In my last post on here in January I was talking about those ever-timely resolutions. Did you set some? How are they going? I pronounced that I was going to make monthly goals, rather than yearly goals, and really work with some new techniques to help me achieve my goals. The month of January was a success! I achieved my goals of writing 50,000 words in my first novel and working out 5 days a week. How great were those 50,000+ words? Well, a few were okay and the rest were cringe-worthy, but the point is I did it, right?!
Fresh of my successes I was ready to set my goals for February and set out to re-write a Screenplay of mine. I also set more physical goals. As February ticked on, however, I was not meeting my goals. It’s not that they weren’t specific enough or that I didn’t have enough rewards/consequences in place–though, I do think not having as much moral support and people to give support back to did effect things in a huge way–mostly, though, I think I was just falling deeper into the old hat of depression. My January success turned into thoughts that asked questions in accusatory and derogatory tones, like, “So, was it worth it? All that time you spent working on that sh*tty-*ss novel? You still have nothing worth showing for it. And all those work outs–what was the point? You’re still f*ck*ng f*t, etc.”
February and March were spent mostly in bed, when I wasn’t working, struggling to find a way out again, to get back up and try again. And now, here we are in April, which, I am happy to say, is off to a great start! I am on my way up again. I got to act in a short film called DATING FAILS that will screen at The Moxie on Friday, April 24 at 11:30pm, Saturday, April 25 at 2pm, & Sunday, April 26 at 6:15pm. I’ve started running again, and not to jinx myself, but I have been actually enjoying it, instead of dreading it like I usually do. And, perhaps most exciting of all, I have been working on a new web-series that will premiere May 19, 2015 at www.landlockedthewebseries.com.
Landlocked is a story about a couple in a long-distance relationship struggling to stay connected as one of them deals with Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. To me, when I am working on a new project it feels just like falling in love. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, the thing I daydream about throughout my day, and the last thing I think about at night. I find myself smiling for no reason imagining sequences or being moved to tears. Every song I hear I imaging playing under one of the scenes and every lyric relates to the story. So, I feel pretty sure I’m going to be okay for at least until the end of July when the series finale airs…and by then, hopefully, I’ll meet another, fresh, new project to fall in love with all over again.
In my research regarding Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia I came across this chart on the website Triumph Over Panic:
“This chart represents your practice program, leading gradually to full recovery. Each “P” stands for a panic incident. A “P” can seem like a setback at the time, but it is actually an integral part of your success.”
I feel that, similarly, we create our art in these waves of euphoria, followed by the humbling reality of it not living up to our expectation of greatness, so we fall into depression due to our own self-induced perception of “failure” and then, because we are Artists and because that is the way through which we process life, we eventually create again. I think it is easy to feel like our chart is actually a circle that repeats itself in this never-ending unexceptionalism, but if we can start to see our perceived failings as the process through which we grow, we may take out some of the weight of those downward periods, rebound quicker, and even dare to say, “I can’t wait to fail more!” The quicker I fail, the faster I succeed.
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.
One year. 365 days. How can something that begins with so much potential end with so few achievements to show for it? I suppose perhaps I am not being fair. After all I have managed to pay down some of my debt, and my taxes. I was cast in my first equity play and become an EMC cardholder, performing for my biggest audiences yet. One of my plays got its first public reading in LA, I started teaching a young adults writers group that makes me feel really inspired, I did some commercials, won an award for a commercial I made, and have made some real nice friends. That’s not nothing. So, why do I feel so discouraged? It all goes back to expectations, doesn’t it? There are the expectations we fail due to our own lack of discipline and planning and there are the expectations we fail, though no fault of our own, simply due to how things shake out and the millions of variables that go in to anything that happens in life.
Yet, I’m feeling discouraged. A year here was all I expected it to take to be financially bounced back enough to return to LA. It’s not. It looks like at least one more year here is going to be necessary. I had this timeline of scripts (plays and screenplays) I wanted to get done and I haven’t finished any of them. I desperately have been trying to find a new job because for the last year I’ve worked 60+ hours a week, and written 30,000+ words per month (of medical blog posts), between my jobs in collections and as a freelance writer. The last thing this struggling actor/writer wants to do after all that is sit at her computer and write- but still, I have- not the big goals I expected myself to complete, but small bites of poems, short stories, one acts and short films. What I do want to do after all that, what I crave doing after all that, is ACT. My heart breaks everyday I don’t have a script to chew through, a stage to mount. Recently I auditioned for a play by my favorite playwright in the most beautiful theatre in town. Ever since they had announced it in their season last year I’ve been dreaming about it, though I doubted I would still be here to audition. Then, when it became clear I would be here, I started preparing for the audition. I prepared for a month, even though the audition was a cold read for a community theatre production. It felt terrific. I fought my way into this character that I had never understood fully before and I lived in that space until it became authentic to me. I visualized myself on that stage, as her. The audition could not have gone better. I lived it. Each time. I am almost never happy or confident with my work. This time I was. She was inside me. And I knew it was going to happen. I went home feeling utterly exhausted and fulfilled. I could rest. I could go to my crappy job, I could live in Missouri, I could make it to Christmas- it was all bearable if it meant getting to live in that world, finding all the beautiful nuances of her beating heart and bringing them life for others to behold and come to understand.
