Presence in the Pursuit (Or the Art of Letting Go): One Pre-Enlightened Actress’s Guide to Living The Dream

# 22: March Boldly Towards Your Fears

Sharks.  dinosaur



Venomous Snakes.



Beasts with horns.  




Go on!
















You’re obviously not going to do that.  Crocodile hunters aside, and even THAT didn’t end well, it’s best to respect the order of the universe and not march boldly towards that which has the power to seriously harm or kill us.

Some fears are obviously, healthy, fears.

But, most of the ones that really cripple us, are not.


Still, statistically, and in surveys, more people are afraid of speaking in front of a live audience than of death.

Give people a choice:

                                                                             Your exposure or your life.

People choose the life.

Maybe not, gun to their head, when it really gets down to it.  But, truth be told, it is the number one fear out there.

Crazy.  But true.

Why is that?  What are we so afraid of?  Why does having all eyes on us, vulnerable and exposed, scare us more then death?


What are you afraid of?


Not ready to speak?


Ok.  I’ll go first.  Exposure dive in:


I’m afraid that the people I love most in life will self destruct or get hurt in an irreconcilable way and it will be out of my control and I’ll loose them and be alone and angry and bitter and lost without them.

I don’t know how to explain this fear without getting personal about the people I love and exposing them in a way that goes beyond a blog about me and my journey.  But trust me.  It’s a real fear.  Some of the people I love most have big health problems.  Some of the people I love most are a little bit crazy.  And that’s a bad combination.  It makes for situations that are out of my control.  I am left with a feeling of being helpless as I watch them.  Which brings me to a fear that pervades and fills much of my life:


I am afraid of being out of control.

I grew up in an environment that was always in chaos.  Money.  Emotions.  Stability.  I learned to be a perfectionist so that I could control what I could control.  And then I became an actor because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  But actors have NO CONTROL.  They are always at the mercy of other people’s projects.  At some point, I realized that what I wanted in life was in direct conflict with my biggest fear in life and I decided that I wanted to be an actor more.  Which meant that I would have to learn to let go of being in control.  Getting there.  Not there yet.


I’m scared that maybe I’m missing out on the best part of life.

I’m scared of having it all because I don’t completely think it’s possible.  I fear that I’ll chase my dreams instead of having kids and later, when I’m too old, I’ll regret it and not get the prize on either.  That I’ll be unsuccessful and childless.  That that bond, the making babies bond, will be missing from Joseph and I’s relationship and that we’ll be incomplete without it. That some day we’ll be old and alone and regret our choices.

And yet, I’m afraid that if I did have kids right now, that I would never become a successful actress.  And he the kind of writer he’s meant to be.  At least not on my terms.  Or his.  That if we did have kids now, that I would give my life over to my children, as I obviously should (and would want to), and that I would never make truly great art or win Academy Awards or act in movies made by Scorsese. You know, the good stuff, the stuff I want and need in order to invalidate the other fears (see below).  Or even worse, that if I did have kids, I wouldn’t have that maternal instinct for them and I would just resent them ala Kate Winslet in “Little Children” and I’d be a horrible mother and a no good actor to boot.


I’m afraid that I will always struggle.

That it will always be a hand to mouth artist’s existence and that it will get harder and harder and eventually I’ll just give up. And be an 80 year old waitress.

There’s no real proof that this is how it will go.  Things do get better every year.  But still.  The fear is there.


I’m afraid of losing all the things I’ve ever worked hard to keep:  my husband, my house, my career.

I’m afraid of wrinkles and lines and sagging chins and cellulite and aging in a glossy perfect Hollywood dream where eventually there will be no use for me.

I’m afraid of not being good enough.  And of the rejection that comes with that.

I’m afraid of dying alone.

Above all else, I am terrified of failure.  I am super hard on myself and often, sadly, to my own detriment, as soon as I achieve something, I don’t even give myself a full moment to savor the win, I’m already on to the next target, the next accomplishment, I’m so afraid of failure.

I just read over this list, and it gave me pause.  It brought wetness to my eyes.  Not tears, because I’ve got some presence in the midst of these fears these days.  But pause.  These are definitely real fears and they bring up real emotion when I think about them.  And sure, some days these fears have more power over me than on other days.

Some days these fears pull me towards anxiety and a lack of presence.

