What I’m thinking and/or wanting to say.
What I’m actually saying out loud.
I was at a bachelorette party in Breckenridge, Colorado last month celebrating my best friends upcoming nuptials. It was the dopest group of chicks, and I couldn’t have concocted a better getaway if I’d tried. We were on the most intense overnight white water rafting trip. I’m talking female bonding to the max! There were six of us…half of us actors. Side note: Can we just stick with actors and not make the gender differentiation? I mean we don’t call female doctors doctresses. We don’t call female lawyers lawyerettes. We don’t call female boxers boxerinas. Ya know?
There were about 15 groups, 8 to a boat. Since we were only 6, we had a couple that joined us on our boat. Our plus two weren’t exactly, the greatest people I’ve ever met, to be diplomatic. But, they also weren’t the worst. They were just regular, quiet, slightly passive-aggressive people. I was in the front of the boat with them (lucky me!) and made sure to say dick and vagina as many times as I could naturally incorporate it into conversation. Let’s just say we didn’t become better friends by the end of the trip or anything. At one point, we pulled off the river for a snack break. Our river guides were unbelievable…y good looking. And charming, and smart, and kept us safe, energized and in tune with the water. As they were preparing our delicious spread, the river rats (us) splayed out on the abandoned train tracks to soak up the rays and dry our icy wet suits and warm our chilled bones. It was during this time that I became uncomfortable. Is there a rock under my back? What the hell is that? Oh! It’s the sound of my “new friend” insulting my real friend; my actor friend. Went something like this:
Jag off: So what do you guys all do? (Oooh…this one’s my favorite)*
Friend 1: Well, she’s a stylist. She works for MAC (the make-up company). She’s a super-model (sorry boys, she’s spoken for, I already tried to date her myself). And us three? Well, we’re all actors.
Jag off: Actors? Really?
Friend 1: (quizzically) Yup?!
Jag off: So… (wait for it…) have you guys made it yet?
Friend 1: (like the bad ass she is)…. Well I’m here on a Tuesday, so I’m gonna go with yeah. Pretty much.
Followed by words of wisdom from….
Friend 2: Dude, I bought a condo in the middle of Manhattan at 22. That answer your question? You dumb bitch.
Now I realize I’m being a little harsh. It wasn’t my new ‘not friends’ fault entirely. I don’t necessarily know that she was intentionally trying to insult anyone. But this question has become so empty. It’s been added to the litany of inane and meaningless questions we are conditioned to ask, but don’t really care to have honestly answered. And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking we’re asking the wrong questions.
I was recently at a wedding and someone at the other end of the long table leaned over, looking right at me (oh no, oh no, oh no! I totally know what’s coming. God damn it can’t I just get wasted and pile drive this cake into my mouth) and asked me that obligatory question no one wants to answer, so why the fuck do we ask it:
What do you do?
To which I replied, “I don’t think that’s what you really mean to ask, but I’ll try to answer you”
I do being a sister and a daughter.
I do some photography.
I write a food blog.
I’m a vegan cook/baker.
I’m a mom to a dog.
I do acting in TV and movies when I’m lucky.
I used to wait tables for a long time and I actually really loved it (sometimes).
I do Mary Jane for funsies.
I do Christmas at my folks.
I do animal rights activism.
I do charity.
I mentor a not so little anymore girl through the Catholic Big Brother Big Sister program (I’m technically Jewish, though not religious, and chose this mentoring group because they were in much greater need of mentors than some of the other groups)
I’m a friend. (This is my favorite thing I get to do…Friends in fact, say I’m excellent at it).
I do work in a twelve-step program.
I do reading books for fun. I’m almost finished with Half the Sky, a beautiful book about female oppression, and can’t wait to start Man’s Search for Meaning.
I sang in a band for a while and learned how to play some instruments.
I. Do. So. Many. Things. And together ALL OF THEM SHAPE ME.
I’m an actor. For the record, it took me exactly 37 minutes to look at that statement typed out on my computer without cringing. Over the course of that time it was erased, re-written, revised, re-stated, re-erased, and then finally I surrendered and what came out was this:
I’m an actor.
