I wanted to be a librarian so I could read all the books (I don’t think I really understood the concept of a library), and I used to sit at the kitchen table with a pile of my parents books and stamp their inside covers. There was a singular satisfaction in the guuush of the ink pad, the smaaack of the rubber stamp, and the authority I felt it imbued in me. I would often curl up in the corner of the couch with a book, wrapping myself in the worlds I imagined from the words on the pages.
I wanted to be an archeologist because I was fascinated with history and I liked playing in the dirt. In middle school, I even got to assist some University students on an archeological dig. Now, when I say I was fascinated with history, I don’t mean names & dates, I mean “how scary would it have been to be part of a wagon train out west!” Or, “I wonder what it was really like in the Royal court of medieval times!” I soon discovered I enjoyed dressing up and making believe I was living in another time period much more than I enjoyed carbon-dating chicken bones.
Then, at 12 years old, everything clicked. I watched Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of “Much Ado About Nothing” and I wanted to BE Emma Thompson. Her character Beatrice was strong, sarcastic, funny and atypically beautiful. I wanted to be that person, I wanted to play in that time period, I wanted to know those gorgeous words. I immediately pulled my parent’s worn Complete Works of William Shakespeare off the shelf and tried to read it… the whole thing. It was slow going, but that didn’t stop me. For months, I walked around the house quoting “To be or not to be…” I didn’t understand the meaning of all the words, but I loved the visceral feel of them rumbling in my throat and spilling from my lips with a life of their own.
At thirteen, years before ever kissing a boy, I was in love with William Shakespeare.
I was hooked and there was no denying it. I worked in the local theater, took acting classes and did school plays. I watched the Tonys and sometimes the Oscars and buzzed with the excitement of my future. I went to college on an acting scholarship and did at least one play a semester. As if cashing in on my childhood preparation, I played Hamlet in a University production. I made it to the regional finals for a prestigious national acting award. I imagined myself onstage in London or packing up my car, traveling state to state working in professional theater.
And I fell in love with a boy. A real one, who was very much alive and woo’d me with words that were more beautiful to me than those of Shakespeare.
I graduated college and went to London. And got rejection letters from every theater I sent my resume to… except one. I did a play in a pub, west of the West End. I saw as much theater as I could afford. Sitting in the dark, heart fluttering in adoration, I saw Dame Judi Dench live onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I backpacked Europe. I missed the boy desperately. After 6 months, I decided to move to LA, not because I was an actor and that was the hub of the acting world, but because the boy lived there.
I moved into his life. He’d been “the One” for 5 years; we lived together and we fell apart.
And then I was in this city I had never imagined myself in, frightened and grieving and resolving to make just one thing work out in all this mess. I threw myself into my acting career with every ounce of my being.
It didn’t take long to learn that theater in LA is the bastard stepchild of movies, and treated like the dirt below the first step on the ladder to success. So I turned my focus to film, learning the differences in acting techniques and how to play for the camera. I auditioned for commercials a five year old could’ve written and got an agent that never called – not even once. I let everything else I loved – writing, yoga, travel – fall by the wayside in the blinders-on pursuit of an LA success story.
Imagine having a college degree – magna cum laude, no less – in your field but being told it was a waste & you should’ve started at 5 if you’d really wanted this career. Imagine having to pay for a job interview, and at the interview, having to sign a waiver that you understand this interview in no way means you’re even being considered for the job. Imagine walking into a room full of people that look just like you, except hotter. Imagine being told you’re the best candidate for the position except they can’t hire someone so short. Or brunette. Such a shame, we’ll keep you on file.
Five years of this and, instead of hating this absurd industry, I hated myself. I wasn’t good enough, tall enough, thin enough, connected enough. Despite being told in classes and on set, as I’d been told my whole acting life, that I was talented, I was never given the professional chance to prove it and therefore it started to lose meaning. I didn’t believe in myself and I didn’t like the person I’d become. The joy and creativity were gone; I was no longer an artist, but a face-for-hire.
And dating like a 5th member of Sex and the City, although exciting, was unfulfilling. The Ex was a constant shadow over every relationship and I wondered if the part of me that knew how to love had faded away like Hamlet’s speech from my memory.
I’ve already told you about the breakdown. About carrying the lonliness and failure achingly in my gut. About crying, uncontrollably, every day. About the feeling that a huge chunk of my heart was dying.
I decided that, in order to save myself, I had to stop acting. I felt like a failure and a big ol’ mess, but my amazing friends were supportive & encouraged me to take a break and regroup. And in the stillness and emptiness that followed, I could just faintly hear, from across the world, an adventure calling…
to be continued…