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I’m responding to posts out of order, as I find time to respond, and as complete responses come to me, so although today is December 7, this is my response for the December 6 prompt, which is:

From author Gretchen Ruben, Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

As a nearly compulsive knitter, (I think of knitting as productive fidgeting, and have needles and yarn in my hands whenever they’re not busy with something else.) I am in the process of making something almost all the time, though I’ll admit that I often go for months between finishing my knitting projects. Right now, whenever I watch TV, often when I converse with my roommate or on the phone, and sometimes when I read, I’m making a pair of lacy, cabled socks from a tough, royal purple, wool and nylon blend. When my hands yearn for something simpler, I’m also working on an English/Irish-style flat driving cap, of my own design, knitted from tweedy green wool.

I’d like to sew more—especially to make my own fresh, fuzzy, flannel pajamas before December 28, when I’ll head off for January in Massachusetts, which promises to be the coldest winter I’ve yet experienced—but sewing is harder to fit into my life. Sewing requires space, laying things out, leaving them out, making dedicated time. It can’t be stuffed into a bag and carried on an airplane or bus, like knitting can. It can’t be stuffed into the nooks and crannies of my schedule, like knitting can. Thus, I’ll probably settle for store-bought pajamas, not quite exactly as I want them, not quite mine, but fuzzy and warm enough for January.

Still, I make plenty. I make things all the time—we all do, even (especially!) people who are convinced they aren’t creative. I made a salad last night. I made a cup of milky coffee, just as I like it, this morning. Yesterday, I made lots of web copy for my clients, and I’ll make more today. This weekend, I’d work with a group of actors to make a show to entertain a party. We all make things all the time—what else could we do with our lives?

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

I haven’t blogged for three and a half months. I think I had a good reason: I put my entire life on hold to pursue a dream. I told my freelance and pet sitting clients I’d be away, I let my awesome roommate/landlady find a new renter, I put even more of my stuff in storage, loaned my car to my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and headed off to San Francisco for the summer. Why? Following my stated goal of kicking up my acting career, I applied for the 2009 Summer Training Congress, a seven-week professional actor training program through San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. To my great surprise, I actually got in! I set off for two months in a huge, new city, to spend my days steeped in what I love most: acting. For me, it was a dream come true, and a life so different from my usual Colorado ramblings that it felt like a dream.

Knowing that, with nine-hour days of extremely active training, plus rehearsals, plus getting lost and overwhelmed in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I let the Nomad blog slide all summer. Instead, I kept those friends who were interested updated with Facebook and Twitter updates (I could handle 140 characters occasionally, but not a whole essay). As with my trip to Portland, this adventure brought out the paradox of blogging an unusual life: When life is at its most interesting, I’m too busy living to blog about it.

It was an amazing summer. I made wonderful new friends and impressive contacts, learned more about acting and Shakespeare and voice and speech and text and the power of movement to communicate than I ever thought I could cram into my being in two months, fell head over heels for a San Francisco novelist, lived in two fantastic apartments and one awful one, got to know San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, marched as Batgirl in America’s biggest Gay Pride Parade… and I may someday write about some or all of these adventures.

For now, though, I’d like to start processing my challenge of the moment: Having put one’s life on hold, how does one ever get it going again? After a summer of tuition and San Francisco prices, my non-retirement savings are nearly gone (and I’m still not touching my retirement funds, no way, no how!). My freelance and pet sitting clients have learned how to live without me for two months. I’m now sleeping in the storage-stuffed guest bedroom at my mother’s house. My car has been diagnosed with a terminal case of “Chevy Metros weren’t designed to last for more than 188,000 miles. It’s time to let it go.” I haven’t knitted in months (!) and I’ve lost my guitar callouses. I still don’t have a play to act in. Some of my Colorado friends know I’m back in their state, some don’t. My long-distance friends have fallen out of touch while I was overwhelmed with theatre thoughts. For the first time in years, I actually have a steady, fairly awesome love life, but it’s a long-distance one—as my mom likes to sing while giggling at me, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

