As some of you may know, I am friends with Fenbi: The Best Band On Earth. Mike, the front-man from the group, has a regular job. Or, you know, a career as a marketing god. Bill Carter is one of his projects. He’s been talking about Bill for a long time, and I listened to him talk, because I’m a good friend, but I always thought of Bill as an abstract. Not a real person, but a project.
And I’m a busy girl. I don’t do a lot of things that are not working. But I’ve been trying to change that, since it’s come to my attention that not hanging out with my friends might increase my depression. So, when Mike sent out the last call to all of his people saying “Bill Carter is speaking tonight, I know you wanna come! And it’s free!” I said. Well, I said “I don’t know, I have to go out selling tonight, Mike.”
But 7pm came rolling around, and I was tired, and hungry and I wanted to hang out with Mike. An idea that wouldn’t have occurred to me if he hadn’t woken me up at the ungodly hour of 10am. So, I called him and asked if he wanted to go to dinner. And he said “Um, hello? I’m about to start my show? Bill Carter, remember?” So, I gave up and went to see this guy speak.
I was late. I’m always late, but I got there. A cute guy wandering the halls had to let me in. “You’re Mike’s friend?” he asked. I smiled and nodded, shyly. Bill, turned out to the be the cute guy, who was wandering the halls because they were showing a clip of his film, Miss Sarajevo, and he has a hard time watching it. Because it was filmed in the war-zone of Sarajevo, when he lived there. And it sucked. And it was awesome. And sometimes it gives him the shakes to think about it.
I missed the film clip entirely. But I spent the next two hours listening to Bill recount the war he became involved in. Before I went to hear Bill talk, I knew a few things about Bosnia. My friend, Marin, who I used to drink with in high school, was from Croatia. He was hilarious. And intense, and he liked to start shit. Eventually, I believe, he fucked my sister on a beach. And once he showed me pictures of the Croation beaches. While Bill talked, I realized that Marin showed up at school in 1994. He must have been fleeing his country just as the war started. He never talked about it. But then again, he was busy drinking and chasing my sister.
In 1999 Kosovo was raging. As an angry 19 year old girl, I wanted to go help Kosovo. I didn’t know what I would have done. I probably hoped to do something dangerous. But, in truth, I would have been happy to change bandages and offer comfort. It seemed like horrible acts were being committed against people who had done nothing. At 19, that felt a lot like my life. And I wanted to stick up for the people who were being hurt. Like I tried to stick up for me. Someone’s mother talked me out of it. My parents would have probably liked a martyr as a daughter (as dead daughters are easier to love than live ones), but this women was sure that putting myself in danger was a bad idea. She didn’t seem to like me very much, but she seemed very sure I shouldn’t sacrifice my safety in order to help others. Her ardency countered mine.
And so I filled out a form online, but didn’t pursue it further, more because I was intrigued with this brand of motherhood she had presented. In her world, my mother would be hurt if I got killed in a war zone. I liked the idea of a mother who cared about me like that. Even if she was a fictional mother, that this Australian woman had made up, the thought of that kind of parent was enough to stop me from hitch-hiking my way through Europe in an effort to help keep people safe in a war zone.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of person I’d be if I’d gone to Kosovo. I like to think I’d be a lot like Bill.
As I watched him talk, I realized that Mike is right. Bill is a genius. A hot ball of energy, who loves really hard, and swears well, and tells the truth, intensely who has no problem saying “I don’t know” rather than bullshitting. Watching him was breath-taking. In some ways, he reminded me of me.
I bought Miss Sarajevo, his documentary about Sarajevo and Fools Rush In, his book. Reading Fools Rush In was like being submerged in a beautiful, scary, drunken world. I alternately devoured and savored it. I wouldn’t let myself read it unless I was on the bus, going to or from work. I wouldn’t open it at home, because I knew if I did I would just sit. Until I’d finished the whole thing. (Snarky Cards don’t make themselves, I can’t afford to sit around finishing books when I could be painting or typing). When I read it, I gave every sentence some serious thought, delighting in the fact that I had become so consumed by it, my own life seemed like a dim memory.
By the time I’d finished it, I was in love with Bill Carter. I pined for him. He’s so heartbroken and grief-stricken through-out the whole story, I was so glad that we’d met, because I spent a good amount of time, worrying that he wouldn’t find love again. When I’d find myself in the middle of this worry, I would remind myself. “You met Bill. He’s happily married. His wife is good at Scrabble. Chill, Alisa.” Bill is one of those people who believes in magic, and love tethers him to his life.
