Whether you’re submitting a new play or coming out to your family–the goal is same: approval. Approve of me, validate me, recognize the work it took for me to get here, be kind, see me and hear my words in the way they were intended.
I’m dating a woman. I’m bisexual, and I’ve known and been open about it for well over a decade, but this is the first time I’ve dated a woman. Not uncharacteristic for me–it took 29 years for me enter a relationship with a man.
The play I was working on has been paused as I found there were not enough hours in the day to work two jobs, launch and run a business, be a person, and finish a play. So, in leu of playwriting anecdotes and stories, all I’ve got is my life. I hope that’s a satisfactory enough offering. I believe playwriting anecdotes can still be made (see: first paragraph). I’m nothing if not a terrific multitasker.
Approval. The word has been beating against my brain all week after having been told I did not have someone’s approval in regards to my dating women. I hadn’t asked for their approval. In fact, I’d wrongly assumed I had it, in so much as one person has any kind of right to “approve” of another’s life in these matters. It had caught me off guard and has been eating away at me–my brain launching into hypothetical arguments in a constant subconscious stream throughout the day.
As any kind of creative knows, living your life in constant search for approval is the surest way to burn out and begin to hate the very thing you love. At a certain point, you have to turn that off–that search for validation–and you have to find ways to validate yourself, to make the kind of art that you are proud of, to live the kind of life and be the kind of person that you need to be in order to have pride and peace within yourself.
If you go through life only creating art intending to please this person or theatre or that, or to live a life that this person or that approves of, all the while denying your own vision, truth, passion, and violating your own morals…well, what a waste of talent, time, and life! Let those people do the things they need to do to be authentic in their lives and art, and if you don’t understand it or think it’s weird or wrong…don’t do it, but also, maybe examine why you think that and find out more about it because we are so quick to judge things that are different to what we’ve been exposed to as “evil” or “bad” (Fun example from our local mega-church this past month: https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2018/11/12/james-river-pastor-yoga-has-demonic-roots-springfield-yogis/1897249002/) that we close down any chance for communication that could allow us to understand each other and learn how to care for one another in more helpful and healthy ways.
I’ve only recently gotten to a point in my life where I am able to be proud of who I am, to love who I am, to feel good in my skin and know that even if someone rejects me, it doesn’t change my value as a human being. I am whole and stable and fulfilled on my own, whether I am in a romantic partnership with another person or not (and whether or not those I love and trust are able to see and accept me as I am — oof, okay still working on that one).
It’s a good place to be. And I feel stable in that–even as I wrestle with that ole bugaboo of approval again. I admit, I want that approval, I try really, really hard to get approval, I have anxiety around not being accepted (who doesnt?!) but at the end of the day, I have to come back to myself. Can I lay my head on my pillow at night and be proud of my actions? That approval trumps any other, because if I can’t do that then I won’t sleep and if I don’t sleep, I won’t function, and I won’t live.
So, whether you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy or acceptance in your writing or in your personal life–I hope this post will encourage and remind you to take a minute, take an afternoon, heck, take a lifetime (!) and pause to look within and ask yourself if you approve. If your actions are in line with your morals, if you are being authentic, if you are creating honest art, if you are proud of the human you are becoming…and, if the answer is YES, how much it really matters if others don’t agree.
Dang, I do believe I straddled that fence quite nicely, eh? I guess, in the end, playwriting and being queer really were one in the same. Wow.
Someone recently gave me a beautiful compliment after my performance in The Christians. They said, “Some day in the not so distant future, I’ll be in a nursing home and you’ll come on the TV, winning an award for acting or writing or directing, and I’ll say, ‘I worked with her once.’ And the nurse will say, ‘Yeah, yeah, eat your soup.'”
While I found the sentiment touching… deep in the pit of my stomach, something sank as I realized I no longer believed in that vision I use to play over so many times in my head. I no longer believed in my ability to actualize it, nor in its ability to fulfill or validate my existence or artistic merit. At first this realization sunk me into the pit of despair, but then, I started to find it freeing. Since making the decision not to move back to Los Angeles or New York, but stay in the mid-west and create on my terms, something has changed inside me that has impacted many aspects of my life.
I’m sure it’s not just this decision, but my years of work as an actor that’s enabled me to finally live those Meisner lessons drilled into me a decade ago at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I’m finding it easier to let go of my desire to control the beats of the scene, and instead enjoy riding the wave of moment-to-moment work. It’s honestly so liberating. I used to hate myself after every performance because I didn’t hit this beat or that beat like I wanted to or if I didn’t feel fully present the whole time. Now I understand that sometimes you’re fully immersed and sometimes you’re not–and when you’re not…well, that’s why you build up the technical skills to fake it convincingly. I’m much better at trusting my ability to fake it convincingly now and this ability to forgive myself in the moment for not being fully present is what actually enables me to find my way back “in” much sooner and stay out of my head far longer. This progress has made the work all the more enjoyable, and a whole lot less neurotic.
I lost hope in controlling the performance, and just started existing in the performance.
And this lesson is what’s happening in my life off the stage as well. I’ve lost hope in becoming a “successful” actor/writer/creator, but it’s not as dire as it seems. I’m much more focused in on the moments of each creation. I’m not holding out for some bigger payoff, because I know this is the payoff. This moment. If this is as good as it gets–this has to be enough. So, make it enough. Fill each moment to the brim. I’m not trying to control the outcome anymore, I’m just trying to be as honest and as full as I can in each process. And I believe now that that is where fulfillment and validation as an artist actually lies. Not in the amount of a paycheck or the number of views or the prestige of awards, but in the integrity of the process of the work. This has been a surprisingly hidden benefit of becoming hopeless–the gift of living in the moment, of appreciating each gift for what it is, rather than what it may one day hope to become.
