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“And if I only could/I’d make a deal with God/And I’d get Him to swap our places”

October 13, 2011

(This post will be the closest I ever come to making a sports analogy.  And for this–that the content may be likened to a sports analogy, not that there should be no more akin to it in the future–I wish to apologize for in advance.)

Fall has entered the air and fall has entered my body.  This heightened energy that comes with a change of season, a breath holding us, forcing open our eyes a little wider and causing us to ask:  “What’s going to happen?”

Autumn is my favorite season.  It is steeped full of a lingering promise of renewal, rooted in back-to-school nostalgia, harvests, and my birthday, which ushered in my personal New Year a few weeks ago. (If you missed it, not to worry: I will still be accepting gifts for this 2011 birthday until the date of this posting in 2012.  Plenty of time.  I am registered at Crate and Barrel.)  So autumn for me is a time to take stock of what I’ve done over the year, where I am, and begin again at whatever it is that needs a little re-start.  Usually.

Let me explain.  Those sentiments are all very true, and the sensibility of starting over and the possibility that comes with it is all very good and positive and reassuring and simple and honest and well-paced and full of small smiles of modest contentment.  But that is not how I feel right now.

I know this because I have started jogging again, and not just because I am attempting to get back into shape.  After successfully completing my 100 Play/Musical Challenge just in time–I somehow crammed four pieces of theatre into my eyes and brain on the final day–I found the venture had left my body somewhat lacking.  Essentially I spent three months reading or listening to music during the time I normally would have been working out.  While I enjoyed the break (I really do love not working out) and the four pounds I mysteriously lost (reading burns calories), I was disconnected to my physical body.  That sort of sensation, or lack thereof, usually sends me to yoga, to sit inside a posture and discover what’s going on.  Yet there are periods in my life where being constricted to the perimeter of a mat drives me crazy.  I feel constricted, I get impatient beyond the point of being able to gain perspective on my impatience.  I become bored, then frustrated, sometimes angry.  I’m firm believer that yoga is for everyone–but I’m also a firm believer that not every kind of physical activity benefits you energetically in the same way at all times of your life.  So whenever I find myself swearing in my head during a vinyasa, I know my time is better spent off my mat.

I am full of unrest.  My heart has sunk into my stomach and is being dissipated by bile.  I feel a quaking in my guts some days, and a have a bad taste in my mouth–rotting fruit, saliva, and beer, stewing together, making everything bitter and foul.  I’d dissolve the sidewalk if I spat on it.  Everything is hard and everything is obnoxious and everything is unsatisfying.  The feeling of fall I was promised over the past 2+ decades is not there this year.  And I know exactly why.

I’m non-union.  And it sucks.  Unlike some of my fortunate and deserving newly unionized colleagues, I feel very much that I am stranded in a trench somewhere out in no-man’s land, so far removed that I cannot account for my position, while they enjoy sitting in a chair in the Equity lounge.  Let me admit right now that I know it is madness to get worked up over this, not to mention curious in a way: desperately hoping to gain admission to an organization that is meant to offer you greater opportunities in employment, when over 90% of the members of said organization are unemployed every day of the Gregorian calendar year is in itself something that would cause anyone to wonder at, at least momentarily.

I have spoken to older, union actors about this before and they tell me that the horror of uncertainty and the unknown does not go away simply because you carry a card in your pocket that says “You Belong.”  And I am certain this is true. Still, the audition season continues to merrily roll along, and I am again and again confronted with notices for plays I’d love to be cast in, roles I’d love to be seen for, but am ineligible, because everyone is “seeking Equity Members only.” It’s like being at a party where you know no one, and despite being dressed as nicely as everyone else and sharing a slew of mutual friends with the other guests, not one person will talk to you.  So you skulk in a corner, alone, convincing yourself again–sternlythat going outside and bumming a cigarette off someone is not actually going to make you feel better.  Some nights you are successful; others, you are not.  Lately I have been slipping up: at the moment I am a pack-a-day girl in my mind.  But I am trying to cut back.

So my mental smoking habit and the unrest that I’ve found rooted in my sans-union status forced me out into the open air along the Hudson.  There I went to get away from the voices that seemed to sing in a chorus of tight harmony, “You are not welcome here.”  I needed to be with myself, listen to myself.  When things are hectic and (a tad) overwhelming, it serves us to carve out some time for ourselves to be with ourselves.  Some people paint, some people cook, some people go to movie matinees.  The time we spend being anonymous to all but ourselves allows us to hear what our souls call out from within.  For me, right now, this is what I get from jogging.  And what I heard the other day heartened me.

