Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I was in fifth grade when I learned for sure that Santa didn’t exist.
It was during a lesson about the difference between fact and fiction when my teacher looked up and rocked my world.
I don’t want anyone to burst into tears here fifth graders but I think we all know there is no Santa Claus.
Just like that.
As if this wasn’t the most shocking news I’d heard since I’d learned in Health class what a ‘red light’ touch meant.
I stared at her as tunnel vision started to overtake me.
As I white-knuckled my desk, I glanced around at my classmates who were joking and rolling their eyes as if to say, DUH.
I was clearly the only one who didn’t know.
My friend, Ashley Getslaff (who, incidentally, was also the first person to tell me about condoms) turned to me and scoffed.
How old does she think we are? 8??
I agreed and laughed a little too loudly.
Yeah. It’s not like we’re babies!
But truly, I was heartbroken.
Now, it’s not like I hadn’t had my suspicions. The year before I had done some serious handwriting analysis comparing a note from Santa to my mother’s signature on a check.
(It was inconclusive.)
But this was different. This was a cold hard fact from a teacher. And they knew everything.
That night, I took a big dramatic breath, and confronted my mother.
Mom. Is Santa real? Just tell me. I can take it.
She smiled kindly and I could see it coming. She was giving me her ‘I’m going to let my overly-imaginative and underly-cynical daughter down easy’ smile.
Honey…Santa is more of a feeling…kind of the spirit of Christmas. It’s in your heart.
Well, that confirmed it.
The hell with what’s in my heart, I wanted a jolly elderly gentleman to bring me gifts!
That Christmas, when I raced down to see what "Santa" had brought me I noticed it didn't feel as fun. I stared at the cookie crumbs from the cookies I had half-heartedly left out the night before and realized grumpily that I had just wasted those cookies on my parents.
For years I had been begging to be treated like an adult and finally, when I was, I didn’t want it anymore.
I felt silly. Young.
I had figured the whole Santa thing was a sham but I had just wanted so badly for the magic to be true.
Wanted something that special and mysterious to actually exist in this world.
Eventually I got over it and replaced the mystery of Santa with the mystery of boys.
And now I’m in LA carving out a career that’s all about making people believe a different kind of fictitious magic.
This year when the holiday season rolled around I just wasn’t feeling it.
There was no snow, no homemade stockings, not even an angel for the top of the tree that my brother and I could fight over.
I was just working, auditioning, and sitting in traffic – just like every other day in Los Angeles.
Then last week, someone honked at me for no apparent reason and I screamed with venom out my open window, LAY OFF! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!!
That was it. I needed some holiday joy.
Enter: Naples Island in Long Beach.
My friend Katie had told Noah and I about this magical island last year. Every house sits facing the canal ala Venice, Italy. Every year, for the holidays, they decorate their houses magnificently.
We’re talking, professional lights and themes.
Anyone can come and wander the paths through the canals, taking in the view.
So a few friends and I got together and headed over. From the moment we crossed the bridge into Naples I knew this was what I needed. It was impossible to resist the magic of this place.
We walked and walked, sipping our hot (and spiked) holiday drinks and oohing and awwing at the displays.
And then I felt it.
It was that feeling of joy and a little bit of wonder that I had always felt about Christmas and namely, Santa.
I looked around at my friends, laughing and skipping from one house to the next, and that magic started to creep back.
Who needs Santa when I had these people and this place?
This was Christmas.
And right there, surrounded by the ocean, twinkling lights, and my friends I put my practical, adult-self on hold for just a second and allowed myself to believe in a little magic.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
In other words, just a typical day.
Since I moved to Los Angeles (three-and-a-half years ago) I have only been able to go home once for Thanksgiving. Instead, with a few friends from college, we have forged our own tradition, trying as hard as we can to bring the comfort of the Midwest to Hollywood.
And by comfort I mean lots of butter and ‘salads’ with cookies in them.
One of my friends has a home and a little boy so we all headed over to his house this year to cook, eat, and (let’s be honest) drink lots of wine.
The police came right at the beginning of our day. Someone had hit my friend Ben’s parked car so hard that it had shattered the bumper.
Let me say that again.
Ben’s car was PARKED. But the woman still managed to hit his car so hard that it slammed into the car in front of him and also SHATTERED HIS BUMPER.
Did I mention this was in a residential area?
The police came, we gave them cookies, and they gave the woman a ticket.
After that, I figured we were done with drama for the day.
I was wrong.
About an hour later, as I was idly stirring gravy over the stove and contemplating if I should abandon my wine and move on to hard liquor, I started to smell something that didn’t fit in with the savory stuffing aroma or the distinct cinnamon smell of the pie.
No…it smelled like…plastic? Burning plastic?
I looked down.
There, burning below me were flames.
A LOT OF FLAMES.
Someone had placed a ladle between the gas burners. The ladle had caught fire which had then caught the plastic child-splatter guard on fire.
I kept calm.
FIRE!!!!! THERE’S A FIRE!!! GUYS!! FIRE!!!!!
I picked up the flaming ladle and ran to the sink. Someone else broke off the flaming child safety guard and did the same thing. The whole kitchen filled with smoke.
Yep, it was definitely time to move to hard liquor.
Despite the police and the flames, we finally made it to dinner.
And it was delicious.
We might not have pulled it off as flawlessly as my family had always seemed to do, but the end result was just as lovely.
That night, after we had let the food settle, a few of us took turns jumping on their family trampoline.
It was dark, and the ocean made the air wet and chilly. It almost…almost…felt like fall in North Dakota. And as I jumped and jumped I thought about traditions.
When I moved to LA I had to walk away from my grandmother’s Thanksgiving desserts and my cousins’ annual backyard Thanksgiving football game.
And I realized, that first Thanksgiving away, that it was up to me to make new memories in this new place.
That if I was really going to try and call this place home, I needed to put down some roots. Let go of how much I wished I was home, and embrace the fact that I'm not.
That night, on the trampoline, I looked around at my friends and into the warm house where some were still eating pie and I thought, we did it.
We created something that I look forward to every year. We created a whole new tradition in a whole new place.
It might be messy and filled with too much wine and too little snow but it's ours.
And I am so thankful.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Probably much less than the English but I’m fairly certain I’m the only American six-year-old who carried around bitter feelings toward a 17th century English rebel.
I think I must have come across the story of Mr. Fawkes in one of those “See What Happened on Your Birthday” postcards they have at trinket stores. I found November 5, hoping to learn that it was the day Cabbage Patch Dolls had been invented or that I shared a birthday with Punky Brewster.
Instead, I learned that an English mad man had tried to blow up the House of Lords.
And now he gets his own day. With bonfires.
This was clearly a direct snub against my birthday.
After all, this was my day. It seemed ludicrous to me that someone was trying to take that away.
Every year I would do a mental comparison of my birthday against the festivities of the English National Holiday.
I soon learned that bowling at Safari Lanes and dinner at Paradiso did not compare to a nationwide celebration.
It was clearly a stacked deck.
Eventually, somewhere in my early teens, I let the whole thing go and replaced it with excitement for my first boy-girl birthday, asking for Dock Martins, and deciding what color of corduroy pants I would wear that day.
But a few weeks ago, when I mentioned my birthday was approaching, someone recited the famous rhyme about Guy Fawkes Day.
Remember remember the fifth of November.
It got me thinking about my childhood obsession.
How devastated it made me to imagine that someone else outdid me every year.
Nowadays, although I love my birthday, I am constantly aware that maybe it’s a little silly.
In fact, I usually wish something would take away the pressure I feel for the day to be all about me.
It seems that somewhere along the line to adulthood we are taught that we’re too old, too mature to get a day all to ourselves.
Like we don’t deserve it.
So this year, on my birthday, I tried to push away the uncomfortable thoughts. And when I looked around at my mom, who had flow all the way from Minnesota to be with me, and my friends, drinking wine and listening to music in the warm Malibu sun, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
In fact, I felt really lucky.
I spend every day as an actor and a writer trying to get people to pay more attention to me. To watch this or look at that. To cast me, hire me, or buy my show.
And there, sitting with me in the grass, were people who already think I’m special.
Who already think that I’m worth celebrating.
