One of the concepts I've been learning to navigate over the past few years is being "seen". Those in the entertainment field are forced to reckon with this more than most and even develop ways of curating or "branding" themselves. When tackling issues of authenticity and anxiety, this is no easy task. Sure, if self esteem is high or I feel particularly prepared: it can feel easy. The trick is learning how to navigate being in a sort of continuous spotlight with grace. Ultimately this skill becomes part of owning who you've been, who you are, and even who you will be. Between social media, events and the occasional real life run in- I've had to learn that being known means always being on.
In my sophomore year of college I was in the play "Splendor in the Grass". Due to the nature of the production and limited number of actors, some members of my class had to juggle more than one role. I was one of those so I tackled playing the roles of Ginny Stamper and Miss Metcalf. It was a fun challenge, both character wise but also logistically. These two ladies were so different. Ginny was vivacious and a hot mess with a raw magnetic charm. Miss Metcalf was a prim and proper authority figure repressed by her own traditional views. Exploring these two roles simultaneously, I considered their relationship to being "seen" and living in their truth. It went to how they physically presented themself and their ease with who they were. Throwing myself into the mix, I was forced to explore my own tension with this. Throwing myself into the work, I gave those roles all the epiphanies and didn't retain any for myself.
Some years later after thinking I had a grasp on the symbiotic relationship I created with acting, a newness set in. Film and a blossoming career requires so much more of you. You create the role, then if you're lucky it in turn creates you. Becoming "Chrissy" in 'Return to Nuke Em High' was more layered than you might imagine. After landing the role, I explored what it meant to exist in that world. Finding her was a thrill because the creative process tricked me into putting some of my own DNA into her. She became the badass I wish I was. The delightfully quirky wannabe sleuth and she "got the girl" even if the means were chaotic.
There are a billion stories I could share of my time on set but one sticks out the most. The last night of principal photography I had to be Chrissy mutant style. My last shot was me absolutely pulverizing one of the Cretin Villains -fun times. After I was wrapped, I walked into the dark across a muddy field and into a small lot. I stopped: a wave came over me and I started shaking and crying. Then of course, those tears turned to laughter and out of left field I punched a tree. A lot of complicated emotions, for sure. It was the first time I felt "seen". Looking back I think it's because this creative process had me exploring things about myself along with my character in a way that was beautifully cathartic but tough to process at times.
After production had wrapped I was introduced to the world of promotion. From interviews to interacting with fans, I've been asked continuously to express and convey what projects mean to me. Not gonna lie, it has tested me. At first, it felt effortless. Riding off the high of a unique project and taking it seriously: I wanted it to be seen and experienced. Then the murkiness set in. My own insecurities manifested in the form of online trolls, mainstream industry standards, fair-weather friends and my own mental breaks. It was a weighty time and difficult balance. There were times that the occasional cruel email (even from a random meanie) would get me in the foggiest headspace. There were times when I resorted to avoidance when I knew I could not sit right with myself (let alone others). After years of unresolved issues I saw that my only out was through them. Breathe it in and love it all as it comes. In a word: acceptance.
To survive this career comprised of perpetual visibility you have to develop an inner strength. Inside you determine your worth and you in turn tell the world how to see you as well. A good support group comprised of people who "get you" and support your passion helps. Owning a deep understanding of your story and how to share its value to others is another way. Sometimes setting things aside just for you and deciding what you want to share makes a difference. Whatever it is, be right with you and being "seen" becomes easier. I'm working on it everyday myself and it constantly surprises me how my own self image evolves. The less I worry about my value being determined by others-the more I make myself immune to the downfalls of the occasional self doubt.
So as I decide to make my dreams bigger and my idea of my self stronger to match: a truth emerges. Acknowledging how I'm feeling inwards has helped me better at projecting outwards.
As the title suggests, I wanted to write this week about my pet rabbit. Her name is Gia and she's a spot lionhead mix. Her favorite treat is cilantro and for reasons I can totally understand, she is most chill when watching Joe Bob Briggs. I adopted her through a special drive 3 years ago in one of the best decisions I've ever made. This particular bunny has changed my life in more ways than I was prepared for and I'm so grateful for her.
