Friday, January 11, 2013

Confessions of a Late Bloomer: For Art's Sake

HOW I ENDED UP INSIDE A HOME DEPOT WITH A DRILL IN MY HAND that one fateful Saturday afternoon, I will never quite understand.  If memory serves, I was completely frazzled and out of my comfort zone and quite possibly-- my mind.   I might as well have been wearing a t-shirt that said: I DON'T BELONG HERE.  My awkward body language, my walking, then pausing, then walking again.  My head tossed up and down, side to side with my eyes fixated on the big numbered signs that hung above each aisle... I must have looked like a tourist.  Yes, that's it -I was a tourist inside a Home Depot.  Finally a man in his fifties wearing an orange apron approached me.  He must have felt sorry for me.

"Can I help you find anything?"

Oh you can help me alright.

You see, I was on a mission.  Recently, I had inherited random pieces of "grown up" art during these past few months from friends and famiy members, and a pile of paintings were gathering dust on the floor inside my little studio apartment. I was getting sick and tired of looking at them and  decided now was the time to hang them up on my walls-- sort of.  Well, it's just that some of the pieces were rather heavy and were made up of some sort of material that looked like corkboard on the backside.  I couldn't just stick a push pin through it and be done with it like I used to do with all my posters of Madonna and The Brat Prack back in the 1980s.  No, this was real art and it required actual hanging and I had never hammered a nail into a wall in my life.  I was faced with the challenge of "decorating like an adult"-another rite of passage I had managed to dodge well into my thirties.  Gone were the days of taping up movie posters on walls of sheetrock inside a modern tract home in suburbia.  In were the days of hanging up real framed pieces of art with naked people on them on the plastered walls of my cool vintage 1950's Oakland apartment building.  Did you know that if you hang paintings of naked people up on your walls that means you are mature and arty?

I had to convince myself that I was not hanging up porn, but with each painting I accumulated of a blissful lady with long flowing hair clutching her naked breast, I just thought: BOOBIES!   For awhile I avoided putting up any real art by taping up my Fillmore rock posters and world maps, but that proved to be unsatisfying.  I could no longer get away with the "college-dorm-room" look and I didn't have a spare room for all my rock-n-roll memorabilia and maps of Korea.  I had one studio and it needed to look like a woman over 30 lived there.  And when the double sided tape loosened and my mom's canvas paintings came falling off the walls in the middle of the night (that's right, even my mom is arty), I knew I had to bring in the big guns.  Which I guess is how I ended up holding a box with a drill inside it at Home Depot.  A place I never thought I would end up.

"Do you have any staff that are experts at hanging pictures?" I asked the man in the orange apron.

"No, but here are some nails,"  he pointed to boxes and more boxes of screws and other pointy objects in all shapes and sizes.  "What kind of wall do you have?"  He asked me as if I knew.

After explaining the whole double sided tape debacle to him and how my walls were old school, he suggested I drill a hole before hammering in a nail.  A DRILL? I HAVE TO BUY A DRILL NOW?  Is this a sneaky upsell? This was turning out to be more work than I wanted it to be, but I nodded soberly, defeated, with my head hung low.  And like a sheep led to the slaughter, I followed him to the aisle where the drills were located.  He handed me a basic $40 drill and I took it. I didn't know what else to do.  Then he brought me a hammer.  I nodded solemnly and clutched the hammer as well.

"Anything else I can help you with?" He asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Where are your posters?"

By the time I got home it was dark and I thought perhaps too late to make noise in the building, lest I disturb the girl living below me.  I stared at the open space of the far wall that my bed was pushed up against.  Just how far should a nail go in?  What's with the whole 45 degree angle thing?  Can't I just write a story about hanging up paintings instead? 

The next day, I knocked around the wall "listening for a stud" as instructed by all my friends, family and the man from Home Depot, but I couldn't find a spot that sounded any more deep than hallow to the naked ear.  I noticed an old hole from the prior tenant and thought I would start there and started hammering in a two inch nail.  It wasn't long before I realized that nail was not going in any further than maybe an inch. It would not budge-this was not good. I ripped it out.  I tried a smaller screw type nail that also felt unsturdy.  If I could just pull these nails out on my own, well that couldn't be good, could it?  What if there's an earthquake? I didn't want some heavy piece of art dangling above my head come crashing down and give me a concussion.  Seriously, these are the things that keep me up at night.  And as I laid there in my bed, later on that evening, with my walls still bare above my head, I gazed out my window at the full moon and thought to myself, "how did I get like this?"