But, I didn’t get it. How? Why? I tailspinned. Hard. I had been great, they said, but it was my height that wasn’t; one of those one million uncontrollable variables. I didn’t want anything to do with the world anymore. I had given everything, but it still wasn’t enough. I guess a part of me sort of thought going out of the professional theatre scene and “deigning” to enter back into the community scene, one plus would be avoiding some that “looks” nonsense. It hurt finding out I was wrong, that even in community theatre, you can still be knocking up against those immovable walls beyond your control. I retreated, hid, slept, ate, slept, worked, shouted, cried, slept. Here I am, I thought, stuck in Missouri. Working a job I hate. Two years shy of 30. Single. With the same goal and passion I had at 5, at 15, at 25- to be a working actress/writer. I feel like I’m drowning a bit in quicksand, like life is passing by so quickly and how will I ever reach the place I’ve dreamed of all my life? I don’t like living in a small town in the mid-west. It is not “home” to me. In truth, nowhere feels like home any more. Not LA, not New York, not here. I don’t know where it is or when I’ll get there. And that’s a little scary to admit. The closest feeling to “home” these days is in that magical place- in character. Home is being able to do that work every day. But that is not a place you can move to. You have to build it or be asked in. For now I have less lofty goals to focus on- to pay off my debt, and build up savings so I can venture back out and find my next home. And I do think that is an important goal. Just terribly slow going, and not particularly fun or fulfilling at this time.
I’m sorry this anniversary is so blue to read. I guess, in truth, I just feel sort of lost and I’m having a hard time navigating my way out of it. What routes haven’t I tried? I know I won’t give up, there really is nothing else for me. It’s all I want. Recently I asked my friend if she thought it was better to know what you want in life and never get it or to never know. She said to never know is worse. I’m not sure I believe her, but then, I’ve never known what that feels like. You got any advise? Is it all really just a matter of reigning in expectations, keeping your head down, and plowing on come hell or high water, hoping one day enough things stick to the wall to keep you from drowning?
The inner Mom-alogue my Mom programed into my brain growing up wont let me post this “woe-so-sorry-for-myself” tail of clinging to my loses, without searching inside high and low and coming to terms with the positives. And there are always positives. The truth is I know that I am still very fortunate. Things don’t always/or even usually work out how we want and hope they do, BUT sometimes they do, and when they do- boy, then you know the real meaning of the words “grateful,” “fulfilled,” and “stupid-giddy-HAPPY”! And the story isn’t over when the girl loses her dream in the Second Act- No, every day you have a second chance/a fresh page to do better, improve skill, try harder, try different, learn how to try smarter, grow perspective, gain maturity, practice humility, and always keep fighting to stay grateful for the new day you’ve been given to try and try again.
I’ll leave you with this pep talk I wrote for myself on my lunch break only two months into moving back to Missouri. I hope you find some sunlight in your struggles today. And remember the sad/frustrated/depressed feelings are important and valid too- not to be clung to and dwelled upon, but to observe as a sign of what’s important to you and to keep getting up every day and fighting for what you want. Thanks for letting me share my year with you.
These posts have become a sort of check-in, reflect and documentation of my journey of being broke, moving back home, and trying to survive while still moving my career forward. It’s not really what I thought I would be writing about when the incredible Jennie Webb asked if I would be interested- I had high hopes of theatrical and playwriting insights and dissections, but these were quickly ousted by the avalanche of upheaval I experienced and my own inability to do anything but focus on it. I’m grateful for that and as hard as some of these days are to live and to document, I hope at some point and in some way it can be read as an encouragement of sorts for others in similar positions of trial and teeth sharpening.
