Thursday, August 19, 2010

Failing Forward

Last night I dreamed that I was in a little shack at a retreat by the ocean.  It was situated between two mountains and nestled among the rocks that lined the stony shore.  Inside, I was chatting with Eric McCormack about acting.  (He's in Vancouver this summer doing a play and is best known for his role on "Will and Grace" which I watch religiously, even in reruns, for comic relief.  So it's not surprising that he would be in my subconscious.)  I don't remember the specifics of our discussion in my dream but I do remember that, at a certain point, it was time for me to pack up my boys and head back home.  Only outside, the ocean had suddenly been hit by a massive storm.  The waves were as high as apartment buildings and, despite the fact that everyone encouraged me to hop on the next boat, it didn't feel at all safe to go back in.   So I stayed in the little shack to protect myself from the storm.

As I stood sheltered in one of the rooms, I noticed above me a small wooden shelf attached to the wall just below where the ceiling should have been.  The shelf separated the main floor, where I was, from the floor above and it reminded me of a lone step in what might have once been a sturdy ladder.  The floor above was where I wanted to be.  So I told my husband (who had just then appeared) that I was going to pull myself up in order to elevate myself to the next level.  But as I grabbed the shelf, it split off the wall entirely exposing the stringy glue that previously held it in place, much like a web of melted marshmallow that becomes visible when a rice krispie square is torn apart.  I tried to affix the shelf back on the wall but it wouldn't take.  I was stuck.

And outside, the storm raged on.

My dreams of late are a stark representation of my long held angst at jumping back in to a career that once seemed to spit me out of the exclusive "working actor" club to which I once belonged.
This feeling isn't new to me.  Rather it is one that comes up for examination again and again and again.   It's no secret that I have a tremendous fear of failure.  It's one of the main reasons I stepped away from the biz in the first place.  I just couldn't seem to pull myself up the ladder to success and I couldn't stand to watch myself stumble around on the ground floor while others climbed ahead of me achieving their goals.

But if I am ever to transcend this floor of the shack, if I am ever to achieve my own goals, it might be high time that I take a good long look at failure right in the face - a face that, from my point of view, has always been scarred with the marks of doubt and self-criticism with a liberal dose of fear entrenched in its deep scowl lines.  It has stared me down many times in life, like a bully with rotting teeth who spits when he speaks and acts as a barricade between my well placed intentions and my ability to commit to my goals 100%.  Given this identification with failure, it is no surprise that it has always been the proverbial "F" word to me.   What is becoming increasingly clear is that I need to find a new definition of the word.

So I have borrowed one from my very dear friend, Rebecca, who learned it during her youthful days when she first embarked upon a very successful improvising career and it has served her well ever since.  Rebecca swears by the term, "Fail Forward."  She is very emphatic in telling me that failure is not the "F" word I have always thought it to be.   It's not a bad word, nor should the experience be avoided at all costs.  According to my wise friend, failure is the fastest way to learn.  It is only an indication that we have gotten off track somewhat.  And it is through trial and error that we make adjustments to get back on the path we want to be on.   So the question during an experience that did not meet the intention we set for it should not be "How did this happen?" but rather "How is this perfect?" or "How is this serving me?"
Rebecca believes that failure is an offered shortcut to learning.  It's a way to become more conscious about how we create in our process.   In other words, if you don't fail you don't find balance because if all you ever did was succeed, you wouldn't know how you did it and therefore, you wouldn't be able to continue to create it.   It's just a matter of re-programming until you can see failure as the beginning of success, not the beginning of the end.

So here's what I've come up with:  If I'm going to fail, then I will fail heading in the direction of my dreams rather than sitting on the side lines wishing I had participated.  I will move the story forward.  I will be proactive.   At least then, there will be progress.  Then whatever happens is life experience rather than a series of perceived failures.  And this is the point I try to get through to myself most of all these days:  Taking action every day toward fulfilling a dream is living the very dream itself.

I'm not going to lie, I want to have a series.  I want to have incoming voice work and stimulating roles on shows and films.  I want to work in theatre again.  I want to sharpen my skills so that when directors, producers and other actors think of me it is with admiration and confidence that when I show up, I will do right by them; That their story will be better off because I participated in it.  I also want to earn my living by doing this.  I am done with the starving artist mentality.  I want to prosper.  The trick is believing all of this is happening for me (not possible but happening) and that each audition is a part of it, not a reminder that my old definition of failure is inevitable if I don't land a particular part.

