When I started acting, at the age of eight, I was hooked. Once I got onstage, I felt an intense relief; acting was a way of being in which it was clear that I was who I was supposed to be. It wasn’t “living” but it was “existing” without anxiety, and, more importantly, in the service of a story. Being onstage I felt more lovable, more powerful, and more certain. For a long time I was actually more comfortable “onstage” than off.
Now, if you want my whole life story, you’ll have to buy the book. Let’s just say I’ve had enough personal drama to last me a lifetime. After appearing as the subject of a half-hour reality docudrama on E! and the Style Network, I was happy just paying my bills and playing it safe, but the old acting bug never really went away. Finally this spring, I took a leap of faith, and left corporate America to pursue acting full-time. Almost immediately, as if my subconscious mind was challenging my self-determination, I started to relive those past painful experiences that made me adopt a risk-averse stance toward my own artistic development.
The Battle Between X-factor and Y-factor
Bob Proctor calls this the battle between the “x” and “y” factor. Your “y” factor is your new paradigm. (For example: I can make a comfortable living as an actor while maintaining my personal integrity, sanity, and well-being.) Sometimes the “x” factor has a life of its own, and doesn’t want to be replaced. This is what happened to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever had food poisoning, but it’s not something you feel you have much control over. My own negative emotions were being purged with that kind of cathartic violence. There was no one, I realized, qualified to help me, except myself. (Side note: To those I hurt with my lack of personal diplomacy or empathy during this process, I am truly sorry.)
My solution for self-healing was to embrace who I am: a performance artist and method actor (as well as painter, and writer). Although I’d taken a class to learn to handle money better, I went from ambivalence toward money to downright hostility. I had the radical idea that I could survive just fine without money, expect others to take care of my expenses, and give myself the time to self-actualize in a new way, all through creating a character. Sometime around late May, I chose to become a homeless woman who, when frightened, thought she was a dog. I chose to live with this character until my birthday, July 20, 2013. I planned for my invented character to fully take over and have her chance to show me everything I needed to understand which had hitherto eluded me in regards to my own personal character.
Inspiration From Three Master Teachers
I was inspired to do this project by three Master Teachers: Teddy Studt, Hyemeyohsts Storm, and Bruce Lee. Teddy Studt, founder of Playtime Productions in Monona, Wisconsin, was my theatre teacher and first director as a child. Teddy was a Method actor and great human whose home was filled with her mime doll collection, a talking macaw at one time, her husband’s orchids and many vintage clothes. She pulled a stunt once where she showed up at her husband’s law firm dressed as a bag lady, demanding to see the best attorney to retain for some harebrained lawsuit. Bob Studt didn’t recognize his own wife until she burst out laughing when he insisted “for the last time,” before he “called the police” that she please go away. Yes, she was that good.
The second teacher I honor is Hyemeyohsts Storm, the famous Native American author, who gently corrected me when I once disparagingly referred to myself as a “wannabe” actress. His loving kindness helped me decide to make my own part and BE an actress instead of “wanting” and “waiting” to be who God (or my DNA, personal choices, and environment, if you prefer) made me.
Last of all, I was inspired by Bruce Lee. It’s also because of Hyemeyohsts that I became interested in Bruce Lee. Hymeyohsts’ words reminded me that all have masculine and feminine energy. But I was only identifying with my femininity. My masculine (aggressive) side was not well integrated, so I tended to be passive-aggressive; unable to assert my own value until I was pushed too far, and then, I often didn’t realize I was angry until hours, days, months, sometimes years after the fact. I didn’t think I had much in common with Bruce Lee other than the fact that he died on my birthday a few years before I was born, but the more I learned about his philosophy, the more, I realized, we have in common. We are both fluid people who don’t care for “mumbo jumbo,” a phrase we have both used to describe what we see as nothing more than ideological crutches to support rigid mental and social structures rather than sentient beings. Bruce Lee, of course, was physically impressive and intimidating to others. I’ll never be the kind of champion fighter that Bruce Lee was. In my own way, though, I strive to honor his legacy through my own quieter, gentler form of heroism. Bruce Lee always fought for the underdog. He fought against prejudice and small-mindedness.