Still, life looks good to me, not just because I’m still high from my summer of acting and adventure, but because this life is full of possibilities. In the next few months, I will have to find new work, a new home (or rebuild my house sitting lifestyle), and a new (to me) car. I plan to jump start my art life: land some acting roles; publish more articles, stories, and knitting designs; and finally learn to jam on my guitar. I plan to reconnect with and better appreciate the people I hold dear, and keep in touch with all of the new friends and admired acquaintances I met in San Francisco. Oh, and I plan to convince one adorable novelist that, once he finishes his MFA in San Francisco this fall, what he really wants to do is move to Colorado. Hey, it can all be done, and given my list and my life so far, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

Intrigued? Welcome back to the blog. I promise to post about updated on my life’s reconstruction, plus some related (or not so) great ideas from the rest of the world, with new posts coming at least once a week, and usually more often. Thanks for reading.

knittyI’m just recovering from a miraculous lesson in gratitude. Last week’s events made me suddenly notice how much joy I get from something I’ve always had; something that I depend on, many times every day, for earning money, for pleasure, for art, for independent travel, for everything; something a great many people don’t get to enjoy: having strong, healthy, working hands.

Last Tuesday, I got calls from two clients, a brand-new one and one of my best and longest-standing ones, each asking me to complete a large transcription job. The deadline to be done with both jobs was Saturday night, just four days away. To meet the deadlines, I would have to be typing every moment that I was awake and my hands were unsure and strong enough to do it. It made for a strange week, but feast or famine is the nature of freelance work, and I was delighted to have so much to do (and income, and a great new client, to boot!) and determined to make the very best of it, so I typed. And typed. I typed until my wrists felt tight and strange, every muscle in my hands was sore, and my fingers started missing the keys. Then I went out and bought a wavy ergonomic keyboard and a pair hand-supporting spandex gloves, then typed until my hands gave out again. I spent the week typing, resting until my hands worked again, then typing some more.

And in this way, I realized how marvelously gifted I am to have strong, healthy hands. With all the punishment I gave my hands last week, I never felt numbness or outright pain. I do not have carpal tunnel syndrome—lucky me! I was just tiring out my muscles. As I rested my hands, desperately trying to think of something to do, I realized that most things I love to do depend on my wonderful hands. For example:

•    As I started the week of typing, my hands were already tired from the stage combat seminar I’d taken the weekend before, in which I learned to safely load, unload, store, and use guns for theatrical purposes. We loaded and unloaded various types of handguns over and over again, fired them in many situations, pulling back slides, cocking hammers, pulling triggers, carefully and gently guiding hammers back down to keep loaded guns from firing as we carried them to the stage. As I cocked a revolver with one thumb, the very tough lady fight director standing next to me (and struggling with her own gun) said, “Well look at you with your strong hands!” I glowed, proud of my powerful little thumb.

•    I credit the guitar, a love I found just five years ago, with building the strength in my hands. I play almost every day, fingerpicking, doing bar chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and trills, making strings ring out with my tiny little pinkies, as well as my other fingers. Last week was the longest I’d gone in five years without playing a guitar. My hands couldn’t handle even the simplest chords.

•    I didn’t blog last week, or write anything personal, except for the occasional very short email. Normally, I spend hours of personal time on my computer each day, emailing friends, doing silly things on Facebook, writing short stories, blogging, applying for more freelance jobs… My world changed completely when I couldn’t type anything but the urgent work at hand. I felt lost, isolated.

•    In normal times, I knit almost constantly. I knit while I read books and internet articles. I knit while I talk on the phone. I often knit while I edit, letting the motion of my hands focus my brain while I read the text, dropping the knitting whenever I need to make a mark. While resting between transcription sessions, I tried to watch TV, but it felt too strange. I was too used to knitting while I watched.

•    Last week, I was sitting for my favorite cat, a friendly, purry, silky longhair who loves petting, brushing, and roughhousing. I struggled to brush him once a day, and I let him hang out on his enclosed porch too often, feeling guilty that I couldn’t play with him as much as he or I would have liked.

