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

# 100: Listen.

Michal in The Channel IslandsI’m not very good at this particular guidepost.  In fact I can be downright terrible at it.

But I’m working, really working, to be better at it.  For, I recognize and understand more and more as I grow, that the world opens up to us with much less force on our part, as we open up to the world.  And a HUGE part of that is listening to what the world, others, and yes, even our own bodies and hearts, have to say.

And, yes, it’s true, to quote those rocks that keep on rolling, you don’t always get what you want, but you eventually, inevitably, do get what you need.

The last few months, since I wrote for this blog last, have been EPIC.  That’s the most succinct way I can think to account for all of the life changes that have been happening within me and around me.  A great deal of those changes have been external.  But like all things that rock our world, they have shaken things up a great deal internally as well.

Now that the end of the world is behind us, some say we have entered The Age of Transition, a time when technology is showing us how interconnected and alike we all are and with that how much we do in fact control our own destiny, if we can only manage to manifest that destiny with our intentions and our hearts.  This, of course, requires supreme listening. For we do not exist in a vacuum.  We are affected by and effect those around us.  We must constantly be listening and responding rather then reacting if we are to stay on course with our heart’s desires.  For life is constantly throwing us curve balls.  And for any of you who have ever attempted to play a sport with me, you’ll know that I’m not the best catcher that ever held a glove.  That’s an enormous understatement.

But even this sports-challenged girl has the capacity to catch on occasion.

It all started with Joseph breaking his heel. Once Achilles was vulnerable, everything else started shifting and changing as well.  Joseph, swollen foot and all, went back to NY for medical care, as insurance works in mysterious ways.  Once he was back a week later, everything moved VERY fast.

I joined a theatre company, The Vagrancy!  With a mission of embracing fear, vulnerability, and embarrassment within the work, The Vagrancy is a welcome artistic home for me in the midst of hazy, non-committal, everything’s- fine-LA.  Not that I don’t like occasional touches of hazy non-commitment with dashes of unwarranted, dopey ok-dom, but it’s nice to get real too. : )

I had the supreme pleasure of hosting The Women’s Independent Film Festival for the second time this year.  There I was lucky enough to hear and see the stories of women around the globe addressing everything from heartache to hems to human trafficking.  It was inspiring and humbling to be a part of the brainchild of the incredibly humble, awe-inspiring powerhouse, Janine Smollett.  I am lucky to be cultivating relationships with women like her that make me better.

I participated as an actor in a staged reading of the lyrical, country song of a play “The Actual Moment in Time Bob Rogers Found Love” by Mary F. Casey through The Vagrancy’s Tactical Reads series in conjunction with The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative.

I completed shooting on the rest of the season of “Monologue,” a wonderful new show that “gives aspiring actors an opportunity to display their acting abilities in a competition in front of seasoned industry professionals.”  As one of three judges on the show, it has been a lucky honor to listen to the work of others and to have the opportunity to share a little bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

And I got very, very sick.

Sick is what happens to anxiety ridden actresses who don’t listen to their bodies when they need to slow down but instead act like they’re still 15 and smoke lots of “social” cigarettes and drink lots of wine when their friends come to visit  from Oregon because it’s fun and freeing — and stupid.

Unfortunately, getting sick is one of the only ways my stubborn mind has of making my tired body LISTEN.  My body shuts me down.  Without a choice.  It is the only option I give it.

Sick-y, smokey me and limp-y, crutch-y him decided to go ahead with our plans for my birthday:  a silent retreat and then jumping out of a plane.  Well, the first part anyway.  When bones are broken you have to adapt.  So the jumping from planes part will have to wait a few more months until Joseph’s all heeled (ha! ha!).

You see, I have always wanted to go on a silent retreat.  Probably because I’ve never been quiet in life (Joseph always references me in relation to this card I used to have up in my room), and I liked the idea of having to listen more then I talked in game form, rather then just doing it in life because I should.  I wanted to jump out of a plane because it scared the hell out of me.  And I was convinced that this charming combination would leave me fearless in life.  Hence the birthday plans set for the end of November.

