Day Thirty One.

Black and White Batgirl

Well, I did it. I officially quit booze and cigarettes – cold turkey – for thirty days. It was difficult, though not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I definitely had moments where I wanted to cave, particularly when life got rough.

But, even though I’ve been feeling everything these days, my emotions didn’t overwhelm me like I thought they would. When left alone with thoughts too intense to handle, I was forced to get creative. Rather than my traditional cop out – pouring a glass of wine – I went for a run, or staged an impromptu dance party in my living room, or made a collage out of old photos, or – on one really tough day – dressed up as Batgirl and went out with Wonder Woman (thank you, Elisa) to dinner and a show on a Friday night in the heart of Los Angeles. I wouldn’t trade the interactions I had with curious strangers that night for anything.

Over the last thirty days, what I missed the most was the camaraderie that goes along with drinking, the social aspect of smoking. There was the collective tequila shot with acting class friends on a day when a tequila shot was a really, really good idea. There was the wine and gossip with girlfriends. And there was the late night philosophy that occurs while bumming a cigarette from a friend (or sitting on my patio, contemplating my future, blowing smoke into the darkness.)

But here’s what I didn’t miss. I didn’t miss worrying if I’d be OK to drive after a night out with friends. I didn’t miss starting my weekend already hung over from Friday night. And I certainly didn’t miss the bar tab. Thanks to the money I saved from abstaining from my vices for a mere thirty days, I was able to treat myself to a luxurious facial, a massage, a new dress for a friend’s wedding, and a whole bunch of new music on iTunes. Not bad.

I set lofty goals for myself to accomplish during my thirty days, which I’m sad to say, I fell short of. Most notably, I didn’t finish the first draft of my screenplay, like I had wanted. The prior-to-thirty-days-me would have beaten myself up about that, but I’m not going to. Because here’s the truth: the goal that I set in theory turned out to be way bigger than I anticipated when I put it into practice. I put in countless hours of writing – including two weekends where I essentially didn’t leave the house – and I ended up totally reworking my outline, scrapping a lot of what wasn’t working, and writing fifty new pages. As a result of my work, I’m way more excited about and committed to the story than I’ve ever been, and – while I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be – I know I’ll finish it soon because I can’t stop thinking about the characters and I can’t wait to see them achieve their (sort of) happy ending.

In the end, the most important reason for me to take this thirty-day break was to prove to myself that I could. To prove that I could navigate through a difficult time in my life in a healthy way and stick with it, despite an abundance of temptation. All the great things that came along with my detox – the money saved, the glowing, hydrated skin, the formerly tight clothes that are now loose-fitting – are just the fringe benefits of setting a goal for myself and accomplishing it. So, hooray. And now I ask myself the inevitable question that I always ask at the culmination of any project, endeavor, or challenge: what now?

Well, for right now, today, this weekend – I’m going to let my hair down. After thirty days of behaving like a schoolteacher, I’m going to have some fun. I’m going to enjoy quality time with some of my besties, I’m going to rejoice at the celebration of a dear friend’s wedding, and I’m going to get dolled up and go OUT.

And in a week, my much-anticipated summer vacation to the Pacific Northwest will finally be here. Ten days of relaxing, swimming in the sound, enjoying family time and doing what The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” – renewing my spirit with fresh life experiences, so that when I return I’ll hit the ground running and tackle the next project (whatever that may be) with gusto.

In the meantime, who’s up for some shots?

Until next time, friends.

Resistance.

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I’ve met the enemy, and its name is Resistance.

I recently revisited Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that, in a very direct, plainspoken voice, cuts through the crap and correctly calls out all the ways we self-sabotage and rationalize our way out of designing the lives we want. The book is brutally honest, and it’s brilliant.

Pressfield identifies the pernicious beast that stands between us and our heart’s desire as Resistance. (Resistance with a capital ‘R,’ as it must be taken seriously.) What is Resistance? It doesn’t come from other people, or your life circumstances, or where you live, or your lame job that you hate. Resistance comes from you. It’s the judgmental voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough, the voice that leads you to make false comparisons between yourself and other people, the voice that causes you to make a million excuses for not living the life you want. Resistance leads to (among other things): procrastination, poor life choices, boredom, depression, guilt, addiction, and unhappiness. Pressfield calls Resistance ‘the enemy within.’

In The War of Art, Pressfield details his own daily battles with Resistance in his work as a writer. As I, in turn, struggle to get my story out of my head and onto the page, I identify with that battle. About writing, Pressfield says this:

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

He’s right. Sitting down is the hardest part. Because just the thought of it, the thought of staring at a blank screen, of struggling to string a sentence together, is pure agony. And I really like to write.