Friends, I just can't escape this fork in the road I am faced with again at this time in my life.  One direction will lead me down the road of repetition of the tiresome belief that I am doomed to suffer in poverty and the other will take me down a path previously conceived in my psyche but not yet fully actualized:  The path of trusting that I am good enough.  Nothing else matters.   It matters only that I remove these self-imposed and well preserved shackles in my battle with struggle and don instead a lighter frock which allows for easier movement forward.  And the motion must be generated from my core.  Because where ever I go, I take myself with me.  (As Rebecca says, "There is only here with a T on it.")

So I must be kind to my inner travel mate, re-program my visual and move forward down the good path.  Because today, I am here.  But if I keep going, who knows where I will be tomorrow...

Thank you for joining me in the quest for bliss,

The Happiness Detective

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back in the saddle again...

(Also known as "(N)Oh Happy Day, Continued")

On Thursday morning, the day of the preliminary job interview for the full time receptionist position (see post below), I was feeling very much like I needed some divine intervention;  a sign that I had guidance and support from something bigger than myself and that I wasn't alone.  More importantly, I hoped the path ahead would be one of ease and grace and that we weren't about to fall head-long into a sand storm of debt and poverty.  In return, I would do all I could (despite how stressed I've been lately) to assist in the unfolding of something that resembled a financially even-keeled life on the path now and ahead.  This was the bargain I struck with Spirit, the Universe, baby Jesus and anyone out there who might be hanging around pulling for me from the other side.

I got out of bed glumly and anxiously, hoping for a speedy demonstration indicating that good things were coming my way.  At 8:35am, my phone rang.

It was an Arbonne client of mine asking me if I could go over the business opportunity with her.  (Arbonne makes fantastic, healthy skin care products and I run a little hobby business with the company where I do home parties to make extra cash.  However, with a small baby and a toddler, the business had taken a back seat for the last six months, as did my mojo, my energy and my sanity as I adjusted to parenting two tots.)  My client was looking to start something to supplement her regular job and wanted to consider Arbonne as an option.   She asked if I would meet with her to see if it would be a good fit.
This was completely out of the blue and before 9am, even.   A sign, perhaps, that the Universe was listening and that a cooperative reciprocity was at hand?  It was beginning to appear that way.

Later than morning, I made a call of my own, to my agent.  I asked her to start submitting me for auditions again.  We had discussed the possibility of doing this a few weeks earlier and clearly, given everything going on in my house, there was no better time than the present to begin.  I felt that I should throw as many balls in the air as possible to try and help us through this financially precarious time (my enduringly low confidence that my acting career would ever amount to anything, notwithstanding).   I hoped that something fabulous would come along which would stave off the necessity of committing to full time work for a full year.  Not that the receptionist job itself is dishonorable or beneath me in any way.  It's just not what I want to be doing at this time in my life.  In romantic terms, it's a job I would have dated back in my twenties or early thirties before realizing that it just wasn't going to work out.   The phrase, "It's not you, it's me" would have been used.  I would have tried to set it up with a friend who had her eye on it and I would have started dating the artsy fartsy job down the street.  That job would have paid me a decent wage and given me time off for auditions.

Ah, auditions...   A vaguely familiar term.   I remember how to spell the word.  I just didn't know if I remembered how to sound it out.

I hadn't been to an audition in over a year.  I hadn't been on set in nearly four years.  I hadn't done a play in six years.  You get the idea...   I'm a little rusty.   And I wasn't sure what to expect when I called my agent.  How would casting directors feel about seeing me again?  How would they feel about my extra baby weight?  How do they get the caramel inside the Caramilk bar?  (The last two questions are more related than I care to admit.)  My agent and I discussed the kinds of roles I would go out for and she told me she would make calls right away and let the casting folks know that I was back and ready to go.

