I’ve been struggling this week to figure out what to talk about. Not a lot has changed since last week and so what to do? How do I keep this fresh.
And then it occurred to me: this is an achievement problem.
I was thinking about creators I know and respect and they always seem to have something to talk about- some project to tout. And it isn’t as though I have nothing: Check my film’s new imdb listing, for instance. It’s called WoodMan in case you’re having trouble googling. I mean I could hot link it here but whatever. You know how to go to imdb.com and search for my name, right?
Also, I finally got some new (long overdue) headshots taken. My photographer friend WendyD snapped a bunch of pics of me this past week and I can’t wait to see them and show them off! My on camera agent will be pleased. Perhaps I’ll get cast in things again with a more accurate photographic representation of myself to- you get the picture (GET THE PICTURE? GET IT!? (terrible)).
But despite that, there’s always that lingering sense of ‘I got nothin.’
Perhaps all creators feel that. Perhaps even the most prolific generators think they’re kind of between projects, spinning their wheels. Perhaps that feeling, more than most others, is what motivates a creative person to generate something. The problem occurs when one finds oneself thinking, what can I promote today? One has this weekly blog, and one feels an obligation to discuss the exciting things one is doing with oneself but the most consuming activity in one’s life is the painting of one’s room and the (likely futile) attempt to score Alcatraz tickets last minute for April 13. Super. One feels like one is uncreative, unproductive, dull. And everyone else is a nuclear space fire ablaze with ingenuity and charisma.
But I don’t have nothing.
WoodMan is set to meet on Sunday evening to discuss our festival year, so hopefully I’ll have more news about that in the weeks to come, and I’ve been generating a lot of new ideas for scripts, so I’m hoping, too, that several new stories will emerge from me over the next half year. It’s been a week of solid auditions, which I know will inevitably lead to exciting work, if not this week then next, or the next or the next.
So I suppose what I was feeling today was the space between all this stuff. The space can feel like a void. You can see everyone else’s book, or film, or script, or painting and think, “what the hell? All I have going for me is some blog and a proclivity for Bubble Witch 3,” successfully comparing, in other words, everyone else’s public achievements with my own private anxiety. It’s clear, again and all of a sudden, how unfair that is to myself.
So with the burden of that false comparison lifted, and eyes wide to the possibilities and wonders before me, I shall set out this week to begin. To pursue the wisps of creative filament that wink on and off in the periphery.
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.
I’ve had several great ideas for a blog this week, from discussing The Elements of Harmony as they apply to my actual life to three other things that seemed like great ideas, on three different days, and that I didn’t write down and that now I’ve forgotten. In all cases the ‘great’ subject seems like a wan idea today.
I should have just written the blog early.
Someone told me when you find yourself saying ‘should’ to yourself, you need to find out whose voice it is inside you saying it. And if it’s not your own, you should ignore it.
Because should sucks. Should robs one of honesty. So I suppose that’s the only tenet borne of the Pony-theme I still want to discuss.
I’m not certain I’ve ever been truly honest. Certainly I’ve always felt honest. If you’d asked me if I was honest twenty years ago I would have balked at the tacit assertion that it were even possible that I wasn’t.
But I wasn’t. Not really.
Now: I’m honest about a lot- don’t get me wrong. I’m no thief. I don’t contrive to be deceitful. On the contrary: I struggle always to tell truths. I’m genuinely not trying to suggest that I’m a pathological nightmare of lies. But I have realized recently the deep extent to which I’m capable of lying to myself. I do it habitually. And the problematic extension of that is that I tell what I perceive to be truths, based on the lies I’m more comfortable believing, and thus, I lie. It’s called confirmation bias. And here’s the bad news: We all do it. To a degree. I think mine’s gone wrong.
When I was eighteen I dated a 20 year old ex-model.
She had been the face of Guess Jeans in Canada until a tragic accident burned her face and after the very successful reconstructive surgery, she had to maintain it by taking a drug that made her face puff up, which lost her the lucrative contract. She missed the work. She’d been to several continents to shoot, and even got lost in the Sahara desert for a short while because of mismanagement but she wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Despite our safe use of condoms, I impregnated her. Later she would tell my friends that I forced an abortion upon her, and that the procedure gave her cervical cancer.
All completely false, of course. Every word. She was charismatic and I was naive – a horrid combination. But it wasn’t just me she’d convinced. She was skilled as hell about it. And I think it was because she made herself believe herself before she lied to me. Once, in anguish because she was afraid of taking her drug, but in equal anguish about how she’d look without it, she decided to empty a package of Tic Tacs down the toilet in front of me and then cry in my arms. I believed the anguish, and she believed the Tic Tacs were the Cortizone, so I did too. But in hindsight? They were Tic Tacs.
