experience becoming

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As an actress, my day-to-day job is auditioning. For each one, I spend time and energy preparing for it, dressing for it, thinking about it, driving to it, waiting for it. And then I go in and perform, give it my all, be as present as I can be, spend time (hopefully) collaborating with the casting director or director or producer(s), feel pretty good (hopefully) about what I did and then leave. Often to never hear another word about it. Imagine a life of job interviews where you have to bare your soul in all manner of vulnerabilities and almost never get the job.

After almost two decades of this you'd think I'd have it down.

I have learned something though that I continue to keep learning: If I felt good about what I did in the room and felt good that I got to express myself that particular day doing my version of that particular role? That needs to be enough. No matter what they thought of me, no matter if they thought I was or wasn't "right". Especially if I'm seeking peace and happiness in my life. Look, is it always *enough*? No. But it should be and it's worth working on. 

You don't get a phone call after an audition unless you get the job (read: result) but if I only counted the roles I booked as my successes, I'd be a ginormous failure. This sometimes makes for uneasy cocktail party conversation when people ask what I've been up to lately ("Umauditioning lots and working on letting them go afterward…?") It's so freaking easier to have a concise sound-bite-y THING to answer in those moments, something that people can quickly understand. Even better if it sounds successful. People want results at cocktail parties (and it's not easy to talk about the exploration of oneself while juggling a glass of merlot and a chicken skewer). 

We are so conditioned to define our success/creativity/worthiness by others. Either by comparing ourselves to them or by giving in to what they think of us (cocktail parties included). What a revolutionary notion to cultivate an inner knowing instead. It takes the emphasis off the result and puts it on the process. And then there are way more things to celebrate along the way instead of merely the End All Be All Result. This is not an original idea (even I've said it beforebut there is so much momentum in the collective consciousness that I feel it bears repeating. Often. Joy in the journey, people! 

But then, hey, sometimes I get the job (result!), and the shooting part is a let down. Or let's say it's great and I enjoy the journey of shooting it (result!) and feel super accomplished (result!) then learn that the show gets cancelled before it airs. See? there is no scenario where this journey thing doesn't apply. If a girl wearing a bikini on a new CBS comedy falls in the forest and no one is there to watch TV did it ever happen? Yes! It happened. And I have to choose to believe that I'm better for the experience of it all. 

So. Here I was pondering all this. And then I came across this wonderful letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote and I think/hope you will enjoy it as much as I did/do/will forever………….

In 2006, a group of students from Ms. Lockwood's class at Xavier High School were given an assignment to write a persuasive letter to their favorite author, asking them to visit their class. Five of them chose Kurt Vonnegut. This was their only reply:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School,

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. 

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Here's to soul growth! And to becoming! And to the Mystery of it all! And to more meaningful cocktail parties!


{thanks to Shoko for bringing this to my attention! And also to letters of note}


  1. So touched. Thank you for this!

  2. heart this, jolie. and your neverendingly optimistic, yet practical, perspective.

  3. You have no idea how much I needed this right now. I´ve being sttrugling with my economical situation for sometime. and i just had a big fight with a friend who keeps pushing for me to sell out (for me to sell out is not doing something commercial that people would gladly buy. that I am perfectly ok with, sell out is doing something with no real cuality and soul in to it). So thank you very much!!!

  4. so lovely! and i'm so glad you loved that letter as much as i did :)


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