Well, I couldn't blame it on my gene pool.  Nope, even my mother herself is an artist who would take me to her night school art classes at Alameda City College back in the 1970's.  I would sit at a table next to her with paper and pens and pretend to draw while she sat still, patiently painting the latest bowl of fruit or wine bottle.  I couldn't imagine all that sitting still and was anzy as I hastily scrawled stick figures on my sheets of paper.  Can I go play now?

Not to mention the many birthdays and Christmases where my siblings and I would receive not only crayons sets like most children, but water color paint kits and colored pencils! Oh soooo many colored pencils!  My mother was trying to tell us something.  But I didn't get the memo.

And it wasn't just hanging up art on the wall that I put off for so long, but pretty much furnishing my apartment in general.  Let's just say that when the girl who I was subletting the place from decided to move out after two years, she took all her funiture with her and I was left alone sitting on this old beige carpet while staring at four blank white walls.  You would think that not having a bed for three months would have made me crazy, but I dreaded lifting something heavy for so long that I slept on a borrowed futon until my 38-year-old neck and back rebelled and could no longer take it.  It was no use.  I was going to have to put furniture in my apartment.  My mother insists to this day that my lack of motivation in things that require exertion is because I am anemic and need iron pills.  Even though the doctor who took blood tests on me back when I was in junior high told us otherwise....

Maybe I have such a hard time with all of this is because I feel like I don't know "the rules" when it comes to decorating and I don't know what looks "cool".  And please don't tell me there are no rules to art and it's just "whatever you like" because that is a lie.  If I tell you that I bought my art at "Bed, Bath and Beyond",  wouldn't you just squirm quietly to yourself with an air of condescension?  There are rules and you know it, and the reason I know this is true is because while I may be tone deaf in most things visual,  I make up for it with my ear for music and writing.  I would never tell someone that good music is "whatever you like" because if they tell me they like musical acts such as "Nickelback" or "Keisha" then I would have to tell them they have poor taste in music.  Seriously.  Don't think we could even be friends.  Hey, I didn't make the rules...

So after coming to grips with the fact that I was indeed, "art-deaf", I went to Ace Hardware and purchased a battery operated "Stud Finder".  And then I called in reinforcements- because as the Book of Ecclesiastes tell us: Two is better than one.  Enter my friend Sheri.

My friend Sheri in some ways is my complete opposite.  She's the ying to my yang.  Not only is she arty with an eye for photography, she also knows her way around a tool belt.  And besides, since she was the person who gave me all those heavy pieces of naked people in the first place, I figured she could at least show me how to put them up.  Well, let me tell you, Sheri's a busy lady, but after a month or so of trying to pen her down, we finally set a date for a Sunday afternoon.  And when that day finally came, I cleared off all my maps and rock posters from the wall, opened up the package that my stud-finder came in, and discovered my double-A batteries didn't fit.  They were too big.  So I texted Sheri to bring triple A's.

At 3pm exactly, she arrived with a supply kit in hand.  She laid out all the art work on the floor and we discussed various possible arrangements.  She checked to make sure my drill was charged and handed me her triple A batteries.  I was exicted.  I finally had another eye and hand to help me get this done.  Then I noticed that her batteries were too small for the stud-finder. I turned the back of the package over that it came in and read: NOT INCLUDED: 9 VOLT BATTERY.  Now who the heck carries 9 volt batteries?


"We'll just knock on the walls to find the stud," she assured me. 

Oh great.

"Hear that?" she asked me as she pounded on my walls.  The singer in me, in fact, did hear it.  The note was higher on a stud that it was on the rest of the wall.  How come I couldn't figure that out before?

I'm so bohemian now
We decided to hang up a funky purple sheet that she had given me years ago but I didn't know what to do with, and used it as a wall covering above my bed.  Not only did this give me piece of mind that it wouldn't fall on my head in the middle of the night if there was an earthquake,  but it also created the illusion of a headboard that my bed was actually missing. 

