Category Archives: Hard Stuff

We’ll See What Happens

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The view out the back of my new home studio in Indiana.
The view out the back of my new home studio in Indiana.

When I worked through The Artist’s Way almost 3 years ago, I had an idea of what the book and 12 week program might offer me in the short term – some insight into my creative strengths and weaknesses and hopefully renewed energy for my creative pursuits.

What I wasn’t sure about was how it might affect me in the long term. What would stick? What would be cast aside, like so many other creative coats I’ve tried on over the years?

Well, here it is almost 3 years later, and I am surprised to report that what has stuck with me the most are the morning pages. I write them nearly every morning. Sometimes life gets hectic (I’m looking at you, stressful cross-country move) and I set them aside for a few days or even a few weeks. There’s a lull in the conversation between my psyche and me. I just can’t be bothered, or I’m too overwhelmed, or I’m so focused on a big project that I don’t want to sacrifice that precious morning time. Those handful of magic minutes first thing in the morning where I’m most positive, enthusiastic and ready to get down to business.

But I always pick them back up.

Mostly, they are a laundry list of what I did the previous day and what I’m hoping to accomplish on that day. I list my worries, my complaints. I think the phrase I use most often (usually several times in one sitting) is “We’ll see what happens.”

And then there are days like today, where I plunge a little deeper. I shine some light on some of the darker places. I don’t just write down that I feel kind of shitty or disappointed or tired or overwhelmed. I ask myself WHY I feel kind of shitty or disappointed or tired or overwhelmed.

This move from Los Angeles to Indiana has taken my almost complete focus for the last six months or so. I knew this would happen. Which is one of the reasons why I was so resistant to it for so long. I already feel like I’m behind in my life. Like I’m racing to catch up with everyone else. I didn’t want to get even further behind.

Now that we’ve successfully packed up all of our stuff, shipped it across the country, took our two nervous and drugged cats on a plane, lived with my parents for a month, closed on a house, moved all our stuff and the cats into the house, totally redid the plumbing, painted some rooms and have mostly unpacked, I’m starting to feel a little restless.

Restless?

I suppose that’s kind of weird to feel restless after such a huge expenditure of energy. But I haven’t put any energy whatsoever into any of my creative pursuits for the last six months, and I feel it. I think that’s why I feel so shitty. I’ve been neglecting that part of myself, and it’s ready to come back out.

I’m a little overwhelmed thinking about all the pieces to pick back up again. What will I focus on? Writing? Acting? Creativity coaching? Something else? I’m hoping that as I continue to get settled, that I’ll find the focus.

In the meantime, I’ll get back into my creative routines (morning pages, weekly blog posts, sending queries out for my first novel, working on the second). I’ll start some new routines (walking on the beach, joining a local writers group, seeing theater in Chicago). I’ll see what rises to the surface, what clamors for more attention.

We’ll see what happens.

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Go

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"You Are Beautiful" sign welcoming people to the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, where we are planning to move. Part of the You Are Beautiful public art project https://you-are-beautiful.com/pages/public-art
“You Are Beautiful” sign welcoming people to the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary. Part of the You Are Beautiful public art project https://you-are-beautiful.com/pages/public-art

I’ve been a firm believer in trusting my intuition for many years now.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as easy as all that. There’s much hand-wringing, and forehead-rubbing, and stomachaches, and internal arguments that go on. I hear that inner voice telling me what to do. And sometimes I rationalize its arguments away. Sometimes I ignore it. Sometimes I listen to it for awhile and then get distracted by other things.

But I always end up going back to that voice. I’ve learned that it tells me what I need to know, whether I want to hear it or not. And I’ve learned (and am still learning) to trust what that voice says.

And right now that voice is telling me it’s time to go.

I know. It’s scary.

It’s been telling me this for awhile, but I haven’t been listening. Well, I’ve been listening, but I haven’t been trusting. I’ve been explaining it away. I’ve been rationalizing arguments not to go.

But I now trust that it’s time to go.

