TTS: Auditing Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop

palm tree cloudy day

I expect to sit in a sea of chiseled chins and expertly curled hair. With the exception of two or three dead-eyed models sent by their agents, the crowd appears likeably normal—artsy even. Asymmetrical bobs and band t-shirts abound. These are the types of people, it seems, who want to get more connected with reality, not less.

I try to drink from the water bottle I brought and spill all over my chest. Not a drop makes it in my mouth.

Anthony Meindl strides onto the stage. I want to pronounce his last name like Howie Mandel, but apparently it’s mine-dull. He has a star quality about him. He’s a fast talker, loud and motivational in tone. He seems to have an abundant cache of that showbiz brand of energy.

He also seems sincere. He asks us auditors and students alike to repeat after him. “I am going to stop beating myself up for where I am… I’m going to stop making personal attacks against myself when I’m not working in a way that I hold myself to.”

Soon I am chanting with the rest of them. It takes on a religious quality.

“The things I think I need to hear from others are the things I must give to myself.”

The lecture over, two students—a man and a woman—begin their prepared scene with scripts in hand. Meindl asks the woman to put herself in her character’s headspace.

“What have you been struggling with this past week?” he asks.

“Where do I start?”

“You have kids, don’t you?”

She starts to cry. He tells her to use it. Halfway through class, everyone on stage on has cried. I am in awe of their willingness.

On my way out, I spot the woman from the first scene eating chips in the hallway. I make eye contact, smiling dumbly. She stares back blankly and pops another chip in her mouth.

A minute later I’m on the street, walking home in the dark and avoiding all eye contact.

Two youngish guys file by, making room for me on the sidewalk. “But mistakes are good,” one of them says, “You can learn from that shit.”

Indeed.

Weekend Writing Prompts

If you’re like me, then the weekend is a great time to get some writing done. Whether it be a novel, screenplay, sketch, poem, essay, grocery list, blacklist, or love letter, long and lazy weekend days can easily turn into a great opportunity to get stuff done. But before the getting done part, there’s the getting started, and that seems to trip a lot of people up. But it doesn’t have to! Not when you have some handy writing prompts to guide the way.

Take a gander at these and get those creative juices flowing:writing prompt snack

  1. Take a trip to Whole Foods and grab a bag of wholesome chips. Then go home and write. When the going gets tough, you’ll be glad you grabbed a snack.creative writing prompt puppy
  2. Write about all the things you would do if you were a puppy. writing prompt jesus
  3. Imagine Jesus was your BFF. What would he say about your writer’s block? Write that down. Then let everyone know you’re a prophet.

    writing prompt tombstone

  4. Think about what your tombstone will say when you die. Or think about what you want it to say. Get creative!

On Droughts

vintage lemons

Day three in the new home and my resident sense of dread has already taken root. I finally have everything a writer could want: a 1930s LA bungalow bathed in natural light, a backyard boasting two citrus trees and a fig tree, a dog that’s willing to curl up with me and wait patiently while I write—not to mention a loving, supportive partner with whom I can share it all.

So what do I do? I bake cookies. I bake mounds of five-ingredient, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and then proceed to stuff my face with said cookies before they cool to edibility. Then I sit around sipping a glass of almond milk, feeling sorry for my singed mouth. Tomorrow will be a new day, right?

Technically, yes. Psychologically, no. This morning, halfway between editing and collapsing, I decided it would be a good time to tone my hair. Because nothing gets you back on track like dumping on chemicals until some strands turn silver while others defiantly remain a shade of rust. Because nothing puts your fear of writing in perspective like fearing your hair will fall by the handful. I stand under running water watching the puddle turn purple at my feet and soak up the self-loathing that comes with wasting water on my vanity in the middle of the drought of the century. Lathering up in a second round of conditioner to calm my burning scalp, I comfort myself with the headline I read the other night about domestic water use only accounting for 5% of California’s total water supply. So surely it can’t be entirely my fault, it’s big farming’s fault, and how self-important of me to even think myself a pivotal factor in the decline of California. I consider the two cartons of almond milk in my fridge and the fact that almond farming wastes an unimaginable amount of fresh, clean water nurturing something as silly and inessential as a nut. Each almond is so thirsty that when I take a sip of its milk, it’s really like I’m drinking a sea of generations with big water needs. We’ll all be parched and desperate as the desert reclaims this settlement long before my lease is up 363 days from now.