I guess I've always felt a kinship to rabbits. When I was a little one, I remember going to my first Chinese restaurant and looking intently at this special placemat set before me. It was one of those Chinese Zodiac wheels showcasing all the animals, along with the unique traits and years of each. My mom pointed out that she was a rabbit and what do ya know-so was I. Upon further investigation into my year of birth, I learned that I was a "fire rabbit". Sweet.
Seeing this slick yet innocent animal as a part of my identity, I've always been fascinated by all they represented. Rabbits have been described as sensitive, compassionate, creative and even lucky. For obvious reasons they are also adorable on the most basic of cuteness levels. I've collected symbols of my favorite animal over the years, from little trinkets to a couple kissing rabbits as my wedding cake topper. In fact, shortly after getting married, I begged and begged my husband to also let us adopt a bunny of our own. Beyond the basic desire to have this adorable creature in my life, I now needed to have a meaningful purpose for introducing a rabbit into our home. So the research began...
Rabbits have a reputation for being vulnerable creatures. Hunted often, they fill the role of easy prey and in many ways they are. However, they are constantly aware of their environments as well as adept at assessing danger. When scared, they are quick to flee and when cornered, their bite is formidable.
They love to establish their comforts when they have a home and safety therein. Understandably they like their spaces nice and dare I say lavish. Kept in a home, they are litter-trained and need a consistent routine. They should ideally be fed on a wholesome diet (primarily of hay and leafy greens). Playful in nature, they tend to seek out places to hide as well as to explore so it's important to bunny-proof where needed.
Since rabbits don't make much sound (unless displeased), communication is primarily visual. Being around a bunny, you learn quickly to read the cues of their body language. From "relaxed mode" to the joy of seeing a "Binky" (a special happy bunny dance) , it's beautiful how expressive these creatures are at communicating their state of being.
A close friend of mine told me they would make ideal pets for me because of all this. Suffering from a potent combination of Bipolar Disorder and C-PTSD for years, I came to realize rabbits had a similar level of alertness and even a reputation for being torrential in nature. In being around a rabbit of my own I thought I might even learn more about myself.
Then I found Gia. She had already been named, and after one good look, I took it as a sign that this sweet little ball of white fluff shared the same name as my favorite supermodel, Gia Carangi. Wild and from a fractured life in her own right, my Gia was one of the infamous Gowanus rabbits who were seized by the ASPCA and needed immediate care. They even threw a "Some Bunny to Love " event to get the word out that these little ones urgently needed homes. Not all were able to be adopted and many had a myriad of health issues requiring constant care. I was lucky with Gia for many reasons, including the fact that she was in good health on the surface. Her first weeks at home were interesting to say the least. She didn't behave exactly like the textbook bunny. She was very on-edge at times and that's when I realized, besides the basics, it was time I threw my homework away.
Gia and my relationship became one built on intuition and the truest of presence. In my years with her, I've learned to listen to my gut. In my caring for her I've learned to care for myself. I've wanted better for her and thus improved my own quality of life. Gia responds to the security and love with utter joy. She dances in the air. She jumps on me and gives me kisses. She relaxes in the feeling of safety my husband and I have given her.
The more care and love you give these gentle creatures, the more you'll get in return. Provide them a little room to play and you'll find yourself in absolute awe of how they reconnect you with what's important: feeling into each moment, taking care of yourself, and leaving room for the spontaneous happy dance.
Over the past couple years, I have been humbled to be in a position to be asked for guidance on various projects. From how to build a pitch deck to giving crew referrals- I've taken joy in being able to help where I can. This has a lot to do with my own projects and the people who showed me in their own acts of reciprocal altruism that we all need each other to survive. One of the greatest words of advice I was given early on was to make the work personal.
A little over three years ago, my husband wrote a feature length script for a film called MONIKER. Written out long hand, meticulously edited and then typed out on a vintage type writer which I can still hear sometimes ringing in my ear. A gift for our first wedding anniversary, Clay gave me a dream role on more than one level. The lead character was Maggie - a woman dealing with trauma in her own right and thrown into a well crafted thriller. At the time, I wasn't sure I was up to it. Dealing with unresolved issues of my own I had grown into the habit of avoiding anything that -sorry if this sounds cheesy- made me feel. I was flattered nonetheless and after some serious convincing, Clay put the fate of MONIKER in my hands as not only Maggie but as the film's Director.
