Been in LA for 4 Years and All I Got Was this Lousy T-shirt

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On July 20th, 2012, I arrived in Los Angeles to start my professional acting and writing journey. I was 24, slightly heartbroken/very single, without an acting agent, without a job, and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

4 years later and life has proven that it can be cyclical in the shittiest possible ways.

I’m newly heartbroken/single, without an acting agent (though, I did briefly have one), and still wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.  But I have a job so I guess I can be thankful for small mercies. And I’ve learned to avoid Adele this time around, which is hard because her latest album is perfection.

4 years seems like a lifetime ago–24 year old me had just left her collegiate bubble not long before her journey and was so optimistic about all of the golden opportunities that surely abounded in Tinseltown.

And then I got here, inhaled my first lung-full of the months of dust that had collected on the streets due to the extreme drought conditions and learned what racial type-casting parts are available to women that look like me (maid, thug’s girlfriend, slave, repeat).

It would have been easy to high tail it back to the East Coast. It would have been easy to quit pursuing this astronomical goal and resign myself to a life behind a desk or wiping baby butts that don’t belong to my progeny.

But for some reason, which is frankly beyond all sane thought and comprehension, I am still here. epdlt

 

I am still here and still as in love with lists as when I arrived back then, so I’m going to give you a bunch to sum up what I have accomplished and what I’ve learned.

Things I HAVE accomplished:

  • I’ve lived in the same apartment consistently for the longest period of time EVER. As a Navy kid and due to a turbulent teen experience, I’ve never lived in one house/apartment/dorm for longer than 4 years.
  • I’ve somehow chipped out a reputation as a highly sought after childcarer. As a nanny, I’ve reached the top of the pay bracket in the last 4 years and established myself in many celebrity and high-networth circles as the girl to hire (now, only if my acting and writing took off like that).
  • I’ve managed to support myself financially since I graduated from college 6 years ago, and paid off my student loans (which were supporting me the previous 4 years) in less than 5.
  • I have significantly reduced the amount of panic attacks I experience and that’s probably my GREATEST accomplishment.

On Work:

  • There has to be a balance with the rest of your life. You’ll go crazy/lose friends if you don’t.
  • Having lived a life constantly trying to make ends meet, it’s hard to say no to paying job opportunities, even if you’re financially in a good place. Practice saying “NO” or you won’t have time to pursue other goals.
  • Sometimes we have to do jobs we don’t actually want to do in order to fund our dreams. You are not in the position to be a freeloading millennial. You are not a trust fund kid. Suck it up. Go to your survival job.

On Hollywood and The Grind:

  • It’s all about who you know–and even sometimes making big industry connections won’t do shit unless they are ready to go to bat for you. WHICH WON’T BE OFTEN because so many people here are “risk averse” unless there is something specifically in it for their benefit.
  • Connections can be formed in the weirdest places–like when you go to help someone potty train their kid and they mention they’re an agent and would love to read your work (happening right now, in real life).
  • You have to put in the hours, the thousands of hours, to even make the tiniest bit of headway. But if you don’t, you’re not getting anywhere fast.
  • If you’re a POC, Hollywood is currently interested in “diversity”–and “diversity” includes anyone other than cis-gendered straight males. So white women and white LGBTQetc men are clumped in there with you. Don’t let this be a fad–let it be the new reality by refusing to play a stereotype or a trope (as much as possible). It is entirely possible to write POCs without being offensive, predictable, and boring.
  • Be supportive of other artists–you can’t play ALL OF THE ROLES so try to be excited when your friends/colleagues book.
  • Many people outside of Hollywood won’t know what a coup it is to even GET the audition in the first place. Celebrate every small victory.
  • Even when it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall with new headshots, new (expensive classes), and invested money leaking out of your ears, just keep going. Half the battle is sticking around and outlasting the competition.
  • And the best advice I’ve received (this tidbit of wisdom coming from a successful comedy producer): BE PATIENT.

