thi.nguyen

let's go.


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Why does the dream feel so …

Impossible?

:/ I know time is a social construct, but with every passing day as I look at myself in the mirror, lines are getting more defined and my hair is fading color … the dream of getting from the couch to the screen seems even more out of reach than ever.

Why does time matter? I look at younger people with envy and wistfulness. They have their whole lives ahead of them. When did I get so jaded, so discouraged, so insecure?

I’ve been going to a lot of weddings lately. While everyone is pairing off, I’m still single. I’ve been single longer than I’ve been with anyone combined. I’m not saying being with someone will make me happy. If anything, I think I’m more comfortable being on my own. But it’s not because it stems from a desire for solitude, but from a need for protection. I don’t think I’m deserving of anyone just yet.

But Thi, why define yourself by your success or lack thereof? Because that has been my reality my entire life. My mom came here to make something of herself and her kids are a reflection of whether or not she succeeded. If her kids fail, she has failed. As the first born, that pressure is insurmountable and I am left feeling shut down.

Melancholy. Mood of the moment. up_on_melancholy_hill_by_katarrhe

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Year in Review

Let’s face it, 2015 was not my year. A lot of it was out of my control, but a lot of it was my own fault.

  • Got let go from all representation
  • Quit high paying job due to emotional abuse and bad management for low paying job but supportive management and flexibility
  • An assistant job that didn’t go through
  • 6 weddings
  • Traveling plans that didn’t go according to plan
  • Travel costs
  • Spending more than I’m making – BROKE
  • Severe credit card debt
  • Laziness and no motivation

There were a lot of tears over the year. A lot of “WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT?” moments. I’d stay in watching hours of television and seeing great people on shows and thinking, “Wow, those people are so good, why would they ever need someone like me?” Getting closer to 30, I’m seeing my friends advance in their careers and relationships, making more money and babies and here I am, broke out of mind and can barely make rent. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. But it is. I chose this path and I HAVE to just wipe away the tears and stop comparing myself to others. It’s driving myself crazy. So I refocus. Take control of things I can and celebrate the accomplishments, and there are accomplishments, YAY!

  • Got new representation
  • Got meaty auditions and callbacks
  • Had a more active role in my theater group
  • Quit the low paying job to be a substitute teacher for LAUSD
  • Star Wars (not an accomplishment, but it reminded me why I chose this path).

It was because of Star Wars that got me into acting. The possibility of being part of a world and story so awesome was enough of a motivation to pursue this crazy life still.

Nothing’s changed. Still chasing that dream. Let’s. Fucking. Go.

Han Solo and I in 2004

han solo and me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vader and I in 2015

darth vader and me


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Storytelling

I’m a good storyteller. I am.

I recently finished this storytelling class that I took from the Nerdist and our class show was yesterday. Each person took turns telling their story. It could be whatever we wanted as long as it was compelling, showed a transformation of ourselves (before and after) and was under 8 minutes. The most valuable information I took from this class was that each story has to have a compelling dramatic question and hopefully by the end of your story, you leave the audience satisfied by providing an answer to that compelling dramatic question. My teacher John Flynn was super awesome and gave me really good feedback. I started out good and I only got better.

For the class show, our names were pulled out of a hat and depending when our name was drawn determined when we would tell our stories. Lucky me, I went first. And to my surprise I wasn’t nervous. I usually get mad stage fright, but this time I didn’t. There was a level of excitement, it wasn’t anxiety anymore. And maybe it can be attributed to the fact that I went first so I didn’t have time to stress over it and get nervous and psyche myself out. Or maybe it was because I had prepared this story for 3 weeks now during class. But even with so much preparation, I was scared that the story would lose it’s novelty upon show time. Fortunately, I’m a great storyteller and implemented feedback from my class and teacher during my previous telling of the story into the final telling where it brought out just the right amount of laughs and emotions from the audience. Success.

I actually did an open mic that concentrated on storytelling a few weeks before my class show. It was my first open mic. In that one, I was super nervous. But after getting your named pulled and the audience is waiting for you to come on stage and just do your thing, I had no choice but to move my legs onto that stage and start spitting out a story. I told about a Spanish lover named Alejandro. I killed it and after it, I realized it was actually really fun. I had enjoyed it.  Maybe storytelling can be my niche, my way, my avenue of getting to acting.

