Just don’t say it. Ever. Not to me or any of my peers. We’re damaged enough by whatever hole in our personality drove us to hop on this crazy circus train to begin with, so please don’t ask. Or if you do, be prepared for an answer that could come out with a mix of venom or self-pity; depending on the status of our relationship with what we do is that day. You see, the average Creative spends ninety percent of their life looking for work, and the other ten percent bitching about getting the job they now feel they can’t complain about. I recall a friend who was active in union politics a while back describe that we had both had decent years – made 18,000 or so in income as an actor and because of that 18,000 grand – were in the top like three percent of our field. It was staggering. Imagine a Doctor in the top three percent of their field. They make more than 18,000, I think.
I’m a lifer. And have been all in since way back. This is what I do. Tell stories. Share light on the human experience. Play dress up. Make the funny. Pull the rug out. Shien the light, make us all feel more connected or… etc. I aim at truth, and hit it every once in awhile. If I could do something else I would. Trust me, I tried.
But I digress. The point is, please, don’t ask that question. It’s kind of like going to a sausage factory… you can’t un-see what you see and there will be a faint odor following you in and out of your car for a few weeks after.
Makes me think of Dizzy G saying when asked what jazz is, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know…” or something like that.
It’s okay. You have no idea. Nor should you. Just for a matter of reference, I will say that when an actor or writer or Creative blah blah blah…. gets asked this dreaded question in casual conversation, they feel automatically like they are not doing enough, or that their whole lifestyle is under scrutiny (if they are anything like me, that is). I’ve done this too long and would rather not defend my life to a complete stranger. This is especially true with those of us who grew up in public. On TV. Commonly known as Child Stars. There is this myth that if you haven’t seen us on TV, that we don’t exist. That we ceased being altogether. John Prine wrote a few great tunes about it….”Jesus, the Missing Years” and “Sabu visist the Twin Cities Alone.”
I won’t get into the role I, and others like me, play in our collective nostalgia, but let me assure you I am real. And the answer to your question is… why the f–k does it matter? Not what you wanted to hear? I’m sorry to tell you the true nature of the Easter Bunny, but a life in the arts is rarely, if ever, a straight line. And the only fair I know of is in Pomona. Maybe that’s the thing in our culture, this myth of a meritocracy – the illusion that we can pull ourselves up into success by our grit and can-do attitude alone. But the reverse side of this is dangerous. It creates distorted perceptions of success and purpose. And worse… expectation. Which then pollutes things downstream, creates inbalance in society and within individuals with songs in their hearts.
Life is a creative act. The rest are bells and whistles and things we take out to dust once in awhile.
I have long since stopped mistaking my accomplishments for my successes (thanks to the mentorship of a few people who took the time to right my boat). I know my accomplishments. I can measure them. See them. They are within my control. They have turned me into what I am today. I’ve been feeling this call to arms lately to speak in defense of all of us out here in The Wilderness keeping the faith. Maybe to simply remind you, you are not alone. You’re not alone, even when you feel vain, bitter, disillusioned or envious of friends, then angry at yourself for being bitter or resentful or petty or envious – trying to eat your way through rejection, feeling hopeless that it’s a permenent state of catch 22 and you wish you didn’t feel in your heart of hearts that you had to create, or worse, you got what you felt like you wanted or deserved only to learn you didn’t want it or need it at all and now you have to pay a lawyer. I love what Matt Damon says, “if I can talk you outta doing this in one coversation, you’re not cut out for it.”
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to since I wore a Duck Jersey.
Not what you wanted to hear? Well. What would you like to hear if you’re the one out there asking that question? Would you like to hear me describe the personal work I did in my early adulthood and still do to make sure I remember that I am not my IMDB page. How I had to grow up as an adult because I spent my youth playing adult? Would you like me to list the disappointments, near misses, aborted projects, squandered opportunities, hip pocketed disasters, dangling carrots, exchanges with bottom feeders, near law suits, time wasters, describe the endless string of stop gap jobs, or that I once almost played the second lead in the My Girl Two sequel? No.
It’s interesting how many times I’ve been asked that. One of the common phenomenon that comes as a result of these sorts of interchanges is the look of disappointment when I answer. And I’m not sure if that dissapointment stems from me not having robbed Blockbusters or that I’m not living out of a van down by the concrete river like one of my oldest child actor friends (till he lost the van in a meth deal gone bad) or if it is that I am not famous.
Ah, fame. An un-calibrated metric, indeed. This cult of personality has reached a new height in our constant live feeding of our daily lives. It has infected us all. Myself included. Nowadays, it’s not enough that you can do a job, you have to be able to generate enough social media following to bring your fanbase to a project. Ugly truths indeed. Things I try to sidestep on this road less travelled.
I have taken great pain to craft a life that allows me space and time to wonder where it is leading us all though. What I do is what I do. It’s not who I am. I know that sounds like the back cover to a self-help book steeped in Western-Easternism, but it is true.
Right now, I’m close to a few things – twenty years in the making – that could turn out or not. That is the nature of my job. It is speculative. Uncertain. But it does not define me or validate me. It does not mean I am better or worse. All this time in the circus has taught me deep down in the pit of my stomach certain truths about the nature of uncertainty. Security. And who and what I really work for. In the end, it is my relationships with people, friends, loved ones, colleagues that matter most. Quality time spent. That is my Zen.
I had an agent named Tim Stone who told me when I was a pudgy-twenty-something-year-old-cherub that could still pass for a teenager, that i wouldn’t work again till I was forty. That the best thing I could do for myself was get a life.
He was right.
What he meant, or what I believed he meant, was that I had to grow into my heart and soul. Catch up to my voice with real human experience. I would like to find Tim again and thank him for his prophecy. Timing is everything. And it’s the in between that matters. The dashes. Years back I looked at artist I admired and pondered those periods in betweenn credits and thought about what they were doing then. Had they gone to see Yoda? Walked the Camino? Those are the moments that define us. And from those experiences- truth can be forged.