mountainI sat in on a class at my old acting studio last week to watch L.A. Jan do a scene (from Frances, and she tore the roof off the sucker, thanks). Having studied at Carter Thor for almost four years, I pretty much knew what to expect from an evening in Cameron's class: some good acting; some not-so-good acting; some insightful comments; some not-so-insightful comments.

Only as it turns out, I didn't.

The class was as I expected, the usual mix of acting styles and skills, with interstitial commentary on Life and Art by Cam. (He gives good sermon, does Cameron.) What was totally different was my reaction to it.

Back when I was enrolled at the studio I rode crazy waves of emotion, cycling through periods of enthusiasm, impatience, and rage from month to month and even class to class. In the moment, I was absolutely certain that this had everything to do with how sucky the scenes were or weren't and how compelling (and cogent) Cam's topic of the day was.

Watching the proceedings last week with a mix of interest and detachment, I finally realized that the x factor was me. No-brainer, you say? Easy for you to say, I say. How, when you're sitting in the prison of your own devising, wanting to be something extraordinary, wanting to be worshipped for being so, do you really just "be," really just take it all in? The answer is, you don't. If you're like most human beings, you need distance; you need perspective. Sometimes, in matters of the heart, for example, it takes time and a replacement to do the trick. But what is the replacement for an acting class, another acting class?

In this case, no. Despite the efforts of friends, prospective teachers and my nagging conscience, I've managed to steer clear of acting class since last July. At first, I chalked it up to physical and emotional exhaustion: in the space of six months, I'd buried my father, produced a show and been dragged into a lawsuit; really, I thought, I just wanted to whoop it up for awhile.

But nine months of gestation later, I realize I also needed space from class to figure out what I was doing in class, what I was trying to get from class. Ironically, that was the topic of Cameron's sermon last Wednesday night: learning to separate your artistic life from your professional life. I'm condensing (and paraphrasing) wildly, but basically, he maintained that as an artist, you need to figure your shit out before you bring it in the room. Because if you don't take care of your artistic life on your own, honing your skills, doing your daily maintenance, feeding your artistic soul, not only will you flail about most unattractively when you are up for a job: you run the risk of attaching all kinds of inappropriate, personal meaning to what is really a cut-and-dried business proposition.

My aha! moment came via the acting portal, but the Inappropriate Expectation Paradigm works in many other apps: work, love, a trip to Office Depot. (No, seriously, if you think shopping as sport isn't sublimated something-or-other, you're more delusional than I've been at my most dense.)

Alas, there's no magic formula for achieving consciousness and no standard measure for how long it takes to get past yourself. That "half as long as the relationship" saw is a sweet notion (or not, in the case of, say, a 60-year marriage that ends with the death of one's partner), but utterly untrue in my experience: I've recovered from some instantaneously; I'm wondering if I'll ever recover from my ignominious booting from The Groundlings Sunday Company. (You see? I still have to tell you I made it, however briefly, to that rarified level. Q.E.D., baby, Q.E.D....)

But while the time frame may vary, the trajectory itself never does, a tyrannically Hegelian dialectic. And it repeats itself over and over, each trajectory only a subset of that meta-trajectory I like to call Life.

Of course, there is a little bubble of joy, even accomplishment, to be floated on post-synthesis that I don't recall Hegel getting into. That brief glory bask. That glowing feeling of "I kick ass and throw it across the room when I'm done" that no drug can match for highs. That self-assuredness that will blossom into blinding, deafening hubris as surely as I'm still reeling from the gift-that-keeps-on-giving of my miserable Groundlings experience.

And with that, we return you to your regularly scheduled trajectory...