This is something I wrote to a good friend about a year ago. Lately, I realized it was advice I needed to hear as much as say. So here it is.
“Tell me if I’m wasting my time as an actress.”
Here is the long and the short of it. Do you love what you do?
Seriously, that’s it. That’s the way to answer your question. Do you love it? Because if you love what you do, then no, you’re not wasting your time being an actor. If you don’t love it, then it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got, it’s a waste of your life. Your life is too important to fill it with things you ought to do, things you don’t love.
If you want to be good at what you do, then love beats talent anyway. That’s science. Science tells us that it takes 10,000 hours of work to master a skill, and an amateur in love with her work will get to 10,000 hours years before some indifferent “genius” does. In fact, as far as I’m concerned love is talent, minus a few other quirks of the genetic lottery. If you love your work then will you not obsesses over it, revel in it, play with it, delight in innovation, and practice technique out of raw joy instead of compelled obligation?
But the question “Do I love acting, do I love the theatre, do I love the work” is trickier than it sounds. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Some say that loving art means needing to make it, not being able to do anything else. I thought that meant I wasn’t an artist, as I left acting behind for a Professional And Responsible Life in technology, as I fell in love with my wife. That’s bullshit. When I returned to the stage it was like breathing after a tense moment, where you didn’t even know you were holding your breath. I loved it, I needed it, and I knew that because I walked away then returned. Took me ten years. Hard path. I think for some it’s easier, but don’t be ashamed of taking the long way to figure it out.
Do what you love. Everything else is crap.
That’s probably not the pep talk you were looking for. But don’t worry, I can do that, too. I think you were one of the finest actors
I’ve worked with. You have fine instincts, excellent comic timing, and a natural ease on stage. I am envious of how refined you are already at your age, and jealous (and I mean that in a real, deep, longing way that I’m a little embarrassed to admit) of your physical technique and expression, something which I have little of in my acting, and comes unnaturally to me. I think you will continue to grow as long as you continue to work hard, and you will work hard because that’s who you are. You’ll work hard for the things you love.
See? Comes back to love again.
I think as an actor I have been able to draw on a rich life of experiences that I had while I was trying to not be an actor. I saw and did things that the arc of a professional acting life never would
have taken me to, and while I wish I had spent that ten years learning how to act (maybe by now I might know how!) I don’t regret the ease with which I identify and understand with characters. It makes it easier to play real people, rather than impressions, or mimicking the tropes of other actors in the same kinds of roles. So don’t fear following your muse to other arts or wider experiences.
I also think that, when I was younger, I bought into this strange myth of “making it.” The myth takes different forms for different people, but it has a common theme – there is an outer world, where us aspirants must live, and an inner world where the successful operate. If you are good enough, or have the keys to the kingdom you can “break in” and until you do so, you are nothing. I wanted to be a movie star, and knew I could never be one – too poor, too homely, too creatively barren – so I thought that acting was a worthless pursuit.
More bullshit. What matters is the work. Am I proud of it? Did I work hard at it? Do I love it? Will I endeavor to do better next time? That’s it. If I could make my living by acting then I wouldn’t care if no one ever recognized me, as long as the work was meaningful to me. And no amount of fame and fortune will ever be enough if I don’t care about the work. If this is what you want to do, then define success by getting to do what you want. Then no stratification around Hollywood or Broadway will be able to stop you. The beautiful irony there is that means you’ll be more likely to make it, as your competitors are discouraged by not being instantly made stars, and you quietly work at the thing you love until you are a master and all the dilettantes have
My dad would call that a zen thing.
It’s also okay to feel depression, doubt, self-pity and even impotent rage on occasion. That’s acceptable, and expected. It sucks getting set back, it sucks failing to meet your expectations for your self, and it sucks turning that ever analytical eye on yourself and not liking what you see. Just don’t wallow in it, don’t let it define you, and find a way to return to the love of the thing. And if the love is gone, if you’re too hurt – then walk away. You’ll walk back when you’re ready. Something out in the wider world will spark you, or the call will come back. Don’t force it.
Two final things.
First, feel free to ignore every piece of fucking advice I’ve given you. Only you know the path you’re on, and, hell, lets face it, that might overestimate the number by one. If you see a path in the brush, take it, no matter what you think you are supposed to do or not do. Look at me, I’m not a model for anyone, and while I met some excellent role models. my attempt to emulate them left me divorced and locked in my bedroom listening as my friends attempted to break the door down to rescue me from myself. I couldn’t make it work by following someone else’s road. Walk your own path, trust yourself.
