Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

When I walk into the callback, twenty-four women who look just like me turn around to stare.

Their eyes size me up, deciding if I’m a threat.

Most are in their late twenties and early thirties. Most have long, blonde hair and are dressed to fit the character description of the “platonic best friend.” (Not too sexy, minimal makeup, causal t-shirt.)

I take a breath and walk over to the sign-in sheet.

I’ve been auditioning in Los Angeles for seven years and this part never gets any easier.

I glance around again and lock eyes with a woman who gives me the “I’m-going-to-be-nice-but-I-hope-you-fail-miserably-in-there-so-I-get-the-part” smile.

I smile back and notice her feet. Damn. We’re wearing the same shoes.

I plop down on a white leather couch and learn they are running an hour-and-a-half late.

Oh good.

That gives me an-hour-and-a-half to silently compare myself to every woman in the room.

I feel the nerves start to rise and pull out my phone to try and distract myself. Five minutes into Facebook stalking old classmates, I’m interrupted by the woman wearing my shoes. She is loudly explaining how many times she has been in to see these producers.

When the casting director comes out to call another name she OMGs to him about last weekend when they were out together and had a THE BEST TIME EVER at “Trunks” – a gay bar in West Hollywood.

I turn to the woman on my right, hoping to share a sympathetic smile but she is buried in her script – mouthing lines and making sure that the rest of see how diligent she is. She has no time for chitchat but she does have time to subtly remind us that she deserves this more because she is a serious actor.

She is also wearing my glasses.

The final straw comes when a tall, willowy woman walks in wearing a button-up silk blouse, four-inch heels, and no pants.

NO PANTS.

And I don’t mean she is wearing a shirt that could be considered a dress with leggings and the right pair of boots.

No. The shirt she is wearing can only be considered a shirt.

I can’t handle it anymore. I stand up, slip past the pantsless woman, and escape outside. I breathe in the fresh air and plop down beside a girl with brown hair, different shoes, and no glasses.

She is also wearing pants.

It immediately makes me feel better.

She is nice and we spend the rest of the session commiserating about the painful process of auditioning in Los Angeles. By the end, we agree to get coffee.

It’s the best thing that comes out of the callback.

Later, as I walked off the studio lot, trying not to beat myself up for not being skinnier/prettier/younger/funnier/more-what-they-were-looking-for, I decided I needed a change.

Something big that would make me feel different. Less like everyone in that room and more like myself.

Which is how I found myself, a few weeks later, sitting in front of my hair stylist asking him to, “Just cut it off.”

I had arrived armed with photos of women from Pinterest who managed to look feminine and sexy with short hair, half convinced that with their exact haircut I would also get their perfect skin and flawless bodies.

Halfway through the cut, I was starting to look a little Justin Bieber-y and began to have doubts. My stylist smiled reassuringly.

“Coco Chanel said that ‘A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life’.”

I closed my eyes and hoped it was true.

I was ready for that kind of change. For seven years I have tried to fit into any mold this industry wanted – always ready to be whoever they needed me to be.

And maybe I got a little lost in all of it.

I have spent so much time being everywoman I forgot to be myself.

After the cut, I stood in front of the mirror, shocked and thrilled with the results. Had I just taken the last step away from my acting career? Or had I shifted the paradigm? (Or, more likely than either one, would nobody really care?)

The next day I bumped into an actress friend of mine.

“Wow. I really like your hair.”

I beamed at her.

We were wearing the same shoes.

But I didn’t even care.

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Royals

When I was seven-years-old I convinced myself I was secretly a princess.

I imagined that my real parents were royalty who had left me in the country to be raised by ‘good solid people’ so I’d learn the value of hard work.

I would dream about the day they would come to get me – their limousines kicking up dust on the long stretch of gravel road to our farm, their obscure foreign flags whipping in the wind. I imagined how I would nobly insist that my farm-parents join me in my new kingdom, as they were the only parents I’d ever known.

As I got older my dream slowly faded as I realized I looked too much like my parents to deny them paternity. What didn’t fade though – what has stuck with me my entire life – was the sense, that just around the corner something amazing was about to happen.

Last week, the dust settled around the wedding and I turned my attention back to chasing that feeling. Lately, rather than excite me, my dreams have seemed to loom over me, nebulous and unreachable. Feelings of excitement to write my next script or work on my next project lie buried beneath anxiety and frustration that I’m still not all the way to the top.

When I explained these feelings to Jason between a ‘House Of Cards’ marathon, he says what he usually says when I am standing on the corner of Panic and Feeling-Sorry-For-Myself.

