Who Knows Who Cares

road in city during sunset
Photo by Nout Gons on Pexels.com

Oh 2018. Reflecting back on last year has left me starting 2019 with a wary hope.

LOWS

This was the year I was at my lowest emotional point. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t hate myself so much more than any other self-deprecating day. I just felt like there wasn’t any point to human life and saw humanity in the same vein as ants. You look at an ant farm and you can see them move with urgency and fervor … but to what end? They’re in a maze. In an instant, their life can be gone with one swift SMACK.

And so, reflecting upon my own existence with its many challenges and struggles, I kept asking myself, why am I working so hard? To what end? Why does it matter?

It doesn’t.

HIGHS

This was my best year on the job front, creatively AND professionally.

Professionally in the sense of my survival jobs. Late October, I was hired to work full time as an in-house substitute teacher/ substitute teacher recruiter. It’s the first time I’ve had a full time job with consistent income. People, I’M NOT STARVING ANYMORE. With this job, I was able to QUIT WAITRESSING. It had been 10 YEARS TOO LONG.

I’m working for a beautiful company called Scoot Education. I really align myself with their ethos and values. They believe in meaningful and open relationships with educators and schools to provide all children quality education. They’re also a start up and working at a colorful and comfortable co-working space has its benefits of free coffee, flavored water and beer on tap. 😀

Creatively, I booked main cast roles in two projects I was passionate about and was proud of : This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries and This Girl Does Nothing (I was the girl that did nothing) and Tam Tran Goes To Washington (I was Tam Tran).  I literally booked the “title” roles!

THE WARINESS

Comparing my lows and highs, it looks like my highs outweigh my lows. But let’s do some flippity flip flips.

When you’re at the very bottom, the only direction is up (unless you’re dead … more on that later).  I was at an emotional pit of despair. But after talking to a strong support group of friends, talking to a therapist and time, I’ve managed not to feel that way anymore and actually feel a lot better right now. This sense of progress gives me a metric for happiness. It shows I’m resilient.

But what if you get what you want? For me, I was grateful and proud that I was able to get a cool survival job. I was grateful and proud to get the title acting roles. But along with these opportunities, came pressure from myself to not let anyone down, to not make the people who believed in me regret their decision, to not expose myself as a fraud. With these insecurities, I could not enjoy the jobs.

Let’s play a game, If this is true, what is else is true? 

If you’ve noticed, I listed the survival full time job as a high. But if that was true, what else is true? That would mean I’m not leaving myself open for auditions. That would mean, devoting more time to a survival job, I’m not devoting enough time to my creative career. Which means that creative career becomes a hobby which means it’ll become obsolete and gone. (Not true necessarily but stay with me).

The acting jobs that I was grateful to get but too insecure to enjoy, if that is true what else is true? I eventually enjoyed the experiences once they ended. Hindsight’s a gift and I was able to reflect once I knew I had successfully portrayed the role. I was also happy once the shows ended because I wasn’t on a loop of the same project/same role anymore. The opportunity had normalized itself and had lost its novelty. The gift became a job. And I found myself unable to improve or progress the role any further. No progress = no happiness.

THE HOPE

I went to a funeral just a few weeks ago, in the last few weeks of 2018. My former boss’s husband passed away via suicide. During his funeral, everyone who spoke, talked about what a great guy he was and what a great life he lived. It was a celebration of his life.

On paper, this guy had it all. He had a loving wife, two beautiful healthy children, owned property, had his own company, worked on cool projects and well known shows. And yet he committed suicide.

His wife closed the ceremony and said that he was a privileged white man. He never had to struggle and because of that he didn’t have the chance to build himself to be resilient. Because he never had to. And so, we are here and he is not.

She was crying and smiling as she was saying all this and in that moment, I saw how beautifully raw resilience could look like and it made me grateful for adversity.

2019?!

Everything is temporary and everything changes. My highs can become lows one minute and vice versa the next. I can think there is no point to life and yet be grateful that I am alive. I can want to be an actor since I was nine years old and then finally in my 30s, find the idea unappealing.

