September 18, 2009

Losing My Light

A couple of years ago, The High Line launched a portrait project. They took my picture in front of a backdrop of the overgrown elevated railway, pre-construction, and asked me what my dream was. I told them, "To fall in love," and while I suppose that's true, there was one greater dream that I wasn't brave enough to tell them: to be on Guiding Light.

As a part-time actor, I'd made some small attempts at getting on the show - sending my headshot to the casting director, taking an acting seminar from its director - but I had no sense of urgency. I'd had that dream since I first started watching the show (probably as a newborn, but my first memories date back to the Roger/Holly story of the late 70s), and since it had already been on the air 70+ years, I always thought that I had time, that it would be there for me when I was ready for it.

Earlier this year, Guiding Light was cancelled. They taped their last episode in early August. Its final airing is today.

My dream is gone.

In truth, I didn't want to just have a walk-on role, or even just say a line or two. I wanted to be a regular on the show - no, a resident of Springfield. I wanted to shed my sad little life a la Nurse Betty and give myself over to a life of drama, intrigue, blackouts, and lighthouses.

I grew up watching Guiding Light every day after school, walking into the living room with it already in progress, my mother silent, the house smelling of the cleaning products that were advertised during the show. Even after my first year of college, though I missed out on the storylines while I was at Colgate, I came back home to my parents' house that summer and settled back into the childhood routine, watching my mother cry whenever someone died or had to say goodbye. At the end of that summer, during which my mother unleashed her fury on me as she never before had, my father told me, "I think it would be better if you found somewhere else to sleep." I'd already arranged a room at Nicki's parents' house in case I needed to get away from my terrorizing mother, so when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the next summer came, I no longer stayed with my parents. Guiding Light fell out of my life for a while.

When I moved to New York in 1997, my roommate and I lived without cable for a while, so if I stayed home sick from work, whimpering alone as I always did as a child, I'd check in on good ol' Springfield. Sure, new people had moved to town. Some of its residents had discovered how to time-travel through a painting. But I caught up quickly, and soon got sucked right back in. By the time I was laid off in 2001, Guiding Light had become part of my daily routine more than ever before, airing at 10 a.m. in NYC and giving me a reason to wake up in the morning when I had no job to go to.

Since then, I've taped it every day on my VCR, just like the 1980s era housewives that Proctor & Gamble wanted to sell their soaps to. When I spent a month in Joshua Tree with no television, I still watched it online. The people of Springfield gave me plenty of reason to get up every day, and when I did sleep, I dreamed about them.

Living in New York and working in the entertainment business, I've encountered some of the actors a couple of times. And although I've chatted with them - even slipped Tom Pelphrey my business card when I sat next to him at Flatiron Lounge - I haven't really wanted to interact with them the way that most soap fans do, on cruises, at high-ticket mixers and dinners, when they're bowling or guest-bartending for charity... Even when I had the chance to chat the cast up and get my photo taken with them at a recent event at the Paley Center, I stood in the corner drinking too much wine and just watching. I haven't wanted to do anything that would make me face my own disbelief, to make me know that these characters aren't real, and that they don't really live in Springfield.

I know this makes me sound crazy. But with the cancellation of Guiding Light, and knowing that it won't be there for me Monday morning, I feel like an entire town of people - an entire group of friends and family - is just dropping off the planet.

The producers of Guiding Light knew they were in danger of cancellation, so over the last few years they instituted a number of cost-cutting measures including using cheaper, hand-held cameras and relocating most of the shooting schedule to a real town in New Jersey. Although at first the change was visually startling, the more they shot outside, in cars, and in real buildings instead of sets, it all started to seem even more real. It was the closest I ever got to really being there, a fly on the wall to weddings, murders, confessions, and picnic blanket sex.

Part of me is kicking myself for not having tried harder to get cast on the show, but now that it's over, I've come to realize that my real dream is one that can never be achieved. I want to live in a place that doesn't exist, with people who lead lives outside of the existence I know. What does that say about my own life?

Now that I won't be watching a daytime drama on a daily basis, some might say that I'll finally get in touch with reality. But watching a show like that taught me about family and romance on a deeper level than my own life ever did. My family rejected me pretty much from the moment I was born. I have never known romantic love. But, thanks to Guiding Light, I know that those things are out there, somewhere - they must be - and that maybe one day I can find them for myself. Maybe I will finally be able to experience the life I want, the life I have been watching others live since I was a little girl.

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