I can’t know how much longer my Missourian exile will last, other than to say it will be much longer than I thought and hoped. And I can’t know what highs may be on the horizon for me here, but feel I can say with some confidence that one of the highest of those peaks has already come. Last month I got to take a few weeks off from my cubical prison to be a part of Tent Theatre’s You Can’t Take it with You. Instead of sitting in a cubical 8-5 Monday through Friday calling, emailing, doing math, collecting, making spreadsheets, getting headaches and giving credit meetings, I got to go to rehearsal. I got to play with incredibly talented people from all over the United States. I got work on my Russian accent. I got to pretend to be drunk and sing “I Wanna Be Loved By You” while fellating my cast-mate’s nose. I got to laugh and make other people laugh. And, I got paid for it. Let me say the obvious here: THERE IS NOTHING GREATER THAN THIS ON EARTH.
One day some of the cast and myself went up to Branson to go zip lining. I had never been before but thought it looked fun. It was fun. Then, it wasn’t. After you zip line you reach this 100 foot tower and the only way off is to jump/fall straight down. I was trying very hard to maintain a head-space of fun and adventure and when the other woman with me began panicking at the edge. I was able to confidently summon up, “You got this! It’s gonna be so much fun! You can do it! Whoo!” And over she went along with four screams of “Oh my God!”
But then it was my turn and as I stepped the 6 inches forward to the edge, I suddenly saw what she’d seen. Imminent death. There was no way to survive. And to call it “fun” was psychotic. All the brakes inside my body locked down and I looked back at the one remaining cast mate to go after me and said, “I can’t do this.” The guide kept saying, “Let go of the edge. Take a step forward. Let go of the edge. Take a step forward.” You are still attached to this line that is supposedly going to slow your fall as your reach the ground, where a man stands yelling at you to “Land on your feet!” There is no resistance felt at the top, though, so it just feels like you decided to jump off a tower and commit suicide.
I have no idea how or when the switch occurred in my brain from red light to green, but at some point, squatting into almost a fetal position I managed to teeter myself over the edge, losing all control of my body on the way down. “Land on your feet! Get your feet out!” the man at the bottom screamed, but it was futile. For all practical purposes, I had resigned myself to death. Then, my butt hit the ground and I realized I was still alive. “Did you have fun?” He asked. I looked at him and laughed maniacally, “NO!”
I thought about that moment, looking down, every night during the show while I waited under the hot blanket for my cue to jump up, the forgotten Gay suddenly animated and locked in on the rigid guest Mr. Kirby, “Now, listen! Big boy….” It’s not in the script, but it was an improvisation they let me keep. Every night from the first rehearsal to the last performance I worried they wouldn’t laugh. It felt like jumping off that tower. It would either be a fun adventure or the stupidest way to die. I am happy to report that every night was a fun adventure.
And I think about that moment today and how moving back here felt that way too. While there have been moments of fun, if the whole of my experience were a summary I was forced to answer about, I feel my answer would also be, “NO.” I’m exhausted. I work constantly and still am no where close to being financially able to move back to a land of greater opportunity for my career and living my own independent life. I have not been writing as much as I want/need/expect myself to because after working all day and night on a computer, my eyes/head/hand/neck/shoulders/will are knotted with tension. I see friends getting together, going places, having adventures and I wish I could be out having fun with them, but I have to work and I don’t have money. I dream about love, romance, partnership, and sex- and that’s about as close as I get to a dating life. There’s no time.
It’s hard to move at the pace life hands you. I’ve been behind schedule since I was about 8, but then I’ve always had pretty big expectations for my life. All I can do right now is focus on one moment at a time, because the big picture is too overwhelming. I am grateful for acting for many reasons but in particular because it taught me about moments- living in them and appreciating the hell out of them. I remember playing Emily in Our Town at 16 and listing all the things she was saying goodbye to and realizing the grand depth of comfort and beauty in the little things. It’s overwhelming in it’s own way- the simple beauty of a bath, a look, a touch, a flower, a breeze, coffee.
On the horizon is a series of one-acts I’m acting in, some sketches for a local TV station, lots of work work and hopefully some pen to paper story development because goddammit I’m itching to make something and I’ve got about a million story’s sketched down waiting to be fleshed out. Right now, however, I want to take a small moment to be grateful for this moment:
12 years after playing Emily in Our Town at the Avenue Theatre in West Plains, MO, 7 years after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, after 5 years and 4 plays and three days worth of sitting at Equity Open Calls for plays I never got seen for because I was non-union in Los Angeles, and 7 months after arriving back in Springfield, MO… I got my Equity Membership Candidacy card. It’s a small step, that took many years. It’s a piece of paper that takes me one step closer to doors of bigger opportunities. One step at a time.
