April 18th, 2011
Greetings from Emporia, Kansas! The claim to fame of this small college town two hours South of Kansas City? It’s the founding city of Veterans Day! Woohoo! Party!!
Since my last update, I premiered CAT LADY in Houston. It was exhausting, expensive, though went over extremely well. Two and half years of hair-pulling and tens of thousands of dollars later culminated in a three day run that went by in a blink. Yes yes, art is a journey, not a destination… I still felt like I crashed from the world’s most pricey heroin binge after the show closed. After feeling sorry for myself about the ephemeral nature of my work, I thought: Yes. I did it. I got it up. The show got made. It was to my liking. And now I don’t have to sit in that never ending creative gestation period. Hallelujah. Time to have a private life!
I don’t much to say of the city of Houston because I barely saw it. Touring hardly ever means getting to be a tourist. I did meet one of my longtime blog readers who lives in Houston–Chris Lopez and his wife Lily. They took me out to awesome sushi and even sent me money to make CAT LADY! Lily was so cute and treated me like I was actually a celebrity, not just a woman who got her 15 minutes by getting dissed by James Franco. Shout out Chrisnlily!
I went to New Orleans after the show closed. It was my first non-work related vacation in YEARS. I really must schedule more vacations which is why I dropped five years of airline miles for a seven week trip I’m taking to Southeast Asia in the summer. My first VISIONQUEST! I’m excited now that I have six full length shows under my belt, four of which I can still tour. I finally get to give myself a break and absorb life again.
New Orleans was wonderful. I didn’t open my laptop once. Ignored most calls. I just consumed, consumed, consumed. Stayed at a private house via Airbnb just outside the Quarter and discovered all sorts of music clubs in the neighborhood. I rode a bike to Lake Ponchartrain and as far out as the Lower Ninth Ward (btw, there’s still a lot of post-Katrina damage in New Orleans, keep them in your thoughts). I didn’t call any friends in New Orleans. I didn’t want to have any conversations about art or how my show went. I just wanted to be an anonymous fat tourist, and I got my dream come true!
The best part about my Houston premiere? It felt like I had finally taken the trash out on the last 2 1/2 years of my life. The creative process sometimes stilts the passing of emotional trauma because I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s happening in my life and how to share it with an audience in a viewer friendly way.
Some people mark time by jobs, homes, kids they’ve had. I mark the Dynasties of Wong Adult Life with my shows and creative projects. There was the bigbadchinesemama.com Era (2000-2001), Emerging Voices Fellowship/Novel that has yet to get finished Era(2002), Miss Chinatown 2nd Runner-Up/ Flailing around Hollywood Era (2002-2003), Free? Era (2004-2006), and of course, the longest dynasty of them all Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Era (2006-2010, though THAT Era seems to keep leaking into the present).
I sent a lot of ugly to the stage in CAT LADY, found ways to reflect and transform it artfully and so it’s become something else I can manage and understand better. What’s wrapped up in the Cat Lady era? My existential crisis, bouts of depression from touring a show about suicide for four years, many empty hook-ups, and several failed relationships that includes a relationship I’ve not talked much about before on my blog… a really traumatic relationship with a verbal abuser.
And somehow… I made it funny to watch.
The only show I’ve allowed myself to get addicted to this season is Celebrity Apprentice. (I get addicted to shows quickly, so I choose from hulu carefully.) I hate the idea of celebrities playing for charity, and how one charity wins per episode, but that’s Hollywood and capitalism and amazing drama. Anyhow… I started crying when Nene Leakes bursts into tears in the boardroom. She was the Project Manager and her team was at risk of losing (and they did) and she confesses to The Donald that she wanted her domestic violence charity to win because it’s a cause that hits home. Nene, Latoya Jackson and Marlee Matlin (who I’m quickly becoming a superfan of and is my pick to win) all admitted to Trump to being a abusive relationships. (Of course, the following episode Nene goes off on a verbally humiliating tirade on Latoya… rather ironic considering Nene’s cause…)
Trump’s Obama birth certificate antics aside — I find Celebrity Apprentice a fascinating opportunity for always under-documented social issues to have a bigger presence. And while I’d rather nobody have had to experience it, felt somewhat comforted that these “celebrities” were so openly admitting their domestic violence experiences because the subject of domestic violence I had considered shameful to share publicly.
As brazen as I seem to be about sharing my personal life with strangers, I’m pretty guarded about speaking openly about private experiences I’ve had with violence. And I’m especially private about talking about my relationships, I usually just hide under the persona of the tough talk funny perpetually single cat lady.
