Please Read With Your Eyes Closed

Aug 23

“Turn around.”

It was the ninth false start I had with my student, Julie, for this one-minute drama exercise. After 20 classes with her, I was familiar with her delay tactics. After standing in place for a half a breath, she’d walk to a corner of the room. I’d gently coax her back. She’d hide her face; I’d convince her to drop her hands. She’d spin in circles, I’d get her to stop…all of this took longer than the exercise itself, if she would just get to it.

“It’s embarrassing,” she explained. Subtext: she’s terrified of what her peers will think of her. As a student in our theater arts program, she’s a poster child for low self-esteem, and exactly the kind of kid we hope to empower through a drama class.

I couldn’t let her skip exercises anymore. For her to make any progress, she had to face her fear. So I told her we would not go on with class until she did this exercise and asked how I could help. Red-faced and with a nervous giggle, she said everyone should turn around. Including me. I didn’t point out the absurdity of asking the very person who is supposed to evaluate you to turn around, I just did it. I heard her do the work with her voice, even if I couldn’t see her body.  And I let that be okay because for Julie, finding a way to stand up there in front of everyone, even if they hid their eyes, was progress.

I know how she feels. I squashed my low self-esteem many moons ago, but lately I’ve been doing some mental karate with a subject that could leave me wide open and without cover. I’ve tried to avoid it; I’ve moved to the corner of the room, I’ve spun in circles, I’ve covered my face looking for something else to say. But this one is staring me down and not getting out of my way. So I’d like to ask you to do me a favor. While you read this, please close your eyes.

Don’t peek.

I came to a startling realization the other day: I’m not a star. (And by star, I don’t mean talentless people famous for their fame or for eating bugs on national television. I mean a consistently working actor.) I do not make all my income from acting. This is not what I had planned. I had planned to move from New York City to L.A., be successful in film and TV and return to NYC to be on Broadway. I’ve been trying to find my way to the brass ring hanging from the Hollywood sign, but that road doesn’t show up on any GPS.

This is embarrassing. For a long time, I felt like a failure. And I’m scared that everyone else will see only failure if I admit where I find myself at 42.

Are your eyes still closed?  Good.

At 42, I make the majority of my money as a freelance marketing writer. The upside is that I work from home and have flexible hours that allow me to audition and act, when I am hired. The downside is that I don’t always like it. Marketing often borders on lying for profit and that’s never sat well with me.

When I look up at that brass ring, I see a lot of people I know swinging on it. A freakish number of my high school alumni have ended up in the entertainment industry, making newsletters obsolete. I can see what they’re doing just by turning on my TV or reading the billboards on Sunset Boulevard.  I know full well it doesn’t do any good to compare myself to others, but that reflex is as primal as breathing. It’s hard to avoid.

A couple of years ago, I wondered if I should just give up. Just stop scrambling. It’s not that I doubted my talent; I don’t. But I understand the entertainment industry is a crapshoot with a table the size of my headshot and the number of players exceeding the population of New York City. I get it. But how long should I try to shove my way to the dice as I’m being trampled?

But if I stopped, was I a failure? Furthermore, if I didn’t describe myself as an actress, then what the heck was I? Being stripped of that identity would feel like I cut off both arms.

But if I decided to hunker down and keep body checking my way forward, would I have to agree to do things that didn’t feel right just to move a few inches?

After a year of a puke-inducing vacillation, I finally made a decision. I wouldn’t give up. I also wouldn’t push blindly forward leaving my compromised integrity squirming under someone else’s stilettos. Instead, I accepted something.  I accepted that I live in a murky grey area between staying and leaving. I just decide each step based on whether I’m willing to take it or not. I know my chances of being a star probably dwindle, but my chances of staying myself remain strong.

In short, I chose a new brass ring. It hangs in my garden, just out of reach. Nobody else is on it. At 42, I get to work in my pajamas and make my own hours. I’m approaching the 10th anniversary with the love of my life who is still holding my hand. I live in a warmly painted house with a lush garden. I sing backup for an incredible musician. I’ve been mentoring a 14-year-old girl for two years. I drink wine with my friends and eat chocolate chip cookies with my family. I occasionally joyfully perform my little ass off.

