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.
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.