I recently gave up one of my favorite forms of Resistance, alcohol (and its sidekick, cigarettes), for thirty days. I did this to detox and cleanse my system, but also – mainly – because I have work to get done and I need to be super-focused in order to do it. I have a full-time job and countless other responsibilities in addition to my writing, so if I’m ever going to finish the screenplay that has been tugging at my heartstrings, there’s no room for zoning out over wine at the end of a long day until it’s done.

So here I am, sober as a judge on day five* of thirty days and barely any closer to completing the damn thing. I have found a million excuses not to start. I’m lonely and I’m sad. Being alone with the voices in my head is too much. I want to go out, call someone, distract myself. I remind myself that this time is a gift, that I’ve worked hard and sacrificed much in order to create space for it. I can’t waste it.

But the voice in my head is a real bitch. She tells me that what I have to say isn’t important to anyone but me. She tells me that even if I do finish my screenplay and even if I do have the courage to put it out into the world, that it will ultimately just be a waste of time. That people will hate it. That I’ll hate it. Or even if I don’t hate it, and other people don’t hate it, even if it’s actually good, then what? I’ll spend all of my money producing the movie, which is way too hard for me to do on my own, and I’ll screw it up and then I’ll be broke and have nothing to show for it. So really, what’s the point?

This is the sort of Resistance-style crap that leaves me finding all sorts of other things to do during my detox, like washing dishes and folding laundry and making grocery lists and painting my nails and surfing Facebook and posting too much shit on Instagram. And it’s dumb. And I hate it.

So I picked up The War of Art. I’ll keep picking it up and I’ll keep countering the negative voice in my head with Pressfield’s fighting words, to remind myself that Resistance never goes away. I wrote this blog post to remind myself that making art is an act of war and that we have to do battle against the Resistance that threatens to derail our dreams every single day. It’s not glamorous or sexy or all that fun to do our work, but, goddammit, the only way to get it done is to sit down and do it.

I don’t know about you, but when I do force myself to sit down and write one of these blog posts, or bang out a couple pages of dialogue from my script, the bitch inside my head gets a little quieter, and I start to feel ever so slightly relieved. Doing the work is hard, but it’s also – truly – the only thing that keeps the demons at bay.

So here’s to doing what’s hard. Here’s to the struggle. Here’s to waging war. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve pasted the last page of The War of Art – a section entitled The Artist’s Life – below. I hope it helps you along in your own personal war.

Until next time, friends

*It was day five when I wrote this post. It is now (at the time of publishing), day seven, and since spewing out this blog, I’ve revised the first twenty pages of my script, written twelve new pages, and have completely re-worked the outline. Go to hell, Resistance.

The Artist’s Life

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Thirty days.

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Today begins day one of my thirty-day booze-free detox. I haven’t done one of these in over two years – not since before all the very sad things started happening. To be honest, I’ve been afraid to. Throughout it all – the sickness, the never-ending stream of bad news, the deaths, the impossibly hard jobs, the rain-soaked and depressing Olympia visits – the wine or the whiskey or the martini was my reward at the end of another long day, to take the edge off, to help numb the pain. I gave myself permission to drink more than I knew I should, because my emotions were so very intense and I just needed something, anything, to feel better.

But now it’s time to take a break. I’ve come to a safer place in my life, a healthier place, and so it’s time to take away my most reliable crutch and stand on my own two feet. I need to do this for many reasons: to get healthier, to sleep better, to be more productive, to save money. And most importantly, to prove that I can.

I’m very nervous about how this is going to go. For the first time since my Mother’s death and all the deaths that followed, I’m actually sitting in my grief and processing it, rather than running from it. I’ve accepted – or more accurately, I am working toward acceptance of – my new reality, and I am actively taking steps to take charge of and improve my life. But I’m still fragile, and I’m scared that with nothing to help dull the pain, my emotions will overwhelm me. I’m feeling so much these days that the thought of sitting in these feelings alone, raw, unaided, is really frightening. What if I can’t cope? What if I fall apart? What if I cry for thirty days straight?

These fears are exactly the reason why I need to do this. This will be my opportunity to turn away from what’s easy and develop other, healthier coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation and writing. And as much as I’m fearful, I’m excited about it too.  My past alcohol-free detoxes have given way to periods of intense creativity and intense clarity, and the timing couldn’t be better because I have at least three projects in the works that demand my focus, including a very autobiographical partially-written screenplay.

To help keep me honest, I’ll be chronicling my progress over on Extra Dry Martini’s Facebook page. Just a short check in each day to let you know how the month is going.

So here’s to thirty days. Here’s to a healthier me. Here’s to taking away the crutch. And here’s to the fact that the next time I raise a glass, it will be to toast my dear friends at their wedding reception in late June, wearing a new dress paid for with money that didn’t go toward whiskey or Pinot Noir or the occasional pack of Marlboro Lights (yes, I’m giving those up too).

Here we go.

Until next time, friends.

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