Why fit myself in somebody else’s vision? Why try to make someone else’s vision come alive when I have a story, a vision, a perspective of my own? Why not empower myself to write it, bring it forth and be in control of my own destiny?

With the new job, I don’t have to scramble for money and spread my time over 3 part time jobs. I don’t have to devote emotional woes of when or if I can eat today. I have money to pay for writing classes. I have money to apply to fellowships and competitions. I have evenings open to network and meet other writers. I have weekends open to make whatever the fuck I want and to keep making so that if and when I’m bored, I have the creative freedom and control to change it. I have the space to improve, to make it new, to progress and to be happy.

And what if everything fails and nothing comes to fruition? So what? I’ve had adversity and I’ve risen. I welcome any challenges that come because I’ve been built to be resilient.

Alright 2019. Let’s get on with it. Let’s go.

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What’s the story we tell ourselves?

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So I just finished Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover and I definitely recommend it. What I liked about it is not because her story is CRAZY, because it is, but because I saw it as an examination of what is real and true.

A part I really resonated with was when she brought up Isaiah Berlin’s concept of Positive Liberty. As defined from the book: “positive liberty is self-mastery—the rule of the self, by the self. To have positive liberty … is to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion.” I thought one of the strongest themes within the book was Tara’s struggle for positive liberty.

Tara grew up with survivalist, Mormon, Doomsday parents where their distrust in government prevented her from setting foot in a classroom until she was 17. When she finally did, she committed, learned, excelled and got a PHD in intellectual history and political thought. Her story is not only about navigating between two polarizing worlds, but also the struggle in which she was forced to choose between them. Spoiler alert: she chooses the woke/educated path, a path that ultimately ostracized herself from her parents.

While reading her book, I found myself groaning out of frustration because judging from my lens, being educated and woke myself, I found it maddening when she would have these internal dialogues of affirming her crazy parents’ convictions while denying her own experience, even thinking herself to be crazy to the point of academic withdrawal and mental breakdowns.

They were gaslighting her about her brother’s violence toward her and other women. Her parents were protecting him and condemning her and yet she would question her reality. Why? Why did their voices, their versions of events weighed more than her own? Why were they right and she was wrong? Why was making the decision to choose between her parents and herself so hard?

And then after that initial snap judgement fades away and her story really sinks in do I have compassion for her. I cry as I read on. She does not have positive liberty due to the internal constraints formed by her childhood and upbringing. And then I’m reminded of my mom.

My mom is one of 9 children. Being a part of such a large family, it’s easy to be left out and forgotten and I definitely saw my mom as that black sheep, so desperately trying to fit in when she did not, even into adulthood. Countless times I have told her she is different, they are different, why must she please them all? That’s impossible! Just be yourself and who cares what they think?

She’s in her 60s. And as loud and as often as I scold her, she’s not going to change. And then I catch myself. That unconscious desire to please everyone, to fit in even when you’re not meant to fit, has bled onto me. But I’m half my mom’s age now. I went to therapy, got educated, talked it out and fought and won positive liberty.

And so did Tara. Her situation is so extreme that her success in achieving enlightenment and positive liberty is noteworthy. The story she was telling herself was somebody else’s story. The shackles that held her down were from birth. The reality she believed was corrupt. And yet she managed to rise above it and fly. Writing this book, she is taking her life into her own hands, controlling the narrative, the reality and setting forth HERstory.

 

 

I’m struggling.

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It’s been a pretty rough month. First, the trivial: I am getting my ass whupped in Fantasy Football (49ers suuuck, so long playoffs), as well as the most current – my poor parked car got smashed Saturday night. I woke up Sunday morning to see the hubcaps leaning against their naked tires along with the entire left side scraped and dented. Claim agent said it looked like a drunk driver in a big car, slammed in my car and ran. I blame Saturday night, Dodgers winning and myself for parking in a corner of a busy, two Stop signs intersection. SIGH. THE IRONY: it was a parking spot RIGHT in front of my apartment! I knew the busy intersection well but I took the chance because parking in KTOWN is an achievement in itself. AND I stayed in Saturday night to prevent myself from going out and spending money. INSTEAD, I’ll be paying a steep deductible to get my car fixed as well as losing the expensive buy in for my Fantasy league.