And that’s not silly at all. It’s just lovely.
As for Guys Fawkes, I think I can finally say it.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
That year, I had watched the Summer Olympics religiously and decided I wanted to be a gymnast. But more than that, I knew what gymnastic move I wanted to do more than any other. It was simple really. No flips, no crazy kicks, no acts of balance.
I wanted to fly.
Let go of the bars completely, and float through the air catching the other bar just in the nick of time.
I’d seen gymnasts do it all summer. How hard could it be?
When I returned to school in the fall I was ready.
Ready to become the Shannon Miller of my third grade class.
I practiced all through recess and at the end of the day I figured it was time. After all, I had practiced an ENTIRE RECESS.
In my eight-year-old head that seemed like most of my life.
I rubbed sand on my hands to get rid of unwanted palm sweat– something I’d seen Shannon do before she attempted the uneven bars. I ignored that she was actually rubbing special chalk on her hands while I was grinding sharp pebbles into mine.
I surveyed the bars.
There was a problem. The skinny ones I had been practicing on seemed too close together. I would not get any air, any real sense of flying, if I let go in between those two bars.
Then I had a brilliant idea.
I would use the thick outside bars (the ones used to keep the skinny ones together.)
Never mind the fact that those two bars were so big I could hardly get my little hands around them. Again, minor details.
I jumped up, gripped the thick metal as well as I could and started to swing my legs.
The faster I swung, the better chance I knew I had of catching the bar. (The bar that suddenly seemed really far away.)
I swung harder.
When I swung back for the fourth time and was almost parallel to the ground I knew it was now or never.
I let go.
I was doing it! I was flying towards that other bar just like the gymnasts!
I stretched my arms as far as they could go. The bar got closer and I could feel my fingertips brush the cool metal.
But that was all they did.
Brush the metal.
Despite my diligent and focused twenty minute practice, as my body (still parallel to the ground) headed for the hard sharp sand below I had the sinking feeling that maybe I should have given it one more recess.
I hit the ground like a plank, my arms still reaching for that elusive metal bar.
The wind instantly left my little body and my teeth bit down hard into my lip as my chin hit the sand.
I lay there for a moment – shocked that I was not as talented as Shannon Miller.
And then the tears started, not so much for my bleeding lip or my inability to catch my breath, but for the frustration that twenty minutes of practice had not been enough.
This was going to be harder than I thought.
Twenty years later, it’s the same here in Los Angeles.
Success in this town is harder than I thought.
Which brings me to something else that was harder than I thought.
Season 1 of Book Club is going to premiere on Hulu!
Finally all of our (and many other peoples’) hard work is paying off.
It could not have come at a better time.
Lately, I’d been moping around getting bitter that things weren’t happening faster.
That I wasn’t getting any younger and that my apartment wasn't getting any bigger or closer to the ocean.
But although it was difficult, I would not have had this success any other way.
Just like falling on my face taught me in third grade that if I wanted something, I needed to work at it.
That year, I practiced so much that the inside of my palms started to resemble an eighty-year-old farmer’s. My calluses were large, thick and a point of pride. I would wave them around when people doubted my dedication or abilities.
They were my battle scars.
I hadn’t minded the calluses in third grade, when I was working towards being the monkey bar champion so why should I mind them now, when I’m working towards the life I want to live?
Instead of feeling bitter that things aren’t happening faster, I should be proud of the work I am doing. The calluses I am building up that are making me stronger.
Even though I never tried to attempt the flying leap again, I got really good at the monkey bars.
And years later, after building up some serious calluses in Hollywood, I got something even better than ultimate success on the monkey bars.
I got one callus closer to my dream.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I feel like you have a lot of joy within you.
She smiled and heartily agreed.
Okay, I’m going to need you to bury that.
When she related this story to me over drinks a few nights ago, I laughed. What a brilliant way to sum up what (if you’re not careful) Los Angeles can do to you.
But I’m starting to think it’s not so funny.
I’ve changed since I’ve moved here – I feel…older.
Sometimes, it’s a good feeling.
- I now know how many margaritas I can have before it turns ugly.
- I have now haggled for and purchased my own car.
- I’ve realized that not every one has to like me and I can still consider myself a nice person. (Right? RIGHT!?!)
But I’ve noticed that with all of this good change, there is one very specific thing I have to constantly keep track of to make sure it never disappears…
A strong belief in myself.
And to be honest, it’s been hard lately.
About a month ago, I listened to a speaker talk about dreams. Among the many smart things he said, one line in particular stuck with me.
When did it become okay to stop believing that our dreams will come true?
I sat there, staring up at him and felt tears forming. I was shocked I was having such a strong emotional reaction to a seemingly simple question. But judging from the amount of snot flowing out of my nose, this was a question I related to.
When I was a kid, a teenager, and even an early-twenty-something I had no problem with this. I would write things in my journal like “Someday my dream is happening” or “I just KNOW it…I can just FEEL it” or “They just couldn’t see past my giant glasses to my raw talent!”
But lately, I’ve noticed a certain absence of those sentiments.
The older I get, the more I realize there are some people who look at me and think it’s time to give up this ‘crazy’ dream of mine. That, as I inch towards my late late twenties I should start thinking of other (read: more practical) things to do with my life.
And ashamedly, in my weaker moments, I’ve thought they might be right.
But they’re not.
It was just easier to believe in myself when I was younger- when nothing smothered that belief like money issues, countless no’s, and (pointing the finger at myself here) doubt.
But despite the fact that I'm turning a whole year older next week, I'm hanging on.
With my crazy dreams. And my crazier stories.
But especially with my crazy joy that (much like my friend’s) will not be smothered.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Last week I won $50 playing Black-Out Bingo at the Senior Citizens Center.
A few days before I had suffered from mild heat stroke in my scarf and high boots as I refused to believe the weather was not the lovely, Midwest Fall I so desperately wanted it to be.
When I found out it was going to be 101 degrees last Wednesday I knew it was time for me to get out of town.
So, Noah (whose refusal to turn on his air conditioner made him almost as desperate as I was) and I packed a bag and headed for greener (and cooler) pastures. Enter, Big Bear, California where it dipped below 40 degrees every night.
After a winding, uphill battle for the Yaris, we arrived in beautiful – no, stunning – Big Bear. The mountains, the lake, the weather, the lack of honking cars! It was everything we had imagined.
If I squinted just right and ignored the BMWs, faux-fur jackets, and eight-pound lap dogs it almost felt like we were in the Midwest.
There were so many options of things to do, so many ways to soak up the local culture. We could hike, boat, visit the local shops, or walk through leaves. The options were endless but we knew the moment we saw the flyer taped to the door of the Tourism Building what we were going to do.
With the elderly.
The Big Bear Senior Citizens Center was hosting a four-hour game of Bingo and there was no place we would have rather been.
When we walked into the Center the two older gentlemen at the ticket booth looked at us skeptically. When we told them we were not lost but here to play Bingo I thought they were going to fall off their chairs and break a hip.
They eagerly explained the game and ushered us inside like we were royalty. They proudly showed us where we could get a boiled hotdog or some Folgers coffee.
The smell of sterile band aids, Aqua Net, and boiled meat reminded me of visitors day at the nursing home in Jamestown when I would go see my great-grandmother.
I squeezed Noah’s hand excitedly and whispered in his ear.
As soon as we sat down we were surrounded by people making sure we had everything we needed, explaining to us how ‘Crazy Ts” and “Postage Stamp” Bingo work. Noah and I were overwhelmed with the kindness and the attention.
By the time the game got underway I was ready.
I had by dobber, I had my cards, and I had the moral support of seemingly every person in the building. I may not have been as serious as the woman who brought in her own Bingo podium (with an attached fan to keep her cool) but I was set to win.
A few games in I noticed two things:
- Beverly was on a winning streak.
- The woman sitting one table away was staring at me.
Now, Beverly had the animosity of most of the crowd so I didn’t worry about her. But the other woman was starting to unnerve me.
Every time I glanced up she stared, smiling as if I was the neatest thing to come to Big Bear since electricity. She was probably eighty with a blonde poof of hair in the front and the rest of her head dyed shock-red. I admired her style but wished she would stop staring.