I have so many serums and lotions to slather and gel on every inch of my body, serums that will likely do nothing—all in the name of self-improvement. Standing naked and cold in the open doorway Michael left ajar for the cross breeze, I realize I’m too hungry, too weak to care what stranger sees my perplexing tan lines. I reach for last night’s cookies and a swig of almond milk straight from the jug, and straight to hell I will go because the thought of assembling a salad in my state daunts me. I won’t brush my teeth until four in the afternoon today. It’s turning into one of those days.

Wolfing down snacks over the kitchen sink, I spy a suitcase spilling out of the closet with clothes destined for Goodwill. Defying any seed of common sense I have stored, I rifle through again under the guise of being thorough. I find a floor-length, peach-colored slip with an overlay of black lace—the kind of nightgown dress that belongs in neither the bedroom nor the boardroom, the Whole Foods on Fairfax nor Queen Elizabeth’s breakfast nook. I can’t say it belongs anywhere. Maybe I can relate. Maybe it grows on me. I put it on.

And maybe it’s the fumes I’ve inhaled or the neuroses I’ve allowed to seep in and make themselves cozy, the cushy folds of my brain acting like sofas; anyway, I notice a crack in the plaster wall of the closet and willingly suspend my disbelief that it’s a poor choice to insert my fingernail in the crevice and peel it back just to see what’s inside. I don’t think anything of the large pieces flaking off, falling on the original hardwood floors, to reveal a human-sized hole, a hole that begs me to enter and follow the light flickering at the end of the tunnel to wherever it leads. I reach the bottom of a hole that plummets straight down, halfway to China like the holes we used to dig in the backyard as kids, and lift the latch that leads to the den conveniently located beneath my new house. “We’ve been waiting for you,” says the oldest shaman with a skinny grey beard and a sorcerer’s stone, so I naturally take my place in the circle of like-minded folk and accept the tabs and tinctures as they come my way. Eventually, as the time passes and time slows and I unravel every question I’ve ever had about time, I stand up and tell the gang it’s about time I go. I toss a scarf around my neck for dramatic effect. My husband expects me to be home for dinner, I say. They all nod and it’s all very pleasant because there’s no such thing as a true goodbye, so I escape through the hatch and back through the tunnel and just when I get turned around so that I don’t recognize which way is up or down, I land back in my closet in a pile of clutter without a word on the page or a coherent thought in my head.

Still it seems everything will be alright. I smell potatoes roasting in the oven, hear a love song through the speakers and my dog snoring in a pile of blankets on the legless armchair by the windowsill. Yes, I imagine everything is going to be alright. Now it’s time to write.

LA bungalow

Tiny True Story: Spring Cleaning

butterfly girl
Back sore and shoulders tight, my aching body takes over the frenetic energy of my mind, allowing it to rest for the first time in a long while. Something about moving boxes from one side of the garage to the other soothes me. There’s a rhythm to dusting old Easter decorations, balling up cobwebs, and power spraying the grime off blinds, watching the water drip down to the base of a fig tree. I don’t need to tell you there’s abundant metaphor in that.

Cleaning the garage starts to mean more as the first signs of spring crop up around the farm. A black and yellow butterfly has taken a liking to one pompom of Joe Pye weed by the riding ring. I can’t help but take its consistency as a sign. What that sign is, I haven’t yet figured out, but that hardly seems to be the point.

Showers have never felt so good as when I’m covered in dirt and paint. That gnawing ache in my calves and the heaviness of my eyes lets me know I’ve done a hard day’s work. More so, anyway, than the ringing in my ears after locking eyes for eight hours with a screen. That off-kilter dizziness I tend to carry has gone away in a few short days. I’ve given up all notions of getting “real work” done in favor of accomplishing the essentials. At our new place, there will need to be a place to sleep, to eat, to write. There will need to be electricity and water and gas to heat the home that one day of the year it dips below sixty. They are not existential questions. They are practical necessities. Those things I can manage.