•    I like to go to my local recreation center (whatever locality I’m in) and lift weights twice a week. This week, I didn’t go, as I couldn’t trust myself to safely hold the weights. I couldn’t even do yoga, which is notoriously hard on the wrists. Strong hands make it much easier to maintain strong legs, arms, backs, abs, and so on.

•    In fact, I didn’t go much of anywhere last week, as safe driving requires a safe grip on the steering wheel. I ran errands only when I was feeling rested.

•    I often walked to the coffee shop on the corner, or the diner down the street, to gingerly hold a coffee cup or a fork over an omelet, amazed at how difficult even eating can be when you can’t trust your hands. I watched with envy as the diner cooks chopped, flipped, and grabbed handfuls of food. I goggled at the waitress as she carried a platter of heavy dinners.

I missed my strong hands every minute of those days, and my mind opened in wonder as I remembered that many people live like this every day of their lives. My grandmother, who crocheted the way I knit, lovingly, constantly, had to stop ten years before she died, because arthritis made the movements too difficult. A good friend of mine has a condition (tentatively diagnosed as lupus) which makes her hands tire after a few hours of work, tiring the rest of her body, as well. This woman is a professional cake decorator, a mother with an adorable baby to play with, (How do you lift something as precious as your child when you can’t trust your hands?) a household full of chores, and, fortunately, a loving and understanding husband who lends his hands when hers are too tired. I know artists with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve read about Les Paul, [wikipedia link] the inventor of the electric guitar, who still finds ways to play, even though his hands are now frozen, arthritic claws. And there are many people the world over who create rich, important lives, even though they have only one hand to work with, or no hands at all.

After last week, I am amazed at these brave and resourceful people, and most of all, I am grateful that, for this stage of my life, at least, I don’t have to find a way to live without my strong, flexible, wonderful hands. I love my hands! I am in awe of my ability to play my guitar and my mother’s piano, to knit, to drive, to hold a baby, a kitty, a pen, or a fork, and to type these lines. I am definitely a fan of having hands!

PhoneIt’s been over a month since my last post, but I’m here again, and here to stay. As I look back on my misspent month of March, I keep thinking of the 2004 movie The Forgotten, in which (spoiler alert, though it’s a spoiler for a terrible movie, and so no great loss) Julianne Moore plays a mother who is part of an experiment run by aliens from outer space. The aliens have set out to prove that Earthling parents can be made to forget their children entirely if one just hides the children and messes with the parents’ minds. Moore’s character refuses to forget, no matter what the aliens do or how many of her fellow humans (including her psychiatrist and her son’s father) insist that her son never existed. Then the aliens have to kill her because, you see, otherwise she would be proof that the experiment had failed.

And that’s what I hate about that movie, and about any argument about science that fails to understand what science is and isn’t, or how a scientific experiment, or any experiment, really, works. Here’s the deal: An experiment is simply trying something to find out what would happen. To be a scientific experiment, you would make an educated guess (hypothesis) as to what would happen, and then try something to find out if your guess is right. (To be truly scientific, then you would have a large sample for the things you’re testing, and at least one control group, but I’m digressing now.) And what if your guess is proven wrong? To a true scientist, or anyone who loves the true nature of an experiment, that’s wonderful! Whether your guess is proven right or wrong, the experiment is a success. You now know something new. Going back to the movie, the aliens have succeeded in finding out that not all humans can be made to forget their children. The experiment was a success. The only failed experiment is one that tells you nothing.

How does this explain where I’ve been all March?