Circumstantially, I’m struggling. 

Also, it was my birthday at the top of the month. I chose not to cry this year, which I didn’t. I splurged on a birthday tattoo and after it was done, I HAD NO BUYER’S REMORSE. I spent a lot on the artist and his design aesthetic and I love my tattoo. You can call me boojie, but I needed to treat myself externally so it’d distract me from what I felt internally.

Emotionally, I’m struggling. 

I’ve been going through some family drama. In such emotional turmoil and angst, I had a moment of clarity one morning. I suddenly found an explanation to my birthday blues and to my desperate need to be an actor. Yes, I didn’t cry this year on my birthday (nor last year — let’s celebrate the little successes) but it didn’t mean I wasn’t wary of my birthday.

I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I follow the usual trope of “my parents really fucked me up,” and I’ve grown up broken. Look, I am a firm believer of what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and I refuse to be a victim of circumstance, but after years where suffering and brokenness are compounded on top of each other, it’s easy to feel weighed down and drowning all the fucking time.

My mother made it known early on that me and my sisters were a burden. As a child, I felt the complete reluctance when I wanted my birthday party at Chuck E’ Cheese. During the party, my mom frowned the entire time, worrying about the increasing total cost and never failed to remind me how much time, effort and money she put in this little party. I never had a birthday party after that.

This is just one example of my relationship with my mom, and yet it’s indicative of the underlying conflict I have with her. Here’s a woman that gave me life and yet showed distain in the mere obligation of raising me.

Hindsight is a gift and I know as an adult she had a lot going on. She was a Viet Nam refugee, uprooting her life to a foreign country, working full time, going to school at night while raising 3 kids in a one bedroom apartment for a good 10 years. Because of hindsight, I can forgive my mom and let any resentment towards her go.

But as a child when I wasn’t able to make sense of what I was feeling, that feeling that I didn’t matter left a very lasting scar into adulthood. That’s why I feel the way I feel towards my birthday. I don’t matter, so why celebrate? I’ll just take up space and waste people’s time and money.

It’s interesting to note that I also tend to fall for guys that don’t value me and easily discard me. Last year I was ghosted and the year before that, I was just another ho on his ho-tation. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip, and I like guys that remind me of my mother, because they give me this feeling that I don’t matter, a feeling I’m all too familiar with. And I’m confusing familiarity with love. Isn’t that sad?

So what does this have to do with acting? Where’s the connection. For a story to affect me so emotionally to the point that it’ll guide my life long decisions, where its characters were the contributive factor to this, shows me that they matter. They are essential and necessary. You can’t have Indiana Jones without Indiana. You can’t have Star Wars without Han Solo. YOU JUST CAN’T. THEY FUCKING MATTER.

So, unconsciously I wanted to be an actor to matter.  I wanted to be integral to a story that could affect people’s hearts and minds. And then they’d remember me, value me and maybe want me.

But no one ever told me just how emotionally taxing it would be.

Emotionally, I’ve BEEN struggling. 

It is hard to compete in this industry, let alone in this world right now. Where superficial, immoral and antagonist people win without any consequences, it’s hard to find a place where I fit and won’t lose my soul. Why, why are shitty movies being made? Why are unskilled influencers getting paid beaucoup money? Why is the GOP so hateful and yet have all the power? I’ve been frustrated with myself for wanting so desperately to eat at the cool kids table, knowing full well they are soulless and corrupt. And I know full well that I’d defy them and refuse to abide by their standards (or lack thereof). And yet, I am lamenting at my circumstantial brokenness because it feels almost like a punishment to want to be good and fair and free.

