Sunday, July 1, 2012

Talk to the Back of My Head...It's Easier this Way

as "Miller Time" for CLAW..photo by Billy Hunt

Guest Post by Miller Murray Susen
Note from DeeDee:  I'm sharing with you today the writing of Miller Murray Susen.  Those of us who get to read her Facebook updates know what it's like to read what she writes and cry, "More, more, more!"  So, I asked her if she would give me more -- a guest post about being an actor and a mother...
I was driving my kids across town to swim team. I often bring up difficult or complicated subjects with them in the car, because they seem more comfortable telling the back of my head about their feelings--the front has all of my eye and mouth bits, after all. I had gotten my news the night before, and it seemed like as good a time as any to share it.

“So, guys!” I began in a carefully cheerful tone. “You know that play I auditioned for earlier this week?” I got a couple of muffled “Mmm”s and pressed on. “Well, you’ll never guess what? I got the part!”

I looked in the rearview mirror to gauge their reactions. Neither of them said a word, but the weary look of resignation they exchanged spoke volumes.

The first time I got cast in a play as a real, actual grown-up was 3 years ago. My son was 2, and my daughter was 5. The show was RENT, and I only had an ensemble role, but that was really all I could handle. I’d sung nothing but lullabies since 2004, danced only the late-night baby bop, acted by embodying the real-life drama queen I was born to be, but nothing more, you know, formal.

Combining the work of the play with the work of stay at home parenting was tricky. Rehearsals were 5 nights a week and I’d get home around 10:30 pm and then buzz around the house unable to come down. My son is an early riser, so sleeping time was squeezed. During the long, hazy days I volunteered at the kids’ schools, and let me tell you making blueberry muffins with eighteen 5 year olds on 5 hours of sleep is what I imagine a bad trip feels like. Coordinating a babysitting schedule of military-grade precision was also extra challenging for my wooly head, but my husband’s frequent work travel demanded it. One thing I didn’t do, that I’m sure my kids wish I had, is punt on dinner. I needed to eat before rehearsal, too, so I held the line on the homemade evening meal, which meant we had to be sitting down to eat by 6 pm, which meant I had to be prepping by 4:30, which meant I had to really be on top of the flow of the afternoons, which meant... I basically spent 3 months as a blur of quick-talking, baggy-eyed mom flesh, like an Aaron Sorkin character but with no clever quips.

I even missed being the Easter Bunny that year--our last performance was the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, and we had to strike the whole set plus make terrible decisions at the cast party, so I slept for 3 hours before stumbling down to watch the kids uncover the melty chocolate my husband had quickly stashed around the backyard. There was not enough coffee in the world to make it a happy Easter. The exhaustion was so extreme it was all I could do not to look into the joyful, chocolate-smeared face of my 5 year old and snarl, “Really? You think a huge bunny hopped around the yard last night and hid that candy? YOU REALLY THINK THAT COME ON!”

The experience of the show, though, was electrifying. I reconnected with my love of performance in a big way. For me there are not many highs higher than hollering music that makes your heart hammer to a packed house of happy people.

We as a family wound up the experience of mom doing a musical basically intact, but the house was a wreck, my nerves were shot, my relationship with my co-parent was threadbare, we were hundreds of dollars in the hole from the babysitting, and I hadn’t seen any non-theater friends for an entire season of the year. It felt so good to ease back into a schedule centered around the kids--no more sitters or hurried meals, a tidier house, and a less preoccupied mom. But. But... I told my family I wouldn’t do any more plays for a while, in recognition of how much easier our life is when I’m not trying to do my job while also working nights. But the bottom line is that I’d tasted Paris, and it was just too hard to be back on the farm full time forever.

I don’t do the performing for anyone but me. People will say things trying to make me feel better about it, like, “it’s good for your kids to see you happy,” and “pursuing something you love teaches them to do the same,” and blah well-meaning blah. But I don’t have any illusions about this--my performing really isn’t fun for them, they just tolerate it. If I cared about centering our household around them and providing gold-standard parenting, I wouldn’t do any more performing until they were out of the house. It’s just a fact.

But I love it. And I love them. And while never the twain shall meet, the twain shall co-exist as comfortably as possible for as long as we can swing it.

Miller Murray Susen has 23 first cousins on her father's side of the family. She likes a nice hummus, avocado, and sriracha sandwich. Her son is going into kindergarten in the fall, which means both of her children will be in school all day, which means she needs to get her crap collected, but... Well, it's still summer, I guess. She acts, sings, competes in triathlons, picks up after people, bakes, paints, makes beds, edits, arm wrestles, took guitar lessons for a while, and has a blog you can't read because it isn't ready yet. You can follow her on Twitter if you've nothing better to do @A_momynous.

Miller's next upcoming role will be "Diana" in the musical I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Four County Players in Barboursville, Virginia.  It opens September 7, 2012.