This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive. It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.
Good lord, the shaking.
Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)
But how’s this for a confession:
I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.
Out of fashion.
Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”
It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.
Maybe you can relate.
None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.
So wtf. Ima go there.
Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)
If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.
Wait, where was I?
Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love.
Hold up, Bruce.
You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??
And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs.
There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.
Or so I thought.
I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”
That’s the catch.
When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.
I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.
But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.
The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.
Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.
When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.
I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.
At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.
Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .
They were just So. Fucking. Cool.
They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.
I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.
And yet, here I am.
The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.
Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?
Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?
I don’t think so.
And I’m cool with that.