Gonna just let that one hang for a second…
It’s so uncomfortable for me, and so many of you, as I well know, to confidently call myself an actor. We like to qualify it so no one challenges us: aspiring actor (don’t worry, I know my life has no meaning and I’m just a wayward, hapless fool), working actor (probably as a glorified extra on a terrible soap opera), out of work actor (waitress), struggling actor (hi, Prozac!), successful actor (this one’s my favorite, too. So many favorites*), dramatic actor (no I don’t do commercials, I studied Shakespeare, jerk and I still owe like 50 grand for my classical fuck all training), stage actor (please God someone take me seriously), film actor (I can say that since I was in a horror movie right? And of course by horror movie, I do mean torture porn), washed up actor, has been actor, B-list, C-list, D-list actor.
We good here?
Hi, I went to fucking drama school. I am skilled at this craft whether I get constant professional/paid practice or not (Oh boy, here comes Santa Claus with a sleigh full of rage and fear based entitlement). I have spent ten years and THOUSANDS of dollars on my business, whether it’s new pictures, updating my reel, creating my own projects just so I don’t kill myself because I could no longer feel my creative pulse, acting classes, commercial voice over classes, animation voice over classes, looks like I have another reel to create, writing classes, improv groups, teaching drama to kids, therapy, camera, sound and lighting equipment to put myself on tape for producers out of state. Please stop making me feel++ like I need to be boxed in a category of “how’s all that going for you?” Please don’t treat me like my entire life’s work means diddly-squat unless you recognize my face or know my name. Basically don’t decide if you like my clothes (me) after you see the tag says free people. I don’t need to be branded. I want to be seen. Truly seen. Nobody puts baby in a corner+
Except, well for me. I put baby in the corner. The very behavior I’m describing as cringe-worthy is something I do ALL THE TIME to myself and other actors. I used to hate myself for it, but now it makes so much sense to me. Now, I understand it.
See, I think I’m protecting myself by making myself so small. Self-deprecation, aside from sometimes being hilarious, can also be wildly damaging to ones self-esteem. You get so used to shitting all over yourself just to save face that you actually wind up hating yourself eventually. Whoops! Now I’m a self-loathing piece of shit. Little me would be so disappointed. Actually, little me would just probably give big me a hug and say, “You’re okay. Don’t ever change…”**
Now imagine my fear after booking my first significant TV job in over two years and trying to share it with people. TWO YEARS. (Significant: when your characters name is Jessica and not stupid hooker, girl one, or dumb blonde to the left) The very things I’m asking you not to do, I did. On the plane to my new job:
Seat mate: So are you coming home or leaving home?
Me: Leaving home!
Seat mate: Vacation?
Me: No. Work! (Yessss, he’s gonna ask me what for and than BLAMO I’m a star bitch. Wait. No. Ugh! You’re doing it. Don’t be that guy. Don’t overinflate. This is literally the smallest part EVER. Who cares?! It’s practically not even happening).
Seat mate: Cool, what do you do?
Me: Oh, uh… (Yay! No! Yay! No! Ahhhhh!!! I hate to love myself and I love to hate myself. Quickly, quickly now… he stopped speaking like thirty whole seconds ago…it’s TIME! Speak woman!) I’m an actor! (Oof, overdid it. Def overdid it there).
Seat mate: Wow seriously? That’s so cool. Can I have your autograph? I’ve never met a real actor.
Me: (No. He. Did. Not. You could get more on ebay for my tit sweat than my fucking autograph dude. Truuuust me) Um…are you serious?
Seat mate: Yeah.
Me: (Oh my god this is terrible. Why does this feel so embarrassing? And fraudulent? Oh, I know! Better make a joke at my own expense…works like a Xanax every time) Well, I don’t do this very often but since you asked nicely. (Good one, Alex, you sound tre important). Last time I gave someone my autograph it’s because they thought I was Fergie.***
Seat mate: Thanks! Ya know…just in case you become famous.
Me: (Easy, A. Easy. You know he didn’t mean it like THAT. He’s just excited because he thinks you’re cool for all the wrong reasons. Roll with it). Riiiiight. Just in case.
Ear buds go in (international for … we’re done here now). And I can hear him chuckle as he looks at my signature on his resume (don’t you like…need to give that to someone one day so they give you a job? Please don’t go telling them someone famous signed it. Then we’ll all look like assholes).