I have been feeling like I just don’t fit anywhere in this world. And my circumstances have reiterated that feeling. I’ve been going to therapy to reconcile this internal conflict as well as to turn off the noise. To me, it is such an overwhelming problem and yet my therapist said this so easily, “Your brilliance is not meant to fit.”

I question the validity of this statement because emotionally it’s not ringing true to me. I’ve never thought of myself as brilliant so to believe it is too far a leap to make. And to hear that I was never meant to fit is hard to accept because for so long I’ve wanted to belong and yet never questioned if I ever should.

EVERYDAY, I’m struggling. 

You Never Know

So with my last post I had said that the director gave me the kiss of death, “You’re so cute,” as consolation for not getting a part in the show I had come in to audition for that day. However, though I wasn’t a good fit for that particular show, someone in the audition room thought to forward me another project they were doing. They scheduled me for an audition and guessed what people? I BOOKED IT.

Also, I’ve been working with the youth for quite a long time and I’ve developed a strong desire to empower them through storytelling. The project I booked is such a better fit for me in terms of character development, but also due to their mission in sharing the character’s story to the people that need to see it, the youth.

Anyways, I’m on their website under the Arts Education tab. MEANT TO BE.

http://www.eastwestplayers.org/youth-arts-education/

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I’M STRONGER THAN I THINK

So, I botched another audition … 😦

Before any audition, I always kinda downplay any excitement or gratitude regarding the opportunity. Thoughts of — oh this is just protocol, it’s a long shot, they already booked someone, you’re not going to get it, you have no credits, you have no experience, they don’t know you … help soften the blow when I actually don’t hear back from casting directors. Call it self preservation, but it’s gotten me through 7 years of constant neglect and false hope from Hollywood.

At least I thought so anyways. I didn’t realize the longstanding detrimental repercussions to my sense of self worth and self awareness.

So there are two parts of me: 1. the intellectual, measurable, on paper part of me, and 2. the emotional, can’t put my finger on it but can feel it part of me. I’ve realized recently that there’s a huge gap between the two. What I know and understand about myself isn’t equivalent to how I feel about myself.

Most of the time, I don’t like myself. A lot of the time, I feel I have nothing to offer to this world and my life is meaningless. I have no talent, I am ugly and stupid and there’s a ton of people smarter, prettier, nicer, anything-er than me. I am nothing.

This is the type of thinking that is the result of all my “self preservation”.  In the name of protecting myself and my sensitive ego, talking myself down from any opportunity, I am little by little chipping at any sense of self worth and self confidence I may have had.

And at the most recent audition, this self preservation led to self sabotage. I came in the room not confident, kept fumbling over my lines, and worried that that cuter, younger, smarter, more talented girl in the waiting room is going to kill it and I’m the old hack that never stood a chance. This thought literally manifested into my performance where I completely looked like a noob. After my performance, the director literally said, “Awww you’re so cute.” Ugh, KISS OF DEATH. “Awww you’re so cute” is subtext for “you can’t act, but hey consolation is you cute.” The casting associate asked, “how long you’ve been in LA for?” I meekly replied, 7 years, and his eyebrows arched which translated to: “you’ve been in LA for that long and you still can’t act?!” To add salt to the wound, that cute girl in the waiting room got a callback. I did not.

Look, I know it’s probably not as bad as I have described it. I AM being dramatic, but I am showing how far this negative thinking can go for me. It destroys me and its incessant voice is on loop ALL THE FUCKING TIME. To the point that it blinds me from the intellectual part of me.

On paper, through class time and the observations of my peers, I know I have talent. I know I’m good and have good instincts. I’m relatable, personable, intelligent and inspiring. It’s fun to watch me. And yet I’m so blind to these facts that when someone else, even a stranger, recognizes these features about me, I’m always so … SURPRISED.