When I first started out on this journey to pursue acting, a lot of people thought I had courage, that I was brave to go for a dream. After 4 years with little/no success/progress, some people are now thinking that I’m foolish to continue. Actually one friend told me to quit (but he also came and supported me on my class show — hmmm -shrugs-). Another friend real talked me and kinda discounted all my efforts in the past 4 years. He said it looked like I was just trying a bunch of things and not committing, that I was just trying to get by. His advice was to do one thing, that one avenue and commit to it — be the best at it and that will eventually lead to acting.

I believe that his advice is sound. But I feel the need to defend myself and not let him discount my efforts in the past 4 years. With acting, there are so many paths to get to it. I have been trying different things and not being the best at them because I got to the point where it just didn’t feel right anymore, it just wasn’t fun for me anymore, i.e. Twitch. I tried Twitch for a month and quickly realized that that was not my path because I found gaming to be such a chore when I had to do it consistently. It wasn’t fun anymore, and it wasn’t my avenue. But I’m glad I tried it, because it’s one less thing for me to get through to my actual avenue.

Could storytelling be that avenue? I have no idea. But from the start of it, I like it better than Twitch. Yes, storytelling makes me feel uncomfortable and exposed, but it also gets me excited to figure out a good story and to practice it at an open mic. That first open mic was fun because the audience was so open to listening to my story. I fed off from their reactions and their compliments and it was fun just to reenact a good story from my prolific memory collection. Besides, why not? I’m an awesome storyteller. I am. 


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FREEDOM

today was my last day at a job i hated. it made me money, but it also made me very unhappy.

it wasn’t flexible. we were so short staffed. and to help out the team, a lot of us were working doubles (lunch and dinner shifts). this was supposed to be a part time job for me, to make enough money to survive but to also be flexible enough for me to commit to my acting career, yet i found myself working 40 hours a week.

i have never in my adult life worked 40 hours a week ever (lucky me). and especially for something that wasn’t toward my passion was unbearable.

something had to change. so i put in my two weeks. during those two weeks, i was stressed out. there were thoughts of, oh my god, i don’t have a job lined up yet. i’m not gonna make as much anymore. am i gonna be ok? just yesterday i had less than $100 in my checking account. i was so stressed out that i completely forgot my other commitments. completely. had i made a mistake?

and then life gives you signs. or maybe i was searching, whatever, who cares!  friends, coworkers, industry people said, “good for you,” once i told them about my two weeks. i mean why commit to something that doesn’t progress your passion? why not use that 40 hours for something you DO care about? and so what if i’m not gonna make as much money? i’m gonna be fine … right?

there was a sense of tranquility as i sat on the bus on my way home from work today. somewhere in my gut, i knew everything was gonna work it’s way out. i don’t know how i’m gonna do it. but i really am gonna be ok. i know it.

here’s a pic of my celebratory sundae, rejoicing my FREEDOM.

sundae

and don’t worry. i do have two part time jobs lined up. both jobs are flexible, thank god, because i have a lot of things coming up toward my acting career. yay! below is what to expect from me and please do. you’ll keep me in check 😉

– currently writing a script with my friend. i write myself in it, he’ll direct it and we’ll both have experience.

– will write a script for a vietnamese audience. again, i write myself in it so i can be in it and maybe be a star in viet nam!

– acting more. i auditioned for a theater group and made their list for guest star roles. SWEET!

– develop my TWITCH channel! WASSUP. this will help me improv and fine tune my witty commentary as i play those awesome RPG games i love so much. hopefully i will entertain a following which will give me clout for when i audition, i can be like “yo, you should book me because i have x amount of followers.” plus it will definitely improve upon my game play. follow me at http://www.twitch.tv/twitchthi 

– do some storytelling stand-up.

and finally, i’m not gonna let my fear of not making rent impinged upon my FREEDOM to chase the dream. i got credit cards! #mycreditormycareer


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oh may oh my.

so something significant happened to me during the month of may. honestly, i’m so glad may is over.  it’s been a long month.  tumultuous. -sigh- alright out with it. i was let go from my survival job — the restaurant job.

