Grit

Angela Duckworth, in her seminal work on Grit, and how it makes us successful, lays out the 4 characteristics she believes defines a gritty person.

  1. They’re interested- Gritty people are passionate, excited and enjoy what they do.
  2. They practice- day after day, hour after hour.
  3. They have purpose- they believe their work matters and is meaningful.
  4. They have hope- they believe their dream is within reach.

You can take her grittiness test here.

I’m a 4.3 out of 5 on the scale.  This doesn’t surprise me.  I think I would out work anyone on anything, even if I didn’t care about the project anymore, just because that’s how my being works.  If you asked any friend of mine who was the most driven, disciplined person they know, I can guarantee I would top that last.  To a fault, for sure.  My tenacity often blinds me to what’s important and smarter work habits.  Often times I get so stuck on what I think is the best way to do something I will work myself ragged doing a 32-step process in order to come to the same result someone else could’ve, but with much less effort.

Hard work doesn’t scare me.  After working for 10 hours in the front yard one day this week on an extensive cleanout of the garden, I felt like a 1920’s cotton farmer- not at all blending in with the manicured, clean, callous-free hands of anyone around me.  While running wiring under the house in our crawl space last week, I was disgusted to see this as I army crawled in the 2 feet of space I had to move around:

underhouse

Yep.  That’s animal (I hope) bones.  There was a spine, a femur, and other assorted bits of bone.  That I had to crawl over.  <shudder>  But I did it.  It’s dirty, it’s gross, but I did it.  There have been several occasions I texted a pic to my husband of my days adventure in the attic or under the house, or clearing out a 200 pound branch that fell from our tree into the street, often with the caption: Today didn’t go how I planned.

The point of this post is not to praise my inability to be a gentle, polished, lovely lady.  The point is to say, I enjoy it.  The things I do- whether it’s the constant grind of an acting career and people yelling “NO!” or the endless house projects I just have to do and wouldn’t dream of paying someone to- are what make up who I am and the life I’m enjoying.  It’s a process, it’s a non-stop grate, it’s a sweating, dirty, aching, bleeding, crying, despairing, dreaming, exciting, joyful, painful lovely journey.

So when someone asks me why I do what I do- why I put up with agents who tell me to lose weight, or rejection on an hourly basis- or 12 years of solid, exhausting, diligent work and discipline that result in not one single film/tv agent interested in giving me a chance or the opportunity to say one line on a stupid ass CBS show like “I don’t know- He always kept to himself” all I can say is “Because.  Because it is and I am and we are.”  It’s as simple as that.  The work, the grit, the dream, the hope, the process and the journey.  They’re all mine, and I love them, despite their setbacks.  Mine.  It’s me and who I am.  I don’t plan on changing that.

 

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Worth

I thumbed through shirt after shirt and rack after rack at TJ Maxx.  Too dark.  Too loose.  Too patterned.  This could work, though it’s not exactly like the pinterest ensemble.  Will my sweat show up on this?  What will everyone else be wearing?  Is it trendy enough?  Too trendy?  Does it accentuate my shoulders or make me look fat?

2 hours, a messy fitting room and endless picture texts to my sister later, I walk out of the store with 3 shirts, a pair of very cheap black boots, and some nail polish.  I feel lonely.  I feel insecure.  I wonder why I just spent all that time in that store, and all the time before it, looking up paired outfits.  Why did I do that?

The answer , if I dig down deep, is self doubt.  I do not feel confident enough in my own abilities for Friday nights’ performance.  So I fritter away my effort on trying to wear the most attractive outfit I can manage so that I might distract the viewers from watching my talent.  Instead, maybe they’ll see a pretty girl and be more lenient with my jokes that don’t land, or the characters that don’t work.

I hate this.  I hate that I feel insecure about my worth as an improv comedian.  I hate that a lifetime of being told I’m pretty makes me run to that shortcut when I feel doubtful.  I hate that it’s possible that’s worked in the past.  But, here we are.  I will likely primp and prep and obsess over my outward appearance for far too long on Friday, but I will also warm up, try for a group mind (though that’s difficult to do with a team you’ve practically just met), and put on my confident alter-ego until she convinces me that I belong there.

And I do.  I feel anxious typing the words, but I belong.  I auditioned for this.  People are paying me to do improv, so they must’ve seen something they wanted to invest in.  I’ve come to the rehearsals, I’ve brought what I have to the table.  I’ve taken my craft seriously, and I’ve attempted to make my teammates look good.

That is enough.

I belong.

Getting in shape

So…..

I MADE THE TEAM!!!!!

I am so pumped to be a part of Live on Fire, Whitefire Theatre’s livestreamed improv show.  We’ll be performing every Friday night in October.  I’ve been to 2 rehearsals so far, and I can say, these are some quality improvisers.  I’ve been on teams with not great improvisers.  It’s a drain.  Being on a team with people who take comedy as seriously as I do is refreshing, and, quite honestly, makes me get my butt in gear to work hard at improving!