Here are some moments coming up that I am really looking forward to living in:
This Monday, April 30th the second season of my webseries SEEK HELP comes out. We’re having a local screening at my favorite theatre Moxie Cinema. You’ll also be able to watch it all online here: www.SeekHelpTheWebseries.com
On Thursday, I’m going to Oklahoma to represent the short film GOOD GIRL I acted in a few years ago at a film festival. Later this summer, I’m starring in a short film by the same director.
And in August, I’ll be coming back out to LA (!!!) for the first time since I moved four years ago, to act in and help in the production of a TV pilot I co-created/co-wrote and have been developing for the last 7 years with Heather Milam.
In the meantime, I am getting back to work on a play I started writing back in 2012 that I recently rediscovered and fell in obsession with again. I look forward to developing it further, and workshopping it. Beyond that… who knows! But you better bet I’ll be mining each moment along the way.
Americans live in a very goal-orientated culture. Every ad slaps us, shinning a light on our inadequate ability to be the best versions of ourselves and lays out each product as the solution. Every school works towards hitting testing quotas. Every life is valued against the milestones hit; those with career success, with a house and car, with a spouse and kids, with a 401k and dental insurance, with an instagram following…those are the ones we are taught to chase, to envy, to emulate.
We know money can’t buy happiness. We know that “successful” people can be depressed, struggle with mental health, loneliness, and feelings of worthlessness. It doesn’t stop us from chasing that ideal, however, as if it were the end-all goal. Sure, money can’t buy happiness, we justify ourselves in our pursuit, but it can make the daily struggles a little easier. Sure. Absolutely. But how many of us recognize when we we’ve reached an income where we can meet our needs and just stop chasing the next level up in money or recognition? No one. We all always want a little more.
We all always want a little more.
Is there anything wrong with that? Don’t goals help you to grow? Don’t they challenge you to constantly be improving? Without goals…then, what? If you stop progressing, isn’t that stagnation death?
Last month I went on the first real vacation of my adult life at 31 years old. The first vacation that wasn’t to visit family or friends or audition or scout a city to move to…I mean, technically it was “work” related, as I was attending a film festival for my webseries Seek Help, but that was really just the excuse to explore Montreal. I’ve wanted to go to Canada for a long time, and this was a great impetus. The festival just took up part of one day, but the other four days my significant gay bff, creative collaborator, and #notacouple friend Johnny and I just explored. We had no itinerary. We just woke up each day, strapped on our shoes, and started walking.
I was anxious prior to leaving. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t fully understand “vacations.” haha What a weirdo! My favorite things in life have been creating. My apartment is filled with tools I bounce between every day making new things. I didn’t know what I would do without those–I couldn’t imagine being entertained and invested in wandering around. I mean, doesn’t every city have the same basic types of things? Cafes, museums, parks, restaurants, etc. So, what? I figured I would probably get bored and get some work done while there…some medical blogging, some Seek Help season two editing.
I didn’t though. I did no work at all. Johnny and I woke up early each morning, strapped on our shoes, and started walking. Sometimes it was snowing and our faces went numb from the Canadian cold. We ducked into a dozen cafes, ate so many delicious meals–meals free from TV sets, meals that were about the meals, and the company, and respite from the cold. We walked through Old Montreal on cobble stone streets with horse-drawn carriages. We went to the Notre Dame Basilica Church. We rode a huge Ferris wheel and saw the whole city from above. We watched “The Shape of Water” in French. We went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and lost track of time and space. We went on a tinder date. We held platonic hands to keep from slipping on ice. We propositioned a squirrel for a finger-to-nose kiss and got one. We ate poutine for the first time. We rode on a huge, light-up, musical teeter-totter. We navigated the metro. We talked and we tuned-out in our own internal spaces when we needed to decompress. And I was present and invested and entertained and content the whole time. A chronic migraine sufferer, I didn’t have to take my migraine medication once the whole time there. I had energy and happiness and relaxed muscles.
What I felt, I guess, was the joy of being present in the moment with no agenda. What I felt was living life like a radical improvisation where there is no script, and there are no goals, just a vague sense of having fun, saying “yes,” and staying present with my partner. While I did that I began to wonder why I ever wanted anything more than that…why I ever began to believe that I needed so much more to…what? Be happy? Be worthwhile? Be successful? What does that even mean? At one point, when discussing the future, Johnny was talking about an idea he had but then negated it’s merit saying that it was an idea that he could see living out because it would make him feel safe and happy, but wouldn’t be particularly risky or challenging. And it struck me–I said, “What’s so bad about being safe and happy? Do you know how hard those are to come by?”
“What’s so bad about being safe and happy? Do you know how hard those are to come by?”
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying not to challenge yourself. But there are many ways to challenge yourself, to grow, and learn new things and I think that’s always important to do. But I think there is this unspoken pressure in America that if you don’t chase the success of the wildest incarnations of your dreams that you are somehow always a failure. And we cling to that suggested failure as a means to beat ourselves up with, to compare ourselves enviously against others, but are we missing out on the greater values of life by putting this idea in people’s heads? This constant push to go bigger, be better, make more money, be more well-known, gain followers…ultimately, it’s an empty facade without enjoying each moment, presently, with those around you. Where is the push to just be present? To get off our phones and stop hustling our own image like we’re all running PR firms for our lives and see the world that’s actually happening around us?