On Love and Relationships**:

  • Dating is hard. Dating sucks. It’s a necessary evil unless you live in a culture with arranged marriages (and by all accounts, those aren’t fun).
  • Getting hurt is the worst. But if you don’t open yourself up, if you refuse to be cautiously vulnerable, you run the risk of never making that meaningful connection again and pushing away something that could have been great.
  • Don’t settle–you will find someone that loves you just as much, wants to be with you just as much, and isn’t afraid to both show and tell you often.
  • If you’re with someone that is changing how you perceive your value or self-worth in a negative way, END IT. RIGHT NOW. GO. DO IT.
  • Don’t stay with someone because you’re afraid of being alone. Worse than that, don’t stay with someone because you’re afraid of being “the bad guy” by initiating the breakup. Inaction in stringing someone along is more hurtful than taking action.
  • And if it doesn’t ever work out that you meet “the one“, Jane Austen was a spinster and a #BadBitch so you’ll be just fine.

**Full Disclosure–Newly heartbroken/single me thinks the above advice is complete horse shit. But some day (hopefully soon), I’ll let it sink in again.

On Life:

  • Hiring a housekeeper to come once a month is WORTH IT–especially if you’re horrible at cleaning. Paying the money for this luxury will truly raise your spirits beyond measure.
  • Getting married, having babies, owning a house, the “normal life milestones”, etc. may come at a slower pace than your friends back home. But you’ve got a goal, here, and dwelling on what you “don’t have” won’t get you any further to it. Those things aren’t out of reach for you, so be happy for those who are taking the fast track to them.
  • Keeping in touch with non-LA friends and family is key to longevity out here. Having your own cheering section to comfort you, even if over the phone or internet, is sometimes more meaningful than in-person relationships.
  • Your metabolism will slow down. Exercise isn’t an option–it’s a necessity to keep you from turning into a blob.
  • Wash everything in cold water with cold water detergent. And bras last longer if you air dry them.
  • You may miss the simplicity of the life you left behind–but that life wasn’t meant for you, so think about it in the past as a learning experience and not something you abandoned.

And finally, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Life is hard,  but wanting something bigger and better for yourself–wanting your dreams to actually become your reality–takes an incredible amount of moxie–remind yourself that you’ve got it.

“There’s been trials and tribulations
You know I’ve had my share
But I’ve climbed the mountain, I’ve crossed the river
And I’m almost there, I’m almost there
I’m almost there!”
–Princess Tiana, The Princess and The Frog

Syncope in a Subway Sandwich Shop OR Panic by the Pickles–Part 2

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

Ahem:

My heartbeat was moving so rapidly that I felt like I had just sprinted around a high school track. I broke out into a cold sweat that began to pool in my lower back.

I knew I was going down.

As I stood there, fully realizing that I was going to pass out, I took out my phone and texted my good friend Marina (who I have known for well over 14 years), “I’m having a panic attack in a Subway”.

Yep, instead of getting out of line to sit down and collect myself, I texted my friend that lives thousands of miles away.

She then texted me back multiple pictures of cute puppies doing cute things because under normal circumstances, those would’ve helped. She wasn’t completely aware that my panic attack included losing consciousness in a fast food joint.

I asked the person behind the counter arranging my sandwich if I could have a cup for water.

“Oh, you’ll get that at the register.”

I asked again, I’m not sure what tone I used because my memory of that particular moment is a bit foggy. She gave me a look, handed me the cup, and I stepped out of line.

I shakily filled the cup and could’ve sworn that my legs had been replaced by two stout columns of wobbly jello.

I sat at a table for two, leaned back against the wall, and tried to stop the room from spinning. I couldn’t hear anything–the sound was too muffled–and all I could manage to tell myself was “Don’t you dare pass out in a Subway. Don’t do it. They’ll call an ambulance, they’ll make a big deal of it. All of your friends are at work, you can’t do that alone. Get back to your apartment.”

