More on Living Fearlessly

View from Brooklyn

View from Brooklyn

I first visited New York my junior year of high school. My mom took me as part of an East Coast college scout, but we both knew this was a thinly veiled excuse for her to introduce me to the pleasures of the Big Apple. We attended Broadway shows, explored some of the world’s finest museums, delighted in culinary wonders (I tasted my first truffle – a happy accident whilst ordering parpadelle pasta). And of course, we checked out NYU. By the end of the three magical days, I was madly in love. I knew I needed to live in New York.

But not right then. As enchanted as I was by the skyscrapers and the theater and Greenwich Village, the city also frightened me. It was so far from my family, such a massive change from Portland, so big and fast and overwhelming. I could barely wrap my head around going to school there. Would I survive? Would I make friends? Would I keep up?

I applied to three schools: USC, UCLA, and Chapman. I chose USC, as they offered me the best financial aid package, and packed my bags with shorts and tank tops. Hollywood, here I come!! I kissed the Oregon rain goodbye, and never looked back.

Only east. While I never regretted my decision to move to California, I fantasized about New York often. Even though it had made more sense to go to Los Angeles, with my dreams of becoming a film and TV actress, New York always beckoned. That’s where the real artists live, I thought dreamily. The pure-hearted thespians and true lovers of the craft.

This, too, frightened me. Did I have what it took to be a starving actor hustling in black box theaters? I had worked hard in Los Angeles and made certain sacrifices for my career, but I’d also built a comfortable life. I’d carved out a niche in the commercial world, enjoying a relaxed existence that no longer included waiting tables or bartending. Did I really want to give this up to go struggle in Manhattan where people with $100k salaries feel poor? Wasn’t it enough to just visit for a week each summer?

Well, no. Because every time I visited, I wanted desperately to stay. Something in my heart told me I needed to be in New York in my 20s, at least for awhile. There was a reason I’d been telling people this was a life goal of mine for the better part of a decade. What it was, I wasn’t entirely certain, I just knew I had to do it.

And then I got my chance – a house swap. It was the perfect opportunity, really. While in New York for my blog, 40 Dates & 40 Nights, I stayed with my friend Sam. Her roommate Isis confessed a desire to try out LA for acting, a hidden passion she’d recently unearthed, but like me, she had been too afraid to pull the trigger. While she didn’t love her real estate job, she loved her life in New York, and the thought of leaving it permanently led to inaction. A familiar story, if I’d ever heard one.

We discussed a temporary situation, a three month agreement to exchange places. I would get her apartment, rain boots, and public transportation; she would get my bungalow, espresso machine, and Jetta. (Funny enough, this would not be my first swap: my debut TV appearance was on the ABC Family show Switched! where I traded lives with a girl from Doylestown, Pennsylvania for a week.)

The opportunity thrilled both of us, and we planned tentatively on March. However, when I got back to LA and fell back into my routine (and a new relationship), our plan seemed less and less realistic. I found myself making excuses, formulating reasons it wouldn’t work. And I was doing the same thing professionally.

I had an offer from Adaptive Studios to write a book under the publishing arm, but I couldn’t seem to agree to it. I felt paralyzed with fear – that I was making the wrong decision, that I wouldn’t be able to write the book, that I had no idea what I was doing, that I was signing my life away.

People kept asking me the same question – “What do you want?” and I kept giving the same answer – “I don’t know.” But the truth was, I did know. I wanted to live in New York. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to be a “real artist.” I had wanted these things for a long time. A really long time. But my fear of failure and change was preventing me from fully embracing it, from acting upon it, from simply saying “yes.”

I waited until the last minute on both fronts. Isis needed to give her boss notice in order to make the move; Adaptive needed an answer or the offer was coming off the table. I consulted pretty much everyone I knew, and was greeted with a resounding refrain: follow your heart. So I did.

It’s been almost five months now since I said “yes” to New York, “yes” to writing a book, “yes” to new possibilities coming into my life. And while I’m still figuring out what this whole experience has taught me (more blogs to come!), still encountering resistance (see post below), still deciding which city to call my home (both?), I can say without a doubt that this has been one of the best experiences of my entire life. From the people I’ve met to the perspective I’ve obtained to the creative path I’ve explored, New York has proven to me why I needed to live here. My 17-year-old self knew it, thank god my 29-year-old self had the courage do it.

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!!