Before I made the decision to stay in Springfield, MO (rather than return to LA) and focus on just making what I want, when I want, rather than chase the praise, validation, money, and reputation of others…I felt constant pressure. I felt I was always behind–since I was a small child! I’ve felt I’ve been failing in my goals for success. I’ve let go of that now. I’ve started focusing on the moment, each day, on recognizing the joys of where I am at, of investing in my community and creating as solely the necessary means of communication and expression that it is for me–rather than sweat the pressure of always working to turn my art into money. Don’t get me wrong, I think that is an admirable trait, honestly. It’s just not in my repertoire–it drains and depresses me. And that’s okay. We’re all calibrated differently! I’m just realizing that I would rather spend my days achieving the happiness of simply expressing my expression as I choose to express it, rather than putting all my life’s worth and value in the pressure of achieving some monetary, American version of “success” or trying to create art that pleases others.
I still have goals–but I don’t think about them in that way anymore. There are the things I have to get done for work-jobs and the things I have to get done to get my artistic-work finished. There are things I want to do, like learn languages, that I do in the spare, awkward minutes between parking my car and going into some place. There are things that are good for me to do that I do when I have enough time, like work out. There are things like playing a bigger role in helping to make my community a safer, more positive place that I prioritize now (I’m in the last week of my training to become a CASA, aka Court Appointed Special Advocate for children going through Foster Care). I also prioritize going deeper with friends, and allowing myself to carve out time to actively adventure…but these are all things I want to do. They don’t require lists with micro-goals, they happen because I want them to and so I do them. And old goals I felt pressured to do, like constantly be pimping the business side of my artistic pursuits, I’ve let fall away. Whatever opportunities come, great–but I’m divorcing my art of the American focus of “success”–I create because I’m a creator and if you get it, want it, great–I want it to always be accessible to you. If not, it’s all the same. I’m glad my little world is small and manageable–that I can create without the pressure of pleasing others, that I can make enough money to live from day jobs that I don’t loathe, and that I’m not burning myself out taking art jobs that make me hate the art I love. I just wanna wake up each day and put my shoes on and go, play, explore…and try to stay present and open to wherever the day and this life takes me.
It’s a whole new world and way of approaching life for me…and it’s exhilarating.
“And it shall be called The Struggle-Bottrell.”
One last thing. While Johnny and I were in Montreal, while I did feel great 99% of the trip, there was one evening where my spirits dipped to that place we artists know too well…in the gutters of self-loathing and despair. It was our first night there, the night before the festival. I had just showed Johnny several episodes of season two of Seek Help, which I’ve been feverishly editing. Soon I began my ritual beating up of myself over every imperfection. As Johnny and I sat over our fancy ramen dinner, it was agreed that “There should be a word that describes being both proud of the amount of work you’ve put into something, and being embarrassed or ashamed of the final product not living up to your vision” to which Johnny suddenly proclaimed, “And it shall be called The Struggle-Bottrell.” My sole purpose in telling you this is that I would love, love, love if my legacy on earth was to contribute my name to this description. So, please, if you’re ever in need of a word for this feeling, feel free to use this to describe your own Struggle-Bottrell.
The truest words I’ve heard all year have come from Patton Oswalt, quoting his late wife Michelle McNamara:
“It’s chaos. Be kind.”
In his latest Stand-Up special for Netflix, Oswalt recounted that she hated the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” She would say, “It’s all chaos, it’s all random, and it’s horrifying. And if you want to try and reduce the horror, and reduce the chaos, be kind. That’s all you can do. It’s chaos. Be kind.”
Be kind. Be gentle. Be forgiving. I’ve been echoing these words to myself all year–both in regards to others and myself. Stay open. Stay vulnerable. Stay tender. I’ve been thinking about my clenched fists. The way they tighten both to keep things in, that maybe I should have let go of (like a dream being realized in a specific way), and the way they tense up in defense, when perhaps they should reach out to and for help and resolutions instead.
I came back to Missouri from LA not really by choice, and never planned to stay more than a year. Four years after coming here, I finally felt financially stable enough to start planning my return to the coast, or a coast anyway. I remembered my time in New York fondly and thought maybe I should go back there. So, I went and visited. And it didn’t feel right. So, I decided LA made the most sense. I made a lot of logical, sound arguments for it in my head, but some part of me was hesitant. I didn’t understand why. I worried that hesitation was just fear–fear of repeating my first 6 years and never progressing further. Fear of financially floundering again, of not being able to act as much as I have been here, of being away from my Mom. I didn’t want to be motivated by fear. So, I told myself: I’m moving back to LA in September. I started telling friends and family and my boss. I got boxes for packing.
Then, the possibility of making season two of my webseries Seek Help came up. I wanted to make it, and it seemed like we might be able to–so I decided to stay past September, and since I was staying past September, I auditioned for the play Good People and got cast. And since I was staying for those things, I had to renew my lease and they didn’t give me a 6 month option like I was hoping, it was 1 year or pay a lot more and do month to month. So I signed a 1 year lease. I told my boss and he said, “That’s got to be awful for you–having to defer the move 6 months longer than you wanted.” And I realized it wasn’t awful for me. It was easy.