‘You know we have a saying in Buddhism – “

I interrupted him to roll my eyes but he ignored me and continued.

“We say, ‘Abandon hope.’”

I blinked at him for a second thinking that that was the meanest thing he’d ever said to me.

“I mean, instead of focusing on the top of the mountain and wondering why you’re not there, you should focus on the path that leads there. Forget about the success, abandon it for happiness.”

Forget about success, abandon it for happiness.

I turned that over in my head for days. The more I thought about it the more it terrified me. What would I have if I let go of my anxiety and constant worry over my career? What would fill that hole?

My identify is so tied to constantly striving for something just out of my reach it feels a little bit empty to imagine life without it.

For a long time here in Los Angeles, I’ve felt that if I wasn’t struggling I wasn’t really doing it – wasn’t really pursuing my dream as hard as I could.

In this town, there seems to be a general feeling that if you aren’t immeasurably unhappy in your day-to-day life you don’t deserve success. If you haven’t lived in the worst apartment or worked at the most depressing job or cried over a bottle of Chardonnay while watching re-runs of “Will and Grace” then somehow it’s just not going to happen for you.

We wear the struggle like a battle scar to prove just how badly we want this.

But I’m getting tired of the struggle. Not the pursuit of my dream, but of putting my happiness on hold until it happens. Because by that logic, the only way to be happy is either to achieve my wildest goals or give up.

I don’t want to do either.

Since the day I’d imagined my secret royal family coming to get me in North Dakota I have believed that somewhere, just past the horizon, there’s something incredible waiting for me.

Maybe there is. Or more terrifying, maybe there isn’t.

Either way, I don’t want to spend my entire life waiting to be happy.

I may not be a secret princess but there is still so much to be happy about right now.

(Unless you are a Queen just remembering you left your daughter on a farm in North Dakota. If so, please disregard above and email me.)

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Married

Last week I got married.

The days leading up to the wedding were filled with last minute details, welcoming people to Palm Springs, and worrying about the 100+ degree temperatures.

I was so focused on making sure every potted plant made it to the venue and protecting myself from unwanted tan lines that I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on the real reason 170 of our closest friends and family had descended on Palm Springs.

No time, until the night before the wedding.

That night, my mom and I left the Mexican, Mariachi-band-filled rehearsal dinner a bit early and escaped to a peaceful room at a different hotel to spend one last night alone before my life changed forever.

When I closed the door and collapsed on the bed it hit me that there were no more parties to attend or obstacles to overcome to get to the wedding day. There was nothing left for me to focus on except actually getting married and facing that suddenly seemed much more frightening that catering bills or running out of tequila.

I felt my stomach start to turn and my pulse pick up.

I wasn’t nervous at all about the man I was marrying (Jason wanted me to point out) but rather that I was about to do something huge. I was about to make a decision that would change the rest of my life and I was the only person who knew if it was the right decision. It felt exhilarating and terrifying, and a little bit lonely.

Eventually, thanks to pure exhaustion and the comfort of my mom sleeping in the bed next to me, I was able to fall asleep. The next morning I woke up with my mind spinning.

I’d heard people talk about becoming an ‘us’ after marriage but I’d never liked that idea. To me, it seemed to imply that with marriage you lose a part of your identity. And now, I was about to see if that were true.

I tried to drown my anxiety in a pre-wedding carb-load but two croissants, an apple turnover, and a cinnamon role later my stomach was still fluttering.

When we arrived at the venue a few of my close friends and family were there to get ready with me. After a few minutes with them I felt myself relax a bit and by the time I slipped on my dress and snacked on a few last minute Teddy Grahams (the breakfast apparently wasn’t big enough) I was feeling calmer and ready to walk down the aisle.

Outside in the blazing sun, I took my dad’s arm and my mind started spinning again.

As we walked up the steps to the garden, I worried about being hot, I worried that my fake eyelashes were too long, and I worried I should have had fruit for breakfast.

But as soon as we rounded the corner to the garden all of those thoughts flashed out of my mind and finally, finally there was Jason.

During the ceremony, I tried to commit every moment to memory – making sure I would never forget the moment Jason called a piece of Norwegian cookie ‘Swedish’ and my whole family moaned and booed. I tried to embed on my heart the way Jason looked at me when he vowed that he had made a lot of mistakes in life but today he was doing something right.

Near the end of the ceremony our close friend (and pastor) Rachel asked Jason and I to turn around and look out at all the people who had gathered for us.