We jumped into the frenzy and started to stumble through "How do you make a film?" Coffee meeting after coffee meeting we met with actors, crew, potential investors and mentors. At one point I met with a wonderful indie filmmaker by the name of Jenn Wexler. I had met her over the years at various Glass Eye Pix events and was lucky to see her rise to the badass directress she has become. (Check out her feature directorial debut THE RANGER) Anyway, over kombucha in Dumbo, she offered up all I needed logistically to make a film but also a gem of true insight: make your projects personal.
After some contemplation I decided to take her words to heart and build my plan to make MONIKER its finest. I'd have to make something from me first. My hesitance from this feature and so many others was relinquishing control. What was at the heart of that? Layers. I needed to explore part of my trauma and, in that risk, free my desperate need for control. I put together THE SLIGHTEST TOUCH. Making this project a part of my journey in healing made it vital to my survival not only as an artist but as a person.
In making the film I spoke passionately because it was my passion. I was in a fever dream learning everything I could about filmmaking but also what it meant to me. The subject was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the mission was to portray my voice and undoubtedly others like me. The visual medium would bring the deep feeling of stigma out of the shadows and into the light to offer, even temporarily, a sense of YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In embedding this feeling into the film from screenplay to edit to screening- I made it personal and followed through as a result.
Since the project's finish, the world vibrated the same. Overwhelmed and drowning in the wave of voices for change, I let my heart rest. For those who made the work, those who've seen it-- their feedback has been priceless. The fact that I made a work that meant something to me and that it could now mean something to them BLEW MY MIND. Family members becoming familiar with my silent pain brought us closer together. Friends and viewers being able to see themselves through the story made it all worth while. Not just as an advocate but as a filmmaker, I felt I had finally understood how to move forward.
In the time since I have been lucky to translate that feeling into projects that weren't always my own but certainly became it. Making work personal in front of and behind the camera brings an energy that I can only describe as simultaneously therapeutic and magical. Three films under the banner of my production company, Abandoned House Productions, have taught me different pieces of that same theme. Our slate ahead has me so excited to share those short film projects and the feature ones (including MONIKER and a not so secret other) that have been marinating all along. As I prepare to direct again very soon, I carry the urgency of Jenn's seemingly simple guidance. Make it matter to you and it will matter. Then you'll be like me, excited to share about every story you make.
One of the most difficult parts of growing up is the idea that the world gets more and more boring. As an artist I see casualties of mediocrity all the time. These people did nothing "wrong" and I personally think that's the problem. Following a specific path and being goal oriented isn't bad but it leaves few chances for ingenuity. In order to live our wildest dreams we need to leave room for the impossible.
Once I accepted that I wanted to be an actress my fantasy began to form. It took a few years to be specific, especially when I moved to NYC, but I knew I wanted to embody exciting characters. Without representation when I first started submitting to projects, I went for the things I thought would be obvious sells. In the summer of 2012, I submitted and was called in for two film projects that couldn't be more different. One was a straight drama about a man, a woman and their complicated relationship; the other a subversive horror comedy about teenage lovers against a bunch of mutant cretins. I was auditioning for both at the same time and knew at some point I'd probably have to choose one or the other since their production dates would conflict. It felt like buying two different lottery tickets.
When I asked my actor friends for advice they immediately jumped to the straight drama. They argued it'd be good for my reel and ultimately be a safer bet - one friend even going so far as to say that doing the other would "ruin my career". I felt at that point they might be right, but I couldn't help but smile every time I went in for a callback for the other project. After a month had passed, I had to choose. With no logical way to back it, I made the "wrong" choice and it couldn't have been more right.
That summer I starred in my first feature film and took myself off of the assembly line of safe artists. More than the screen time, what I truly valued was the experience of being a master of my own fate and scaring myself with this kind of newness. The set was beautiful chaos that required that you be constantly adapting and contributing. It was just the experience to lead me to self reliance: accountability for my art. Some said I had burned a few bridges back home but ultimately I didn't care because I'd build my own destiny. I'd use these fumes to fuel my fantasy, this dream that only those who dared could see - no matter the cost.
