“Celebrity worship syndrome is an obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over glamorous film, television and pop stars, the only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye.”
It is 2011, and I am standing in the Monash University Museum of Art, inspecting the works that surround me and trying to find the collection I’d actually come for (a controversial selection of coloured feces covered in resin and made into jewelry entitled A Shit For Every Chakra with an accompanying video-loop of the artist chugging dye and defecating colors onto chakra shrines. This was all a work by Georgie Mattingley, a girl I’d went to school with). Before I encounter Matttingley’s work, I am struck by a series of life-sized paintings in bold primary colours of Paula Abdul grinning toothily and looking seductively over her shoulder. Next the paintings of Abdul are more paintings of a woman I don’t yet know: a woman dressed in hot pink with waist-length brown hair and a determined look of her own; eyes seeming – although they’re only paint – to buzz out of her skull with excitement and anger and determination and general chutzpah.
I read the tiny plaque next to the work:
On November 11, 2008, Paula Goodspeed (nee Sandra) took her own life outside of Paula Abdul’s house. Before this she was ridiculed on American Idol, a show she’d auditioned for in the misguided belief it’d get her closer to her idol, Abdul. Before this, she was taken in for questioning by local police for claims of stalking and reportedly sending pages of flowers, underwear, and life size portraits of Abdul to Abdul herself. I was fascinated by the intrinsic tension between the two women and the intense, suicidal, hero-worship.
Later. Several hours later. I lie awake in bed, unable to sleep and thinking of Goodspeed.
That’d make a good play, my brain says.
The next day, I somehow stumble from Goodspeed’s story onto the Wikipedia page of Amy Fisher, the “Long Island Lolita”, who stalked and nearly killed the wife of her mechanic over an obsessive crush. What follows is a trip down an obsessive rabbit-hole that would’ve impressed even Fisher herself. I become determined to learn as much as I possibly can about both Goodspeed and Fisher’s lives and motivations.
I am sitting at a plain white desk in the plain white office in which I work, simultaneously attempting to write and attempting to not be distracted by my paranoia that the phone will ring and I’ll have to start actually doing some work.
I stare at the plain white computerised page in front of me and sigh to myself; uncertain. Then I open up a Google search bar and type: “PAULA (SANDRA) GOODSPEED,” and click search.
Within five minutes I’ve found my way to her personal MySpace blog. What strikes me most as I continue my search is how intense the public declarations of love and loss are, given they’ve come from the same collection of people who, a year earlier, would’ve been the ones encouraging her to take her own life.
“Oh, but it’ll be funny,” my friend Kaitlyn says, taking a drag of her cigarette. It’s mid-winter and we’re standing in the cold talking about life: in my case, telling her of the stories of both women and the play I’ve just started writing.
“Well…” I say, still caught in the insistent delusion of a young writer; that comedy is a dirty word and somehow ‘lesser’. “Not specifically. Like, it’s not meant to be a comedy.”
“It will be,” Kaitlyn says, taking another drag.
The play, of course, is certainly comedic in a lot of ways, and that’s okay. Fuck okay, that’s a little bit wonderful.
Aside from being comedic, the play itself is a hot mess, with scenes and moments that excite me but an overall structure and intent that seems wrong and obvious, and I can’t figure out why. Not why it’s a hot mess; more how to assemble and write it so that it’s not a hot mess. The project, it seems, is over my head: I know what I want to say but not how to say it.
It is 1AM and I am drunk – fucking drunk, smashed, in fact, a ridiculous mess and wholeheartedly feeling the recent breakup I’ve had foisted upon my person. I have an exceptionally large rum and coke in my left hand, and my right hand is doing some sort of epileptic dance; a shudder across the keyboard in front of me. It types: “PAULA GOODSPEED AUDITION.” In one fluid movement I scull the drink and hit pause on my laptop’s sound system – Lana Del Rey’s Video Games, the 2012 sad anthem for drunk and insecure faggots everywhere.
My finger hovers over the button as I look at Goodspeed’s pixelated face, mid-note, eyes and mouth wide and desperate as she sings her heart out in front of her hero.
And I press play.
It is 2014, now, and we have just finished our second term of our NIDA course. This holidays, I think to myself, I should get some writing done. Like I’ve done none all term. A play that’s not about Charles Manson – how novel.
As the first week of holidays begin, I sit down and begin to write what very quickly becomes a new draft of Home Invasion. This time, I’m on the front foot: I know what I’m trying to say, how I’ll say it, and why.
Come Friday – a mere four days later – and I have the first (re)draft completed.
And then the car crash, and the near death, and everything that happened in Germany.
While I was in Germany, still in an induced coma – long enough for word to have spread to Australia, but evidently not long enough for the coma-inducing drugs to work their way out of my system – my friend Daniel had met with Liz Jones, the artistic director of La Mama Theatre, to discuss a play he was interested in directing; one I’d also written. They weren’t so interested in that play, but my name struck a bell.
“So you know Chris Bryant?” Liz had asked. “We’ve received a play of his called Home Invasion,” – I’d sent it to her a few years earlier and never bothered to chase her up on it –“and I just love it – it’s beautiful! Could you ask him to contact us?”
Daniel paused, for a second, images of a comatose me caught somewhere in Berlin near-death; my family crowded and lamenting around my bed.
“…of course,” he’d replied. “I’ll get onto him as soon as I can.”
He does, of course – two months later, when I’m home again, accepting visitors and not in a coma.
“I always think,” Stephen says during one of our first classes. “If you have something to say, just say it. There’s no point faffing around with flowery language and metaphors; if you have a point to get across, then get it across.”
And this is what is different the second time around – I am not afraid to say what I need to say, to yell it out loud if necessary: this play is about the relentlessness of obsession; something I’ve experienced many a time, even in the research period of the play itself – and the hideousness and uncertainty of wanting something so desperately and feeling like there’s a chance, no matter how small, that you won’t get it. That you’re not good enough. Seems appropriate for a NIDA student who almost died.
So, I think: why the fuck not?
I am sitting on a bus from outside NIDA to somewhere in Sydney city, my face pressed against the cold, rattling glass of the window, my brain tired and lost, somehow – questioning incessantly every aspect of my life, as it tended to do in 2014.
“Oh my god,” a girl behind me says. “He’s so hot.”
“I know,” her friend agrees, and they high-five.
“I want to, like, sneak into his house at night and into his bed. It’s really big; he wouldn’t know the difference, but he’s so. cute when he’s asleep. I should just fucking do it.”
The two girls burst out laughing at the improbability and insanity of the proposed situation, and an image of Paula Goodspeed flits into my mind – slathered in hot pink and dressed up to resemble an acid-trip Abdul, dancing and wailing and singing on camera, or sending Abdul life-size portraits of herself and her own used underwear.
Or of Amy Fisher, the Long Island schoolgirl who fell in love with her “so hot” mechanic and fell down a dark and twisted invention that ended with her shooting his wife in the head.
Or of Mary-Jo, the mechanic’s wife, who came as close to death as I did but was pulled from the precipice at the last second; pulled back to be interviewed on Oprah and sell her book and have a must see “live reunion” with her bastard husband.
And these women float viciously around within the confines of my brain as we drive toward the storm clouds ahead; floating fat and thick on the horizon with a stinging hypothermic torrent of rain.