Along the route of one of the jogs I take there is a hill.  Technically there are two small hills: once you reach the top of the first hill the path plateaus a little bit, and then suddenly morphs into a steep incline which you discover to be the face of the second.  I have thought about it, and there is no diplomatic way of describing these hills.  They are just a couple of bitches.  That’s it.  I never look forward to seeing them.  In my past flirtations and too-soon broken engagements with jogging (we have never and may never marry), they have always loomed at me with such intimidating disdain as to cause me to walk instead of run them, or simply stop all together, turn back, and just go to Starbucks.  However, this go around has been different.

I’ve been jogging for time.  I started at twenty minutes, and every time I’m out I go a little further, a 10% increase from the last time. (This math is easy enough for me to do, so that is why I chose it.)  A few days into this, I realized I was going to hit the bitch-hills.  As I approached them, my apprehension grew.  I did not want to have to jog these hills, and I projected the harsh reality my body was going to have to endure when I reached them.  But because of how far into my timed jog I already was, and how much further I still had left to go, I knew I would not be done in time to avoid them all together.  I knew I had to go past the hills.  So I told myself to take it easy: it didn’t matter how fast I got over the bitches, just that I got over them at all, and still had energy left to keep going beyond that.

I was leaning somewhere into the middle of the second hill when I realized that this was the exact attitude I needed to be taking towards my career.  I needed to see beyond the difficulties I was encountering and continue to push forward, not be deterred or exhaust all of my hope and stamina on whatever was hard at this moment.  Non-union, union and unemployed, employed and dealing with a difficult colleague, employed with brilliant colleagues and doubting your own work: there are so many things that can manifest ahead of us as we continue to move down the path.  But life is cumulative.  No one event, person, or phase defines us wholly and/or permanently.  Knowing this, it follows that our ambition must be greater than any hardships we may be passing through at this time.  We must not despair because things are trying, but look ahead and go on.  It doesn’t matter how slow you’re going so long as you’re still moving.

I am trying to focus on this.  I am trying to think of the big picture, the long term.  If I know that I have a “long term,” it helps me understand that what goes on now is not the be-all-or-end-all, but just a part of what I am doing, of who I will become.  My time as a non-union actor is not permanent.  My place in this industry as it is now is not permanent–provided that I do not shirk at challenges, wander off in another, easier, more comfortable direction, give up on myself.  I will not give up on myself.

So every day I try to do something for my career, build a little bit on whatever I did the day before.  Even if I only get through one thing, that is one more thing that I have gotten through.  I must keep a steady pace, take a deep breath, and look around.

What’s going to happen?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011 11:28 am

    What a truly great post. Not only is it beautifully poetic, but also so spot-on. Right before I got cast and became eligible for my card, I had been slogging through about a year of not wanting to do the non-union crap anymore and not being eligible for the union crap and doubting everything I was doing and had done. But I kept doing small things every day, just like you are, and FINALLY a crack widened and became a break and I stepped forward in my career a bit. It WILL happen if you keep making forward motion, and then we can sit in the Equity lounge for EPAs with all of the other unemployed union actors together 🙂

  2. California Triple-Threat permalink
    October 13, 2011 2:22 pm

    Thanks for this post. We all struggle with this and its so encouraging to read how others deal with it.
    I found this quotation on twitter last week, and it encouraged me:
    “An Artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” -Charles Horton
    I hope things change in your favor soon!

  3. October 13, 2011 3:30 pm

    I know what’s going to happen. You will get over those bitches and succeed! You’re too in tune with yourself not to. You’re self aware; you know what needs to be done. Reading this post reminded me of something that motivates me in the gym every day. I overheard a trainer tell his client (in regards to an exercise they were doing), “Just when you feel you are going to fail, that’s when you get stronger.” As for union/ non union- it doesn’t matter. There’s amazing union work. There’s not so amazing union work. There’s amazing non union work. There’s not so amazing non union work. Strive for quality; not a union status. And I agree, I think we’re going to have a lot in common. 🙂

  4. October 13, 2011 7:48 pm

    I agree with Newbie Actor…. quality over the union status.

    And I know you have heard this many many times, but it is true that once you join the union, you have to turn down some really great work, just because it’s non-union. And that really sucks. So make sure your timing is right when you join. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the aim of the entertainment unions is to negotiate better terms for actors… their goal isn’t to promote theatre or art or creativity..(in my opinion–some may disagree).. So once you join, you sometimes have to sacrifice doing some really creative projects, for the “greater good” of the union. And that can be difficult to take.

    But if it is your goal to join, you will get there, I am sure!

  5. The Reflective Artist permalink
    October 14, 2011 7:27 am

    Thanks for all of your comments of support, guys!

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