thi.nguyen

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I am exactly where I’m supposed to be

Joke of the Day! MY LIFE!

No seriously, Joke of the Day!

Actor: I’m an actor in LA!

Snarky Person: Really? What restaurant?

So I’ve recently met a new server at the restaurant I work at, and surprise surprise, he’s an actor. As we were sizing each other up and asking how our respective acting careers were going, (not much since we both find ourselves working at the same restaurant), a stark difference between us stood out like a fucking diaper rash on a pristine baby’s bottom … AGE.

Ugh. He’s a young 26yo pup, around the same age as me when I came down to LA (25) to seriously pursue this. Don’t get me started on the 23yo starlet that’s auditioning up the ass as I cover her shifts since oh-I-have-nothing-to-do-since-I-have-no-auditions-and-all-the-time-in-the-world …

Bitter much, Thi?

The kid asked me, “How long have you been pursuing this?” What a loaded question. To answer this question, I was forced to do the math. I came down here, August 2011, about to turn 25. I am now 31 and by August, it’ll be 7 years. Fuuuuuck. Instinctively, automatically, immediately, I berated myself. You’ve been here 7 years and what do you have to show for it?! You’re in the crux of your 30s and you’re still working at a restaurant alongside highschoolers? You suck, you’re nothing, you should just quit and die as your dream dies too. 

Hahaha, as I write my thoughts out, I literally just lol’ed (I’m so current). Because seeing that thought process on paper kinda makes it sound and look soooo dramatic that it reminds me of a kindergartener crying the biggest tears as her clip gets moved down the behavior chart, from “ready to learn” to “needs improvement”.

I’ve been subbing for a kindergarten class for the past few days and everyday one kid or more cries. Whether it’s my fault or not (telling them what to do, moving their clips down the behavior chart, not giving them a sticker, paper cut, mispronouncing their names, missing their mommy, etc.), they cry as if it’s the end of the world and they’ve lost an arm. So, to make them stop crying, I ask them, “Are you bleeding?”, “Did you lose an arm?”, and “Is it the end of the world?” As they answer “no” to each of these questions and reflect why they’re even crying, I squash their woes with my ace question, “Then why are you crying?” and lo and behold, it’s a fucking miracle, they stop crying and realize they’re being silly drama queens.

So. Asking myself these questions, I know for a fact that I’m being a silly drama queen. At first glance, at face value, on paper, where I’m having this conversation with someone 5 years younger than me at a job I hate, it’s easy for me to dismiss all the progress I’ve made throughout these 7 years. So let’s don’t. 

I’m making the most consistent money I’ve ever made before, being able to afford to travel to Spain, Hawaii, Viet Nam, Nola, or to do anything (i.e. Burning Man, Coachella) whenever I want! I’m driving a car that has blue tooth and windows that work! I have goddamn health insurance people! (Still no parking spot, but oh well. Win some lose some.)

I’m so much more confident than when I was at 25. I don’t get as nervous as I used to whenever I’m in front of people, because I’m getting in front of people more! I’m on stage, I’m making people laugh, I’m storytelling and being vulnerable and sharing myself and people are enjoying it and I get a high out of it and it validates me.

My acting is so much better where I’m making specific choices that make my personality shine because I’m actually proud of who I am. I’m currently rehearsing for a play in which I’m a lead actor!

My writing is so much better because I’m able to tap into my experiences and feelings and express it in a way that I could never have done at 25. I’ve been working on a pilot, writing poetry and short stories that I’m proud of. 

I’m calmer, less neurotic, less driven and less defined by the lack of tangible measurable results. I don’t judge myself so critically and have these unrealistic expectations for myself. I’m just acutely aware of where I am right now and am ok with it. I accept it. I’m not bleeding, I haven’t lost an arm and it’s not the end of the world. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. 

drama queen

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All you need are Friends and Music

I know my last post was a bit negative so let’s compensate with a different mindset. Some gratitude (a helpful article on how gratitude is effective in the workplace). Some perspective.

Although the world is ending around us, I can still find the silver lining in my personal life. I am truly grateful for my friends and I have such an amazing community of people that I trust and love and am comfortable enough to show my neurotic overthinking woes or my first second third pilot drafts. If I need a hug, they’ll hold me. If I need to vent, they’ll listen. When I’m hating myself and define myself by my failures, they hold me up and look me in the eye, showing me how much they appreciate me. How much they value me. I matter. To them. A simple “how are you.” An email blast to let everyone know it’s my birthday. Watching a movie with me even though they’ve already seen it. A shared meal, shared time, shared experiences.