Then, suddenly, she was beside me.
I don’t mean to bother you. Are you enjoying the game?
I smiled and assured her I was having a blast. She smiled again.
Well, I was going to ask for your autograph but… that’s probably silly.
I stopped dobbing my free spaces and looked up at her, taken aback.
You want MY autograph?
She nodded eagerly.
Well, you are HER, right? You are Taylor Swift!
Beside me, Noah snorted.
Oh…no. I’m not Taylor Swift. Sorry…
She was unfazed. As she started moving back to her seat for the next round, she winked at me like we were co-conspirators.
Okay, dear. Right. Mum’s the word.
Before I could say anything she was gone.
I looked at Noah, who shrugged.
Soon my attention was back to the game as my favorite kind of Bingo was up.
Immediately, I had every number called. I dobbed out half my card before I missed a number. I grabbed Noah’s arm and started to get excited.
I kept dobbing out numbers as my card became more and more full. Finally, I was ‘on’ (Bingo term for one number away.)
We must have been causing quite a stir because the people around us started noticing my excitement. They whispered to us and to others, asking if we were ‘on.’
Finally, as the ball rolled out of the machine I could see it was the one I wanted. I dug my fingers into Noah’s arm as the woman next to me kindly instructed me not to say anything until he called it or my Bingo would be invalid.
Finally, the caller said it.
Noah and I leapt from our chairs and I held the winning card above my head.
Unlike the angry looks Beverly had received, everyone started clapping for us. Cheering as if they had all Bingoed too.
As the card checker read my card the blonde-haired/red-haired lady made her way over again. This time, with her camera.
She asked Noah to take a picture of her and I with my winning Bingo card. She smiled and squeezed my shoulder.
I can’t wait to send this to my granddaughter to show her that Taylor Swift plays Bingo too.
I gave up.
Yes, she will be so excited! Tell her I say hello.
When the games were all over and Noah and I made our way out of the building, we were stopped by countless people asking us if we could come tomorrow night for Bingo at the VFW or next week at the Eagles Club.
Finally in the car, the silence was punctuated by Noah who kept repeating one phrase.
They were so nice. Just…SO nice.
We both seemed shell-shocked at the kindness and warmth that the Big Bear Senior Citizens Center had showered on us.
When did it become shocking when someone was kind?
I realized that night, as I tucked my $50 safely into my purse, that I had told myself I was coming to Big Bear looking for Fall. But really, I had come looking for a reminder of home.
And I found, among the Bingo dobbers and the weak-coffee, the thing about home I actually missed.
A sense of community, a sense of joy, and the feeling that everyone was on your side.
It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who had lived longer than three decades and were proud of it.
Back in LA, I’m holding on to that feeling.
If I can feel that special and at peace among those people – I know I can feel it in Los Angeles too.
And Big Bear, for that, Taylor Swift thanks you.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
It was the first time in a year or two that I have felt that poorly about a performance.
Earlier in the week, my manager had sent me the casting information; I would be auditioning for the role of the co-host in a hidden camera game show.
I was already dubious.
Hidden camera? Game Show? Co-Host?
Those were not words I was comfortable with.
But, as I told my manager, I would rather be working on camera in a game show than in a restaurant where the only cameras I’m on are for security purposes.
Now, it’s said that if you don’t care about an audition it will go better. That if you plan a trip, you will be put on hold. That if you already booked something you will book something else.
It happens every time.
So, I figured I was set.
I didn’t care at all – as much as I tried to convince myself I did. I had no right to be high-and-mighty about this audition but I couldn’t stop myself from snorting at the corny dialogue and turning up my nose at their request to ‘bring props.’ This was not the kind of audition I was used to.
When the day came, I drove to the studio, checked in, and sat in the waiting room across from a girl who had indeed brought her own props – an incredibly life-like cardboard TV.
I had brought a pen.
She smiled brightly at me and I returned the smile. After signing my name, I rehearsed my lines in the hallway – partly because this was a tradition of mine but mostly to avoid eating candy from the giant bowl they had set out for the actors.
Suddenly, the casting director came out and I heard the cheery girl tell her that I could go first.
I wasn’t ready but I figured that was all the better!
I stepped into the room, confident in my lack of caring.
They asked me to hit my mark, and told me to begin whenever I was ready. I smiled, took a deep breath, and started my lines.
Hi! I’m Jessica Runck. Welcome to (name protected.) Today on the show we are going to….to…
I stopped. What was my next line? I glanced at the casting director and she gave me a bright smile. I tried again.
Hi!! I’m Jessica Runck! Welcome to (name protected.) Today on the show we are going to…to…
I stopped again.
What was my next line?
WHAT THE HELL WAS MY LINE?
I glanced wildly around as if the walls or the camera could give me some kind of hint.
This had never happened to me. I’m always prepared. I’m the girl who get’s straight A’s. I’m the girl who's been accused of being TOO PREPARED. I’m the girl who rehearses scenes to death.
WHERE WAS THAT GIRL?
Suddenly, I head the casting director’s voice cut through my panicked thoughts.
Umm, Jessica? It’s okay. Just breath through it. You will think of it, honey.
I took another deep breath and tried it again. And this time I got through it. Barely. I don’t remember much about the rest of the audition.
When it was over, I raced from the room pausing just long enough to fill each pocket with candy before I slumped to my car. I sat behind my steering wheel and stared ahead. How could I have let that happen? And why did I feel so crummy about it?
After all, I didn’t really care about the audition. It wasn’t a job I had wanted. Not really.
But by the way I slammed on the gas pedal and peeled out of the studio, I realized I did care.
Not about the job so much as I cared about how much I worked and how I performed.
And I had sucked.
For the girl who took double the credit load every single semester in college this was unacceptable.
I sped up the canyon back to my apartment, berating myself the whole way.
You are not above this job. Sure, sure you think you are all high and mighty because you have auditioned for some big people but have they ever actually cast you? UM, NO!
I pulled into my driveway and fired off a hurried text to my manager. I tried to dull the blow.
Audition went….ok. (Understatement of the year) I’m not a host… But at least they gave me candy.
I waited her response, expecting that she probably got a call from the casting director asking her why she was representing such an untalented and unprepared actor.
How could I have let her down like this? She was taking a chance on me. When she sends me to these auditions it’s her name on the line too. I stopped breathing as I heard her response come through. She was probably just going to drop me right there, via text.
I looked down at my phone.
And then I smiled. Not a single word from her about how much I sucked or how I wasn’t worth her time. Only one sentence and it was all I needed to hear.
What is better than candy??
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I skip the whole ‘I moved here to be an actor and it is and always will be my dream’ part and stick with just ‘writer.’
For a while I didn’t see it as a problem.
I noticed at the restaurant when people very smugly said, “Let me guess, you’re an actor,” I took great pleasure looking them dead in the face and saying that I’m actually a writer – (you smug a-hole.)
And my tips were always higher when I was a writer.
At least that was the excuse I gave myself.
But then, a few days ago, I was introduced to some new people and we came to the inevitable conversation about what ‘brought me to LA all the way from North Dakota.’
(I love when people say that – as if it was extra difficult for me to travel ‘all the way’ from North Dakota because it takes a long time in a horse and buggy.)
I smiled, took a sip of my beer, and before I knew what I was saying blurted out the familiar half-lie.
I’m a writer.
Not ‘writer-actor.’ Not even ‘writer but I occasionally audition.’ Just plain, old writer.
I took a longer drag of my beer and looked away.
What was my problem?
And before my shame could choke me to death I blurted out the whole truth.
I’m actually an actor. Too. Actor-writer. But, you know, mostly actor. Right now. I mean, I write to….Book Club….and act. Anyway…actor…yeah….
I felt my face burning as the familiar look of pity mixed with dash of slightly-less-respect-than-was-there-before crowded into their eyes.
I didn’t even notice. I was too busy scolding myself.
Shame on me for balking in the face of ignorant people’s misconceptions.
When had this shift happened?
And finally, on the night of the Emmy’s, I figured it out. Noah and I were drinking champagne and dreaming of the day we would hold that gold statue when sixty-year-old character actress Margo Martindale won for Best Supporting Actor in a drama series.
