"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slump

My friends and I have a cry of frustration whenever we're in a mood:

"I'm Creatively DEAD Inside!!"

And we always laugh because sometimes, somedays, somemonths, I swear to god, doesn't it feel like we can't come up with anything worthy? Doesn't it feel like nothing ever positive happens? Doesn't it seem like we keep on slogging on, with no distance made? We keep going and going and going.

In circles.

So here I am, at degree 360 about to take one more step when I just realize, EFF! I'm back to one!

EFF IT ALL TO HELL!

But hey, circles are cyclical, right? We've been here before, we'll be here again. I'm at the trough of the roller coaster. I'll be at the top of the world soon. Sooner than I know. You will too.

Keep on keeping on.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Struggling Actress


16 year old Katy writes,
First, great blog! I’m a new reader, so I’ve barely made a dent, but I’ve learned so much already. Thank you!

So, I’m a junior in high school and I love acting. I’m heavily involved with my school’s theatre department, trying to get all the experience I can not only as an actress but also as a director or producer or part of backstage crew. In an ideal world, I’d love to pursue acting as a career. I’ve been told that I’m a very good actress, particularly with comedic material (obviously I can’t be objective here, so I won’t tell you what I think). I’ve done well in a statewide competition, although I haven’t won any awards yet. I have the opportunity to compete a few more times while I’m still in high school, so hopefully that will change (this year??).  

Problem is, my parents aren’t exactly what you’d call “artsy.” They aren’t very enthusiastic about me potentially majoring in Theatre (or even Communications!) and would really rather I didn’t move to California after college graduation. They don’t really understand the appeal of the entertainment industry. They tend to push me more toward medicine (which is so interesting, but not what I want to do with my life) or engineering (ew). They want a guarantee that I’ll be rich and successful in my field. I can’t give them that. I’d rather be happy instead.

I’m feeling kind of stuck. Obviously I can’t ask you to tell me whether or not I should pursue acting the way we’d all like to (the way you are!), but I really want the decision to be completely out of my hands. So I’ll give you a theoretical situation. Just assume that I’m extremely talented and that I have incredible potential if I applied myself entirely to acting. I’d still be going against my parents’ wishes and I’d still be moving across the country, but I have some indirect connections and (theoretically) enough talent to give me a fighting chance. And passion for what I’m doing. What then? Should theoretical me go for it, or go the "safer" route?

You just seem to have it all together, so I’d love to hear your opinion on this.
Thanks!
- Katy



Hey Katy,

You hit the nail on the head: I can't tell you whether or not you should pursue acting, but I CAN  share with you what I would tell myself if I could go back in time and advise 16 year old me.

First off, I understand you wanting to not make the decision yourself; I had the same problem (Should I go to school for creative writing or theatre performance?) and I dealt with it by only applying to one theatre school. If I got the theatre scholarship that would pay a lot of my way, I'd go there. If I didn't, I'd stay home, go to community college, transfer to Santa Cruz and major in creative writing. I knew no matter what, I'd be happy either way, and also forever carry in my heart, what if the other one happened instead? and be wistful. I made peace with that.

But the Universe spoke. I got the scholarship. Off to get a degree in pretend I went!

We seem to have a similar background too. I was also heavily involved with my high school's theatre department. I won awards for acting. I landed lead roles in both the fall play and spring musical (the only female to do so that year) and I also created my high school's first creative journal, as well as my own monthly magazine. I had been acting since I was 12 in community theatre. I loved it. I was good at it. At 13, I was the youngest staff member of my city's Teen newspaper. I had my own column. I loved it. I was good at it.

So here I am, several years later, trying to book enough acting gigs to make rent, and the editor-in-chief of my very own blog. I have the best of both worlds!

Or do I?

Here's the thing, Katy,

I also didn't think it would take me this long to become successful enough to make a decent living acting. I have it all - I'm cute, I'm personable, I'm a decent actress. And yet, all those things are not enough. I have friends who are freaking amazing and wonderful and even more talented than I, and they too, are not where they thought they would be.

If I could take a time machine so I could impart some wisdom to my 16 year old self, I would say this: "Major in psychology. Minor in creative writing."

I LOVE psychology. I feel like I'm good at figuring out motives for people's behavior. It fascinates me. I love helping people. I love helping people feel

And if I majored in the above, I would also have marketable skills.

AND every major metropolis has fun performance things. There are community theaters, poetry slams, indie bands. I could have my own family counseling practice, and once I get home and take off my high heels, I can go grab my bongos and join my drum circle. I would love my job, loves my bank account with the commas, and still get to be creative and perform on my own time.