In the years since that infamous summer, I've done what I can to continue to listen "wrong" choices. They might feel delusional to everyone else but they sure shake things up. A few years ago I had a crossroads between a few different film projects and imploding on it all to make something new. The offer seemed simple: I'd star in a project, get exposure, and it'd lead to more acting work. The only trouble would be soldiering through an existential funk and risk not being able to put my heart into it. People do it all the time at 9 to 5 cubicle jobs---perhaps this was my "putting in time." Risking sense, I said no to so very much. Against the current, I chose to say yes to focusing everything I had to write and direct a film of my own.
Pages and pages of poetry were worked into a script. Years of unresolved feelings manifested into catharsis. Dreaming and scheming turned into a reality and somehow a film was made. This second "wrong" turn revealed a new world for me. It showed me ways I could implement my voice on and off the screen. Being behind the camera made me aware of how I could be in front of it. I saw that I had leveled up in my aspirations as a storyteller.
Now, as I am taken to task in my work, I find that these "wrongs" were my favorite parts. In the tension of those experiences, I grew. Over tears, I opened my mind to what hadn't been possible before. Through pressure and heat, I found myself shining.
Every time we walk on our paths there are signs. The signs are sometimes made by those who've been on the path before you and can lead you for most of the way. They make sense and even offer guaranteed results. Other times, the signs are feelings and tests, as it were. These moments give us a chance to add to our own trail. They can be hard to justify, but they make us who we are. The world is only as boring as you make it. Contradict yourself for once and see where it leads. You might end up in a fantastical place.
Growing up I was always superstitious. I avoided going under ladders. Any chance of a mirror breaking could lead me to leave a room. Black cats crossing the street would change my route. All the typical superstitions and ones I made all for myself. One of those became this idea that my any time I officially called someone my best friend--the friendship would inevitably be destroyed.
No, I don't know what sorceress decided to cast this curse. I also don't know what I as a Kindergartner could have done to upset the gods but that is when it all began. After moving around in Europe, My family planted roots in Texas. I attended Pre-K abroad and joined Kindergarten in the US. There I began my attempt to make friends. Then I became good friends with the girl next door. It was all so convenient. We lived next to each other, we had a park across the street and we were in the same class. This friendship led me to some pretty intense co-dependent behavior. There was a need to join every activity she did. I joined Brownies, I started Ballet-just to be near her. We had a routine. Before our friendship, we were both lone wolf types. I was the weird girl from overseas. She was the girl with the hearing aid. Before long, she had become my anchor. Then one day I remember someone on the playground asking, "Is she your best friend?" and I said, "yes". *Thunder rumbled-lighting burned the playground - an old woman cackled. (*okay maybe that didn't happen.)
My "Best Friend Next Door" moved away. Her dad got a job somewhere else. And so I began to pull back from being social for a bit. Being a young one, I bounced back as one does. Worked hard to make sure I didn't fixate on any one friend for quite some time. I did my best to navigate the social world. Those tricky grade school years. You could say I see-sawed between sweet quiet girl to awkward tomboy. For awhile avoiding the term "Best Friend", I joined various friend groups and centered myself as the "weird" one. You know, the girl who sat on the playground bench mumbling monologues from Forrest Gump. The one who did her fourth grade book report on The Catcher in the Rye. The gal who poked holes in water bras at the mall. THAT one. I didn't have to have any ONE friend because I made myself open to all.
Of course I stupidly made the decision to get close and call another girl my best friend. Yeah buddy, she moved. The following one. She moved. The one I watched TGIF with and did weird forest magic with. She didn't move but she joined the cheerleader squad. Then there was the one who I was borderline in love with. Yes, that one. She moved too. Some sort of migrant curse had befallen every person who I dared call or even label to myself as "my best friend". And case after case seemed to enforce this idea. If I ever cared for someone- they'd leave me.
As I grew older you could say I moved some of this energy into romantic relationships. But that'd be reaching.