I work with a lot of kids and I’ve seen how much pressure they’ve put upon themselves. And at such a young age, they define themselves by their limited experiences and accomplishments. Most of the time that’s defined by things, because it’s in front of their faces, because it’s measurable, but it’s not sustainable. I saw high performing overachieving high schoolers get wrecked up by the scores they get, the colleges they get in/or not get in, the student government positions they hold. And when I told them to not define their accomplishments by those things, they asked me point blank, well, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

My relationships with others. I’m so grateful that I have been able to maintain friendships with people I’ve known since diapers, since middle school, high school, college, Spain, work, this summer. I’m grateful that I get to be a part of their lives, and share within their milestones (weddings, first borns, second borns, birthdays). This year, I’ve officiated two weddings — that my friends wanted me to be a part of their wedding and to hear what I had to say, was an honor!

I am seen. I am heard. I am loved.

I’m also grateful for music. Especially Spotify. OMG, because I have access to so many different artists, different sounds, moods, tones, beats, rhythms, there’s a song for every moment that I live. It heightens my happiness but also sympathizes with my sadness. How someone I’ve never met can create and share something that truly understands the minute changes, ebbs and flows of my feelings and thoughts throughout the day is OMG fucking mind blowing. It’s a connection that transcends human understanding that is felt within every inch of my body. And I LOVE it. And it makes me happy.

 


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The Contrast Becomes the Definition

“Everybody always asks if you have a career, if you’re married, if you have children. Like if life was some kind of grocery list. No one ever asks us if we’re happy.” – Farrah Gray.

I’m totally guilty of that. Especially last year, when I was turning 30. That list was on a loop in my mind that eventually got me crying on my 30th birthday. And then I got tuberculosis, ended up in the hospital for two weeks. Waking up in the hospital, completely disoriented, I realized, I could’ve died, but I didn’t. This caused a shift in the expectations I had had for myself. After the whole TB/hospital/isolation ordeal, I still didn’t have a career, I still didn’t have a partner nor children, but I was happy. The mere fact that I had almost lost my health and got it back made me really happy.

2017. Alright, so now that I have my health, has that happiness lasted? Absolutely not. I still don’t have a career, still making devastating mistakes in the dating thing (nowhere near marriage) and thank god I don’t have children. But does this shit matter towards my happiness? No. Because last year, I was happy without it.

I heard the phrase “optimal happiness” recently. Reflecting upon this phrase, I wonder, doesn’t putting these two words together make it redundant? Shouldn’t happiness be the highest, the best you feel? And if optimal is a qualifier, doesn’t that dilute the meaning of happiness? Also, who is to say that one is entitled to happiness? What if you’re a shitty person? And you deserve sadness, trial and tribulations and unfortunate events? But then … just wait a minute …

You can’t have happiness without sadness. The contrast becomes the definition. 2016, my health was deteriorating. I was losing it. So when I slowly gained it back, I was happy because that lost was felt. 2017, I didn’t lose anything. There was no contrast to gauge a sense of happiness.

And now reflecting on this past year, asking myself, Thi, are you happy? I’m not. I’ve been feeling very very very low.  The other week, I had a bad case of the Mondays where I had such an aversion to my surviving jobs. I hated the monotony of my life. I hated the thankless kids and rude adults as a substitute teacher by day and a waitress by night. I hated that I wasn’t being creatively challenged or fulfilled. And I’ve been sad, mad, angry, frustrated, upset (more redundancy for ya), and then I wonder. Is this perpetual hell hole necessary for that eventual happiness on the bend? Or am I delusional? That there is NO bend, NO horizon, just more hamster wheel to spin.

HOPE. You HAVE to have hope. Because if you don’t, what is the fucking point?


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I WON!

moth winner

So I’ve been telling stories around town (check out my progress and others shows I’ve done) and a popular storytelling show I go to is The Moth. It’s an open mic where you have to tell a 5 minute true story on theme.  There’s judges that score each storyteller. The person with the highest score goes to the Grand Slam where 10 winners compete, telling a new 5 minute story on a new theme.

If you want to tell a story, you put your name in the bag and they pull out 10 names for the night. The theme of the night was deadlines. Not only was I called up, (I was the 6th storyteller, usually the 1st storyteller gets judged the hardest because judges have to calibrate their scoring), my story barely made the time constraint, but I also won the night! Whoo! I told a story about getting tickets to a music festival. It was a stressful time and I relived it as I retold that story.

Here’s my certificate! Don’t mind the smudge, it was from a celebratory beer, cheers!

IMG_1441


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Time

I wish you could see /your history is chaining you/ We could let go and never lose /Nostalgia is killing us. – RAC (Doe Paoro), Nostalgia

Ocean, don’t be afraid. The end of the road is so far ahead it is already behind us. – Ocean Vuong, Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber. – Kurt Vonnegurt, Slaughterhouse Five

There is no time. Many become one. – Interpreter, Arrival

Time is moving so fast that I can’t seem to keep up. Kids are getting younger and every day I’m at my oldest. Nostalgia is killing me as I keep looking back at Youth and looking at her with resentment as she has her whole life ahead of her, more TIME ahead of her. The more I keep looking back, the more that gap widens between me and Time, where Time leaves me behind. Alone. With nothing.

