Turning 30


When I first began studying acting at The Imagined Life studio three years ago, I regretted that I hadn’t found Diana Castle earlier. With her vast wealth of wisdom and uncanny intuition, I could tell she held the keys to the Creative Kingdom I’d been trying to break into for over a decade. Listening to her lectures, I couldn’t help but think of all the time I’d wasted in my early 20s. If only I’d known about her when I moved to LA, if only I’d had that sort of guidance, if only…

The irony is, of course, that I left the studio after two years. Though I never stopped believing in what Diana was teaching, I couldn’t seem to apply it to my own work. Frustrated, lost, angry, I bowed out, deciding I wasn’t really an actor. That I’d been a fraud, that I didn’t have what it takes, that it was too late. Anyway, I was starting to gain some traction with my writing. Maybe that had been the whole raison d’etre I’d been drawn to The Imagined Life, so it could point me True North towards my real calling as a writer.

It made sense to me at the time.

* * * * *

This Sunday I’m turning 30. I’ve been telling myself for months now that I’m not going to make a big deal of it, that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a number – who cares? But over the past week or so I’ve realized that that attitude was cheating me of doing some honest self-reflection. Of taking stock of my life thus far, the ups, the downs, the beautiful, the ugly, the choices I’ve made for better or worse. These things do mean something. These things do matter.

As I began to reflect in my morning pages on how I’d spent my 30 years on this planet, two emotions jumped out at me: shame and fear. Sure, there are things that I am proud of – graduating from UCLA, writing a book, surviving on my own – but a huge part of me felt like I’d wasted more than a decade living mindlessly. I’d been given these incredible gifts, this blessed life, and what had I done? Spent absurd amounts of time obsessing about my appearance, chasing after boys blatantly and foolishly, drinking myself to oblivion on way too many occasions, drifting through my days, never truly smelling any flowers. How had I let this happen?

In August on my flight home from Hungary I sat next to a boy named Anthony. At 12 years old, he spoke more eloquently than most of my peers in their 20s and 30s, and possessed an authenticity and clarity I’d only recently discovered in my own life. My cheeks hurt after two hours of nonstop grinning while conversing with him. But when we parted ways, I felt gripped by an intense desire to protect him. Fear washed over me as I imagined him entering high school and losing all of his vitality and presence and eagerness for learning in the face of popularity and sex and parties. After all, he did resemble Justin Bieber, his looks alone could lead him down that path.

Back in Brooklyn, I realized that fear was a response based entirely on my own experience. Young Amy had been very similar to Young Anthony – reading everything in sight, creating ideas and art projects left and right, absorbing the world like a sponge. I’d tested in the 99th percentile, I’d memorized chapters of books just because I could, I’d instilled excitement in the hearts of teachers and adults. But then the tornado of puberty hit, and my teenage years sucked me into a storm of insecurity, attention-seeking, and desperate need for validation. I’ve been battling to get back to the ground ever since.

At certain times, I’ve succeeded. I’ve found myself in the eye, calm, lucid, able to see my own truth. Like junior year of high school, when I recognized how much my life mirrored Ivan Ilych’s. Or during my many opportunities to travel abroad, when the world expanded so far beyond my own self-absorbed universe I couldn’t not pay attention. Or moments in great films, or great books, or great classes like Diana’s or Teshome Gabriel’s or Paul Von Blum’s, which momentarily quelled the tempest.

But inevitably I’d get sucked back in. I’d glimpse the truth, but it was too much to handle, so I’d run right back to where I felt comfortable. Measuring success by dollar signs, Instagram likes, the power of my lovers, the brand of the champagne. A boozy, self-serving haze, interrupted by a creative manic streak from time to time.

In August, though, things began to shift. Dramatically. After meeting Anthony, I could no longer hide the regrets I held over the choices I’d made in my life. I couldn’t keep running from the truth, ignoring my shame and fear. I had to start caring for myself the way I longed to care for this boy. For months, years even, I’d been desperately wanting to change my life, but it was Anthony who gave me that boost I needed to finally do it.

It started with quitting alcohol and sugar. Since the age of 18, these two substances have ruled so much of my life. Way more than I’ve ever been willing to admit. From counting calories to staring at my stomach in the mirror for hours to sticking fingers down my throat. From throwing back shots of tequila to numb the pain, or make the guy I was with tolerable, or to try and forget the bag of M&Ms I’d eaten. From intense blood sugar spikes and crashes to intolerable hangovers and memory lapses to depression and self-hatred. To outsiders, even my family and closest friends, I’ve always looked functioning, but my interior world tells a different story.