When I was getting ready to move back to Missouri last October, I remember crying to my Mom about how I was scared that this financially forced hiatus would be a huge backtrack in my struggling career as an actor/writer/filmmaker. My Mom tried to comfort me by telling me I could do community theatre. I scoffed and later laughed about the possibility to my professional theatre friends. I couldn’t imagine going back to small-town community theatre after working with people who’s whole lives were the theatre. I was being a through and through theatre snob.
Four months after moving back, I auditioned for play at a local community theatre. The show was Love, Loss, And What I Wore by Nora and Delia Ephron put on by the Springfield Contemporary Theatre – which is a terrific theatre that puts on satisfyingly well-rounded seasons and had just moved into its new home, one that would make many of LA’s 99 Seat Theaters jealous. I would say the day I found out I was cast in the show, my snob immediately began to shrink. After the first week of rehearsals, it was all but disappeared, and by opening weekend, I had fallen in love with the show and my cast and the whole experience. For one, because I got to be an actress again- JUST an actress. I wasn’t a producer/social media/photographer/videographer/editor/actress, I wasn’t expected to bring in a certain amount of audience, I wasn’t expected to do anything but be the best actress I could be and it was utterly liberating. I got to fall in love with the experience and challenge myself and experiment and PLAY. The play, if you are unfamiliar, is kind of a Vagina Monologue type of show, if you substitute vagina’s with clothes. It tells the stories of several women and the things they experienced in their lives. While I had a blast with my more comedic pieces and playing with accents, mannerisms and facial expressions; my favorite scene was the one I played closest to myself. The character’s name was even Amanda, my birth name, and she is talking about her wedding day. On the other side of the stage my cast mate, Adie, playing a butch lesbian, talks about her wedding. As the scene goes on, you start to realize they are talking about the same wedding and we turn to each other to say our vows and kiss. This scene performed in Los Angeles or New York City does not have the same type of impact it does performing it in the Bible belt for a white haired, post-church matinee. There were nights where the audience mostly awwwed with wet eyes as Adie’s Mother asks “Why did they have to do this?” and Amanda’s Mother answers “To honor their relationship.” There were also nights were you could feel disgust and eye averting, and those nights felt the most important.
This same theatre company is putting up The Normal Heart this season- 25 years after it was first produced here in 1989, where there were protests enough to get National Coverage and one of the actor’s houses was burnt down. It’s this kind of passion and bravery that has me excited about doing more theatre here- audiences here need it more than they do in Los Angeles and New York. To identify with characters in a play when you are stuck in a dark theatre and realize you are more like them than you could ever have known in the light of day, is one of the magical, transformative powers of theatre.
What’s more, my second theatre audition here was for Tent Theare’s 2014 Summer Season. Tent Theatre is a Summer Tradition held outside on the Missouri State University campus with seating capacity in the 300’s. They present two musicals and a comedy playing in repertory for six weeks with a specially selected company of students and guest artists. Notable Tent Theatre performers include John Goodman and Kathleen Turner. And I was cast in You Can’t Take It With You, which will be my first Equity Show! For the month of June, I’ll get to leave my cubicle prison and be a full-time, paid actor and I couldn’t be happier or more impatient for June to get here!
I would say the LA theatre snob in me has been rightly put in her place and while my finances are still struggling to recover from yet another punch in the gut tax season, at least one of my goals has come true- I’m falling in love with acting again.
By some wizards wave of the wand, it has been three months already that I’ve been in Missouri on my financially forced hiatus from my L.A. home. I knew it would be a difficult challenge, and it has- I’ve been alternating between, “This isn’t so bad” and hysterically crying over small things like being asked to take the paper I used to decorate my cubical prison walls down. I’ve never been so busy in my life. I work eight to five with a ridiculously heavy work load that demands my two least developed skills (math and confrontation) inside the cubical prison collecting money for newspaper ads and then I come home and work several more hours writing about plastic surgery procedures. The 12+ hour days Monday through Friday, in addition to other odd jobs, leaves me with only bits of time on the weekend and during my lunch break to work on my own goals. As someone who has had the luxury for the past three years of solely working from home and creating my own schedule- it’s been a tough adjustment.