Well, I tried two experiments in the realm of moneymaking, or attempts to get something resembling a “real job.” The first was blogging for Examiner.com as the Denver Knitting Examiner, which sucked up what little time and mental energy I had after my day job (more on that below), and got me just a few readers. Since Examiners are paid exactly one penny per page view, I made less than $0.50 per 200-1,000-word, researched, originally written blog post. Based on the statistics on my start page, this is about average for the site. It may have been worth my while anyway if I was having fun, but my posts on the very narrow topic of local, current, knitting news bored even me. Finally, on a particularly stressful day, an Examiner editor wrote to complain about the capitalization of my posts’ titles, which did not fit Examiner’s unusual and bizarre-looking official style. She further said that she had “fixed” them for me, but when I went to my site, I saw that she had no understanding of grammar and parts of speech, so the new headlines didn’t fit Examiner.com’s style, my style, or any grammatically consistent style. I thought of sending her a copy of my copyediting resume to establish my credentials, and then arguing with her, but I realized that I really didn’t care. Based on my first experiment, Examiner.com is, to my mind, not worth the effort I put in, or any effort at all. I’ve shut down my Examiner page. I may write for pay by page view sites with different structures in the future, but the Examiner’s setup did not work for me. I’m much happier writing my own blog, for free, than writing the overly constrained one for pennies…or for promised pennies. I’d like to publicly note here that Examiner.com never paid me even the $10 or so I earned during my month with them.

My other experiment was taking a temp receptionist position, for $10 an hour, with an old friend of my dad’s and his wife in their accounting firm. (All of Dad’s friends are old friends, since he’s been dead for 20 years now.) I might have known better. Because I haven’t been making much money, and I’ve begun to feel guilty about not having a regular job, I tested some long-standing assumptions: 1) I hate reception work, especially when it amounts to writing down messages for one or two people who simply think they’re too special to answer their own calls or use voice mail, and I can do nothing to help the caller, myself. Such jobs make me feel like an impediment to any real accomplishment, stress me out, and piss me off. 2) I won’t work for less than $12 an hour, unless the job really is volunteer work for a cause I care about. Less than that makes me resentful, and isn’t worth the time away from my freelance gig hunting. 3) I am fascinated by almost every field of endeavor, but accounting bores me to tears. I can just bring myself to do my own taxes each year because I like being a law-abiding citizen, but I can’t bring myself to care about anyone else’s taxes or day-to-day finances.

I wondered if I’d been cheating myself out of opportunities by clinging to these assumptions, so I took the job. Now I’ve confirmed all of them. I hated the job, and it sucked the life out of me so that I could barely get keep my Examiner blog going and keep up with my stage combat class (more on that in a later post), let alone find any other freelance work or do anything else for fun. I also added one more assumption, now proven, to my list: 4) I should never work for those people, and should be wary of working for any of my parents’ friends. While there is hope that people older than me, and even people who knew me when I was nine years old, might be able to see me as a peer, an intelligent, educated, skilled adult worthy of respect and empathy, my bosses were not such people. In the four weeks I was there, they didn’t bother to pay me, ask for my timesheets (which I’d compiled on my own, unasked), or tell me when I would be paid. They often set up my work so that I was alone in the office, waiting for someone to come by to pick up a check or some financial papers, and unable to take a break and get my lunch (while they were out to lunch, themselves). When I spoke sharply to the telemarketer who had called me back six times in a row and then started to swear at me, one of my bosses chastised me for “shouting at callers,” and continued to bitch the incident daily for the next three weeks. When, exhausted, I accidentally locked my keys inside the office as I was leaving on a Friday night, trapping me in the office building (as I couldn’t drive anywhere, and if I left the building, couldn’t get back in), I called one of my bosses for help. Her first suggestion was that I camp out in the lobby for two days until the cleaning crew came by on Sunday. When I pointed out that I actually had a life and responsibilities outside of her office (not mentioning that I also like to eat at least once every 48 hours), she seemed surprised, and suggested I call AAA, have them break into my car, and ask them to hotwire it so I could drive home. When I pointed out that AAA doesn’t hotwire cars, nor does any legal business, she told me to call a locksmith. Only when the locksmith arrived three hours later, charging me $40 (half a day’s salary, before taxes) to tell me that the only way in was to destroy the lock, did she agree to drive for half an hour to unlock the door with her key. And when I quit the next week, pointing out that this job was killing my freelance business and thus losing me money every time I came in, and I gave them two weeks notice to find and train my replacement (a job that could be done in two hours by calling any temp agency, as I told them), they replied, “Well, two weeks would put us right up against tax day. I don’t think we’ll bother to find I replacement. I think we’re going to, um, go ahead and, ah, have you just work the two weeks and be done with it.” I thought for a moment that they were joking, but then I realized that these people didn’t know what a podcast was, what iTunes was, or how to use Google, let alone how to quote Office Space. They weren’t joking. The next day, I brought in my organized timesheets with a note pointing out that Colorado labor law requires them to pay me by the 10th of the next month, and a letter of resignation that carefully explained the point of two weeks notice, that it was a courtesy and not a requirement, and that I was taking mine back. At the end of my work day, I announced that I was never coming back, left my letter and timesheets on my desk, and I was free.

