I admit it: I have used this annoying hashtag. Usually ironically. Like if I’ve been unemployed for weeks and the auditions are scarce and I eat too much to fill the void and the rejection and depression and feelings of inadequacy are getting me down and on top of it all I step in dog poo, I might be inclined to snap a pic of myself scraping the poop off my shoe and hashtag it #actorslife. But not a lot of non-actors get the joke. It’s funny because some actors use it to self-aggrandize or to advertise their glamourous (suuuuure) lives.
Another example: I always feel like tweeting: “I’m pregnant! #nohomo” or “Chugged a fifth of Xanax. Bye. #yolo!” The hashtags are what make me laugh in these admittedly dark jokes. I always think better than to actually Tweet them, however. Too many misunderstandings are possible, and Twitter blows for explaining yourself. The number of people who would leap on me for using #nohomo without seeing that I’m lampooning it (I believe a man can show affection for another man without having to also assert his sexuality.) And you wouldn’t believe the unnecessary concern I’d be subject to in the latter joke, when, again, the intent is to lampoon the use of the hashtag. I’d have to assure people repeatedly that I’m totally fine (I am). I just think it’s obvious that we only have one life and you’d better get out and live it, and that it’s generally pointless to draw attention to it; darkly humorous to indicate it in the context of death. I am expressly not advocating suicide, nor would I. And while I would hope that would be obvious, I’ve discovered that in fact is is, apparently, not.
I say all this because I keep coming across people on the internet who seem to hate me and I can’t figure out why. Of course, not everyone should like me, that’s not the point. Seven billion other people on the planet, I know I can’t expect to be loved by all. I’m not a total narcissist.
But still, I can’t help it: One can read thirty comments that say “Peter New is awesome,” or something, and the glow of feeling adored is utterly ruined by one person saying “if Peter New did that, it’s another reason to hate it!” I’ve gotten good at not letting it ruin my whole day (it used to). Now it only ruins a half hour. Forty five minutes on a bad day. I can’t help but think that the reason for this hatred of me is due to some misunderstanding. And the real suck-hard of the thing is that I can never know the truth. It’s a person in the world I have no choice but to write off as lost to me; a colleague I’ll never work with; a friend I’ll never have. And that’s the real shame of it. People are out there judging me for a thing I probably didn’t do, or didn’t do the way they think I did, or have no idea I did, and I’m powerless to change it. We have a word in English for this phenomenon:
I think back to before I was famous (and for the sake of argument: let’s disregard the extreme moderation of my fame for the moment), and I realize that I too have been guilty of tearing down those we see as having ‘made it’.
Once when I worked at the Duthie Books at Robson and Hornby in Vancouver, the very funny actor Michael McKean came browsing. I was star struck. I was a huge fan of Spinal Tap and much of his other work. Now, at the time I was performing a lot of sketch comedy around the city, to some small acclaim, though I had yet to sign an agent. I’d had maybe one professional job. But I also had high hopes for myself. To me, he was in the club. And I wasn’t. I decided, as he was leaving to explore the city on what was likely his day off from some gruelling schedule, that this might be my only chance ever to speak with him. So I chased him out onto the street, caught up with him on the corner, and asked him the only important question I could think of – some version of “How do I make it?” He rolled his eyes and sputtered an impatient answer that amounted to, “stick with it.” I was disappointed. For years I had a story of what a dick he was to me that one time I met him. #yolo
Now, I’ve learned a couple of things since then.
1. Ten seconds with a man is not enough to judge him fairly.
2. On an actor’s day off, in a moment said actor thinks is private, fan interaction can be (not always, I also love it, see #5 below), exhausting.
3. The question that’s interesting to the fan is the same question that’s interesting to a million other fans.
4. The answer really, actually, for real, actually is: stick with it.
5. The onus is on the celebrity to speak genuinely to every fan that talks to them, but that:
6. S/he will always fail with someone.
I’m on the other side of the coin now. I can still learn from those who came before. But I now understand a number of things that I think Michael McKean understands. I get that when you get asked the same question a hundred times a day, keeping the answer fresh is tiring, and yet you need to answer it every time. I understand that there is no club you get in. As actors we are always, constantly hunting for or creating our own work. This doesn’t ever stop. If it stops, you stop. There’s no magical fairyland in which you sail confidently from job to job. You have to work for it. In other words, my guess is that he was ‘sticking with it’ then as much as he was when he began; as much as I had to to get to here, and as much as I still have to to continue to grow. There is no single pathway to success in this field. There are as many paths as there are successful performers. His was his, mine was mine, yours will be yours. And lastly: of the 100 people asking you how to make it, roughly point one of them will actually succeed.