I took some time after that to sit quietly alone with my thoughts and journal. And I had an epiphany. This was my epiphany: Acting is not EVERYTHING. I still feel blasphemous even saying that because I wouldn’t want anyone for one second to doubt how incredibly important it is to me or think that I’m saying that I’m giving up on my dreams of being a working actor. I’m not. However, life goes SO quickly. For 31 years (give or take a childhood), I’ve pursued whatever avenues I could to become a working actor on TV, Film and Theatre. I thought it would happen before I ever got to high school. It didn’t. I thought it would happen in my 20’s. It didn’t.
“It” being a regular on a TV show or consistently working on TV, Film and Theatre–the shows/films people all over the country know about and watch. Anything short of that…I never allowed to feel like “success.” I was grateful for every opportunity and job, but in my mind, I was still failing. And at 31, the thought of going back to LA and knocking on doors and getting all those “No’s” and “You’re great, but too tall”…even the thought of achieving my dream now as I always dreamed it…I just started questioning how fulfilling that would really be? I love the work, but the work is always the work no matter where you do it. I love working with people who are great at what they do and challenge me to be better. That would be great, no question. I would love to be respected and known (and paid!) as a full-time storytelling vessel. But I also know that sometimes you try and try and try and it never “works out” how you wanted or thought it would.
For a decade I’ve been saying that I want to get involved with CASA (court appointed special advocate–they speak for the child going through foster care in court) and fostering/adopting. I always said, you know, someday….when/if I am ever stable enough financially and in one place long enough. Everything hinged on achieving my acting dream in this one specific way–a way that most people never do, no matter how incredibly gifted they are or how diligent their hustle. Life is an expansive tapestry of experiences–and I’ve been zeroed in on just one thing for so long, never even considering the possibility that maybe if I un-clinch my fists just a little, I could hold some other things in my hands, in my life. I could make a little room and be a part of something bigger than myself.
Maybe it’s my age, but I crave community these days…I want to build a family, a group of close friends and collaborators. I’ve long had more love to give than people in my life to give it to. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in my apartment, hogging resources I could be contributing. Forgive the length of this post–I just want you to understand that when I say that I am not moving back to LA, I am staying in Springfield, MO, that you know that it is not about fear or trepidation. It is not a giving up on my dreams–they are still very much in the forefront of my mind, still daily on my to-do’s–rather, this decision is one to expand my life in new ways that I hope positively contributes to my community, and enriches the work and stories I am able to tell.
My dream now looks a little like this: Buy a house, make it a home. Get involved as a volunteer advocate for Foster Kids and eventually foster to adopt. Continue to make my own projects and try to improve with each one–try to get my scripts sold or made and audition for projects (only the ones I really, deeply want). I hope to travel to the coasts semi-regularly. I hope for many more lunch dates with my Mom and many more collaborations with my friends and artists I look up to.
After I made this decision, I told no one…for weeks. I sat with it, waiting to see if I would change my mind again. But I pretty much knew it was the right decision when, the day after, as I was driving to a work event, I started crying…they were tears of a mixed bag of emotions: relief at no longer living a life solely in pursuit of “yes’s” that may or may not ever validate me in the way I always dreamed, sadness and acceptance of letting go of that expectation, and excitement for all the new dreams I could now dream. It’s a little corny, but for the first time in my life, I felt like a “full-grown woman.”
Life’s not working out how I thought it would…mostly, honestly, it’s been chaos. And in that chaos you have one choice that belongs to you alone and is totally in your control, and that’s how you respond to the chaos. You can project meaning onto it, you can let it disorient you, you can fight the chaos and try to control it, or you can adjust your perspective and your goals, and look for ways to grow with each new challenge and curve that gets thrown at you. You can loosen your fists and let life flow through you.
“It’s chaos. Be kind.”
This weekend my friend, Lisa Murphy, who plays my wife in Seek Help was saying how “it” was going to happen for me. And I said that it didn’t matter anymore whether or not “it” did…it didn’t matter because I was already doing “it.” I don’t need anyone’s permission to live my life how I want. I’m going to act, and write, and create my whole life and that’s more than enough. Let me tell you, finally being able to say that and know it and mean it feels amazing. And what’s perhaps most incredible, is that this gift was a gift I gave myself. It was “just” a perspective change, but one that took me a couple decades and a whole lot of failed attempts at controlling the chaos to realize was always there just waiting for me to see it, claim it, and be free.
It’s been 9 months since I last blogged for LA FPI and the world feels like a drastically different place…a terrifyingly absurd place…the kind of place that I used to think only existed in dark, independent foreign films (a favorite to watch, though less favored to live in). Through all the political cacophony and “alternative facts,” one real, indisputable fact has emerged: Fear creates action like a motherf*cker. Advertisers, politicians, and religious zealots have harnessed this power for decades…but I’m not here to talk about any of that…I’m here to talk about creating.
It’s a story-line we’re all familiar with: A person has a near-death experience, survives and realizes what really matters to them. They quit their job, get out of that toxic relationship, sell the clutter, and live more simply in pursuit of their legacy. That may mean investing more time into your relationships with your family, or it could mean spending more time creating that masterpiece–or both! Or neither! Or something else entirely! Only your heart knows. The question is: If we all know the story, why aren’t we able to extrapolate the lesson of it without the near-death part?
Fear gets a negative connotation, some of which is justified, but fear is also adrenaline, it is motivation, and it can be the cold, hard hand of reality that slaps you across the face when you’ve tuned out on your life.
