Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Real Talk on Hard Times

A friend of mine, who is also an actress, reflected recently that actors never talk about their financial growing pains until they've made it big – then, in cute anecdotes, they reveal the pain, stress and degradation they went through in the lean years.  Well, let me reveal one actress’ struggle right here.  MINE.

The last few months have been tough financially and emotionally.  In my personal life, I suffered a loss from which I’m still reeling. Many days it's hard to get out of bed and face another reminder of that failure.  Emotionally, I’m heartbroken and embarrassed; and financially, I’m hurting because I gave up my income and am living off savings that are dwindling faster than a knife fight in a phone booth.  In my professional life, I sometimes feel like a hamster in a wheel, running hard but staying in the same damned place. I had 9 auditions last week, 9! - in 2 days.  Normally, that’s an outstanding ratio and a sign of great things, but I didn't have enough money for subway fare to get to the auditions so I had to walk to each one - in the middle of a heat wave! - and wash up in public bathrooms (because no businesses let you use their restrooms without a purchase nowadays) so I that wasn't too sweaty-gross when I walked into each audition room.  And for all of that, I didn't even get a call-back. Not one. It happens.  But that was the worst week for it to happen because that was last of my meager savings which meant I had to get a “real” job and get some income - QUICK. 

Unfortunately, I've never really learned a trade/profession (waitressing, bartending, teaching, anything…), but I've got the qualities that corporate office managers like, so I can always get a job as an Executive Assistant (or as my Mom says “secretarial shit”), and, last week I had to suck up my pride and take a temp job  doing exactly that, at a hedge fund no less.  Irony of ironies.  Yeah, I sold out.  The anti-big-banking activist in me crumbled in shame.  But I didn't have rent money, I’d taken out super-high interest loans and those chickens had come home to roost, the power company was shutting off service, I was hand-washing my clothes and eating only beans and rice because I couldn't afford the Laundromat or groceries...I was desperate.  I was e-lancing for a couple bucks an hour, but that wasn't helping. Over the last months, I've applied for jobs in restaurants and hotels (places with non-corporate schedules so that I could still audition), but pretty much no one will hire an adult (for a living wage) with zero experience.

No one, that is, except the x-rated industry.  So, for a horrible few days, I even considered that.  You've seen the ads…..”web cam model…”  Well, I got as far as contacting them and asking for details, but when they asked me to email photos of myself, I chickened out.  Then, I talked about it to several girlfriends (actresses and not) and they ALL said that, at some point, they, too, had thought about doing some kind of fast-cash x-rated work.  And I found out that even Sylvester Stallone did porn early on to pay the rent!  In the end, I chose a boring temp job (and I still might have to take a 2nd temp job on the side to claw my way out of this debt), but for me this is no less “degrading” than porn.  I’m doing something I’m ashamed of and detest.  It might not be Brad Pitt’s chicken suit or Sylvester Stallone’s porn, but it’s no less mortifying for me. 

So there it is.  A slice of life.  On the real side in real time.  No one really chooses the “starving” part of the starving artist identity.  But most of us in this line of work have gone through this phase – and more than once.  This isn't the first time I've had to choose between food and subway fare, and while I pray it’s the last, it might very well not be.  It’s a tough life.  I’m revealing it here, because why should we only hear the successful parts of the story?  And why is the struggle hidden until the big success is won?  That kind of thing might be important to Sun Tsu acolytes, but the art of humanity and is about empathy, which means we should understand each other’s struggles, not hide and ignore them.  For all the glamour, fun and dress up, there is also desperation and destitution.  It's a high risk lifestyle.  You oscillate between splendor and devastation.

This morning I learned that there are food trucks giving out free meals every day this summer in NYC and that by texting “NYC meals” to the number 877-877 you can receive a list of the locations each day. Maybe you’re lucky and have never been in need.  But I promise you that someone near you right now, has or is.  

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