Sometimes, when I see an impactful film or hear a song that moves me, I feel this big emotion that knocks me on my ass and makes me want to lie down in a dark room. For the sake of this letter, I will call it ‘The Feeling’. A lot of the time The Feeling makes me upset, usually because it makes me feel like the thing I was doing the moment before was insignificant. Other times, it makes me feel like everything in my life is insignificant. When I was younger I would’ve called this Feeling inspiration, and I felt it the most in my pursuit of theatre.
Nothing about pursuing musical theatre in New York City felt natural to me. Moving there after college felt like a gigantic leap. I thought that was normal then, that it would always be hard to move to New York City or that it should be hard when you graduate college. Like some kind of penance towards your future career as an actor. It’s a leap I would identify as “forcing it” now, meaning doing something neither your circumstances or your gut are leading you to do but doing it anyway. I spent 3 years in New York, and most of it was not bad. I found a lot about it kind of magical. Notably, everything that didn’t have to do with theatre. I’m sitting here at work now in Los Angeles, about to go home to my house in South Pasadena with Justin and Eloise (and Zach). Nothing about my life feels forced anymore. No big leaps. Some small ones: starting a clothing brand with Andrea, asking for a raise at work, etc. I prefer it this way.
Today, FINNEAS’ song “Another Year” came on and I felt The Feeling. He sang, “Hurry home, please, I don't belong without you. Your ice-cold feet, write all my songs about you.” At first I thought, ‘wow. sounds like Justin and me. I have cold feet.’ We had just had a conversation about how we both feel we do not belong without each other. I had that deep resonating feeling, like wow, someone else feels this with another person too? The Feeling always starts feeling beautiful. Then, it starts to hurt. I couldn’t figure out where the pain comes from, and the only thing I’m aware of is this sudden need for the artist that made me feel The Feeling to see me and the pain I am in. That feels like the only way to make it stop.
Wanting an artist to see the emotions that I am experiencing over their art is a recurring theme for me. But it goes way beyond want. It feels like a need. Like I might die if they don’t know how I feel about what they did. Being deeply moved over something an artist has done has sent me into dark places in several different instances in my life. I have called it my “obsessions” a few times before, like getting really obsessed with an actor or a singer. It feels like a crush or an attraction to them. I’m sure that’s part of it. But there’s another part of it that feels like something else.
Initially, I believed it was a signal to me, from some higher Source, that I was empathetic and it was eventually going to be used towards something for a bigger Purpose. So every time I felt this feeling, like the first time I watched Call Me By Your Name and I ached so badly I couldn’t focus, I would soothe myself, saying, ‘You will do this someday. You ache for a reason. It’s because you are meant to do that. It hurts now, but it won’t hurt as much later.’ Unfortunately for me, when I left New York because pursuing acting as a career became unbearable, I couldn’t hang on to this belief anymore.
I wanted to see what it was like to prioritize my happiness in a more immediate sense, and decided to move where I felt the most good. Back home in LA, I started to feel happier. Except for when I felt The Feeling. At home in LA I decided to cope with it by AVOIDING. You want to see a meaningful movie with Frances McDormand? Let’s watch Tangled instead. You want to start Breaking Bad together? How about we rewatch The Office. You want to listen to the new Phoebe Bridgers album? Cool, I’m going to leave the room and listen to Snoh Aalegra so loud that I can’t hear what you’re listening to.
This worked until last May, when I decided to watch a TV series based off of a book I loved. I knew it would likely ignite The Feeling, but I didn’t like the idea of controlling my life this much. I also believed I was healthier now and was tired of putting up borders and walls in order to maintain homeostasis. It was a rainy day anyway, I thought, I’m going to be melancholy either way. When I finished the series, I told myself, ‘You are not going to go there. You do not need to go there. You are healthier now. You will learn how to bear This Feeling instead of letting it send you into the depths.’ The week after I watched the series I felt the most worthless I had ever felt in my life.
I didn’t even realize this was possible. I didn’t know I could feel more worthless than I did when I was pursuing acting in New York. I realized, in New York I still believed there was a chance I would find my way as an actor in the future, even when I was failing. In times of hopelessness, I could still soothe myself saying, ‘maybe this will all still work out someday, and I will tell this story about how hard it was. Maybe people will feel inspired to keep going.’ Now, in May in Los Angeles, pursuing a different career and piecing together a life outside of acting, I didn’t have that hope anymore. I had no mantra to tell myself. That week, after waking up in the middle of the night believing that my life was completely and utterly worthless and feeling genuinely afraid, I called a psychiatrist to ask for help. I didn’t want to feel worthless anymore. In this season, I decided, maybe The Feeling is not a greater signal to me of my personal significance, maybe it is a chemical imbalance in my brain.
I told my psychiatrist about The Feeling, about the boundaries and the walls I put up to avoid it, and she gave me a prescription. That same week I got a new job and Andrea and I had our first meeting to start Street Grandma. Soon, I didn’t feel like I had to put up so many walls in order to feel stable. I noticed I didn’t have to work as hard to maintain homeostasis. I had a creative outlet and a job that made me tired enough that I stopped living inside my brain so much. But when my coworker played Phoebe Bridgers, I still left the room.
Ever since that month in May, I’ve felt my life get better and better. I’ve said on multiple accounts that I feel happier and more stable than I have ever felt in my life. My friends and family tell me I’m more present. Sometimes on my commute to work I feel so happy I could cry. And it isn’t followed by pain. So today, when I experienced ‘The Feeling’, I thought, ‘what exactly the fuck am I supposed to do with this now?’ I tried to slow down my thoughts. I observed myself. I noticed I went back to old tendencies, thinking, ‘Fuck, maybe I love FINNEAS and need to uproot my life to be with him. No, that’s not it. Maybe I need him to love ME. No. Maybe I need to go home and try to start writing songs again.’ I don’t even enjoy writing songs.
I don’t have any answers right now, but I think I have a lead on what one might be. When I get The Feeling, I will stop. I won’t write a song. I won’t write a play. I won’t practice acting a monologue. I will not do art out of a compulsion to make my life more meaningful. Why? Because my life is already meaningful. Sure I will write a song if I WANT to, or a play if I feel inspired to or curious. But not need. Not compulsion. I will not accept the belief that my life is meaningless UNLESS I do x. My life is meaningful for no reason other than because it is my life.
Also, this week I finally listened to Phoebe Bridger’s album Punisher and it is great. No breakdowns in sight. I think watching meaningful acting performances and not feeling a compulsive need to prove my worth may take a little bit longer, but that is okay with me.