If you’re terrified of ending up as the person who always said, “I’m a _____,” or “I’m working on______,” or “I’m going to ________,” and then never became, never did, never got there…then you will do something. When the fear of not doing the thing becomes greater than the fear of trying and failing, you will do the thing. And when you do the thing, you’ll buck head-on with that fear of trying and failing like never before, and finally be forced to confront (ie. breakthrough) that fear. The good news is that the more times you breakthrough that fear, the further you’ll be able to go.
So, my advice? Be afraid, be very, very afraid. And do it anyway. Set yourself up to confront scary situations on the regular. Go take that stand-up routine you’ve got tucked in your pocket up on a stage in front of people and fill the space with your weird ass humor. Don’t just finish that book, put it out in the world–tell people, ask them to read it and tell you what they really think…then, send it to your idols–why not? Produce that play that you’re the most proud of but that no one has said, “yes” to yet. Start that business you’ve been dreaming about for 20 years.
In other words: LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING (because you are).
True: You might “fail.” You might fall flat on your face in the most humiliating way. Maybe no one laughs when they’re supposed to…maybe everyone laughs when they’re not. You will cry and there will be sleepless nights. You might go bankrupt. Maybe you go for it with all you’ve got and come up short. Maybe you’ll be forced to realize that you’re not capable of doing what you’ve always wanted to…yet. You could perish mid-pursuit…but, more terrifyingly, you could die never having tried at all–never having spoken your thoughts–never having shared your he(art)–never knowing what could have been…and then, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
It’s not hyperbole to say these decisions are life and death. Your life and your death…it’s your legacy in your hands, your decisions plotting your path. It’s a lot of responsibility to admit that to yourself. While “success” is a personally defined moving target–much of which involves timing and luck that is out of your hands…your effort, your output, and your action…well, that’s all on you, kid. Life is so, so weird and no one knows half of what they seem to know…rather than try to make sense of it, embrace the absurdity. Rather than wait for someone else’s validation, proclaim it for yourself: you belong. You’re voice, experience and perspective are the rarest, most valuable assets you have.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! There’s just one catch: You have to try.
I promise you, if you let it, fear can be the biggest gift you give yourself (along with a hardy dose of kindness).
My Top 4 List of Scary Things From The Last 9 Months
1. True Confessions: Goldilocks & the Three Dildos
Back in September I had the opportunity (ie. volunteered) to get up on a mic in front of people and tell a true story from my life. True Confessions is a local storytelling event in the vein of The Moth and provided the perfect opportunity to scare myself shitless. It’s one thing going up in front of people under the illusion of character, costume and set, and another thing entirely to speak truthfully about truly embarrassing parts of your life that you think might be funny and poignant, but that could also just be quietly unacceptable to utter out-loud. I did it though (you can listen at the link above!) and the most surprising thing came from it…I was able to own my story in a way I never was before–always worried what others would think if I shared it…suddenly, that fear had no power over me anymore. I let go of shame and learned, by doing, how to be grateful for every odd, painful quirk of my story…for giving me such a great story to tell.
2. Art Hung on Gallery Walls
Art was always my Mom’s thing. She’s the professional artist. I was the artistic hippie who did all artistic things, but left the “serious” artistic pursuits in my Mom’s lane. I’ve always made art but rarely placed much value on it. It’s “my Mom’s thing.” As if my placing value on my work could in any way take anything away from my Mom–but I so clearly recall an incident in my childhood with a competitive friend when one of us crossed into the other’s artistic lanes and sparks flied. “Hey, that’s my thing!” To my Mom’s credit, she’s never been anything but supportive of my art. She’s even bought (ie. paid real dollar bills, yo) for my art (which is crazy to me–LOVE YOU, MOM). It’s completely my own neurosis. In the last two years, however, I’ve made more art than I have had space for and people started inquiring about buying, so I re-activated my Etsy shop and started reaching out to galleries to do shows. This makes me feel boarder-line legitimate artistically…and that means being vulnerable for my work to be judged through that lens as well…which is scary. In the last 9 months through to the next 9 months my work has shown at (for judgement and purchase) or will be shown at: BookMarx, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield Regional Arts Council, Tea Bar & Bites, and Arts & Letters.
3. LET’S TALK About My Poetry Book
I’ve been writing poetry as far back as I can remember, but like my art I never took it “seriously.” In the last few years, I have become more and more cognizant of the power of representation. The #BodyPositive movement, the #BlackGirlMagic movement, and #effyourbeautystandards among others are powerful because they provide much needed examples of strong, confident, successful, and beautiful that aren’t being shown as regularly in mainstream media and advertising. I’ve realized that my voice and perspective could add to the chorus of voices that have re-shaped my mind and my perspective on others and myself in monumental ways. And what if those people had never seen the value in their voices? My life, undoubtedly, would be vastly different today. This collection, LET’S TALK, has been in the works for the last 2 years and will be available on Amazon later this year through their self-publishing platform CreateSpace. It’s scary putting this book out there–it’s an expense–no, an investment. What if no one buys it? Or what if they do? What if they leave really awful reviews? But, more importantly, what if it helps? Anyone at all, even just a little…to feel less alone in life?
4. SEEK HELP & Seeking Funds
This was the biggest leap. This one was and is the scariest. No question. I wrote a web-series called Seek Help way back in 2012. It came out of me in a huge, easy burst of inspiration and I really loved it–which, if you write, you know how rarely that outcome occurs! I wanted to make it, but it required a specific set and a few other things that I didn’t have access to at the time. Every few years I would pull it out, re-read it and proclaim, “I want to make this!”
