What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

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.

The blushing.

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.

Awkward.

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. Unknown

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.

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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.

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Should I Quit Church?

Should I Quit Church?

 

“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

— Woody Allen, from the film Annie Hall

 

 

 

(Trigger warning: This post is kind of spiritual-ish)

 I’ve been thinking of quitting church.

imagesTime out: I’ve mentioned before that I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, and promised to write more about it because, although it’s been around over five hundred years, a lot of people aren’t really sure what it is. Many of those people are UU’s, actually, which is part of our marketing problem. It boils down to this: we welcome everyone who comes in peace, we value freedom and work for social justice. If you want more details, you can go here, and maybe here.

Ok, so—

I joined this church back when my boys were three and five years old, because not only did the modest building have a huge banner outside that read “Standing on the Side of Love”, (referring, then, to the fight against the ban on same sex marriage in California that was raging at the time), but they also had an old school playground with dangerous “retro” equipment, like one of those metal carrousel things where kids propel themselves around until they throw up or crash into the dirt. There were big wooden climbing structures full of splinters and the occasional black widow spider and a sandbox that needed a good sift, if you know what I mean.

“Can we play here?” My son, then five asked.

“I think it’s for the church people,” I answered, looking through the chainlink fence, woven through with jasmine.

“Let’s be church people,” he said. He was little. He had no idea how loaded a statement like that was to an expat from the bible belt, like myself.

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (probably not), but I just had a feeling that these could be my people. Raising kids these days can whip you into such a frenzy of hyper-vigilance, that it not only zaps the fun out of it, but it can make you a little nuts. The lure of this playground, with it’s promise of good natured hippies who weren’t afraid of gay people, lawsuits or cat poop, was enough to get me through the doors.

We found community.

We took part in traditions like Passover, where my non-Jewish husband had an unlikely star turn as The Burning Bush in the seder play, and a Christmas Eve service, where my son, age six, was welcomed into the pageant dressed as Spiderman because, “Who knows who really attended the birth of Jesus?” said all the happy UU’s.

We got involved. UU’s are nothing if not crazy for social justice, and the church gave me a place to learn more about issues I cared about and pitch in where I could.

My relationship with church was great,

until several years passed and then…

it wasn’t.

As my boys got older, life got busier, and weekends were especially precious real estate on the calendar. The church got a new minister that didn’t take, and when he left after a few rough years,  it caused hurt feelings and a flurry of gossip that poisoned the positive vibe I’d loved so much in the beginning.

So I did something I’d never done and made an appointment with our minister. I needed to know: Is it possible to fall back in love, or had I let my relationship with church become stale, like a bad marriage, and was it time to pack up the kids and move on?

Talking to my minister was a lot like talking to a shrink. She asked questions, nodded and and listened with empathy, but mostly it was on me to suss it out.

“Maybe I just need a break,” I reasoned. “A spiritual sabbatical. That’s a thing, right?”

Again with the nodding. I tried to make my case.

“Then, when I come back, it will be a choice, not out of some, you know, obligation.”

“MmHm.”

We looked at each other. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. She listened, but I wasn’t going to get her stamp of approval for bailing out, and I wasn’t going to get a guilt trip about it either. Either of those would have given me the green light, but she wasn’t biting.

I went home confused.Why was it so hard to walk away?

I curate my life pretty carefully, picking and choosing what fits best, minimizing discomfort as much as possible. I shop at the grocery store I prefer, even though it’s not in my neighborhood and I have perfected my Starbucks order to a t. What can I say? I like things the way I like them. giphy

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (it was), but I started to wonder  if the problem wasn’t with church, but with me. If I did the work of showing up, even when I’d rather do something else, what might happen?

Which brings us to Easter Sunday.

My family and I woke up late, had toast and chocolate rabbits for breakfast, and made our way to church. All the familiar faces were there, and familiar songs were sung. As always, instead of eggs, we hid cans of food for the kids to find, to be donated to a local food bank, and participated in something called a Flower Communion.  It was, in the words of David Byrne, same as it ever was.

But it felt different.

Why?

I hate to say it, but I think it had to do with faith.

It felt like a leap of faith to show up, because even though I’m going through a phase where that place is working my last nerve, there’s something I need there, even if I can’t name it. And as annoying as it can be to get my ass out of bed and serve a community that sometimes asks too much, it is working on my insides, changing me for the better.

So, I guess I’ll keep going because, hey—

I need the eggs.