Next, to the left of the wall covering, she put up the collage of naked people:

On the opposite wall we decided to hang up my mom's homage to Andy Warhol.

As Sheri lined up these pictures she asked if I had a measuring tape so she could make sure they were even.   I scrambled inside my kitchen junk drawer and suprisingly found one.  "What's this doing here?" I thought as I handed it to her.  Her eyes widened.   "This is MINE!"  She flipped it over and sure enough, there it was: PROPERTY OF SHERI WONG.  Oops.  Hey, how did that get in there?  (Okay, so Sheri and I may have some history of her helping me get out of domestic jams.)

After she reclaimed her measuring tape, she touched up my kitchen with a picture of my mom's egg art on one wall and a cool framed picture above my Wedgewood oven on the other wall:

Does it look crooked, it's not.

Mom's egg art

She checked her phone for the time, packed up her belongings, including her measuring tape and was gone in a dash. What I had put off for months, she had accomplished in a little over an hour.  And me?  I was left with the task of putting things away.  But as I tried to stuff back all the nails and other gadgets into my kitchen's junk drawer it exploded on me:

I can't close this drawer now, it's stuck.

Then I got ambitious and started emptying out all my "junk drawers" and whadda ya know? Turns out I already had a hammer:

Two is better than one

I learned something that day.  Two really is better than one and don't be afraid to ask for help-even if that means calling in the big guns.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Girl Who Wasn't There

Back in 1985, in the movie "The Big Chill", starring Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, a background actor played the part of a body lying in a casket in the opening funeral scene.  Pretending to be dead in a casket would have seemed like an easy part to do with guaranteed exposure, right?  There were no speaking lines, and all the actor had to do was pretend he was sleeping, knowing that every audience member in the movie theater would see his face once the film hit the big screen.  However, when "The Big Chill" was finally released in theatres, the footage showing the actor's face in the casket was deleted. It was probably a bit of a blow for the then, unknown actor, Kevin Costner, to be taken out of a film that he thought might lead to his big break.  Fortunately, for him, as I don't have to tell you, his career recovered.  But for every Kevin Costner, there are thousands of unknown (and some known) actors who continue to end up on the cutting room floor.

In March of 1995, I stepped onto the set of my first television commerical.  It was for Nike and featured tennis players Andree Agassi and Pete Samprass who were at the top of their game at the time.  I was doing background work in a crowd of about 300 people who were watching a faux tennis match that took place in a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco.  When the 30 second commercial aired a couple of weeks later, my friend Kristen, who also worked on the commercial with me, called to let me know:

"I saw the Nike Commercial.  We are not in it."

Well, I wasn't in the 30 second version and thought that I better get used to not making the cut.  And then a funny thing happened about six months later.  I received a call from the ad agency who produced the commercial and they told me, "We expanded the spot to 60 seconds, and now you're in it.  This is your lucky day."

A contract was mailed to me and I became eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild.  Boom, just like that.  Some actors move to Los Angeles and struggle for years trying to get their SAG card, but me- I thought, "Shoot this is easy."

A very young Theresa in a purple sweatshirt at about 22 seconds in, runs up to Pete Samprass:

I received a modest amount of residual checks for a commercial that aired for only 13 weeks, but back then I thought it was big money.  But then something happened after my first big break--nothing happened, for years.  Or so it seemed.

What appeared to be a great start to a possible acting career and a quick answer to a prayer (Dear God, should I do theater or film?) was becoming more and more confusing. 

The doors didn't open much for me with acting jobs.  I'd finally get an agent, only to lose an agent, to getting another agent, to losing that agent.  I couldn't seem to build momentum.