Seat mate: (to himself) So cool.
But it didn’t stop there. It was pulling out my script (which fancifully boasts my name in huge watermarked lettering across every page) in a café the way Tina Fey might do in a goddamn sitcom to draw attention to herself. Only I was for real. My self-esteem was so low that I couldn’t just be like - Yeah I have a job. Sometimes I have different jobs that are a tiny bit less awesome or less well paid. No big deal. Truth is, this job will not change my life. Back packing around South America? Life changing. Trying to save a baby bird that broke its wing last week? Life changing. Watching a dog give birth to ten puppies? Life changing, man. This TV job? Pretty damn cool. Not life changing (not yet, of course ; )
And then if someone tried to downplay my job my ego would have a shit show! I was a drug addict fiending for validation. Like, if I had a baby I would have left her unfed to go find validation kind of addict. It was so painful…all of these feelings smacking me in the face and being processed not before the job started, but right smack dab in the middle of shooting. My first episode I couldn’t get out of my head. I didn’t know how to take space, how to have a voice, how to be the person they probably thought they hired. And so naturally, I returned to New York feeling like a failure.
But it’s because I failed myself. I abandoned Alex. When they called me to ask me to come back for a second episode I burst into tears, manically declaring that I quit and I should be working at a fistula clinic somewhere in Africa doing something that actually makes a difference in the world instead of this dumb shit.
And then little Alex stopped by to check in on me (she has like…the most impeccable timing). Hey! What’s up? Why so scared? I think they like you, and so they want to have another play date with you. Let’s go! Can we please go? We can do….whatever the hell this is….later. I promise!
I wanted it for so long, and as soon as I got it, it wasn’t good enough. And the next thing certainly won’t be good enough either. And the next, and the next, and so on…. Until I become willing to break the cycle. And that is hard, but totally doable.
So hear me, my dear beautiful artist friends… we have to love ourselves. It’s okay to post pictures on social media of you in your dressing room or on the red carpet. Do it! Celebrate your success! But here’s the thing… you’re okay to be your authentic self, too. Facebook doesn’t have to be your highlight reel. We don’t have to build everything up. We don’t have to lie. We’re allowed to be excited about jobs that are small in size, but still a huge source of fulfillment for us. And there doesn’t have to be a reason why. Excitement makes you happy. And being happy makes you live longer.****
I will work harder not to judge you when you jump up and down about a callback. The truth is, I envy your youthful optimism. I vow not to shame you (even in my head) for thinking it’s a big deal that you booked a recurring role on a major TV show (even though it’s a co-star, and some episodes you only have one line). I won’t do it to you, and I won’t do it to me either. I’m just happy I get to play with you from time to time. Grateful that the work we get to do (at least want to do) has been proven to bring people out of depression, shed light on stories that might not otherwise be heard or understood, and show, by example, that vulnerability is a rare and beautiful choice we can all make.
And without further adieu, please let me introduce you to some of my wildly talented, and criminally underemployed artist friends.
