Photo inspired by beautiful actress and friend Hemina Kapadia
I’m a planner. I have a complete list of topics and themes that I want to write about and explore in this blog that are categorized, dated and pre-titled. However, I cannot ignore inspiration when it strikes. All of my posts thus far have been bolts of reverent passion that deviated from my pre-determined subject matter causing me to abandon it temporarily, unfinished, lonely, and aching to be whole, but I always return to it like a faithful lover eventually. They usually tend to occur at late hours of the evening when I’m exhausted from a full day of work and play and my mental filter is nearly entirely obliterated. It happens when patterns occur.; when my mind is fixated on something and the need for a release, an understanding, a reason… is far greater than any basic need for sleep or a regularly scheduled routine like normal folk.
A few weeks ago I was in a spiritual healing class and the leader told a story about a pastor who felt he had lost his connection with God. He would pray and read the Bible and do service but no matter what he did he could not bring back that fire he once shared with God. God told him to take a walk every day and be quiet in his presence. So the pastor did this for a little more than a month and finally he received a word from God “If you stay in my good, you will miss my best.”
Those words vibrated in my brain for days after that, over and over again. I knew they meant something to me. I knew they somehow were applicable to me, but I didn’t quite know what to do with them. A few weeks later I was reading a post by Backstage called the 10 Commandments of Acting. I’m a fan of the author because although he dishes out some pretty thick servings of crucial advice, he sprinkles it with an unapologetic dash of humor that I so appreciate. (I included the full post on the bottom of the page) He proceeded to talk about the 10 things actors should focus on to achieve success and guess what the first one was???
If you guessed that it was my theme for the day then you sir or mam have been elevated to genius status! Right there in print, plain before my eyes,
” I. Thou Shalt Not Settle
Too many actors settle for being good when they have the potential to be great.”
Hmmmm …. alright universe, you have my attention.
To continue and complete the divine trinity, I came home to finish the second book of a 3-part series and one of the threading messages was “You could know my ecstasy every moment, instantly, with the turn of a head, but that requires you to be ever-present of greatness and step outside the norm of conscious boundaries” In plain speak – you could live like a God if only you’d start believing you are a God and stop believing you are less.
This seems highly potent to me right now because I have set a goal to make LA my permanent home by the end of May. I set that date quite arbitrarily as something to work toward with the intentions of paying off certain debts, having a decent amount of money saved up, time to send out resumes and find a safe yet affordable place to live. So far I’ve accomplished none of those. Zip. Zero. Nada. Not a one, thank you very much, that is wrap so let’s call it a day.
With a divorce and a short sale taking place within the last 2 years it feels like America is brilliant at making up ways to cause you to spend your money that slave away for day after day. What’s even more cruel is that you’re already going through a hardship and then they come in with a wooden staff and nearly beat your financial reputation to a bloody pulp. “Yes mam, we are so sorry to hear your husband walked on your home that he said he’d take responsibility for and hasn’t made payments for three months, but unfortunately we do have to charge these late fees, and service fees, and if you chose to get an attorney, obviously attorney fees and countless hours of your life spent in gut-wrenching stress and of course each month that you are not able to make a payment or take action your credit will take a stealthy blow further spiraling you downward, but we are happy to assist you in all of your home needs today.” Gee thanks.
One day I sat there and started thinking about how I don’t think there’s much further down that I could possibly spiral, a thought occurred to me – life just keeps coming. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t care how tired you are or how hurt you are or how sorry you are or if there’s death and illness, it just keeps coming. I was virtually devastated because being the perfectionist that I am I had always maintained perfect credit, never a late bill, goodness I felt a wave of guilt when a library book was overdue, always paid my taxes, gave 10% to my church and all of a sudden with one phone call everything I had worked so hard to accumulate was just gone. The life that I built, this so-called “security” wiped out.
I would say it would feel like starting all over again, but when I first started out I just had to build up credit, now I was fighting bad credit and trying everything to remove myself from my husband’s continued delinquent activity.