So, Mr. McKean, if you happen to read this- I’m sorry I misunderstood. I’m sorry I took it way too personally. And I’m sorry I called you a dick at parties. I’m glad 90’s house parties didn’t have comments sections. It prevented both anonymity and permanence.
All I can hope is that folks like @bronyasshole626 (the most recent one’s name was something like this, I’m not even kidding), feels the same way about me as I do about my own transgressions in a few more years.
One is never certain if an idea is truly good or not.
Goodness knows in my life I’ve made numerous artistic and professional choices that I thought at the time quite brilliant, and that went utterly nowhere. And conversely, things I never much thought about at all have garnered me praise and reward I never expected over what, artistically, I considered at the time to be inconsequential at best. In sum, I’ve completely given up trying to make a determination for myself as to what constitutes the ‘Good Idea’ and what is just junk.
I’m certain, that said, that some gems lie in the junk heap of my discarded creativity. My own personal cutting-room-floor. But moving forward from the strips of unseen tape upon which lie my brilliant death in Dark Angel and my gawking bewilderment on Supernatural, and from my scrawled brilliance on so many crumpled napkins is an inevitability. We can only move forward. Dwelling on the past – even on the successes of nominations and notoriety – is a pathway to self-loathing in the end. No one wants to be the chump who can only point to things from long ago when the spotlight hits and the audience is asking for what’s new.
I have boxes and boxes of writing. Much of it will never be of any use ever again. And much will never be of use at all, having never been shared, performed, or produced in any way. This writing is no longer an asset, and has become a mere souvenir of who I used to be. I have wasted years delaying my grief over this, instead convincing myself at routine intervals that someday I’ll hire someone to digitize it, or that someday someone will beg to see it all for some memoir that no one is likely to ever want to write about me. I need to mourn for these lost ideas, else they become anchors lodged in history, too heavy for my fragile ship as it struggles ever forwards.
If unshackle myself totally from the ideas that have shaped me – Comedian, Movie Star, Wealth Deyond Dreams, Writer of Reknown – then what is left of me?
The argument has always been it’s in my blood or it’s just who I am. But these arguments no longer carry me forwards. They are the arguments one needs to get started, and to overcome the barriers one sets up for oneself between ordinary teenager and artist. I am an artist now. I have been for some time. But I’ve been a slave to a notion of myself that’s based on exterior perception. What kind of artist do I want to be? Well that’s still the right question, though the answers I have given (a famous one, a rich one, an eternal and undeniable one) are all designed to inoculate me from work. The answers are more like: a dedicated one; one who forges new material; a fallible, vulnerable, mortal one. A creative one. One who works.
Do I want to continue to be an actor? Yes, of course. But I’d like to stop waiting around for the right producer to notice me and decide I’m perfect. Rather I would like to take each part as it comes and live in it completely, even if the only moment I get to be alive is at some crummy audition.
And a writer? Yes that too. But in this case I think it’s time I stop punishing myself for not always writing jokes as I used to, and instead engage with humble discovery.
These are the only two questions worth asking, as a creator: What’s next? and So what?
I ask the first question on a first pass, and the second question on a last pass. What’s next is expansive, a brainstorm, a playground. So what is contractive, a criticism, a butcher. Both these aspects are elemental to creativity, in order to find the new, and then render it clinically, with resonance. If you ask in the wrong order you get nowhere. I want to write about something. So what? No point I guess. What’s next? I guess nothing. But ask in the right order and you get DaVinci. You get Bowie. Rickman.
You get Art.
The realization I’m having now is that these questions are what drive us not just in creation, but throughout our lives, too. Our very existence is a kind of art. I’ve asked the questions of myself in the wrong order quite a lot in the last while. So what? No point. And so I shut down and try nothing before I get to question one. And so: What kind of artist do I want to be? The What’s Next kind. I want to be a creator from which people will not know what to expect, because I will not know it myself until faced with the very moment of creation. And what kind of person is that kind of artist? Wild guess. And that’s the hammer. Am I like that? Could I be? Only one way to know and that’s to try and bang in the very next nail.
So what’s on my mind lately?
Well, podcasts. I want to write a story and read it on a podcast, only I want you, the audience, to tell me what’s going to happen next. It might be hilarious, it could be sublime. And I won’t know, and that’s exciting. I began this process this week, and with some initial success. There’s a few introductory minutes of writing done, and I’ve collected a number of excellent suggestions from my fine followers on Twitter (I’ll call out whose ideas get used, of course). I’m not sure yet when this will come to fruition, but stay tuned. It’s what’s next. And it feels like a Good Idea.
