Clutter, other people's stories and the ache of letting go


Longtime readers (and compulsive types who click deep into the "about" section) know that I've had two previous lives of roughly 10 years each, career-wise, before coming into my own as the communicatrix you know and love.

First, I wrote ads. Big, and small, but mostly big, TV ads for cars and cereal and gelatin products, among many, many others. It was a fun job in many ways, but the ROI on it sucked eggs, for me.

Oh, it paid well enough. Until you broke down that big salary + bonus into hourly increments, that is, and then it didn't. And when you factored in the amount of brain juice that went into it, and what ultimately came out, it really wasn't, for me. Some of my compatriots would likely have written ads for free, for the sheer joy of it; for me, it finally came down to something I did for money, and the money wasn't enough to keep me there.

Next, after a few misdirected efforts (*cough* screenwriting *cough*), I settled into a new career: acting in ads. Well, I acted in a bunch of stuff, including a ton of sketches, a half-ton of plays and a (small) handful of film and TV projects. But all "blink-and-you'd-miss-me"-type stuff.

That also paid well enough, although again, not nearly as well as you'd think when you broke down all the eleventy-seven-billion hours you put into training and auditioning. Probably 98% of the working actor's life is spent either interviewing for jobs, getting ready to interview for jobs, or driving around looking for parking to interview for jobs. Eventually, the Crohn's, the experience I had because of it as much as the physical legacy it left me with, forced me into retirement. The ROI, while it was definitely better than advertising, just wasn't good enough to warrant the wear and tear on my body and psyche.

So I retired. Or stopped auditioning, which at my level is a de facto retirement. My agent, Mr. Cris Dennis of Film Artists Associates, one of your finer human beings, insisted on calling it a semi-retirement, and keeping things open in case something good came up. Cheered by the depth of his kindness and faith in me, I agreed, and things chugged along quietly enough, until last week, when I went in to read for a series of perfectly fine spots for what I'm sure is a perfectly fine product...and I hated it.

I hated getting dressed up. I hated driving there, and parking. I hated putting on a suit that no longer fit after two and a half years parked on my ass in front of the computer.

But mostly, I hated that I wasn't good at it anymore. Oh, I got a callback, so I didn't suck eggs. But I've been on the other side of this equation and I know that if you're even in the ballpark in some way, lots of times they'll call you back. And physically, I was a dead ringer for what they were after.

It's probably obvious, but just in case it isn't, this is a much, much harder thing to let go of than some goal of getting out there and hustling for consulting clients. I gave up a lot to go after my dream of acting, and letting even this last, mercenary bit of it go, because let's face it, no one is in commercials for the glorious acting opportunities it affords, is far, far more melancholy-making than letting go of my ad tool portfolio or a dream of some potentially gargantuan but wholly unrealized revenue stream. I became an actor to Tell the Truth, and a small part of me feels like a loser and a copout for moving away from it and into writing-plus-whatever-the-hell-else-I do-now.

On the other hand, it has never been clearer or more obvious that my job now is to tell my own stories, not other people's. So tell I will, and devil take the hindmost.

I made a hard phone call on Wednesday afternoon, just before close of business. I told Mr. Cris Dennis that this time, I really am hanging up my spurs. I can't half-ass anything anymore, and I can't give acting that good stuff I was in the prime of my dream. I leave this job to my dear girlie, Annie, who is rocking the world where I like to think I would have left off, if I'd been half as talented as she is*.

Oh, and I also told him that I'd meet him for lunch next week. Just because the journey has taken a little turn doesn't mean I have to leave behind the people I met on the way.

More than anything, or at least, more than a lot of things, I would like to believe that I will make silver jewelry again, when I have time, so I should continue to hang onto the 16-year-old (some of it untouched) equipment I bought and hauled out from Chicago. Or that my apartment building will magically return to being the quiet, clean, sweet-smelling haven it was when I moved in 10 years ago and I can stay put, and 37, with difficult change behind me and freedom ahead. Or, recently, that the goddamn suit will fit again.

I start to wonder how much of the pain of letting go of clutter, emotional, career, physical, what have you, is fear, and how much is nostalgia. And, maybe, how much of nostalgia is fear.

In a way, it doesn't matter. We can sit around debating these things, or we can clean out the closet and the bookshelves and the mustier, darker parts of our souls and brains and hearts we would perhaps prefer not to look at.

It ain't easy. But so far, every time I've put aside the next decade's version of childish things, I've been astonished not only at the childish wonder that's been reinvigorated in me, but at how damned nice it looks in here, how damned good it feels.

Easy is for other people; we are after bigger things. Or maybe just other things. At the very least, some wiggle room.

Now, go close some doors so you-know-who can open some windows...


*Note: this is not an excuse to stop writing, missy-ma'am; you're young and able-bodied enough to do both for now.

Image by eob via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.