After all, I’ve chosen this life. I’ve chosen a life of creative adventure over financial security. I’ve chosen wildness over stability. I’ve chosen to satisfy my curiosity, not to stock my coffers. And because I’ve been listening to that unpredictable inner voice, that intuition, I’ve found the adventures I’m looking for. I take risks. I uproot myself and start over. I take a fresh perspective. I upend things, even when it appears they are thrumming along quite healthily.

So, now is that time. I’m uprooting, upending and relocating myself.

I am going back from whence I came.

I am moving back home.

It feels REALLY WEIRD. I’ve spent more of my life away from home than I have living there. I have loads of worries. Will I fit in? Will I even want to fit in? Will I make new friends? Will I be depressed? Will I get really fat? Will I be unhappy? Will I hate it? Will I think it’s a mistake?

Will I feel like a failure?

But, amidst all those (VERY LOUD) worries, that inner voice says, loud and clear, GO.

GO HOME.

IT’S TIME TO GO HOME.

So, hubs and I are packing it up and moving from Los Angeles, my love affair of the last ten years, to Indiana. An hour outside Chicago. On the lakefront. In Gary.

Yes, Gary.

We are moving to Gary, Indiana.

I can’t hardly believe I’m typing that, let alone DOING it.

But that voice, loud and clear, has said “IT’S TIME.” And for some reason it’s also saying “GO TO GARY,” which, if you’re from the area, you know that’s just UNHEARD OF. Who moves to Gary?

Apparently, I do. And hubs. Even hubs trusts my intuition, which is practically screaming “GARY, INDIANA!!!!!” at me all the time now that I’m listening and trusting.

I’m in for a major course adjustment. But every other time in my life it has been exactly the thing I’ve needed. But I’ve never moved away from someplace I’ve come to love so intensely.

I love it here. I love Los Angeles. And I will miss it terribly. And the friends who have become more like family. I will miss them more than I could ever possibly express. I will miss the life I have created here.

But new adventures await. I see a world of possibility before me. My spirit, even though it is scared shitless, is also exhilarated about what the future might hold.

There’s much work to be done before the move happens. I’m exhausted just by the thought of it. But it must be done. The wheels have been set in motion, and it is time to move forward with their momentum.

More to come. So much more to come.

What’s On My Mind…

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Do you ever feel like you have so much on your mind that you couldn’t possibly fit one more thing in there?

Do you have those days where the happy thoughts are working overtime to try to shoulder out the unpleasant ones?

Are there days when it feels like your brain might actually explode?

Yeah, me too.

The last few weeks I’ve been re-doubling (quadrupling?) my efforts to expunge some of these negative thoughts from my head. They don’t do me any good, really, and I’m getting tired of them.

So…I did what any creative person might do and I busted out my beautiful new journal with the thick, buttery pages (that I scored at Marshall’s for $5.99!) and committed some of these negative thoughts to paper.

Sometimes, I just need to get them out, let them have their say, thank them for whatever lesson it is they’re trying to impart (mostly, I know, they are just trying to protect me, however misguided they are), and show them on their way.

I took the most unflattering picture of myself that I could, pasted it to the paper, and over the course of about two weeks, dumped whatever garbage was hanging out in the dusty corners – or, admittedly, right in the front – of my mind.

The more I wrote them down, the less weight they had. In fact, some of them seemed downright ridiculous once I wrote them 6, 8, a dozen times.

Now the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous, and makes me laugh at the absurdity of it.

And since I’m getting in the practice of sharing some of the harder stuff, so that maybe it will become easier stuff for all of us, here is that ridiculous masterpiece of the absurd:

What is on my mind...

Sometimes you just gotta confront those demons, acknowledge they exist, and politely send them on their way. Or, in this case, expose them to everybody so they diminish in power.

I highly recommend this little exercise. I’m embarrassed to show it to you, but I think that’s the point. In sharing it, I’m taking away it’s power to shame me.

So…what’s on your mind?

Talking About Hard Stuff: Student Loan Debt

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ephron

There’s a new documentary out about Nora Ephron, made by her son. It’s called Everything is Copy, which refers to her insistence that all matters of her intimate life were to be shared in her work.

I love Nora Ephron, and I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, about the need to share the intimate stuff, the hard stuff.