Since I only did the first, I still, sadly, do have fears left in life, but the silent retreat did function as a reset button of sorts — and allowed me the time and space to be open to the challenges that lay ahead in the month of December.

We went camping for 5 days, with the middle 3 days spent in silence, in The Channel Islands, a magical, little red fox cavorting island (yes, Ember, the one from “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” sorry for the delay on that!) an hour off the coast of Ventura that can only be reached by ferry.  Hundreds of dolphins followed our little boat along the way.  I’m not kidding. With no electricity or cars, and just nature, nature, nature everywhere on the land, Joseph and I were forced to stop and listen and breath.  I would have thought I would be bored.  Doing all that nothing those three days.  But hikes and beach and sand contemplated in silence gives way to memory and reflection and presence.  And you start to see and hear for maybe the first time ever without all that unceasing noise that fills our day to day modern lives.  

I came back new, which is precisely what I needed in order to tackle the move, and the travel, and the wedding of my wonderful friend Liz, and the eight different beds in 3 different states, and the fixer upper house, and the work, and the holiday, and the multiple shoots, and the food poisoning, and the sprained ankle, and the family, and the new job, and the new place, and the joy, and the pain, and the facing of my angry, out of whack dad which would mark my time in December and January.

What I haven’t already mentioned, and what I hesitate to say too much on, is that in the midst of getting sick in November, it started becoming increasingly clear that I needed to make a trip back to the East Coast to see my dad.

Knowing where to start in sharing about my relationship with my father is a difficult one.  On the one hand, this is a blog about my life — and it’s really not my place or my business to share what’s going on in his.  At the same time, and as I’ve mentioned, we don’t exist in a vacuum.  So it’s hard to talk about me — and give insight into my journey without talking about him.  So in the interest of meaning, but also of care on his part, I’ll try and give honor to both.  We’ll see how I do…

The truth is, and not to give blame, because I believe that we’re ultimately responsible for ourselves no matter where we come from, my problem of being a piss pour listener likely stems from a very early childhood need to shut out the world. Hence my love of acting:  a relishing in the act of being someone else.  My parents did not have what one would call a loving, good marriage.  Without getting too into the variables or the diagnosis or the blame, let’s just say that their dialogue, if you could call it that, did not elicit in me a desire to listen.  And so for a long, long time, I don’t think I did.

Going back to Virginia to help my dad through a difficult time in December was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in life.  It was hard because I was angry with him for a lifetime.  It was hard because I didn’t feel like I owed him anything, if anything, before I left, I felt like he owed me.  It was hard because I knew that if I didn’t help him, no one else would.  But I wasn’t doing it out of love.  I was doing it because I was terrified of what would happen if I didn’t.

My dad and I, both still children in so many ways, yelled, cried, forgave, laughed, yelled, cried, forgave, laughed, ad infinitem so many times that week.  And at the end of it all, (which is not the end because we continue), for the first time in my life, I am starting (note the word starting, I’m far from there yet) to be able to view my dad somewhat objectively.  I am starting to be able to see him as a man with many qualities both great and small.  The same way that I actively strive to view all people.  I am starting to be able to listen to him without prejudice.  And to love him without need.  I am starting to listen rather then judge.  

On a lighter note, Joseph’s off crutches, my sprained ankle is almost ready for running, and we have moved, count them, to a place, three blocks from beach!  A lifetime dream of living walking distance from a swimmable ocean has been achieved!  And life, glorious life, marches on!

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.
  • Hayley Elliott

    aw i love you michal <3 thank you so much for sharing. it's always amazing to see how much we as humans all have in common. such similar fears, dreams, evolutions… we must plan a meal together soon! congrats on all the beautiful growth recently <3 and so glad bones are healing! xoxo

    • Michal

      Oh Hayley. You are so sweet! We would love to see the 3 of u soon! Let’s plan it! Xo! :)