Thursday, February 27, 2014

LA Stories: Rack Focus

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank God for unanswered prayers... I wrote this a few months before I met my boyfriend. I really wanted to share this story, because it's a good reminder that great lessons can be learned from relationships that don't work out the way we want. This helped me learn to appreciate the right qualities, and recognize my Soul Mate when I met him.

Rack Focus is a camera term for changing the focus of a lens during a shot. Things that were far away suddenly seem crystal clear and close, and things that were very close somehow blur and obscure themselves. It's a cool trick, but it's also a total mind f*ck when it happens to you personally.

Over the last month I'd been dating an independent filmmaker. A very good one, too- creative, insightful, socially-conscious, kind. In getting to know him better, I discovered that the reason I'd never found the qualities I wanted in the actors I'd been dating was just that: I'd been dating ACTORS. They're lovely, but while I would stare at their beautiful bodies and faces, watching them shakerball yet another protein shake and pretending to be fascinated by the details of their work-out experience that day, I'd forgotten that actors ACT. They PRETEND to do stuff. I somehow blinded myself to the fact that putting on an Egyptian God costume does not make one an Egyptian God, no matter how well they fill out the headdress. *

*My actor friends- if you think I'm writing about you, I'm not. The fact that you're self-aware enough for that concern eliminates you. The ones I'm referring to are not my FB friends or blog readers. You're wonderful and have treated me well. Go back to your protein shake. ;)

This guy, a Producer, Produced. He made things happen- and he didn't brag about it. We chatted about a film festival and went off on some tangent about bats. He didn't mention he'd won the festival. It wasn't until I visited his home and noticed the gold records on the wall that we even spoke about his musical career.

Me: "Um, wow."

Him: "Oh- thanks. Those were a lot of fun."

Me: (looking closer) "Wait- they're gold but they say platinum on them?"

Him: "Yeah, they're technically platinum, but these were freebies from the record label and I didn't wanna spend money on some award that's just gonna hang on my wall. I think you have to frame them yourself, too."

Me: "Riiiiight. I totally hate it when I have to do that."

When I first met him, I wasn't sure if I was attracted to him or not. He definitely wasn't my "type," but then, to date, my "Type" has been a terrible choice. Once I was able to get to know the Filmmaker better, I'd become a smitten kitten. His home, his attitude, his acoustic guitar collection, everything was warm and inviting and authentic and real. I was completely blown away by how his mind worked and his ability to create and actually DO the things he set out to do. He writes, directs, produces, works equipment, on-set landscaping, everything. We watched a movie together and he sat at his piano and effortlessly duplicated the musical scoring. Suddenly I realized- my bar for dating had not merely been set higher, it had been moved to another PLANET. I'm so used to being dazzled by someone's (shall we say) package I stopped looking at the content. This man amazed me with his quality of character and actual substance. Granted, I have a puppyish enthusiasm for people but whereas I'm easily impressed, it takes a lot to inspire me... and I was inspired. Seeing all the Good this guy was able to accomplish for others reminded me that I want to work harder so I can do more Good, too. Jesus isn't that why I started writing in the first place? So I could provide a voice and make a difference? This guy is making a difference. I wanna play too.

Gradually, date by date, over sushi, stargazing/shivering in a hammock, curled up for a Netflix night or holding hands at the Arclight, I became convinced- THIS was who I wanted. I never once saw the man drink a single protein shake. It seemed like he was actually enjoying my company, rather than looking for another fan to worship him. (Again, something new to me.) He listened to my ideas, read my writing, encouraged my suggestions, and even gave me a shot pitching to his production company. He didn't need me, and I didn't need him- but it was really nice to feel brave enough to want someone again. And I wanted him to want me too.

In addition to all this, he was super respectful of my limits and my comfort level progressing with beginning a physical relationship with someone. I was looking for something real, and I wanted to be smart and take my time. We actually talked about it and seemed completely on the same page and kept things at a PG-13. He invited me to spend the night, and I did, sleeping so soundly in his massive soft warm bed. The beautiful shades of sunrise woke me up in the morning, casting stripes of amber and gold on his antique wooden furniture. I was startled at how natural it felt, and began to sense the beginnings of a closeness I'd not felt in a long time.

Slowly focusing in, becoming clearer as some stray dust motes dance lazy choreography trails across a 6am sunbeam. I swear my life has lens flares.

So when he called at 6:30pm on a Sunday and asked what I was doing, like, RIGHT NOW, and did I want to go to the Hollywood Bowl for some outdoor music, I leapt at the opportunity. I met the Filmmaker and his best friend in Studio City and we headed for the show.