The format is short form improv, which is not my forte nor my preference.  I’ve been doing long form for years so it’s been an adjustment to try and retrain my brain for shorter scenes, quicker jokes, faster one liners.  I’ve gotta say, I’m enjoying it!  There’s fun games, the players are great, and I’m just pumping away my comedy squats to get in shape.

As I mentioned before, it is a muscle that has to be kept in shape.  And I am flabby.  But you know how you come back from the gym after a hiatus and it burns and is uncomfortable to lift those 20 lbs, and you get frustrated because you used to be able to lift 40 with no problem?  Then, at the end of the workout, and then the next and the next, you start to feel your muscles responding to the routine and slowly remembering what it felt like and how they’re supposed to act?  It’s like that.  I feel awkward, but not discouraged.  I know I can do this, I just need to get some more reps in.

We’re doing musical improv too, which makes my heart sing.  That’s one area I feel like I can shine, though it’s slightly flabby as well (but not as out of shape as regular short form).  All this to say, I’m getting in shape.  And it feels great.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out and to enjoy the fun journey along the way!

 

Nerves

I have an audition for an improv group in an hour.  I’ve had butterflies since I woke up this morning, because, unlike most other types of auditions, I can’t prepare material.  When I can prepare material, I feel confident because I know I put the work in.  With improv?  It’s show up, try to support your partner (who will be a complete stranger) and try to be as loose as possible.  There is no way of knowing if my group will be filled with bad improvisers.  There is no way of knowing if I will be one of those bad improvisers.

I’m also nervous because ever since parting ways with Roadies, my musical improv team, last September, I haven’t improvised.  I have no team, I have no theatre home.  And believe me when I tell you that improvisation needs to be practiced or you will be RUSTY.  I feel like 70 year old galvanized pipe right now.  (In case you don’t get metal references, that would be rusty)

And, honestly, I want to be on stage improvising again.  Not as badly as I want to do a musical, but I like that fear and trepidation that inevitably comes with a blank slate and a suggestion from the audience.  It’s live, it’s changing, and there is a great chance of failure.  Who wouldn’t want to dive in? : )

I’m doing what I can on my end- vocalizing, warming up over the phone with an old teammate, and trying to keep my eyes open to the funny around me- like the plumbing van across the street that says “If your toilet’s acting silly, call Billy”.  Bet he’s regretting that wraparound.  I went to the gym, so my body’s warmed up, so now all I can do is breathe, stay loose and be available to whatever is thrown at me.  Well, that, and always have a secret gun.

The Tactile and Tangible

I was reading Anna Kendrick’s autobiography “Scrappy Little Nobody” last week at Barnes and Noble, and in one chapter, she detailed that for a time in her career, she got very obsessed with baking.  She’d go over to friends houses and mix and pour and bake for hours.  It became a very soothing hobby for her (and one which her friends could enjoy the benefits of!).  She said that being able to do something with her hands that was tangible and useful was very fulfilling as an artist.

I’ve often said the same of woodworking, my hobby.  Acting is extremely creative.  But it can be quite cerebral and you often have little control over the final product.  What you do with acting is very internal and requires the collaboration of many other people in order to become something visible and consumable.  But with the tactile arts- painting, carpentry, baking, quilting, sewing, etc, the output is immediate, and often individual.

For me, being able to be out in the woodshop for hours at a time for several days and see a project through to completion is the culmination of multiple activities that I love: I find something that’s needed in my home, I brainstorm how to make something beautiful and functional, then I design it to fit my exact space.  Next I cut, sand, nail, screw, assemble and finish my project, with problem solving along the way.  Then, like magic, a beautiful piece of art with my fingerprints all over it appears ready for use.  It’s incredibly fulfilling to my creative spirit, and one that eases the burden of the creative soul that resides within me, attempting to burst free, but is unable when the career is in a drought.  I think all actors should have this opportunity to create with their hands.  Find something you enjoy and pour some of that excess creativity into it.  I assure you, you will find a good deal of fulfillment in doing so.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces I’ve made over the years:

coffeetablehighviewlaptopmediacenter2RyansDesksmall20170222_135251cabinet

 

The plays the thing

I auditioned for a play last night.  I haven’t had that experience since my senior year of college, 2005.  That was the last time I did a play.  12 years later I’m a different person, with a lot of acting experience under my belt, but very little stage time.  My naivete was obvious when I overheard the director and producers chatting about my resume, questioning why I would put ‘drive stick shift’ under special skills.  They murmured “I guess that’s important for film projects”.  I sheepishly began the scene, trying to keep the mood as light as possible.  The director stopped me after 2 lines and said “I can’t hear you dear, you’re far too quiet”.  I quickly made a joke out of it, and attempted to act out the scene with more volume, but I can tell you right now- projection?  Not my thing.  I don’t have the training to know how to project without harming my cords.  And with a musical audition coming up this weekend (the one I really want to snag!) I couldn’t risk overusing my voice.