Two, trust others. No doubt you’ve been swarmed with advice and encouragement since you put out some feelers, and I’m glad. No doubt some of the advice is contradictory, and no doubt some of the encouragement seemed hollow or cheap or meaningless. But no matter what, it shows you’ve got people. We’ve got your back. I’ve got your back. Be bold, where boldness is due, because if you fail, there are people who will catch you.
“Tell me if I’m wasting my time as an actress.” God I hope not. Because if you are, what the fuck am I doing?
Good night, sister,
Two friends of mine – freshly minted friends at that – posted this on their Facebook.
I want you to comment on this status about how you met me. But, I want you to lie. That’s right. Just make stuff up. After you comment, copy this to your status so I can do the same.
I confess, I couldn’t do it. Everything you read here is true.
Note: Makes much more sense if you know a bit about Hvbris – actually, that’s a lie. It makes a little more sense.
How I Met Ben and Kelly
A Thief Joins The Party
Once, upon a sea-side nearly red with fire and so queerly
Made, not of water clearly, but of molten stone and glowing ore
I met Hellion and her Hobbit, roasting apples with a gobbet
of dream-drake and dragon raw bit spitting venomed juices on the floor.
Morsels rare from the Flame King’s store.
Ah, distinctly I remember! It was a rare Octember
And all of Hvbris, every member, danced like spice-mad children on that shore.
Frightened, I wished to hurry on past the dancers and the fury
Of these jests of judge and jury; nobles of the Flame King’s corps.
Whispered of and known in lore.
“Thief!” they called me. “Thief and Trickster!” I but shrugged for betwixt her,
Him, and their freakster band who flaming danced on sandy floor
They knew my crimes, my silver tongue so well that mouth and breath and lung
And sad songs sedately sung would all be wasted should I implore.
So I shrugged, and knelt before.
“Sprite, you are here at this court not just for crimes but for your sport,
For your cleverness, sharp retort, for laughing as your victims swore!”
This was new. I had expected to be tortured and perhaps selected
To remain a monument to the Flame King’s perfected glory and love of gore.
I listened, rapt for more.
“I the Hobbit and she the Hellion are fomenting grand rebellion
Against the Flame King! Fell Yennon! Foul Shogguth! The Thing Which Sleeps Behind The Door!
All his princes, his daughters demonic, all his fiends and beasts draconic
All will die dread deaths ironic. Lackey is a role we have outwore.
You will join us in our war.”
“Am I then to be your flunky?” I asked. “Join the Monster, and the Monkey
Artist, Elf and other funky followers I’ve not met heretofore?
And what need’ve you, what calling for a thief and trickster hauling
No sharp, smart sword mauling, just cleverness and a mouth that’s too cocksure?
A jester to cry ‘Hail, God-Emperor!’?”
That is when they made it known I was not to be some warrior thrown
Into the bloody battles shown to be the usual way kings are toppled o’er.
They wanted quick and stealthy, someone with no want of wealth he
Who romanced, robbed and ran for his health, he who was a trickster at his core.
That was me, every pore.
I’ll not tell the tale, not here, not now. Some other time I’ll tell you how
I stole the crown from the Flame King’s brow and Hobbit was made God-Emperor.
It’s an exciting song, the highest good against the foulest wrong,
A story silly, sad and strong and I wind up in the King’s boudoir.
Another time. And not before.
I wrote this as a birthday gift. The birthday was mine, the gift was intended for everyone else. It was 2009 and I was miserable, and that came out in the story, but also there was a bit of self-mockery too, because after all, how bad could a birthday be?
I would make some comment apologizing for this turn of phrase or that, but that seems silly. I’ll let it stand or fall on its own.
He was good at brooding, January. His sister, February, always said so and she was a fine brooder herself, all grey eyed and wan. January liked to brood with his eyes downcast, hunched over his thoughts like reprimanding schoolteacher.
He thought of all the children born while he held court, whose foreheads he had kissed in blessing. He thought of all those who had died. He had closed their eyes with his long, thin fingers and blessed them too, for all who were born or died while he held the crown were his, and he loved them all.
It was a good brood, with a nice melancholy and a hint of bittersweetness, and January could have savored it for a while longer, had he not been interrupted.
It was one of the twins – June, he decided, though he had enormous trouble telling the difference. That June was a girl, and July a boy had never seemed to help much. Of course, the twins said they couldn’t tell all of winter apart, even February, who didn’t have a beard.
“Thank you, ” January said. “But it’s not my birthday. Not really. And I’m not sure it ever will be.”
“How sad, ” June – or quite possible July – said, “To bless all the children and watch them blow out candles and open presents and grow older and wiser but never have a birthday yourself.”