Once I became able to see one thing as a lie (the abortion did it for me – I was nothing but supportive of her choices regarding her utterly false pregnancy), the rest of them tumbled out like projectile vomit. Cortizone doesn’t generally get prescribed to burn victims (this all according to a book I read 20 years ago), doesn’t look like a Tic Tac, and doesn’t make your face puffy. Abortions, also, don’t generally result in an immediate case of cancer.
You may be thinking how absurd it all seems written out in a paragraph or two. And it is, of course, when presented as such. But she played a long game. She never told the whole story at once. She’d let one tidbit drop, then fill in the blanks over months, fighting what she presented as a reluctance born of insecurity: until she trusted me enough to tell me. In this way she rendered me complicit in her falsehoods. I became an ally in her quest to spread her unbelievable-ness, which lent her veracity. The reveal, as they say in showbiz, was devastating, heartbreaking, painful. I was raw and vulnerable.
I spent many years after this not trusting people, particularly women, as you can imagine. But despite that I learned how to trust again years ago, it’s only recently that I’ve discovered a disgusting side effect. I became excellent at self-preservation. I would hold secret any truth that might lead to another scar on my heart, borrowing unconsciously from this viper’s playbook, to re-craft the truth to benefit myself and then present it as a believable veneer.
The last few months have been difficult. I’m making an effort to be as honest as possible, regardless of the hurt it may cause to myself or to others. But I’m still pretty shitty at it. I can be tactless. It feels dangerous to say what I feel without first containing it. Like sticking my hand into fire. But the fire I fear, it turns out, is my very passion for life. So I should let that fire burn bright and large outside the containment walls I’ve built over the last twenty five years…
And there’s that word again: Should. Says who?
Says me I guess.
There are days.
I mean there are bad days, obviously, where the events hit you like a sucker-punch to the gut, and I am talking about those. But I’m also talking about the good days; ones that fly by in a blaze of colour and electric joy. I’m also talking about the days in between. The ones that tromp past unnoticed: drudgery and work, errands and taxes. Stuff. They usually harbour a few pleasant interactions, a few forgettable ones, and suddenly you’re in bed, falling into tomorrow without a particular memory worth filing into the log.
There are days.
The ones which are a clock’s tick. A lonely trudge toward the welcoming arms of merciful death.
Depression isn’t an emotional state – it isn’t sad, as such. It’s a physical state. It’s a depression in the road, an inescapable dip through which all traffic must pass. It’s a sinkhole. A well.
There are days and days and days I spend at the bottom of the well.
Anyone that knows what I mean, knows it all too well. Anyone who doesn’t might never understand.
I spent much of the last 2 years at the bottom of the well. It’s dark. The walls are smooth. There is no rope, no ladder, nor any reason to escape. It’s hopelessness incarnate. I thought I might die down there. When you’re at the bottom of the well, you’re alone among friends, you’re sad when smiling, you talk of the future even though you don’t believe there is one. When you’re at the bottom of the well, there is only the well, and the cruel reminder that just up there, out past that dot of bright light at the top of the impossible shaft, everyone (and you do believe it’s everyone), is having an electric, joyful day.
Much of the last few months, I’ve been trying to discover the way out. But what can one learn limited by such geography, immobilized at the bottom?
Well. Quite a lot as it turns out.
Somewhere around 200 BC a Greek mathematician named Eratosthenes was the first to measure the circumference of the earth. All he needed was two wells, in two different towns. He knew if you looked into a well in Swenet (situated, as it happens, directly on the tropic of Cancer), that at the sun’s zenith, your shadow would block the reflection of the sun from shining straight down off the water. However on the same day in Alexandria this was not the case: the sun shone into the well at an angle, creating a shadow. By measuring the angle he determined what section of an arc equated to the distance between the two towns, and from that he extrapolated the first accurate measurement of the size of our ball of dirt. All without ever leaving Egypt.
It occurs to me that I haven’t been looking at my well in the right way. I’ve been seeing it as a trap. Eratosthenes clearly saw a well as an astronomical tool. Sssso… that’s pretty different. And really what are wells for? To give life by giving water. They are a cornerstone of civilization. And all I can seem to do is sit at the bottom of one?
I’ve been scrabbling at the sides trying to get out for so long, perhaps I have forgotten that I’m looking at it the wrong way, as a puzzle with only two solutions. Either scramble upwards, or dig more deeply. But as is so often the reality, it turns out that that dilemma is a manufactured consent – there are a host of third alternatives one fails outright to even consider. My solution? Fill the well!
I’ve decided to write, and I’ve been doing that more. I’ve been listening to more music. Paying more attention to art and politics, and somehow, suddenly, the top doesn’t seem so far up anymore. There’s more and more water floating me up towards those electric joyful days, or at least towards the gut-punchingly sad ones. Either way, I’ll take them.
My well is not as bleak and dark as it once was, thanks to this. Now its… refreshing.
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!