Husband…someone I thought I’d spend my life with. That’s the other bugger. When I got married I was so sure that he would be the one I would spend the rest of my life with. I never, ever doubted that for a second. He was my best friend, my safety, my home. It ended. I can’t seem to explain to people who haven’t been divorced how it changes your entire perspective. How it makes you question the validity of everything. How when something you thought could never be broken, breaks. Again, I had planned everything so perfectly – we had built a beautiful home together from ground up, picked out every piece of furniture and appliance together, had two dogs together, a lifetime of memories, traveled the world and now it was all gone. Some of it locked up in a storage shed, some of it at his new apartment with his new girlfriend, some of it with me, some of it at The Goodwill. All I had left was a depleted bank account to reflect the life that was once so full.
The good news is, like everybody said, it got better. With time and distance the pain and the emptiness stopped. The anger and the fear of being alone dissolved. The debts, both emotional and monetarily were paid off and I found myself working at a really good job with good pay. I started to make some really good friends. I started booking some really good roles and getting some good opportunities in the local industry. I started dating this really good guy and before I knew it, I found myself to be in this really good place.
So why would I want to give that up? Are you crazy?! That’s when I felt that little voice inside of me tweak his mustache and say “Why yes señorita. Perhaps I am a little loco.” Then the internal questions started – Didn’t you say you wanted to do something great with your life? Didn’t you say you wanted to be the greatest actress you can be? Didn’t you say you always dreamed of living in LA, close to the ocean and your beloved Disneyland and how great that would be?
I couldn’t lie to myself, well I could but I’m already dealing with crazy voices, I didn’t find it wise to throw a heaping helping of denial into the mix. I wanted all of that. The only thing stopping me now is not a husband or a home to take care of or over-protective parents, but fear.
I can literally see myself standing at this precipice in my life, looking out over a vast land and I think to myself, well here you are, with all your planning and stubborn relentlessness, this is where you ended up. It’s not bad, it’s just not at all what you had expected. You did good, but don’t you want just a taste of something great?
A new vow. I never thought I’d utter those words again, but with this new freedom to be fully committed to my passion I say yes to living my dream. I say yes to moving to LA. I say yes to figuring it out as I go (but proceeding with caution and care) because life is meant to be lived and experienced. If you try to put it into this finely confined, gift-wrapped box it will explode in your face because it needs to breath and move and change.
I’m not being naive. I fully expect to struggle and to eat Ramen every day (I’m actually a little excited about that) and to live in a space the size of my closet and to go through new emotional traumas. I was told by someone who knows a coach who works as a private instructor to A-list actors and also trains some of the world’s top up-and-coming actors in LA, that most people give up after that first year. They give into the defeat and pack up their bags and move back home to Oklahoma or wherever greener pasture they came from, but it’s the ones that stick through the adversity, that survive the grueling adaption period, that refuse to be beaten down by the city, that work hard, train hard, live hard – those are the ones that make it. Again, I am not naive. I know what I am capable of and I know that I can survive.
For a lot of actors it is not about the basic elements – there where am I going to live, what will I do to make money, what if I get hit by a car and don’t have any health insurance kind of questions that plague them, but it is a different set of fears. The fear that for the first time in their life, they could fail. The fear that with this transition, they won’t just be talking about it anymore or planning it with the safety, yes in this case I use the word safety, of the unknown to protect them. They don’t know if they’re failures if they never actually try.
I sort of imagine it to be like the first time I was at Disneyland, a place I truly believed to be a place of magic and fantasy, until I saw a peek behind the curtain of one of the stages. They were just people, not princes and princesses and mythical creatures. The fairytale became an altered reality. It is a reality for any actor who wants to be a professional actor that they have to face the hard, cold fact that it is possible acting for them is nothing more than a dream. Sure they can handle it when they’re a big fish in a small pond or they can handle it when it is a hobby but not their life-source, but what about when it is their everything? What about when they are competing against people who are at the top of their game. There are actors that can cry at the snap of a finger, that can memorize multiple page scripts in a matter of minutes and be off book, that have a skill set comprising everything from sword fighting and martial arts to 10 different languages, stunt-car driving and ballet, that have trained with the best coaches and instructors in the world, the spend every moment of every day living, working, breathing their craft. Suddenly starring in 27 college shorts doesn’t feel so impressive anymore does it? Who wouldn’t want to give up after walking into an environment like that? Survival of the fittest baby – game on.
