Gratitude Unplugged [RANT]

This started out as a post about how I got my gratitude back through an exercise I created for myself. (I needed my gratitude back, because I’d been feeling the need to cash in my “get out of LA free” ring lately.) I came up with a way back to gratitude and — after only two days at it — I was already sure it was worth sharing.

So I started drafting the post, thinking of how much of the specifics I wanted to share (you’ll see why, later), and then got bombarded with another round of my very very very least favorite email blasts (and it’s tough to be at the top of that list, as a lot of email blasts annoy me — failure to use BCC for big lists of strangers, refusal to reply-all when emailing a team about a project, obtaining my email address to inquire about casting services and then signing that address up for some un-opt-out-able newsletter). These blasts happen every year around this time. If you have a friend who coaches actors, edits demo reels, or shoots headshots, you’ve likely seen the emails.

Could you vote for me in the Backstage reader poll? It just takes a few minutes and I’d really appreciate it.

No, “Hi. How are you? I noticed you’ve been busy doing X, Y, and Z. That looks really cool.” Nothing but a blast to everyone in the address book (“You don’t have to even be in the industry! Just click this link and vote for me!”) pandering. Campaigning. Begging.

GROSS.

But wait, there’s more email. It’s a barrage of notifications from LinkedIn. Now, I don’t know who advised actors to start joining LinkedIn this year, but in 2011 my years-old LinkedIn account (seriously, I joined in like 2003, right after I signed up for Friendster, I think) has grown exponentially thanks to actors looking to connect. But not just connect… they’ve been told (I’m guessing, because it’s happening so uniformly) to ask anyone who knows their work to write a recommendation for ’em at their LinkedIn profile.

Could you write a recommendation of my quality of work for my LinkedIn profile? I auditioned for you before. I’d really appreciate it.

*thud*

Think it through, folks.

Our industry is not what LinkedIn was made for. And recommendations of your work need to come from people for whom you have worked. If you auditioned for me and I never cast you, never sent you to producers, never called you back, never called you back in for other auditions, THINK ABOUT WHAT I WOULD POSSIBLY HAVE TO SAY IN A RECOMMENDATION OF YOUR WORK!

Joe is an actor. He read for me once in 2003 for a $25,000-budget feature film. According to my notes, he was a non-pro, needed training, didn’t look like his headshot, and had prepared the wrong sides. I gave him another shot on a webseries in 2007. He hadn’t improved. His headshots were better, though.

And if I did cast you, you didn’t work for me! Your on-set experience is best reviewed by someone who shared the set with you. All I can say is that you did well enough in an audition for a role for which you were the right type to earn a callback and then an offer for the role came after the producer approved it. That I’m a fan of your work means you’ll get called in again and again. Our system isn’t at all similar to corporate America in terms of references, where you need a letter of recommendation from me in order to get seen by a bigger, better casting director. Being seen by anyone — consistently — is its own reward, here, because you’ll continue to be cast for decades. That is your performance review. Your letter of recommendation. Your endorsement.

Oh, and if I could write a blurb about someone who’s begging for votes in the Backstage reader poll, maybe this would be accurate:

Sally is a headshot photographer whose work is often poorly lit, but she charges less than most folks, and she makes sure her subjects “have fun,” so they keep going to her. She asked for these votes at Backstage because she knows being mentioned in your reader poll is more valuable (and more affordable) than buying ad space. Because her subjects only really need a few REALLY GREAT headshots, even though most of hers are not awesome, I suppose she does get the job done. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Now, before you get all helpful and tell me that I will always get emails asking for votes and reviews because I (a) have an email account and (b) let folks link to me on LinkedIn, or defend these campaigners by calling them proactive or saying it’s cool that they’re unwilling to sit back and wait to be praised, I get it. I do. And I’m the kind of gal who was always runner-up to everything in school. Student council president? The faculty advisor named me liaison as a consolation for how many dang votes I got (without campaigning), because my ideas were so good. President of the literary club? Nope. Vice prez. I was president of the drama club, but that was appointed by the outgoing steering committee, not voted upon by the masses. I was second-highest vote-getter in the “most talented” category in the yearbook’s senior superlatives. Runner-up, runner-up, runner-up.

I’ve been named four times in the Backstage reader poll since it launched in 2006… without ever asking for a vote. Never won anything, just got honorable mentions and runner-up status. (And that’s a serious compliment, just the same. I do not look down my nose at these things. They’re really cool. Being named behind Nikki Finke for “best industry read” and among the legends of casting, ever, is delightful and unexpected. I just think asking to be named is tacky, tacky, tacky. I’m letting you know that’s a part of my makeup as a human being, for context, as you read this blog entry and want to try and tell me to get over myself. I’ve tried. I cannot. I will not be the kind of person who campaigns for votes.)

