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.
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.
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.