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.
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)