Then, this last year I was reading it with my friend Matt and it SPARKED. This was it. The time was now. We talked and decided to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make it–and make it right. I was so scared to do a kickstarter…imagine asking for money for a project you really believe in and finding out just how many people find you or your he(art) project unworthy of giving to. But then I thought about all my friends who had had successful campaigns and how I had happily donated to many of them and I thought…okay, we can do this! People do this!
I made a plan, we made a video, we made a kickstarter, I researched, I submitted, I PR’d and I posted and posted and emailed…and then, I started to panic…like, dry-heaving, crying actual tears, out of my mind SCARED that because not enough people were responding that it meant that no one believed in me. I felt betrayed. I felt embarrassed for trying. I felt briefly like I was not worthwhile. Then, right in the middle of it, the election happened. To be clear, we were not on target for meeting our goal before the election happened, but once it happened, all progress slowed to a complete stop. Understandably people had bigger concerns–as did I.
In a weird sort of way, I found my perspective again. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started feeling so grateful for everyone who did support me when there are so many other very worthy causes to support. When we failed to make our goal, I wasn’t yet ready to relinquish defeat. When I thought about making it any way we could scrape it together, I felt excitement and peace. When I thought about giving up, I felt depressed and incapable. So, it was simple. I didn’t want to feel depressed and incapable…I wanted to feel excitement and peace. Amazingly, some of the people who’d donated wanted to keep their pledges and help us make it. So, we reconfigured, re-cast, and re-committed. There have been no less than 5 major set-backs (all SCARY) since that decision was made, but this week I finished the rough cut of the first full episode which we shot this past weekend and I haven’t been able to sleep un-medicated since. I’m so incredibly giddy with excitement. I go to bed late and wake up early and don’t feel cranky about it…and this is the thing, guys…
THIS IS THE WHOLE ENCHILADA…
The joy you get from doing the thing? When it’s your thing–whatever that may be–is more than enough to absorb the fear and the setbacks. You only live once (probably)–SO GO FOR IT! And don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you want an accountability partner, or someone to bounce ideas off of. I love being an accountability and encouragement partner–especially for other strong, creative women! <3
I had a thought today that maybe in the script of life your 20’s are the rough, first draft, and your 30’s (and beyond) are the re-writes. Maybe there is an age, though I’m sure it’s different for everyone, where you feel like the vision you had for yourself is fully realized, and maybe that age never arrives. This is the kind of introspection I’m sure most people face in the final inning (really? a sports metaphor? eh, sure) of their 29th year. That first decade of adulthood fading off into the sunset and the big 3-0 slapping you in the face with “like-whoa, I guess this adult thing is really happening.” It’s really sort of incredible all the different lives we lead…married, divorced, single (hello, again–I am), children, no-children, successful, struggling, etc. 30 looks so different on each of us, yet signifies, as all landmark birthdays do, that ever present passing of time.
It’s been an interesting and, as usual, utterly unpredicted few months since I blogged last. A break-up sparked an insane art binge that created well over 100 paintings in less than 3 months and just as many poems. The painting then evolved into ink line drawings, all of which, along with my paintings, are now for sale in my recently re-activated Etsy shop: www.andiebottrell.etsy.com Did not see that coming. I’m working on trying to get a handwritten and illustrated poetry book published (no idea how to do that, everything I’ve read has said basically “poetry is dead” “there is so little money in it no publishers will ever read your submission” “seriously, when’s the last time you bought a poetry book?”–actually, I bought, like, 5 last month, but I’m learning I’m more unusual than I ever expected). And I have my first art show coming up in May (my 30th Birthday month)…it’s called the “Break-up Art Show” (;
In June, I’ll be going back to Tent Theatre–I wrote about my first experience there on this blog. It was a momentous experience for me. It got me my EMC card. I am so excited to be a full-time actor for an entire month again! The play is Unnecessary Farce which not too many people seem to know about yet, but it’s hilarious and has a lot of great, quick, fast-paced wit and creative physical comedy (haha, I couldn’t think of the term “physical comedy” so I googled “body humor”).
There hasn’t been much writing aside from poetry. It’s been just poetry and painting and acting lately. Which at times I struggled with feeling guilty about–I should be writing a script. I should be re-writing that play. I need to make a feature film. But, you know what? Screw what every writing blog says about writing when you’re uninspired. I’ve hated almost everything I’ve written when I forced it. I feel blasphemous even saying that because I feel like that just becomes an excuse for the undisciplined, but I truly think you have to just listen to your heart/inspiration talking-piece when it comes to creativity. And there are other ways to access your creative geiser–sometimes being uninspired to write something just means you need to find another way in. At times I also feel a lot of pressure from people to do just ONE thing. To only focus on acting or only focus on writing, etc. When you split your focus among lots of different things, how can you ever get really great or successful at any of them? And I don’t disagree necessarily. It’s annoying saying all the hyphenates of my artistic endeavors (actor/writer/director/editor/artist/photographer). It sounds pompous and it takes a long time to list. But those ARE the things I do on a regular basis–those are the ways I express myself and use my voice as an artist.
I’m learning that my personal artistic flow is cyclical and that my obsessive nature means that I often clamp down hard on one or two things for a time, while doing all the other things in smaller frequencies, and then rotate out to another skill set and do the same. I thrive when being surrounded by many tools to express myself and giving myself the freedom to go from one to the next as inspiration strikes. And I will no longer allow myself to feel bad or pigeonholed into “picking” just one thing when my heart demands the space to speak through several different instruments. I am an Artist. That is my life. My creations take many forms. That’s just who I am. I think part of turning 30 will be saying “That’s just who I am” a lot more. Not to say I’ll quit evolving (god, no, never!), but just that I’ll no longer feel bad about those few core parts of myself that I know to be true.