She’ll be a first class brooder herself. Or he will, one, January thought. He had considered the more sunny siblings a bit superficial, but perhaps he had misjudged.
“I got you a present. For your birthday.”
January, confused, began to explain for a second time the problems in assigning any kind of date of birth or really date of anything for a spirit and personification of an aspect of Time itself when he was what was in June’s hand.
It was a snowglobe. January took it carefully, wrapping his fingers around it. It was surprisingly light – cheap even, made of plastic, not glass. The snow little more than glitter.
He swirled the snow around. No matter how hard he shook, it was always the same, the tempest never roared the little plastic cottage down, nor did its residents open the door, relieved when the storm abated. It was cold, and static, every shake exactly the same.
“Why did you – ” She was gone, fled like sunlight to the horizon.
January shook his globe. And brooded.
Today, I began my 30th year round the sun.
My birthday is tucked conveniently near the New Year. I feel sorry for other people who have a birthday in, say, June, and have to do yearly reevaluations of their lives every sixth months. On the other hand that makes for a seriously contemplative run of weeks there at the turn of the year, arcing from Thanksgiving and onwards, weeks into January. Still I don’t mind.
The day of my 26th birthday was sad. Sad enough, in fact, I don’t really remember it. My wife and I had split, and I just generally felt wretched. I hadn’t been happy for a long time, but my first birthday alone in a decade rubbed it in. You could call it the trough.
The evening of my 27th birthday was like a candle. Hardly enough light, but much better than what came before. New friends took me to dinner, old friends long thought lost arrived spontaneously. Looking back on it now, my 27th birthday was kind of crappy, but just having dinner with someone, having someone choose to spend a little of their time with me was enormous.
On my 28th birthday, my life changed. Now, by itself that’s not that dramatic. Our life changes all the time, often without the decency of letting us know. I was living rent-free in a spare bedroom, I had thrown or given away most of my worldly possessions, my job sucked, my creative life was essentially non-existent, and I was saddled with debt that I didn’t know how to pay. All of that was true when I got up that morning, and was still true when I went to bed that night. But I knew – and you’ll pardon me for not saying exactly what happened – that my life could be different.
My 29th birthday, this birthday, featured a surprise party. It took place in my new city, made possible by the holiday from my new job, and was peopled by theatre friends, new creative partners, and old friends all. It’s not that my birthday was amazing – though it was – it’s that my life is amazing.
I don’t have any grand statements or wisdom. In a way, I don’t have anything to share, really. But when things are good, sometimes you have to say so, just so that later, when things aren’t good, you can remember what good was like. Also, perhaps, to cover the karmic debt for bitching for all the years before.
Tonight, I go to bed smiling. Seems to be a trend.
So, here are some potentially unmanly things about me that I think are totally awesome anyway, so let’s just deal with it, shall we?
1) I love Rhianna
2) I love young adult novels, especially with plucky young female protagonists.
Okay, really, neither of these things is that unmanly. I mean, who doesn’t like Disturbia (which happens to be playing as I write this)?
As for plucky young female protagonists, I’ve been spending some time with Tiffany Aching, but as soon as I can I’m going to go out and purchase Across the Universe. And I’m so excited I could blow a valve. And it’s not just because of the awesome trailer:
Nor is it because of the super-secret-mega-awesome-not-quite-launched-at-the-time-of-this-blogging website, where you can read the already heart wrenching first chapter for nothing more than a click.
No, I’m excited because of Beth.
See, Beth Revis is an old friend of mine. Beth loves stories, and words, and great big spaceships, and the poetry of the stars. We grew up together in the tiniest towns in the most rural part of North Carolina, and we sat on buses and did plays and sang songs and when we were feeling proud and ambitious we talked about the book we were going to write Some Day.
And when I compared my stories to Beth’s stories, well. I always wanted to read Beth’s stories.
Penguin Teen is being really nice to me, showing me lots of cool stuff (including that never-before-released author video above) because I’m a blogger and they apparently haven’t caught on to the fact that it’s not 2003 any more and that blogging is passé. But the real secret is that I was going to write this post anyway, because Beth deserves all the success in the world. And because the world has some dark and scary things in it, especially lately, and, well – I think the world deserves a really good story. And that’s what Beth has in spades.
“But Erik,” I hear you say “while your recommendation carries much weight (and we are sure it is unbiased by all the awesome swag), and while the trailer does zoom about with much grandeur, and the (still super-secret) website zooms with sexiness and awesome, and while I am intrigued by tantalizing first chapter, I am in need of even more cool stuff before I will be swayed!”
