyard happens to be, we are all bored with the familiar. I thought my small town was, well, just so small town at that time. When visiting some of my friends from GSA after, I realized that they found their stomping grounds just as routine. I was excited to visit a friend who had a multiplex within easy access of her house, but she took it completely for granted. So, earlier than many, I think, I learned that everybody has a humdrum norm in whatever's familiar to them.
I doubt I would have developed a friendship at the level I have with Helen, if it hadn't been for that important connection. We can not talk for a year, and then immediately pick up where we left off. Being pushed to that place in self, that other people haven't taken you -- you develop a great deal of trust, and I'd often go round to her house after that and chat.
I'll give Helen this: she's never stopped living. I think she hasn't written that book I mentioned because she's still too busy having adventures and learning. She's been an important teacher to so many. She's never married, but she has left more of a legacy than any five people I know put together. She's stubborn, indomitable, intractable, difficult, and I wouldn't have her any other way. She's done things her way, paid the prices that were necessary, and I love and admire her for it.
I think the confidence I mentioned would have come, but it would have been later. College would have done it, but having that extra finishing, that polish before going in, definitely helped when entering a much larger pool than that to which I'd become accustomed to swimming in. *smiles*
What's more, it kept me safer. Theatre kept me at rehearsals in the evenings, not out drinking or experimenting with things that I was too young to fully understand. I am glad I stayed as naive as I did for so long, with such a gradual maturation.
Lots of things would have been different, had things not happened as they did, but I'm sure glad in this case that they weren't. There were some later events in my life that changed things for ill -- I mentioned them in association with the Nora entry, but remembering this reminds me of the balance and circle of things.
Thank you for this series of questions, Streamweaver. This one . . . I'll admit to getting a bit misty while writing it. Thanks for provoking some thoughts that remind me of who I am, and of where I am supposed to be.