This weekend I was awarded my very first horror award: I was named the Rondo Award Monster Kid of the Year, as voted by the fans. As any horror fan knows, this is a big deal! It is given to the person who has done the most to preserve and promote the horror genre.
A few years ago, I wouldn't have known what the Rondo Awards were -- nor would I have aspired to receive one. Now, I couldn't feel more honored to have been given an award that means so much to me.
I have written before about how I began this journey in 2011 to participate my father's 100th birthday celebrations (the Vincentennial) around the world -- with not just a little trepidation: Would I have enough to say to the fans who know so much more about his work than I do? Would they even accept me -- a self-confessed non-horror fan? Would they judge me for not being like them?
If I had known then what I know now about how loving and kind and warm-hearted and generous and inclusive horror fans are, I needn't have worried. From Day One, they have welcomed me with open arms.
So to receive this award from a group of people who are so dedicated to this genre and the actors they love means everything to me. But even more than that, it means something HUGE to the little girl inside of me who never ever ever felt good enough. The monster I have always feared myself to be.
I grew up in Hollywood, a place which breeds an ethos that is, ultimately, not a very pretty one. A friend, who grew up in one of the most powerful political dynasties in America, calls it the Compare and Despair Syndrome. Oh -- how true! When you come of age in a town which bases its choices for stardom and success on qualifications that seem utterly unquantifiable, you are constantly comparing yourself to the next person to figure out if you are attractive, talented, clever, creative, voluptuous, inventive, savvy, etc etc etc enough to "make it". Whatever that means. And the moment you compare, you instantly despair of ever expressing enough of some ephemeral quality you yourself can't even quite identify to the "right person of the moment", whoever the hell that might be.
On top of all that, I grew up with a mother who saw it as her job description to prepare me for success. She dressed, groomed, schooled, lessoned, primped and disciplined me within an inch of my (or anyone's) sanity, so I could have every advantage. I knew she did this for me because she, herself, had always felt at a disadvantage -- despite being one of the most forward-thinking, creative, talented people I have ever met. The fact that I was far more interested in books and animals than in clothes, that most of what I owned ended up in the school Lost and Found as opposed to on my person, that I preferred writing epic sagas in iambic pentameter to putting my best foot forward at cotillions, that I never seemed to outgrow tomboy, devastated her. She was determined that I always know how to be "seen" in my best light -- which meant being pretty and having good posture and wearing the right clothes. I internalized that message, but our ideas of "best" differed. I wanted to be "seen" for sure -- but as smart, interesting, and talented. Nevertheless, her messages landed. So despite my rebellious nature, I always knew I wasn't as pretty, as girly, as perfectly dressed, as I should be -- and though I pretended not to care, deep down, of course I did.
For my college graduation, my mother gave me a nose job. For which I had never asked, and about which I had never thought. I remember thinking, "Gosh. Well. Any chance of trading that in for like, say, a car?" Which was my deflection for what I FELT, which was, "Geez. Am I THAT ugly?" When I finally screwed up enough courage to tell my mother that I not only didn't want the nose job, but that the gift made me feel terrible about myself, she was genuinely crestfallen. When she was finally able to speak, she said, "It never occurred to me that this would make you feel badly about yourself. My job has been to help you present yourself to the world in your best light, because you want to be a public person. And this was what I felt would help you succeed in that."
The bottom line is this: For as long as I can remember, I have felt myself to be the monster my mother was never able to wrangle into the beautiful blond-haired girl she had dreamed of presenting to the world.
This week, I spent two nights with one of the most beloved people from my childhood. I almost always stay with her and her husband now when I come to Los Angeles, because staying with them feels like coming home. Her name is Daniela, and she was my nanny for just over a year, when I was six and seven.
Prior to Daniela, my nannies had been "pros". German, Swiss, English older women with exceptional resumes and, as far as I was concerned, nothing else. They were uniformed, strict, personality-less, and cold, and their presence made my parents' perpetual absence all the worse.
Then along came nineteen-year-old Daniela, who through her own ingenuity had, at eighteen years old, managed to get out of Communist Czechoslovakia into a German refugee camp, from which she, by virtue of having a relative in California, found a way to get a work visa in the United States. (Back when refugee wasn't a dirty word!). Speaking very little English (but superb Czech, Russian, and German), Daniela went to an employment agency and managed to a job as a nanny -- in a 9,000 square foot Spanish mansion belonging to a movie star.
From the moment I met Daniela, I fell in love with her. In every photo of us together, I am almost clinging to her. I ADORED her! She was funny, smart, irreverent, kind, sweet, loving, and honest. Growing up with two traveling workaholics as parents, I desperately needed her. But she needed me, too. Because I helped teach her English. She would ask me the names of words and I would tell her. She would then write them down in Czech phonetics and memorize them. I loved feeling needed. But more than that, I loved feeling loved and I loved loving her.
Fortunately my mother, an immigrant herself, saw something in Daniela that reminded her of herself, and instead of being threatened by our closeness, she championed her. Which left me feeling free to love Daniela as much as I did.