So as of today I’m starting a new section of my blog, a dedicated place where I talk about the hard stuff.

Why? As a personal challenge, for starters. I tend to shy away from talking about the really hard stuff. I’ve got a laundry list of hard stuff I never talk about, and I don’t think it serves me, and I know it doesn’t serve my work.

I’m also doing it because people tend to respond to the hard stuff, because they have hard stuff, too, and it makes them feel less alone maybe.

So – here goes.

I had a really bad couple of hours on Friday, and in the thick of it I posted something about it on Facebook. I was surprised at the number of responses it solicited. It’s a topic that’s hard for a number of people, it seems, and it only gets harder the older we get. And that topic is…

…student loan debt.

I spent Friday afternoon on the phone with Navient trying to work out a stupid paperwork issue so that I don’t have to pay $859 a month in loan payments. It was agonizing, and a couple of times while speaking with them on the phone I actually had to stop and breathe because I was ugly crying and my throat was closing in on itself and I couldn’t get words to come out of my mouth. Frankly, I don’t think “Keith” in India really gave a shit. I mean, poor privileged white American girl who can’t pay her bills. I get it. I would call bullshit on me, too.

My husband was understandably worried about me. It’s probably not a nice thing to see your wife hunched over, her head on her desk, sobbing to Indian Keith on the phone, not making much sense. Hubs did the only thing he could think to do – he rubbed my shoulders and told me it would be OK. Which was nice, even though I didn’t believe him.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s what’s got me so upset.

As of this moment, I owe $91,762.32 on my student loans. That’s about $20,000 more than when I graduated 14 years ago.

It’s a punch in the stomach, writing that.

I hadn’t looked up the actual number in awhile, and I thought it was about $85,000. So, yeah, it’s actually $6,000 more than I thought.

What did I buy for $91,762.32? A BFA and an MFA in Acting. Go ahead and laugh. I would laugh, too, at the absurdity of spending $91,762.32 to learn how to be a fucking actor of all things if it wasn’t such a sad and sickening reality.

I’m 40. The reality is that I just don’t make any real money working in the arts. Some people do. I have many friends who do. I’m glad for them. But for whatever reasons, whether it’s the choices I made or things that I have no control over, I never landed a really great job as an actor.

Now, I’m smart. I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class and I have an advanced degree. I could work outside my industry. I could teach. I could work in sales. I could bartend. I could work as an executive assistant. I’ve done all those things, in fact.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and in it she talks about never relying on your creativity to pay the bills. She talks about the honor of having an outside job that pays the bills so that your creativity has room to breathe, that it doesn’t have the burden of responsibility placed on it.

I get that, as an idea. And I’ve tried that. For years and years and years. And you know what I found? That, at the end of the day, I was too exhausted by the hustle to have any energy left to put towards my creativity. I’m hard-working, and I’m loyal. The job I’m being paid to do will always be the one that comes first. That’s the way I was raised and it’s hard-wired into me. Compound that with living in New York and Los Angeles during those years, and suddenly the amount of money you need to just get by is exponentially higher. But you have to live there because that’s where most of the work is. And trying to have a regular job while also trying to be an actor is nearly impossible. Actors have to have spontaneously flexible schedules because sometimes you only get a half day’s notice about an audition.

All of that is exhausting, and it’s not a great environment for creativity to feel safe and welcome.

The only times I’ve ever been able to make decent payments on my student loan is when I have worked outside my industry. I remember those times. That’s when I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and taking blood pressure medication at 30 because I was so fucking stressed out. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but unless I’m actively working at a creative job every day I am totally. Fucking. Miserable. It actually feels like part of my soul dies every day. There have been so many mornings where I would cry over my eggs because the thought of going to the office was so dreadful it made me feel physically ill.

What bothers me about this, is that I was allowed –  encouraged, really – to buy something, to take out a loan for something, that was probably never going to be the thing I did to pay off that loan (in fact, at least half of my classmates, maybe more, are not making a living as a working actor). Why did I borrow $91,762.32 and spend seven years of my life becoming a fucking awesome actor, if I could never hope to pay that money back by being an actor? Why was I made to feel like I was lucky to be paying so much for this education? That it was a fucking privilege to leave school with such an expensive degree?