Thinking back on it, leaving the Subway probably wasn’t the best plan. Didn’t matter, though, I couldn’t get up out of the chair without feeling like I was going to fall over.

Every time I started to gain clarity, I would gently remind myself, “YOU’RE GOING TO PASS OUT, YOU’RE GOING TO PASS OUT!” and then start to lose it all over again.

As I surveyed the people sitting around me–or, really, made sure no one was calling an ambulance, I noticed something strikingly odd.

No one was noticing.

Or if they did, they averted their attention.

I was no longer in the South where a simple sneeze merits a thousand bless you’s and everyone’s face shows concern for what probably is just allergies.

Here I am, a young female, not well dressed but certainly not slovenly, acting erratically. No one offered a second glance or even asked if I was ok. In fact, one of the girls at the register had another customer approach me and ask if I was ready to pay. While my head was in my hands and I squinted at the poor teenaged messenger, I wondered what the cashier’s deal was. I was obviously in distress and instead of offering assistance, she is asking me for my money. Later, my friend Blake would remind me that, “this is LA. They probably see crazy stuff everyday.”

Truth.

After what felt like an eternity later, my vision had come back (just barely) and I noticed that I had yet to black out. I stood up, gathered my belongings, and hobbled out of the store. I called Marina on the phone and she graciously accompanied me via telephone for the walk–where I again reminded myself that I was having a panic attack and started to drift off.

Marina asked nervously, “Are you walking down the actual street or are you…”

“I’m on the sidewalk.”

“Good!”

I couldn’t talk much, on account of the fact that talking apparently takes a lot of energy when you don’t have total control over your faculties, so I tried to listen to her tell me a wonderful story about a hot young Brazilian in her office.

That girl knows how to keep me focused.

I returned to my apartment, hung up the phone, and quickly took off my clothes (something I never do besides when I’m in the shower because I get anxious thinking about being naked during an earthquake and having the Rescue Team find me in my birthday suit). [Sorry if you’re getting undesired mental imagery. It comes with the story].

“Ok. Pass out,” I commanded myself.

Nope.

Nada.

Nothing.

It figures. When I’m at a location where it’s completely safe and acceptable to faint, my body tells me it’s done holding itself hostage and I’m free to do as I please.

I recovered not too long afterwards, showered, and continued on with my day as if I hadn’t just scared the living daylights out of myself.

I’d never had an anxiety attack that had physically disabled me as much as this instance–I usually just end up curled in a ball, sobbing, and fall asleep. That’s the best case scenario, you guys. 

Before I could even begin to feel sorry for myself, I thought about people that had it way worse than me–people who have had to be hospitalized just so they could cope with the unimaginable weight placed on their shoulders by their disorder.

And the worst part is thinking that so many people out there don’t have supportive friends and family that help them get through. I think that a lot of the stigma that comes with having a mental illness is that people just don’t understand. They can’t see your injury and they don’t often get that you can’t just “snap out of it”. There is something in your brain that keeps you from functioning at a normal level.

Here is the answer that most friends of loved ones with these sorts of issues needs to know. The best thing a friend can do in that situation is just say “I’m here, how can I help you?”. That’s it. Just let them know that you’re there and don’t judge them. 

I’d love to hear how you have supported a friend with a mental disorder–or if you are the one living with this raw deal, I’d love to hear how your support system has helped you. Leave your story in the comments!

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Syncope in a Subway Sandwich Shop OR Panic by the Pickles–Part 1

Did you know that the medical term for fainting is “Syncope”?

I didn’t, until yesterday evening when I Googled “ways to avoid passing out.”

[Can I just note, here, that I love that ‘Googled’ is now an actual verb in the English language?]

