I was raised in the film industry, a total misfit.
My father wrote movies, but I’d take a good book over an opening any day of the week. In my lifetime, I have put on make-up exactly twice: clear lip gloss, on my wedding day – and full throttle, by a professional make-up artist, for the bridal party of a college friend. I never polished my nails or colored my hair, never sought out plastic surgery or Botox. I was offered drugs for the first time at an opening, in the ladies room, before my age hit double-digits; I declined. By then, I was used to “declining,” because I “declined” many values of The Industry. The most in-your-face value I declined was the expectation that everyone in the world wanted nothing more than to be a part of The Industry.
As a child, I took ballet, and loved it. But when I showed some talent, they fast-tracked me into a class with adolescents. I was often paired with a girl I’ll call “Snow.” Unlike many in the class, Snow was kind to me, and gracious when our teacher, “Miss Penny,” paired us together constantly. I was puzzled, because of all the girls, Snow clearly had the talent and the body-type to turn pro. Then it hit me: Miss Penny thought I did as well. Snow and I were her “next in line” — if our feet could take the stress en pointe, if our temperaments proved right, if our bodies remained petite (i.e. easy for our partners to lift) – we were tracked to enter the world of professional dancers. I asked to be transferred back to my old ballet class. Miss Penny refused. I quit ballet.
Second only to their quest for the spotlight, my parents’ actor friends were always striving, with an obsessive fervor, for an alarming State of Underweight. I was continuously told I was heavy. As an adult, I was surprised when I looked through photo albums, and found a slim girl in the pictures.
I dreaded industry parties. Well-meaning adults swooped in for interventions – advising me to cut out carbs, exercise instead of eating, take “uppers” to kill my appetite, or laxatives in case I “lost control” and ate something catastrophic, like an entire sandwich. After politely “declining” more times than I could count, my manners threatened to desert me. So I took several weeks of saved allowance and bought a gigantic Latin-English Dictionary with a stop-in-your-tracks magenta cover. To my parents’ astonishment, I threw down the gauntlet: It’s-Me-And-My-Magenta-Dictionary-Or-I’m-Leaving-The-Party. From then on, as the film industry gathered in our living room, I curled up in a corner, immersed in Latin vocabulary. Our guests huddled and whispered their concern. I didn’t want the spotlight, which made me “pathologically shy.” I loved to read, which they defined as “antisocial.” I dressed in jeans, which meant I was undercutting my potential for attractiveness. I was headed for serious trouble, the most dreaded diagnostic condition: Obscurity.
It’s been decades since I memorized Latin vocabulary. My hair is comfortably gray. I wear blue jeans when I dress up, and sweats when I don’t. I speak quietly, and I love writing essays and novels.
For years, I would shut down like an overloaded circuit, every time I met an actor, producer, director. Over time, I realized there was no threat anymore. Looking back, I was simply a mismatch for the world where I grew up. Today, my few friends in the industry are supportive of my quieter personality. I’m interested to hear about their work, just as they’re interested to hear about mine.
From my background, I know the hours, talent, grit needed to create a wonderful production. I deeply respect the craft of a fine movie. But I enjoy the film industry from a distance, as a member of the audience — which is where I belong.
Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk
Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.
A rookie psychology intern goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.