Point is, this idea of the curse has made me very careful to call people my friends let alone my best one. But as I've begun to find the circle I find most love in--I call them family. I also tie the curse as a way to appreciate the people in my life as I have them. The fear of being abandoned isn't as strong as reveling in the different people who come into my life. The people who "get me" and most importantly the people who "show up." They help me maintain.
And outside of my loving husband and incredible mother-- I do currently have someone I call my "Best Friend" who has maintained this title for the longest time. The trick is that he already lives in another state and has a vast knowledge of Star Wars. It's a loophole in the curse.
First off, I want to apologize for skipping a week. It was much needed and perhaps down the line I'll double up and balance this out. Sometimes I put too much on my plate and though I had an outline for a post- that subject is best served for another week. Anyway, this week I wanted to talk about a bit of how I've trained my "hustle muscle".
When I first moved to NYC, I had no specific desires for my career but I needed to survive. Besides finding a roommate online (I quickly learned how wrong that was.) The only plan I had was to take up a transfer from an old retail job. As things didn't work out right away, I took up a job selling watches in Queens Center Mall. I wasn't there long but in my time there I began to see the necessary toughness of a salesman. So, I jumped into my initial job transfer and began working for a well known skincare brand. There I was surrounded by women from all types of career ambitions. They just needed this for now. I worked and worked. I had a 50% employee discount which ,of course, spelled trouble. I had no ambitions outside the day to day. And when I was abruptly kicked out of my first apartment, all it took was my manager asking "are you okay?" for me to fall apart. A blubbering mess. I was asked to "walk it off." Shortly after I was intimidated out of keeping my job and I was officially jobless, briefly even homeless.
I moved into an interesting living situation. (I'll save that story for another day.) This gave me a moment to breathe and reassess my reason for being here in New York City. There were times that I even managed to fit in self tapes for major projects during this transition. Still no specific goals. Just focused on basic survival. I eventually worked a couple other retail jobs and landed on my feet a bit as a tourism photographer for a Television Network. I was surrounded by some of the glamour that could lead me to be inspired but I couldn't connect it to any higher purpose than a paycheck.
I would wake up five days a week at 4am and be done with my shift at 1pm. The promise was that it would leave me open for auditions and anything else. I had audition invites. I was called in. Most of the time, I chickened out and decided to go back home and rest. I was burned out. It wasn't until a friend at work asked me what I had acted in recently that I had even realized how off track I was. Remedy this I would; I enrolled in Improv classes and began to open my network up. I began to ask questions of my dreams. I booked my first role in a film. The first time I ever really gave it a chance. I left my day to day job with the promise it was still mine if I needed it when I came back. Indie Film. Of course I did.
After the charm of that job wore off, and fast forward a brief time working at a museum---I worked at a Juice Bar for a couple years. It was stressful. It was crowded. It was cut throat. The customers were divas. My coworkers were crazy. I got a free smoothie every shift. It was perfect, for awhile. I maintained a bizarre work schedule 6am-1pm. This allowed me to be at will to the promotion of my first feature film as well as other projects. In my time there I learned to develop a tougher skin. I learned to negotiate favors. I saw what a difference a smile makes and I saw the power of anticipating needs. When I got engaged and my second feature film role called, I left this job and began to search for a new balance.
When I came back from filming, I realized I could no longer commit to any one job. I had tended to devote my energy for fear of losing stability so much that I kept pushing back my dreams. It was then that I focused purely on freelance work for two years. Oh boy, that was a stress ball. The odd jobs galore. I worked flyering jobs. I mastered the passing out of useless expired coupons. Sometimes by simply saying "Here, take a flyer." If I could get three people to-- everyone else would follow suit. Some jobs took me to trade shows repping companies for 15 hours a day. Other jobs had me in lil tight black dresses and stilettos handing out free booze to overgrown frat boys. Sometimes I had to go to some far away supermarket and convince people to sample questionable health food snacks. It was a weird time. Living off of some true karmic lead after another. My attitude mattered. My charm mattered. My ability to go above and beyond mattered. Though scary at first, this lifestyle began to work me out. Helplessness grew to a true understanding of the romantic nature of uncertainty. That is the biz. The girl who cried became steel when she learned it wasn't personal.