That’s sick, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Normally, I’m a good sleeper. But it’s 2 a.m. on a Sunday night and I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about this suffocating monkey on my back. So I’m up writing about it, because I don’t know what else to do.

My husband thinks that something is going to happen, that there are too many people like me, too many people who have crippling student loan debt, who have no hope of ever being able to pay them off, that there will be some sort of change in the future, some kind of relief. I so wish for that to be true.

But, in dark moments, I don’t believe that will ever happen. I assume I will die without ever paying this loan off. That I won’t be able to collect social security. That I will live at or near the poverty line for the rest of my life, and that I will have to work until the day I die.

Look, I made the choices that led to this. I own that. And I’m making choices now that are contributing to my debt getting bigger instead of smaller. I own that, too. I made the choice that I just can’t work another 9 to 5 office job, or worse, work in a restaurant. I’m able to make just enough money to keep myself afloat by freelancing. I write thousands of words every week for various websites. I work as a personal assistant in someone’s home. I put together pitch decks for TV shows in development. I finished my first novel and I’m looking for a literary agent. I’m co-writing a screenplay with a talented friend whose first feature is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

I act now and again when a project comes up. But I don’t pursue it full time because pursuing acting is really expensive, especially in Los Angeles. There are so many things you “have” to buy – new headshots every year, great audition clothes, regular haircuts (and colors, now that I’m getting grey hairs – can’t be old here!), casting director workshops you have to pay to attend in order to meet anyone, classes you should be taking…it’s a never-ending money-suck being an actor, and I just can’t stomach laying out that kind of cash anymore. Not when I already owe $91,762.32 for my training.

I’m actually happy doing what I’m doing. I work really hard. I’m extremely disciplined. I get up at 6:30 most mornings and am at my desk working by 8. I’m always on the lookout for new gigs, and for creative ways to make more money. And when I’m not thinking about this crippling debt, I feel pretty good. But then I remember how much I owe, and how little I make being creative, and I end up in a shame spiral, admonishing myself and feeling sorry myself at the same time. It’s a crappy place to be.

I come from a working class family. My dad was a steel worker and my mom worked in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Now she works in the floral department of a grocery store. I learned about hard work and sacrifice from them. I learned that most people work hard at jobs they don’t love. Because that’s how it is.

I have loads of shame about this debt, and that I’m still sticking to my artistic guns in the face of it. It sometimes feels self-indulgent and ego-centric and I hate myself for it. It’s safe to say I often feel tortured about being an artist in a culture that doesn’t value art. I haven’t had commercial success, and I may never have it. But I keep going because I have to, the core of who I am dictates it. All other choices make me feel awful and dead inside.

I don’t have any answers. And when I ask myself if I would do it again, if I would go to college and graduate school again, I know the answer. Yes, I would. It was transformative for me personally and as an artist. My whole experience of the world is different, richer, because of it.

But I would handle this debt differently. I wouldn’t just presume, at 25, that someday I’d book a national commercial that would pay off the debt. Because I haven’t and I probably won’t. I’d be smarter about my choices. And, frankly, I think my education should have better prepared me, prepared all of us, for what the likely reality would be. Give us some pointers on how to handle enormous debt in the most expensive cities, advice on where to find the jobs that are both actor-friendly and not soul-crushing.

I can’t go back, of course. I’ve got to figure out what to do going forward.

I do think our system needs radical change. It’s criminal how much an education costs, while the banks financing those education loans keep getting richer. But, that’s the American Way, isn’t it? The rich get richer and fuck everybody else. The banks get bailed out, but the little guys with not a cent to spare get no relief.

Alright. Well.

That’s the hard stuff I decided to tell you about today. There’s more hard stuff to talk about, and as I find the courage I’ll write about it here. It makes me feel so incredibly exposed and vulnerable and scared, but I think that means it’s worth doing.

I must be off now, for if I have any hope of being productive tomorrow (i.e. make some money to pay off my debt) I better get at least a few hours of sleep.

Be well, friends.