Thursday, November 15, 2007

panning for gold

last night i went out to dinner at pastis with joan. we had a lot of catching up to do. ah, joan. when i say her name, a flood of memories from my earliest years in new york city come rushing back to me, all at once. she was one of the first people i met in the city. i liked her right away and i don't know why. she was pretty and smart and cool and funny. gobs of insight. west indian by way of the bronx. big family. her long-time boyfriend eric person (that she eventually married) was a musician. although she was in publishing, she wanted to be an actress. clearly, we had a lot in common.

the years floated by. with every bit of progress, joan was somehow a part of it. over steak frittes, she reminded me of when she came to boston when i did RENT and i popped the strap on these amazing shoes she let me wear. and then there was the work i threw at her, at random. one of them was a short off-off broadway stint that i couldn't finish. she stepped in and closed the run. she saw my one person show. i gave her sheet music. "you were good to me," she said. truth be told, actresses don't do things like help each other. especially black ones. but i never concerned myself with that kind of backstabbing piffle. i knew i'd never get anywhere by stepping on people and using them. i figured, what's mine is mine. so why not tell someone about some audition or whatever. why not? no one can take anything away from me that God wants me to have. God is sovereign -- not some casting person on the other side of the table. if God doesn't want me to have it, i don't want it.

after the divorce, as joan settled into her new place in east harlem with her son, she thought of me and decided to take me out to dinner, to catch up and reconnect.

i'm glad she did.

of course, everything was running fast in our conversation. fast and strong. that's the kind of thing that happens when you're with someone that you know, and the love and respect are ever-present. when someone doesn't have an agenda with you, when they aren't denigrating you or one-upping you or playing games with you. when you're just talking -- free and open and easy. it's actually a relief, to be that way. no wonder i've always liked joan.

i caught her up on my family, my career and my love life before the steak hit the table. there was her babysitter to relieve uptown, so unfortunately, there wasn't much time. nevertheless i gleaned so much from what she said. and of course, with those pearls of wisdom came a great deal of sweet relief. but i'm getting ahead of myself, i think.

it's so easy to get stuck here, doing the same things over and over in the name of your career or progress or whatever. making the rounds and going to auditions is something you have to do strategically. you can't just do it ad nauseum -- not without strong results. but then again, auditioning is one of those things that you can do and do and do and keep doing, whether anything ever happens or not. because something could happen. and so you keep doing it. and i suppose that makes it hard to walk away -- there is always the idea looming that the next audition is The One. it's like panning for gold. you're an eternal optimist. but after the divorce, joan makes the rounds again and discovers that those early 40-something trying-to-look-30-something black dolls were now in their early 50s. they never stopped to have a life -- to get married, have kids or whatever. they never stopped auditioning and hustling to the callbacks and scheming towards the next job. they never stopped panning for gold.

i stopped that hustle with Harlem Song. i hit a wall and i realized, i didn't want to do any more regional theater. i didn't want to do any more off-off broadway for the glory of a great new york times review and no money. and club dates made me sick. i wanted to get paid. and that meant transitioning into movies and television. what did i do in the meantime? i wrote songs. i played guitar for fun. i treated working out like it was my part time job. i spent optimum time in day spas. i got my teeth fixed. i worked a day job. and somewhere in there, i landed a ton of callbacks, three commercials and a movie.

all of a sudden, i was so grateful. for everything. i was so grateful to be in the place that i'm in right now. i'm not out there, grasping at sheet music, standing in line and waiting to sing 16 bars. i don't even think i want that anymore. that's when i realized: something happened. i don't know what it was, but something happened. i took a turn somewhere in there and the next thing i knew, everything headed in another direction. and as if all of that weren't enough, i have a friend that's the coolest guy in the world. go figure.

for joan, it was her little boy. she says having him changed everything. it forced her to live on a certain level, get organized and reconfigure her life. auditioning was no longer a priority.

i think we're thinking along the same lines: we want to create and produce something for film and/or tv. have a comfortable life filled with creativity and family and ideas while the checks come in.

we're still panning for gold. we're just not standing in the same stream, doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results.

hm. the next time her son is with his father for the weekend, i think i'll show joan my screenplay.

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