Between fourth and fifth grade my parents took us to Orlando to go to Disney World. I had caught bronchitis immediately before this in Huntsville, Alabama at Space Camp.
Ok, soak that in. I was a privileged brat. But a sickly one, so you can relate to me as a mere mortal.
Anyway, one day my mom took me, just the two of us, to Hollywood Studios. As we waited in line, I noticed the kids in front of us were in The Mickey Mouse Club. Not Britney or Justin. This was before they joined. These kids were the coolest kids of their time. They were in a band called The Party. I whispered this to my mother as I silently seethed.
Why seethe, Vene? Why?
Because: 1. I hated all things deemed cool. I was not cool and I resented anyone who had attained that status. But also, 2. I WAS SO JEALOUS OF THEM!
Secretly I wanted to be them. I’ve never been a fan of people with fame. I’ve only watched them, from the rafters, trying to see what made them special. Because I felt special. And I needed to know the secret.
I never said this out loud. Not until much later when my companion to Space Camp, Michael, and I would talk about getting out of Nogales when we were teenagers. We knew who we were and what we possessed. Until then, it was just me living in mild delusion. In Mexican culture, or at least in Nogales, acting like you were worth something meant you thought you were better. And in my case, it meant getting bullied relentlessly.
Anyway, my mother, now knowing who was in front of her, started talking to the kids and I was immediately embarrassed. She got their autograph for my sister Andrea. But she didn’t say it was for my sister. She didn’t clarify which daughter…but most importantly…not the daughter standing directly behind her. I must have turned candy apple red with embarrassment.
If my mother has one gift, it’s always been talking to famous people as if they were equals and demanding that they give her what she wants. Not a bad skill to have. I’ve blended that with my father’s gift of charm and used my bombast and clever words to talk to many strangers who have helped me along the way.
My dad would probably take credit for it all if he could.
Even Google thinks we might be the same person.
And, frankly, we are very much alike. That man has ingratiated himself into circles of high society just by being charming. I don’t know what it’s like to have a stoic, punny American father. My dad had to learn early, as a young immigrant in a mostly white school system, how to disarm people. And he became very good at it.
All of this was lost on me as a kid. I was a bulldozer. I’d get my way, come hell or high water, by force. Force of will, force of mind, brute strength, defiance and arrogance. The other kids might have caught more flies with honey, but I wore my victories around my neck like trophies. Tiger’s teeth on a string.
I’ve since learned that life is a lot more fun when you’re relaxed. Ninety-five percent of the time, I am. But if I feel taken advantage of or lied to, I can flip a bitch real quick and turn into Shiva herself. I’m working on that part of myself. But it’s necessary to have. I can afford to be nice because my boundaries are so strong. I’m not going to put up with manipulations or lies. My logic sensors are always on the look out for these things to keep me safe.
Moving away from Arizona was me knowing that I was dealing with petty forces, particularly as I started coming into my own as a writer. The women who’d dominated the storytelling scene didn’t like me. They made sure I knew it via cold shoulders, overacted condescension and snide remarks. They all shared the same dream of making it big and they treated it as a zero sum game. At first I thought I was seeing things that didn’t exist. Why would anyone be jealous of me? It didn’t make sense.
Now I know it’s real. I was asked to take part in The Odyssey storytelling Zoom YouTube show for December. Out of the blue, I got contacted from Tucson. It was nice to be thought of. We had rehearsal last Thursday. I wasn’t planning on staying through the whole rehearsal but I did. I got to see someone who I’d always treated as a friend and colleague rip an old story of mine off word for word. It wasn’t even a good ripoff. It was cobbled together. Her delivery was stiff and childish. The story had no merit. And she couldn’t stick the landing. So instead of working harder to get better (she’s been doing this a lot longer than I have), she just took my story and made it her own.
And this is a story I have had published that has gone on to get syndicated. It’s what got me my first gig that led to the video. My story was great. She can steal it all she wants. I don’t care. I’ve made money and some acclaim off the original. I’ve got a thousand others more where that came from. But don’t think I didn’t notice. I did.
I messaged her and sent her a copy of the written article. She said she’d change it. That’s about it.
I don’t take things personally anymore because I got away from Arizona and proved myself in ways that were never possible there. That kid I was who seethed at the successful ones has now learned to be successful with grace and stop bulldozing her path.
So, now I can be forward and ambitious and charming and fun without being exposed to people who would do harm to me. I’m not invulnerable. I can still get hurt. It just happens way less now than it used to. I don’t take it personally when someone tries to take advantage. They’re trying to get away with what has probably helped them to survive.
My job is just to be a little smarter and a little bit smoother and just one step ahead of the game. For that, I just need to get really quiet with myself over the next couple of weeks to start asking the question, “What’s next?”