One of the things that happens when you don’t have a lot of time to allocate to things is your priorities come screaming into focus. I often talk and think about and re-read this poem from my favorite drunken genius Charles Bukowski (I even have it tacked on the cubical prison wall behind my computer) and I want to share it with you now.
air and light and time and space
by Charles Bukowski
“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
I love that poem because it’s true. And I’ve kept finding ways and moments to create through this time. I made a commercial for Zenni Optical Commercial Contest and somehow won Third Place even though I didn’t have a nice camera or a crew (I had to tie the camera to a tree branch and my shower head) or much time to do it. I researched and found some film and theatre people here and made a short film of a scene from my latest play. I painted my biggest painting, wrote two songs, wrote several poems and a few short stories, and am about a month shy of finishing the first draft of my newest screenplay. For all this, however, I have also dropped several balls in many other ways- in relationships and in other projects. This is the point in the episode where Jack tells Liz Lemon you really can’t have it all. You have to choose.
I hate letting people down. It breaks my heart when my actions hurt others I love or when I fail to keep my word. There was a long period of time between when I was 16 to about a year ago when, due to personal experience, I thought if you let someone down they walked away forever. It was in part due to the theatre that I learned that staying in the room was not only much more interesting, healthy and productive but something people are capable of if you stay in the room too. The thing is that people make mistakes- most of the time they don’t mean to. No one wants to make a mistake- most people don’t want to hurt you. Things just happen because life and humanity is messy and imperfect. And when you are trying to do more than you are capable of, you are going to make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean life’s over- that doesn’t mean you just walk away from it all in shame- that means, learn why you made that mistake, do your best to make amends, and then move past it knowing yourself, your limitations and priorities better.
What is the playwrights responsibility? Is this a question you ever ask yourself? I find, particularly when I am working on stories that deal with violence, that I start questioning why I want to put more violent images out into the world. I question if the “moral” of the story is strong enough to justify it- or if anyone could walk away from it “inspired” to commit further violence in the world. Obviously we can’t control what may trigger someone to go off the deep end- didn’t I read something about Catcher in the Rye being mentioned as inspiration by three different murders including John Lennon’s assassinator? Still, I find myself often struggling between what my responsibility may be as a person who seeks to put stories before the public and my desire to have free range to explore a variety of characters and circumstances without judgement or consequence.
I am a person who is vehemently opposed to violence. You could basically describe me as an optimistic, anti-war, vegetarian, pacifist and as such I feel I have certain responsibilities to, for example, not create a play that promotes or justifies violence. That said, my most recent play depicts the murder of a newborn baby and follows a character, who not unlike myself considers herself a pacifist and when this viewpoint is put to the ultimate test of fight back or die- she deciders to fight back. Violence for violence. To be honest, I was exploring my own theories and beliefs- something I like to do when writing- and was totally surprised by the decision to have her fight back. I then had to come to the conclusion that perhaps I am less of a pacifist than I originally thought and I had to admit that I could understand instances when violence may in fact be a necessary evil.
Then, just days after coming to this conclusion, I watched that Daily Show interview with Malala Yousafzai where she had this to say:
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”
And then I had to reconsider everything again. The point of this post, however, goes well beyond my own inner conflicts with pacifism.
Plays don’t have to have morals, they don’t need to have a “greater meaning.” Plays can just be plays. Art. If it takes you on a journey and makes your insides come alive, then I think it’s done its job. Interestingly enough, my favorite play of the last year was Tommy Smith’s WHITE HOT which was put up by The Vagrancy at this years Hollywood Fringe Festival. This is a play with a lot of violence that left many people feeling depressed (thankfully, the majority seemed happy with being made to feel that way!) Personally, I found it invigorating and refreshing because of the journey, because of my identification with the expression of those deep, dark, unnamable human emotions, because it made me laugh and cry and not feel so alone and get turned on and become scared. I feel that when a play achieves those things, whatever “meaning” or “moral” it may be spouting (if any) becomes almost irrelevant- doesn’t it? Or does it?
It all comes down to this basic question: What is the playwrights responsibility? Certainly playwrights, when produced, have a forum in which their stories will be presented to a community and this is a sacred, difficult to come by, and much revered privilege. It seems there should be some responsibility when it comes to what we do with it. Why is this a story that needs to be told? What are the potential desired or undesired consequences of presenting this story to a specific community? Or should you think about these questions at all? To me it seems like the primary difference between playing with dolls as a child and creating theatre as an adult is purpose and intent. As a child, you create for creations sake- to have fun- to play pretend. As an adult, you create (certainly for those reasons as well) but with the knowledge that you are also holding a platform in your community that has the power to effect lives and change. I’m curious to hear what everyone thinks on the playwrights responsibility!
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.