The Hollywood Bowl had been on my Bucket List since childhood, when Looney Tunes would always set Bugs Bunny's operatic fiascos there. Bugs would swap places with the conductor and shenanigans ensued. As a child, I was given a snowglobe with some LA landmarks inside: Griffith, the Hollywood Sign, the Capital Records building and of course the Hollywood Bowl. Time and time again, I'd wind it up and gaze into the world of swirling glitter, watching it settle in the itty-bitty amphitheatre seats leading down to the miniature famous scallop shells, as "Cal-i-fornia, Here I Come" twinkled and chimed from the music box in my hands.

I'd seen the Bowl while hiking, too, still from far away- about on par visually with the size ratio of my snowglobe- so distant, so unreachable. Still very much behind glass and a thing for cartoons and fantasy.

And suddenly, there is was. Or rather, there I was: walking up the winding pathway which deposits you BAM right there in the perfect spot to take it all in. From our seats, I could see the stage beautifully- there was the exact spot Bugs always stood. There was the place the conductor got trapped in the tuba. And wayyyyy up there in the hills, beyond the twinkling lights, was the place I'd hiked and dreamed of this very night.

Rack Focus: It had become real, in the form of an amazing concert next to amazing people. I had my Filmmaker and his friend on my right, and a fun stranger on my left who kept sharing box wine in delicate plastic cups with us. The show was beautiful, and a genial sense of happiness and community permeated through the crowd. We were all the swirling glitter. For an hour or so everyone shared this magic snowglobe existence, and I was elated to check Hollywood Bowl off my bucket list in such a sweet way with a man I was so excited about. Sure, he seemed a little "off" that night, but I attributed it to the uncertainty of PDA in front of his friend. No big deal- I hoped to make up for lost time later.

The Filmmaker had received the tickets from an actress he'd directed before, who was now a performer in the band. When she texted him after the show to see if we wanted to meet her backstage and say hi, we took her up on the opportunity. We'd made it 80% of the way out of the parking lot, but this was too good to pass up, so we turned around and made our path back upstream, where we met her behind the Bowl.

She'd seemed so tiny and far away onstage, and yet, here she was.

Rack Focus: this glimmering 6-foot-tall Music Goddess barefoot in a seafoam green gown. She was gorgeous, and I instantly sensed a connection between her and the Filmmaker, who had seemed uncharacteristically nervous and distant throughout the evening yet lit up in her presence. Especially when she mentioned that she'd be quitting the band and moving back to Los Angeles. This girl is an amazing musician, a talented actress, wickedly smart, and phenomenally beautiful. She was also really, really exceptionally nice and gave off the same aura of kindness and do-goodery that the Filmmaker does. I began to wonder how well they knew each other, but that thought was cut short when the Music Goddess was joking about Hollywood crushes, and how she had a huge crush on an actor. I thought of my old stand-by Hollywood Crush, Jake Gyllenhaal, WHO SUDDENLY WALKED AROUND THE CORNER AND APPROACHED OUR GROUP. He was friends with the Music Goddess (of course,) and chatted with us amicably for a bit before ducking out. Another bucket list item checked off for me.

Again, Rack Focus effect- from a small image on a screen and a tiny portion of my imagination/fantasy, there I was instantly face-to-face in reality with something (in this case Jake Gyllenhaal) which had formerly seemed so unattainable and far away. at one point he'd tilted his head back and laughed, and it was just like when his characters laugh in the movies. I grinned too, enjoying the blur of Hollywood and Real Life backstage at a place I'd only seen on postcards.

As we walked (and I floated) back to the car, the Filmmaker's friend jokingly asked me what I would've done if Jake Gyllenhaal had asked me out.

"I would've simply had to tell him sorry, I was out with someone," I said, gesturing towards the Filmmaker.

"Yeah," the best friend replied, "but it's not like you two are dating..."

It was as if I hadn't realized a knife had been plunged into my heart until I felt it violently twisted and wrenched.

Rack Focus: Everything close and clear suddenly became blurry and wrong.

In the brief moment between the opening of the wound and the start of the bloodflow, I chittered happily away, blowing it off. Denial is kind that way. It wasn't until the Filmmaker mentioned how amazingly funny the Music Goddess was that it really began to pour out.

Uh oh. So she's funny too, hunh? ...This might need some stitches.

Temporarily bandaging my rip with a smile, I continued to wrap my injury with the excitement from the night as we dropped off his friend and grabbed a milkshake and a burger. We were talking, we were laughing. He was looking me in the eye for what seemed like the first time that night. Maybe things were OK.