alright, it’s not that bad.  it’s not like i was a CEO and got fired because i lost hella investor money or was a doctor and got fired because of negligence, i was a mere waitress at a corporate restaurant and i got fired. what happened?  to be honest, i was unhappy.  i had let that restaurant plague my well-being and i was too lazy to quit and find another serving job. i had been unhappy there for quite awhile, disillusioned with the politics of a corporation and frustrated with the whole mantra of “the guest is always right”.  (here’s an article where that whole pov is wrong and harmful, especially for the employees: Top 5 Reasons Why ‘The Customer is Always Right’ is Wrong.) i didn’t feel valued.  i didn’t feel management had my back.  when i spoke up, management would pacify me and say they would take care of it but never did.  they were ineffective and there was never any accountability of wrongdoing.  my unhappiness was palpable and i grew increasingly frustrated with every passing day.  i was an ugly person when i showed up to work.  i was aggressive, i lashed out, i took everything 100% more personally than it really was. i hated that place.

but i was there for 4 years. 4 fucking years.  why didn’t i just leave at the first hint of unhappiness?  in hind sight after every difficult shift that i would relay back to my friends, without fail, they would always suggest, “thi, maybe it’s time for you to quit”.  and without fail, i always made excuses for that place, “oh it’s flexible, it’s consistent, there’s structure, i make money not working full time” blah blah blah blah blah! it was like an abusive relationship.  in the end, there was no trust.  i just didn’t have the courage to leave.

so it was a blessing in disguise when i got the boot. well actually, let me just say first, it hurt. a blow to the ego.  it stung.  i didn’t do the dumping, i was the one that got dumped! :{  and after getting dumped, you go through that whole spectrum of emotions.  first you’re in disbelief, like did that just really happen to me?  then you’re mad, how could they do that to me? then you’re sad and insecure, oh my god i’m nothing, i’m a failure, i have to move back home and live with my parents, the dream is over, yada yada yada. then you’re numb.  then you’re finally clear enough to think, blessing in disguise. yea it took a while emotionally to get to that state. but i got there! yay!

so now what? during the whole debacle, i went through a much needed career assessment.  i have a lot of debt (school loans and credit cards), bills (rent, utility, phone, internet, car insurance) and nothing to my name (no house and no savings).  so, on the one hand, i was panicked and stressed because i was in survival mode – find any job to make rent. period. finito. on the other hand, when telling some members of my family that i had been let go, they said, “good, now you can get a real job. you can finally use that degree.” my response to this was, “what about the dream?” this led to the argument that based on how many auditions i get a year (which averages to about one a month), i could get a real job (9-5), make a lot more money than i have been from my part time jobs (starting pay with a BA can be at least $40,000/year vs my current $20,000/year),  pay off my debts, build my savings, and depending on my relationship with my boss, go on auditions when or if they come up.  my family’s point, and i’m paraphrasing, “all we’re saying is that we don’t want you to wake up one day at 35 and realize that the acting ladder didn’t pan out and that you have no useful skill to make money. what happens if you get hurt tomorrow?”

so now, i’m super bummed.  my family is asking me, why prioritize acting when it’s not making you any money? and i’m left questioning not only my commitment to acting, but my sanity, as if pursuing acting is stupid and futile.  in line with my family’s reasoning, at least going for a real job right now, i’m still young enough to build a career with a degree that is not obsolete yet (it’s only been 6 years since i graduated college).

feeling incredibly discouraged and replaying worst case scenarios in my head, i go to my friend daniel and i tell him, “maybe this is a sign for me to quit the dream. maybe i should just pack it up and go home to my parents.  at least i don’t have to pay rent.” my friend daniel says, “thi, you’re looking for a sign right?” he points up, indicating i mean from god.  i nod and he continues, “i’m your fucking sign, thi.  i’m the messiah and i’m giving you one week to give it your all and get an audition by next friday. in one week.  think outside the box, do your hardest, your best and if you can say you gave it your all, and you didn’t get an audition, then maybe that’s the sign you need to get out of la and go home. but if you do get an audition, which i know you will, then that’s the sign to keep going.  you can do this.”

i rolled my eyes at this challenge.  i told him i would humor him but that i wouldn’t hold my breath.  getting an audition is such a crap shoot.  my morale was low and to be honest, i thought his challenge was stupid.