In a turn of events, I started to make my creative endeavors personal. Using my newly buff "hustle muscle" I began to find ways to talk about my film and find leads for assembling information & even crew. Jumping from job to job and producing my own work led me to begin to braid the two. In the midst of all this I found a stable moment as a server at Videology Bar and Cinema. Those years never felt like a job but a place to develop routine and connect the dots. Having become opportunistic from my freelance life, I saw the place as a means of networking, filming and showcasing my creative projects. It was then that it occurred to me to not think of just survival in my jobs but think of thriving in my career. How can I get my "work" to inform my work?
Each gig became a role. It became a place to inform my soul to new experiences. These opportunities to get valuable face to face time with people from all walks of life. And on at least two occasions, I could test an accent I've been working on. Pursuing this, now a helluva lot more specific, dream of mine has made me realize how building a hustle muscle was key. As my dad has always told me, "You're in a tournament profession. Only the best of the best make it". He's right. This dream means knowing every way the game is played. Every type of player. Every strategy. This unique type of strength training means being okay with failures as they are learning experiences. It means jumping on to the next weightlessly and unburdened. It means embracing uncertainty like the first dive into a pool--it's cold at first but your body begins to adjust.
A big part of what's driven me to write on "this here blog" has been the desire to constructively air out my experiences and feelings. Part memoir, part guidebook to life as I've seen it---the wish to be of some significant influence in the lives of those who "see" me.
So how does a person who has decided to focus her energy as a film actress survive in the age of social media? First you have to know about the person and THIS person is still figuring that out. I've certainly been prepared for this era to some extent. From my early days on dial up excitedly probing complete strangers in chat rooms and learning how creepy creepers could be. To MySpace and the early rise of Facebook discovering how many people were my "friends" but more so my new hive mind. I'd even say I am part of the first generation to come up through being so immensely photographed and oh so very seen.
For better or worse, my BFA program by design had a very rigid structure. As an example, my freshman year we were required to wear black at all times--be a blank slate and avoid distraction. We were also not supposed to pursue performance work outside of the training for a number of years for the same reason. One part of the program that deviated was "Free play". The first part of your spring semester your senior year was yours to claim. You could do a one person play, a film, make a music video, you name it! After much contemplation I decided to blog and use it as an intensely serious account for researching love. No joke. I used it as an effort to get to know myself and examine from a scientific point of view what love was. The subject led to a range of topics- I made videos about hemp shakes, discussed madonna/whore complex, and wrote about a visit to a psychic. While I was judged by some of my peers for being too self involved, I see now how crucial that time was.
Without sounding too critical, some of those same peers have since taken to their own platforms and perhaps see how there is suddenly value in public self reflection. To see others going through something and to relate or be inspired goes a long way. There is a magic in finding a way of framing our experiences to start conversations. I know I've found strength from such musings especially in regards to destigmatization of mental health issues.
It's a slippery slope though, because the more people that chime in--the more it becomes cacophonous. So here we are now in an age where people can share and now self edit left and right. We are weighing our opinions and feelings to the perception and comparison of others before uttering a single word. Or we are exclaiming controversy in order to rise above the noise to feel heard. That goes for words, images, and even re-shares.
In the midst of this, I think that I find solace in reaching further than the people in my close circle. Instead of drowning in the sea of obvious connections, I've been enjoying learning about people who have nothing to do with my immediate needs in the industry. I navigate through what is shared and presented as a means of understanding my craft and self.
I watch your videos because I desire the ability to knit yarn. I love cheering on your artwork. I love learning your fierce makeup techniques just 'cause-- hell maybe I'll make reasons to be so bold. Did you know that without an ounce of irony-- you inspire me? You even join my catalogue of "characters to be".
That's how I survive. You feed my humanity and the ability to portray it.
So, yea, love you. Mean it.
Something I get asked more often than not is, "What made you want to be an actress?" Usually it's framed around the question of my longevity in this mission or what event led me to become a performer or even what film really did it for me. I struggle with answering this question because as with many things, I often feel I am just now finding a freshness to really play in this world.
Humor me as I go back a bit. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and after a brief period moved to Europe. I grew up finding homebases in both the Netherlands and Northern Spain. My father worked for Dupont as a special chemical engineer consultant and that led us to travel. From a young age I learned to be adaptive and at times made it my job to entertain all the different people we met on our journeys. As recently as last summer, my father sent me hours of footage of home videos and without fail I am performing in every other clip. I was singing made up songs, blabbing stories to my father's work peers, making up dance rituals, and being generally intense I suppose.