I’ve only ever come close to passing out a handful of times in my life:

  1. In middle school when I saw my grandfather cleaning out my grandmother’s feeding tube. He knew I wanted to be an OBGYN and so he thought it would be interesting for me to see. I nearly hit the floor before he caught me. My dreams of becoming a doctor, on the other hand, did hit the floor and promptly shattered.
  2. In college, I was in a theatre production of Moliere’s “School for Wives” and was being fitted for a corset. My weight had fluctuated from the semester before, when I was in another stage production, so their numbers were all wonky. As the seamstress laced the corset tighter and tighter, my ears started ringing and I knew I was going to collapse. The head of the department, a lovely woman named Tric (pronounced Trish), gave me chocolate to feel better, which was so Harry Potter-esque that I quickly forgot the horror of the previous episode.
  3. When giving a large amount of blood at the doctor’s office post-college, I met the icy tiles of the floor still somewhat conscious. And by “large amount of blood”, I think it was actually two tiny test tubes. This is when I discovered that donating blood wouldn’t be how I give back to society.

Each time, I had some sort of outside provocation for quickly losing my consciousness. Yesterday was a different story. But first, you need a little backstory.

Cue the Exposition!

I realize there is a stigma surrounding mental health disorders and I DON’T CARE. I’m writing about it here and now because I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed.

In my senior year of college, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder accompanied by panic attacks (not frequent enough to be classified as panic disorder in its own right).

My college has a counseling center that is notorious for being awful. I do have a friend that had a positive experience, but she stands alone among my peers. I was unlucky enough to have received the-opposite-of-help from the counseling center while in the beginning stages of being medicated. The bottom dropped out, bridges were burned, friends who didn’t understand and had no empathy jumped ship, grades were destroyed, yadda yadda yadda–I GRADUATED. And I learned how to cope without meds and with the help of a strong support system of *true* friends and family.

The crappiest part about having an Anxiety Disorder is that you worry–A LOT (understatement of the year)– about things that normal people wouldn’t give a second thought.

  • Maybe you made an off-color joke that your friend didn’t think was funny: you’ve obviously offended them down to their very souls, they will promptly shun you, and you’ll die alone.
  • Maybe you have a pretty bad toothache: the tooth obviously needs to be removed ASAP, and the dentist will probably determine that ALL of your teeth need to be extracted, leaving you with two shining sets of gums to gnaw down whatever food you can, which will ultimately lead to depression and you giving up and wasting away on your living room floor, dying alone. [Or, it could be that a popcorn kernel got stuck in your gum and pops out the next day]

Basically, you take any ordinary situation, inflate the possible outcomes, and make all the “what ifs” end in dying alone.

That’s my day to day, and frankly, I’m not exaggerating (sadly). So you can imagine what it’s like to think of things that actually ARE stress inducing to even the most normal, most stable of people.

When I decide to take a “mental health day” from work, its meaning is legit. It’s also hard for me to call in sick, being a nanny, because: what if the parents had life changing meetings scheduled today, regarding blockbuster movie deals, and because of their lack of childcare, they couldn’t attend, which means they’ll have no money, which means I’ll get fired, lose my apartment/car/collection of children’s literature, have to live on the streets, and (you guessed it) die alone.

You think I’m joking but those were actual thoughts that ticker taped through my head while typing the text that I wouldn’t be in yesterday.

I laid in bed watching more Netflix than I’d like to admit (SCANDAL and The Paradise, for the most part) and got hungry for the first time around noon.

There are several fast food places near my apartment, and the lesser of all of those evils (my personal opinion) was Subway. Home of Jared and his magical, sandwich eating weight loss.

I started my walk, giving myself a pep-talk: “Hey, don’t waste this entire day. You’re not actually sick, you know, so you better get to work on ALL of the side projects you’ve been attempting to complete. Write that pilot and that treatment for a potential pitch, CLEAN your filthy apartment, wash the piles of  laundry that are probably harboring mice by now, etc. etc”.

This “pep-talk” continued as I stood behind two of the slowest women to ever enter that sandwich chain. I mean REALLY. It’s deli meat. It’s an assortment of vegetables. It’s a few dressings. It’s not rocket science!