I learned a good deal from that experiment, annoying as it was. I’m tempted to take other assumptions from it, such as: 1) I’m not cut out to hold any job, 2) I hate answering all phones, 3) I can’t stand anyone my parents would associate with, or 4) I should avoid all accountants, but none of those is true. I just shouldn’t do that exact type of job, for $10 an hour, or for those people. Ah, and most important: If a job sucks that much, I can leave, and I will. Life is too short to lose money hating one’s job.

My next experiment: I wonder if someone would hire me to deliver pizzas, and if I’d like the job. My hypothesis is that I’d have fun, and make pretty good money. I’ll tell you what I find out in a few weeks.

sockAs I settle into my home, finally completely unpacking after years of dragging unexamined luggage from house to house, I’ve realized something: I have a lot of worn-out socks. There are the socks I’ve been wearing anyway, blissfully ignoring the holes in the heels, and there are many, many more socks that I’ve stored away because the holes were too big for comfort. Why didn’t I just throw them away? I was too busy moving around.

Now I’m pleased that I still have so many worn-through socks around. As I finally started to look at them, I was reminded of a former boyfriend who kept a bucket full of dead socks, cut down the back of the leg and through the sole to the toe, so they would lie flat. He used them as cleaning rags, and so saved money and landfill space, for he was an environmentalist as well as a cheapskate. (Ah, how I adored that boy!) He could dust, scrub, wipe down, and sop up any mess, then toss the rag into the washing machine to become clean and white and ready to use again. If a job was so gross that he couldn’t bear to wash the rag, (Toilet overflow, anyone?) it was no great tragedy to throw away a sock that otherwise would have been tossed months ago.

Remembering him, I was cutting open my holey old socks, dreaming of soft dusters and counter moppers, when I noticed how truly soft and cushy my socks are inside. I wear terry-lined, cotton-blend gym socks  most of the time, so my new rag pile is fuzzy, luxuriously soft—just what I want on my face when I’m washing mascara off of my eyes at bedtime. Forget cleaning rags. I now have a stack of incredibly comfortable, though odd-looking, washcloths. I keep them under my kitchen sink (lest my roommate walk by the open bathroom door and decide I’m a freak with a sock fetish) and use one fresh, clean, soft sock every night.

You may be more squeamish than I about rubbing your face with something that once absorbed a workout’s worth of foot sweat. I, for one, trust my washing machine to completely de-gross my socks, so I now see only odd-shaped bits of fabric. Even if the washcloth plan is too much for you, I still recommend socks as household cleaning rags. Rags are beautiful things, things we have far too few of in today’s American culture. They’re even sturdier than Brawny towels and more absorbant, they won’t tear or dissolve mid-cleanup, and best of all, they’re free!

purple-sweater1I’ve been knitting almost daily, almost compulsively, in all sorts of situations—in cafes, on road trips, while playing chess, while watching movies, while editing manuscripts—for nearly 25 years now. For even a small project, let alone a large one like a sweater, it’s impossible for me to remember where I was and what was happening every time I worked on it, but some pieces soak up special memories of the times and places they were created in. For example, I have a green and blue shawl that is precious to me (even though I can never find an appropriate time, place, and outfit in which to wear a shawl, so it spends its life on a shelf) because I began knitting it in Québec City, while gazing out over the Saint Lawrence River, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I expect to someday treasure my blue/green/purple hat (once I get around to knitting it) because it will be made from the funky yarn I bought on my road trip to Portland, Oregon. And so on.

