Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom called New York, in a castle off of 8th Avenue, I was gearing up to take a dance class. As I was warming up, I spotted someone I knew, who was also taking the class. I had worked with him ten years previously, back when I was a teenager, but had not seen him since. I promptly reintroduced myself (shyness is not a personal quality I often broker) and we got to talking about our lives and what we had been doing over the past decade. He commented that I looked more mature, and we laughed about how naive I had been as a teenager.
The whole conversation got me thinking about my last ten years and the scars I had to show for it. Physical and mental, debilitating and skin deep, there were many.
The doors opened and we went into class.
Later, I was watching my prodigal friend dance. It was a fun, sensual and almost silly combination and he was clearly enjoying himself, lost in a moment here, lost in a moment there. Then, something hit me.
Over the past ten years, my friend had probably accumulated the same amount of scars as I had, if not more. Yet, here he was, living his life to its extent. Despite my scars, there I was, enjoying myself just as much. In this realization, I stumbled upon a truism I had never before put into words.
Though our lives often seem silly or even frivolous (at this moment, for example, I was literally watching my friend shake his ass), there is serious grit underneath the glitter. There is serious heartache underneath the fun, but that's what makes the fun important, mesmerizing and even worth watching. Glitter, after all, is actually composed of tiny shards of shaved metal or hard plastic (true story - look it up). If you stand back far enough, it may look delicate or trivial, but it wouldn't look the way it does if it wasn't made of something hard enough to endure assault, or even make scars of its own.
There is serious sadness in what we do. Serious rejection. Serious struggle. Also, life happens. Friends die, families fall apart, injuries sap our determination and we find ourselves broke or broken or both.
But that is why the glitter is beautiful, and, dare I say, important. It is made up of serious, threatening things, that are then redirected into something silly, something joyous and perhaps, something trivial. When we turn shards of metal into glitter we effectively heal ourselves. When we turn shards of metal into glitter, we remind others that they have the same capability.
And so the two prodigal friends shook their asses. They shook them hard and with abandon. And, for a moment at least, they lived the happiest happy ever after there ever was.
A wise person once told me something a wise person once told him. The saying goes, "Being a working artist means that you are trying to get your work seen. After that, the job is the vacation."
I agree. Having just celebrated my 20-year audition anniversary, (audishiversary, if you will) I have done a lot of "working".
SIDE NOTE: Yes, I was one of those kids you see at auditions. My first audition was for an Edy's Ice Cream Commercial. We did the moonwalk on camera. They went with a toddler instead. My second audition was for the Music Man revival. I met Lea Michelle, we were best friends for a day, but neither of us booked it.
Living in NYC is a whirlwind. We all know that (and if you didn't, there are umpteen magazine articles waiting to tell you), but especially as an artist in this city, it often feels as if you are the infantry, slogging through the mud, lugging your heavy physical (and metaphysical) gear, continuously being made to wait in the trenches.
Now, everyone's trenches look a little different. Your trench might be the crowded acting class that you wanted to take, even if you manage to get in. They can be the hoops you have to jump through every time you try to get funding for a project. They might be circuitous route you have to take to get to a gig, trying to get your double bass past that large woman on the subway because your client doesn't have enough money to pay for your cab. No matter the circumstance, trenches are always crowded, psychologically hellish, too hot, too cold or simply unbearable.
Then why do we do it? For the vacation package, naturally. I've had some beautiful "vacations" (or, "won some battles" depending on which metaphor you prefer), and each one justifies the "work" (/"time spent in the trenches").
So what do we do in the meantime? If we want the payoff, how can we make the trenches more bearable?
I'm not pretending that I have all the answers, but I do believe that the solution comes in the form a question:
Who are we fighting?
It's a good question, but before we talk about who we are fighting, let's talk about who we are not fighting.
We are not fighting our fellow trench-mates. The people in the mud next to you are on the same team. Likely, they will be the difference between your success and your failure, your symbolic life and death. Remember: no man ever won a infantry charge by himself (David of "David and Goliath" fame does not count, I'm sorry). You don't have to like your fellow soldiers, though it's much more enjoyable if you do (laughing in the trenches is the best way to stave off melancholy), but you do have work with them. Without help, we will remain individually stuck in the mud. With a leg up over the embankment, we all eventually end up on higher ground, a million strong, ready to engage the enemy.
But who is the enemy?
The enemy is not necessarily "the establishment" or even the people on the other side of the table. The enemy is mediocrity. The enemy is bad work and unintentionally recycled ideas and the "let's do it because it's easy" sentiment. We all enlisted because we were inspired by something great. So we need to keep pushing forward - we need to be the new great.
But battles are not always the best way to do this. Sometimes you have fewer soldiers, or less ammo, or less political clout. Sometimes, the best course of action is not to retreat, but to desert.
Don't like either of the opposing sides? Grab some trench-mates and escape. Make your own world. Build a third party. Fight the enemy with creation, rather than destruction.
That's what I think.
But that's just me.