Committing To The Character
Once I committed to becoming this character, the homeless woman who thought she was a dog when frightened (she never had a name during the process) I started warning my friends, family, and landlord that I would be getting into character and might seem a little strange. My next door neighbor was very understanding when I told her to expect some barking. My fiance, well, he was already being forced to pay my half of our rent, so he wasn’t too happy about it, but I thought it would help him understand what it was going to be like to marry a method actor, since I was no longer willing to wait to be (an actress / myself) and would now be working on my character for the rest of my life.
The first thing I did was to study homeless people. I talked to schizophrenics, alcoholics, and even a few guys who I made sure not to get close enough that they could reach out and touch me because they seemed potentially violent.
One man, Roberto, was very excited to hear about my project and called it “standing freestyle” acting. He was very ready to appear on television. He also let me know he had created some kind of flood or typhoon in Portland. I congratulated him on such a major accomplishment before speeding off on my bicycle.
Jonathan was the only guy I thought would probably slice me into cubes along with some fava beans, if you get my drift. When I first saw him he was blowing smoke something like the Cheshire cat, and I thought he was under the influence, but after talking a few minutes it was obvious his own mind was the main drug he was experiencing. The first time we talked, he told me he had 127 wives. The second time we talked he told me he owned Chase bank.
I had come to the conclusion that all “bums” were just as nuts and messed up as I had expected, when one Sunday in June, I went to a Catholic church to pray. In this chapel, I prayed for forgiveness of my sins and for angels to protect me.
When I arrived home, a Chinese vagabond was waiting for me with dirty face, and dirty teeth, but serene. I wasn’t sure if he was there or not there, mentally. “Are you O.K.?” I asked. He stared, glazed over. “Would you like some water?” I hoped he spoke English, but wasn’t sure. I made the sign of a glass of water and he nodded. I ran upstairs, took a mug my brother gave me and filled it with water. As I got down to the parking lot, this stranger was starting to walk away. “Wait!” I yelled, and he turned around. I brought him the mug and an envelope of tea. “Chinese tea?” I asked. He nodded. I emptied a packet of Fortune Delight tea in the water. “This is the best I have to offer,” I said. And then he walked away with my mug in his hand. And I felt blessed.
All in all, I met three men who seemed, to me, to be messengers from God. I’m not saying that they were divine beings anymore than we are ALL divine beings, or children of God, if you prefer. I’m saying they taught me things. I felt uplifted spiritually by being near them, and so I know that God somehow had His hand in our encounters.
That may sound like a crazy idea, but it is not just something I came up with. In ancient Greece, the beggar knocking at the door might be a god, disguised or else watching from above, passing judgment, so you always treated crazy people or homeless people like a test from the heavens.
In Los Angeles county today, more than 50,000 people, including disproportionate numbers of racial minorities, GTLB (gay, transgender, lesbian, bisexual) youth, and veterans, are homeless every night. Most of us who are fortunate enough to have homes take it for granted that these people are miserable, and somehow worth less than the rest of us. I hope that sharing this story with you helps in some small way to reduce presumptions about the people who experience these terrifying conditions.
Time For The Performance
Quietly, at first, I walked, free-style riffing on surveillance and paranoia, mind control, sexual politics, victimization, and George Zimmerman. Then I got louder: I picked up construction cones and used them like megaphones. My mood changed from agitated to serene when I arrived near any green spaces. I meditated in the park, where I had no reason not to take off my shoes and walk in the fountain. (I’d always wanted to do that, but was too inhibited). When I found a picture of a dog, I held it in my arms like it was my lost baby (someone took a picture, I think).
By the time I got to Chinatown I was very tired from the heat and all the mental exertion required for such a theatrical display of insanity. But I was not too tired to start making little jokes. I did a quick impression of a Warner Brothers cartoon version of Dr. Jekyll contorting spasmodically right after he drinks the secret potion that turns him into Mr. Hyde, and I had to bite my lips to not break character and bust out laughing at the horrified expressions of passersby.
Big Surprise In The City Of Angels
What surprised me the most about my life as a homeless woman who thought she was a dog was how liberating it was to be truly and fully “invisible” and hence, freed from the constraints of sanity. Although I felt constant fear, realizing I might appear to be an easy target to the types of predators we all hear about in the news, I also felt a deep sense of peace. And I noticed that there was something different about the people who helped: They smiled more. They were more awake. They were happier, stronger, more powerful people. They didn’t know I was an actress. They helped me because they were good people. Through my insane homeless eyes, most people seemed to be asleep. Some were cruel. But the helpers seemed to be the only ones who knew: This, Los Angeles, my home, is the city of angels.