She was shocked.
And after tripping on her way up the stairs to accept her Emmy (something I probably would have done too) she was breathless and exuberant and I felt like her first words were aimed directly at me.
Sometimes things just take time. And with that time comes greater appreciation.
Margo, how did you know that’s exactly what I needed to hear?
In that elated speech she reminded me why I was here and the reason I’ve been avoiding being called an actor. Because I’m getting tired. Again.
Tired of the ‘poor you’ looks and the stereotypes that come with being a (struggling) actor in Hollywood.
But Margo’s right. It takes time. And patience. And above all, dedication to the dream. And denying and ignoring the real reason I’m here is not moving me forward.
SO HEAR THIS, INTERNET!
I’m an actor.
And that does not mean I’m uneducated.
I’m an actor.
And that does not mean I’m a model.
I’m an actor.
And that does not mean I don’t have other skills.
I’m an actor.
And pretty damn proud of it.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I wait until I only have one pickle and a half stick of butter left to resign myself to the fact that I have to go to the grocery store.
And that’s after I have tried to make a butter soup with pickle garnish.
So I was already annoyed a few days ago when I pulled into the over-crowded Trader Joe’s, and made my way through the 105 degree temperature outside, to the mass of steaming, eco-friendly bodies inside.
Looking around, I knew immediately that I had made a fatal error. I should never have come to this particular Trader Joes – it always makes me feel like I am in a never-ending game of (fair-trade) sardines.
After a few good shoves, I finally filled my basket and pushed my way through to find a cash register. I situated myself in the “12 Items or Less” line and patiently waited my turn.
Finally, the attendant cheerily rang me up we and exchanged eye rolls about the heat. Suddenly she turned abruptly toward the end of the line and I heard someone talking to her although I couldn’t make out the words.
Then, with a serious face but eyes on the verge of laughter she looked back at me and said:
Ma’m. The lady behind you would like you to know that this is a ’12 Items or Less’ lane.
I stared at her.
I glanced down at my items and then to the line behind me. The women directly behind me was staring at me and frantically mouthing:
It’s not me! You’re fine!! It’s the crazy lady behind me!!
My eyes slid to the ‘crazy lady’ behind her. The woman must have been eighty-years-old, wearing giant sunglasses (inside) and was pointedly not looking at me but instead studying a poster on the wall.
I glanced back at the cashier who had finished ringing me up.
How many items do I have?
I couldn’t help but give a surprised giggle and with a voice much louder than it needed to be, I said:
Well, if that’s the worse thing that happens to her today, she is one lucky lady.
At that, the woman behind me started laughing and the distressed woman behind her gave an annoyed sigh.
As I took my offending groceries back into the heat, I thought about the things that really annoy me.
- Sunglasses inside
- People who wait for parking spots when there is a giant line behind them
I guess not adhering to the strict guidelines of the “12 Items or Less” line was one of that woman’s things.
And that’s fine.
But next time – take your damn sunglasses off if you want to complain about me.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
One person away from being able to move into an apartment with a bedroom.
One person away from proving to my commercial agents that I’m worth their time.
For the first audition I had been given no sides (script) and no idea as to who I was playing. I was bitter.
Bitter that I was on one more audition I didn’t feel right for.
Bitter that all the other girls looked like they were exactly right for the role.
But especially bitter because I had to sit in the waiting room through conversations like this:
Shut up! You booked that Tide spot? I knew it! You loser. OMG.
Whatever, girl. I just saw you on the new Taco Bell spot.
Yeah, that casting director has a thing for me. But whatevs…
I gritted my teeth and took note of the giant difference between commercial and theatrical actors.
Finally they called me in, I read the lines, and thought they hated me.
Apparently I was wrong. My agent called me the next week and told me I had a callback.
And this time I was prepared. I made them laugh. I knew my lines. And I brought headphones to drown out all the Tide, Taco Bell, Playtex talk.
When I found out I was on hold (which means it’s between one other actor and myself) I was ecstatic.
But then I looked at the dates.
I had a ticket to go home for the days they were shooting.
Of course. Because that’s how things work in LA.
But as my father so wisely pointed out. If I booked this I could buy ten tickets home.
And I wanted it.
I had dreams I booked it. And as people poured champagne on my head and confetti rained down from the ceiling I would shout jubilantly about how all the hard work was worth it.
When my agent called I tried not to sound too eager.
But I didn’t get it.
They went with a girl who was ten years older.
That’s the thing about commercials. You can do your absolute best but not have the right hair, or eye color, or wrinkles.
To say I was devastated would be an over statement.
But I did have wine for lunch.
But then, the very next day, I packed my suitcase and flew home.
For a whole blissful nine days.
I ate my way through most of my grandma’s kitchen, drank beer with my high school classmates (okay – I drank vodka – they drank beer) and swam in the lake with my brother.
It was invigorating being with people who thought I was just the right age, with the right wrinkles, and the exact right eye color.
And I realized that next time I am placed on hold it won’t be so devastating if I don’t get it.
Because back home, I’m the number one choice.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Lately it’s been grating on my nerves more than usual. I’ve gone from the sweet, unassuming “I’m grateful for whatever tip you chose to give me” server to the server who will “accidentally” spill water on you if you tip her less than 18%.
The breaking point came a few months ago.
Auditions had slowed down as it was turning into summer. This meant, instead of looking at my serving job as a ‘thing I do on the side when I’m not auditioning” it turned into a “thing I do always, all the time, always, ALWAYS.”
This particular day I decided to try and make myself feel better so I wore my contacts, earrings, and a little extra eye shadow.
Clearly God is a feminist as this later proved to be a mistake.
The night started off normally. I was working with one other server and we decided to pool the tips we made and split them down the middle. A group of forty-something men came in for a business dinner and we both agreed I should take them (being the female I would probably be able to get a higher tip.)
They instantly perked up when I walked over and I noticed one man in particular slide his eyes up and down my ever-attractive buttoned up long-sleeved black shirt, long apron, and pinned-up hair.
I know – sexy.
I smiled and launched into my speech about our menu, our drinks, and our specials. They all ordered drinks and the man with the roaming eyeballs (let’s call him Dick) ordered a shot and a beer.
A shot. At a business dinner.
That one shot turned into five more and four more beers.
At first he was harmlessly flirting. It them became a little more aggressive, a little more inappropriate until finally, as I was walking away from the table, he shouted out for the entire restaurant to hear.
You could have heard a pin drop and I felt my face flush as the whole restaurant turned to look at me and – presumably – my ass.
I was livid. I felt the feminist inside of me screaming. I am a smart girl! I’m not just dyed blonde hair, gawky limbs, and slightly squinty eyes.
I AM A PERSON!
I pulled the other (male) server aside.
I’m not doing this anymore! You take the table. I’m DONE!
He tried to calm me down and to make me think about the money. The awesome, crazy tip they were going to leave me.
I thought about how I was late on my rent and decided to give it one more go.
Finally, mercifully, they were finished. I brought them their (very large) bill and skipped away. I had done it and it was going to be so worth it.
They left and the other server grabbed the tab, opened it, and looked shocked. I jumped up and down excitedly.
Is it big?? Am I going to be able to pay my rent AND my car insurance???
He had gone a little pale and I grabbed it from him and looked down at the bill.
I froze and all the color drained out of my face.
Less than 8% of the total bill.
Less than 8% for putting up with sexual harassment for two-and-a-half hours.
Less than 8% for compromising my ideals.
LESS THAN 8%.
I felt something in me snap.
Now, I’m a pretty passive girl but this had sent me over the edge. I looked out the window and saw them standing outside, drunkenly waiting for a cab.
I slammed the ticket book closed and marched into my manager’s office. I explained to her what had happened and what I wanted to do. She stared at me for a second and then nodded her head.
I was out her door in a flash and marched past the bar where all the regulars were shouting their support and clapping me on the back.
I pushed open the door and marched outside. They were still standing on the sidewalk so I threw my shoulders back and marched up to them with the bill.
They saw me coming and stopped their conversation. I took a big breath, and…
Smiled and started talking.
