Sunday, November 20, 2011
I took one writing class in college that I don’t even know the name of anymore, but I know it was one of the general education requirement classes. We had one assignment where we had to write in the voice of a character from one short story within the context of another one. I can remember using the voice of a young African American girl in a completely different context. When I got the paper back, the instructor had written on the back, “Jeff, you should consider going into writing.” It was one of those encouragement moments that a student gets from a teacher that leads them on to the thing they were meant to do. Only, I stayed the course I was on because I was afraid to take real writing classes. Real writing classes, just like acting, or art classes, involved putting myself out there too much, too open to judgement. I would rather take classes that I could do well in, where my creative side was free from criticism. Instead of running with the encouragement, I tucked it away in my memory.
This adventure in Hollywood has been a lot about fighting against that tendency. I want to be the guy that is willing to put himself out there and fail, but I wasn’t living that way. I have never been a timid hermit by any means, but I had gotten to the place where I valued security way more than I valued the willingness to risk.
In short, I was addicted to security.
That was the place I had been living in when a year and a half ago Michelle and I started talking about having kids. We had talked about it before, but now we were talking about it as a reality, as in, when are we going to start doing this? I got the same tense, knotted feeling that I had anytime we had talked about it before. The tense knottiness had started as an undefined feeling when we were first vaguely talking about kids, but it started taking a more definable shape as we got more serious about it. I soon recognized it as the same feeling that I got when I heard about people going for their dreams. I had never lived in a world of going for my dreams. In fact, I had strangely not lived much in a world of doing what I really wanted to do. I remember when I was making a career move from Young Life to the unknown back in the day, I sat down with a man who was older than me who worked for Young Life. After telling him about all of my thoughts, he said, “Okay, but what do you want to do?” It has stuck with me because I had honestly not yet considered that. I used to get really stuck in the “should” of things.
Soon, I realized the feeling that had been in me as an idea, was pushing its way into reality. I finally said to Michelle, “I’ve got to see about acting first.” In my memory, I blurted it out fast, scared to hear myself say it. I finally acknowledged and put a name to the thing that had been holding me back from taking the next step in my life, in our lives. I mean the dream of being an actor in Hollywood is so cliche, everyone wants that. It took a lot of encouraging conversations with people for me to own the idea that it was right for me. I kept secretly telling people about it and surprisingly, no one laughed. Everyone seemed to think it made sense.
For the next few months, I mostly worried about one question. Am I going to be the guy who goes for things, or am I going to be the guy who chooses safety? I was so fearful that I was the guy who just chooses safety. Ironically, I was fearful that I would be too fearful to move. Meta fear. I did not want to be that guy, but there were so many things in the way. I had a job, I had health insurance, I had a house, I had shows, I had status, I had success, I had friends, and most of all, I had a wife.
In a show of Michelle’s sacrificial love, she was the one who encouraged me to travel out here for a week to see what it was all about. I may have just always wondered, but luckily, I’m married to a girl that is all about doing things right away. I needed to visit to see if I would actually like it here, or if I just liked the idea of it.
I came out for a week and came back with that knowing feeling. The knowing feeling was scary to me in this instance because I knew it meant consequences. It meant I was going to have to move. But, how could that possibly work? Michelle would have to be on board, we would have to sell our house and give up our jobs. After some involved conversations, it became clear that if I did it, I would have to do it solo, it only made sense.
The feeling that I was going to go through with it was not going away at all.
So, I started unraveling the threads that had sewn me together. I started telling people, I told Jeff at the Skinny Improv, I announced it on the Mystery Hour, and then I put my two weeks in at work. Then, I said goodbye to Michelle. It was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done. I’ve had sad things happen, but I had never created them. I have video of me saying goodbye and driving away, but I haven’t watched it yet, it’s too raw and wrenching.
I arrived in Los Angeles completely freaked out. What the hell was I doing here? Where am I going to live for the long haul? How are Michelle and I going to do this? What if I find out that I suck? All I had was uncertainty, which makes a terrible crutch. Uncertainty is more the bully that kicks your crutch away from you.
So, I’ve been out here for nine months chronicling everything step on this blog. It has been a vicious roller coaster, the old wooden kind, where you aren’t sure if they had the same safety standards when they originally built it. As readers of the blog know, Michelle and I have seen each other about once a month, plus she was out six weeks in the summer. This summer was amazing, we were together, and Michelle really liked LA. Then, when she got home, things got increasingly more difficult for her. I’ve called my first few months out here Phase One, Phase Two was Michelle being here, and Phase Three was me getting a job for real. Phase Three proved to be hard for Michelle.
In September, Michelle told me that I needed to come home.
I knew it was coming, the separation had gotten to be too much. It would be madness to respond to Michelle’s selfless love with anything but the same. More vocal than Michelle was the simple practicality of things. Yes, I had a job, but it was clear in talking to people that I would not be able to afford moving into an apartment with what I made, plus a mortgage at home. I couldn’t stay with my friend’s parents forever. I had imagined I would stay there for a few weeks, max. Now, it had been seven months. The distance was difficult emotionally, and living situation was difficult financially, and mooching-ly. Believe it or not, I have a mooching limit.
In my past I have been horrible with decisions, but this one was easy.
I negotiated with Michelle that I could finish one more improv class and then move back. We signed on for about another two months. My class ends on December 4th and I will get in my car and start driving soon after. I’ve started the process of unraveling my threads here.
So, here we are. My LA adventure is coming to an end. We’re fairly broke. I’m soon to be unemployed. I never achieved my dreams. I’m heading home.
