Saturday, November 19, 2011

speeding up while slowing down (or vice versa)

Clocking in at about two and a half months after my most recent post, and everything has changed (while staying, so it feels, almost exactly the same).

What I left out of that recent post:  I wrote it after a serious mental breakdown in a cafe parking lot.  Following an absurdly disturbing interview at Barney's, NY, where I was deemed unworthy to work 'real' retail, I returned to my post at a local cafe to plunge ahead with several internship applications in the hope of finding something in the city worth my time and energy - something that would lift me out of uncertainty and give my life some kind of purpose.  As I compiled my application, reading through the various attachments required for my submittal, I read a letter of recommendation from my adviser at the Parkside Tutoring Center.  She spoke with genuine reverence about my abilities, noting not only my qualities as a tutor, but as a human being.  I sat back and took in what she said about me, what she implied about my future endeavors and the great tasks I was meant to accomplish... and in the midst of all that, I was faced with the reality of living on a couch in Chicago, working part-time at Old Navy and having (within the last three hours) been told by a highly plasticized HR Representative from a high-end retail store that I was not a qualified candidate for the position they hoped to fill. And for some reason, I felt like I had betrayed everything I was supposed to be.

I walked out of the cafe, called my mom, and the instant I heard her voice I began to cry.  I cried because I felt terrified that no one would ever want to give me a job that could help me afford to pursue my dreams and also give me some sort of personal satisfaction.  I cried because I felt like I was freeloading on my friends in Chicago, taking advantage of their hospitality and unending kindness for the sake of furthering my own aimless goals.  I cried because every passing minute reminded me how "important" money is, and also that I had very little of it. I cried because I didn't understand why someone from a place of higher learning could say such wonderfully genuine things about my professional and personal qualities, while some faceless HR rep. from a stupid high-end retail store could be so cold and indifferent to my talents.  I cried because I wanted to be an actor, but was so focused on my own financial instability that pursuing theatre with a stable mind was not an option at that time.  I cried because I wanted to be in love, but instead I was feeling more alone than ever.  I cried because I felt like I wasted my education.  I cried because I was crying.

And later that night, I wrote that post; I refused to acknowledge anything less than inspiring about my day, because I couldn't face the reality of living a less than inspiring - and positive - life.

Jump ahead to the present: Right now I'm at the Java House in Iowa City, visiting a place that has left one of the warmest hand prints I have ever known upon my heart.  It's strange to be here in the fall; the faces are, for the most part, unfamiliar.  There are no leaves on the trees, the fountains have dried and there are no pianos in the streets.  I am staying with the Burfords, who are (thankfully) unchanged, and it brings me such a wonderful sense of peace to be in their house.

I am here because it was time to get out of the city.  In contrast to my lifestyle in my most recent post - as well as in any post that preceded it between the months of July and August - I've become quite busy.  I live in my own apartment now, with two dear friends, just as we had planned to do.  I've got a real job working as a business development assistant for an engineering firm (which happens to be fascinating and a constant learning experience, to say the least), and on top of all of that, I had a successful month of auditions in October, receiving several call backs for various shows.  I worked my way through a quirky two weeks of workshopping for a screenplay reading and am now preparing for a two-month contract with Pegasus Players for their annual Young Playwrights Festival in January.  I recently completed my second call back for a lead role with a company I'd love to work with, and there are many more opportunities on the horizon.

The past two and a half months of really working in the city have had a profound effect on my view of the world.  My initial thoughts on moving to a bustling city like Chicago had me convinced that I was going to instantly become one of the high-stressed, impatient movers and shakers in the city, constantly pushing my way through to get from point A to point B while agonizing over the most insignificant setbacks.

Essentially, this would just be an opportunity for my type-A personality to flourish and take over my way of life to an insane degree.