Hi gentlemen. I’m so sorry to bother you but I’m just making sure everything was okay with your service. You see, I noticed you only left my 8% of the total bill which makes me think I did something to ruin your night. And here I thought we were all having such a nice time…
They stared at me, shocked.
I stared back at them, smiling.
The man who had paid for the meal handed me another $10.
Now we were up to a whopping 10%.
Suddenly, Dick reached in his pocket and slurred something about admiring my tenacity and handed me $40.
That was more like it.
I took the money, smiled, and marched back inside.
As I opened the door clutching the money the regulars cheered.
One point for Jessica’s pride.
It might have been a little desperate. It might have been a lot inappropriate but I felt great.
Finally, FINALLY I was not going to be pushed around. I was not going to give up all my power.
For the first time in a long time I felt I had control.
And that was worth at least 20%.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
A few weeks ago I was getting up at 4am, eating a diet consisting mostly of coffee, teasing my hair to an inch of its life, and dressing like an adult Rainbow Bright who went on an all night bender.
Oh yeah, and I was shooting the entire first season of Book Club.
It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was also one of the hardest.
I’m not sure if you’ve seen me mention it (a million times) but we raised money to shoot the series.
In fact, we raised $10,025.
A GIANT sum especially considering most of that money came from $100 donations or less.
That’s a lot of money.
That’s also a lot of pressure.
In other words, Normal Jessica Sized Pressure x 10,025 = MENTAL EXPLOSION (minus Xanax = slightly smaller mental explosion.)
But I tried my hardest never to let anyone working on Book Club see I was stressed. I tried to walk around like I was in total control and that I was not going to have a mental breakdown at every little problem.
Once when I realized we were out of Starbursts at the snack table I momentarily blacked out and found myself on the floor of the bathroom trying to breathe and convince myself that the shoot would go on even if we had no Starbursts.
Like I said, total control.
I just couldn’t get out of my head that we had people who believed in us so much that they donated their own money.
Money that they worked hard to earn.
Money from people I didn’t even know. (Like the librarian from New Zealand who said she loved that we made a whole series around literature.)
Money from people I do know. (People who I also happen to know don’t have the money to spare.)
But they donated anyway – for us.
It’s an overwhelming and humbling experience to have so many people show support in such a clear way.
And I kept thinking, all through the shoot, we have to make this worth it. And after watching our amazing actors and our incredible crew make Book Club come alive I can tell you it most definitely will be.
And now I’m feeling $10,025 worth of gratitude.
So, thank you.
Thank you for believing in us enough to make it happen.
I owe you 10,025 hugs.
(And a few pounds of Starbursts)
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
And by “date” I mean I went with a friend whose friend was going out with my friend and was too nervous to be alone.
Despite that I was E.X.C.I.T.E.D.
I bought a new dress, my mom did my makeup, and my friend came over to talk about how cool it was that we were going to the Perkins in Jamestown with two seniors!
Finally, my super-cool-senior-first-date walked in the door and I tried to act casual.
Hey. What’s up? Did you see Friends last week?
The evening was off to a good start.
But as we turned to leave, I heard my father yell after us.
Hey! Hold on just one second. I need to talk to you.
I froze. Oh. Dear. Lord.
My father proceeded to pull out a form entitled How To Date My Daughter, sat down with my date, and had him fill it out, step by step.
The questions included:
1. Do you own or have access to a van?
2. In 50 words or less what does LATE mean to you?
And my personal favorite.
3. Do you own a pickup with a mattress in the back?
I sat there as my date answered every single question.
Later that night, when he dropped me off, my father was waiting outside for me.
Holding a shotgun and grinning ear to ear.
Every time I share that story people listen with horror and then all ask the same question.
Were you so angry with your dad?
And I always say the same thing.
No. Not even a little bit.
In fact, I thought it was hilarious.
Because I am my father’s daughter.
From the moment I was born he has taught me to find humor in everything.
That the world will treat you better if you greet it with joy and kindness.
And that lesson was an important one when you were raising a kid like me. A girl who demanded, craved, and begged for attention.
A girl who pleaded with him to tape just one more movie she’d written and (of course) would star in. A girl who hissed at him through the side of her mouth, Zoom in, DAD!!! And begged him for just one more angle, one more shot, one more minute.
My dad was the only one who had enough patience to listen to me recite The Little Mermaid in its entirety (songs included!!)
He was the one who blared Michael Jackson records and encouraged my gangly flailing I called ‘dancing,’ telling me that I was a star.
He was the first one to show me that my dreams were not stupid by simply acknowledging them.
Instead of trampling on his daughter’s love for drama and imagination, he became an enthusiastic part of it.
And when he helped pack my car for Los Angeles what he didn’t realize was he’d already given me something more important than my earthquake kit or my color coded map of the city…
He’d given me his outlook on life.
Los Angeles is known to be a cutthroat, no-bullshit, drive or be driven on kind of town. But I trusted my father. And so, I greeted it with joy and kindness.
LA seems to value a lot of things: money, beauty, fast cars, and fast talkers.
And I don’t have any of those things. Not really. Not yet.
But what I do have – compliments of my dad – is a strong sense of self.
And with my father’s voice ringing in my ears, I have navigated a place for myself out here.
I have found that it does pay to be funny.
And it definitely pays to be kind.
In fact, everything positive in my career has happened to me as a result of treating people the way my father would.
Dad, you’re the reason I’m out here in Los Angeles and not falling apart.
You’re also the reason I always look out for matresses in the back of pick-ups.
I love you.
Friday, June 10, 2011
It was my first swimming lesson at our local YMCA (and by local I mean it was thirty miles away.)
I was terrified. In my short life I had not been around much water and I didn’t even know how to doggy paddle.
But what really exacerbated my fear was my swim teacher.
She was a large, elderly angry woman with frizzy red hair who wore a pink floral swimsuit with ruffles around the hips.
In other words, the perfect person to instill the terror and shame needed for children to be excited about getting in the water.
For our first lesson, as our little bodies were perched on an underwater dock to keep our heads above the three feet of water, she instilled this little gem of wisdom:
You are absolutely prohibited from plugging your nose underwater. If you do plug your nose you will look stupid and everyone will make fun of you.
Like I said, the perfect woman to teach a group of terrified five-year-olds.
As I stood shivering on the edge of the dock trying not to look my instructor in the eye, my left foot slipped off the slippery surface and before I knew it I was in the water.
I went under like a rock, flailing and crying and choking on the chlorine. As my head bobbed to the surface I heard the instructor – who had not moved an inch from her spot in front of the class – yelling at me as if I was an annoying insect.
SWIM! SWIM! KICK YOUR LEGS!
As my head bobbed to the surface for the last time I thought I didn’t need an instructor– I NEEDED AN F’ING LIFEGUARD.
As I sank below the water I began to think this was probably it. That my little life was over and that because of a heartless woman wearing a very out of date swimsuit, I would never get to build those cool rockets in the fifth grade.
Suddenly, my father, who had been watching from the sidelines, jumped into the water and scooped me up from the bottom of the pool.
I had never been so glad to see him – other than maybe the time he woke me up from a terrifying dream about the Bernstein Bears.
I clung to his neck and after regaining my breath shot my teacher the most hateful look my five-year-old self could muster.
She smirked back.
My father tried to pull me out of the pool but I stopped him.
NO. I would not let this women win.
I clung to the side of the pool and worked my way back to the dock. I stood up, took a deep breath, looked my teacher dead in the eye, and puffed up my little chest as if to say:
IT’S ON BITCH.
The next year that woman was fired.
And many years after that I became a lifeguard.
In other words – I don’t like being challenged. I don’t like being told that I can’t do something.
And lately, that’s how I’ve been feeling about Los Angeles. Like the city is trying to keep me from succeeding.
But I am not going to let Los Angeles win.
I came here to do something great. I came hear to succeed.
I will not drown. I will cling to the side and try again.
But hear this LA – I’m not going home yet.
You can take your three feet of bullshit and your pink ruffled roadblocks and put them somewhere else.
Because I. Am. Swimming.
Friday, May 27, 2011
In a British man’s voice.
It was my first gig out of college and I played the title character in the children's musical The Stinky Cheese Man.
I’d spent four years studying Shakespeare and Brecht and post-colonial theatre and my first big job was playing aged Gouda.
