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“I Have Such Doubts”

October 16, 2012

I have been absent from this forum for some time now.  A lot of people have entered the dialogue, a lot of new voices with keen eyes and fresh perspectives.  I wish I could say myself that I have something to add from my time away, that I have been preoccupied with matters of great theatrical import, that a story of success and madness is waiting to be shared with you, to teach us all something about art and life.

But no.  This is not the case.  The cause of my silence is much less profound.  Each time I began to consider writing over the past two months, I would sit down and stare at a blank page.  There I peered, into the void, and found nothing, nothing at all to say.

Let us be clear: this is not writer’s block.  This is something else.

Coming back from my summer away, I was ready.  With ten days left of a five show season running in rep, I remember a colleague wistfully remarking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just rotate our roles and go on for another three months?”  I recall quite fervently disagreeing.  I had enjoyed my summer, but the town we were in did not offer an artistic community that could stimulate and/or satisfy me.  The idea of rotating roles wasn’t enough.  I was hungry for the next thing.

Landing in New York the first week of August, I hit the ground running.  I reached out to someone about career coaching.  I began looking over headshot photographer portfolios, trying to establish a budget for new ones, which I needed desperately.  I looked for new songs I needed for my repertoire.  I popped into several open mics, singing with friends old and new.  I wrote a song in only four hours, and it turned out quite good, I think.  I watched documentaries.  I read books on theatre and ethics just for fun, and for some perspective on the whole Mike Daisey debacle.  I went to plays.  I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  I was a citizen of the city again.

And then: I collapsed.

I may have overestimated how much I could get done in such a brief amount of time.  But after about three weeks of consistent movement, and tangible–however small–progress, I found myself exhausted, emotionally overwhelmed, and yearning to crawl into a hole and bury myself.  Things were happening, but NOT. FAST. ENOUGH.  In only three weeks I had gone from being an employed actor, to discovering myself all the way back at square one, digging my nails into concrete, clinging to solid ground and shuddering.  I thought about writing, but what could I say?

“Today I woke and felt doubt.”

That didn’t seem very useful.  Who wants to read about that?

I did not think re-entry would be quite as hard as it was.  This summer marked my first out-of-town/quasi-Regional gig, and I think subconsciously I believed that upon my return, everything would be different.  I would have a larger sense of experience, I would have some more resume fodder, and I would maintain a positive sense of self that only comes from creation and work.  Lots of rainbows and lollipops all around.

I was wrong.*

*(Well, really only about the sense of self.  The experience, the fodder: check off those boxes.)

I’ve spoken to other friends about getting back into the game after time away.  Some things become easier: certain doors open faster because you can further validate your talent by another show of experience listed on the back of your headshot.  Well: super.  Some things become harder.  Because you’ve just worked, not working becomes SO MUCH MORE FRUSTRATING.  Your tolerance level is down for this BULLSHIT, because not so long ago you felt marginally fulfilled.  Well: fuck.

Why did I think I would return to a life more certain or structured, simply because I had been working for a few months?  Why did I take for granted that an artist needs to be their own source of stability first, because everything else in life is just too variable?

This summer was marked by a lot of death.  Two company members lost their grandmothers during the season.  A co-worker of mine at the day job I was working at before my summer gig was found dead in his apartment.  An actress who had been employed a few years previous by the theatre company I was contracted with, who had visited on and off throughout the summer, died suddenly the last week of our run.  And a month before I left town, someone I am quite close to was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I spent the majority of the summer trying to grasp at the reality of that last bit of information, while also seeking any possible distraction to start weaving an impenetrable Web of Denial.

When I got back to New York I was racing, trying to make every. moment. count., reminding myself to take nothing for granted, looking for opportunities everywhere.  The stakes were HIGH HIGH HIGH.  I kept going, driving myself forward with a frenzy.  And what happened?  In no time at all, I had worn myself out.  Running from your own death (or others’), it would seem, is quite draining.

One day, after a slight hiccup in my plans for artistic domination, I looked around and wondered: “Does any of this actually matter?”   And with that I just stopped.

