The Actor in the Back of the Coffee Shop

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“It’s just different from what I’m used to,” says the fussy lady in the coffee shop across from me, as she slams down the delicately crafted Matcha latte in front on the barista.  “If you had sweetened it the first time, I would have liked it.”  She wavers between a demanding tea connoisseur and someone who has never interacted with a food establishment before. Luckily, I know the people who work here, and will be able to share a glance of what a pain in the ass when she leaves.  Also luckily for me, she has no idea that I’m sitting here like the opposite of a secret shopper, writing about her unwarranted indignation about what is essentially a cup of hot sugar.

So yeah, not in a super-social mood lately.  Yesterday I told Ben that I would feel much more comfortable with a standard acting career acting if I could make one major change–to remain as introverted and secluded as an actor as I get to be as a writer. I know how to get my thoughts out, how to get to the point of what I want to say, when I sit in a public place with my laptop and write.  Here, I have the societal understanding that no one should mess with me because I’m clearly writing something super-duper important. This, paired with my intimidating resting face, usually assures my privacy.  Fussy tea lady is a reminder that I’m not exactly ready to dive into being a social butterfly to flaunt my acting career.  I used to have a thicker skin for people like this, or at least I thought I had to have one in order to stick with the types of jobs and interactions necessary for a public-facing career.

There is a good deal of privacy, at times, in acting however.  On stage, it’s often said you are being private in public. But the difference is that you have a room full of people staring at you when you work through these experiences. I know, it sounds like acting shouldn’t be up my alley.  But it is, I have no doubt of that, I’ve just been hiding inside my actor-hiatus writer/full-time office job bubble for way too long.  Jumping back into auditioning makes me feel like I have to read an overly edited first draft in front of a row of serious people taking notes.  This isn’t the final product!  We’d have to work together to see that.  This audition layout is silly!  On top of this, and perhaps more importantly, you have to remain a peppy, marketable human being throughout.  And although I’ve successfully played the, “super non-threatening and agreeable girl who wears a lot of floral patterns” for years, I’m running out of patience with it.

As many of you know, I’ve been mysteriously sick for a little over two months now.  And after my doctor ruled out basically everything, I’m doing all I can do now–making guesses. My current guess, which seems to be the winner of the week, is that something is up with my adrenal glands after too many years of underlying stress.  A lot of people have been asking me if this came out of the blue, to which I’ve said, “Oh no no no no, I’ve had unexplainable issues for years but they weren’t big enough to fuss this much about until now.”  Just take a look at how many blog posts I have about burning out and being unexplainably sick.  To try and remedy this, I’ve removed as many stressors as possible until I get better–mainly exhausting situations and inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy.  I stay in a lot and eat basic proteins like nuts and fruit.  So basically I’m an anti-social squirrel.

The good thing about this weird illness is that it’s significantly lowered my BS levels.  Without the energy to do anything but the bare minimum, I don’t have the drive to be the sugary, accommodating person I worked so hard to be while flopping between the self-marketing world of acting and the anxious world of corporate temping.  One world seeks out social bravery, creativity, individualism, the other one fears it. But I don’t have time to care about either side of the coin right now.  What’s left of me is a tired, overly direct person in a coffee shop glaring at a fussy tea lady (who is now cleaning her whole table with small, potent anti-bacterial wipes).

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So where do I go from here?  I’m stuck between missing theatre so much that my bones hurt, and feeling like I don’t have an ounce of energy to conform to the two social worlds that will keep my pursuit afloat.

When I was little, my older sister used to tease me by saying that I would someday go off the deep end as an actor and just start a cat puppet show to perform for myself (we get along a bit better nowadays).  Maybe her feisty ten-year-old teasing foresaw my adult dilemma.  How do you survive as a public artist when you:

A. only thrive while creating in a private space

and B. have difficulty handling the financial and social pressures necessary for living in an economy stacked against artists?

I really enjoyed this recent article by teacher Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, who makes the case for teaching actors to develop personalized, fulfilling skills to either financially support their acting careers, or as a place to go when they find acting is not serving them.  The “surviving” lesson–to work in flexible jobs that may or may not kill your creative soul in the process–is not plausible, or a responsible lesson to teach anymore.  That is the biggest takeaway from six years of debilitating (literally) financial stress all in the name of art.  It sounds valiant to be a “starving artist,” but what is left of an artist who has beaten themselves down?   Maybe they could have been funneling their rare, creative energy and theatre-trained attitude toward something more helpful for both themselves and their communities.

Rar!  I don’t enjoy that so many of my blog posts have been full of rage recently, but I do feel like I’m getting somewhere.  I don’t want to be the socially pushy tea lady, yelling at baristas because she’s clearly unhappy about something in her life. People like this seem to be unaffected by the messages of those around them. But people like me, who are overly affected by the social energy in their environment, can end up in the back of the coffee shop judging them.  Beats me what the answer is.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep up this anti-social squirrel act, drink my camomile tea, and enjoy my precious free time to sit in cozy places that let me write.

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2 thoughts on “The Actor in the Back of the Coffee Shop

  1. I enjoyed your most-recent blog and wonder what you might have written had you observed my outburst the other day as I rushed into Starbuck’s to get a cup of coffee (dark roast, no room) as I headed for the golf course. I was running late, and to add to my frustration was told I would have to wait for the dark roast to be brewed. I told the female barista that this was the third time this week (and it was!) that I had to “wait” for the dark roast to be brewed. I was not very polite with her and my tone and comments were snarky at best. I added that in case she didn’t notice, it’s a COFFEE shop! and I can’t understand why dark roast is never available. I did not wait for the dark roast and survived the morning with the a less-masculine blend.

    As is often the case, my impatience eclipses common sensibilities and results in emotional, thoughtless responses. Also, as often is the case, I make amends. I returned the next day to offer an apology to the young lady and left a generous tip, but only after I ordered and received a large dark roast, no room.

    On more important note, I am sorry you are not feeling well. I hope Autumn will bring better days for you.

    Jules

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    • Hi Jules! Thanks for reading and for your good thoughts! I’m starting to feel a little better day by day. Fingers crossed it keeps improving. And that was great you went back to chat with the barista! I remember when I worked at a coffee shop in NYC years ago, we would hold off on brewing certain brews on slower days. I bet that was it. Have a wonderful rest of your week!!

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