Then there’s the purple sweater. I didn’t choose the color to be symbolic. I just happen to really like purple, and the yarn at my local yarn shop that seemed just perfect for the pattern I’d fallen in love with in Interweave Knits magazine happened to be a heathery, dusty purple. It was only when, while sitting outside the polling place where I was serving as a polling place lead (a sort of manager and liason for the poll watchers inside) this past Election Day that it dawned on me: “I’m knitting a purple sweater!”

I was worried at the time. At our training, all poll watchers and polling place leads (volunteers, both Republican and Democrat, there to make sure the election judges were fair to every voter, and every voter who needed help or information got it) were warned not to wear or carry anything that could suggest any political affiliation, which meant, for all practical purposes, any color at all. Blue and red, of course, were taken by the Democrats and Republicans, but there was also a Green candidate on the ballot. Many colors together could be construed as a rainbow in support for gay rights. Yellow meant something, though I don’t remember what. And purple, of course, was a blend of red and blue, a call for peace between the parties, or in Colorado, an often quoted call to “Turn our state purple!” by bringing out more Democratic votes in a traditionally Republican state. So I wore all black (though I included a black hoody, a nod to Eminem’s 2004 anti-Bush campaign), hoping that nobody but the most ridiculous of racists could imagine I was campaigning for anything…until I pulled out my knitting project.

I had chosen to work on a complicated, cabled sweater because I wanted to look approachable and alert (so reading or writing wouldn’t do), but I knew that I’d be sitting in the hallway of an elementary school from 6:30am until 7pm, and I needed something to keep my mind, or at least my fingers, occupied. Nobody complained about the polling place lead sending secret messages through her sweater, though. By the end of the day, I’d added several inches to the body of the sweater, and become quite proud of its symbolic purpleness. Yes, I do hope that the divisiveness our country has suffered from for these past eight years will finally end, that we’ll all be able to work together, political leaders and everyday folks alike, to solve our country’s problems. That, and I just really like purple.

Now I’ve added another memory to my sweater: I’ve started on the sleeves now. I’m nearly done with, well, let’s call it the left sleeve. Still, my sweater will soon have a right, a left, and a center. This sleeve though, I’ll always remember, is the one I was knitting while I sat in my living room, watching Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. Like the teary-eyed masses gathered around the Capitol this morning, I have high hopes for this man, and for what all Americans can do together under his inspiration and leadership. I am cautious in my optimism—I cannot believe that anyone can live up to all that we’ve come to expect from him, and as my favorite web comic, Sinfest, reminds us, we must resist the temptation to follow anyone blindly—but our new President has impressed me so far as being consistently well-intentioned, and powerful in his intelligence and his charisma. Hey, there’s reason for some hope.

My purple sweater has soaked up some impressive history already. I hope the rest of its life will make me even more proud.

I’m still working through Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I’ve already commented on my experience with the first “menu item,” Nothing, which is actually a practical, flexible plan for learning meditation. I’m…well, still working very hard at watching my thoughts go by, at not letting any of them stick on me, and I have to admit that sometimes my mind wanders down the path of a thought for quite a while, but I spend more than half of my time in a more meditative state, just watching, just being. I’m certain that I am learning. I still love Beck’s suggestion that, instead of sitting still, I try a “mindless, repetitive physical activity.” For a lifelong knitter, this is perfect. I’m actually learning to meditate, and the simple baby blanket I’m knitting is coming along nicely. I promise, as soon as I find my camera, to post a photo of the blankie, and a pattern.