When confronted with significant transition or change, whether it’s an adjustment to geographical location (a move, or going out-of-town for a gig), an abandonment or dismantling of established structure in daily activity (starting or ending a job), or a heightened awareness of your own mortality (exactly), the fact is: a period of adjustment is necessary.  And if you don’t take the time when you need it, you may find it forcing itself upon you while one side of your mind collapses some months later.

It’s been months since I last auditioned.  It’s been weeks since I bothered opening a copy of Backstage.  I can barely get myself to write, and when I do it takes days to eek out what used to take a few hours.  I finally got new headshots taken, but now am dragging my feet to pick the ones I want retouched in order to print.  Whenever I run into people I know but haven’t seen for a while due to my time away, I dread the question that always comes: “So are you working on anything now?”  When I try to shrug it off by saying, “Just my life,” or “Just myself,” I see a glaze of pitiable understanding come over their eyes.  I feel like a leper.  I hate it.  Consequently, I keep my socializing to a minimum.  I have nothing to share with anyone.

Could this crisis just be a passing phase of worry that comes from job seeking again after having been employed for a while?  Of course.  Then again, it might not.  Either way, it warrants investigation.

I have not succumb to a total breakdown–yet. (I think I’ve got at least ten to fifteen years before that finally happens.)  But I do find myself lost in questioning.  My life choices, my career choices, my dietary choices, my relationship choices, my fitness choices, my monetary disperse-ment choices–all of these things are suddenly up for analyzing–at length and with great depth.  If I was working on something right now, I probably would not be bothered by this much musing.  But that would not necessarily be healthy so much as a distraction.

This prospective–no, no, not “prospective”Eventual Death of that aforementioned person has caused me to take a good look at my life.  I don’t like everything I see.  I need to dismantle.  I need to rebuild.  And I need to know if this is what I really want: a life filled with uncertainty; possible eternal living hand to mouth; never really being settled, always looking for the next thing; making friendships that only extend to closing night.  Those are all of the bad things, of course, and they’re easy to dwell on while forgetting others: the rush and swell of a job well done; those moments of discovery in rehearsal and on stage; the occasional awareness that the audience is with you or your work completely, that they are compelled, that you have given them something and that they are giving you something back.  So many points of seduction of the senses.  But is it enough?

I always joke about quitting acting.  It’s usually followed with some statement about how I’ll pick up something else I love: “When I finally grow up and quit acting, then I’ll start making stop motion animation.” (Because there is just SO much money in that.)  But what if I did?

Or what if I just took a break?  Would that be horrible?  What could possibly happen?  What would I miss?  I would like to do anything that doesn’t involve memorizing another fucking monologue, just to be left hoping that the auditors will realize I’m good in under a minute.  God forbid I try  to make something tangible that still exists the next day.  To try and be left alone, not deal with the voices.

When I think about what I want, I find my career is further down on the list than it used to be.  There seems to be just so much else I would rather do than focus on finding work.  I’d like to–

  • Travel.  See the English countryside in spring, visit a friend in Paris.
  • Buy Havana Ovals and risk getting a ticket by smoking them while walking through Bryant Park wrapped up in a new coat (I don’t even smoke).
  • Write songs, play piano, and teach myself the clarinet (I have 6 notes so far).
  • Ignore everyone.
  • Delete my Facebook account and become a recluse.
  • Create meaningful relationships with people who understand, not people who pretend to care for the sake of networking.
  • Get married (someday).
  • Have a baby (many days after “someday”).

I’m pretty sure all of those things can happen while working at being a professional actor.  But looking back at that question I asked myself in regards to my career months ago (“Does any of this actually matter?”), I find the only acceptable answer to be: “Maybe not–but it matters to me.”  I just don’t know if it does yet.