This year it’s happened three times already. The first time was when I booked a lead role in This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. I wrote about the experience in a previous post.  I was surprised that the director and co director trusted me to play a character, the most difficult character to convey, a character I thought very much unlike me, a character I had a lot of trouble understanding and relating, and yet … I killed it. I never even had the capacity to think that that was even a possibility of booking a lead role let alone do it well. They saw something in me that I wasn’t even aware was there.

The second time this happened was last month. I’ve been volunteering at a youth leadership camp for years and one of the traditions at the camp is for two staff members to do a two-person scripted scene. A scene that addresses the existential question of a life worth saving. Heavy stuff, a dramatic piece that I’ve always been intimidated by and never really had the confidence to do it. It was suggested that one of the counselors, a New York theatre graduate, super talented and so funny, should be one of the characters. But when this opportunity was brought to her, she said she would only do the scene if I did it with her … I was shocked. What???! Someone I respected as an actor and admired for her work and thoughtfulness wanted to work with uncombed, unpolished, rough around the edges me? She cray. She’s stupid. WTF? …Wow, once she said that, the idea appealed to me, her confidence in me gave me confidence and guess what? We killed it.

one rope patrick meyers

And then the third time happened yesterday. I took a spin class for the first time. I had no idea what it entailed, I had no idea how to adjust my bike and fit it to my strength, I had no idea I would sweat that much! I wanted to quit, I wanted to stop, I wanted to yell at the instructor to stop yelling at me. But then he said, “YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK!” And he kept saying that along rock music I’ve heard on Guitar Hero. My knees felt weird and weak, there was too much resistant, I felt like I was pedaling against mud, against a wall, it felt hopeless for a good 2/3 of the class. But that instructor guy said it again, “YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK!” So I kept moving my feet, pushing myself, pushing my legs and knees and eventually, I kept up and sped up.

So what have I learned from all this? That intellectual part of me needs to shout louder and longer for my emotional part of me to feel its truth. For its truth to really resonate within myself and manifest itself into my best self. Instead of surrounding my mind with negative thoughts in the name of self preservation, I must shout what I know about myself in the name of BEST SELF preservation. 😀

Also, I think I will be talking to my therapist to figure out a plan of action to sustain and maintain positive thinking and mental reinforcements of myself for myself and with myself. Wish me luck! ❤

 

 

 

 

Unanswered Questions

First off, I just want to say I’m ok.

Secondly, I’m not ok.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide really threw me into a melancholy funk.

Lately I’ve been reevaluating my Why. Through Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk and his book, Start With Why, I learned that if I get clear with my Why — the bigger picture, the reason I get up the morning, it makes setbacks, challenges and failures easier to stomach. Also with the big picture clear, that last failure isn’t viewed as debilitating but as a necessary step closer to achieving the dream. Inspiring stuff right?

After a lot of self reflection, I realized that my Why was: To tell my story so that I can connect with others at a human level, regardless of sex, religion, background, etc. Carl Rogers, an American psychologist said, “What is most personal, is most universal.” Representation matters! My last blog post explains how this rang true for me. 

Looking back at my whole creative journey thus far, I can confidently say I’ve really lived out the pursuit of my Why. As an actor, I use myself and my personal experience to connect to characters and bring them to life. As a writer, I’m writing my own stories unapologetically via scripts, essays, novels. As a storyteller, I’m sharing my experiences live with others. I was connecting to so many different groups, to so many different people. I felt seen, heard, understood.

And then Bourdain dies.

Here was a guy that was MY WHY manifested! He was literally going around the world and sitting in people’s kitchens swapping stories and connecting with diverse individuals. Watching Parts Unknown, you can’t keep count how many times he says, “I’m so happy.”  Here was a guy that was recognized and rewarded in every aspect of his life. And yet, he willingly ended it.

His death reiterated that happiness and fulfillment can’t be found externally, but must be found within. And so I was deeply saddened for Bourdain because how alone he must’ve felt. How he just couldn’t find lasting internal happiness. And how perhaps, he must’ve felt like an asshole, because out of everyone, he should’ve been happy right?