It’s been almost a year since I shot a thing that I can’t talk about. It was a one-off thing, but came with a small chance of more, and zero promises.
Well here we are and more will happen but there’s still some up-in-the-air about whether or not I’ll be involved when it goes. And that’s the limbo I’ve been in for four months or so now: Maybe there’ll be plenty of work for me in the new year and maybe there won’t be and we should find out next week. Well it’s the new year now and we still don’t really know.
And that’s ok. The uncertainty and fear; the anxiety of the unknown.
It’s ok. Because it has to be.
This is the really difficult thing for me about acting. At any moment I could get a call saying, “You got it!” And that can mean a lot of money, prestige, notoriety, work, joy, or any combination thereof. It’s a pretty intoxicating combination. And it’s a very real thing: There’s a phone call that could happen any day now that says, essentially, “relax, you’re going to have high-profile work for months on end that pays well and could lead by its nature to even more future work.”
There’s a problem, though. I could also get the other phone call.
In fact, the other one has a huge statistical likelihood of being the call I get. Usually, mercifully, there is no phone call. If you don’t hear about it, that means it went away. That makes it easier to forget.
This is the common sense thing I normally do when it comes to auditioning. Do the audition, and promptly forget it. I move forward. I look to what’s next. An audition is so often for a job that won’t go beyond a few shoot days, or one or two recording sessions. It’s actually rare for me to find myself in a position like this one, wherein I already passed the audition and did the initial work and now my fate is caught up in the extended machinations of executive meetings and rewrites and production whims and a myriad things outside of my control. But as the process has been so extended and yet within it there’s been so little I control I can exert on the decision-making, the whole thing becomes somewhat manic for me. I start to think crazed things like maybe I should put another audition on tape for them to show them my range, or maybe I should take a trip to whatever LA boardroom in which my destiny is teetering, and glad-hand, live-read, or somehow or other otherwise totally screw myself out of the job.
No, no. All of that is craziness. It’s the insecurity of the profession made manifest. I would seem like a desperate nutcase at the Whole Foods with some homemade Almond Butter and misplaced chutzpah, doing the box step to impress the teenaged produce manager while she headsets the code for ‘call the police’ to anyone who’ll listen. I can see myself straight-jacketed and sweaty from dance calling, “Try my nuts! TRY MY NUTS,” smiling-always-smiling while they cart me off to the sanitarium we actors call ‘obscurity.’
So while every fibre in me cries out to DO something, I have to allow for reason to weigh in or I’m done. I have to trust that the job I have already performed is enough to buoy me over into the job I have yet to perform; that the people in charge have the wisdom to make the correct choice for their show (obviously I think it’s ME); and that the patience I can show now speaks well of my grace and humility should the choice to go elsewhere be the final decision. How I fail to get the job informs their future choices to hire me for something else just as much as how well I do the job does, should I actually get it.
That’s what we miss so often in the world at large, that oft secondary reliance on common sense and reason. I can understand, to take a page from recent headlines, the scared and juvenile urge to shut down borders, build walls and look only to faces built of familiar skin. But it’s obvious, really, that none of that constitutes a sensible position. Trade & tourism are interrupted by shutting borders, innocent people are punished along with guilty ones, walls don’t work (China built a Great One once. Anyone know how that worked out?), and faces of familiar skin are just as likely (if not more so), to be the ones on the wrong end of a trigger for your overall health, and it’s clearly folly therefore to trust or distrust people on that basis alone. So have the urge, sure. But temper it with reason, and your grace and humility in the face of what you cannot control will lead you far wiser than the bumbling oaf you would have been had you ploughed a swath through reason and ended up alone in the world with only your reflection for company.
And so, I wait in the limbo of anxiety, chomping at my proverbial bit. I’m alert, ready to act should I be required to. And as always, in the end, rationality and wisdom trumps the feeling you get before the easy answer is given any thought; the lunacy of insecurities made real.
Regular readers may have noticed a gap in my posts of one week. So briefly, before we proceed, I owe an explanation.
My computer is quite old and it misbehaves. Its most recent malady is that it, upon waking from sleep, had decided that various keys on its keyboard should no longer work. I had this idea that I would type a kraftily konthtrukteg blog thit uboigeg the eppekteg keyz (though I see now just from this sentence that that would have been murder to read, so perhaps it’s for the best that it didn’t work out), but the affected keys included more than one key required for my password and thus the whole notion of blogging last week was scuppered.
Happily, as a lovely gift for Christmas, I received a USB keyboard and I’m therefore able to continue upon my journey, and if you’re still here reading this then I’m delighted to have you along.
