In the bleaker moments of my almost two-decade pursuit of being a working actress, I imagined how it would be if I quit. I envisioned walking away from acting as something monstrous and fittingly movie-moment climactic, a hideous proclamation, a grief-filled packing up of my car, a defeated retreat back home. As so many of these things end up being, it was, in truth, nothing but an almost imperceptible shift of gravity; it was a missed class, the quiet tucking away of headshots, letting my IMDBpro membership lapse.
It’s hard to talk about giving up on a dream.
I think a lot about my thirteen year old self, full of that uniquely psychotic thirteen year old fervor, proclaiming to anyone who might seem like they were listening that I would never give up, that it was my destiny, that I was that one in a million! I would be starring in The X-Files (so sweetly and agonizingly ironic, now) married to Leonardo DiCaprio, and doing Maybelline commercials (“Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline… nope SHE’S MARRIED TO LEONARDO DICAPRIO, SHE IS TOTES BORN WITH IT.”) I would want to explain to her how all those years equating our worth with our work would wear us down, strip us of everything we valued about ourselves. I would tell her how the time spent worrying that we weren’t pretty enough or thin enough or appealing enough would come at a terrible cost to our sense of self-worth. I would show her how fantastically unfit we are to live a life of uncertainty, how uncomfortable we would be promoting ourselves, how dirty we would feel befriending people who might be able to help us get ahead (and I don’t mean to denigrate my actor friends; it’s bold and gutsy to believe in yourself enough to survive in this industry, and we have never had that kind of moxie and that’s totally okay too, because we have other very nice qualities.) I would try and convey to her how it would all slowly suffocate our love of the art until it was gone, and how we would push on, terrified to acknowledge the loss. I would warn her how our latent depression would sense the blood in the water and surface like something out of a nightmare, how it would feed off of every rejection, every perceived failure, and turn us into someone we barely recognized, someone fearful and jealous and bitter and so very sad.
It sounds really scary and really awful and she would probably cry because, well seriously who wouldn’t cry after hearing all that? I would try to tell her that it was all worth it, for the most part, and that I still don’t regret any of those very difficult years because they shaped us into a much wiser, and gentler, person. I would tell her that we are so many different people in a lifetime; we change so very much, things affect our lives in ways we can’t anticipate, and it doesn’t make any sense to maintain some sort of token loyalty for a dream to which we pledged ourselves a million selves ago. I would try and make her understand that being an actress was never our identity, that being an actress isn’t an identity at all, and that it was only when we stopped defining ourselves that way that we rediscovered all of the things that we actually are: loyal and funny and strange, and surprisingly resilient. I would tell her that we have become so proud of being all of those things that sometimes we are overcome with the simple joy of feeling true, and free. I would tell her that this freedom would inspire us to explore our artistic identity in gorgeous, raw, messy new ways that would inspire and fulfill us beyond anything we had come to hope for ourselves.
I would encourage her to be kind, because we weren’t very understanding at thirteen, and this decision didn’t come without a cost. I watch the people from my former life, in movies, on TV, living the dream I had wanted so long for myself while I sit in my crummy studio apartment with my subpar dog. I wonder, knee deep in textbooks and grad school essays, how long it might have taken, if I would have gotten there myself if I had just pushed a little farther, gone a little longer, and it’s not as though it doesn’t cost something. I would tell her that, at some point, we would hear that, when a great love is over, it takes half the length of the affair to truly heal from it. I would tell her not to worry, that we have also learned to be patient.
I say I wish I could tell her all of these things, but I’m really pretty grateful I don’t have to because, as I said, I wasn’t super understanding back then. If I could have a chat with her, I would probably just give her a big hug and tell her everything is going to be just fine, because that’s really what you need to hear when you’re thirteen. I think about how difficult it was to come to terms with the fact that I had fallen out of love with my dream, and I think that, if maybe I had read something honest and (hopefully a little) comforting, maybe it would have made it easier to face. If you’re facing, or trying not to face, something similar, I hope you can pat yourself on the back, and give your poor little heart a huge break. I hope you can remind yourself that we should all feel incredibly grateful that we are not held accountable to every dream we had when we were kids. Although, some dreams, of course, are timeless (Leo, I’m looking at you.)