I’m now almost through one week with Beck’s menu item number two, “Truth.” I’m getting used to it now, but I have to say, it scared the crap out of me the first time I tried it. It may be the technique, or it may be that I started it on a difficult day. Per my post-road-trip life plan, I had been auditioning for every play I could possibly imagine myself in, I’d seen some great folks, old friends and new, had some fun, and even made callbacks (the actor’s equivalent of a second job interview) in some impressive theaters, but still, I haven’t been cast in a play for over two years. The day I started the “Truth” step, I had just given up on ever hearing back about an audition I’d been to three days before. I’d been auditioning for this particular director, again and again, for over 14 years, often getting callbacks, but never, ever getting cast. At the audition, I’d felt stupid for even showing up, but I’d promised myself I’d keep trying, and hey, this director wouldn’t keep calling me back it I didn’t have a chance with him, would he? He always acted happy to see me. Surely I shouldn’t give up. So many factors are involved in casting any play…

Then I received this email from him: After a form-letter-looking sentence that thanked me for auditioning and told me “unfortunately” I wasn’t being cast, the director had typed this personal note, “Anita, I just need to tell you this. You are a wonderfully talented actress and I so appreciate you coming out to audition for us. You have a very unique and specific look and sound to me that requires just the right role and ensemble for casting. Obviously you work a ton so I know this is just my opinion. But I didn’t want you to think it was because I don’t appreciate your work or your time coming out to audition with us. I hope you keep coming out to try and if you would like me to tell you next time whether I legitimately think there is a role for you, I will certainly do that.”

On the surface, it looked very nice. How kind of him! I got big compliments, and a great time-saving offer: I can just call the director and ask if there’s a place for me in his next show. Lovely. Lucky me! I sent a polite reply, thanking him and promising to call and ask him before coming to the next audition, and then, as far as I could consciously tell, I moved on with my life and forgot all about the email.

Then, hours later, I started Beck’s suggested exercises. I set my timer for 20 minutes, started my repetitive, mindless knitting, and to my surprise, started to cry. I cried, hard, and knitted as I watched amorphous thoughts go by:

“But I don’t work a ton! I have a long resume, because I’ve been at this for 14 years, but nobody has cast me for two years! Wow. One-seventh of my adult acting career has been auditioning and auditioning with a result of absolutely nothing. Why haven’t I given up? Is there any good reason not to?”

“‘…requires just the right role and ensemble…’ means that I don’t look or sound like any character in all of Western theatrical literature, and if he puts me in a play with normal actors, I’ll screw them up, too.”

“This guy is actually the third director to tell me something like this. One told me, years ago, that ‘people are cast by type, and you don’t have a type…or maybe you’re just a really strange type.’ Another told me, after I’d done a lot of extra work for his theater company (press releases, set painting, and so on), that he liked me and wanted to produce a play just to showcase me (as he often did with his favorite actors), but he couldn’t think of any play that would work. He told me I’d have to write my own play.”

“Can I fix my voice? I don’t think so. The problem is that I project too well, enunciate too clearly, sound too intelligent. Actors’ voice training is designed to make people sound more like me. I’ve just gone too far. I don’t think anyone knows how to fix me.”

“Why is there something so wrong with being me? Why doesn’t anyone want to see a character like me on stage?”

“I can’t really do anything to fix this. I’ve been trying to solve the problem with more training, but if I were the best-trained, most talented, best-acting freak in the world, I’d still be an uncastable freak.”

I was actually very upset. I was terrified that I’d have to give one of the things I loved most in the world: acting. Then, blessedly, the timer rang, and it was time to move on to the “Truth” phase, which requires answering these questions in writing:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What hurts?
  3. What is the painful story I’m telling?
  4. Can I be sure my painful story is true?
  5. Is my painful story working?
  6. Can I think of another story that might work better?
  7. Of the options available to me, which one brings the most love into the world?

I cried throughout the writing, but I felt better when I was done. In the case of this particular problem, I am clearly not going to quit acting. I love it too much to do that, however difficult it is to find a role. I am going to learn more, and become very, very good at looking and sounding like me. Also, I can revel in getting older, as more parts are written for older women who look and sound powerful and intelligent. Most roles for women are simpering, Barbie-ish ingenues. So I won’t get cast as them. Fine. I was never an ingenue. I never wanted to be. But if I keep acting now, I can grow into being queens, mothers, college professors, CEOs…

After that first ordeal, the combined “Nothing” and “Truth” sessions have been much less frightening. I suppose I just had to open up that first layer of truth I’d been ignoring.