That all sounds awful. But man, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m not far enough removed for too many retrospective, conclusive thoughts. I just know that I needed to do this. I needed it. I NEEDED it. My most convincing proof is that I can’t wait to start a family now. This thing that seemed like the death of me that I couldn’t face is now the thing that I want more than ever. Michelle used to think that I would just move toward another obsession, another excuse to be driven, but I told her that I think this is the one thing I needed.
Am I going to remain mildly obsessive about things? Am I going to remain driven? Probably and yes. However, I’m entirely convinced that this was the one thing I needed. When I look back on my life, it is the undercurrent of what I’ve wanted to do, it’s always been there.
The skeptic would say, “That hasn’t been satisfied, you’re far from achieving your dream of being in television or movies.” True enough. That desire will probably remain, time will tell. If it remains, I think we’d be willing to move back out here. We’re people that are willing to do those things now, we just have to do them together from here on out.
And, you know what? I had two dreams. I have the dream where I became a TV and movie star doing work I’m proud of. I also had the dream that I was someone who chased dreams. I accomplished that.
As I said, this is my first foray into dream chasing being a reality. I don’t think dreams have to be the lofty, probably out of reach things. My friend, Joe, and I talked dreams a long time ago, and he said that his dream is to be a dad. Joe and his wife just had a baby, he’s living it. I think about the scene in Goodwill Hunting where Will (Matt Damon) is talking to Sean (Robin Williams) about the classic Red Sox game (before they won the World Series a few years ago), that Sean had tickets for. Carlton Fisk hit a home run to win the game.
Will: Did you rush the field?
Sean: [surprised at the question] No, I didn’t rush the fuckin’ field; I wasn’t there.
Sean: No – I was in a bar havin’ a drink with my future wife.
Will: You missed Pudge Fisk’s home run?
Sean: Oh, yeah.
Will: To have a fuckin’ drink with some lady you never met?
Sean: Yeah, but you shoulda seen her; she was a stunner.
We tend to think that dreams have to be nearly unreachable and exciting to be worthwhile. I like the thought of driving three days in a car to reunite with my wife being a dream fulfilled. I like the thought of my future kids being worth sacrificing something for.
I’ve written this blog just about myself for the most part, but I also understand that there are three groups of people who get more credence in the dispensing life lesson field, those are people facing death, people who are sacrificing a lot to pursue dreams, and people in prison. Listen, those are not equals by any means, the other categories carry more weight, but I do not want to be in the other categories. I understand that there are people who have read this blog who have applied things to their own lives and their own dreams, you’ve told me as much.
You always hear about how you need to pursue your dreams. You know who you hear that from? American Idol contestants, successful actors, or other people who have reached their dreams. They don’t have credibility to me. I don’t want to hear life lessons from people who have made it. I want to hear from people who are in the struggle, or people who haven’t made it. The only problem is, those people don’t have the same platform. Well, I’m one of those people, and I made my own platform. Here’s my lesson.
I don’t think you have to pursue your dreams.
I think you have to be willing to pursue your dreams.
You need be in a position where fear is less convincing. If you are willing to pursue your dreams and the opportunity arises, pursue the hell out of it. If you are willing to pursue your dreams and the practicalities of life don’t allow you to, you can know that you were willing to do it. If you aren’t willing right now, do things that scare hell out of you, you’ll come around. And, recognize the everyday dreams that you can pursue, they’re just as legitimate.
My orientation toward trust has been flipped in this experience as well. I used to always worry about the future because I didn’t trust that things would work out. Mostly though, I didn’t trust myself. I’m so trusting now, which has made my worried tendencies diminish. I hope that it will last, and I actually trust that it will. You know what helped a lot? My “Fuck that” principle that I wrote about here. I’ve actively ingrained it. The worrisome thoughts are now met with a strong, fun, “fuck that” in my head. Say it out loud at your own risk.
There are so many practicalities that had to line up for me here, that I couldn’t have done it otherwise. Mostly, my host family. As I said, I planned on staying at the house for a few weeks, max, now it will be almost 10 months. Holy crap, they’re the kindest people I know. Also, my job has been a lifesaver.
Going forward it is clear that the adventure is not over. I’m going to go home without a job, without money, a months long sinus infection that I need to get good health insurance to treat. By the way, if you’re interested in helping, I will gladly e-mail you my resume! I do know that I will start performing at the Skinny Improv again, The Mystery Hour will be back in full effect, and I’ll be closer to normal again.
I’m going home pretty exhausted, but with a lot of ideas and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s bittersweet, but I actually feel pretty good about it, more than I thought I would. I don’t know what the future holds for Michelle and I in terms of locations and jobs, but we’ll be together. I think I’ll keep doing the blog for awhile when I get home, maybe make it an actual year of posts. I’m going to keep blogging while I’m here, with a lot more thoughts on this stuff, it’s hard to encapsulate this in one post.
This blog itself has been really, really meaningful for me. In this lonely place, with a lot of ups and downs, it has been a constant. I know I’ve had a lot of cheerleaders following along. Thanks for your support, truly. I know it feels a little sad, but I’m really excited, and I don’t think this adventure is over, this stuff is too much in my blood at this point. So don’t be sad for me.
When I think back more than a year ago about myself wondering if I would have the courage to go through with this, I physically smile thinking that I went for it, I really did.
I’m going to go home to my wife…
To try to make babies…
But we’ll keep trying…
And that sounds like a lot of fun…
Junior high Jeff would even call the act of trying a dream realized.