Thankfully, this time on air went a little better.
Probably because I didn’t sing.
And while we didn’t talk about post-colonial theatre, I still felt a lot better about this one.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Which sounds ridiculous as I am constantly surrounded by people.
But I just need someone to take the reigns. It feels like I am driving a crazy train and really need a break but no one knows how to drive.
Last night at work, I was feeling sorry for myself.
I had worked two other jobs that day, was still worried about paying my rent, and so tired I seriously thought I just might lay down in the storage closet next to the extra napkins.
My first table was a woman around my age. I asked her if anyone else was joining her and she looked up at me and smirked.
No. It’s just me. I don’t have any significant other or husband or boyfriend to eat with me. Just. Me.
I smiled uncomfortably and tried to maker her feel better.
I hear you. I don’t have a boyfriend either. But who needs ‘em!
I noticed her empty wine glass.
How about I get you a glass of wine?!
She looked at me for a second.
I can’t. I’m pregnant.
I stared at her – unsure of what to do. Was it part of her plan or a giant mistake? I decided to err on the side of joy.
Congratulations!!! That is so great!
I tried to keep the subtle “RIGHT???” out of my voice.
Thanks. I’m ten weeks. It’s my ex-boyfriend’s.
Dammit, Los Angeles.
Just when I’m settling in to feeling sorry for myself you have a way of slapping me in the face.
JUST LET ME THROW A PITY PARTY.
But deep down I know LA is right. It could be a lot worse.
At least the only mouth I have to feed is my own.
At least I’m not homeless or sick or dying.
And when it really comes down to it, I’m not as alone on the crazy train as I think I am. There are a lot of co-pilots.
Like all of these people.
I spent a good portion of last week writing ‘thank you’ notes to those who have donated to Book Club. That photo doesn’t even represent half of the people we wrote to.
Sometimes I pull out that picture just to remind myself how lucky I am. There are a lot of people that care about me. And more than that – believe in me.
I have people who love me.
Who donate their own money to my projects.
Who would take me out to eat if I was recently dumped and pregnant.
And if for no other reason than that they believe in me, I put my shoulders back, grip the wheel, and keep that train moving forward.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
And I was three weeks early.
But dammit, I was ready for the world and something like a silly due date was not going to keep me from starting my life!
Because I was so early, my skin had not fully developed and it was yellow and flaky. I had dark hair, swollen limbs, and my eyes were even more squinty than they are now.
In other words, I WAS A LOOKER.
I was so large I could hardly fit in the plastic hospital bassinet. When my mom would wander down the hall to look at me through the glass, there would be a crowd staring at all the new babies. And every time, their comments went a little something like this:
Ohhh…look at all the cute new babies. They are so little and precious and – OH MY GOD! Look at that goliath baby over there!! IT’S HUGE! And what’s wrong with its skin?
At this point my mom would always turn to them and, with all the pride only a new mother can muster, say:
That’s my little girl.
That’s the thing about my mom. Even when everyone in the world didn’t know what to think of me, Mom would gather me up and tell me I was beautiful.
When I was five I had to get glasses. The only pair we could find were much too big for my face. My Mom told me I looked smart.
When I got older my two front teeth fell out, I was rocking the ever-popular bowl-cut, and I wore only neon colors and jean hats. My mom told me I was original.
You might think that giving me confidence that was disproportionate to my looks was the best thing she ever did for me.
You would be wrong.
It was taking me to the theater.
Growing up in a small town there wasn’t a lot of theatre – unless you count the Fourth Grade’s annual Christmas play.
About once a year we would make the six-hour journey to the giant city of Minneapolis, MN to see a show – from The Sound Of Music to Miss Saigon, Three Sisters to The Lion The Which And The Wardrobe she was constantly reminding me to be proud of my small farming community but to also remember that there was a big, beautiful world out there worth exploring.
Little did she know that my mind was opening up to this world of magic more than she expected.
She should have known when I started creating my own movies and forcing her to sit through my one woman show about the Tooth Fairy that I was starting to take this theater thing a little too seriously.
When I announced to my parents that I was going to study Fiction Writing and Theatre Arts in college they each had a small heart attack. My mom (a woman who started out as a part-time bank teller and fought her way through a lot of shit to become the president of a bank) had imagined a different route for her daughter.
We had a few ‘heated discussions’ about the topic. I used to think she was trying to ‘stifle my dreams.’ I was not a banker or a farmer or a businesswoman. I WAS AN ARTIST!
But eventually I realized she wasn’t trying to get in the way of my dreams.
She just wanted to protect me.
She recognized that the path I had chosen would be a difficult one. One that would take a lot of heartache, studio-apartment-living, and vodka.
She was worried that her sensitive daughter (the little girl who had cried when her parents sold the Jeep Grand Cherokee because she thought it had a soul) wouldn’t be able to hold up under all the heartache.
My mom wanted an easier path for her only daughter.
And in a way, she was right to be worried. I am tired. And it is hard.
But it’s also full of rewards and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
The reason I’ve been able to get through it with some semblance of sanity is because I have a woman with red hair and unshakable love cheering in my section.
A woman who taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be in this life.
A woman I see in myself every time I meet a new challenge with fire and determination.
If I ever have an eleven pound daughter with flaky skin, I hope I can be half the woman my mom is.
And if one day my daughter tells me she wants to become a member of the Tea Party and her only goal in life is to work for the Internal Revenue Service, I hope I can do what my mom did.
Recognize that while it is not what I would have dreamed for her, it is still worth supporting.
Because it’s her dream.
Thanks for teaching me what love looks like, Mom.
You’re one hell of a woman to look up to.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
You’d think that blog would just write itself but actually it was surprisingly uneventful.
The only thing worth mentioning is that my commercial agent called me and told me I should wear “my milkmaid outfit” to the audition.
ME: My milkmaid outfit? I don’t think I have one of those.
HIM: Oh. You were never a milkmaid for Halloween or something?
ME: Um – no. What would make you think that?
HIM: I don’t know. Just that you’re from North Dakota…and you probably have one…and stuff.
I hung up feeling like I should send him the Wikipedia article about North Dakota and highlight the part describing when electricity was introduced to the state.
Sometimes I’m convinced that people assume just because I’m from North Dakota I’m behind the times. Essentially unhip. Lacking some kind of cool factor that every other kid is born with.
I was cool! I was with the times! I was wearing the right clothes and knew the right bands!
I did not own a milkmaid outfit!
I walked in determined to be the hippest I’d ever been in my life. I was going to show those LA hipsters that I could be just as cool as them.
I got my drink and planted myself directly in the middle of the crowd. The “sweet spot,” as the birthday girl told me, where the sound was going to be the best.
I was ready. I was ready to look hip, sipping a hip drink, listening to a hip band.
I looked up eagerly as the they began to play.
This was going to be so good!!
Suddenly, the band’s “sound” shot out of the speakers and began its violent assault on my eardrums.
I felt like they were playing right next to me with the express purpose of trying to make my ears bleed.
I gritted my teeth and smiled.
No! It is NOT cool to move to the back of the room, curl up into a ball, and whimper. You can do this. YOU WILL BE HIP.
But slowly I realized that I couldn’t handle it. That my looking cool was not as important as my being able to hear.
And by “hear” I mean ever again.
I looked at Noah and Katie and they were wearing an expression similar to mine.
Without speaking (because it was impossible) we moved further and further back until we were pressed up against the back of the room.
Katie ripped up pieces of paper, which we rolled up and put in our ears.
At this point I was still trying to hang on to a scrap of being cool. I tried to shove the paper far into my ears so no one would see it.
I glanced at the other two and gave a thumbs-up.
But to be honest, the paper wasn’t working. The band was so loud I started to become concerned that my head might actually explode.
Finally, I sacrificed what little cool I had left.
I pulled the paper out , sat down, and plugged my ears with my fingers.
I did that.
In a super-cool club in one of the hippest areas of Los Angeles.
I looked like I was an eight-year-old girl refusing to listen to her mother but I didn’t care.
Being hip was not worth never being able to have a conversation that didn’t include the word, “WHAT?”
The band finally, MERCIFULLY, ended.
I felt like I might vomit.