Fine then. Ask an ye shall receive. Between 11:11 am and 11:11 pm, io9 will just be plain givin’ away the first 111 pages of the book. That’s right, today, on 1/11/11 the launch date of the book, you can get a novella length chunk of text from one of the hottest new authors on the scene just cause. With such ample information you don’t need a sales pitch from me. I think that the book will convince you of it’s own merits.
Go. And Godspeed.
Rhianna (unrelated): Disturbia
Today was my last day of work at my current job. This is the letter I sent the staff.
Dearest Blue House –
Our six year anniversary was back in August, and I’ve been thinking a lot about us. I know we’ve been doing the long distance thing since May, and that’s been working out okay but, well… there is another job.
And it’s not a better job! No, actually, in a lot of ways it’s a worse job. It’s not as interesting or as challenging as you are, not as exciting and not as (oh god, I’m gonna blush) flexible. But, and I hate to say this, she is easy. And things have never been easy between us, and I could use some easy in my life right now. You know I moved up here to rediscover my passions and I could use a job that leaves me the kind of space to do that. And that’s not you.
And yes, this new job has money. A lot more money, and I won’t pretend that wasn’t part of my decision, though it was by no means the only one. I never told you this, but Microsoft and Google both hinted that they were interested and I never did anything about it. It was never just about the money.
I want to talk about our kids.
Obviously, they’re going to stay in your care, and that’s probably the hardest thing for me. Genie, Mailer, even poor JukeBox – I love my kids more than just about anything. I have more time invested in JukeBox’s internals than I had in my failed marriage. I’ll be 30 soon, and when I look back over the last decade of my life, these guys will be what I have instead of writing, instead of films, instead of songs, or lovers, or any other work of days and hands. I’ve stuck around this long because of them and it’s been hard saying goodbye over the last couple of weeks.
I’m sure this isn’t surprising to you, not after all we’ve been through. And, I think, this will wind up being easier for you than for me. I, inexplicably some would say, gave you the best years of my life. Take care of what I left you. I’ll try to take care of myself.
– Erik Harrison
Senior Software Developer (retired)
The Blue House
November may have been the greatest month of failure for me, ever. And, in a way, I’m super happy about that.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have preferred success – and I even managed some. But this month is a month of failure because it has been a month of ambition. I’m not used to ambition, or at least not used to having the balls to follow through on it, so that in and of itself is an accomplishment.
The first thing that I attempted and failed at was National Novel Writing Month – a writing “contest” where players attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. Writing and I have had a contentious relationship over the years and the sheer size of the task has always been too daunting for me even to try it. But try it this year I did, and while I came nowhere near close, I have 15,000 words I didn’t have before, and learned more about writing than I ever have at once. I’m still kinda fond of the book that almost was, and might try to knock the rest of it out in December. One of the reasons I didn’t finish the book was because of –
The Visit, a play I did with The Little Theatre Of Alexandria. As you can tell by the linked review both the show itself and my performance were a mixed bag. The production was, quite simply, cursed. Multiple things went wrong with regard to casting the show and keeping it limping along, and I myself was brought in with only a week to rehearse before we opened, and I had five (yep, five) roles in the show. It’s not a performance I’m really proud of, but I jumped into the show at the last minute and made a showing of it, which is the kind of foolish bravery that I admire in others.
Undermining my energy during performances and contributing to overall exhaustion, I also worked through 4 weeks of the Couch to 5k. This isn’t so much a failure as an ongoing project. I slowed down around Thanksgiving and due to rain, but I’ve pretty much kept to it. In fact, today I did my first uninterrupted 20 minute run despite the rain and the bone chilling wind. I used to hate people who loved exercise because I always suspected they were lying, and judging me for sitting on my butt. I don’t know about the judgey bit, but I’ve become one of those people, and I’ve managed to avoid too much self loathing. A win!
A second, qualified win – I have taken a new job with the AAMC. I still don’t start work for another week and a half or so, but the interview process and the offer came during November, so I’m marking it in that month’s column. Who knows if this will work out in the long term, but even in the short term it gives me a path to real health care and fiscal solvency. I don’t know how I’m going to handle getting up in the morning – this will be my first real person job basically ever – but I’ll try my darnedest. I may learn to use coffee as a stimulant after all.
Comparing where I am now with where I was this time last year, or the year before that, I am made aware of a long arc that marks my attempts to get on my feet. And not on my feet again, but for the first time – I have deferred adulthood for a decade now, and I intend to prolong it further if possible, but with a little more sophistication. Next year I hope to be talking about failure again. I have always and will always fail. But this new thing will be to fail at new things, rather than the same things over and over, and to, perhaps, turn a few failures into qualified successes.
Who knows. I might even cease to be such a whiny ass by the time I’m 35 or so.