It’s time for that year end stuff. This was a year of great turmoil for me; of many endings and new beginnings. Some endings were personal, such as the death of a beloved relative and the collapse of a long-standing relationship, and some were professional, such as the recording of the final episode of Littlest Pet Shop, which has served as my largest and most consistent income stream for the last three years. In either case I haven’t discussed them much – the personal for I believe there exists a line over which I ought not to cross with regard to my personal life, and the professional because most of what I do is governed by contracts that may or may not exist and if they did exist they might or might not prevent me from legally discussing things until they’re publicly known. It makes blogging reasonably difficult.
The great lesson I take form all of this is about moving forward.
The stresses and tragedies one experiences that really knock you to the curb are in actuality quite few and far between. Lounging in the pain and difficulty of those things, grief and loss and the stresses connected to them, is like staring too long at an old photograph. One will feel the pain and the stress and the loss regardless – and it’s important to honour that – but why sit inside those feelings and remind yourself unnecessarily of them all the time. It’s a trap we all fall into. It feels good to feel hard done by. But to do this is turning your back squarely to the future that is barrelling towards you, and it’s wasting the present in an effort to stop that photograph from fading, which, if you’ll excuse my pre-digital metaphor, the photograph shall inevitably do anyway.
The better option is to move forward. Place your back toward the loss and heartache and whatever difficulty. Allow it to inform and instruct you as is useful, but not more than that. And step towards the unknowable mess of whatever comes next openly, joyfully, bravely and eagerly.
2016 holds much promise for me (and for you too, I’d hazard, if you choose to seek a positive vision from within the mists of the unknowable, as opposed to a negative one). I have love anew, and I have several professional prospects at every stage of possibility awaiting me in January, from promising auditions that may or may not mean a thing, to possible casting that may or may not come to fruition, to jobs I already have but don’t know how frequently I’ll be used. For the moment I choose to feel like I have them all in the bag (Joy!), and move forward from the disappointments if and when they ever occur. After all: I could be right!
There will be travel and laughter and, I can only hope, a steady fading of all that has made 2015 an exhilarating though somewhat uncontrolled ride down the rapids. I look forward to a more peaceful journey in the months to come. I hope that by choosing joy in all the moments between tragedies, and facing forwards in their wake, we can all find harmonious paths through the rocky stream of time yet to pass.
Happy New Year!
Soul Coughing Irresistible Bliss Super Bon Bon: “Move aside and let the man go through, let the man go through.”
Radiohead The Bends Just: “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts. You do it to yourself, just you, you and no one else.”
Rheostatics Melville Record Body Count: “Joey stepped up on a block of ice, put the rope around his neck, fell asleep before he died.”
Ok that may seem morbid so stick with me-
It’s widely known that the second album is more difficult than the first. So often a band gets known for some songs they’ve thrown together in the garage and toured and they’re in love with the music and the success. And then suddenly the pressure is on to create all new stuff just like it, and it becomes daunting, difficult, demoralizing work.
But they do the work. They craft a new voice, more musically interesting work perhaps, and it gets panned- I think simply because it isn’t the same as what’s come before.
I think the same is true of any art. Of drawing, painting, acting, writing, what have you. When it’s easy, you feel like you could do it forever. When it’s hard, every brushstroke, word, or movement is all wrong, a failure, false.
But art requires time, not merely creation and consumption. In retrospect the sophomore album is often terrific, sometimes plainly better than the primary effort (fyi: this is clearly the case for Radiohead and Rheostatics, though while still an excellent album in it’s own right, Soul Coughing’s first album Ruby Vroom is quite obviously their masterpiece.)
I selected the quotes above because they represent a circle. (It’s a stretch, but here we go) The artistic process is fraught with resistance. It gets bogged down, and left unattended, it dies. But with attention and the commitment to fight the myriad impulses that tell one to stop, it will start strong, become difficult and introspective, and through a kind of death of the compulsion to explore the particular theme, the art itself is somehow born.
Last week was my charge ahead (move aside and let the man go through) – and it was reasonably successful, at that! I wrote daily, commencing detailed character work on a new television project I’d like to one day produce, and also beginning the work of adapting one of my prolific father’s unpublished manuscripts as a film (maybe animated, for kids- maybe live action, maybe more grown up? Aha! Something to discover!).
This week represents the beginning of the second stage (you do this to yourself, you do.). This stage may last weeks, even months. It’s the beginning of the long uncharted second act. I don’t know what will happen with this work, if it will be any good, if it will resonate or be relevant, or if I’ll even complete it.
Eventually, if I can avoid the pitfalls of resistance, I’ll enter that third stage (Joey stepped up on a block of ice…) wherein the work is finally presented (…put the rope around his neck…).
