Monday, April 1, 2013

Somebody, yes, somebody is gonna rain on your parade.

Tyler Barton @tylerbarton27 asks:

I should like to know how you persevere when things do not go as you should like or as you might have planned them. Do you read a book to remove the circumstance from your mind? Do you blog about it to rally support and give yourself encouragement? How do you continue with being a performer if you feel that people do not take you seriously as one or turn their noses at the idea. You may not have such a dilemma facing you, but could you imagine how you might proceed for the sake of argument? I make no guarantee, but I may or may not be in a similar situation at present and seeking inspiration for what to say to best silence any naysayers.

In Kindergarten, our 800-year-old teacher, Ms. Mooney had us make bookmarks for our mothers for Mother's Day.  My mother was a published author.  She was not exactly hurting for bookmarks.  But that was the stupid assignment, so I sat down with my classmates and listened while Ms. Mooney explained each step before we began.  Apparently Ms. Mooney, though most likely trained in some fashion to teach children, didn't understand that giving a bunch of 6-year-olds 20 instructions and then saying "Go!" was like asking a dog to go do your laundry.  If you're lucky you have one of those dogs who can push a cart while walking on its hind legs, but when it comes to putting the quarters in the little slot, they're all thumbs (GET IT????).  It's possible we all remembered step one by the time she was done explaining the entire process, but likely the next step we remembered was, "Give it to your mother on Sunday!"

I got to step one million (it was a really intricate bookmark) in which there was a triangle on the paper that I had to either color in or not color in.  I couldn't remember.  I thought back to Ms. Mooney's demonstration.  I was pretty sure she said, "Don't color in the triangle."  However, she had one of those infuriating teaching techniques in which she demonstrated the opposite of what she wanted you to do.  "Don't color in the triangle like I'm doing right now.  See how I'm coloring in the triangle?  Don't do that.  Got it?  Don't do the thing I'm doing right now.  And Fido, remember to separate the colors and the whites."  I stared down at the triangle for a while and then decided she had definitely told us to color it in.  So, I grabbed a crayon and very carefully colored in the triangle, taking extra time to make sure I didn't go outside the lines.

You know in cartoons when someone gets mad and their face turns red and steam shoots out of their ears?  Sometimes their head morphs into the shape of a tea kettle.  That's pretty much what happened to Ms. Mooney when she saw what I was doing.  I can't be certain her head morphed into a tea kettle, she had a pretty big, square head to begin with.  But she turned red and steam escaped and she SCREAMED at me.  You'd think someone had murdered her cat.  She pointed to my classmate, Robyn and hollered, "Robyn did it right!  Why can't you????"  I wanted to say, "Because Robyn's the kind of girl who brings pompoms to show and tell and does a cheer about how much we love our teacher.  I bring deer turds in a ziplock bag.  I think that kind of explains it."  But I just let her scream.  I thought the 6-year-old equivalent to "This fucking lady is bat shit crazy." 

In the end I gave my mom the stupid bookmark and she hugged me and told me how beautiful it was, though I'm sure she was really thinking, "Great.  Just what I need.  Another fucking bookmark."

When I was about 7 or 8 I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and wept because I wanted to have afro puffs. 

Last October I learned I was 10 and a half weeks pregnant.  The father was a guy I'd broken up with but still lived with.

So, you see, Tyler, life is filled with moments you don't plan for or want.  But what can you do?  Sometimes you just have to let an old lady scream at you.  Sometimes you have to go ahead and have a baby you didn't mean to have and let your life be completely changed forever.

I learned a long time ago that I have no control over anything but myself.  And even then, I'd never have afro puffs.

In terms of continuing to be a performer in the face of naysayers, there has never been a naysayer louder than myself, so whenever someone has doubted me, unfortunately I've filed it in the "Proof that I am a total fraud" file in my mind.  That said, I keep doing it, so clearly that file is way in the back behind "Keep going in this ridiculous profession!" and "The next audition is THE audition."  Even after quitting performing "for good" I came back.  I don't know if that's called "passion" or "stupidity".  It helps (or hinders, depending on how you look at it) that I won the top award in my field.  I can always point to that and go, "There's proof that I'm good at this."  Though don't think for a minute that I don't also look at it as an anomaly ("Sure, you were good.  But, you know, you were also 11 and we were all just kind of impressed that you could walk and chew gum at the same time."). 

There will always be people who think they're being helpful by suggesting that you chose a more pragmatic profession.  Technically they're right.  You should chose a more pragmatic profession.  If there is something else you can or think you might want to do, for God's sake, do it.  I am not one of those people who will tell you to pursue your dream no matter what.  Performing should be a last resort.  You should carefully look at all the other things you might be able to do and if you really, truly decide you would rather die than do those things, then be a performer. 

Consider who the naysayer is before you absorb their advice.  It doesn't matter if your mom or your uncle or your dry cleaner doesn't think you can do it.  They don't know what the hell they're talking about.  Unless, of course, your dry cleaner is Luciano Pavarotti, in which case, he does know what he's talking about and you should take heed.  If, on the other hand, the people you are paying to train you consistently tell you you should think about a different career, you should think about a different career.  Of course I have never heard of a teacher actually saying, "You're wasting your money", because it's their livelihood on the line, but they should.  It's true that art is subjective to a degree.  Even the "best" performers have people who think they're awful.  But there's a difference between not liking someone's work and thinking that person is talentless.  And talent is not teachable.  You either have it or you don't.  Craft and technique are what you learn when you already have the base talent for the art.  If your theater teacher keeps suggesting you run the spotlight instead of playing Macbeth, perhaps you should consider a career in theater lighting design. 

Pursuing a career in the arts, like moving to New York City, is best left to the very young and the very wealthy.  The rest of us are just fools.

I hope that answers your questions.   Sorry I'm not more Suzy Sunshine about the whole thing.  But you've been following me long enough to know what to expect. 

And, for the record, I did eventually get my afro puffs:

No explanation necessary.