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

# 82: It’s Hard to Be Human. (Part One)


Preparing to play this strange, sad bunny on the left has been kicking my butt. Going into the rehearsal process, I made a schedule of how I would manage my time and go about achieving all sorts of things on my ambitious list outside of the play.  That list is officially on pause.  The play and the black hole that is the character have become so all encompassing that all I can manage outside of her is work (which thanks to new ownership in my restaurant is now very tenuous), rehearsal, the basics of survival like making meals and tending to my dogs, and spending time with Joseph in our short hour and a half each day when our worlds align.

Outside of the technical demands like numerous monologues meant to be rapid fired like bullet spray (yet enunciated) while supposedly under the influence of the amphetamine cocktail she’s on at any given time, there is a whole world to create in my head for her that’s only hinted at in the text, but that must be fleshed out if I’m to honor her full self.

Every instinct I have as Michal is the opposite of how she approaches life.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and am unable to hide how I’m feeling at any given time.  She masks for most of the play.  Everything is fine on the surface but its so very far from fine underneath.

I don’t like sitting in her skin.  She’s not nice.  She’s painful to be with.  I don’t want to look at her pain.  Where it comes from.  And why she continuously marches towards that which is wrong when she knows it.

But it’s a lucky thing to have imaginary problems.  I get to work out my own issues in the guise of a character. Meanwhile, so many of my loved ones are experiencing real pain in their real lives.

Just this month, I have witnessed two of my friends lose a parent, another friend total her car in a near death experience, a close childhood friend go through the painful breakup of a nine year relationship, an Uncle struggle with late stage bone marrow cancer / leukemia , and all three of my parents struggle with huge life changing events and set-backs that leave me concerned for what lies ahead.  And that is just the big stuff, not the everyday life-is-a-struggle stuff like parking tickets, computer updates, the DMV, new bosses, stolen phones, lack of work, depression, relapses, and heartache that I have also either experienced or seen those close to me experience so recently.

While I’m on the subject of pain:  I was stung by a stingray on Memorial Day while at Huntington Beach with Joseph and my new neighbor and childhood bestie Amy. OH-MY-GOD, not OMG. That was pain like I have never before experienced. For several hours I felt like an acid covered knife was being constantly, vigorously ground into my foot. The pain radiated all the way up to my thigh and I became nothing more then a body of pain. I cried and screamed and bounced, yes bounced, as I was raced to the lifeguard headquarters via siren covered vehicle to soak my foot in 110 degree water to break up the venom that had attacked my nervous system. Crying, almost hyperventilating, I soaked the burning foot in water as hot as tea, for over an hour.  And then some. It hurt like a &%$#@&%$#@&**!!!!.  It hurt like a %$#$##@%$#@%%$!!!!  But it passed. We ate sandwiches and drove from the beach while I soaked my burning foot in a cooler of hot hot water.

Life is hard.  And relentless.   It’s hard to be human.  I make my list every week of all the things I MUST accomplish and then life in the form of underwater beasts, unexpected auditions and opportunities, parking tickets, dishes, laundry, friends in need, sick parents, the list goes on, swoops in and takes over.  It’s so very hard to get ahead and still gracefully take on all the things that arise in any given week.  And, yes, I know, all this comes from a white, pretty, healthy, American born, college educated woman.  Life is hard for everyone, but yes, how lucky I am to say that from upon my mountain.

Its hard enough to be ME and yet, I still have to go and have some insane need to live the lives of others on top of that.

Point being, it’s a strange thing to want to be an actor.  I am still figuring myself out.  I am still always working to shed my own issues and yet, usually, if I’m lucky, because I’m usually unfullfilled if I’m not, I’m also spending a part of my day dissecting the life of an imaginary person I will one day, maybe today, maybe next month, don like a coat and wear for an audience.

I have the insane need to be someone else partially because it lets me pause the present.  In that perfect box of circumstances, I know the rules.  I have the words.  I know the description of the character.  I can define the relationship.  I can write out what my character wants.  I can fill in her history and say WHY she is the way she is.  And once I know it all, I can just be. Then I can be fully present.  But it is definitely work meant for control freaks, work for those who crave a dress rehearsal on life.  With every variable laid out, we are able to put it all together and then just let go, be free.

Sis is proving harder to just be with then most.  She  is an incredibly self destructive, selfish, living for the moment, brazen, sexy, fierce, funny ADDICT.  And to play her with both truth and a technical finesse for the stage, while keeping myself levelheaded is a daily challenge.

In my travels to find her center, I recently read Elizabeth Wurtzel‘s “More, Now, Again,” which chronicled Wurtzel’s struggle with a severe addiction to snorting Ritalin and cocaine in the midst of being a best-selling author in NYC (Wurtzel wrote the very well received “Prozac Nation” in the mid ’90’s.)  I’m no expert on the subject of addiction by any means, but I do have people in my life that are very dear to me that struggle with addiction.

I myself am a recovering workaholic.  I know, I know, it sounds trite when compared to the addiction of a substance or even food or sex, something that can wreck havoc on your health and relationships.  But it’s an addiction that perhaps comes from a shared place.  Work, progress towards my goals, calms me.  Not calms me — I feel less calm if I am not working. Something in me feels unworthy and so I look to do more to feel worthy.  I am rarely (used to be never) satisfied. There is always more to do.  It gets in the way of my relationships.  It sometimes takes precedence over my marriage.  I can be short with people because I have to get back to IT.  There is always a list longer then I can fulfill, for as long as I can remember.

I’ve been digesting the intuition of a truth about addiction in the midst of my research and coat donning and it is this:  if you’re doing the thing that you crave, if you’re giving in to the addiction, then in that moment, you don’t feel the depth of your unworthiness or loneliness or disconnection to the whole.  You are alone, but you are able to suspend that feeling. You are able to fill the hole for a moment.

Now it doesn’t mean that it’s that simple.  If it were, life sure might be easier for many.  I’m still working this out in my head. But I feel like that’s in there.

There’s a root of a truth there and I want to bring that to this damaged woman I’m playing.  I want to bring a sense of my own unworthiness.  I want to look at that, to examine it, to let others examine it. Because if I can wrestle with that very ugly feeling in me with truthfulness then I can possibly understand her better and generate a shared connection with others through this strange process of letting another’s soul speak through me as her medium.

To be continued….

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.