Obviously I don’t know Bourdain, so really all these conjectures are projections of my own preoccupations. Because if it happened to him, who is to say it won’t happen to us. To me.

So what if I’m telling my stories. So what if for that one brief moment, someone heard me saw me understood me. It wasn’t lasting. In between those very brief fleeting moments, long dull aches of hopelessness fill the gaps. Long intervals of failures, feelings of emptiness, indifference and abandonment fill most of my waking life.

I’m incredibly conflicted. My Why has carried me through these past 7 years in the pursuit of creative fulfillment. A desire that determined the course of my adult life thus far. A desire that is still really strong. But as more woke as I get, as more obstacles stand in my way, as more shit hits the fan in this crazy political climate we live in, I’m filled with a sense of  … what is the fucking point.

How do I become part of a system that is so rigged against me without compromising who I am?

But also it gets more complicated than that …

Is it worth to keep trying at the cost of my personal life?

Do I need to be an artist? Do I need to make money as an artist? Do I even need to be in LA? I DON’T KNOW. I have no answers. I’m still thinking. I’m still living. I still wake up and get up and do. But it’s with great uncertainty and dread. I’m ok but I’m not ok as well.

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Memorial for Bourdain in front of his restaurant, Les Halles.

 

 

Dear Donald Glover

Hi. I don’t know if you remember me, but we briefly met on October 2, 2012. It was my birthday and I was celebrating it with a few friends at Blind Barber. We saw a guy in the corner that looked like you, but we weren’t sure. My friend Krista was insistent that it was you. My friend Ana and I thought your nose looked too big to be yours. Krista won and wanted to approach you. I was like, oh shit. I want to get in on this if it really was to be you. But I was also so in my head worrying if it wasn’t you and if we were gonna offend or flatter a random black guy.  We approached you timidly and Krista did all the talking, “We’re fans.” And OH MY GOD, you smiled and it WAS YOU! You said thanks and we went on our merry way and I couldn’t stop telling people Childish Gambino was at my birthday party. #coachella2012 #asiangirlseverywhereucla

ANYWAYS, sorry. Wtf is my point. To be honest, I was a fan then, but after watching Atlanta and reading up on the analysis and layers of each episode, I am just really really GRATEFUL to you now. To the point that I felt compelled to write you this letter. Of course it’s more to process and articulate my complicated relationship with American television, but also to acknowledge my personal growth from such an influential and ubiquitous medium, with your show having the most unexpected profound effect on me.

Both parents worked so I grew up on television. Television was the easiest way for me to understand the world. But at an early age, I noticed a huge disconnect between my reality and what I saw on screen. First off everyone on television was WHITE. Had normal names. Ate American food. Second, I revered everyone I saw on the screen. Wanted a Full House family. Crushed on Zach Morris. Harrison Ford was my hero. At such a young age, I never expected my fandom would lead to harmful effects on my mental psyche.

But it did. The big difference that stared in my face, myself. My non-whiteness. As much as I loved the white people on television, as much as I hated my Vietnamese self. My Vietnamese name. The Vietnamese food I had to eat at home. I avoided anything remotely Vietnamese to the point that as an adult, I never crave Vietnamese food. NEVER. NOT EVEN PHO. (I crave burritos though, carne asada all day).

This self hate perpetuated a lack of self-confidence, a constant feeling of, I’m just not good enough. And this toxic voice was on loop even into adulthood. Ironically (or maybe obviously?) I grew up to be an actor. As of right now, an un-bookable actor. 😦 With the lack of opportunities for my look, coupled with the extreme difficulty of just breaking in the industry, every failed audition only verified what I already thought of myself — I suck. I’m not good enough. I don’t belong here.

