Monday, November 30, 2015

I Can See Myself In the Movies

There’s a reason I stay away from the entertainment industry. The reason I stay away from the entertainment industry is because I have a working memory. I love the bit between “Action” and “Cut,” but other 99.87% of that life doesn’t suit me at all. For me, the life of an actor has always been the bad boyfriend, the lout with the great hair who gave you the most delightful weekend of your life and then, having sensed you were falling for him, slept with your sister and ruined your credit.

If history has taught me anything, it’s that the dreamier the opportunity the more hellish the fall afterward, so the only way you can win with acting – as with a bad boyfriend – is to genuinely not care. Of course, genuine indifference is catnip to both sociopaths and casting directors, which means that having not cared you will inevitably get the guy, or the job, which works extra hard to woo you again, until you’re thinking things like “I can do this! I can maintain this relationship without compromising my baseline sanity!” Which is the exact moment the bad boyfriend/entertainment industry sets your car on fire.  And if acting is Bad Boyfriend, being around it risks turning me into Nightmare Ex, all miserable inadequacy and self-doubt, hiding in the bushes jealously watching whatever actor has currently won his favor. Whatever being a writer has done for my natural introversion (made it worse) and my wardrobe (even more worse), I can still leave being repeatedly wooed and dumped by Hollywood to people more resilient and optimistic than myself. I won’t be pulled in again.

Which leads me to Marc Maron.

As I’m sure you know, Maron has a terrific podcast, WTF, where he interviews people in his garage. He began with comedians he knew from his stand-up days and, with well-earned success, branched out into talking to whomever interests him. He’s a wonderful interviewer. If you’ve never heard his podcast with Robin Williams, get it. It’s honest and funny and, oh just get it.  WTF is a twice-weekly trip to the edges of the Cool Table in high school, which made it all the more shocking when he reached out to me to ask if I wanted to be on his show. 

When you’re a former child actor who writes about your suburban-adjacent life and homeschooling, you might be an intermittently productive member of society but you are most assuredly not cool. Perhaps he was doing a theme week: People Who Remind You Of That Friend Of Your Sister Who Lives In Madison. It was not for me to say. I accepted, grateful that my email reply couldn’t convey nervous giggling. This was last October. I was given an interview date in April. I used the run-up time to vaguely wish I’d been a heroin addict in my twenties because while friends who’ve kicked tell me it’s a fire-breathing nightmare, it would be something nice to talk about. Perhaps he’d want to hear about my passionate feelings about buttered toast. Against my will, I grew a little excited.

And then I made a terrible mistake.  I told two people I was doing the show. If you’re a civilian, you just thought “So?” If you’re in any way associated with entertainment, you just gasped in horror. 

First rule of acting, directing, screenwriting, all the way down to production assisting: YOU NEVER TALK ABOUT THE GIG UNTIL YOU SIGN THE CONTRACT. Talk about it before the contract it signed, you will lose the gig.  The only thing worse than the crushing despair of losing a job are the well-meaning friends wanting to know you why you aren’t in Prague right now working on that Willem Dafoe movie?

(Ideally, you don’t tell anyone you got a job until you’ve shot it and attended to the premiere because you might have been cut out. This has happened to people I know.)

This law must be obeyed. I don’t understand gravity, I don’t understand how meringues work and I don’t understand why you can’t tell people you got a job but these are immutable laws of the universe. When it comes to a job, you keep your mouth shut until it’s locked. I even hesitated before telling my two friends but hey, they’d booked me! That’s like a contract!  It’s not acting. We’re talking about writing here so the law doesn’t apply, right? There is no harm in telling two whole people! I am feeling excited and optimistic and desirable and sure, this feeling is kind of like the bad boyfriend/acting feeling but, see, it’s different this time!

Three days before the interview I got an email from Marc’s producer: could we push back the date a bit? No reschedule time was indicated. What was I going to say? “No, I insist you interview me at the prearranged date! No brown M&Ms and make sure to have the buttered toast piping hot!”

I said no problem.

Marc followed up a day later with an email asking which of my books he should he read, to get the best sense of me. After, an embarrassing amount of ruminating, I suggested my first book, which was more about the industry than the others, which weren’t.  Yes, I was slightly deflated but it wasn’t a complete blow-off. Believe me, I have experienced people creeping away from me in polite horror.  “Hey,” I told myself, “He asked which book of mine he should read. That’s not something a person trying to forget you exist would say, right?”


That was April. It is now December. I’ve gone through “He hated my writing” to “After he interviewed Obama, what did he need from a woman who only appears to be interested in cats and buttered toast?” to “God, he really hated my writing” to “He finally realized he meant to invite Melissa Gilbert” to “Yeah, that book thing was a polite blow-off.” 

I was back in the metaphorical bushes, staring covetously at the people he interviewed, feeling that familiar sorrow that I simply wasn’t good enough. Finally, I decided this probably doesn’t have anything to do with me any more than the myriad ways the entertainment industry screwed with my head, while corrosive, wasn’t ultimately personal.  Sober drunks shouldn’t work in bars.  An acrophobic shouldn’t be an air marshal. I can’t be near this shit without losing my equilibrium. But, once again, the metaphorical bad boyfriend is on my couch, putting out a cigarette on my soul, explaining in his most soothing voice, “Don’t blame me, sweetie. You invited me back in.”


Blogger Marianne Arensmeyer said...

"Oh my God, I hate him! I hope he dies!" (Not Marc...the Bad Boyfriend). I have never had a Bad Boyfriend (for the simple fact that at 47, I'm still with the guy I was with at 17) but I have sat beside many, many, MANY a fantastic Girl in the wake of a Bad Boyfriend. This seems to always cheer them up.
It's Marc's loss, though. And I will tell you, having read both your books and Obama's...I prefer yours.

5:45 AM  
Blogger Blondie! said...

First of all, I am so sorry this happened to you. It sucks big time. No, I don't think it had ANYTHING at all with you mentioning it to two friends. It's the weirdness of the business. Thing is, if Marc Maron had bothered to read any single one of your posts, he would have immediately realized how clever and interesting you; that you would make a great guest.
So I say POO on him. He's not so much the bad boyfriend as the guy who always flirts with you, but never asks you for a date. I mean, what is that? They want to get you all fluttery inside, then walk away. Yeesh.
Second of all, thank you for writing a post. Even though it was a sad one, it was so wonderful to see your writing.
Hang in there and a major hug to you.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Ashlea said...

Thank you for blogging. I've missed hearing from you. (In a non creepy way. Really.)

5:39 AM  
Blogger Francesca Thomas said...

This is my first time commenting here. I loved watching Family when I was a teenager. I do remember seeing you. I have just finished reading your wonderful book - The Year of Learning Dangerously. I loved it. I did dream about homeschooling my son but as he grew older, he turned into a very strong willed boy. If I had kept him home for homeschooling, he would spent pretty much all day either negotiating what schoolwork he would do and not do or be on the computer all day. So I packed him off to school telling him that the law says he must attend school. As I read your book, I found so many things in common between your daughter and my son. I hope you enjoy your trip to Italy with your daughter and I also hope you blog about it. Take lots of photos and maybe you can even write another book. Regards
Francesca Thomas.

6:12 AM  
Anonymous northierthanthou said...

Well, I reckon it oughtta be some consolation that you have some books he could hate reading. That means you've already wrapped one bad boyfriend around your thumb, cause getting through that industry doesn't look like a piece cake either.

9:22 AM  

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