Hanne Steen: Hanne is a writer, and co-founder of Her Clay Heart, which she started with another insanely talented photographer friend Carla Richmond. Go here and see their work. Prepare to be inspired: www.herclayheart.com
Reuben Reynoso: Reuben is a Los Angeles based photographer, specializing in under water/mermaid photography! What the fuck does that even mean? Good question. Go here to find out: www.reynosophotography.com
Katie Naylon: Quite possibly one of the smartest and funniest women I know. She wrote the movie “For a Good Time Call…” and inside her brain is the next generation of Judd Apatow films, but for women: https://twitter.com/itskatieanne
Kali Cook: Kali is an LA based actor and writes and produces a lot of her own work! Her film 40 Hours went to a bunch of film festivals and she keeps plugging away at it. Her dedication to the craft is unwavering, and nothing short of impressive: www.kalicook.com
Kate Rogal: Kate is an actor/writer, too. She’s ALSO an insane visual artist for hire. She specializes in PURE GENIUS and can do anything. These days she’s really into beading portraits all by hand. These brilliant pieces take up to thirty hours to make. They are breathtaking: www.katesfreakart.com
Sarah Goodson: Another writer. And a deeply heart-felt one at that. She is a babe and she’s gonna get a book deal any day know, as soon as the world knows what’s good for it... http://sarahaudacious.blogspot.com/
Chloe Lear Jackson: Songstress of the night. Bitch can sing, man. Just listen here. There are no words. I’m pretty sure she has no idea what she’s got going on. Not fully: http://www.chloelearjackson.com/talk.html
Sarah Wright: I met Sarah filming a little movie and we played sisters. Five years later, she still calls me sis. Not only is she one of the most beautiful women I know, she’s also an incredible mother, friend and wife. Another favorite actor friend to show off: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3080981/
Aimie Lovett: Aimie was my band mate for three years. She moved to LA from Texas to make an album. She invited me into her band because I wanted a chance to grow musically in a safe environment. She taught me, well…everything. She is the reason I nurtured my musical inclinations. And I play some instruments BECAUSE OF HER: www.loretti.us
Anthony Carrigan: Anthony is one of my best friends for twelve years. He is an incredibly talented actor and worked a lot in the beginning of his career. He faced a lot of adversity because of his alopecia. Then he decided to stop trying to cover it up. A year and a half ago he finally shaved his head and hasn’t stopped working since: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alexisnedd/gothams-anthony-carrigan-talks-acting-alopecia-and-learning
Tim Rock: Tim is just comfortable with who he is and what he has to offer in the most gracious yet unapologetic way. He was my writing partner for a little while and we made some funny shit together. I think so, anyway. If you haven’t hired him yet, you should: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1511992/
Tarina Szemzo: My first real friend in this world. We learned to love signing together. I steered in the direction of acting, but she kept singing and writing music and singing and taking over the world with her sultry voice. What a beautiful gift she has. Take a listen if you want to soothe your soul…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd5t7d7rcDw
Graham Outerbridge: Quite literally (and not literally in the way hipsters love to misuse the word, but like…actually literally) the funniest person I know. His actors essence screams hapless romantic that you love to love. When he’s on screen you feel so many things. Joy, laughter, compassion, awkwardness that you hate to love, and he’s handsome to boot! Hire him, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKYObqo2bus
Dan Amboyer: I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with Dan and to say he’s of the finest caliber of actors is an understatement. But it’s his positive attitude and strength of character that make him a force to be reckoned with: http://www.danamboyer.com/
Kimberly Leemans: I just met Kim on set! We are both in a new city, on a new show working to build our resumes. I was instantly drawn to this woman, and it’s no surprise! Our lifestyles are so similar! In the last year we have both traveled solo around different parts of the world in an effort to recharge our souls, we both shot a documentary/unscripted series about our passion for living sustainable and cruelty free lives, and neither is afraid to boast about our habit of reading self-help books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKbC6RMiGVE
Sara Jean Ford: Sara is a mom, a friend, and OF THE MOST TALENTED BROADWAY STARS ON THE PLANET (I can hear her blushing 2,000 miles away). She played Christine in Phantom on Broadway and stole hearts. She stole my heart when I heard her humming in the shower as she rehearsed a heart felt musical gift for our dear friends wedding reception. She is also a voice teacher, and an excellent one at that. Check her out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR16jRHa80Q
Believe it or not, this list is only a SELECT FEW of my friends who make beautiful and varying art. (Still there’s Kersti Bryan, Matt Gould, Darcy Yellin, Griffin Matthews, Blake Griffin, Ian Alda, Andreas Riter, Madeline Bleu, Jessie Barr, Josh Fingerhut, Jessie Schneiderman, Dana Ashbrook, JJ Kee, Tory Shulman, Greg Sims, Megan Rosati, Marissa Lesch, and the list goes on and on and on…..)
* And by favorite, I mean fuck you.
* And again by favorite, I mean fuck you.
+ If you don’t know what movie this is from that’s a damn shame and/or you were born after 1990.
** …Your outfit, because it’s fabulous!
++ Uh, uh! No one can make you do anything.
*** True story, yo. Only it was twelve Czech schoolboys and they swarmed me; didn’t leave happy until I had scribbled Fergie on all their notebooks.
****This has to be true, right?