They had me read for another role and do a few scenes, so while I was waiting my turn outside the audition room, I heard another girl who had no problem what-so-ever with projecting.  She sounded like a foghorn and, to my subtle film-acting ears, completely over the top.  No matter how much I want to get on stage, I just can’t bring myself to overact.  I want realism and truth in my performance.  And I am not experienced enough to know how to bring that without overacting.  So I choose subtlety.  This, inevitably, is likely another point against me.

What’s a film actor to do when they are dying to get on stage?  In my case, I’m taking singing lessons.  12 years since I’ve done a play.  It’s been 19 years since I’ve taken voice lessons.  That’s right, the last time I had a voice lesson was in high school, preparing for UIL competition.  Talk about rusty.  As we did vocal warmups I had a real hard time keeping up with the piano.  My support was bad, I was singing from my throat, my jaw was holding tension, all the things you shouldn’t do in singing.  But when I sang my song?  She was speechless.  I can emote the hell out of a song, but will that internal subtlety matter when the decision makers are 20 feet away?  I’m attempting to put more movement and physical expression into my songs, but I’m having a hard time doing anything that doesn’t ring truthful to me.

I have to do this on my terms, in my way.  If I give a performance that I don’t believe, I don’t want to do it.  I’m a story teller.  An interpreter.  And if you don’t believe my story, then it’s all for nothing.  A farce, a sketch, a joke.  I hope after this weekend I’ll be given the opportunity to tell that story.

The Comparison Game

I’m going to level with you here.  I compare.  Constantly.  My competitive drive hungrily jumps on every setback I experience and starts to decipher why it happened.  This inevitably means comparing myself to whomever succeeded in the midst of my failure.  Comparisons rot your soul, but I do them because they’re an attempt to make things alright.  To find a reason I failed that is outside the territory of my talent.  God forbid I think of my skills as anything less than divinely inspired.

A few weeks ago I had a callback for a film I felt really good about.  I paid for coaching to make sure I did my absolute best, and the director and producers were totally on board in my callback.  I had hoped and somewhat expected to get the call that I booked it within a day or so.  I’ll save you the anxiety: I didn’t.  So I looked it up.  I almost can’t help myself but to go and see who got the part.  I lie that it’s in order to analyze what I could do better, but in reality, it’s to find/fabricate a reason to prop up my ego.  The winner?  A woman 15 years older than me (so it wasn’t even my demographic! nothing I can do about that!) who had been on Baywatch and was clearly selling a very sexual image in her career.  I patted myself on the back that sexuality is something I have never and likely won’t ever sell- I’m more of the funny, weird best friend than the sexy seducer- so not only am I more talented than her (I don’t have to rely on my sexuality to get roles, I’m a gifted actor and funny!) I also didn’t stand a chance because she was older and had way more credits.  Whew.  Off the hook.

It’s almost as if it’s not enough to win or lose.  Everyone else has to lose, too.  When I don’t succeed (which is more often than not) my obsession with fairness and world of scarcity steps in and screams

“But what about me?  Will I never get my piece of the pie??”

When you’re living in an ivory tower of ambition and perfection, you have to work hard to manipulate the losses to become wins.  In the end, though, we’re all losers and that’s why it’s so amazing that we get to win.  Grace can’t set you free if you’ve no idea you’re a prisoner, right?  So, for the record, I’m a loser.  I thought with all my self deprecation and “truthfulness” others would see I’m a complete mess.  But people keep telling me I look like I have it all together, so I must be selling a lie somewhere.  Let’s end the game, shall we?  I’m starting what I will call

#honestyexperiment

wherein I will make it abundantly clear (to the detriment of anyone’s good opinion of me) that I am a loser.  Not in the carefully crafted seemingly negative commentary that is actually said to make me look good- i.e. “I use dry shampoo until I can’t get away with it anymore!” AKA- I don’t give a shit what others think, which is cool- but reality and vulnerability and doubt and anger and whatever else makes me feel like the most pathetic human being on the planet.  No ego props, no justifications, just truth.  (hopefully without hurting anyone I love- that’s not my intention)  If you and I can both be aware of how much I suck (and maybe how much you do too), I think we can make positive headway into humility, shedding our hubris, and ending the comparison game.

Let’s play.

You can follow me on here and @brittanydjoyner

Note: This experiment is inspired in part by a great podcast series I’ve been listening to on Alternative Wisdom, by Rob Bell.  I highly recommend.