That first week was hell. I could barely get out of bed. My body felt like I was moving through quicksand. You know those dreams where you’re trying to run from a bad guy but the sandman has poured glue between your legs and you can’t even walk? That’s how dependent my body was on sugar. I suffered daily migraines, made all the worse knowing I could cure it with just a bar of chocolate or bowl of pasta.

After the physical struggle subsided, the real challenges set in. I had to learn how to deal with my insecurities and anxieties without reaching towards the cupboard or ordering a glass of wine or four. In confronting these feelings, I was forced to look at other tendencies that had kept me in the storm, especially my dependency on my emotions. One night in particular stands out: I was having a panic attack over an argument I was having with my boyfriend, and I couldn’t get a hold of any of my friends. I called one of them three times and texted her to call me immediately. She responded that her sister was in intensive care. My panic attack instantly stopped. There were more important things in the world than this moment in my relationship.

As I began to equalize after subtracting these toxins from my life, I added in some new habits: meditation, daily affirmations, structure, regular sleep cycles (work permitting). Through the help of the Artist’s Way, I set goals for myself, some large, some small, but all achieved through the same process: one step at a time. For example, French. After years of studying the language of love, I’m still not fluent, but reading Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers half an hour a day has shown me that it’s not impossible. I understand a little more each week. It’s still very much a work in progress, but so am I.

Which leads me back to turning 30. In the same way I wished I’d found Diana when I first moved to LA, I wish I’d found this new, sober, more focused and contemplative lifestyle in my early 20s. Why did it take so long for me to find authenticity and presence and mission? Why did I waste all of that precious time not living every day fully and creatively? For the same reason I dropped out of studio a year ago: I wasn’t ready.

And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Because even though I can sit and lament and feel shame over all of those hours I spent stumbling through nightclubs and sleeping with the wrong guys and shoving brownies guiltily into my mouth, I can also learn from them. I can use those experiences to tell stories and to maybe help a Young Anthony make different choices than mine. And even if Young Anthony does make some unskillful decisions (to borrow the Buddhist choice of words over “bad”), that’s still okay, because it’s his journey, and he’ll learn it at his own pace.

The point is, I’m here now, about to turn 30, and happier and more attentive and more open to the world than I’ve ever been. I’m not perfect, I never will be, I’ll continue to stumble and fall, but I know I’m headed in the right direction, following my True North.

I start class again on November 30th.

(BTW, if you were hoping to buy me a drink for my 30th, here’s an even better option — for the same price as a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, you can pre-order my book on Amazon!  Win win!! ❤ DO IT HERE!!!)

And the Oscar Goes to…

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

Like every girl who moves to Los Angeles to be an actress, I always had dreams of winning an Oscar. The glitz, the glamour, the perfectly manicured nails captured on the manicam – it was a fairy tale, and I longed to be the princess. I imagined the dress I would wear, the speech I would give, the boy on my arm (Josh Hartnett? Leonardo DiCaprio?) But unlike Anne Hathaway, my dream has yet to come true. And that’s just fine by me.

Over the years, my attitude and feelings towards the Academy Awards have continually evolved, as with so many things in my life. For instance, brussel sprouts. I once hated them, now I cook them four times a week (minimum). Or roller coasters- they used to be the best thing ever, now they make me feel like I’ve just downed a bottle of gin. And the Oscars? Well, it’s complicated.

As a child, the Oscars seemed like heaven. Literally, if you had asked 8 year old Amy what Heaven looked like, I would have told you a massive stage with large statues of gold men and emaciated actresses looking perfect in vintage Dior. (Okay, I probably wouldn’t have used the word emaciated or known what a vintage Dior was, but definitely “actresses in princess dresses.”) The crowning moment in my childhood Oscar memories was Gwyneth Paltrow accepting her statuette for Shakespeare in Love in that pretty pink Ralph Lauren number. Move over, Mary, there’s a new queen of the clouds.

From the couch of my parent’s living room in North Portland (and a hotel room one year in Thailand), the award show just never quite felt real. It was like it was taking place on another planet, Planet Hollywood, where celebrities resided with all of their designer clothes and trophies and drug problems. Perhaps that was why I viewed the Oscars as Heaven in my adolescence. Or maybe it was just because I was a kid.