I’m not one of those people. My work tethers me to my life. And love, more often than not, seems like too much to hope for. I admire people who can fall hopelessly and deeply in love. And while I was reading his book, I got to fall in love like that too. It was exhilarating. The idea of loving like that terrifies me. I have a hard time trusting men enough to let them get that close. And even if I trust them, I have a hard time trusting me. That kind of thing has been coming up more and more lately. I think my childhood has been haunting me. It usually does, around my birthday, but this year has been worse. Some of the shit that happened to me when I was a little girl made me think I wasn’t loveable. Some of it made me think that I was a bad person. And my wires got crossed. So, most of my adult life, I’ve been trying to change the penchant I have for men who hurt me. It’s been hard, because I was raised to believe that all men would like to hurt me. And there’s really nothing I can do about it. So differentiating between bad men and good men isn’t easy.
I think a lot of this shit has gotten stirred up because I started talking to my parents again. Well, that’s not accurate; I have been talking to them for the last year or so. But in the last few months, they have created some crazy-ass plans, and suddenly, we’re not just having stilted conversation every other month. They are moving to Turkey because a demon told them that he and his legion were preparing for their final battle here on earth. He told them this as they were casting him out of a person. They wanted me and my sister to help them empty, organize and then sell their house. The house where I grew up. The house where all of the abuse I experienced in my childhood took place. A house I had hoped to never enter again.
“So, I heard a demon told you to go to Turkey?” I asked my mother on the phone. “Of course not!” she laughed. “Good, because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be getting reliable information if you are getting it from a minion of Satan.” I really was relieved. And in this moment before she explained I was so happy. My parents aren’t crazy. They’re nice to me. My childhood was a bad dream. These are different people.
“No, we hold a high court, with God, after we cast the demon out. And we ask God how long the demon has been in our lives. He told us to go to Turkey.” She assured me. “Well. God’s a much more reliable source than Satan. So, I guess that sounds less insane.” I was cavalier, as she giggled uncertainly. And in that moment, I became a little unhinged. My parents are still the insane, abusive people who raised me. They have changed, they have made some progress. They have said that they were sorry about what they did to me (with some prompting). But they are still religious zealots, committed to their own, unnerving brand of religiosity. They’re the same people who have been kicked out of at least one church for their weird beliefs. They are still the people who hurt me.
Mary Chapin-Carpenter said “We’ve all got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make”. In my most clear moments, I understand that all of that is in the past. That they are part of the life I was given. And I am now firmly planted into the life I made. But, since my parents pronounced their insane plan, I’ve been slipping in and out of time. Losing the confidence I’ve earned. Becoming the little girl who was afraid of her father’s rage. Or the teen-ager who’d been told I’d be raped every day by my mother, because of what I wore.
Bill’s book was a mirror of how I’ve been feeling. He weaved his past lives together, shifting between an abusive childhood, the act of falling in love, and living on chocolate baby-food in a warehouse, without heat, power or water in the middle of a siege.
His shitty childhood comforted me. I mean, he didn’t have it much easier than I did. And yet, he still dives right into love.
I saved Miss Sarajevo for when I’d finished Fools Rush In. I was nervous. If it made Bill nervous, how was it going to make me feel? I’ve been trying to be careful, the last couple of weeks as my childhood keeps flitting through my mind my emotions have been veering out of my control. And I need to be happy in order to sell things. I need to be calm. Or at least, I need to not want to cry all the time. So, if I deemed something emotionally draining, or if I thought that watching/doing/talking to someone would make me feel bad, I steered clear. But his book was beautiful. And so I steeled myself for a good cry, and turned it on.
The movie, it turns out, is a visual guide to the book. I’m glad I waited to see it, because I was watching it thinking “Oh, this is Vlad after he goes a little crazy because all of his friends are killed. This is the satellite link-up Bill did when he was really depressed. This is the gorgeous little girl singing Ace of Base in a broken down VW.” The idea that most intrigued me, from the book, is the Miss Sarajevo beauty contest that Sarajevo held, in the middle of the war. I’m not one for beauty pageants, but somehow, knowing that the people who attended this one had to run past snipers shooting at them, to attend, made it sweet. And important. The sign that they held “Please don’t let them kill us.” is poignant. And it means that this pageant wasn’t just for the people of the city. It was also a message to the world. “We still exist. We need your help. We are trying to live.”
And somehow, when faced with the senseless violence that befell an entire city for years; my problems seem smaller. And with that perspective, I try to balance my inability to trust men and my fears that I am too broken by the past, against the success of my cards, and the fame I’ve garnered for my tits and my tongue. When I pit them against each other, they come out a wash. And I’m grateful to Bill, for lending me courage, and telling me his story, and making me fall for him a little bit.
So, seriously dude, you should probably read his shit.