Yesterday evening I found a surprise when I walked into my gym’s locker room: a six year-old girl. There were other adults around who seemed to be unconcerned with her presence, so I went with it and said hello. I jokingly asked her if she was there to work out and she told me very matter-of-factly “No, I’m waiting for my Mommy.”
I like kids a lot, so I talked to her as we both waited for the class currently in session to finish. We talked about all sorts of things: birthdays (mine had recently happened and hers is today), our favorite Disney princesses, and her recent trip to Legoland. She was a very polite and talkative young girl. What struck me most about her is the fact that she was an endless font of questions. It started off with my asking my name, guessing (fairly accurately) how old I was, and when my birthday was. But then she began to ask more and more questions: Why do you wear glasses? I have an astigmatism. What’s an astigmatism? It means a part of my eye, called the cornea isn’t shaped right, so my vision is a little blurry. What should it be shaped like? It’s supposed to be round like a basketball, but mine is shaped more like a football. What’s that thing? My asthma medication. What does it taste like? Medicine. Yeah, but what flavor of medicine? And on and on.
I wasn’t bothered by her questions. Quite the opposite, actually. I enjoyed conversing with her very much and was sad when her mother came to get her (and not just because it meant that I was about to do what felt like 1,000 burpees). She was fun and engaging in a way that I find adults often aren’t when you first meet them.
When I was driving home, I realized that I could stand to be a bit more like this little girl I met in my writing. I’m not asking enough questions. Months ago, I started writing a science fiction play called The Fortinian Orbs, but I abandoned it when it started to get difficult for me to continue writing. After my conversation yesterday, I realized that it was only hard because I wasn’t asking myself enough questions; the few questions I was asking, I wouldn’t keep asking until I got the right answer. When I told her that my inhaler tasted like medicine, she kept asking until I gave her an answer she thought was acceptable. There are a hundred different ways medicine tastes and even she knew I was giving a half-assed answer.
I’m going to pick up where I left off with The Fortinian Orbs, ask myself more questions, and give myself more answers. It’s OK if some of the answers are dumb – I’ll just keep asking until I can come up with better ones. And for those of you wondering, my inhaler tastes like chemicals and water that’s been in a plastic bottle in a hot car for too long.
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.
I like kids’ movies a lot. Sue me. Please don’t actually sue me as that’s a dumb reason to sue someone and I’m too poor for legal fees. What was my point? Oh right, I like kids’ movies. I think that children’s films present a lot of simple truths in easy to swallow, not quite as grandiose ways. The Lego Movie teaches us that everything is better when you’re part of a team and that by believing you’re “the Special” you can become “the Special.” Side note: If you haven’t seen the Lego Movie you’re wrong. Just wrong. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is wrong for not nominating them (I have a lot of Feelings about it).
The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear asserts that he’s not flying, he’s “falling with style.” That moment is great because you realize that Buzz knows he’s never going to fly and he’s ok with that because damn, can he fall with style.
Lately I’ve been wondering if that’s all success is – Falling with Style. I have trouble watching other people fly, not because I want them to fall but because I am ashamed of my own clumsy falling. But perhaps it’s just an issue of style. If anyone can show me how to keep falling, but how to do it with style and aplomb, please let me know in the comment section. Until then, I’m going to watch Tangled for the 1000th time.
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.