In the meantime, I had a job interview to think about.  Walking to the temp agency, a couple hours later, was an interesting experience in self-reflection.  It occurred to me that I had made that same trip to that same agency nearly two years ago to the day when my husband was last out of work.  And here I was going back (or backwards) again.  I met with a lovely lady there who gave me taxation and other relevant paper work to fill out.  She said that there was already a short list of candidates to be submitted for a second interview at the company that was hiring and asked what else I would be interested in taking if the job didn't go my way.   We discussed other shorter contracts and evening work as possibilities (to my great relief) and then she sent me to a little room to review some dvd's.

And while I was in the little room learning about work place etiquette and the safety hazards of various chemicals, my agent called to let me know I had an audition.   She had sent a quick blast to casting directors and one of them asked to see me.  Just like that.
I felt delight and relief prance around my tense shoulders, mingling like little drops of rain that splatter and pop off the windshield of a car during a sudden rain shower, cleansing the glass so the road ahead might be seen a little more clearly.   Someone up there/out there/in here was listening!

I worked on that audition for most of the next day.  I was nervous as all get out, forgetting my lines and my breathing during rehearsal and hoping against hope that I wouldn't embarrass myself in front of the director and producer when I was in front of the camera.  I also had a very specific intention: To have fun and not to go in there reaking of desperation and thinking about next month's bills.

When I arrived, the session was a bit behind and it gave me a chance to connect with other actors I hadn't seen in a long time.  I chatted with the Mom of a new baby who had just returned to the country.  I traded war stories with another very funny lady with a toddler at home, also in the throws of potty training.   I was surprised to learn how much we all had in common, in particular the longing to find the balance between fulfilling a need to create as artistic professionals and the need to provide for our children financially.  We all shared the unwavering desire that both needs be met through the same means - storytelling.
It was downright invigorating to be in their company.   I also enjoyed chatting with the young pups, the newbies who were auditioning for younger roles while reveling in the excitement that comes at the beginning of a career in the arts.  I loved it!

Then I went into the room, said hello and did my audition.  And for the first time in a very long time, I felt like myself again.

I have no idea what will come of that read but I know that I have reconnected to a part of me that I have been trying to ignore in my pursuit of being a responsible parent.  I am an actor, dammit.  No matter how hard I try,  I just can't not do this.   To neglect this part of me in the name of being all grown up turns me into a dissatisfied, unpleasant, curmudgeonly git.  (Just ask my husband.) Accepting that this is a part of me that will always need tending and then getting my butt out there and doing what I am meant to be doing makes me happy.  It also makes me a better mother and a better person.

So I'm back in the saddle again.

I'm still worried about next month's bills and wondering if and when my husband will get a job.   But for my part, I am determined to believe that I can do this and that I can help take the pressure off him financially at the same time by making a living again as an actor (and a writer and hopefully, one day, a director). 

Audition #2 is tomorrow.

Bring it.

Yours in the quest for bliss,

The Happiness Detective

Thursday, August 5, 2010

(N)Oh Happy Day

I have nothing beautiful to say today.  Nothing eloquent to write.

I have been awake since 3:30am with knots in my stomach and utterly saddened by a turn of events that will force me to go back to work.  Thanks to good old EI, its monstrously long waiting periods and a labyrinth of regulations that Service Canada trots out to create headache and hassle, we are far shorter on funds than I had (conservatively) estimated we would be.  We have to go through our savings in one month, rather than stretching them out over a few months as I had intended, and as a result, my husband needs to have a full time job right about NOW.

Only, he doesn't.  And I can tell you, the effect this has on our relationship (this is not the first time he has been unemployed with a small baby at home) is the stuff of another blog.

So, the short of it is that I am interviewing today with a temp agency for a full time receptionist position on a one year contract.  The position pays slightly more than my husband receives on EI.  To say that I am devastated is an understatement.  I am heartbroken at the thought of being away for 40 hours a week from my six month old, who is still nursing several times a day.  I miss him already and I haven't even gone to the interview.  And I feel completely demoralized that I will be taken away from my full time job (parenting my boys) in order to earn a fraction of what my husband makes when he is in the work force.

It is finally getting busier in Vancouver with television productions and more auditions.  And I won't be available to go to any of them if I am behind a desk somewhere answering phones.  I pray that I don't get the job.  And I pray that I do.  Because we need to survive.  And I hate it.

Today I feel lost in this quest for bliss...

The Happiness Detective