I mean, they don’t exist out there all by themselves.   I don’t go around afraid of them all of the time, or even most of the time.  But there are times when I watch as all my friends around me are having kids and I wonder and fear if I am making the wrong decision.  Or when I see some delightful, young, successful beauty like Jennifer Lawrence at 22 and I think, “God, Michal, you are already so past your prime, you’ll never make it.”

But in other moments, I see these fears for the weak minded, small minded balloons that they are, and I poke holes in the thinly veiled structure that holds their hot and empty air.

Some of these fears will come true.  I will get old and be wrinkled.  But hopefully I won’t be useless in the process.  I’m not aiming to be a beauty queen or a model, someone who is just a body, a beauty, a look, so I can’t imagine that that fear will truly manifest itself as I just purported it to.  Not if I always work to cultivate the beauty that goes beyond my appearance, anyway.

I might never achieve my version of the success I crave.  Maybe I will “fail.”  Maybe I will never win an Academy Award or be in a movie with Scorsese.  But.   Maybe I will.  I certainly won’t if I allow my fears to run the show.

And even if I don’t achieve these dreams, these height of career aspirations, I know in my heart that I won’t have “failed” because I’ll have given it my all.  And I’ll be enjoying, more and more, the moments along the way.  THAT IS THE TRUE MARK OF SUCCESS.  Time spent doing what you love with those you love and growing and hopefully contributing to make the world a more rich and beautiful place in the process.

Today is a good day.  I meditated today. I meditate every day, but today was better than some other days.  I felt a real release of sorts today.  A release of trapped energy.

Often that’s all that fear is.

I’ve read, and I believe, that we develop emotionally before we develop intellectually.  We cry before we ever learn to speak.  When painful things happened to us when we are children, we likely didn’t have a way of explaining the event, but we could certainly feel the emotion of fear that came with whatever messed up thing that was happening and, that was out of our control to stop.  That feeling that came with that unexplained event, because we had no intellectual structure for it, might have stayed with us.  It might have stayed in our body.  It might have created a cycle that we will repeat until we learn to release that feeling and know that that fear has no real power over us.

I lived in a trailer park from the age of 5 to 12.  Formative years.  When I was 12, my mom and my brothers and I moved to an apartment in a very affluent area of a neighboring city.  Headed into middle school, I did the only logical thing an impressionable young tween poised for acceptance and potential popularity could possibly think to do:  I hid this dark white trash secret of a past from all my pretty upper middle class new friends and never, ever spoke of where I came from. If the subject ever came up, and it did, a few times, I ran from it.  I buried it.  I changed the subject.  I turned red.  I grew flustered.  My heart beat a millon times a minute.  I FEARED for what they would think of me should they know.  They would think me not worthy.  Not good enough.  Not one of them.

Oh to belong.  It is such a great, human need.

Some of my oldest and closest friends, perhaps you are reading this now and thinking how strange that you never knew that about me.  Or maybe you did.  I can guess now that it doesn’t matter either way.  And yet, it’s still scary, right now, to reveal this about myself.  Something I kept from you because I was too proud, too scared, too weak, too untrusting, too ashamed to be exposed.  And then at a certain point, something just too strange a fact for you not to know, but how or why to bring it up now?   Some part of me still feels that irrational 12 year old fear of rejection and unworthiness for the moment when you will read this, and know…

Know what?  Know that I went without.  That I lived in a tin can near a highway that had to be evacuated in a hurricane. That some of my neighbors were junkies.  That I had a neighbor named Bubba.  And Brandy.  And Hap.  For real.

But also, that my childhood was layered and complex and unsheltered.   And perhaps, and hopefully, I was made braver for it.  And better equipped at an earlier age to deal with struggle, that great equalizer that eventually finds each and every one of us in life.  Maybe not the same struggle.  But something.  Each and every one one of us: rich, poor, black, white, man, woman, American, North Korean, believer, atheist, healthy, sick.  We will struggle.

So, a bigger part of me marches towards that fear.  A bigger part of me says fuck it.  There are no secrets.  You cannot change the past.  You cannot control what you come from.  It doesn’t matter.  It never mattered.  You can only grow.  You can only start with now.  And so that’s what I do.