He invited me back to his house. Delirious from blood-loss and giddy from snowglobe life, I went with him. And life sped from a PG-13 to an R before I really knew what I was doing.

Let me repeat: What I was doing. Me. My choice. Looking for some way to prevent hemorrhaging.

But it was too late and I bled out in a pair of apathetic arms.

As close as the lens was, I realized I couldn't regain his focus.

Later, the words "not quite on the same page" would tumble from his lips, and even though he held me as he slept (as HE slept,) I knew the knife had gone too deep and it was over, like a leaking snowglobe that lost its glitter.

I kissed him goodbye in the unmistakeably cold grey light of a foggy dawn and slipped out the door.

He suddenly seemed very far away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

LA Stories: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Los Angeles

My mom nodded and cried when I told her I was moving back to Los Angeles. My father pursed his lips together in that disapproving manner, and my brother literally facepalmed. Hadn't LA completely kicked my ass 18 months ago? Hadn't I JUST settled down, gotten my bearings and begun to heal? The dust from my divorce had barely settled and the scar tissue was still fresh. I had a Florida job, I had built a Florida life... but I'm a California Girl with a California heart.

And the heart, having broken and regrown anew, needed to go back to California.

The comparisons were painful- my brother likened my situation to a desperate gambling addict at a slot machine, pumping quarter after quarter into a one-armed bandit. "Maybe THIS time... OK maybe THIS time..." Others compared it to a battered spouse going back to her abuser. "But they swore they were gonna change..."

The first time I went to LA, I was a starry-eyed dreamer full of hopes and expectations. This was wrong of me. Just like a 15-year old assumes they know how to drive because they've ridden in a car, it doesn't amount to jack shit when they're actually behind the wheel. This was the case with Los Angeles. I came in all excited with my learner's permit, got seriously distracted by my passenger, lost focus and inevitably crashed and burned.

Let me be clear: I do NOT blame my passenger. Let me be clearer: it is not Jay's fault that I got as bad as I got, sinking deeper and deeper into depression and self-abuse. It is not the city's fault, either. There are many factors in catastrophic disaster, and just as I cannot fully assign responsibility to my passenger or the road itself, as "the Driver" and captain of my destiny, I must assume responsibility for my collision with said destiny.

We'd left Florida under bad circumstances, in the wake of job layoffs, my parents' divorce, my best friend moving away and the birth of my brother's second child. I felt a severing of ties and knew that the relationships I'd cherished at home would be forever altered- and so I begged, and begged- I'd waited 8 years, after all, for HIS jobs to work out, for HIS stars to align... he was reluctant, but I eventually wore him down, and convinced him it was the right thing to do.

Husband by my side, (so I thought) he went kicking and screaming, but "we" went to LA.

(note: I was the one who waited. I chose to depend on his timeline. And I begged him until we finally left. Realizing my hand in sculpting the impending disaster has been good for me- he never even wanted to go.)

When we arrived, the inevitable fissures ruptured, and as our relationship crumbled, I crumbled too, blaming the environment the whole time. "LA Ate My husband," was the potential book title. The more he pulled away, the more resentful I became, and it surely showed in my demeanor and physical appearance.

Behind closed doors, my stress was consuming me. I'd complain to him that my gums were bleeding, my hair was falling out. He'd take a slant-ways glance at the clumps of hair in my hands and shrug it off, telling me it was normal. Then he'd go back to his video games. Yes, this was a dick move- but it was NOT the city's fault. And it was my fault for not recognizing his apathy for what it was. It's my fault for trusting him to be right.

No WONDER I wasn't getting jobs. No WONDER none of the opportunities I'd been expecting had opened up to me- I was sick, I was hurting. I didn't want to be around me, my own husband didn't want to be around me, so why would anyone else? At some point I must've decided to win my husband's attention by needing him, which drove him further away, but I was stuck with the cosmic kick-me sign I'd taped on my own back. And where Jay didn't notice, the city surely did.

As the months wore on, and he left, I was pumping nothing but bile and acid through my own veins. The self-sabotage and body abuse I'd indulged in became the only ritual I could count on- the only thing which seemed in my control. I was desperate, scared, hungry and angry- and the city could smell it on me. The more I made myself bleed, the more the sharks attacked.

You get what you give, so naturally, a string of horrible situations snowballed after Jay bailed. Out of subsequently hotter frying pans and into increasingly raging fires, I think I was probably trying to kill myself the same way someone commits Suicide By Cop. I was taunting Los Angeles, subconsciously begging it to end my pain before I had to take matters into my own hands. Los Angeles responded in force, by starving me out and frankly, just sucking Everything which could possibly go wrong went wrong- because I needed it to.