When we moved back to America and I began to make friends here it became apparent that I should join activities. My parents put me in it all. I explored Kindermusic, ballet, gymnastics, Brownies (girl scouts for the young ones), piano lessons, Taekwondo, and in junior high I played the violin AND then the flute. Though there had been this inclination to perform when I was young these formal versions all saw me wilt little by little as clearly my heart wasn't in it. I even straight up skipped two of my grade school play performances because it meant nothing to me. In junior high I began to explore the good ol' drama club. A friend of mine wanted to stay after school to audition and as I wanted to stay with her--I thought "heck, I'll just get a monologue book and do it too". Welp, I was cast in the play. As time marched on I saw drama and the people therein as a haven from the rest of the world. These people were boldly expressive, fun, and that spoke to me. I dove in. I did drama competitions. I competed in categories such as Solo Drama performance, Lipsync, Duet Drama Performance, Debate, Improv and more. I once performed an absolutely incredible one person lip sync to "Bohemian Rhapsody" that I'm sure was both cringeworthy and amusing. Racked up trophies and soldiered on to High School where I went for more play performances.
During all this I'd run into 3 types of actresses. The first was the "I've been doing this forever". She would excel and landing the marks, blocking, proper diction. She's seen it all. Loves to talk about all the times she's done this or that. The second was the "I'm going to be a movie star". This girl spent her free time practicing her autograph. She was always ready for the paparazzi and though not always polished in her performance--she was working harder on her magnetism. The third type was my favorite if I'm being real. She was the "I'm just here to have fun and sure I'll play the grandma". This girl waved that freak flag and waved it high. These were the ones I usually befriended if not just to be around such a boundless sense of play. They were less concerned with vanity and saw absurdity in just about everything. I don't know I would have survived high school without the third type. All these types seemed so assured at their path one way or the other.
With all this going on, I had only two career possibilities ever cross my mind. In fourth grade I had a three month obsession with becoming a Marine Biologist. But hey, didn't we all? Then and for a long time it was Surgeon. In high school my biology teacher even pointed out how adept and unfazed I was at dissection. There was a lot of weight behind that. Both my parents are immigrants as well as U.S. citizens. I am the first born American. I grew up encouraged to be a citizen of the world. From a young age, I was shown classical art and encouraged to read things that maybe my fourth grade teachers didn't approve of. After some testing,I was placed in a program called "GT". "GT" stands for Gifted & Talented. I was usually in smaller class sizes and surrounded by quite the characters. All this made me aware from a very young age that I had to have a revered and honorable purpose. Doctor fit that bill and Surgeon was even better.
I wanted to see the world. I wanted to leave this lil Stepford style Texas suburbia bubble. Though my grades weren't PERFECT, my acting was getting its own attention. I used performance as my way into the wide world. I attended University and was honored to be part of a prestigious program. It had its ups and downs. At the end of my first year, I decided to double major. I would jump into Pre-Med. I essentially would subsist off of SUGAR FREE ROCKSTAR and forego sleep. What I didn't realize at the time was I would directly have these two life purposes compete against one another. My third year saw me go study abroad in London. There it was a teacher from the Globe Theater, Glynn Macdonald, who told me during evaluations that I was too brilliant and expressive to waste that talent by splitting my focus. It was at that point that "Surgeon Asta" floated away. Suddenly I was bare. I was left to make performing my purpose. Then the purpose made acting something altogether different. It became a weird hybrid of parlor trick and obligation. I had turned my side gig, my hobby into EVERYTHING and it made me wilt. Yikes.
And yet here we are now, there are so many experiences since this decision was made that have brought me back to my euro-toddler act. Too many to delve into right now, but we'll get there. But hey, here's a new age globalized pinterest term for ya: IKIGAI. "Ikigai" is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being". It's popularity should be obvious in that it explores the value in our lives and that "thing you live for". I have found that through the natural performative side of myself married to the need for honor and that honor being helping others--I've found that film is my "ikigai". Telling stories, appealing to people's humanity and creating for creation's sake. Thinking of it like this was has brought a contentment that no amount of training, experience, or forced performance could. So maybe answering the "why" hasn't been easy. The answer is always different.