“In this moment of commitment to each other I want you to remember that though your vows are to each other, you do not go into this just the two of you…You two have found yourself in this moment today because of the years of love and support of all these people…so keep leaning on us, and keep letting us love you.”

I looked out over everyone – North Dakotans, Arizonans, and Californians. Friends who had flown all the way from India and Belgium.

All of these people had come together for us.

I realized then, with the sun shining in my eyes under the swaying palm trees, that I wasn’t just marrying Jason – I was marrying his people. And he was marrying mine.

I didn’t feel afraid anymore and I definitely didn’t feel lonely. My anxiety had melted away like most of my makeup and I felt solid and supported by momentous love that I get to hang on to and lean on for the rest of my life.

When Jason slipped that ring on my finger I felt a surge of joy that I had not just gained a husband, I had gained a tribe.

When we walked back down that aisle, Jason tripping over my dress and me smiling so wide you couldn’t see my eyes, I felt like I had been given a gift – new friends and new family that for the rest of my life I get to know and love.

As Jason and I hugged sweaty, happy friends and family I thought again about becoming an ‘us’. But I realized that maybe that didn’t just mean Jason and I – it meant everyone here.

These people had brought us to this place with their love. They had protected us and helped us our whole lives.

And now, with one simple ceremony in the dessert, we had doubled that love. This group of Lutheran, Buddhist, Norwegian, Mexican, Italian, French friends and family were tied together now.

We were all, Us.

*Photo by The Image is Found Photography* 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Wife

I was never the kind of little girl who played wedding.

My childhood was filled with boy cousins and a brother so I spent most holidays and weekends playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and football.

Once when I was twelve I took home a bridal magazine and cut out a few dresses but after a few hours I got bored, put down my scissors and went outside to climb trees.

All through my twenties I reveled being single. I loved living by myself, making decisions about where and how I lived, and decorating my apartment exactly the way I wanted.

I was lucky enough to be part of many weddings but I never thought much about getting married myself.

Now, with a ring on my finger and the wedding less than two months away, I find myself thinking about it a lot.

When I first got engaged, I was excited. People offered to throw me parties and I got to register for big-ticket gifts – not to mention I was marrying the man of my dreams. But after the initial excitement wore away I started to feel conflicted.

I found myself getting excited about wedding dress shopping and then trying to cover those feelings with an eye roll. I bought seven wedding magazines and then hid them under my bed so I wouldn’t look at them.

I didn’t understand what was happening. Wasn’t this supposed to be a special time in my life full of joy and tulle? Why couldn’t I embrace it?

Then, one day I sat down next to Jason on the couch and asked if he would be willing to take my last name instead of me taking his. He looked at me surprised and slowly put down his book, sensing a trap.

“Well…” he responded cautiously, “I don’t think I want to do that. But you don’t have to take my name either. Why don’t we just both keep our names?”

I sat there for a second, staring at him, then snapped, “That is just totally unfair!” And stormed out of the room.

I flopped down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. I could feel my mind edging around the real issue and finally landed in my brain.

I was struggling to reconcile my independent lifestyle with becoming someone’s wife.

Lately, with all the things swirling around about the politics of women’s bodies, women’s rights, and women’s pay, I felt incredibly protective over my independence.

Especially because, somehow in 2015, I still have to think about fighting for it.

Marriage itself, in its earliest definition, was about trading property – one of those properties being the woman. So why did I want this ceremony in the first place? Why didn’t we just live together for the rest of our lives and make my grandmother’s grey hair go completely white?

Because I still wanted it, that’s why.

Despite my hesitation and feminist ideals, I still wanted to wear the dress and have a party and, most importantly, stand up in front of all my friends and commit to Jason.

Isn’t that what being a modern woman is all about? Getting to live the life you want, even if it’s full of contradictions.

Because the scary truth is, getting married does mean I’m sacrificing some of my independence. But so is Jason. And that’s a choice we are both making in hopes of having something wonderful.

I reached under the bed, pulled out one of those bridal magazines, and walked back out to Jason.

I sat down next to him and stuck my feet under his legs. It didn’t feel suffocating or like I’m somehow I was compromising my ideals.

It just felt nice.

I started flipping through the magazine and after a while glanced over at my future husband.

“Hey, Jason.”

“Yeah?”

“I think I’m going to keep my last name.”

“Okay,” he said and squeezed my knee.

“Okay,” I said, feeling better already.

I flipped another page and then looked up.

“Now what about our kids?”

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Meditation and Me

My fiancé is a Buddhist.

When I first told my grandmother, she made a sound reserved for those whose grandchildren are a constant mystery and then smiled.