But I’m feeling more and more compelled to share with strangers that I survived and escaped a verbally abusive relationship not too long ago. I want to “come out” about this because domestic violence is unfortunately not that uncommon. And domestic violence victims are rich, poor, educated, not educated and come in all colors. I am hearing that many of my friends have been in abusive relationships. One friend’s experience was so extreme that she had things thrown at her while pregnant and had to run into hiding with her son.
I never knew what it meant to be in an abusive relationship or even thought that I could be in one. My friends work for social justice non-profits and so I’m constantly educated on equity, I’ve read a million and a half books on self empowerment (I’m married to myself for Christsakes), and this verbal abuser was someone I was introduced to through friends who (I thought) had my best interests in mind.
What I thought was a runaway romance quickly became a Lifetime Made for TV movie. He’d keep me up in the middle of the night, screaming at me, berating me, picking fights with me as I tried to sleep. He’d yell constantly at me, sometimes in public– yelling was his volume of choice. He’d control parts of my life and my behaviors by constantly correcting me. I was terrified what would happen if I didn’t follow his demands carefully, and found myself lying to friends to avoid situations where I’d incorrectly perform his directives. My secrets, my family members, my shows– were all the subjects of his cruel put-downs. I knew something wasn’t right when I began to compile a list of who I could call to rescue me if he ever got out of hand. It got to the point that he was called me every derogatory word imaginable as he almost drove me off the road and then threw a can of soda at me– that’s when it was clear I had to get out of the relationship.
As it turns out, the person who introduced us knew he was unstable and had a history of psychological meltdowns (one that actually got him fired by the same person who introduced us… a minor detail that would have been nice to know earlier). I actually hung out as long as I did (eight months) because I thought: “We’re of the same community of friends, so this is supposed to work, I’m supposed to endure this. This yelling is just him being passionate. My friends would not put me in a dangerous situation right?” He would call me names until I cried. It was his way of making sure I was still emotionally invested in him– if I could take his anger and still come back to him, then he had control and my love. Sick sick sick. And so characteristic of verbal abusers.
I’ve read that violent unstable people prey on people like me who do live ambitiously and pursue our joys– artists and activists. I think this verbal abuser thought I’d fix his miserable life– he was not in a profession that made him happy. Nor was he courageous enough to travel, let alone, clean his room in over five years. But I couldn’t fix the fundamental misery of his life. In general, nobody comes into your life to fix things. I have learned that when you enter a relationship, you need to COME CORRECT not broken like my last partner. A good relationship is one that inspires, not compromises. And I was not inspired. I was scared.
As I finally move past that chapter in my life, I am becoming more vocal of sharing with audiences and friends that I am a survivor of domestic violence, specifically verbal abuse. And it’s been a very long and heartbreaking road to recovery. Over a year out of that relationship, and I’m just learning I’m not this piece of crap person who does everything wrong. That I am actually quite an amazing person. And yes, that I do deserve to be loved by someone who is brave enough to love without cruelty. And yes, that I need to screen these candidates WAY better. And yes, there are actually nice people in the world who know how to be generous and act without anger.
We live in a world where the angry customer gets their way (though now, selfish corporations trump them). Where democracy can only be achieved by violent upheaval of the government. Where cat fights don’t get the ratings that fist tossing bar room brawls do. Violence is embedded in our personal and global histories. It’s how change is incited.
Even in the Asian American community, domestic violence is commonplace. Unfortunately, it’s shameful to talk about it and so women are suffering silently rather than reporting it. Some (not all) Asian men think that it’s ok to yell at women. That girlfriends and wives are “property.”
As an artist, I was not seeking an abusive relationship. But I was broken. I was depleted from touring a show about suicide and needed comfort. I needed someone to be my rock. I was tired of dating broke people that I was always underwriting. I saw in this verbal abuser someone who might be my rock in my continued pursuit of a financially tricky and emotionally draining profession. Instead, I was bait and switched, pummeled with words, and knocked way off my horse until I was forced to figure out who I was again.
He did not take me away though. And I am learning that it is possible to be brave and love again. First myself. Then someone else. Someone who comes correct and has earned the privilege of my love.
It is actually possible to be in a relationship where loving communication does not happen with screaming, verbal humiliation, threatening gestures, throwing things, hitting, intimidation, forced sex or hurting. It might take a few tries to find a partner brave enough to act with kindness (or to even find it within yourself), but it’s possible. Love can suck, but it is not supposed to hurt.
(Wow, quite a lot of revelation for having been in Kansas for just one day!)