BUT -- it hasn't worked that way, at least not yet.  On the contrary, I've found a wholly new sense of peace within myself and within the city, itself.  Chicago is a constant reminder of the size of the world - there is a vastness to this place that incessantly reminds me that the options at my disposal (for anything) are as varied as these skyscrapers are tall.  I listen to the relentless honking of impatient drivers, see the flustered reactions of business men at my office who are dismayed by the line at Starbucks every day at 7:52am, and I realize - every day - that I am now a cog in this machine.  I ride the train, stand on the escalators and j-walk through the busy streets with these crazed city-slickers who have no worries outside of what something may cost and how long it might take.  I feared that this sort of lifestyle would also consume me.  I worried that by taking this 'corporate' job in the city I'd leave behind personal pursuits for the demands of working full-time, but, it just doesn't feel like it will happen.

Although I'm busier than I've been in quite some time (work, along with my commute, takes up 50-60 hours of my week.  On a good week I've got 2-4 auditions on top of that), my mind has finally slowed down.  My free time is more easily given over to reading for pleasure - Uta Hagen is currently at the top of my list, followed by Marjorie Garber and more more MORE Jonathan Safran Foer - and very seriously working on audition pieces and other artistic endeavors.  Settling into this job and moving into my own place has put a lot of aspects of my life into perspective that had recently been up for debate.  I had feared that the security of this job would give me permission to let myself slip out of the theatre world all-together; I spent most of my undergrad wondering if I was really as passionate or dedicated to theatre as a person needs to be in order to succeed.  I questioned my confidence in myself and in my abilities to adapt to the constant setbacks and rejection that are inherent in the profession.  If I settled into a full-time job at which I excelled, was mildly interested in and took up most of my days anyway, wouldn't it be easy enough to let theatre fall to the wayside?

Absolutely not.  Being stable is great -- I needed to be stable, I will never contest that.  And this job - my apartment - has afforded me that comfort.  But within days of finally achieving that level of stability, I was antsy again, ready for another challenge that would displace me from complacency and, so, my audition submissions began.  For an entire month I felt like I was running an audition marathon - at times it was great, at others it was awkward; but it was always fulfilling.  I am learning more now about myself as an actor - as a person - than I did when I was in school (is that good, or bad?  I really don't know).

And here's the other thing.  I really don't want to get all J.K. Rowling up this blog, but, friendship is probably the coolest and most powerful thing on this planet.  Every single fucking day I am reminded how lucky I am to be in this city and, in large part, that is due to the presence of the beautiful friends I live and play with.  The life I'm living today is the life I had imagined for myself several years down the road from graduation, not several months.  And yet, here I am doing it.  And I couldn't have done it without the support of several people: my parents, my sister; Amy, Dylan; Cathlyn; and so many others.  Their emotional, spiritual, and practical contributions to my search for a place in this city made so many things possible for me in such an insanely short amount of time.

I am still pushing ahead, paradoxically searching for opportunities to throw myself into challenging situations that constantly force me to re-evaluate myself and my abilities while embracing moments of stability and ease... but I'm doing it with the knowledge that I've got one of the most supportive networks of friends and family I could ever have.  The days are flying faster than ever before, but each day that passes provides more reasons for slowing down and cherishing every second and acknowledging the people and events that make my progress possible.

Every day I walk down my street and I say to myself: I can't believe I live here.  When I leave auditions, I'm always elated - regardless of how I think the audition went - because I'm out here doing what so many people hope to do but don't.  And when I leave my office, even after a boring day of work that leaves me antsy for a challenge, I look down Michigan Avenue at the beautiful high rises and remind myself that I have been so lucky, every step of the way.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday:  Here's to being thankful for what we have, and for being able to acknowledge the priorities in our lives that bring us unrelenting joy.  To the pursuit of passion and art and the stability of friendship.  To my family, who I love more than anything, and to my friends, who are no different than family in their closeness to me.  I am thankful to be able to slow things down and see each moment for what it is.  I am thankful that I cried in that parking lot on September 2, because it fueled me with the knowledge that I will not give up until I've conquered every obstacle I choose to face.  

That feels really, really good.