Whatever the reason, by the time I moved to Los Angeles, the sacred sheen had worn off. That’s not to say that I didn’t still want to win an Oscar – I wanted to even more at 18, 19, 20 – but rather, they had become more tangible. Here I was, living in Los Angeles, less than a mile from the Kodak theater, with the choppers circling like vultures and the limos creating traffic jams for miles. For days, weeks, leading up to the big event, there were parties and chatter and excitement building. Suddenly it felt attainable – I was here! I had made it!! I had an agent and I waited on Al Pacino and I could do this!!!

Except I couldn’t. As the years wore on, it became more and more apparent to me that my dreams were hopeless. “If you haven’t made it by 21, you’ll never make it,” a manager told me, pointing out dozens of examples of famous starlets. I watched as the calendar pages flipped, the years rolled by. 21, 22, 23. I had small victories here and there – a co-star on Veronica Mars, a featured part in Walk Hard, several game show appearances – but nothing even remotely close to the roles I’d been admiring for so many years. The Erin Brakovichs and Edith Piafs. The Virginia Woolfs and Viola de Lesseps. I grew weary of auditioning for drunken sorority girls and one-line waitresses. With each failed commercial audition, my dream died a small death. And then one day, it no longer existed at all.

“The Oscars are lame, just a tired exercise in self-congratulation by a bunch of rich, entitled pricks,” I began telling myself, and whoever else I was doing background work with. “It’s all politics anyway, they hardly ever get it right. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow winning for Shakespeare in Love? Ludicrous. Who’s next? Keanu Reeves for The Lake House Part 2?

The Academy Awards had gradually slid from Heaven into Hell, just like Satan himself. February would roll around, and I would find myself dreading Oscar weekend. On the outside I pretended I didn’t care (even though I’d seen every nominated film and read every Entertainment Weekly prediction and Carpetbagger article), but somewhere deep down inside I could feel a knife being wedged when Jennifer Lawrence stepped on stage for Winter’s Bone. It wasn’t that I didn’t love JLaw – I did and do, I thought she was fantastic in that film, and pretty much everything she’s done since. But I was consumed with jealousy. That was the career I had so desperately longed for as a girl back in Portland. That was a part I could have played, would have loved to have played, still wanted to play. The dream wasn’t actually dead, it was just buried under layers and layers of jaded exterior.

And that was how it remained until two and a half years ago when I started taking classes at The Imagined Life. I hadn’t quit acting (although I had taken a break to get my degree from UCLA in Art History), but I’d stopped really loving it and believing in myself. But Diana changed all that. She helped me see where I’d gone wrong – in making it about the product instead of the story. After all, for all of the hoopla around the nominees and the award circuit, at the end of the day what really matters are the films themselves. Which was why I’d been drawn to acting in the first place. Yes, I may have wanted the Oscar fairy tale at 8, but it was really the excitement of playing Betty in The Crucible or Juliet in Romeo & Juliet that made me want to be an actor. It was being moved to laughter and tears over and over again by Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet that made me want to be like them. Sure, the award shows were great fun and ridiculously glamorous, but that had nothing to do with why I actually chose this career. And somewhere along the line, while becoming an adult, I’d forgotten that. Down they forgot as up they grew.

I’m happy to say that this year I will be watching the Oscars and loving it. I’ll feel nothing but proud for the winners as they take the stage, because they deserve it for telling the stories they’ve told. Whether it’s Michael Keaton or Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore or Julianne Moore, I will feel nothing but genuine love and support for them on their journeys. And after the last award is given, I’ll go back to focusing on my new dream: winning an Oscar for best screenplay.

Just kidding. My new dream is the same as my old: to tell stories. Good luck to all the nominees!!

Learning to be Patient

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Wait for it… wait for it… keep waiting… just a little longer… stop going crazy… wait… almost there… so close………….. Hold on – what was I waiting for?

I have never been good with patience. I’ve never even been okay with patience. In fact, I’m downright awful when it comes to that heavenly virtue. If you’ve ever been in a car with me behind the wheel (or in the passenger seat, or in the back), you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve just never understood it. I mean, what is so @%*# difficult about pressing your foot on the gas pedal?! Clearly you have some place to be, or you wouldn’t be in a moving vehicle, right? (Unless you’re my friend Katelyn, perhaps the only person I know who loves joyriding her non sports car in LA). Wouldn’t you rather be at your destination than ruining the earth’s atmosphere and making me miss the preview to the sixth Iron Man film? Just, ughhhhh.