And then Aziz’s Master of None came out. Oh shit. Here was something that told a similar story to mine. And it was on Netflix! The accessibility, the exposure, the camaraderie I felt for similar experiences. I remember thinking, this is it! They get me! They see me! They’re speaking my language! 😀

And then I saw Atlanta. And wtf. Where I thought Master of None did it for me, your show surpassed it in such a deep and meaningful way. Donald, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but your show is very black. I hear it’s also very Atlanta. I’ve never been. I’m also not black at all. (Actually I wanted to be black too when younger. To me, black people have a sense of anti-establishment and self assurance that me, a scrawny pushover rule follower severely lacked). But where Master of None told me a story I already knew, Atlanta affected me in a way that was transformative. o_O

Because your show is sooo specific and sooo ethnocentric and yet someone like me can relate to it, even more so than to Master of None, it made me realize that it’s not only ok to tell one’s story (a story not to be compromised and watered down to pander to a wider audience), it’s NECESSARY to tell one’s story. Because Donald, for the first time ever, Atlanta made me feel proud to be myself and to tell my story unapologetically.

So, thanks. Thank you so much.

❤ Thi

P.S. Yo Donald, below is a pic of my friends and me that night at Blind Barber. It was 90s hip hop Tuesdays, I think. Do we look familiar? I’m the second from the left. Krista is first, then me, Ana and Annie.

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We Made Something Beautiful.

I woke up today with Damien Rice in my head. His sound is eerie, delicate and bittersweet. And that’s exactly what I felt this morning — bittersweet.

Early November of last year, I auditioned for a little play called, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. The audition was strange. We were to recite our favorite children’s poem and then participate in a group improvisation exercise. I was intriqued and recited Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I thought Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss were too obvious. For the improvisation part, I recall pretending to cry and collecting my tears in a mug. In any case, I got a part, a main part, and yesterday was closing night, our last performance.

Today, the realization that it was all over had set in. Bittersweet.  That word is such an oxymoron. But alas, all good things have to end right? The transient part of it makes it all more special to me, makes me grateful for the people I met, the personal evolution I developed as an actor/person and the pride I felt in creating something magical. I was a part of something bigger than myself and it made me happy. Days weeks months lived well.

The play, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, is about three girls who are sisters, who are triplets. They’re related and so close in age but so so very different. They get abandoned in the woods at age 12 by a broken hearted father who was influenced by the evil step mother. The oldest, Albienne, is all about venturing out and moving forward, discovering the world and new places (This Girl Laughs). The middle child, Beatrix, wants to go in the other direction, back to search for Father as to why he could do such a thing (This Girl Cries). As for the youngest, Carmen, she stays in the woods (This Girl Does Nothing). The play follows the girls in their decision and their journeys that were set forth from that fateful day in the woods until the ripe old(er) age of 31.

Damn. I’M 31 RIGHT NOW. I AM 1 OF 3 DAUGHTERS. MY SISTERS AND I ARE RELATED BUT SO DIFFERENT. This play pulled at me in so many different ways and I felt I could play almost all the characters. I related to Albienne because she was the oldest. I’m the oldest in my family. She’s also about taking charge and being a leader. She’s an extrovert, meeting people and building communities. ALL ME. I related to Beatrix because of her attachment to the father. I have a wonderful relationship with my dad. He is the most interesting man in the world to me and I’ve walked the Sai Gon river with him.  I wanted to be the narrator of the story, because I’m a storyteller and a substitute teacher, and this play was written almost as a poem/children’s story in which I slay every day in the classroom. The only role I could not see myself in was Carmen. And guess which role I got. CARMEN.

 

Developing the Character

It was a struggle to figure out Carmen. She literally stays in one spot for YEARS, for the whole friggin play (the most I ever stayed in one spot was a month and that was a mandated isolation due to tuberculosis). I am not about that and despise people who are inactive and lazy. I saw Carmen as weird, not being curious of the world. I saw her as selfish because she didn’t want to help others anymore, she just wanted to help her own kids. That’s another thing, she gets married and has kids. She’s a mom. I’m soooooo far from that in my life right now.