“Well,” she laughed a few short, staccato laughs, “whatever.”

Exactly, Grandma. Whatever.

This was Los Angeles. Nothing could surprise me anymore. People here fill their face with chemicals to try and look younger, host dinner parties with mediums who claim to talk to the dead, and eat their placentas. When I met Jason, I accepted his Buddhism as just another Los Angeles quirk.

But now that Buddhist is living in my house. Now that Buddhist and I are getting married.

So I decided, if I’m going to stand up and promise to love him forever, I should at least have a base idea of what this whole Buddhist thing was about.

And that’s how I ended up, last weekend, crossed legged on a cushion trying to “pay attention to my breath.”

At the center of Jason’s particular kind Buddhism is meditation. If anyone could use a bit of meditation it’s me but I had resisted for our entire relationship. I felt uncomfortable with the idea – especially the Buddhist part – and I definitely wasn’t going to do it just because Jason was doing it. In fact, I was more likely to do the opposite – just out of spite.

I was raised ELCA Lutheran. I loved my church. I sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, and danced in something called “Motion Choir” where I could live out my dream of being a ballerina under the guise of dancing for Jesus.

I went to a Lutheran college and spent my summers working at a Lutheran camp. My whole identity was tied up in being Lutheran.

I was thinking about that as I sat on my meditation cushion, trying not to have thoughts.

I stole a look around the room. There were bright, Tibetan banners, a large gong, and I wasn’t wearing shoes. Martin Luther would strongly disapprove.

When I moved to Los Angeles I had searched for the perfect church but after a year (and about fifteen churches) I gave up. None of them felt the way I remembered.

After the last of these failed attempts, Jason said to me, “Maybe you’ve changed from the person you used to be and now you’re looking for a place that might not exist anymore.”

My heart squeezed at the truth of that statement but I tried to ignore it. I had to find a church, attend potlucks, and force my future children to dance in the Motion Choir. That’s how my life was supposed to look.

I shifted on my cushion.

What was I doing here? I missed the familiar hymns and wood smell of the pews. This room, with its blue cushions and gold Buddha, was a million miles away from that.

I felt rage beginning to bubble up from my belly. When would this be over? I looked at the meditation instructor to see if she was moving towards the gong – the sound that would mark the end of this torture session. She wasn’t.

We had been meditating for almost two hours and the feeling of wanting to escape was becoming too big to ignore.

“Just get up and walk out,” I told myself. “This is stupid. You don’t need to be here.”

But maybe that was the point. – to sit here and have an experience that I didn’t quite understand. And possibly, find something new.

I took a deep breath and tried to refocus. I decided to allow myself to be angry – to not fight and just allow that feeling in.

I felt the anger move up from my stomach, into my chest and throat until it was pouring out of my eyes. Tears ran down my face but I didn’t move.

I sat there on that meditation cushion in a room full of strangers and cried for the uncertainty of life. I cried for how closely I hang on to my narrow expectations of what I think my future should look like.

I thought about everything I try to control. How not a single thing was turning out how I thought. How angry that makes me – angry and sad.

Maybe if I stopped looking in the same place for things that had made me happy in the past, I’d find things that made me happy right now.

I would never have expected to end up in Los Angeles, surrounded by Buddhists, trying to learn how to meditate. But here I was, siting cross-legged on the ground, crying about my feelings. I was more “LA” than I’d ever been.

I stifled a sniff and readjusted. I could do this. I could sit here for as long as they wanted.

And suddenly, the gong rang.

Body Image

I am face down on my yoga mat, trying to muster the strength to attempt another half plank.

I can feel the instructor’s eyes on my back and know I have to get up. I use every muscle in my arms – muscles I have just discovered I have – to push myself into position. I stifle a whimper and think for the hundredth time that hour, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

There are a lot of answers to that question (wedding, acting, general loss of metabolism) but the answer I like to tell people is that it’s ‘for my health.’

The real reason is more complicated.

Growing up, I felt pretty comfortable in my body thanks to some skilled parenting and a delusional self-confidence. But after moving to Los Angeles things started to change.

In Hollywood, beauty is everywhere. This industry draws the most beautiful people from all over the world, setting the standard inconceivably high.

Unlike most places, these beauties are not just safely on the big screen or in a magazine. They are living among us. This sculpted, surgically enhanced, wealth-injected beauty can be seen in the grocery store, in the audition room, in the women’s bathroom at the McDonald’s by my house.

In fact it’s right next to me in my workout class not breaking a sweat while doing the most advanced version of the pose.