As I enter 30 I wonder if my art will ever sustain more than just the will to live, but become my actual livelihood. I’m struggling to figure out how to price my work, how to say that my art is valuable and you will have to pay me to have the privilege of using/seeing/working with it. At the same time as I’m struggling to tell others it’s worth paying for, I am also more confident than ever in my work. I can access things easier. I have more control over my skills. It doesn’t feel as hit-or-miss as it has for the majority of my 20’s. I have a lot more life experience to draw upon. My perspective is constantly expanding. I care less and less what I look like, but am working harder than ever to feel good in my body and take care of it as I have started noticing how quickly the body can start to deteriorate if you don’t. I’m more and more impressed at how resilient people are and their capacity to adapt to situations beyond their control–and the incredible things people have achieved. I see now, more than ever, the amount of work and sacrifices people make along the way to realize their dreams. I’m inspired by the massive guts (figuratively speaking) on so many people–and am constantly telling myself I’ve got to be even braver.
I was reading an article about What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation the other week (because it’s now something so common it requires the same kind of practice drills as natural disasters) and there was a concept explained in the article that resonated with me for multiple reasons. When people are in an emergency situation, many freeze up and don’t do anything because our brains are predisposed to to assume that things will be “normal,” so it takes us longer than it should to accept that things are not “business as usual” and that we need to react to the new circumstances and take action. This left me wondering, how often does it happen that our lives change in either subtle or very big ways while we carry on holding tightly to our last sense of normalcy? Moreover, how does this impact (or hinder) the ways we are able to evolve as people and as creators?
The last two years have held both shocking, grandiose changes and subtle, little shifts in my life and in myself as a person–and yet, in many ways, my approach to the work has been the same…filled with the same old challenges, and similar results. On the same note, my approach to and expectations in personal relationships are also the same as they have been before and filled with the same old challenges, and similar results. If things have changed as much as they have (and they have–I’ll expound in a minute) then why am I still approaching it all with the mindset of a less experienced woman? Like updating your resume to include new jobs and skills, we need to update what we know about ourselves, others, life, and the world as we learn it and allow this to affect our output as creators and people.
In the last few months since I blogged some major things have occurred, I’ll name the two most positive: I fell in love, and I got cast in and shot the biggest movie I’ve been fortunate enough to have a large supporting role in. Both of these things were/are life changing and outside the normal loop of my what has, thus far, been my daily life. While I always hoped I’d work on a movie with the incredible quality of cast and crew as I enjoyed on The Weight, and always hoped I’d experience a deep, sincere, romantic relationship–as either had yet to happen, when they finally did (and almost simultaneously), my world changed, but I found myself standing still. As an actor my M.O. has always been more on the side of over-prepping and going quasi-Method…a theatre actor first, I love rehearsing and multiple takes. The Director of this movie earned the nickname “One-Take Thomas” and I had to adjust to making choices in the moment and trusting the Director that it was working. This was terrifying–but ultimately, extremely beneficial as an actor to learn how to let go and work that way.
Similarly, in my new romantic relationship, the ghosts of old aches and pains have started peaking out in very distracting ways. For most of my adult life the default of my heart was set to “unrequited longing.” Longing for closer relationships romantically, with family, with friends, people who have left for one reason or another or, more frustratingly, no known reason at all. To now have someone closing that gap, reaching back at me with arms wide open–this defies my perception of normalcy and my brain keeps trying to turn this new love into a rejection…because longing for it is more comfortable than having it.
Longing for it is more comfortable than having it. When you spend your whole life working toward a goal, either professionally or personally, and you start achieving it–be careful not to stand still, for action is what is required. When the world changes, you must change with it. I’m not the same actor that I was before this movie in many ways–I’m going to make a conscious effort to change my perception of myself, the way I approach the work, and the value I place on the work I do. I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve trained hard and continuously, I’ve worked consistently, I am good at it and I’m going to mentally raise my own valuation of my work to force myself to only continue to do better, higher quality work that will build the kind of career I want to have. I’ll say “No” to projects with confidence and work harder to get opportunities at the “next level” while trusting myself to be able to handle the opportunity when it comes. And, in love, I’ll work harder to not let the pain people have caused me in the past negatively impact my ability to accept the love I’m receiving in the present.
My world has changed, and I’m not going to stand still.
This Summer I created, wrote, directed, produced, starred in and edited a webseries called LANDLOCKED. You may recall I was taking lessons from my research on panic attacks and applying them to the creative process back in April while in pre-production for the series. We did 10 episodes shooting and airing one per week for ten weeks, juggling two sets in different time zones, directing over Skype, mailing footage back and forth, encountering a slew of frustrating technical difficulties, and finally, creating a season finale that has become the creation I am most proud of (so far). Here’s a four minute wrap up of the Season leading up to the finale:
I feel like, more than ever before, this last episode achieved the vision, tone, and quality I wanted, so I feel like whatever I do next needs to be BIG–balls to the wall, crewed up, funded, my soul on a platter stuffed into film…something I can take and show at prominent festivals that says, “I’m here. I’m ready. I’ve earned a spot at the table now.” Ultimately, my goal is to create a television show that I write and act in, so I am working to create a film that clearly shows my voice as a creator. It’s hard to create when you are putting so much pressure on yourself though, so it is important, I find, to actually not think about the big picture SO much and just try to enjoy each small moment, betting on yourself (instead of listening to the doubt) each step of the way.
