Jun 12, 2006

A Happy Ending, A Stumbling Beginning

Since I've become engaged, I've had so many wonderful emails and calls from friends. We’re so happy for you! It gives me such hope! At last, a happy ending!

And it is. When Larry proposed, it made a happy end of my 20 years of single life. But what happens next? A long ride into the sunset? Or the long, lonely bus ride at the end of The Graduate?

So begins the next chapter, and the next question: When? We haven’t set a wedding date because our livelihoods are up in the air. In fact, Larry’s been out of work for seven weeks. And before that, he’d been working on a documentary film for long hours and short pay. For nearly two months now the film has been on hold, and Larry's grown increasingly depressed and agitated over whether or not to wait for the film to resume production, or to go look for other work. And a man without work is an unhappy man. He hated being unhappy, and hated me seeing him that way.

"We can't get married like this," I told Larry. "This is hard on you, and consequently on me. I don't want to take that stress into a marriage." As the adage goes, trouble will find you out, why go look for it?

I remembered what our therapist said: the two greatest causes for divorce are money and sex. How ironic you search for a partner to share your lofty ideals like faith and art, and divorce them over crap like money and sex. Maybe I should have married the first rich guy who turned me on. Wait, I dated that guy, it was hell. So much for that idea.

Larry stuck his courage to the sticking place, hit the cyber-pavement looking for work, contacting the people he'd worked for in the past.
"I'll take a soul-killing job if I need to," he said. But who'd want him to? Not me. Not for me.

Fortunately, now it looks like the documentary is back on track. Larry's friend Anna will write the screenplay and he’ll be promoted to Story Editor. This was great news!
“Well, except they don’t have the budget together," Larry explained. "We may have to split the writing salary."
"So ...?"
"It’s Set,” Larry tried to reassure me. “It’s just not ‘SET’ set.
“That’s not much of a reassurance,” I sighed.
“Well, Anna said we better get used to this kind of insecurity or get out of The Business.”
“I’m 44,” I fumed. “I’ve been working as an actress since I was 21. I know The Business.”

I could have blurted, “I’ve been in this business more years than you and Anna combined. Don’t educate me about insecurity. Maybe I need to educate you about when insecurity becomes insanity: you want to live on Ramen, fine. You want to get married on that, fine. You just won’t be married to me."

But I didn’t. Because this is a dream for Larry. He’s wanted to out of the Christian writing ghetto. He’s proven journalist, so he knows nonfiction. With one short film produced, this could be a real break for him. That is, if this documentary doc becomes SET set. And if they pay him enough to buy soy sauce for his Ramen.

And as if I have a reason to be picky about money! Yeah, I’ve been working as an actor for 23 years. But it hasn’t always been flush. In fact, it’s been lean a good deal of that time. But even the lean years came the endless parade of promises and hopes and carrots dangled in front of me. “Susan is scarily talented,” said a director in New York. Danny DeVito said I made an entire screening room “die laughing” during dailies. “It’s going to happen for you, just keep at it.” And so I have.

In fact lately things were looking good. I was nominated for an arts grant. Two book editors have contacted me about publishing. I wrote one TV special for DirecTV, and they called me to do another for Fourth of July. Amazing! This is the stuff that keeps me trudging up the mountain, the stuff that gives me confidence … and maybe a snotty edge when it came to Larry and Anna educating me on the “Insecurities of The Biz.”

The Fickle Finger Of Fate

Monday DirecTV called: the second show was cancelled. There went my hope to pay my student loan balance before the wedding. Wednesday night I read at a hip, Hollywood essay venue. I read my On Fire For Jesus essay, which in the past has had audiences rolling in the aisles. Wednesday night they were quiet.
“They were listening,” Catheryn reassured me.
Anna took time out of her schedule to come. She was encouraging.
Larry said I was brave. Brave makes me think of Karen Finley’s friends, the first time she smeared chocolate over her naked body on stage. “Wow Karen. That was ... uh ... brave.”

It’s cool, I told myself. It’s not about being a superstar, it’s about telling a good story.

But Thursday I woke up to the aftermath of the “thinking audience," the cancelled writing gig, and my dwindling checking account; and I went down, down, down the elevator shaft, to mine the rich vein of despair. Last week it was Larry who was in a funk over his work. Now it was my turn to be frustrated and depressed. And who was there to encourage me? But the persevering, patient Larry, reminding me how much he believes in and loves me. It was my turn to be Frodo, and Larry’s turn to be Sam: “I can’t carry your load, but I can carry you."

Know those people who tell you that by being single you really get to rely on God? Baloney. It’s much better having someone there.

Close, but No Cohiba

Friday morning I had another callback. This was for Oatmeal Crisp cereal: “husband and wife at home eating breakfast.” They auditioned the actors in pairs, but in American Idol/Survivor fashion, we were told might be asked to stay behind for “whatever.” I went in at 10:40. They released my “husband” and asked me to stay. After two hours, I was the only actor they were hanging on to. And by now they were paying for my time. This was a good sign. A very good sign.

Wow, a cereal commercial. This’ll run nationwide on the major networks, daytime and prime time. It’s going to make someone a good bit of coin, so it might as well be me. God knows I am close: in the last two weeks I’ve had ten auditions and got callbacks for eight of them. I told Larry it’s because I’m in love and it shows. I’m so close. So, close.

In those two hours I wrote. A woman came over to chat. She’s part of the actor/singles church mob I’ve known over the years. Now she’s in her fifties, still single, and adopted a girl a couple years ago. She told me about the Ford spot she has running … how she almost didn’t go to the audition. But she booked it, and she's making money. “It was a total God thing,” she said.