It just is at this point. And you know what? It's something I have to renew all the time and I'm okay with that.
The first time I touched a flame I flinched. Natural reaction to the rising heat against my delicate skin. A primal instinct of “Ouch, that hurts”! As I’ve grown older the flame real and metaphorical is harder to flinch at. There’s a numbness or rather a tolerance to the things I inherently know are bad for me. The longer it’s taken to flinch has been an indication of how much I’ve let various misfortunes rule my life. It’s a dare, a means of control, yearning to feel—to test or merely seeking to punish. Ultimately, yes, a measure of my self worth or lack there of. So noting and treating my torrential mood disorder, physical pains, and self esteem—felt incredibly self indulgent. The overarching goal was power through and survive.
The other drive has been this intense need to control my narrative.
How can I go through so much in a lifetime? Sometimes I feel like a combination of bizarre statistics or I must be remembering wrong or I’m on a sick and twisted game of candid camera. I didn’t want to be defined by my chronic mental & physical illnesses. I didn’t want people to see me as damaged for having been raped and physically assaulted. I didn’t want to admit I’d attempted and failed to end it all more than once. I ultimately didn’t want the secret out that I didn’t have it all figured out. If I let that slip then I felt I wouldn’t be free to chase my ambitions. “Someday I’ll take a break and figure shit out”, I’d say. Until that day I’d work tirelessly to appear be the badass I worked hard to cultivate.
Sure, there have been pockets of time where I have been forced to heal. Whether it was hospitalization, therapy or just my own personal obsession to occasionally “treat myself” to the holistic life.
I must admit, I judged the hemp-shake hippie lapses as flights of fancy. I normally left no space for treating myself— I even gave myself a silly allowance for tears. “Only twice a year!” (No more than that seemed necessary.) Little did I know how it’d add up.
Life has a way of bringing about lessons over and over again until they finally sink in. So, just in time for what seems to be the self care revolution—I am all here for it.
When you become “flinch tolerant”, you emit a beacon. This beacon attracts predators/negative energy in abundance. Yes, law of attraction. I had been violated emotionally & physically to my core but—- hadn’t flinched in so long. The more it happened the less I wanted to recognize the flame. Not anymore. My change of heart came from a sudden health scare that made me realize how much I had to lose, how much I had to be grateful for, and I had to start to respect myself. My body is my temple so time to clean house. Writing this and becoming transparent with my close friends & family is my attempt to be held accountable. No excuses. And if it reaches one person I’ll consider the band-aid rip worth it.
So what am I getting at—Check in. Does it hurt? Do you judge self care as self indulgent? Do you become irritable at happiness of others or even yourself? Do you experience physical and/or emotional pain regularly that you don’t address? Is it getting worse? Do you go so far as to question your very existence because you stopped allowing feeling —therefore lacking some kind of meaning? You aren’t alone as I have learned and there are so many ways to address this.
We all had those balancing habits the things that brought us back to equilibrium when the pain got us to or close to flinch. Crystals. Kombucha tea. Yoga. Binge watching FRIENDS. Talking to your real friends. Running. Meditation. Prank calls. Ridged potato chips. Star gazing. Point is we checked in and released the tension through these rituals.
It’s time to get consistent. The older we get the less inclined we are to find these things as sacred tension relieving rituals but rather we see them as flighty indulgences made under the protection of early life. It’s shocking how many of us don’t afford time to even really breathe. So do it.
Soothe the aches, the burn in your life. Feel it-flinch even. Note what feels good and what doesn’t. Anoint the ritual of magazine collage making as sacred and utterly important to your ultimate well being. The burns will heal. It’ll sting at first but in time you’ll reveal a new layer. It is in the act of numbing the flinch that we create the eternal cycle that gnaws so earnestly. End the cycle. Find your happy place and feel your sad place and if you have the inclination—seek deeper and deeper into the balance of the peaceful place.
(This blog was originally posted as a guest blog by Asta on Cheap Courage January 4, 2018)