Before we put away the big picture, however, I want to acknowledge something that 2 years ago me would never have believed…since moving back to Springfield, MO from Los Angeles I have worked constantly, become an EMC, and made more money from Acting in the past 2 years than I did from Acting in all 6 of my years in Los Angeles (not counting background work). That’s pretty insane to me. I never saw that coming. So, here we are again, another year in and I am getting ready to move out of my Mom’s house and into my own apartment here in Springfield. I’m still recovering financially and I’ve still got a long ways to go and even though a part of me feels anxious about having my own apartment here–feels like I’m settling in somehow into a place I never wanted to call “home”–the rest of me is able to acknowledge that maybe this is the best place for me to be right now. I can enjoy a lower cost of living and stay plenty busy taking advantage of all the acting opportunities afforded me while continuing to write and create my own projects with the hope that one day one of them will lead me back off to the big cities I know and love.
The important thing, I think, is to never stop; if you have a dream that beats through your heart daily and nightly, that makes you want to get up even when you’re dead tired, that puts a smile on your face even in your most trying times, then acknowledge that it’s there to be fulfilled, and whether or not you ever fulfill it in the way you think would be best, regardless of if anyone else thinks it’s what you should be doing with your life, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in…just never stop finding little and big ways to keep stepping closer to that dream, keep doing that thing that makes your heart swell. It’s there for a reason within you, and good things will be born of it.
Welcome to 2015 LAFPI! The start of a new year is when a lot of us take stock of where we are at and where we want to be, re-evaluate our habits and try to kick things into a higher gear because gosh-darnit if we aren’t all full of untapped potential, right? haha. The key to these resolutions, I think, is not letting yourself get swept up in the hype of self-improvement and burn out too fast amidst impossible expectations (there’s that word again). At the same time, it’s a great time to verbalize those way-big dreams and create solid, realistic, chewable bite-sized steps that you can do each day to make them happen. We’re all works in progress, all the time- and in case you weren’t aware- we always will be. The scaffolding never goes down completely, just like in New York City, it simply pops up on another building down the block.
I am extremely fortunate in that I got a super exciting, head-start boost before my New Years reflections started. A new job! No longer confined to my cubical prison from 8-5 collecting money, I am instead working part time for a financial planning and investments firm as their client relations manager. I make virtually the same amount of money working less hours, doing a much a more enjoyable job with really great people. This has been HUGE for me. As evidenced by my last year of blogs on here, things had been kinda… down for me. I wasn’t able to create as much as my artsty soul requires to feel alive and kicking. I am incredibly grateful.
When I started thinking about my New Years resolutions this year, I really took the time to consider where I am at, what I want and what I can do to get there. I am not someone who has a high a success rate at keeping promises I make to myself- I may banish all chips from my diet one day, only to have them as the main course the next. I may promise myself to complete 7 screenplays & plays by January 2014, and by January 2014 have completed none. So, it’s all good and well to say to yourself on December 31st, “Self, tomorrow is a whole new day in a whole new year and I am going to be a whole new me,” but the truth is, you won’t be. You’ll still be you. With the same hang-ups and quirks and anxieties that caused you to do those things that kept you from getting closer to achieving your goals last year. So a better thing to say to yourself on December 31st, or any day is, “What haven’t I tried yet?”
I decided to only look one month ahead this year, picking two goals and specific deadlines for them throughout the month. This month my goal is to write 50,000 words in my novel (1613/day) and to do a cardio workout 5x a week with yoga 3x a week. I made mini-deadlines every week throughout the month and if I don’t hit those then there are consequences like cleaning my mom’s car or cooking a meal of her choice for her. I talked to my mom about these goals and asked her to help keep me accountable. She also has set goals for this month and if at the end of the month we have achieved our goals, we are treating ourselves to a spa day.
My plan is to do this every month this year. I’ve made up a list of exciting rewards and not-so-fun consequences. For me, it’s important to have both these negative and positive reinforcements, as well as the accountability and encouragement of a support-buddy (I’m trying to rope my friends into joining us as well!) So far it’s really working and I feel so much more at peace with my “work in progress” self because I’m not letting my potential go to waste; I’m working it like clay between my hands every single day. This also means that I am more in touch with where I am at in my process, more attuned to my short-comings, more able to see the glints of my progress and less stuck in between the fantasy of where I expect myself to be, the memories of where I’ve once been, and the exaggerated depression of how it feels when reality hits.
I hope this post is of encouragement and inspiration to you as you start off the new year. I think it is also important to remember, as you look inside and outside of yourself for things you want to improve, that you are exactly, perfectly acceptable just the way you are right at this very minute. Stomach rolls, incomplete drafts, messy house, unwashed hair, etc. You are a beautiful, unique, pre-war historic home with the capacity to provide for other humans. You stand on a gorgeous plot of land, planted on our incredible earth for a finite amount of time. You get to experience and witness millions of tiny and monumental things. You will love and are loved. You are enough. But… if would like to, if you feel so inclined and compelled, you may refurbish the floors, recondition the walls, renovate the exterior. These acts may ad value to your home monetarily, may ad a sense of accomplishment you can carry in your step, may help you become more aware of your own strength and capabilities- all good things!- but always remember, today, tomorrow, next January, you are who you are, where you are, and as you are- and that is perfectly enough.