It was around 10am Sunday morning, October 13th and I was hauling industrial strength trash bags down to the end of the long parking area of my apartment building in Van Nuys. The contents made a lot of noise from the mix of empty wine bottles, cutlery, broken glass, potted plants, and the miscellaneous cloth of cut up clothes, no-good sheets and pillowcases. After making about 15 of these trips, I looked around my mostly bare apartment and deemed it “good enough” to make my escape. I had intended to move my chewed up couch to the curb and my neighbor had offered to help me, but when push came to shove and time ran out- he was no where to be found. There was no way I was going to attempt moving it by myself down a flight of stairs and up the long, long parking lot/driveway to the curb. I had managed such a feat once before in my life, but I was 24 then and a lot had changed in 3 years. I had also intended to offer all the items I couldn’t sell or fit into my car to my neighbors, but as mentioned- they were not home. So, I meticulously stacked, lined, folded and arranged in my OCD best a display of the items I was leaving behind in my apartment and wrote a little note to them to come take whatever they wanted, taped the note to their door, left my apartment unlocked, scrambled quickly into my car and took off down the open road- okay, not quite “open” road, I was still driving in L.A. for another hour and a half or more before I reached anything close to resembling an “open” road.
I had not foreseen my departure, though perhaps I should have, instead, it hit me like a ton of bricks the moment I had to call my mother to help me because I could not get myself out of a very serious financial pickle. When I realized what I needed to do, every fiber of my being screamed in totally overdramatic pain, “NO F-ING WAY! THAT’S NOT WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!” And shortly after other wailing thoughts cried out about how I was a failure to have let this happen, how I deserved it, how I had lost my shot, how I hadn’t tried hard enough, how all my work was going to be in vain now, how I would probably die having only gotten this far- which is to say NO WHERE. Devilish, unproductive and super overdramatic thoughts that some may even call “self-centered” and “first-worldly.” To which, I could not rationally disagree. However, the artistic soul, as I have observed it, is anything but rational. This is what makes it great. This is what allows it to do and create things other people can’t. This is also what makes so many artists tragic figures. While other people long to have families and save money for nice vacations and travel and have a nice house and car and a retirement plan, artists long to make great art- and that’s about it. This art becomes our family, our jobs, our vacations, our nice things. This art becomes everything. Of course, there are exceptions, and balanced artists probably do exist somewhere, but at least for me, this has been the case. I can live far away from my family with ease if it means I get to make art with other great artists on a daily basis. I can deal with loneliness. I can’t deal with not consistently working toward achieving my artistic goals.
My expectations when I moved to Los Angeles almost 6 years ago were something along the lines of: 1. Act in everything I can, 2. Get an agent, 3. Audition for TV and Films, 4. Book stuff, 5. Live the life of a working actor. I considered my expectations realistic because I didn’t give myself a timeline to achieve these things. I knew that some actors lived in LA 10 years before they got any kind of significant “break.” I was ready for a life-long battle that was going to be hard and uphill- or so I thought. About three months after moving to LA, while sharing a mattress on the stained carpet of a bachelor apartment that had been converted from a utility closet, I began to have my first ever “how is this going to work” breakdown. It wasn’t the closet-apartment or the stained carpet or the shared mattress that got to me- it was the fact that I couldn’t get an audition for a crappy student film re-make of a bad movie scene for a one-line part, much less anything I wanted to play that broke me. I cried into my sleeping roommates arm, who refused to wake up for the drama. The next day I wiped my tears and decided to take action.
I started writing. I wrote my first short film. Then I produced, directed, and starred in it. I joined a writing group. I read book after book on writing. I did writing exercises. I made 5 more short films. I started writing features, and plays, poetry, short stories, title ideas, dialogue fragments, anything and everything. I joined a theatre company. I started something called Film Practice where every month for a year I would act and/or write/direct/edit a short film or scene with my friends. When I drove away from my apartment on Sunday, October 13th we had just completed our 10th month of Film Practice. My life since making the decision to take action, rather then wait for “Action” to be called was at least doubly improved. I was empowered and my artistic spirit soared with constant stimulation. On my 26 hour drive from L.A. to Springfield, MO I thought about how my passion had not diminished even slightly since my initial drive the opposite direction to LA, if anything, it had increased. I thought about my new goals and expectations. I want to be a writer/director/actress for Film/Television/Theatre. I want to be a female David Lynch-esque, Kafka-esque stylistic brand. I want to always be working, like Woody, from the last edit or curtain call of the last project to the first page of the new script. More than anything, I want to spend my entire life making a living doing what I love, what makes me excited to get out of bed, what makes it hard to go to sleep, what keeps me energized after 13 hours on set and only a half hour of sleep the night before. Elaborate, collaborative storytelling is the drug for me.
This is a super-sized expectation to carry, and the fears that challenge it have never been more loudly heard than in the quiet country of the bible-belt amongst the rain and cows and a Mother who worries how I will ever be able to live any kind of life on the expensive coast with the kind of work my Associates Degree in Occupational Studies from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts can get me. My irrational artistic soul tries to soothe me by telling me that if I just keep working at it, if I just never stop working at it, if I just work hard enough for long enough, there will HAVE to be some kind of payoff. Then, the migraine that is my rational brain-peanut-bitch pinches nerves and screams at me to “for the love of god” find some kind of stability to hold onto while I surf the seas of my creativity. And I am trying to listen to both. And I am trying to keep hope. And I am trying to stay creatively inspired midst constant anxiety of having left my home and life behind while I try to pay off the last 6 years of acquired debt and try to find a job here and deal with not being in a city where who I am and what I want in life are easily understood.
Managing expectations is hard. How do you keep dreaming the limitless possibility of dreams without making them so unrealistic that you’ll never be able to achieve them? The same can be said for managing fear- How do you allow yourself just enough fear to stay in touch with reality but not enough to keep you from avoiding life all together? I don’t have any answers, but am hoping to hear from other artists, particularly those further along in their journeys on how they’ve managed to balance survival jobs, life expenses, and creating the art they live for. Most the artists my age are in similar positions to me, working a billion odd jobs, occasionally living on credit cards, acquiring more and more debt that they have no illusions of ever being able to pay off, happy just to be making their art, and crossing their fingers nothing bad ever happens in their lives because they certainly don’t have insurance or a savings account. My move back to Missouri is my attempt to start over financially- get rid of my debt- build up some savings and learn how to manage my money better so that I can move back to LA, hopefully in a year, with slightly more solid ground under me and the tools necessary to support myself and my art and allow me stay there for the rest of my life. I’m looking at the long term and my artistic goals are a marathon; I’m going to need physical, emotional, creative and financial stamina if I’m ever going to get where I intend to go.
p.s. Looking for some writing exercises to challenge and inspire you to think outside your usual parameters? I post writing exercises weekly on my blog! Play along and send ’em in and I’ll post ’em!