Last week, I was feeling really sad. The song Nostalgia came on my Discover Weekly Spotify list and the lyrics just resonated with me. I had this sinking feeling that I was entrapped in a toxic circle of my own doing. Procrastination. Every day I tell myself, I’m going to write a few things toward my script, or I’m going to write creatively like a poem or even a blog post to express myself. And yet the last post I did was in December. Shit. Three months have already passed! See! Where did the time go?

Then a few days ago, I went to this poetry reading/talk. Ocean Vuong, this kid who writes for the New Yorker, a poet and an essayist, read his poem with this line: “The end of the road is so far ahead it is already behind us.” Fucking blew my mind. I went from, Oh shit, Time is so far ahead of me, it lapped me, to Oh shit, Time isn’t a straight line, it’s a  CIRCLE. (This poem is so visceral and poignant, it inspired me to write one myself.)

Now, that wasn’t the first time I encountered Time as being circular. This concept kept getting introduced to me through ALIENS — whether it was from a novel or a Hollywood movie, apparently this concept was always the most PROFOUND THING offered by out of this world creatures. Ha, it’s so foreign, it’s out of this world.

But that concept never took on a personal level for me until Vuong read it out loud. Coincidently, Vuong was an alien. He was born in Viet Nam, immigrated to USA when he was 2. But anyways I’ve digressed. I think what made Vuong such a powerful and effective vessel for me was that he started the poem out with, “Don’t be afraid.”

Is that what I’ve been feeling? Fear that I may never catch up to Time? That I may never fulfill a goal, a dream, a passion, let alone FEEL fulfilled? Fear that instead of blaming it on the lack of Time, it is I that should be blamed for my shortcomings, my wasted potential, my failings? Yea. All the above.

But why????? Why be afraid? JUST FUCKING DON’T. Fear, Time, Fulfillment … all these things aren’t even tangible like this hard ACTUAL scratched up aged cheap wood coffee table in which I write this blog post on.  They are ideas and concepts who’s meanings are adjustable to one’s own mind and experiences. So why can’t I just CHANGE MY MIND? I CAN!

All time is all time. Take it moment by moment and it isn’t scary or monolithic. It’s approachable, it just is. It’s a CIRCLE. Circles aren’t sharp like the pointy ends of a line. I think of a line as stagnant, but a circle is always in motion. It’s the easiest thing a small child can draw. It surrounds things and everything that is within the circle, it bounds it and becomes ONE. And instead of feeling alone, I’m a part of something ALIVE. 


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2016, you a bitch.

So … I got over turning 30 and less than a month after my birthday, I was diagnosed with active tuberculosis. In hindsight, maybe my reluctance to turn 30 was warranted … but then again hindsight is a nagging bitch.  Anyways, because I had active tuberculosis, I was deemed contagious and a hazard to the public. I was put into isolation for a month. Not fun. But what does this have to do with my creative endeavors? Everything.

Isolation gave me an unwanted reprieve from the working grind. I am a social being and to be put in confinement made me sad, especially on the weekends, when I knew all my friends were having fun and going out without me. Facebook’s a real irresistible bitch. Isolation gave me a lot of time to pursue creativity — writing, reading, coloring (indoor solitary activities) but stripped me of any motivation to actually do it. Instead, I found myself watching a lot of television. A lot.

I noticed that a lot of the shows I was watching were created by people marginalized by Hollywood — women and ethnic people. I.E. Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Master of None. It is becoming much more apparent to me that my acting career isn’t going to skyrocket from booking 10 second roles on television. It’s going to grow from within. I have to write and create my own content, because the role right for me isn’t going to come from a person unlike me.

Waking up every day in a glass box in a hospital, my experience was surreal. Why are my eyes opened to a day where I’m not even allowed to go outside?  Why am I kept alive?

I believe that everyone is endowed with a gift from above. And one must nourish and put to use that gift in order to serve the world, ultimately fulfilling one’s life purpose. Everyday I’m kept alive to hopefully fulfill my contribution to the world. I don’t know how or when or if I will ever live up to my potential, but while I’m awake and alive, I should try. 

Out of isolation, I started writing and storytelling. I don’t think I’m there yet. I don’t think I’m near fulfilling my purpose or have adequately contributed to society, but I’m on my way.  I’m on my way doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And it feels great. For the past couple of years, I’ve always done a personal assessment at the end of the year and for a long time, I always came out of it feeling so unaccomplished and a failure. That the year was a waste.