Given my enduring restlessness and pain with being able to endure restlessness and pain, one would think that I would have chosen a profession with a slogan other than “Hurry Up and Wait.” One would be wrong. It seems I have gravitated towards an acting career – the ultimate test in patience – like a prostitute drawn to a convent. Imagine it: audition, wait, nothing. Audition, wait, nothing. Audition, wait, callback, wait, nothing. I can feel my General Anxiety Disorder flaring up just typing it. Then finally, you book (YAYAYAYAY!!!), you get to set, you wait 10 hours, pour your soul out, and go home. Then you wait three years for it to screen one night only at the Silverlake Indie Alternative Do It Yourself Film Festival at the same time you’re tray passing at an event for Billy Bob Thornton’s band. Awesome. It’s like a special form of sado-masochism that Sartre knew all too well about. And I’ve subjected myself ten years and running…

But hustling for a decade in Hollywood is nothing compared to waiting for that other elusive Godot: Mr. Right. If all the research I’ve done on soul mates is correct, then I’ve been waiting 28 years to find him, ie my whole entire life, and that’s a long time. Like, a lifetime. My lifetime. Of waiting. Okay, perhaps “waiting” might not be the best word to use here. Maybe looking. Or searching… Desperately seeking? The point is, my eyes have been on the mythical prize for ages, and gosh darn it I’m ready. Do you hear me universe?? I’M READY!!

* * * * * *

And just like that, he appeared. Dark-haired, handsome, brilliant, funny, compassionate, charming, perfect. I actually leapt out of my seat that first date, knocking my wine over in the process (“Wow, you have amazing reflexes,” he commented as I blushed.) It all just felt so easy, so right. Our second date lasted 12 hours, crushing the 8 hours spent with Mr. Santa Monica, and I knew, I just knew. The first night I slept at his house I buried my face into his chest and wondered, like Rhianna, Where have you been all my life? “In waiting,” came a response from somewhere deep within my soul. For what?! I thought angrily, envisioning all of the years we had already missed together. “For this moment.” Ah, well, better late than never. He’s here now, and that’s all that matters… right?

Nope. Apparently there are some other things that matter, too. Like timing. Because no matter how perfect he might be for me, and how hard we may have fallen for each other, sometimes Life just gets in the way. And as much as I want to argue with Life, I know I will not win. And frankly, I don’t really want to win, because the alternative is Death, and he sucks way more. So after only a couple of blissful months, I just have to accept the little and big things Life is throwing down, like crazy business partners and unemployment, respect the space Mr. Right needs to deal with those things, and (wait for it)… wait. ARGGGG!!! ::sobbing::

* * * * * *

But maybe it’s time to reframe this whole waiting business. Sure, the reality might be that I’m waiting for grandpa to speed up, waiting for the right role, waiting for the guy, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do something in the meantime. How awful to sit around in bored agony when I can be listening to a TED talk on the radio, or reading a Tennessee Williams’ play, or pleasuring myself on a pole (dancing). There are a million wonderful things I could be doing at this moment – hiking, writing, going to an art museum, making a web series no one will watch ( Anyway, wasn’t the whole reason I wanted to be an artist in the first place because I wanted to create? Well, now’s the time to do it. In fact, now is the only time. Ever. Oh man, this is getting deep.

And as my mind takes me down the rabbit hole of space-time continuums and the Power of Now, I realize that I’ve been going about patience entirely wrong. Because patience isn’t about waiting around for things to change, it’s about accepting the current circumstances and choosing to see the positive. Like, for starters, being alive (you win again, Life). Yes, taking a break with the guy of my dreams I’ve been waiting 28 years for blooooows, but so what? What’s the point in worrying about something out of my control that’s not even guaranteed? It is what it is, I only have this moment, so why waste it waiting?* Time to go out there and do something! Basketball! Jogging! A movie to escape this oppressive heat!! YES!!

Alright, let’s see what’s playing… Hmmm… I wonder if he still wants to go to “A Most Wanted Man” together… I better wait and see.


*I know I’m using a boatload of clichés, but that’s what happens when you sit around heartbroken and sick for several days reading self-help websites and

What I Talk about when I Talk about Pole Dancing


Exercise has always held an important place in my life. The reasons for its necessity continually change over time (health, meditation, weight loss, enjoyment), but it has been a constant for as long as I can remember. When I think of my childhood, I think of practicing handsprings in the grass of our front yard, doing back flips off of my best friend Mikie’s couch, running up and down Willamette Blvd, biking around the lush campus of the University of Portland. When I recount favorite moments in my life to friends, inevitably they involve some sort of physical activity – the time I ran 18 miles in Paris one morning because I couldn’t stop, the exchange I had with a wild dog in a Costa Rican rainforest during a mid-day jog, the joy of making that winning basket or home run.

