When I was in high school I had a drama teacher who was wonderful to me. She encouraged my dreams and nurtured my talent, ultimately helping me get into art school. We still keep in touch, 9 years later. I worry that I am a disappointment to her. After all, she’s a published author and playwright. She has two beautiful children and is still involved in the acting world. She was one of the very few adults in my life who supported me, and I let her down many times over.
She gave me the best advice- both for acting and for life- that I’ve ever received. I was doing a play directed by her in which I played a character that was upset. I don’t remember which play it was, as I did several with her and I always played upset characters. You see, I can cry on command, and that makes me valuable for a very specific role. Especially in high school. Anyway, so I was playing a character that was upset, but there was a problem: I couldn’t stop laughing at one particular line. I tried, but it was no use. The line was funny and I couldn’t say it without laughing aloud.
I went to my teacher after rehearsal. I was so frustrated and I needed her advice. I take acting seriously, and I took it seriously then. I probably took it more seriously in high school when I believed that I was going to be an Actor and everything I did mattered. I explained my situation: my character was supposed to cry three lines later, but I couldn’t help but laugh. How do I make myself not laugh at something that is funny? It’s so much worse when you know you’re not supposed to laugh. Then what was once mildly amusing becomes hilarious.
She told me, “Whatever you’re feeling is the correct thing to feel.” That changed my life.
With acting it gave me freedom I’d never had before. With this specific situation, it meant that just because my character laughed, it didn’t mean she was happy. I could turn that laughter into tears more easily than if I were to try and not laugh and then try to cry. With every subsequent character, it allowed me to give them more humanity. When I played a little girl dying of cancer who so desperately wanted to be an astronaut, it let me use the fear I felt for my own bleak future. When I played a frazzled receptionist, I was able to take the stress of my life and bring it out in panicked typing and phone calls. It is the first thing I think of when I portray a character, and it was my first insight into method acting.
It gives me a certain freedom in life as well. I don’t know if any of you remember that really stupid Comedy Central movie from 2002, Porn ‘n’ Chicken, but there’s a philosophical line that goes, “If you want to eat a pizza, eat a pizza.” (Side note, stupidity aside, I love that movie.) It’s the same thing. Basically, it gives my emotions validation. If I’m happy, then it is correct to be happy, even if no one else around me is happy or if the person I’m with tells me that I’m “really annoying” when I’m happy. If I’m sad, I have every right to be sad. It doesn’t matter if other people think I should be over my dad’s death by now, or if other people view something as good news but I don’t. Whatever I’m feeling is the correct thing to feel.
Day before yesterday I got a letter from my college. It kind of hit me that I’m going to college next fall. I’m moving to a new state and I am going to college. My sister and her whole family jumped up and down and cheered. My coworker brought me flowers and chocolate. I have cried myself to sleep two nights in a row. I have cried in the car. I have cried in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a car, in a tree, in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse . . . you get the idea.
You see, when I was a teenager and all of my classmates were going off to college, I was jealous. I didn’t know how to go to school and all of the people in my life who should’ve been supportive were not. For 9 years I have struggled just to go to school. Now that I’m going to a shitty 2-year school with the hope of transferring, I am upset. Yes, I want to go to school. Yes, I want to move in with my sister. Yes, I want to be a teacher. Yes, all of this is good. But I am upset because it all should’ve happened a long time ago. I had big dreams and the brains and grades to match, but I was missing the biggest piece of the success puzzle: a support network. It’s not fucking fair and if I want to be upset about it, then I’ll be upset about it.
I have a solid support network now. They’re just not biologically related to me. I love them so much and I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am. But I wish the family I was born with had been the family I deserve.