My vision focused in on my sandwich–sitting and waiting in cold cut purgatory while the idiots ahead of me decided how much lettuce was “enough”. But then–I noticed that my vision was blurring around that sandwich. My ears started to ring and my hearing became muffled. My heartbeat was moving so rapidly that I felt like I had just sprinted around a high school track. I broke out into a cold sweat that began to pool in my lower back.

I knew I was going down.

End of Part 1

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Think about this. Every. Day.

To the Moon! A Look at My Soul Sista

Today’s Daily Post Challenge: Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

My immediate reaction was TO THE MOON.

No, you didn’t misread that, I’m talking about the large celestial body that happens to be orbiting our humble planet. I wouldn’t go alone, though, because I’d take my “Soul Sista”, Linder Lue Lawrence, but commonly known by the folks at home as Hollywood–because she wants to be a movie star.

The Essence of Hollywood | Photo Credit: Hollywood's Facebook Page

The Essence of Hollywood | Photo Credit: Hollywood’s Facebook Page

I first met Hollywood when I was in high school, over a decade ago, and I have to admit that her personality was at first intimidating and off-putting. I didn’t immediately grasp that Hollywood was living with a cognitive disability because I’d never met anyone living life that way before and, of course, her outward appearance gives no indication of what’s swirling around in that beautiful brain of hers. She greets strangers with the force of a bull in a china shop–but that force is nothing but sheer joy and energy at having met someone new.

Then I found out we had the same dream:

“Hi! I’m Hollywood! I’m gonna be in the New York Times! I’m gonna be famous! I’m goin’ to Hollywood” was the first thing she ever said to me. She’s already famous in her own right, a true hometown heroine with countless articles written about her amazing story (check a handful out here, here, and here).

“TO THE MOON!” also happens to be one of her catchphrases.

Me and My Soul Sista | Photo Credit Marie S.

Me and my Soul Sista, Hollywood  | Photo Credit: Marie S.

She’s 56 years young and has the spirit of a much younger person. As a young child, she suffered abuse from her family but doesn’t bash her relatives, like she has every right to. She only really ever says, “I don’t talk to them–they are mean”. She has since inherited a gigantic network of family through living in our hometown for so long and Hope House, an organization that lets her live independently while having some really awesome Guardian Angels watch over her–making sure she’s doing alright. She’s also an artist, a hometown YouTube sensation, funny,  and an all-around happy person.

If you’re lucky enough, you’ll gain Soul Sista status, which means you’re bonded for life (you can’t be a jealous person, though, ’cause Hollywood has a ton of them–naturally).

When I told Hollywood I was moving from the VA to California, she immediately said, “Imma miss you! I want to go with you to Hollywood!”

“But everyone here will miss you so much,” I responded, “they’ll all cry that you’re gone”.

Hollywood paused for a moment. Then magnanimously blurted, “Let them cry!”

Every time I see the Hollywood sign now, which is every single day of my new Los Angeles life,  I think of her and how much I wish she had the resources to pick up and live her dream of becoming a movie star.

If I ever get lucky enough to hit it big, I’ll try my darndest to get her in front of a big movie camera–and then we’ll take our bags of gold and be the first actresses to take a trip TO THE MOON!

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Strange Encounters LA: Starbucks Bathroom Brawl

I think everyone can agree that mental healthcare in this country, heck this WORLD, isn’t where it really should be. We can rightfully assume this is because mental health hasn’t been at the forefront of American concerns over the last 100 years. It’s only now starting to morph into it’s own cause with more research, awareness, and understanding.

The following post isn’t at all meant to be incendiary; that being said, I’m going to approach this with humor (shocker) in the hopes that my readers will chill the freak out and not badger me with claims of insensitivity.

It all started when I walked into one of my two neighborhood Starbucks Coffeehouses (both are always packed, not unsurprisingly). This one is at the corner of a very well-known intersection and usually has a line stretching to the door at any given hour of the day. Its location may be ideal for some, but I personally despise it. It’s statistically impossible for me to secure a table most times I go–since I work from home often, it’s easier to focus in public without Netflix nagging me (I purposefully leave my headphones at home).