I was terrified of my surroundings, and everywhere I looked I found scary ranting homeless people, random strangers bleeding on sidewalks, murder scenes (hello neighbors!), and poop on the sidewalks. And off the sidewalks. Pretty much everywhere I looked I saw shit. Why? Because I was looking for shit.

When I was giving off all that bad energy, I attracted bad things. When I came with my hands outstretched and empty, expecting things to be placed in them, I was left wanting. When I was scared, I was scary, and scary things became my constant companions.

I crumbled and burst into flames and exploded and burned and shattered and ended. My brother came, scooped up my remains and brought them back home.

Then, I got better. I got lots better. It took about a year and a half. It meant lots of home cooking, sunshine, and exposure to unconditional love from my family, who held me while I cried. It took some wonderful friends who restored my trust in men by sleeping by my side until I learned to sleep alone again. It took a LOT of levity- mostly at work, with my comedy roles, and making others laugh until my own genuine laughter was resparked. In concentrating on others, even just for a little while at work or spending time with my pals, I finally got out of my own head. I was resting, I was eating. And I was healing.

I took an amazing get-your-shit-together seminar by Landmark Education, which helped a lot. I spent some time at a Buddhist Retreat. That helped a lot too. I spent a couple nights in a treehouse, and attended a ful moon sweatlodge ceremony in the forest. That helped a LOT. I dated some really beautiful boys and learned about what I like and what I don't like when it comes to relationships. Ohhhmigod that helped too.

I remember sitting on MY couch in MY home, laughing at a really awesome and completely inappropriate joke on a comedy show when I felt a familiar glow strike up in my heart, like a pilot light had suddenly been ignited. "Hello Ember. I know you."

I didn't know how, I didn't know when, but I knew I needed to go back to LA and fight for my new dream as my new self. I was finally brave enough to want something again.

California hadn't changed. Not one bit. But I certainly had. In dissolving to ash and Phoenixing my way out of the crematorium I'd constructed for myself, I'd become rebuilt of sterner stuff. And I was ready.

Like the chain event of bad stuff which had kicked my ass before, a completely unexpected chain event of good stuff happened as soon as I was ready and Babe Ruth'd my intentions. I suddenly had the means to go west.

And so I went back swinging- I was changed. I'd been behind the wheel, I know how to drive and I know how to crash. The absolute worst had already happened, and I was no longer afraid. When someone is fearless (for whatever reason) the Universe responds to that, too. I was full of fresh stories, fresh ideas- I came with my hands full to GIVE to the city, to contribute. I was the opposite of the negative me, and I have had the opposite of the experience I went through.

A HUGE part of What Helped was accepting responsibility for what was happening and how I was responding to it. I'd become highly reactive, pinging off at the slightest "boo." Making decisions based on pressure and fear lead to some horrible decisions. Blaming my ex for EVERYTHING (especially the horrors that happened to me AFTER he left) was a waste of energy. I realized my shared part in the demise of our relationship. I realized how much better off I was without someone who would treat me like that and abandon me in the condition in which I was left. I realized how toxic I'd been and stopped blaming Los Angeles for giving me exactly what I was begging for. I stopped hurting myself, and made a point of learning how to protect myself against ever making those mistakes again, or depending on anyone else for my happiness.

If I'm going to allow an absolute idiot to determine my mood, that idiot will be ME.

I became calmer. I became strong. I was over my grief- I'd mourned the miscarriage of my marriage and my dream, and all that remained of my disaster was anger. Harnessing my anger as a fuel was invaluable- and figuring out how to let it go was... well... priceless. But that's another story.

LA's my friend now. The city has opened up like a hand to hold, receiving me with the same embrace I felt when I collapsed, broken, into my mother's arms. But like my mother nurtures the broken, LA favors the bold. It is a city designed for the fearless, and living within her parameters means I'm now eligible to play the game.

Amazing stars aligned themselves to provide for me- everything I needed, from a roof to roommates to furniture to jobs to a new car- EVERYTHING has lined up to bring me where I am now- which is happy, on my own steam.

Naturally, this is the exact moment I met my soul mate, in the right place right time, like a welcome home gift.

...but that's another story too- one I can't wait to share with you.

I don't need to be famous- I don't need to be rich. I DO need to write, and I need to be in California.

The advice I'd offer to the starry-eyed dreamers of the world who want to chase their LA dreams is this: come out, by all means. Crash, burn, and LEARN. Take responsibility for what happens, and definitely don't take any bad luck personally.
You can change your stars, as soon as you accept that you ARE the stars.