There was a small window in my early childhood when I wanted to be a doctor. This was inspired by my pediatrician, a relatively young man whom I called Dr. Handsome. I had assumed this was because his name was Dr. Hasen or Dr. Branson, but I recently found out his name was Dr. Ritger, so I guess I should have just died at age four when I decided to call my physician Dr. Handsome without so much as a pun to justify it. Anyway, I loved Dr. Handsome. All I actually knew about him was that he was nice and he helped people, but he got a lot of attention for it, which seemed like a pretty sweet gig.
“When I grow up, I’m going to be a poor doctor,” I announced. My mom asked me what I meant.
“I’m going to be a doctor for poor people,” I said. “They won’t need to pay, I’ll work for free.” My mom is a sucker for this kind of sweet-little-kid stuff, but she had to point out that I might face complications in adult life, even if it meant crushing my dream.
“That’s very nice, sweetheart, but if you work for free, what will you do for money?” My mom was an accountant and the breadwinner in the family. Teaching her children about money was the responsible thing to do. She may have even wondered if my brother or I would follow in her footsteps.
I thought about this for a while. I’d just been served a heavy dose of reality.
“Oh!” I said. I can’t believe you didn’t think of this yourself, Mom. “If I run out of money, I’ll just write a check.” She knew then that a career in finance was not for me.
Aside from becoming Martyr, MD, I didn’t have many career goals before I decided I wanted to perform. Sometimes this worries me. Am I like one of those Chinese gymnasts who’s known nothing but this life, never able to consider another option? Am I going to wake up in ten years and say, “Someone get me to a lab; I’ve got some shit to discover!” I would actually love that. Having zero education to back up the desire would be irritating, but going to college at forty with a background in the arts and discovering the competitive world of science would be . . . a terrible movie! Terrible screenplay idea number one! (Terrible title ideas include but are not limited to: The Science of Art! The Art of Science! Old Maid in a Lab Coat!)
Still, performing is all I’ve cared about since the first time I can remember caring about anything. I don’t know how you pursue acting as an adult. It’s possible that the process would have subjected me to more discouraging situations than I could handle and I would have bailed and started a closet-organizing business . . . while letting my OWN life and home fall into chaos! Terrible screenplay idea number two! (Terrible title ideas include but are not limited to: Closet Case! Organize This! Mothballs and Heartbreak! Love Hoarder!) I’m glad I got started early.
It’s All Mike’s Fault
There are plenty of early influences I could point to—Newsies, Life with Mikey, everything Bette Midler ever did—but my brother, Mike, claims I started performing because I wanted to copy him. Which is absolutely true.
My brother is my hero. I’ve idolized him since the day I was born, and I still do. He’s responsible for at least sixty percent of my personality, for better or worse. I’m told that if you’re an only child, you grow up thinking you’re the center of the universe, and if you have tons of siblings you grow up with a healthy perspective on how small you are in the grand scheme of things. I’d like to think that my brother told me I was a worthless brat often enough that I got the same effect.
Our dad had been an athlete in college and exposed the two of us to every team sport Maine had to offer. The poor man got so excited whenever we showed the slightest aptitude for sports, only to have his hopes dashed when we gave them up just as quickly. The summer I played T-ball, I got in trouble for blowing kisses to my friend Margaret Eddy, the first baseman for the other team. Soccer didn’t appeal to me at all. I stood still in the middle of the field for the entirety of the one game I played. The other kids had the ball, I’d wait my turn. Most important, my brother had no real interest in sports, and I wasn’t about to waste my time doing something where I couldn’t follow him around.
Not having it.