clouded by two extreme conditions from my family and friends, i couldn’t decide on how to move forward. so on that following monday, i applied to everything on craiglist.  getting fired gave me freedom.  i had the chance to start over, explore other career paths.  nothing defined, i could be anything! i applied to be a health coach, a market analyst, a full time blogger, an administrative assistant for a doggy day care, a server, a caterer, a barista, a teacher’s assistant, a private tutor, a museum researcher, a telemarketer, a copy writer, full time, part time, open availability, remote, willing to travel, etc. i cast a wide net to better my chance in getting an interview.  depending on the pool of interviews that i would get, would ultimately decide the direction of my career. i was letting fate take control.

by the following friday, exactly one week, i had a lot of interviews.  one was for a full time writer/blogger/website updater, another was a part time market researcher/analyst and the other one was a serving/hosting job for a gastropub.  now i had to really decide.  get a full time job and give up the dream (come on, if a  company knew my commitment was to acting and not to that company, why in hell would they hire me full time?) or continue with the pursuit of acting, be poor and serve tables?

oh yea, i also got two auditions by then. i really didn’t do anything different, maybe submitted myself more so than usual (i had a lot of time on my hands), but i did take it as encouragement to continue with acting.

here’s another thing, my other part time job.  i’m also an administrative assistant for an entertainment career coach. the company is very small and it’s basically a start up, so i wear many hats in the company — writing marketing emails, updating social media, customer support, technical support, etc.  so actually, i am building a skill that is relevant to my mass communications degree AND i’m still a part of the entertainment industry.  the company is small, but growing.  it helps with rent, but is not my main source of income.  so when i was debating whether or not to pursue a full time job, i had to consider leaving this part time position as a possibility.  i didn’t want to leave it.  i have a really good working relationship with my boss.  she’s a few years older and has a career in the entertainment industry.  she’s a director and is right now in production for her indie movie. so i went to her for advice. and she asked me, “what’s your commitment to acting? are you gonna be ok with being poor for a long time? i was a server for over 10 years and only now in my forties am i making my own money, i am my own boss and i am filming my first feature film.”

i answered, “well looking at you, the dream is possible.

she says, “yea, and if you work for me, being an actor is still on the table for you.  because you know that i will work around your auditions.”

and she has.

in the end, i took another restaurant job. the dream is still alive.  and i’m still broke and poor as ever with a lot more debt (i had to eat and get to interviews and i lived on my credit cards for two weeks). but instead of letting my unhappiness turn me into a nas-t person (pun intended), the change in my well being lifts me and makes me shine. i’m gonna be ok.

happiness


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yup, i’m asian.

i’m asian. there’s no denying that. but i used to.

i didn’t know i was different until my first day of kindergarten. my kindergarten teacher mispronounced my name.  it was supposed to be pronounced ‘T’ not ‘thigh’. after correcting my teacher, the kids with names such as david and joey, still laughed at both pronunciations.  the possibility that someone’s name would be of an inanimate object or of an alphabet letter was apparently funny to everyone but me.  all of a sudden i felt a feeling i had never felt before.  i felt uncomfortable. i felt i didn’t belong.

for a brief moment, i decided to abandon my name for something more common, such as jennifer.  there were already 3 other jennifers in the class, i would fit right in.

in hindsight, this was not a quick fix, nor a plausible one.  i didn’t look like the other jennifers.  i looked like an alien. i was also severely shy in class. afraid of even approaching the teacher, many assumed that i did not know english.  my mother was a 2nd grade teacher so by the time i was four, i was already reading at 1st grade level.  but because of the way i looked, or the name i had, i was erroneously shepherded into the ESL class.

i was born and raised in america.  but i was born from vietnamese immigrants.  there was a constant struggle between my two different lives – my vietnamese roots at home versus my american influences outside.  growing up, all i wanted was to belong, and it seemed impossible to really belong to both worlds.  i had to make a choice.  because i watched a lot of tv, the american influence was much more attractive than the traditional asian route.  so it wasn’t surprising when i chose to affiliate myself with the american side. however, unbeknownst to me, my definition of american automatically equated to a white man.  the predominant images from the media that bombarded me were of white people.  the characters that i related to and aimed to become one day were of white males.  i had a crush on zach morris, i wanted doug funnie as my best friend and i emulated harrison ford.  i was a tom boy, fuck being a girl. i was white (loving mcdonalds, hating fobs), fuck being asian. i was determined to assimilate as much as i could to the prevalent/powerful image i saw — a white man, essentially denying my asianness.