I’m not entirely certain who would determine your surrender other than yourself. No one can tell you to stop doing what you love. No one can force you back into a 9-5 job. People can tell you that you’re not good, not ready, not attractive enough, not talented enough …. but no one can tell you to sop. You have to make that choice to pull the plug on your own dream, so if you choose to never be willing to do that, then how is failure even an option?
I found this great list of actors, celebrities, authors, artists and athletes that were told they would never make it in their desired fields who are now some of the most prolific names in their industry. I thought it might be a little dose of encouragement.
I guess at some point though, we have to define success. I’ve talked to actors who have all sorts of different terms for this. Some of them just want to act – it doesn’t matter if it is on a stage, in a commercial, in a PSA, a film; as long as they are working on something and able to survive off of the paychecks they receive for that work, to them that is success. There are others that want to be famous to fulfill some sort of life-long journey for validation. Then there are those like me that want the greatness. I want to win an Oscar. I want to work alongside someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. I want to travel the world and discover new things through film and not because I feel like I’m good enough or deserving, but because I want to work that flipping hard and be so in love with my craft that it oozes out of me like a disease. I want my passion and dedication to be so obvious, so undeniable, so ridiculously present that not only am I exuding that energy into the universe but that the universe is sending me that energy right back like one giant force field.
I can’t do that here. Simple, true fact. There are films here and individuals that are phenomenal at what they do and that make money or even a career doing film, I’m not taking that away from those individuals. But let’s put this bluntly – let’s say acting is my addiction, just like for some, gambling is an addiction. If I was a gambling man, would I want to stay in Arizona where there is a total of like 5 casinos or would I want to go to Vegas where not only is the livelihood of Vegas gambling, but you can even hit a slot machine at a gas station or a grocery store.
That’s the essence of being in L.A. If you’ve never done it before, I encourage you to just get out one day and walk the streets of L.A. Listen to the people, sit in coffee shops and watch who comes in, hit Hollywood Blvd. at night and see it come alive, go to the museums, the galleries, the studios, take it all in. When you live out there, you live in the craft. My energy feels different, my artistic spirit is awakened and the opportunities seem endless.
Instead of here where I’m constantly seeking out something new, something quality, something challenging, out in L.A. it is overwhelming in the opposite end of the spectrum. There are so many people to meet, classes and workshops to take, networking opportunities to take advantage of, casting agents, managers, studios, indie circuits, producers, artists, filmmakers, visionaries and people with money to burn out there your head wants to pull a Linda Blair and spin around like a top, just considering all of the possibilities.
For me, and this is just for me, I plan to go out to L.A. and still work to support myself and for the first year take classes, meet people and get used to living in the city. I’m not going to hit the ground running. I know me and thinking long-term is the best tactic. If I go out there and can’t find my stability, I will not be able to fully focus on the job needing done. One thing I know to be true, take care of the needs of the heart first and the rest will fall into place.
So what am I waiting on? Well… You got me there. I think it must be a little bit like my first time skydiving. The absolute worst part for me was waiting in the airport, getting my gear strapped on, sitting in that little plain and not knowing what the Hell I just got myself into. I had no idea what it would feel like. Would I freak out, would I vomit, would I pass out from shock, would I get an anxiety attack which eventually would lead to heart attack, would I be liberated and overcome with joy, would I experience such a high that I become a thrill junkie? I had no freaking idea!!??? It was awful. I can’t find words for it, I just wish I could have swapped tummies with you that day so you could physically feel my apprehension and nervousness.
When we were up in that plane and the door opened and the roar of the noise flooded my ears and the burst of cold air hit my face you can literally hear me say “Oh my God” in the skydiving video. I can admit that if I wasn’t strapped to someone else there is no way I would have consciously made that jump myself. I don’t think my body would have let me, my legs felt paralyzed and jello-ized.
