About 10 or 11 years ago, when hubby and I were still living in L.A, in our last gasp of the 20-somethings and childless, we were both actors. We lived in a condo in Los Feliz, a really nice section of the city that has lots of cool shops and cafes, and sits at the base of the Hollywood Hills. Just beneath the Observatory, in fact. We often walked up to the Observatory, passing by the Greek Theater, Griffith Park, and one of many homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, on the way. (L.A. could be SUCH a cool city if it weren't for the entertainment industry!)
A few blockes from where we lived was a retaurant called "No Place Like Home." It was a favorite of ours; lots of outdoor (but covered) seating, good food, good coffee, friendly waitstaff, mellow customers, and they loved our dog.
One fine morning we were sitting at breakfast when a large group of early-20 somethings sat down near us. Turns out they were meeting before class.
There was a small studio down the street that offered acting classes.
Now, I should qualify this next bit by saying that New York and L.A have literally THOUSANDS of acting classes. Many, MANY unemployed actors will rent space and set up classes. Some are very good. The majority, unfortunately, are terrible. Even those which have decent reputations can be scams. (Cough-Beverly Hills Playhouse-cough. I mean, come on! $300 dollars a month to watch your peers get ripped a new one? Yes, observation is important. But not THAT important!)
So anyway, there sat these young, fresh-faced, exuberant hopefuls proclaiming, rather loudly (as well as numerously) that they were ACTORS.
'Cause that's rare in L.A.
Other than, y'know, your neighbors, your mailman, the busboy, bus driver, barista, the rabbi, etc. etc.
And they were going around the table talking about their "wins." I assume this was something they learned in class; talk about a good thing that happened during the past week, career-wise. Things like "I had an audition, and they only asked me to strip down to my panties, so I didn't have to be COMPLETELY naked! Yes, they videotaped it. Funny, I never knew there was a studio in that skanky area downtown!"
OK, no one actually said that, but you get the idea.
And now I must admit that Hubby and I sat there and rolled our eyes. Because A) Quite honestly, they were incredibly obnoxious and loud (seriously, other customers were leaving in a huff) and B) We'd been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and whatever other cliches you can think of to say we'd lived through it, all of it, and survived. And were at the point where we knew it was not as sunny and wonderful and special as these kids were making it out to be.
Now, a part of me wanted to think "Oh, how sweet! They're not bitter and jaded yet!" But I just couldn't. (See above mention of their being obnoxious.) And I was also angry at this teacher, who was probably making a nice chunk of change off of these students and not giving them a lot in return. Hey, I could be wrong; maybe s/he was the most brillaint teacher EVER. Maybe they UNDERcharged theit students, while at the same time providing them with priceless knowledge of both art and industry. Maybe each one of those students is now living the most perfefect life thay could ever have imagined.
But I doubt it.
Because in L.A., particularly the entertainment industry, we all become whores. We do pretty much whatever it takes to make money, and, even more so, to get a toe in the industry. Even if it goes against everything we believe in and hold dear.
This morning I was thinking about commercials. Specifically campaign ads, it being election day. And I was wondering; if I were offered A LOT of money to do an ad for a program or candidate I violently disagreed with, would I do it? SHOULD I do it? Would the fact that the money would help my family override the damage I would do by endorsing something or someone that made me sick?
I'd like to think I'd refuse the job.
If I were still in L.A., however, I know that here would be A LOT of pressure on me to accept it. I'd be threatened with being let go by my agents, wth being blacklisted from the ad agency AND casting agents, and generally flayed alive by everyone I knew, possibly including my own union. (Don't get me wrong, I am very much pro-union, and proud to be a member of the ones I'm in, but they're far from perfect.)
Which brings me (finally!) to the point of this post: I think I'm learning to trust my own opinions and instincts. It started with food and IE. Last night, for example, I made dinner, went to the gym and taught 2 hours of Pilates, then came home and ate a bit more before bed. Which everyone knows is a BIG diet no-no! DO NOT, he experts say, eat before bed! Wait AT LEAST 2 hours (preferably 3) after eating to hit the hay!
But I didn't. I was sound asleep within the hour. And I woke up this morning, thought about it, and said "It's OK."
And it is!
But this goes way beyond food. It hearkens back to, you guessed it,childhood, when I learned, at a VERY young age, that my opinions and instincts were not to be trusted. There were others who knew what was best for me, and I was to obey at all times. Having my own ideas or, G-d forbid, ARGUING, was verboten.
And I took this message into adulthood. I absorbed it so completely I didn't even realize I felt this way. It was automatic. I became a chameleon, and not in a good way. I lost myself. I truly believed that in order to survive I had to shut up. Listen to the "experts." Do what "they" said. Never disagree (at least, not out loud), and never, EVER make a mistake!
This seems to be , unfortunately, very common in girls and women. And at the root of a lot of eating disorders. We feel we must be perfect; perfect grades, perfect hair, perfect bodies, perfect resumes, perfect personalities. For me, I became withdrawn and terrified, plagued by stomachaches and headaches. For others, it can be the opposite; overly aggressive (spurred on by self-doubt, which is TOTALLY different from aggressiveness spurred on by true confidence), unable to truly accept help or friendship from anyone, believing, as I did, that once someone truly gets to know them, they won't like them anymore.
We are surrounded by advice. There are "experts" everywhere. TV, magazines, billboards all spout advice. At work and school, we have meetings or "retreats" with these experts, all telling how we "should" run our company, be team players, spend our money, yada yada yada.
OK, yes, sometimes we need experts. Having a solid financial plan is a good thing. Food labels can be helpful.
We are rapidly approaching the pont where we no longer think for ourselves. Yes, Cocoa Crispies have a label saying they can boost immunity and, yes, it's pretty much a scam. But do we REALLY need the FDA to step in and TELL us it's a scam? Did people REALLY believe, when they bought Baby Einstein DVDs, that watching them would help their kid get into Harvard, hence the company now offering refunds on said DVDs?
Have we really lost all our common sense?
I don't know. Perhaps we have.
Perhaps it's time to step back, take a good hard look at the experts, and lisen to our own opinions again. Yes, "The Biggest Loser" contestants lose 30 pounds in a week. But is working out 6 hours a day really feasible for you? Do you think that losing so much weight, so quickly, is really a good idea? Is that Ab Rocker that they sell on TV at 3 AM REALLY the answer to your fitness prayers? And remember that old adage, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is? Well, that still holds. Maybe more so now than ever. (Just ask anyone who took out a sub-prime housing loan a few years ago!)
Every once in a while I think about those young actors and where they are now. They're in their mid-30's. Are they still performing? Do they look back and think how naive they were, or are they nostalgic? Do they still count their wins? Or are they too caught up in the things they "should" be doing and in the competitiveness of it all that they can't see the good stuff? Can they see past the careers and the money (or lack thereof) and the accolades (or lack thereof) and all the external stuff? My guess, if they're still in L.A, is no.
So, once again, I find myslef thanking G-d, Fate, Nature, and anyone else who helped me open my eyes and get the heck outta there. Because, while I know it's not just in L.A. that we find all this crap, being there cerainly didn't help my state of mind. And my kids WILL MOT grow up there.
Which is DEFINITELY a win!