In the early ‘90s, I lived in Manhattan and worked at CBS in the Daytime Programming department. My cubicle was just down the hall from the casting department, which made the work day really interesting. I used to love to stroll past the waiting room and ogle all the actors who were pacing around, running lines with the wall, while they waited their turn to audition.
Sometimes I even got to help out in the audition room – sit behind the camera and read the part of the other person in the scene. That was serious fun. Once I did a scene with Michael Learned for some pilot, I don’t remember which one. I was in awe. The woman was Olivia Walton! Sitting in front of me! Doing a scene with me! She was sweet and gracious and accomplished.
Another time, this really tall, dark-haired guy came into our offices. I could hear him down the hall, talking loud. We could all hear him. I decided to take a trip to the bathroom to see what the deal was. As I neared him, I could see him pacing around the waiting room, having a thundering conversation ON A GIANT CORDLESS PHONE THAT PRACTICALLY COVERED UP THE WHOLE LEFT SIDE OF HIS HEAD. The phone (if that’s what it was, but how in the name of Alexander Graham Bell could it BE????) was as big as a size 14 Florsheim, with a big, ole antennae sticking up on top.
The dude was shouting into the contraption. And I don’t know…possibly wanting everybody in that office to notice him. To murmur, “Good heavens! Do you see how that man communicates with another human being on that big, black rectangle WITH NO CORD ATTACHED TO IT? Egads! It is unfathomable. He must be a god. Or, at least, a very successful actor.” Or maybe not. It’s hard to ascribe motives. Even your own.
Anyway, that was Chris Noth—back in the early years of Law and Order. Before he was Carrie’s Mr. Big or Alicia’s Peter Florrick.
To be fair, there were barely such things as cell phones back then, so there was definitely no such thing as cell phone etiquette. On that basis alone, the loud talking was excusable. Except it did seem the teeny-tiniest bit like he was wanting all us office drones to know he was an ACTOR WITH EXCELLENT PROJECTION who owned a GIANT, NEWFANGLED STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR. But like I said, who really knows?
The point is, I think even Mr. Big has felt somewhat insecure at times in his path to success. Even he’s been compelled to swagger a bit. To pump up the old ego. We all get that way, don’t we? Scared and discouraged. Scared we’re small instead of BIG. Starving for a scrap of reassurance.
Being an artist, a writer, or an actor is a unique kind of hard. You do your thing…make your papier-mâché elephant sculptures, comic book illustrations, horror novellas or whatever…because you’re driven to. Because creating your thing is life-giving and joyful. But usually you want to share your art. Distribute it to the world at large. But the thing is, to share your work, you have to possess some amount of confidence that people actually want to see it…before, in fact, there’s any shred of proof that they do. So you embark on this strange journey (some would call it a delusional trip) where you pump up your nerve, jack up your confidence and step off the cliff. It’s hard. Terrifying, even.
Sometimes it ends well. Sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s okay though. If you really like what you’re doing, you can’t imagine NOT doing it, so you keep going. You keep walking on that air bridge like Wile E. Coyote because you believe that one day, maybe, somebody out there might really get a kick out of your art.
You hunker down. You get back to work. And maybe you buy the latest space-age gadget and talk into it loudly in front of people.
This summer I went to New York for several days. I had a great time with family and, as always, got to soak in the magic that permeates the Best City in the World. Here was part of the magic: in the space of about twelve hours, I met two strangers who—in different, yet eerily coincidental ways—encouraged me to keep going after my dreams.
The first was a woman on the subway. We struck up a conversation right away—not something I usually do in that setting, but, I was feeling carefree and kind of in love with the world. So there you go. Anyway, she told me she was an actress—recently relocated from LA—and shared about her struggle and determination to make it in the industry.
The previous year she’d appeared in a movie with Colin Farrell. I’d seen the film, liked it and remembered her performance. So then, of course, I had to ask all the nosy, fangirl questions about Colin because…whatever…he’s Colin Farrell. A bit of a legend in Hollywood. (And also, was rumored to have brought about the ruination of Britney Spears, which I have deep feelings about, but that’s a subject for another blog post.) Anyway, here’s what she told me:
Before they shot their scenes, HE INVITED HER TO HIS HOTEL ROOM TO REHEARSE LINES.
I braced myself for the rest of the story. This woman was young and gorgeous, and I was almost 100% certain she was about to dish some major dirt about a sleazy celebrity.
But, no. She proceeded to tell me how professional and kind he’d been. Really great. Thoughtful and hardworking. Oh, and super-duper-sexy to boot.
She asked me about myself, so I told her that I was a writer and was working on a book. The words had barely left my mouth when she started telling me not to give up. “You have to believe,” she said fervently. “Don’t stop. You have to keep going. That’s what we do.” This was a person who knew what it felt like to keep going when it would be easier to quit.
That night I went to see a show. I had a single seat and ended up sitting next to a guy with another single. Before the show began, we introduced ourselves and chatted a bit. He was working in theater management up in Boston. He had a dream, though, of running a theater on Broadway and was circling around the idea of going for it. After a while, he said, “Are you an actress?” I said I had been at one time, a long time ago, but I was a writer now, working on a novel. He looked into my eyes and said, “I have a feeling you’ll make it. You need to keep going, no matter what.”
No kidding. Two strangers in one day.
After the show, he and I hung around the backstage door and got autographs from the cast. He took a picture of me with the star of the show (Jessie Mueller, because I promised I’d drop a lot of celebrity names) because I’m phenomenally bad at taking selfies. I told him to go for his dream too. And then when he landed his fabulous job managing a Broadway theater, to get me backstage. We hugged. He had no idea what he’d done for me.
And as for you guys, I have a feeling you’ll make it too – whatever that means or comes to mean to you. You need to keep going, no matter what. Because that’s what we do.