Daniela and I spent only a little over a year together, before she went on to bigger and better things. But I never forgot her. About eight years ago, she and her husband Gene, who were living in London then, tracked me down and came to Santa Fe to visit me. We picked up right where we left off. Three years later, they moved to Southern California to be near their wonderful daughter, Claressinka, and since then, we see one another at least a few times a year.
When I first began staying with them, Daniela and I started taking long morning hikes together and talking about everything. I felt so close to her all over again. Like I could be truly me with her, as I had been as a child. Over the years, I have landed on Daniela and Gene with puppies, partners, friends, business partners, all my weird foods and lots of excess luggage -- and all they do are open their arms and give me big hugs and then show me to my luxurious guest room. Words cannot describe what their unconditional love and unending kindness mean to me.
But some part of me had trepidation that they were just being polite to me, and welcoming me into their home "for old time's sake". I worried about this, because I was afraid that the memories I cherished of our childhood connection might not have been as wonderful for Daniela as they were for me. I worried about this because, deep down, I was afraid that I had been a horrible child -- the spoiled demanding Beverly Hills Brat my mother made me so afraid of becoming.
Over the years, however, as I have become closer and closer to the whole family, those fears have abated. I have cherished the wonderful relationships I have with Daniela and Gene together and individually, as well as with Claressinka, her husband Joe -- and their dog Poppy. I was so honored to have been invited to Claressinka and Joe's beautiful beautiful wedding last spring. It has been a gift beyond measure to someone who often feels herself homeless, to feel so at home with them.
But my old fears remained, and it took me until this week to finally share them -- which I did on Friday on my favorite early morning hike with Daniela in the canyons. I told her about my Monster Kid of the Year award, and then confessed that I had always secretly felt like a real monster kid.
"Was I?" I asked a little nervously.
"Oh Toria, no!" she immediately replied. "That makes me so sad that you could have thought that. You were the SWEETEST child."
And because I love and trust Daniela so much, I actually believed her. For the first time in my life, I believed that I was the child I had always hoped I was. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
This weekend I am a guest -- horror royalty!! -- at Monsterpalooza. In addition to receiving the Rondo Award, I have been honored by talking to hundreds of people who have expressed their gratitude to me for everything I have been doing -- promoting and preserving my father's legacy, writing a weekly blog, giving inspirational talks, sharing my father with the fans. But one man, who popped by my table for less than a minute, said something that touched me particularly deeply. He said, "I read every one of your blogs. I look forward to them on Sunday mornings. Thank you for writing them. Thank you for being so honest." He looked me in the eye, smiled, and walked quietly away.
That last sentence was the trifecta in this week's healing. My whole life I was told to lie. Never to tell people who my father was, anything about our family, any personal details whatsoever. Protect and preserve. Those words could have been our family motto. The effect of that lying has been devastating on many levels, but the worst has been the lying to myself.
When I decided to write this weekly blog, I knew I had to get my mother's voice out of my head once and for all. To stop keeping our family secrets and to start speaking my truth. Even if it made me feel, well, like a monster kid. Because telling the truth felt THAT scary. That monstrous!
But I kept at it -- kept telling the truth, first to myself and then out loud. Doing that has, of course, set me free. This week, I feel as though I have celebrated the effects of my "year of honesty" by reclaiming a word that encapsulated something that has terrified me my whole life -- my deepest fear of not being "good enough". I reclaimed the word Monster! I did this by accepting with more joy that I can possibly put into words -- the title of Monster Kid of the Year!
And now. Finally. I feel. Like a Monster Kid. In all the best ways!
I have reclaimed my inner monster as the wild child rebel who helped me survive the Kingdom of Compare and Despair by never letting me become too tempted to become a part of it. Had I ever really felt like I could be one of the "beautiful people", I think I might have lost my soul altogether. Believing myself a monster sent me out into the world to find other people like me. Which I did. But the ultimate irony is that I had to come home, in so many ways, to allow myself to be the Monster Kid that I am: The most awesome Monster Kid embraced by tens of thousands of other Monster Kids, in a world full of closeted Monster Kids, who need all of us to be honest about who we are. . .who need us to love being the imperfectly honest, hopefully flawed, happily monstrous, scarily joyous Monster Kids we are. Willing to be ourselves and encourage everyone else to do the same. . .even if they think us monstrous. And when we do, guess what? We finally will all begin to love ourselves and one another monstrously whole!
So, thank you, from the bottom of my monster heart, to all my fellow Monster Kids who have loved me whole all along the way. Let us all reclaim our inner monsters for the lifesavers that they have actually been -- representing the qualities that are our truest selves, no matter what the world has thought of them. And by being true to who we are, let us set ourselves, and everyone else, free to be who they are. Let us lay siege to the Kingdom of Compare and Despair, and go forth into the world as an army of Monster Kids -- quirky, crazy, honest, fun, silly, talented, and above all joyful.
Monster Kids Unite!