Soon enough, the dread of where am I going, where have I been will creep back in and I will likely revert to my old, worrisome self. But for the moment, getting the house in order represents a ritualistic cleansing that blissfully fulfills me.

I’m Afraid to Read My High School Journals

I came home from a bad weekend. You know the kind—restless, slow, and somehow exhausting. Every so often, I waste a whole weekend agonizing over every decision I’ve ever made. I question whether I have one smidgen of talent and contemplate giving up altogether. So I came home from one of those weekends to find them lying by the front door: my high school journals.

I thought at first it must be a sick joke. I’d been thinking about them lately and semi hoping I’d never see them again. But no. There they were, double-wrapped and pristine as though cryogenically sealing my embarrassing teenage mind. For whatever reason, my high school first sent them to my dad, who then had one of his secretaries forward them to me. I haven’t spoken to my father in months, so there was the initial pang of seeing a package from him, but that’s another story.

old journals

You have to know something about the atmosphere in which I wrote these journals. The school I went to, nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, made up of half boarders and half day students, sent us on intense backpacking trips. Not day hikes through manicured woods, but weeklong treks through the Sierras, each one of us carrying 40-pound packs on our backs. We’d spend days hiking from one campsite to another, coming up with games to keep our minds occupied and off the blisters on our feet. Did we all have drug problems to warrant a tech-free, toilet-free week in nature? No. Were we privileged? Very.

Toward the end of the trip, we’d have anywhere from a few hours to a full day left alone to self-reflect in solitude. Because we were still in school after all, we’d have our journals to write in and prompts to address. And because I was one of those straight-A types who couldn’t turn down extra credit if I wanted to, I answered those prompts like there was some right answer.

Where do you see yourself in four years when you receive this journal?

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Because I wanted to get an 4.0 GPA in life, naturally I wanted to graduate early from the best college, be a lawyer, make lots of money, and change the world. I was sixteen at the time, so you can imagine how little I knew. How could I know that by 24 I’d end up living with the love of my life, broke, and scared shitless? If my life had gone according to plan, I’d be alone by now—conventionally successful, possibly—but very much alone. I know now better than I did then that you can only plan and prepare so much before those expectations get in the way of living. These days, I exist one hundred percent outside of my comfort zone and hopefully stronger for it.

Still, there’s something unsettling about revisiting the dreams I used to have. I distinctly remember feeling insincere as I wrote them. As I wrote down everything I hoped to achieve in my too-perfect script, something felt off. My own words read like a rigid instruction manual. I couldn’t relax and write something honest even if it was just for my eyes only. I remember feeling sad about that, that I couldn’t be comfortable with myself. I remember being aware of that much but unequipped with the tools or experience to do anything about it.

red and black journals

To clarify, I did not have a great time in high school. A straight-A student, student government president, and conventionally pretty, most people probably assumed I had all my shit together. The truth is I felt more like an anxious butterball of fear and self-loathing. Or, who knows! Maybe they saw right through my polished veneer to the lonely little dweeb I really was.

As of today, I’ve strayed so far from that little dweeb’s plans. I’m not braving a lucrative, demanding corporate career until I finally decide to call myself a writer. I’m leaping into that right now with no money and no concrete plan. Maybe there’s some small part of me that worries my little me might be right. Maybe I should have settled into something more stable and put away my dreams for when I had a retirement plan and a responsible amount of savings to fall back on.

I’ll admit it feels weird to be threatened by my younger self. That naïve, arrogant girl who thinks SAT scores actually matter? That’s not me. That must be some other girl. I feel sorry for her. I don’t envy her in the same way I hope to look back ten years from now and not envy current myself. I guess that’s the way it goes if you’re doing anything right.

What do you think, dear reader? Should I read my old high school journals or not? Or, better yet, who cares? I could burn them for symbolic purposes and I’d only be superficially changed. My mind will continue to construct stories that suit me better in the present than they did in the past. The hard part is pretending my old mindset doesn’t still have a hold on my new one.