I got the part of Sis in “White Hot.”  I’m both excited and scared to play her.  One of the scariest parts about playing her is a very graphic sex scene (no not real, mom.  Simulated.  What kind of industry do you think I’m in?!) in the middle of the play.  I think again of Kate Winslet in “Little Children” and an interview she gave about the sex scene in the movie.  I don’t ever want to not do something because it scares me.  Unless it means swimming with sharks.  Because, again, that’s just stupid.  But the things that scare me because they expose me, because they make me vulnerable, because they give people ammunition in which to hurt me, I want to do these things.  I want to march towards these fears.  I want to combat these fears.  Because they make me stronger.  And if I am stronger, I have more power.  I have more influence.  I have more say.  I become a little more invincible, as a result of that daring turn towards vulnerability.

A few summers back I had the amazing opportunity to perform as part of a solo piece within a company for a performance art piece at The Whitney Museum of American Art.  For the first time in my career, I wasn’t to play a character.  I also didn’t have anyone to play off of.  I was instructed to create an atmosphere of disorientation, anxiety, and fear, and that those feelings couldn’t come off of the viewers.  I wasn’t to make eye contact or engage the viewers.  It all had to come from me. Very quickly I realized that this was an opportunity for me to explore the things that scared me.  Otherwise, where would the emotion come from?  So I made a list.  And I proceeded to explore my fears one at a time, silent but for my screams at times, in that space, an audience present.  The cool thing that I came to realize, is that the the more I faced my fears, the less frightening they became.

If you shine a light in the dark, it just gets brighter.

As a SAG-AFTRA and Equity member, Michal has appeared in dozens of plays and over fifty principal / starring roles for radio, television, and film. She is the voice, likeness, & performance capture artist for Tracey De Santa, one of 7 main characters out of a cast of a 1000, in the billion dollar phenomena Grand Theft Auto V. Her starring role in the LA Premiere of ‘White Hot’ at Hollywood Fringe earned her a Best Actress Award & her Ovation nominated theatre company, The Vagrancy, a Best Ensemble Award with knock-out reviews in ‘LA Weekly’ & ‘The Examiner.’ Film highlights: roles in Spike Lee’s Inside Man & Quid Pro Quo with Vera Farmiga. Born That Way, which she co-wrote with Mary M. Parr and Rob Travalino, was a Sundance Screenwriting Lab second rounder and one of 5 Finalists for Big Vision Empty Wallet’s Screenwriting Career Lab. She is the official Host of The Women’s Independent Film Festival and heads The Field Trips Department of Film Fatales where she’s a member in NYC and Los Angeles.
  • Paul A. Presenza

    You will bend with the wind, but not break: you are strong, and you will get through the toughest of storms.

    • Michal

      Ah Paul! Thanks for being both family and friend. I’m happy I have you in my life!

      • Paul A. Presenza

        When you are a hugely successful and internationally renown actress you can send me some cookies!

  • Raeze

    “Time spent doing what you love with those you love and growing and
    hopefully contributing to make the world a more rich and beautiful place
    in the process.”..From my limited view this is what you have Michal and when something else (be specific) is what you desire that is what you will have. -I don’t know what you don’t have but I know what you do have because you talk about it. And what you do have is something many people spend their lives trying to get. Fear is useful, it is that last task you face that says, “Are you sure this is what you want cause things may change?”

    • Michal

      Raeze you are a wise sage! : ) thanks for the insight every time! You buoy!

  • Ann Bate Gilchrist

    I understand. The past to me is like a page of a newspaper. The negative stories stand out the most. I just want to ball it up in anger and burn it so there’s no evidence that it ever happened. But I am left with the memories. Those cannot be burned. So, what to do with them. I hear the past does not make us who we are, but we are who we make ourselves. Still, those bad things are sticky. Even when we try to relieve ourselves of the past and toss it away, the residue is still there and congers up those old, nasty, tired emotions. You know, I was there with you, for a little bit, during your formative years. I never once thought negative things about you. I loved you and thought of you as precious, a princess, who, one day, will do great things. I bet you will find a way to use those fears to accomplish great things.

    • Michal

      Oh my Ann, you are so sweet. Thank you for your beautiful words. Life is a process A constant purging and growing to become who we are meant to be. I love you. Thank you for being with me on the journey. : )

  • DavidAugust

    Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Michal Sinnott

      No, thank you!, David! I so appreciate your feedback and support!