As I close off the above parenthetical, I’m thinking about Melissa Leo and her campaign for an Oscar, earlier this year. She — instead of waiting for her agents or the studio to put out full-page ads in the trades about why her performance in The Fighter deserved an Oscar — put out ads of her own (at great expense). We talked about this on THE WORK, and I remember thinking how ballsy and confident she is, to have done that. And it worked (or, if it didn’t work, it sure as shit didn’t hurt, since she won).

Yeah, as much as I admire her, that ain’t me. I do think I’m great. I’ve written before about my ego and narcissism and listing myself as my own hero, back in the MySpace profile days. So, believing I am worth stellar reviews, fan mail, or unconditional love is not the issue.

And since I’m not sure what the issue really is — (Do I find it tacky when people ask to be reviewed or voted upon? Yes. Do I find it annoying that folks I otherwise never hear from will reach out when I can do a favor for them? Yes. Do I believe that those who do stellar work will be singled out and rewarded for it, irrespective of asking for attention? Yes.) — I guess I’ll keep bumping up against this issue and struggling with the fairness of it all.

I really do believe, if you’re doing something awesome, people will notice. And they will say so. And you will be rewarded for your good work.

But I also believe, if you’re loving what you’re doing, it’s not about the fucking notice or rewards.

Hmm… so maybe that’s why it so rubs me the wrong way. I’m receiving emails from people who maybe don’t do what they do because they love it. They do it because, through it, they can get more customers or more fans or more money and then get to what they really want to do in life. Is the reason this shit flies all over me and makes me so crabby because I’m actually just witnessing people who aren’t living their dreams, doing whatever it takes to break through to the level that lets them do what I’m already doing? (That’d be living my dreams, daily.)

Or am I jealous that I don’t have the balls to say, “Fuck you. Judge me all you want. I’m going to go out and ask that you vote for me or review my book or subscribe to my podcast or Netflix a movie I cast or donate to a movie I’m trying to cast because — even if I rub a few people the wrong way — maybe I’ll actually get something out of it as a result.”

Nah. I don’t think that’s about balls. Mainly, I don’t think that’s about balls because as I typed those words I scrunched my face up like I was smelling day-old vomit. It’s just distasteful to me to even consider being that kind of person. Or the kind of person who acts like they’re NOT that kind of person, but then says to fans, “Oh, I’ve been asked if I’d accept votes in the poll. Of course! *blush* You’re all too kind,” which is just a marketing ploy more transparent and bullshit-filled than squeeze pages or those, “Oops! Thanks for the heads up! The discount link isn’t working. Here’s a new link. And since thousands of you reported problems with that link, we’ll extend the discount for another 24 hours,” blasts. It’s all designed to drum up business.

And I don’t like any of that shit, no matter how much money it yields.

Yes. I read that statement. I realize I may be preventing myself from getting to as much prosperity as is out there for me, by being allergic to the shilling, but I’m not alone. Colleen Wainwright brilliantly wrote about this recently, we discussed it as a sub-topic of misogyny in Hollywood on the podcast, and it’s been a topic of conversation in several of my “power chicks” debates lately. Y’see, at the Facebook on January 1st, I posted a leading status update:

And my own answer to “2011 is the year I…” was/is “buy a house!”

I’m nowhere close to that, due to down payment issues (since the mortgage on a house would be less than our current rent, seeing as beach living has its price), although we are up against that thinnest line. So nowhere close to that that I’m actually huddling with Team Cricket Feet about how to even print the next run of the 3rd edition of Self-Management for Actors (of which there are exactly 34 copies in our possession, right now).

A brilliant co-conspirator suggested a Kickstarter or Indie-Go-Go-like campaign, asking for lovers of SMFA3 to pledge five bucks here or there to try and make sure there will ever be a fourth edition (because, truth be told, we really saw ourselves being a tier or two beyond this one by now, when printing SMFA3 in late 2008. That it’s sold very well is a huge bit of awesome. That we didn’t put aside money for printing more copies — because it’s not time to print the fourth edition ’til we’re on the other side of the Wild West era in this industry [that’s ’til AFTRA and SAG have merged, ’til the Streamy Awards are more than three years old, and ’til concurrent release upon theatrical and VOD platforms has been settled out] — means we’re now hustling to try and keep the book folks love out there). If it goes out of print, we’re screwed trying to reintroduce a 4th edition to stores that love to stock us, today. (Welcome to indie publishing woes.) And we need the money the book brings in each month! So, smart folks around us suggested that we campaign to get funding for a small print run of SMFA3 to keep us afloat for a year (basically $5K by June).

I can’t. I just fucking cant.

Because I believe that people who got free or discounted copies of my book, but who find so much value in it that they could justify donating simply will. Or they’ll buy copies for their alma mater. Or they’ll write a review on Amazon. Or the money will just come because we’re doing such good work and I believe life works like that.

I know. I’m delusional.