And I teach kids with low-self esteem that the road to confidence is paved with vulnerability. I  applaud them along the way so they know they’re not alone.  I teach them the delight of taking risks, even if they make you spin in a circle. I show them how to stand up and simply be who they are, regardless of what other people might think.

So I suppose I’m content. I’m also human; so once in a while contentment and resentment do a sinister tango around my heart. But that’s okay. Regardless of what anyone thinks, I’m ready to stand in front of you and say it: I’m not a star. But I’m basically happy.

You can open your eyes now.


21 Responses to “Please Read With Your Eyes Closed”

  1. betty says:

    A beautifully expressed bouquet of many truths. One of which is this is an elegant twitching blob!

  2. Jen says:

    Love this – what stands out most for me is "the road to confidence is paved with vulnerability." I look forward to each Twitching Blob.

  3. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Thanks, Jen. That was my favorite too.

  4. Rommel says:

    I peeked. You are a star, just not the one you planned to be.

  5. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Exactly. So are you. 🙂

  6. Rommel says:

    Oh go on…. no seriously. 🙂 LIfe can be very interesting Robin. Glad you are not chucking it but modifying your existence. Sign of a well adjusted person. You can continue your dream at a pace that serves you and not anyone else – that's not a bad position to be in!

  7. Donaco says:

    To me, you're one of the very best actresses that I personally know. So I'd say it's ok to call yourself an actress. You don't have to be cashing a check from Paramount that week to be able to justify it.

  8. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    You\’re a gem, Donaco. I haven\’t stopped identifying as an actress…I just identify as a lot of other things too.

  9. Sharon says:

    Lovely, Robin! Couldn't have said it better. 🙂

  10. Alfi says:

    You're certainly a star at writing. This is very good.

  11. tucker says:

    Great post! Dreams keep us moving forward…and finding satisfaction in the minutia of life keeps us breathing in and out.

  12. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Well said, Tucker. Thanks for reading!

  13. J77 says:

    My dear, success is what you define it to be. No one else. It can take a lifetime to realize that, but you did earlier.

    And I know a number of rich people who seem "successful" who have disastrous family lives and/or chemical dependencies or feel isolated or who just aren't happy.

    Go see a performance of Pippin by some high school or summer stock theater group. Everything you need to know is in there 🙂

  14. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Exactly, my dear. That\’s why I moved my brass ring.

    By the way, I just discovered this tidbit on IMDB (which you can\’t always trust to be true)…I think it says quite a lot about Bob Fosse…

    At the very end when asked how he feels, Pippin says, \”Trapped, which isn\’t bad for the end of a musical comedy.\” The line was written \”Trapped, but happy, which isn\’t…\” but director/choreographer Bob Fosse changed it. It was fought out and today, the original version of the line appears in the play.

  15. D.C. Douglas says:

    I'm calling my autobiography "A Life of Puke-Inducing Vacillation"

  16. tania says:

    my favorite posting so far. thank goodness for you speaking the truth, robin. xo

  17. vivian oxford says:

    Would love to read all about you. May I open my eyes now?

  18. Shari says:

    Robin, I remember when you were a quiet, scared girl yourself.

    All personal growth has to start somewhere, and I applaud the girl in your class for taking that first step. She will probably grow up to be a shining star like you!

  19. Ari says:

    Good for you.

  20. Jay Evan Schoenfeldt says:

    That of an Actress is only one identiy that you carry with you. You will never leave it behind. It is part of you as is the writer, teacher, lover, scholar, confidant, friend, thinker and many more. This is who you are. This is human. To deny any one of your roles to shine would be failure, but to honor earh of them as they demand to be heard is to be alive.

    At times you will feel that the student does not respect the teacher, that your love takes you for granted, that your client abuses your temperment, that writer's block will not quit and the actress may yearn to be noticed. One idenity is no good if it does not have symbiotic souls to dance with.

    A star is nothing, but a piece of fiery dust a milllion miles away that is soon forgotten when a brighter and newer star appears. And they explode. They implode. They break apart. They die. Then, they truly are nothing. Yet, the same could not be said of a fantastic lover, teacher, writer, or friend.

  21. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Wow, Jay. So beautifully put. Yes, each person is the fabric of his/her individually woven threads. I couldn\’t have said it better.

    Now, please start your own blog, will you? I had no idea you were such a wordsmith. Gorgeous.

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