In 1995, after enduring more than a dozen corrective foot surgeries starting when I was just seven months old, I was referred to and met with a young foot surgeon, newly in practice. He glanced at my sheaf of x-rays, holding them up against the light-box mounted on the wall, flipped through my thick file of medical records, held each of my feet in his hand and tested my range of motion, pressed his thumbs into my arches and across the bridge to determine how thick the scar tissue from so many procedures had become, had me walk across the room and back to judge the healthiness of my gait. When I told him I was going to be an actress, he shook his head no. “You can’t do that. Find a desk job,” he said. “You need to stay off your feet.”
In spring 1996, I was wrapping up my sophomore year at the University of Washington as a drama major. A relationship that had started out strong and mutually-respectful with the head of the undergraduate theater department had recently soured, and the tension between us was thick and furious. On a humid April afternoon, as we stood in the lobby of the Drama Department, this award-winning, highly-respected actress, producer, director, and professor told me that I would never be allowed to enroll into any upper-level acting courses at UW, and, in fact, that I had no acting talent whatsoever and no future in the theater. She told me to find a different career.
In 2005, after submitting audiobook samples to a publisher, I received a very generous, typed response from the casting director. My breathing had serious issues, as did my diction, she said. My pacing and phrasing were very poor, my mic technique was problematic, and overall, she was not convinced that I had an emotional connection to the material or the ability to tell an authentic, intimate story. She thanked me for giving it a shot, but added, gently though without reservation, that she was not interested in hearing from me again, and suggested that audiobooks might not be the best place to focus my attention.
Yesterday I sat in the office of my agent, Shari Hoffman, at Innovative Artists. Shari and I met three years ago, when I first told her I was interested in her representation. Shari had been very kind, and said that there was a small possibility that she’d be interested in working with me, but only if I lived in New York. I remember sitting in the chair next to her window looking out on Park Avenue near Union Square, struck with the absurdity of what I was hoping for. I felt suddenly that I was too heavy, not pretty enough, my clothes and my hair were all wrong, I was too unsophisticated to make it as an actress, I would never be able to convince anyone to give me a chance, I would be unable to overcome my humble beginnings or my inherent unworthiness to be successful, especially in New York.
I still feel sometimes too heavy, not pretty enough, unsophisticated, unworthy, absurd, that what I hope for is unreasonable and silly. But looking back over the course of my life, at all these points along the path when I could have stopped, and didn’t, when I felt overwhelmed with fear and shame and smallness, but persisted anyway, helps me remember to keep moving forward, because who knows what will happen next?
Shari is still as kind as ever, and she’s fair, and yesterday, when we met, she cautioned me, reasonably. “We’ll start small. Nothing is going to happen quickly. It will grow slowly. We’ll get to know you, clients will get to know you, you’ll get acclimated, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll just see what happens.” I love that.