2016 sucked. Really, it did. It was a real bitch. I turned 30, I got tuberculosis and Hilary lost the election. But right now at the end of this year, for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a failure. (Maybe because after finding out it was TB, I can blame all my shortcomings on the TB. Oh, I couldn’t ride that bike NOT because I was out of shape, but because of TB! Oh, that guy rejected me NOT because he didn’t like me, it was the TB! Huzzah!)

Instead of measuring my self-worth based on the roles I have booked (a big fat ZERO), or the amount of money I’ve made through acting (again, a bit fat ZERO — now you see how easy it was to see myself as a failure), I’m measuring my self-worth based on the work I put in to contribute to society (writing, creating, storytelling and sharing everyday = infinity self worth points).

I know that every day I’m kept alive, it’s more time to fulfill my purpose. And when I die, that would mean my life was devoted to bringing about my purpose, or that I had finally succeeded. Either way, I’m gonna be alright. 


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Recent thoughts

Ugh. Next week I turn 30. And I’ve been very emotional lately. There’s the whole, my body is actually changing. I get gassy when I eat dairy. I have grey hairs. I get hangovers. It takes me much longer to heal from anything. There’s ALSO the whole I’m nowhere near where I thought I would be at 30. No career, no long-term relationship that can lead to marriage, no money, no health insurance, no 401k, no property. NOTHING.

I know the path I chose is harder than most. And I swear everyone and their effing mom has an opinion on my career path — I recently was told I’m delusional and am using the “I’m following my dream” to not have to hold myself accountable for my arrested development.

Look, I was valedictorian in middle school. I was nominated for Homecoming Queen by the boys water polo team. I was runner up for Most Likely to Make You Laugh in high school. I went to UCLA, took on at least 19 or more units/quarter and graduated Cum Laude with a quarter to spare. I have a freakin Masters in Spanish and am fluent in three languages. This was all accomplished by 22. I was projected to do great things.

SO HOW DID I GET HERE? I’m not proud of where I am right now and I think it’s because of my projections of myself when I was 22. My 22 year old self is severely disappointed in myself now.

There’s a thing called SATURN RETURNS where it takes 30 years for Saturn to finish its rotation around the sun. Big changes tend to happen when you’re about 30, 60 and 90. I see that everywhere around my group of friends right now. We’re all turning 30 and a lot of my friends are either getting married, having babies, getting promoted, or even quitting that job they got straight out of college and traveling and rethinking a different career path. CHANGE. REBIRTH. 

SO WHAT? My biggest change happened after 22. When I decided to leave a laid out path of measurable success (school-job-money-security) for the unpredictable and dark non path of acting. Instead of walking on an already paved path, I have to figure out a path from A to B in the dark, while using a shovel I’ve never used before nor have the upper body strength to use it efficiently. Hence the slow and immeasurable progress of this stupid acting career. I swear I’m either really stupid or really crazy.

But Saturn Returns can also mean DEATH. Perhaps a death of something to make room for something else? The same friend that told me I was delusional in pursuing acting as a profession, suggested that maybe this isn’t the path for me. That because I’m so focused on it, I’m blinded from any opportunity that is coming.

But opportunity doesn’t come from nothing. Opportunity has to come from work. And I haven’t worked towards anything else but acting. If I were to quit acting now, I would have no focus. No passion. No direction. That’s too bleak. So acting is the answer. I’m already doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

SO WTF IS THE PROBLEM??! In my teens and early 20s, I was accomplishing a lot and succeeding at a fast rate. I was used to that and carried that projection and expectation of myself into now. When I compare myself and my present to that 22 year old projection, I am deeply saddened. I think to myself that I am about to turn 30 and I have nothing worth celebrating.

And then I remember how STUPID my 22 year old self was. She was writing everything in lowercase. Everything, even her name. Ugh. How annoying. She easily felt the pressures of FOMO. She needed to party party party. Instant gratification. Always impatient, always wanting it NOW! She was exhausting.

Now in my later 20s and about to be in my 30s, I find life to be richer when lived slower. Referring to my last post “Community” where I talk about my first year of Burning Man to my second year, my 22 year old self was the yoloing burnt out first year while myself now is the smell the flowers, make time for the sunrise, tea sipping second year.

So what’s going to be my Saturn Returns? Am I getting married? NOPE. Am I having a kid? NOPE. Am I changing career paths. FUCK NO. I think it’s going to be the DEATH of the 22 year old’s unfair and unrealistic projection of my 30 year old self. She was expecting me to have it all by now assuming that I would stay on the laid out path. She didn’t take in consideration that I decided to dig and find my own path. Which does take longer but that’s OK! With this death, I can actually accept and embrace that success might come later, much later. And it’s OK! Life will be felt deeper. Richer. Fuller.

See, Sarah Paulson who just won an Emmy has some career advice: Don’t Succeed So Early.  I think I’m gonna be alright. :]