This morning, though, I walked in to one of the most beautiful sights to appear before my eyes in what could be my entire life.

HYPERBOLE!

Shining forth in the glinting sunbeams of our Solar System’s own star was a table situated in front of a gloriously large window with an electrical outlet right beside it.

An ELECTRICAL OUTLET, PEOPLE.

Do you know how prime a table like this is?! You’re more likely to successfully fish a needle out of a 50 foot haystack. While wearing a blindfold. In the snow.

Naturally, I screamed loud enough to rattle the windows and attracted more than a couple of stares from other patrons (just kidding, no screaming, at least not audibly).

I placed a book on the table to reserve my spot, ordered my white mocha and pumpkin bread, and returned to my table where I took a good ten minutes to unpack my gear and settle into what I thought would be my home for the next few hours. This ritual is not unlike that of a dog circling it’s bed 1000 times to make sure it’s just right before they plop down and begin to drool in a happy slumber.

I enabled the internet connection and had just started to respond to some pressing emails (like my subscription to mommy blogs, LEGO rewards points, etc) when she walked in.

Mussed hair, angry expression, 3 coats including a very large parka, and 4 different bags including one on wheels. She was either about to set sail on a cruise to the Arctic, or she was homeless.

She pushed her way through the crowded store and into the bathroom. Did I mention that my table was the one closest to the Whizz Palace (thank you, Leslie Knope, for that endearing moniker for the toilet room).

She brushed past me on her way in, whacking me with her coat, which I ignored because it was probably a mistake. Right?

Not 5 seconds later, I jump out of my skin when I hear this woman absolutely lambasting someone in the restroom.

That’s rude, I thought. She probably doesn’t even know the other person in there.

And then…I realized it wasn’t that kind of bathroom.

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This was a “one person at a time” bathroom and unless she had someone hiding in that suitcase, she was yelling at herself. Loudly.

At such a volume that everyone in the store began staring at each other with a look of “well this is AWKWARD” plastered all over their faces. Eventually, the people nearest the commotion settled their eyes on me as I was the one closest to the door.

Here’s where my life froze for 10 seconds. On the one hand, she could just be an unstable lady that yells at herself and causes no harm to anyone. On the flip-side, she could be an unstable serial killer, pumping herself up in the mirror to kill everyone enjoying a hot beverage in the waiting area with yours truly being the first one to knock off.

“Stop it,” my brain commanded, “she’s not going to kill you. Or is she?!”

I got up, calmly walked over to the baristas and let them know, “Hey, there’s some lady in the bathroom that doesn’t seem to be ‘all there’ yelling at herself.”

“Oh goodness,” a particularly mellow baristo (is that the male form of that position?) casually said while the girl standing next to him followed me back to the bathroom. She put her ear to the door to confirm that the lady was indeed inside and was almost blasted backward with the force of the noise from the woman holding herself captive in the bathroom. She knocked (not sure that was the best move) and received nothing in response.

“Well, we called the cops” came the Mellow Man, and each of them walked back to do their jobs. He paused for a moment, looking at me from over his shoulder and said, “you might want to move, just in case she comes out.”

It took me about 5 seconds to move all of my junk and settle into a table on the far side of the room–no ritual this time.

5 minutes later, the cops still weren’t there and the woman walked out of the bathroom, muttering loudly, and made her way to the bus stop. She boarded a bus without paying some 10 minutes later. I’m not sure if the authorities were called off, but they never did show up.

In retrospect it was kind of funny that I ran the entire gamut of emotions in that 15 minutes that woman was in the store. In the moment, though, I was genuinely afraid for my life as were the other people in the store (judging by some of the looks on their faces).

Why is this woman wandering Los Angeles by herself? Where is her family, and what can be done to help her?

I think the sad answer is ‘nothing’ which kind of put a damper to the Holiday music streaming from the speakers.

Just another reminder to be thankful for everything I have–most especially my friends, family, and sanity.