It would only be the beginning of my long journey in the entertainment industry of let downs and being the girl who was "of it, but not in it."  From then on, I would work on lots of movies, television shows and commercials that I was not actually "in". Sure I worked four consecutive nights out in the freezing cold in a cable car scene in the Sandra Bullock feature film, "The Net".  But when you watch the movie, I, along with about a hundred other hopeful background players are not in the final cut.  All that footage down the drain. And then there was that one time when I worked on the Robin Williams' movie "Flubber" playing a high school cheerleader, whom you barely saw on screen even though the camera man gave our cheer squad ample camera time on the set while filming.  Then there was that other time where I worked 2 whole months of 12-hour days on the movie "Scream" as a stand-in for Neve Campbell, only you would never know about it, because I didn't receive a credit.  I'm not bitter (sarcasm).  There have been lots of movies and television shows where I haven't received credit.  This will test your motives, your reasons why you do the things you do.  I do it because I love it.  And sometimes I do it for a paycheck.

I have never made a consistent living while doing movie/commerical work and have always needed a day job.  And as of January 2012 I still had lingering credit card debt.  It was at this time that a new class at my church was being offered titled "Emerge: Shaping Dreams Into Destiny" - and the price of the course - $300.  My spirit was stirred within me, but where would I find the money?  So I prayed about provision and shortly after I got a last minute call to do some "hand model work" on a Chrysler commercial.  I simply had to put my hands on a steering wheel for an hour and it was the easiest $492.00 I ever made.  Now I would have enough money to take the class.  When the commerical finally aired during the Superbowl that year, my hands were nowhere in the commercial- (even my hands were left on the cutting room floor)  Cool spot though:

It's Halftime In America...

Apparently this commercial caused a bit of controversy.

Then in February 2012, I drove up to the little town of Yountville in the wine country to do some background work for an American Express commercial featuring world famous chef Thomas Keller and his restaurant, THE FRENCH LAUNDRY.  All of us extras were portraying dining patrons and were seated inside the restaurant strategically.  Originally I was sitting at a centrally located table (that they called the "hero table") and thought for sure I would be seen on camera.  Then at the last minute, before the cameras started rolling, I was asked to switch places with someone else and ended up left of camera, and I assumed-- out of the shot.  Yet again, I had been placed in deep background, or so I thought.

But when the commerical aired during the Oscars, a friend of mine saw it and insisted I was in it.  I assured her that was not the case, but she was convinced.  Then a couple of weeks later I received a letter from the ad agency for American Express saying I had been upgraded from background to principal (meaning I am recognizable and will be getting paid for every time it airs on television)  Hey, what do you know, I am in it.

Membership has its privileges.  (don't blink, about 9 seconds in, I am sitting at a table left of camera with my hair up drinking a glass of water)

And though, I am almost invisible in this commerical too, when the residual checks started coming in, I no longer seemed to care whether or not anyone could see me in the commercial.  Funny how that works.

In March of 2012, the Emerge class officially began.  Our pastor had us close our eyes and envision the dream God had placed on our hearts.  As we went around the room declaring our visions, I announced that mine was to "do a one woman show and travel with it."  I saw myself on a stage in London.  I had never thought about London before and besides, how would I pay to get there?

In April 2012, I started receiving enough residual checks to finally pay off my credit card debt and build a savings.  It was at this time also that I attended a theatre show produced by a friend of mine, Tracy Held Potter, titled "Woman In Solodarity".  It was four women performing solo pieces of their own.  Each piece was about 20 minutes and I was inspired.  That's it- that's what I wanted to do.

I continued taking the Emerge classes at church every Saturday afternoon until the end of May 2012.  It was a committment, but time well spent.  Each week we were building trust with each other while sharing our dreams and articulating our goals.  It had kick started something in me.

In July 2012, while attended another one of Tracy's shows, this time a play being peformed inside a record store (independent theatre, gotta love it) - she told me if I wrote a solo piece for next Spring's Women in Solodarity show, I was in.  And the theme of the show- even better.  "Cat Ladies".  I took her up on her offer and a couple of months later, over Labor Day weekend at a family event, I came up with my working title- "One ExBoyfriend. Four Cats."

In the Fall of 2012 I enrolled in a creative writing class hoping to jump start the creative juices and churned out a few pieces over the course of the semester.  Now with a deadline for my cat themed solo piece coming up soon, I got get cracking!

2012 was a year of blessings and transition.  In a heart beat, God can change your circumstances- one minute you owe thousands of dollars on your credit card and the next minute, you are debt free, with a savings and the impending birth of a new dream. 

Here's to 2013 and to no longer being the girl who wasn't there.