I wondered about myself, sitting there as other actors were released. Was this a "God thing?" What if I didn’t get it? Would that also be a “God thing?”

By noon it was down to one man and three women, including “Sally,” a sweet, successful actress I’ve known for 20 years. Sally books tons of commercials. She owns a house. Sally doesn’t have a chin like the Florida Panhandle as I do. It wasn’t looking so good.

First they saw Sally with the Only Guy; then me, then the other woman. I was released at 12:30. I’m quite confident that I didn’t get it. So I guess that was a "God Thing."

In 22 years I've been in this business, I've gone through this cycle hundreds of times. And it never gets easier. Who am I to tell Larry that waiting for a low-paying job is insane? What's the saying? "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results."

Why was booking the Ford spot a God thing for that actress? Well, she had an adopted daughter to support. And she was going to Hawaii to a wedding. Well, I could use the money to go to a wedding: MY OWN. Right now Larry and I couldn’t afford to take our family to Red Lobster. Or I could use the money to pay off my student loan, or to take my cat to the vet for her asthma. Or to pay for crowns on two of my molars, which will need implants if I don’t get the crowns. And then there’s the jaw surgery to keep me from choking on my tongue in the middle of the night. Then again, if I suffocate to death in my sleep, I won’t need the money for anything. Except a funeral.

I’ve been thinking about something else this actress said: “God protected me from success; I wouldn’t have made a good famous person.” Someone told me that not long ago: “God protected you from success.”
I replied: "I wish he’d have been more negligent." I don’t know if I’d have made a good rich and famous person. I’d sure have liked the chance to fail at it.

My friend Mim consoled me. “Maybe God is closing all other doors so you can concentrate on writing your book.” I dunno, but I think I could handle a one-day commercial shoot and still have the focus for my book. Conversely, if I have to take that job at the Apple Store, I won't have any time or energy to write a book. And if I did, it wouldn’t be about my wonderful ride on the Jesus bus.

I took these thoughts into my quiet time on Saturday: Larry’s and my financial shortcomings. The cancelled writing gig. The parade of callbacks I didn’t book this past month, including Friday’s 2 1?2 hour close call that availed no cigar. So all of this is a God thing?

Okay God you want me to write a book? About what, how it all works out in the end? I can’t write that book. If you were a boyfriend, I’d call you sadistic. If you were a parent, I’d call you negligent. Except when it comes to protection FROM success. No thanks!

Sometimes I envy my atheist friends, for whom the world is chaos and absurdity. There’s no psychic maneuverings to explain the Why of things. There’s no God to rely upon for success or happiness. There’s no God to intervene. So it’s all up to them. They get a lot more done than I do.

Larry called that afternoon.
"You want me to come over tonight?"
"Please. And bring a fun movie."

I went to my yoga class. "Who cares if you can balance on one leg?” the teacher joked, as she made us balance on one leg. “What’s more valuable is if you can stay calm in a trying situation.”

I drove home. The air was fresh and the sky was clear. The jacarandas were in bloom, their purple flowers scattering in the breeze.

If there was a Devil, he’d gotten my head turned around. Well, enough.
“Look asshole,” I told Beelzebub. “I’m alive, I have a roof over my head. I have an amazing life, and an amazing man in it. I’m going to praise God. Because God is good. And you’re not. So BACK OFF."

Not much of an invocation, but it was mine. Then an old hymn came to my mind, so I fumbled through the words as best I could remember:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God.

I have a picture on my corkboard. It’s a Kenyan girl I sponsor. Hellen is wearing what’s probably her best dress. Her shoes are old and scuffed, probably hand-me-downs from one of her five other siblings. Every day she has to get water from a well. Her favorite pastime is singing hymns at church. She faces starvation and thirst, poverty and possibly political violence. And still she sings. She’s my hero.

Larry showed up later with the DVD “What’s Up Doc?”
We laughed our butts off. And mine was still sore from yoga.


sparkylulu said...

So, I only read the first half, because I actually have less patience now than I did before Liz died but I have to add my two cents: Divorces happen over money and sex. Okay. But those things mean different things to everybody. So, you guys have no money. Alrighty. You are going IN to the marriage fully aware of each other's situations and the volatilies of your businesses. Money is usually an issue when one spouse has expectations for the finances and the other can't keep up. But, if you are both on the same page, great.
Like sex. One wants it, the other doesn't. That is sure to cause problems. But, what if neither of them want sex ever and they are happy living like that? As long as they COMMUNICATE then there is little room for problems.
Divorces happen not for finances or sex, those are symptoms. Expectations. Divorces happen because the couple doesn't COMMUNICATE what their fears and wories and desires and wants are.
It would suck for Larry if he married you and then discovered that you had a predilection for all african american gang bangs and couldn't live without cuckolding your husband. It wouls suck for you if, after 3 years, he decided he was gay.
But, if you guys are open about everything (or as much as you can be...secrets are okie dokie, depending on what they are) then screw the money.
You wanna get married? Get married. Don't worry about things like finances. Just be honest. This is a non issue.
Come over. Sit. We'll talk. I've been down this road a couple of times.

Tina said...

Hey Susan,
Thank you for being open and honest. You cut through the easy-breezy explanations of others so succinctly! ("t's a God Thing!") ...oh, really? How about some Reformed theology: "this is evidence of the Calvinistic belief of The Problem Of Evil." Hmm.
What matters is having someone with you for the ride. Jesus is with you on your bus, so is Larry, and that is good. Very good. THAT is a God thing.
Whatever you do, success or no success, money or no money, just keep writing.

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