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!!!)

She Was Only 19



On my way to work this morning a 90s boy band song came on the radio. The predictable waves of nostalgia washed over me, embarrassing tears pooling in my eyes. It was not dissimilar from the way my mom reacted the night before to the Rolling Stone’s Angie. She’d been in college when the 70s rock ballad had debuted on SNL, I’d been a freshman in high school when the sappy overproduced love song hit the airwaves. At the time, I wanted nothing more in the world than to have someone sing those precious words to me- “I’ll be the one, who will make all your sorrows undone, I’ll be the one”… How desperately I wanted to be a guy’s “one.” At 15 years old, the best thing that could ever happen would be having a member of a boy band sing those things for me. Four years later, one of them did.

When an infant comes into this world, their senses are overwhelmed, bombarded with all kinds of sensorial information we adults take for granted. The light, the shapes, the sounds – all is fascinating and none of it makes sense. This is exactly how I felt landing in Los Angeles. The Sunset Strip where I worked, the studio lots where I was auditioning, the celebrities casually dining at Beverly Hills cafés – it was all more than I could handle. I didn’t know how to process the city, the industry, the people, but I did the best I could. In other words, I partied. A lot.

That first year I went to more clubs and met more “Hollywood” types than the rest of my LA days combined (9 years and counting). This was all the more impressive considering I was attending my freshman year at USC, working 4 days a week as a restaurant hostess, taking 2 nights of acting classes, and auditioning. I had a tumultuous relationship with a somewhat successful actor, I managed to end up in Vegas with strangers not once but twice, and I developed a mild eating disorder (it’s not really bulimia if you only throw up once every couple of weeks, right?) What’s that Eagles’ song, Life in the Fast Lane?

It was April 2005, nearing the end of the school year, when I met him. My relationship with the actor had just imploded, and so my clubbing days reached their zenith. I was going out and getting wasted a minimum of three nights a week, which seemed totally reasonable considering the 4.0 GPA I was pulling. This particular Tuesday night I was at Element, by far the hottest venue in those days. When I think back on Element, and Hyde, and Spyder, it seems like the Golden Era of clubbing- all of young Hollywood came out to play. (In retrospect, the scene was probably no different in 1996 or 2013, I just happened to be 19 in 2005.) I sipped Grey Goose from a table near the stage with some girlfriends, and surveyed the surroundings. The usual suspects were there – Michael, Lindsay, Paris – but I spotted someone I had never seen before: the guy who had once sang “I’ll be the one.”

He kept staring at me as the night raged on, and finally I decided to take a solo bathroom trip, being careful to pass close to his table. It worked- he pulled me aside. We talked for a few minutes before I asked him a little white lie of a question: “so what do you do?” He looked at me, surprised, then said he was in a band. “That’s awesome, what’s it called?” He told me, and I laughed. “Oh my God, I didn’t even recognize you!” He smiled, and didn’t let me out of his sight the rest of the evening. (To this day I wonder if he really believed my fake naïveté. I’ll never know.) He called me on my flip phone before I even got home that night, and I practically died. I so wished I could teleport back to 1998, when all of my friends and I had posters of him in our room. He had since fallen from those starry heights, but he was still sexy, and I was still struck.

We hung out non-stop for the next several weeks. He loved the fact that I had only slept with one other person, and saw me as this sort of innocent, this pure being. In some ways he was right, but in other ways completely wrong. I was smart, and sensitive, and emotional, and compassionate. But I was also caught up in the scene, enchanted by the fame and the fortune of Hollywood. One night he invited me to the studio to listen to them record their new album. “I remember thinking, she was only 19,” he sang. I turned to his producer. “He wrote that line for you,” he smiled. This was real. This was happening.

A couple of weeks later I flew to Florida to see him on tour. My friend Sarah from USC lived in Miami and was home on summer vacation, so I stayed with her the first couple of nights. (That’s a whole other story unto itself.) We made our way up north a couple of hours to the Hard Rock in Ft. Lauderdale, and spent the night with the boys. The next day we saw them play for an arena full of pre-pubescent girls. The whole experience was surreal, and slightly tragic. Who he’d been, where he was now, the way his career had consumed his entire life and sense of self. For weeks we’d been intimate, sharing details of our lives and our thoughts and worries and joys. But nothing was as revealing as this night, seeing him on stage, and then when he returned to the hotel hours later, drunk, angry. I barely remember how things went down, but lines were crossed, I was a bad friend to Sarah, and we ended up driving back to Miami before the sun rose. The fairy tale was over.

We still dated for a couple of months after that trip, but it was never the same. The end of innocence, as they say. The band went on tour in Europe, and his phone calls became more and more sporadic. Finally, I met someone else and he became “the one.” He was not rich, he was not famous, he was just this funny, charming guy. I turned 20 two weeks later. I was no longer a teenager.

It sometimes feels like my past doesn’t belong to me. Was that really me doing those things, saying those words, having those thoughts? I talk about those early days in LA every so often- the Vegas trips, the boy band. Sometimes it’ll come up casually in conversation. But I experience a strange disconnect from this former self. It’s almost as if these various life stages are occupied by different people- baby Amy, teenage Amy, mid-20s Amy. I saw it in my mom last night too, as we sat in my parked car, listening until the end of the song. She was back in another time, those old dorm days, long before she met my dad, had her career, had children.

It’s amazing what a lost tune can dig up.