I work in an industry that exports fantasy and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t shaken me up a bit. It is incredibly difficult to focus on what truly matters when the way you look is a factor in whether or not you get a job.

After a few years of living here, I started to notice that my positive inner monologue was starting to change. Rather than focusing on what I loved about myself, I started to fixate on what I considered my flaws.

I thought about that as the fitness instructor adjusted my position for the seventh time. I smile at her, which turns into a grimace as she pulls my leg further out.

For a while, I had managed to keep my negative thoughts at bay, but after a few years of auditions and working in Hollywood, they became louder.

I began skipping meals and once caught myself considering a product that ‘freezes fat.’ I felt caught in the ridiculous expectations women are forced to meet – expectations that are even higher in this town, in this industry.

Until last pilot season.

I had read a script for a TV show that I knew would be perfect for me. I emailed my manager, asking her if she could get me in. A few minutes later I had a response in my inbox.

“They are only seeing really beautiful girls right now but I’ll let you know if that changes.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I stared at my phone, shocked that this email came from one of my biggest champions. I sat down on the bed and felt something welling up inside me.

And then I started to laugh.

The whole situation seemed ridiculous. The fact that I worked in an industry where I would get a work email like that. The fact that I put myself in this position over and over. The fact that she was right. The TV show was casting models. And I’m not a model.

After that email everything seemed to come into focus for me. I felt myself rise a bit above the fray and realize something that my manager already knew.

It wasn’t about me. I wasn’t the one setting the standards of what is considered beautiful.

And even though I might never be the most beautiful girl in the room I still have something to offer.

I sank into my last pose of the day – thankful that it was over and proud of myself for coming. Proud that I was here just for me. Because I wanted to be here not because I was trying to compete with a certain standard.

I walked out into the California sun, holding my yoga mat and feeling very LA.

I caught a glimpse of myself in my car window and stopped. I had become one of those women in Los Angeles who does a lot of yoga.

My phone dinged with a text from my fiancé, Jason.

“Pizza for dinner?”

I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled.

“Absolutely.”

 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

A New Year

I’ve always loved New Year’s Eve.

I’m not talking about the drunken parties, or the short glittery dresses or the ball dropping on Time’s Square.

I like the idea of starting over – knowing that there is an entire year spread out in front of me full of possibilities.

When I was seven-years-old my parents decided I was old enough to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. I was thrilled. I felt mature and adult and like I was in for something special.

I spent all day cutting confetti from construction paper and handing out birthday hats to my parents (the only festive headwear I could find). My mom let me drink Martinelli’s sparkling cider from a plastic glass and eat as many ‘Chicken In A Biskit’ crackers as I wanted.

The night passed quickly in a blur of sugar and expectation and finally, around 11:45, I got into my pajamas, sat down on the couch, and waited.

I sat there, staring at the clock, wondering what it would be like to experience the turning of the year.

I sat there, staring at the clock, wondering what it would be like to experience the turning of the year. I was sure I would feel a significant shift. That our little living room would seem different – washed in the fresh light of a new year.

When midnight finally came around I was ready. I got my bowl of confetti, my knees bouncing with excitement, and started to count down the seconds. Three – two – one.

Happy New Year!

I leapt into the air and threw my homemade confetti as high as I could. My dad blew a noisemaker and my mom snapped a picture.

JessicaNewYearsEve

After the confetti fell, I felt exhilarated and refreshed. Maybe it was the five glasses of cider, but I was tingling. A thrill ran through me and the world felt open and exciting. I was standing at the beginning of a whole new year, full of hope and possibilities.

This year, I’ve been looking forward to recapturing that feeling.

Sometimes I feel that I spend a little too much time looking back – lost in thought about how maybe my life had been little bit better when I was a little bit younger. Even Jason has pointed this out to me in the recent months and as much as I hate to admit this in print, he’s right. I do find myself dwelling on the past more than I want to admit.

It used to be that New Years Eve was not the only time I felt excited about the future. But as the stress of being an adult has become more and more prominent in my life I have started to turn my head backwards – to long for a time when homemade confetti and a noisemaker could make me feel that the world was full of possibilities.

This turn of the year, I’m refocusing on the future.

This turn of the year, I’m refocusing on the future. I’m ready to feel excited about what lies ahead, not long for what’s behind me. I will cherish my past in a safe spot in my heart but keep my eyes turned toward tomorrow.

I keep that picture my mom took of my seven-year-old self by my desk as a reminder that I am capable of fearless joy for the future.

This year, I want to enter 2015 like that little girl. Eyes raised to the sky, confetti raining down, waiting for things to change with unfaltering joy.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.