Your parents don't want you to pursue a career in acting because they know there are tens of thousands of struggling actresses like me who aren't making it, who can't make it, who will never make it. The last thing they want is to have their daughter have to move back home with them, defeated, broken hearted and thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

Let me give you another example:
 
My friend Gloria sang with her family in church since she was a little girl. She also sang in her choir group in high school. She was also doing as much tech work as possible. She could do it all.
Gloria went to USC on a full opera scholarship. But her freshman year at USC, she had a crisis; she hated the program. It wasn't what she wanted to do. So she quit school, moved out on her own to Seattle for a year to figure out what to do next, and then applied to Cal Arts for Scenic Design, because she also loved doing that and she was very good at it.

Now, she has worked on the Oscars for the last seven years, and she's won an Emmy certificate (they don't give out trophies to everyone- lame!) for her work on it. She works all the time. She is happy. She loves her job.

And she also found a way to still perform. She is the Assistant Shin in the LA Fire Brigade fire dancers conclave, and she spins hula hoop, staff, double staves, and double hoops, all on fire.

You can find work that makes you happy, and you can find pleasure that makes you thrive.
There is a healthy, happy balance.

Okay, here's another faster, shorter example of true life: Most of my fellow acting major peers don't pursue acting. Or at least, they did, for about two years, made no money, went back to school and got their teaching degree. A lot of teachers have theatre degrees. It's great - we have all the focus and attention on us, and we have a captive audience! 

So here's some advice. Find the thing that is NOT acting that you love to do, and study that for your first year in college. Buy a good laptop with all the bells and whistles with your graduation money, get a smart phone, and grab a bunch of your new college friends and make silly dorky videos. Make shorts. Or memorize monologues and go to open mics in the college town cafes and perform them there. You can still find ways to perform and fill your soul.

And if you think you'd be happier studying acting, knowing full well the majority of people who move to LA or NYC will never, ever make enough money to claim they're middle class, go ahead and add it as your minor.

I just want you to know that I had one of the best auditions of my life for a series regular of a new show, and the casting director told me, "That was really, really funny. You made some Great choices!" And I didn't get called back. That is my life right now. And I don't wish the what if's, the dissillusionment, the constant self-doubt and ego blows, and low self-worth on anyone.

Find something else, anything else, and have a happy and successful career. You can still perform without having to commit your entire life to it.

In fact, maybe YOU will be the one to make a time machine that works. Let me know. I have some things to tell my junior year self.

xoxo
Lira



Monday, October 1, 2012

In Bubbles

I visited my mom last week.

I like to go at around 1:30 in the afternoon; a good time after her lunch when she's usually resting, not in the middle of anything, and happy to come along on an adventure. I come to her care facility unannounced and like to surprise her. She is always happy to see me.

The other day, she was sitting contentedly on the couch, hands over her belly. I stepped into the parlor. "Hi Mom!" She looked confused. Her vision is poor but she refuses to go to the eye doctor because she's scared, so we don't know how much she can or cannot see. I stepped closer. "If you're not going to act happy to see me, I won't take you out!" I grinned.

"Lira!" She exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

I sat down next to her and whispered to her, "Want to get out of here?" She still seemed slightly confused. But every time I visit her, I take her out. Usually to Starbucks. Grande Cinnamon Dolce frappoccino, with whipped cream and a spoon. That's her order. "Come on," I said, "I'll buy you your favorite."

I helped her off the couch and turned to her care taker so I could sign the visitor book saying where I was going with her and our approximate time back. I didn't even know Mom was falling until it was too late.

A whimper of surprise was all we heard and then she was down, thankfully, thankfully, back on the couch. She had fallen sideways back onto the couch. She did not hit her head. She did not break a bone.

"Are you okay?"

My mother is a bipolar schizophrenic with psychotic tendencies. She is only turning 67 on Halloween. And what she said next didn't make sense.

I'm used to her saying crazy things, wild things, sometimes very embarrassing things, but she's always said things you could understand.

I thought maybe she had had a stroke. But doesn't that involve paralysis on the face? Doesn't that involve obvious symptoms?

Her care taker made sure she was comfortable, then checked her blood pressure, her blood sugar. Everything is normal. 

But my mother is putting words together that don't go together, making words up. Getting frustrated that she can't say what she's thinking. Using phrases like, "When I was 9 o'clock," instead of "When I was 9 years old."

My mother is forgetting words. Getting mad that her mouth can't articulate the pictures in her head. Getting sad that she is old and deteriorating.

"I'm in bubbles." she said, gesturing to her head, her mouth, her stomach. "Everything is in bubbles."

That I understand.

And I think to myself that I can tell people that my mother is a poet now, a master of metaphors and similes.

But she's not a poet. She's simply an old woman, already scared of the voices in her head, with early onset Alzheimer's.

"I'm in bubbles." She repeats, sad.

You have no idea, Mom, how I wish I could pop them, how I wish I could just sweep them away, how I wish I could just erase all the foam, and make you healthy, make you happy, make you smile like you did before I was born.