I asked the directors, Bekkah and Lauren, why the eff did you choose me for Carmen? What did you see in me that resonated Carmen? Bekkah told me that I had a seriousness to me. Carmen has the most practical, blunt lines in the play. She usually has the last word in the scenes, the punctuated, emphatic end of a poem, because she’s wiser beyond her years, though she’s the youngest, she makes the most perceptive observations. She sees things the way they are and acknowledges them.

Is Bekkah saying I’m old? Alright alright so Carmen’s deep. But how do I show that? Bekkah gave me a note at the beginning, “Thi, your character does nothing, but you have to show different ways to do nothing.” MIND BLOWN. Bekkah kept posing challenging questions that really helped me get to know Carmen. Because how else could I? Carmen doesn’t respond when I talk to her. All I have are her words in the script, and that’s limiting. Bekkah asked, “What have you learned? What would 31-year old pregnant mom Carmen tell her 10 year old self?”

It took me 4 months to develop Carmen and I’m proud of what I came up with. But I really couldn’t have done it without the directors. Bekkah’s direction and notes made me more aware of things I could discover for Carmen, from her mannerisms to her internal expression of emotions. Lauren, the assistant director really gave me the encouragement that I was heading in the right direction in developing the character.

Al Pacino was asked once and I’m paraphrasing, “Which out of all the characters you’ve played, is most liked you?” And he answered, “Well, all of them. They’re my face, they’re my voice. It’s just some characters highlight different facets of me more than others.” Objectively speaking, Carmen is the least like me in personality, but what I’m most proud of is that I found myself in her emotions throughout the play. I felt everything she felt, because they were my feelings and I bared it all on stage. I grew as an actor because I was able to do that. I grew as a person because I found relation to someone that was so unlike me.

 

The Team

The play was produced by this 2 year old theatre company called Flat Tire Theatre Company. I had reservations coming into a group of people that all knew each other from college. Also, the average age among them was 25. What do they know? A WHOLE LOT. I was astounded at their skill set, their organization, their creativity, their work ethic, their kindness and their humility. Shae the stage manager, knew every cue, every set piece movement/change, she knew our meaning even when we were speaking gibberish. Martin, the publicity guy went all out to share about the show to the point that we had 5/6 sold out shows! The design team, Sam and Michael, and their resourcefulness and creativity managed to create a magical, imaginative world and tone with limited resources from dyed cloths, lights, free music and shadows.

 

photos courtesy Flat Tire Theatre Company, cast and crew

 

Something Magical

I have a lot of trouble with self promoting or even talking myself up. I think it’s due to years of Catholic guilt (I’m flawed and forever a sinner), first generation guilt (can’t validate your parents struggle as a broke ass actor), and Eastern values (it’s not about you, it’s about how you can serve the group). When I was a younger actor, I struggled with telling people about the shows or things that I had done or were a part of. There was a sense of shame that my acting wasn’t good, why would I want to burden people with that. I had social anxiety that it wouldn’t entertain people and they wasted their time seeing me. I was a coward, I couldn’t bear for people to see my art and judge it. So, I didn’t tell people. And when things I had worked on got unnoticed, shows I was in where no one I knew was in the audience, I felt sad.

I need that validation. I’ve always known that. But now in my 30s, I finally accept that part of me. But it’s not even about validation. It’s about being seen, being heard, being understood. Even if it’s with someone I don’t know. There’s an experience that was shared, a memory created and perhaps remembered forever.

No one in this production got paid. Cast and crew committed a lot of time and work and effort into this. Into something that closed yesterday. Something that is now gone.

After our first run through, day before opening night, Bekkah said something that really hit me that I was a part of something magical. She said, “We made something.” It’s not easy to make something. In a world of instant gratification and fatalistic destruction, it’s easy to consume, to destroy and to forget. What we made may have been temporary, but the fact that we made it, not for money, not for fame, but simply just to share it, has bred endless possible connections. Connection between performers and audience, connection among strangers through shared emotion and experience or time and space. Connection between colleagues, friends, and/or families. Those connections can be lasting. Those connections can be forever and even transcendent.

To me, those connections are something beautiful.

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

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.