and then when i finally decided to commit myself to a career in acting, where physical looks are very much weighed in for the type of roles you could get or will get, it was disconcerting when i quickly noticed that there is barely a demand for asian women.  casting listings have tons of male roles.  it seemed to me that out of 20 roles to be filled, 19 of them would go to males, and only 1 role was for a woman.  and usually it was a call for a caucasian woman or a star name only.  and IF there was a call for a non caucausian woman, i.e. an ethnic woman, i would be up against a black woman or a latina.  there are days where i wish i looked anything but an ethnic/asian woman so that the odds of me succeeding in this business increases even just a little.

and when i wish this, i feel defeated. there’s no demand for me, there’s barely any north stars that i can follow, i should just pack it up and go home.  when i get to this negative, hopeless feeling, i am doing a disservice to myself.  i am literally setting up limitations and paralyzing myself from succeeding.  i am placing a bamboo ceiling in my way.

so i’ve just finished this book called “breaking the bamboo ceiling” by jane hyun. it points out that there is a disconnect between the assumption that asian americans are the “model minority” — that they thrive under pressure and excel in their careers, and the reality — where many asian americans enter the professional workforce but rarely do they make it to the corner offices.

alright, so i’m not trying to make it big in the corporate executive world. but i saw this book as a chance to not only understand why i place certain limitations upon myself , but also to learn how to break this nasty habit!

so first, understanding the problem:

asian cultural values : collectivism, maintenance of interpersonal harmony, reciprocity, placing others’ needs ahead of one’s own, deference to authority figures, importance of family, avoidance of family shame, educational and occupational achievement, ability to resolve psychological problems, filial piety, conformity to family and social norms, self-effacement, self-control/restraint, respect for elders and ancestors (8).

mainstream western values: spontaneity/casualness, acceptability of questioning authority, promotion of personal accomplishments, tough/individualistic/authoritative leadership (25).

reading this book made me even more aware that the problem was not just skin deep. why am i so against networking? or self promoting myself, or even speaking up if i have a problem?  why can’t i express myself effectively to get noticed?  to be remembered? such qualities are keys to gaining a foothold in hollywood.  my asian cultural values that have been ingrained in me since birth were at odds with the mainstream western values that surround me everyday.

ok, so what do i do about it?

the key lessons i learned from the book are:

know yourself and how others see you: understand your skills, strengths, areas of improvement, blind spots, and cultural values. self-awareness is the first and most important step in breaking your bamboo ceiling.

understand how confucian values might present challenges in a socratic world: asian culture tends to emphasize harmony, collectivism, and self-control, while mainstream western culture values individual achievement and questioning authority.

maintain the best of your asian values: don’t be afraid to be yourself.  seek to keep the richness and depth of your asian heritage, and introduce your knowledge to others – food, culture, family values, respect for authority and traditions – while letting them know how fully american you are.  don’t let the negatives your cultural values stand in your way of success, but do take pride in your background.  your ethnicity shapes who you are, and you must lead in a way that is true to yourself.  your unique stamp will enrich workplace interactions (267).

BE YOURSELF. the after school specials fucking knew it all along!!! no shit thi, be yourself, be loud and proud that i am who i am today. the author even takes it further and says,

many asian americans’ potential remains untapped in the workplace, and a company that can look past cultural barriers to harness the underlying diverse talents will excel in this increasingly complex and global marketplace.  as an asian american, it’s your responsibility to take charge of your career, by understanding what you have to offer, determining what skills you need to get ahead, and then learning the skills.  tooting your own horn, speaking up in meetings, asking for a promotion, questioning business decisions, and making your career aspirations known, all in you own style of relating, are examples of developing new skills in the workplace.  they have nothing to do with undermining your cultural values and everything to do with operating flexibly in a competitive work environment.  … develop the critical qualities of flexibility and resilience early; they will always serve you well.  be creative about leveraging your identified strengths, including your cultural assets, so that you can achieve your career and life goals (272).

hollywood could benefit with my added flavor to the mix.  i just have to have the courage to be myself. i just have to be the fucking change i want to see in the world.