The point is, I’ve found myself in a big long run of crankypants lately. Big. And I blame my own blocks (of course), our financial situation (duh), and this seemingly constant barrage of emails about ways in which I can support others. Yes, social networking tools are awesome! But we’re reaching a time in which they are abused. The “be my fan,” “like my page,” “follow me,” “vote for me” noise is getting so thick that — even having unplugged so fully from all but the tiniest core group of folks at the Facebook — I am overwhelmed. Hundreds of emails a day as it is. I get that. That’s not going to stop for me. I’m accessible and I *do* give back, so I’ll continue to be asked to do so.

But what happened to “you inspire me, so I wrote a nice review of your book,” or, “your column is so great, so I wrote to the owner of the site to tell him you deserve a raise,” or, “just… thank you” in our world?

Those types of emails used to pepper the mountain of “help me,” “vote for me,” “review me,” “donate to me,” mail in a way that made me remember the big picture: That it’s not about what anyone can do for anyone else; it’s about being of service, and if there’s something wonderful that comes of it, that’s a byproduct of having lived a happy, fulfilling life. That I would do it all for free (because I would) and that the thanks is out there, even if it’s a whisper compared to the shouting that is the throbbing toothache of need to which we’re all exposed.

(Oh, and in a very Bonnie-like move, I pulled an old journal from 1998 and saw that I’m doing now exactly what was at the core of what I said I wanted to do — or would do if money were no issue — back in my “I’m dropping out of my PhD program, selling everything I own on eBay, and moving back to Los Angeles to give acting one more shot before I wake up 40 wondering ‘what if’ about my life” phase. Life’s cool like that, huh?)

My point… dear GAWD, woman, get to the point! You’ve said “point is” or “my point” a half-dozen times, it seems.

I realize I must be in a bad way because I keep seeing stuff I’m not loving and I keep reacting strongly to it. I’m a huge believer that our lives are made up of exactly the lens through which we look and nothing else. Right now, my lens is smudged and dirty. So, I started engaging in a gratitude exercise a week ago.

Because I’m not connected with as many folks on Facebook as I used to be, because I don’t like filling my Twitter stream with lots of direct replies, because I’m seriously contemplating just shutting down my LinkedIn profile altogether due to what it has become in my life, because blogging has become a now-and-then big-ass post activity rather than the daily dose of me that it used to be, I had to get resourceful about how I could do another gratitude experiment, easily.

Of course. Email.

So, just like back in the days of the “gratitude journal” (when, before bed each night, I would list in my bedside journal five things for which I was grateful, no matter how hard the exercise might be on any particular day), I now send one last email before calling it a night. It’s the last thing I do, so I go to bed in a place of gratitude. I think of people in my life and choose that night’s recipient.

The email is simple. It’s short. It’s just a thank you. I don’t do it on a Facebook wall because I don’t need a dozen LIKES to make me feel like I did a good thing. Yes, even writing here about the fact that I am doing it feels a little icky, except for the fact that I’m seeing so many people complaining about being in low places lately that I think this thing that’s fixing me — slowly, and sweetly — might fix you too, if you’d like to try it. I’m all about sharing my toys, and I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s not about replies or “you’re welcome” or an angle or anything other than appreciation… and getting my worldview to be a little more pleasant. I’ll continue to do this every night ’til I run out of people for whom I am grateful. I figure that means an email a night forever.

No, this nightly practice won’t stop the LinkedIn review requests, the “vote for me” blasts, the non-BCC emails, or the “you don’t know me but I’ve signed you up for my newsletter” crap, but maybe it’ll make me a more pleasant recipient of such things.

If it also happens to help me remove blocks to my own prosperity?

BONUS.

But really, all I want is to let folks know they’re appreciated (quietly, without fanfare, with no agenda) while appreciating that 99% of my life is beyond-my-wildest-dreams awesome, rather than fixating on a niggling 1% that seems particularly inflamed right now for some reason.

I think there’s something to that study about social networking and depression. Since negativity already spreads like a virus if you let it, it takes concerted effort to really filter to only the good stuff that social networking provides us. Especially for those of us sensitive critters who (obviously) can let something silly stick in their craw and cause productivity and creativity to slow way down.

Because the bitching, the whining, the eye-rolling even when no one is around? That shit has to stop. Right now.

And if the gratitude experiment doesn’t do the trick one particular moment? There’s always PUPPY CAM. And my new favorite TV show, The Voice.

I don’t care how silly the “pick me up” may be. Find one. Find ten. Use ’em. Get grateful. Because when in the downs, we’re not helping anyone. Most especially not ourselves!

Oh, and because the barrage of email I hate is what got me to this point (finally, in this long-ass, rambling post), I am grateful for it. Because each dose of something I don’t like is a lovely reminder of the thousands of doses of kajillions of things that I do like that are constantly flowing into my life.

If I’ll just see ’em.

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