Until last year, my favorite form of exercise was, without a doubt, running. Growing up it had been gymnastics, but anyone who has ever watched the Olympics or tried to do a cartwheel beyond their teens knows the career-expectancy of that particular sport. Running, on the other hand, can be practiced well into old age, as many an elderly marathoner can testify. Not only is it sustainable over one’s lifetime, it’s one of the simplest things you can do. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. Not much to it, beyond a good pair of running shoes and a sports bra (and those aren’t even actually required!)

In many ways, running has been one of the most essential things in my life. It has gotten me through breakups, writer’s block, finals weeks, anger, sadness, holidays, family vacations. It’s like a medicine for me, a shot of endorphins to ease the pain, lift my spirit, pump my blood, keep me alive. Some of my most creative thoughts have come on mile 5 of a morning jog, moments in which the clutter in my brain gets sorted and the heart of the matter just seems to burst forth – AHA! Now I understand what Bergman was getting at in Persona, now I see the missing piece in my screenplay. It’s incredible the way running can set up a routine for your life, one that teaches you how to function better in the world. It’s what Murakami talked about in “What I Talk about When I Talk about Running.”

Which brings me to pole dancing. I encountered pole (and Murakami’s semi-memoir) last summer, when I’d been cast in a play as an ex-stripper. As coquettish of a person as I was (I once got fired from a restaurant for flirting), I felt compelled to take my sexuality a step further, and enrolled in classes at S-Factor. I’d heard of pole fitness from my ex-boyfriend’s ex-lover, but it had never occurred to me to actually try it until attempting to tap into my inner “Billie.” Little did I know it was going to rock my physical, sexual, and emotional world.

My first class I cried. Not from the inevitable bruising of slamming one’s body against a metal pole, but from the sudden awareness of the damage done by over a decade of body dysmorphia. “Let your hands run over your curves, sending love and adoration into them,” the teacher cooed. What?! Caress my body and enjoy it?! Years of living in Los Angeles had taught me I was too fat, too flat, too not Victoria Secret enough. It felt strange, borderline criminal, to worship my body for what it was – feminine, beautiful, sexy, mine. As the class continued, I found other emotions welling up inside of me. This part of me had been caged for so long, trapped by societal conventions, possessed by other people’s ideals, restricted by my own self-image, reinforced by casual (un)sexual encounters, ripped and shredded over and over again by this perfect body, that perfect body, never my perfect body. And now it was being summoned forth, beckoned to come out, to play, to explore, to let go.

And it did. That part of me, that deep femininity, that innate sensuality, that natural womanly sexuality, just burst out. I tore at my clothes, touched my breasts, felt the curve of my back and the way my hair brushed over my shoulders. Every inch of my skin felt alive, more alive then it had ever been, like that moment right after an orgasm, when the slightest touch sends shivers down your spine. How could I have neglected myself for so long? How could I not have recognized who I was? I remembered a novel I studied in high school – Gabriella, Clove, and Cinnamon. Gabriella. The caged bird. The juxtaposition of her sexuality and society. Intellectual concepts now fully realized. I let it sweep over me. Relax, left brain, just FEEL.

I walked out of my first class and signed up for a year. I had never spent money on fitness (my mom covered my $50 a year 24 hour fitness membership), but I didn’t even flinch as I lay down my credit card for $200 a month. How could you put a price tag on finding yourself? Money didn’t matter. This mattered. My body mattered. I mattered.

From the outside, I know it looks crass. Learning to strip, giving lap dances, grinding my center into a long, hard pole. And sometimes I do feel dirty. Really dirty. But I love it. Because it’s mine, and it’s for me, and it’s what I want. Forget the male gaze. It has nothing to do with men. It’s about women. Our bodies. Our erotic creatures. Our sex.

Almost a year after joining S Factor, I feel better than I ever have in my life. I don’t attribute all of it to pole dancing – other things have opened up for me creatively, intellectually, socially – but I know it’s been integral in my development in the same way as running. If I walk into a class feeling down, anxious, upset, I inevitably come out joyful, calm, and ready to conquer.  Plus, my arms have never looked better.