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having faith.

alright so i was born and raised roman catholic. went to catholic saturday school, went to mass every weekend, and the first things i actually memorized were prayers in vietnamese.  i still know them today.

now, i never lost my faith.  of course i had doubts and questions along the way, but i never gave up on god.  then again, i’ve never been really devout either. i’m not very religious, i do not go to mass every sunday, but i would consider myself spiritual.  why not? i do believe in god not because i was raised to, but because it’s comforting.  there’s someone out there looking out for me.

because the entertainment industry is so unpredictable and so saturated with people, it’s hard to keep your head up when you audition and you hear nothing back. when you spend your weekdays in your star wars shirt and boxers looking at breakdowns and waiting for auditions. when you actually get an audition and you blow it, hard.  when you make more money as a waitress than an actress and you begin to wonder what your actual job title really is.

i went to a casting director workshop yesterday and the casting director presented the stats again.  for a guest star role in an hour long drama that is airing on national television, after one hour of posting the role up, she can get 1000+ submissions. out of those, she brings in 20 people to audition, and then out of those, only 1 gets the role. 1/1000.  the stats, the facts are so discouraging. i’m in LA and every other person is not only an actor, but is also a writer/musician/producer/director, let’s also add that they’re hotter and has booked a lot more jobs than me. there are so many factors that are at play for booking a role, there are so many unknowns and things that are out of my control, who else could i turn to for comfort if it were not for god?

in times of most distressed, i tend to turn toward things that are familiar to me.  because the church was always there when i was growing up, i find it comforting sometimes to just sit in the pews and pray.  or sometimes i feel a guilt from all the sins i’ve been racking up, that i feel a pull to go to mass to clean my soul.  or maybe because of my sins, i’ve been having lousy luck with auditions and booking, that to change my luck around, i should go to mass. sounds kind of irrational, but it makes me feel better afterwards.

yesterday i felt that pull to go to mass. there’s a new church near me.  it’s not a catholic church, it’s a christian church.  and it’s not called mass, it’s called “worship experience”.  i was down for a new experience, so i decided to check it out.  they’re a bit overzealous with their rejoicing to god, compared to the uptight and structured rituals during a catholic mass that i’m used to, but the message came through.

the message was this: everyone has a god dream.  a god dream is a sign or a feeling of what you’re meant to do in this lifetime.  it’s your gift from god.  it’s your calling.  but the dream is not about you.  it’s not about what you’re gonna get from accomplishing the dream.  it’s about how your gift is going to serve others.  how it is going to serve god. because if the dream becomes about you, it will become a nightmare.  if you’re too scared to go for the dream, you are not serving others.  if you think how your calling will serve you selfishly, you are not serving god.

this message is reminiscent of a past homily i had heard from a priest once.   when i was living in norcal and having doubts about moving to los angeles to pursue this, i felt the pull to go to mass one day.  i went to a church that my family had been going to for years.  i went by myself.  and the priest told the story about the virgin mary and how her gift from god, her calling was to bear god in human form.  then the priest asked, “but what if she had said, ‘no, i can’t. i won’t. who am i to be the mother of god?'” the priest went on to say, “the point is, it’s not about mary.  it’s about god.  if she had refused, she would be refusing jesus from the people.  she would be refusing to serve others.”  that was one of the moments that gave me faith and motivation to move to los angeles.

with the odds stacked against me, and to be honest, my acting skills are not as good as cate blanchett in blue jasmine (because she was phenomenal and mesmerizing to watch) … yet, i pray to god.   because i think about quitting all. the. time. i think how i’m absolute garbage and that acting is so hard (the more i learn about acting, the more i realize it’s not just memorizing lines, but being present, listening, having an intention, making the other person the most important person in the room, connecting, creating an experience out of nothing, script analysis, pacing … etc) that i have no business here and that i should just go home to my parents. i lose hope every other moment.  but then i pray every other moment for hope in the situation and myself.  i pray for auditions and bookings.  i pray for courage and patience to tough it out.