I also went last night to the UBCP/ACTRA awards – my third nomination! The award went to Brian Drummond, and deservedly so. But it also marks my third defeat in the category. Now- a good time was had by all, and nobody is ever sore at these things. That’s all beside the point. The show itself, however, represents my arrival at the third stage. The work is speaking for itself. Recognition is this kind of after-the-fact thing that is hard to get a grasp on. You appreciate it. The honor is real. But it isn’t really you being lauded. It’s not the you who takes out the trash, or has to plunge a toilet, or who cries sometimes, or who gets angry without provocation, or who wants to lose weight, or who feels insecure in crowds – it’s just the you who showed up to work one day, and who acted well for a few hours, such that a hundred other people could do the jobs of turning that simple vocal track into a visual performance worth nominating. It’s a tiny fraction of the deep and complex you, and it was so many days and nights ago that it may not even be alive in you anymore (…and fell asleep before he died.)
Which leaves an arc of the circle undrawn.
Laurie Anderson Lincoln Cage & Aquarium: “Sun’s coming up like a big bald head…. I turn around, and it’s fear. I turn around again, and it’s love…. All of nature talks to me. If I could just figure out what it was trying to tell me.”
There is a new horizon every morning. There’s new art to make, new things to discover, and new difficulties, as always, to overcome. Tomorrow I have to be a flock of chickens.
So that’s new.
Continue writing daily
Back in 2011, before all of this started, I was forty pounds overweight, and four months shy of my 40th birthday. I wrote a blog called Forty In Four By Forty wherein I detailed my quest to lose that weight by then, and I did ok too. I was still trying to make a mark on the world, create something for which I’d be remembered, get famous!
I was living in a mouldy basement suite that I rented with my then partner and our small daughter. We were broke mostly and I would take walks in the rain and wonder what else I could do with my life because acting was not paying the bills. But by the summer of 2012, I was 35 pounds lighter. I was in New York. And I was Horsefamous.
For the uninitiated: I play 20+ Characters on the hit animated show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, most notably a monosyllabic apple farmer named Big McIntosh. The show has a fandom called Bronies, mostly adult men, who have been hosting meetups, gatherings and large conventions to celebrate the show. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended more than 20 of these conventions on three continents. I’m greeted like a celebrity, and in the vernacular of the fandom that makes me a famous horse, notable among horse fans, aka “Horsefamous.” I find the term endearing. It’s been a heady and exciting ride, often difficult to navigate but mostly deliciously fun.
But as with everything, the bloom wears off and the business of getting on with one’s actual life resumes. I no longer live in a mouldy basement (hooray!), nor with that partner (…yaaay…), nor my beautiful daughter 100% of the time (Boo!). I’ve also regained all that weight and I’ve just turned 44 (…collapses…). I haven’t had a steady income since recordings stopped on season 4 of Littlest Pet Shop in the summertime so I can barely afford food. I say this not to elicit sympathy, but just to elucidate the realities behind the fiction of celebrity- being an actor is hard, inconsistent, unreliable and just as often destitute as it is lucrative. So here I am: Broke, hungry and taking walks in the rain and wondering what else I could do with my life to make ends meet. Sounds familiar.
Now it’s not all dire. I have work lined up for January. And things trickle in. And things change in a heartbeat, too. I could get a call on Monday telling me that I have work enough to pay for Christmas. Or not. Who knows? But one cannot plan a life waiting on a phone that may or may not ring. And I’ve spent the last few months in hope and idleness, waiting on just that. Meanwhile the bills -and the debts- pile up, and the weight piles on.
So: What to do?
Well, in part inspired by my new love’s recent effort to draw every day, and in part by my own history in writing as a form of personal growth and motivation, I’ve decided that starting today, November first, I will write daily (like I used to do!). This will take the following form: Sunday I will update this blog with my weekly progress towards fitness, creation, and solvency through tales of misadventure and distraction. Monday through Saturday I will generate scripts for original films and TV shows (like I used to do), with an eye to actually producing things instead of letting them sit in a drawer (if anyone wants a screenplay to produce I’ve got about six dusty ones I can show you). And throughout I’ll be eating better and doing more and reporting back on my progress.
This week’s goals:
1. Write a blog (check)
2. Log meals (I’ll explain that next time)
3. Write daily (self explanatory)
4. Be active daily (instead of be-in-a-chair-playing-candy-crush-on-my-phone-because-I-feel-like-holding-it-might-make-it-ring-daily)
Ok, that’s it. Thanks for reading. And thank you for coming with me on this adventure. Your eyes on my words inspire me. Till next week, then. To action!