Noah and I left shortly after and as we stepped outside he noted that it sounded like we were underwater.
“What???” I yelled at him.
I looked over and started to talk much louder than was probably appropriate.
I feel like I’m eighty-years-old. I’m so not cool.
Noah looked like he hadn’t quite heard me.
Jessica, you are not un-cool just because you value one of your five senses.
He had a point.
I did enjoy hearing things.
And I like other hip things like…cake.
Cake is hip, right?
And to be honest, there are some ‘cool’ things I just refuse to take part in.
And that’s okay with me. I think being super-cool is overrated.
In fact, excuse me while I go scrounge up a milkmaid outfit.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Sometimes I feel like my friends are leaving me behind.
Their lives seem to be perpetually moving forward with marriages and house-buying and babies.
And I’m still here. In my little apartment trying to buy food.
My conversations lately have gone like this:
“So, friend, what have you been up to?”
“Oh, you know. I got married and we just bought that house and, oh by the way I’m bringing life into the world – no biggie. What’s up with you?”
“Oh. Umm – well…I bought some bread yesterday.”
I hang up always feeling a little low.
And I hate myself for it.
I’m a determined, career driven, big-city girl. I’m single and proud and strong!
But sometimes I can feel my country-girl heart crying out for what all my friends back home have.
It’s probably not very feminist of me to say I feel that way and I’m not under any illusions that I’m old. But time is passing more quickly than I’d like. And sometimes I want it to just stop.
Stop and slow down and give me time to have both.
To give me the reassurance that I am not going to have to sacrifice one for the other.
That it is possible to have everything you want.
That’s probably why I’m so obsessed with Book Club. It’s like my baby. Or my marriage. Or my new house.
It’s my something that I’ve spent time and money and no sleep on.
I just want it to work so badly.
Because I want to stop saying that I just bought bread.
I want to start saying that I paid a cast and produced a show and people loved it.
Because those things make me feel like I’m moving forward. Like I’m going somewhere. Maybe it’s not having a baby or buying a house – but it’s putting something out there.
Contributing to the world.
Being brave enough to take a chance on myself.
And if that’s not moving forward I don’t know what is.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Wait. Let me rephrase that.
I want to quit my day JOBS. (I have three of them.)
Sometimes, when I’m serving dinner to someone who won’t even look me in the eye or trying to sympathize with a pregnant woman at the maternity store that just doesn’t know how she’s going to fit a baby into her Gucci-filled lifestyle, I feel an anger that is so sudden and so violent it surprises me.
It’s like a rage of fire that’s trying to work it’s way up through my esophagus and threatens to consume the poor, unassuming, rich person I’m trying to be nice to.
The closest I’ve ever come to letting the anger overtake me happened last week.
I was at my serving job and did not want to be there. My very first table included a young girl, a sullen teenager, and an older father figure. I walked up to the table and smiled.
Hi! Welcome! I’m –
But before I could say anymore the older man interrupted me and without looking my way, barked.
Can I have a menu?!
I stopped my cheery little speech and just stared at him. I mean, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve been interrupted before.
But suddenly all the mean and disrespectful things anyone ever said to me boiled up to the surface.
Like the time I asked a man what he would like for dessert and he replied, “How about you jumping out of a cake.”
Or the time someone brushed my ass and said, “Thank you, sweet thing.”
Or when someone wrote on the Internet that I was the worst server they had ever had (after I had been nothing but nice to them.)
I was tired of it. And this man – with his stupid menu and his rude request – had sent me over the edge.
The table realized I had stopped talking and they stared at me, unsure of what to do.
I started to wonder how long I could remain silent until they would say something.
I also started to wonder if I could unhinge my jaw and eat them.
I was outraged that this man didn’t know immediately upon looking at me that I was a valuable member of society.
That I had dreams and goals.
That I was the kind of person worth not interrupting.
But of course, he didn’t.
I noticed the table getting extremely uncomfortable.
And so I broke the uncomfortable silence and said – pointedly – I SAID, MY NAME IS JESSICA AND I AM GOING TO BE YOUR SERVER.
In other words:
My name is your worst nightmare and if you interrupt me again I will spit in your food, steal your credit card number, and give you regular coffee when you ask for decaf.
And something changed. The table smiled and I saw something pass over all three of their faces.
It was an expression I rarely see in the service industry.
When they left, they tipped me 30%.
Probably out of fear.
I mean – respect.
Sometimes it’s hard working at a million jobs you don’t necessarily like to try and be successful at one you do.
But every day I walk into that restaurant I always think – this might be the last day I’m here.
And also – maybe I’ll get free food tonight.
And those two things keep me going.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
When I was six-years-old I had the solo in our Elementary Christmas concert (yes, Christmas – North Dakota doesn’t follow the rules of political correctness.)
I had beat out Jenny Clarys fair and square for the part when our music teacher pulled my name out of a hat – not hers. First grade is cruel. (Little did I know that was a pretty good indicator on how they cast things in Hollywood.)
I prepared for the role with seriousness. I was sure people were going to be impressed with my brilliant interpretation.
Our song was a cute, six-year-old-appropriate tune about kids riding a sleigh and falling off until there was only one child left. I was that child.
Clearly, this was going to change lives.
It came at the end, was set to the tune of “Shave and A Haircut,” and went a little something like this:
Nobody left. Boo-hoo.
Are you weeping from being overwhelmed by brilliance?
Well, pull yourself together.
The big night came and I was ready. I wore my nicest dress, my glasses were polished, and my hair was pulled back with a giant bow.
The Kindergartners were the first to perform.
I scoffed at their childish rendition of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and resisted the urge to boo.
I glance over at the audience. They were clearly not prepared for the brilliance I was going to bring to this auditorium. A standing ovation was sure to follow.
We approached the stage and I took my place in the dead center.
The song moved along quickly and I was ready. I wasn’t even nervous. I knew I was going to bring the house down.
Finally, it was just me.
I heard my lead-in notes, stepped up to the microphone, and with all the pain, despair, and longing my six-year-old self could muster, sang my little heart out.
Nobody left!!! Boo-hoo!!!!
Waited for the applause, the tears, the accolades.
Instead, they laughed.
And said things like, “Isn’t she sweet.” And “Oh, that was precious.”
I’m pouring my heart out here people!!!
My face immediately changed from satisfaction to utter dismay and embarrassment.
Suddenly the lights were too bright and I wanted to hide away forever. I felt tears pushing at the back of my eyes and I struggled to get away.
I saw my mom in the audience and I could tell she knew exactly what was happening. I sniffled my way back to my seat to watch the rest of the pageant but couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes.
I had failed. I was going to quit acting. From that moment on I decided to pursue my backup plan:
I know, solid planning, right?
On the car ride home, I was silent. I could tell my parents wanted to help but didn’t quite know how to talk their crazy, unrealistic, six-year-old daughter off the ledge.
Finally, my mom spoke up.
Jessica, you did such a good job tonight.
You are a very talented actress.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Well then why did everyone LAUGH AT ME?!?!?
I felt crocodile tears running down my face.
My mother, used to my drama, remained calm.
They laughed because you were funny. And sweet. And cute. I know you wanted a different reaction but they loved you. I promise.
I thought about that for a second.
It did seem that people had enjoyed my performance. And it wasn’t my fault if I was too cute to be taken seriously…
I decided that I was resilient enough to try it again. After all, I did have my eyes set on the role of Martha Washington in the third-grade play.
This year, during pilot season, I auditioned A LOT. And although I desperately wanted to go out for serious roles, I didn’t audition for a single one.
I always play “crazy girl” or “stalker girl” or – wait a second…something just made sense.
I would really love to be taken more seriously. But then I look at my life (and this blog) and the fact that my acting seems suddenly to be moving forward, and I think, I will take funny any day.
Funny got me here. To this place. To a place I really love.
And I feel like that audience back in North Dakota was trying to tell me something…
That I’m funny.
And that’s a good thing.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
When I was a little girl I desperately wanted to live by the water BUT I lived in North Dakota, where not a single body of water (not counting a slough) was within walking distance.
I would read stories about girls who lived by streams and brooks; they always seemed to have great adventures and their lives just seemed more exciting!