My only inkling right now is that perhaps I have focused too long on this one aspect of theatrical work.  Perhaps now is the time to expand my expression as an artist by experimenting, wholeheartedly with other disciplines.  Leaving acting forever seems an impossible prospect, but perhaps this moment of pause (and complete lack of drive) that has descended upon me will actually lead to a greater realization of who I am as an artist on multiple levels.  This is what I’m hoping for, anyway.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2012 8:43 am

    Thank you for your honesty. This post touched home as I’ve been struggling with my own “what’s next” crisis. I, too, have found it very hard to write in the midst of this anxiety (which is why “dramachicks” has been languishing for months). I appreciate your willingness to share. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers as you work through this.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:30 pm

      Thank *you* for your feedback. It’s always nice to find out you’re not alone in this struggle, and hearing my feelings reflected in you is as therapeutic for me as I hope this was for you on some level. I thank you for your thoughts and prayers, and wish the best to you, too. Looking forward to reading up on your continual triumphing of female playwrights again!

  2. October 16, 2012 8:48 am

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing this with us. I think we all feel this way sometimes, and it’s nice to hear someone finally talking about it. Looking forward to reading about your next move 🙂

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:30 pm

      Thank you for your faith and encouragement!

  3. October 16, 2012 8:52 am

    This is very brave and very moving.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:32 pm

      Thanks so much, sir. I think your just-starting-acting-as-40-approaches is pretty brave, too.

  4. October 16, 2012 9:32 am

    Thank you for sharing this, I feel the same way sometimes, too, and totaly agree with having other stuff to do to keep your mind busy, works for me really well.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:32 pm

      Yes–if only we can keep ourselves busy enough!

  5. October 16, 2012 10:12 am

    I thought for a while that I wrote this article. I have, i have just never published it so honestly. Thank you indeed. I want to give encouragement of some sort, but I and you are both smart enough to know that doesn’t mean jack, and hence the reason for this post, damn.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:33 pm

      I accept your sentiment of encouragement very gratefully. 🙂

  6. The Growing Artist permalink
    October 16, 2012 3:28 pm

    This was extremely well written. I am so sorry you are going through this- but, I can guarantee that you are not alone. I have felt like this many times in the past, and I know that it is still lingering in the back of my mind now. This business is extremely difficult and unstable. Stay strong, and I am looking forward to hearing more about your journey!

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:35 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, not only about the writing, but regarding staying on the path. It’s hard, but important if that path carries you through/to your dharma. (I’m getting all yogic here, so I’ll stop now.)

  7. snary permalink
    October 16, 2012 8:27 pm

    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling for the past few months. I recently moved to the middle of nowhere for a job and it has been one of the toughest transitions of my life. I can relate to ALL of what you just wrote. Even the death part… so weird! Thank you for letting me know it isn’t just me.

    • The Reflective Artist permalink
      October 17, 2012 3:39 pm

      I’m so happy this piece of writing has been able to offer you some solace in its articulation. It’s also a comfort to me to know that I’m voicing something that isn’t necessarily unique to my experience–I am not alone! And neither are you. It doesn’t always make circumstances easier, per-say, but it does allow some piece of mind knowing others have been there and/or are going through it. A sense of isolation in times of crisis is often worse than the crisis at hand.

      I’m so happy I was able to share this here–it’s a bonus to me that it’s actually resonated with people.

  8. October 18, 2012 12:48 pm

    Everything you bullet-pointed: do it. Just do it. Do what you feel for a while. I think it will lead you in the right direction. It’s preoccupying your mind this much – it has produced this entire blog post. It’s just as important as your acting career. I feel like this is your life telling you something and you should just go do it. Maybe it will circle back to the theatre, maybe not. It probably will. There’s a stigma related to “abandoning everything” and living out a list like this, but don’t listen to that. Everything you want to do right now is valid. Thank you so much for sharing all this. Reading your post stopped me for a moment.

  9. California Triple-Threat permalink
    October 20, 2012 9:16 pm

    This hit home with me (and apparently everyone else too!). Funny, because I have a post coming up that talks about my resolution to keeping myself out of this… Thank you for sharing. ❤

  10. Raluca permalink
    October 21, 2012 4:26 pm

    great!It’s always nice to see that others are going through the same thing as u do,thousands of miles away,different country,different background,different culture,different religion…different everything.Thanks for the article!


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