Luckily, my instructor was fearless ( I would hope so) and hopped right out with me hanging on for dear life. During the free fall my nose and lungs were rushed with so much air I felt like I couldn’t breath out and for one second I thought I was going to die from too much oxygen. Ain’t that a kicker, but then the most amazing thing happened, he pulled the parachute and all of a sudden there was this stillness. It was calm and quiet and the most peaceful, incredible thing I have ever experienced. Miles above the earth I was just floating.
Now every time I get scared to do something or intimidated, I take a second and stop to think to myself “Hey, you jumped out of a freaking airplane! You got this!” It is the most brave thing I have ever done and one of the few things I am so proud of myself for doing especially being the massive chicken that I am.
Making the big move to L.A. is sort of like that. The worst part is not knowing what will happen, when it will happen or if it will ever happen out there for you, but you just have to take the jump. I don’t have someone who I’m strapped to this time that will make the choice for me. Maybe that is the true act of bravery. I will get to take full responsibility for taking that next leap in my future. First year, will be like the free fall – many moments of feeling like I can’t catch my breath, but it will be that sweet, sweet pay off that will make everything worth it. It’s time to gear up!
Last week, my doctor ordered me to lose 20 pounds. I offered to drop 10 and not a pound more. He smirked and told me to bend over.
What can I say? This kid loves Christmas and all the sugar that comes with it. But as we all know, there’s a price to pay when we indulge our addictions. So the time has come for me to address all the extra fat that’s hanging over my belt.
I started yesterday by hiking up to the Hollywood sign. A steep climb at a steady pace is a great way to burn calories. It sure beats running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage. But a funny thing happened on my way up the mountain.
I had a religious experience.
As I was approaching the sign, the sun vanished behind unexpected clouds. I suddenly found myself surrounded by rain and lightning. And then the ground started to shake. I fell to my knees. I prayed. And that’s when I heard the Voice.
If you search online, you’ll find cell phone footage of me taken by other hikers. The clips show yours truly coming down from Mount Lee, my hair a frosty white, holding two stone tablets.
I believe the Gods of Hollywood chose me to deliver their lesson because of my weekly pulpit right here in Backstage. They knew I had the power to reach thousands of actors. So to honor their wishes, I now present you with the Ten Commandments of Being a Good Actor:
I. Thou Shalt Not Settle
Too many actors settle for being good when they have the potential to be great.
II. Thou Shalt Not Lose Track of the Big Picture
Actors tend to fixate on short-term details, like finding a good agent and getting the perfect headshot. That’s fine, but the career path you choose will be determined by your long-term goals.
III. Thou Shalt Learn How to Network
Knowing how to meet and interact with industry professionals is an essential skill.
IV. Thou Shalt Be Realistic
When you’re just starting out and you don’t have many credits, don’t ask your agent to get you an audition for the lead in a network pilot. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but you can’t lose yourself in the clouds.
V. Thou Shalt Learn to Shut Up
Actors spend way too much time listening to the sound of their own voice. Try keeping quiet every now and then, especially when you’re talking to people in the industry. Who knows? You might actually learn something.
VI. Thou Shalt Question the Source
Don’t believe everything you hear. You know the actor in class who’s half as talented as you but claims he booked a pilot? He’s lying. The guy’s actually doing a Web series that his girlfriend is financing with the money she made dancing at Crazy Horse.
VII. Thou Shalt Learn to Say No
You don’t have to jump on every opportunity that comes your way. I’m talking about the manager who lives out of his car and wants to sign you. I’m also talking about that nonunion film that expects you to perform full frontal nudity.
VIII. Thou Shalt Take Chances
You took a huge risk when you decided to become an actor. So why not keep that daredevil spirit alive as you pursue your career?
IX. Thou Shalt Be Mentally Healthy
Rejections aren’t personal. Your ego doesn’t control your life. And strangers do not have the power to crush your dreams. (Only you can do that.)
X. Thou Shalt Get a Life
Never put life on hold for your career. If acting is based on life experience, how can you be a great actor when you have no life?