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)