So one day I decided to make my own pond.
After all, why should I just sit around dreaming about water? I was a very resourceful eight-year-old girl. So I picked up a shovel, chose the perfect spot in our yard, and started to dig.
I dug for days.
I wanted it to be deep. I wanted it to be just like the ponds in my books. I had big dreams that I would eventually add fish (maybe even Koi!!) and the pond would become so fantastic that EVERYONE in my small town would come to see it. They would tell their friends and soon everyone in the world would know how fantastic Jessica Runck’s Koi pond was! People would stand over the pond and think, “Wow, this pond sure is the best thing I’ve ever seen in the whole wide world. Thanks, Jessica for making our lives better!!” And I would stand there, proudly staring through my giant glasses at the huge crowd and think, I made this happen.
It didn’t turn out that way.
After about a week, I thought I had dug down deep enough. I knew I couldn’t just fill the hole with water or it would seep into the ground, so I went into our musty old shed and underneath some old cat food and a tractor tire, found a large piece of plastic.
I pulled the grimy piece of plastic to my giant hole, lined it carefully, and stared at my work.
It was perfect.
All it needed was… water.
You see, in my excitement I had forgotten to make the hole close enough to the watering hose.
So I had to carry bucket after bucket of sloshing water to the pit.
It took me the entire day and when I’d finished I stood looking at my work proudly; what probably looked like a muddy brown hole of water to the outsider was glorious to me.
Only, no one seemed to care as much as I did. My parents were less than impressed (considering I had just dug a giant hole in their yard) and our little gravel road was just as slow as ever.
But I didn’t care, I sat by the pond all day long. I read books beside it, danced around it, and just plain sat and stared at it until the sun went down.
I had faith that people would soon get word and show up.
The next morning, I woke up excited to play by the water again – I jumped out of bed and ran outside to sit by the pond and eat my breakfast…
But it was gone.
The hole was still there. And so was the plastic. But the water had seeped through a tiny hole in the lining that I hadn’t noticed.
I stood there, staring at my muddy, plastic-lined, hole-in-the-ground.
I was devastated.
All that work. All that time. All my good intentions to make something wonderful and new and exciting – gone.
Now there would be no place for the beautiful fish and nothing for the lines of people to see.
Now it wasn’t a beautiful Koi fish pond.
It was just a hole.
I thought about that memory yesterday.
I’m currently working on a project that I’m terrified is going to become like that pond.
My producing partners and I have spent over a year working on our web series, Book Club. We filmed the pilot and I’m so proud of it. (Watch It Here!!) And like the pond, I was hoping after all the work we did on the first episode, all the time we spent digging, that someone would notice it and deem it worthy of Koi…ahh, I mean, sponsorship.
But after trying to secure funding to film the rest of the season for almost a year, we have made a very hard decision to try and raise the money ourselves.
By that I mean – ask for it. From our friends, family, fans and anyone who wants to show support.
As a girl who used to dig gigantic holes by herself, I am not a fan of asking other people for help.
But I thought about it for a long time and decided that I don’t want Book Club to be like my pond. I don’t want it to seep away into the world without making the mark I know it can.
So I decided I would put my pride aside and ask.
I know most of you are going to read this and think, “That girl needed some friends growing up.”
You’re also going to think, “That is so nice that she is raising money. Good luck to her.”
But maybe, just this once, could you follow all that thinking up with some clicking? As in, click on the link below to donate?
I mean, please, if you have a few extra bucks, spread the love. If not for me – for the little girl with the frizzy hair and the big glasses who just wanted to live by a pond.
I think she’d be pretty psyched to know that her future self made it all the way to the ocean.
I needed some time away from everything so I spent a week with my parents at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido. We were the youngest people there by at least thirty years.
And it was exactly what I needed.
Lately I’ve been forgetting how lucky I really am to be in Los Angeles.
And how hard I worked to be here.
But one night at the resort, somewhere between my dad’s third beer and my seventeenth glass of wine, my father did what he’s so good at.
Reminded me of how I got here.
He didn’t mean how I graduated from college. And he wasn’t talking about surviving the cheap yet terrifying apartment I lived in in Omaha to save money.
No. He was talking about the time I lent my body to science.
The time I participated in a fourteen-day medical study to earn fast money so I could follow my dreams and move to Los Angeles.
A medical study in which I was given non-FDA approved drugs, and had my blood drawn sixty-four times.
It was three years ago…
I had just finished a national tour and had my sites set on Hollywood. But I was poor. Really poor. And had only one month to earn enough money to move. So when my mom told me about a medical study that paid $3,500 I leapt at the chance to participate.
I should probably mention here that I have an unreasonable fear of having my blood drawn. Like – restraints and alcohol need to be involved.
But I was determined I could do it. After all, it was only sixty-four times…
HOW BAD COULD IT BE?
I showed up the first day of the study and learned they were testing Xanax, in patch form.
In order to participate I had to be anxiety free (God knows how I made it past that test.) But somehow I qualified and found myself in a large room with fourteen other beds. I was given a number and called that number (Five) throughout the entire experience.
Some rules of the study included:
- I was not allowed to see or be in the sunlight
- I was not allowed to leave my bed for more than one hour at a time.
- I was not allowed to eat/drink anything other than the food they provided.
And the most important rule:
- I was not allowed to miss a blood draw.
So, I reminded myself why I was there and held out my arm every time with out a fight.
The first few draws weren’t too bad. I just closed my eyes and imagined what a big star I was going to become. The large dose of Xanax coursing through my veins probably helped too.
But as they started the “drawing blood every two hours for twenty-six hours” portion of the study, things really started to go downhill.
Not only did the phlebotomists seem to be getting younger and more inexperienced but the bruising on my arms was starting to make every blood draw more painful than the one before.
I tried to fall asleep that night beside fourteen strangers, knowing that I was going to be awoken two hours later to give away two more vials of my blood.
2am came around quickly and I stumbled out of bed bracing myself for another painful draw.
But something was different.
I was hungry.
Desperately hungry. More hungry than I’ve ever been in my life.
I mentioned it to Number Four and she told me I looked pale.
Suddenly my name was called.
I stood up and started to walk to the phlebotomist’s table. I was dizzy. All I could think about was eating a sandwich. Or ribs. Or an entire chicken.
I sat down and looked at the phlebotomist. My heart sank. It was the guy who chewed gum and listened to his iPod as he drew blood.
The guy who looked like he rolled up on his skateboard after Chem Lab to draw blood for extra credit.
He was the one who, earlier that day, spent five minutes painfully digging in my veins until he had thrown his hands up in the air and told me I had ‘like, impossible veins, dude.’
I got even more dizzy.
He tied the cord around my arm and jammed out to his iPod. He rubbed the alcohol on my arm and blew a bubble.
The smell of the rubbing alcohol, his gum, and the memory of the last time he’d tried to take my blood were just too much.
Suddenly there were two gum-chewing phlebotomists. Then there was two of everything.
And right before I passed out, as my eyes rolled back into my head and I started to fall off my stool, I had two thoughts.
I hope they don’t kick me out so I can still move to Los Angeles.
I could eat a horse.
A few minutes later I woke up to find myself on the floor surrounded by people.
And a nurse was taking my blood.
I peeled my eyes open, looked up, and whispered to her groggily.
Please don’t make me leave. I have to get to Hollywood.
The nurse smiled at me and patted my head.
We won’t make you leave. As long as you can keep giving blood.
And I did.
During the next draw (two hours later) I was so weak I couldn’t even get out of bed. And the next one I hardly made it to a sitting position.
But I didn’t give up.
I wanted it too badly.
Eventually I became stronger. And when I left the study I was four pounds lighter, had arms that looked like I’d done a copious amount of drugs, and skin that was starving for sunlight.
But I was $3,500 richer.
I was one step closer to my dream of moving to LA.
And a month later I was driving past the Hollywood sign, the sixty-four blood draws a distant memory.
My dad’s right. I am lucky to be here. I worked so hard to get where I am.
I literally bled for Los Angeles.
I need to remind myself of that sometimes. I sacrificed a lot to move out here.
And I better appreciate every damn second of it.
It’s what Number Five would have wanted.