the golden apples of the Hesperides
One of my biggest regrets in my life is that I didn’t go to college. When I was 18 and desperate to get out of my parents’ house, I moved to Westwood, where UCLA is, and moved in with Chris Hardwick, who I’d known for a little bit, and who was already attending.
I planned to enroll in two years of Extension, and then apply to the university after. I have no idea if that is even a thing that a kid can or could do, though, because the instant I started filling out my Extension forms, I panicked.
What if I didn’t know how to be a college student? What if I failed? I was certainly going to fail. I was a stupid actor. I knew that. Mrs. Lee told me that in 9th grade, and my dad has spent my whole life making it really clear to me that I was worthless (fun sidebar: when I was 19 or 20, I read The Portable Nietzsche. I thought a lot of it was bullshit nihilism, but some of it resonated with young me. I wanted to share that with my dad, whose approval and affection I craved, desperately. When I did, he told me I was “being a fucking intellectual” and “nobody likes a fucking intellectual.” I was so humiliated and kicked in the balls by that statement, I never pursued any further reading of philosophy, or mentioned it to him, again). I didn’t even have real public high school experience beyond one awful semester when I was a Freshman. I had no idea what to do, and I was so afraid of failure, I never turned the forms in.
I thought you had to be in a fraternity if you were in a college. I didn’t want to be in a fraternity, so that also terrified me.
Here’s how sheltered I was and how unprepared I was as a kid, crawling into adulthood: I thought you *had* to be in a fraternity if you were in a college. I didn’t know any better, and my dad was in a fraternity (which explains SO MUCH about what a jerk he was hashtag not all frat guys), and TV and movies were heavily focused on that whole thing, so I just extrapolated from what information I had and … well, garbage in, garbage out.
I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I was living my mother’s dream, and trying so hard to do the only thing I was good at because I hoped it would make my dad love me.
For years I told anyone who asked me about it that I had to withdraw because I was getting work as an actor. That’s partially true. I *was* getting work as an actor, but it wasn’t enough to justify not going to a single class. The truth was, I was terrified of the uncertainty. I felt like the only thing that mattered, the only thing I was any good at, was being an actor. And even then, at 18, I knew that it wasn’t my passion. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I was living my mother’s dream, and trying so hard to do the only thing I was good at because I hoped it would make my dad love me, but when I met other actors my own age who hadn’t been pushed into it by their parents, they had a totally different energy around them. They had this incredible and wondrous knowledge of theatre and film and acting technique, that they’d devoured and studied. They had the artistic calling, of art for its own sake.
When I was 19 or 20, I read The Portable Nietzsche. I thought a lot of it was bullshit nihilism, but some of it resonated with young me. I wanted to share that with my dad, whose approval and affection I craved, desperately. When I did, he told me I was “being a fucking intellectual” and “nobody likes a fucking intellectual.” I was so humiliated and kicked in the balls by that statement, I never pursued any further reading of philosophy, or mentioned it to him, again.
I had the fear of failure, and the growing awareness that I didn’t love the one thing I was good at. And, I have to be honest: I wasn’t even that good at it, then. I was OKAY, but not great. I knew that, and I knew that I would get better when I understood technique the way those other young actors did, as opposed to leaning on the instincts and experience I already had.
When I got older and eventually went to drama school, where I studied Meisner Technique for years, I did get better. I’m good at it now, I like being on the set now, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, even the stuff that isn’t that great like The Liar’s Club. That work and those years of study actually contributed to me finding my own path, and discovering the confidence to be a writer and storyteller. I learned when I was in those workshops and scene studies that the performing wasn’t what I loved; it was the preparation, the deconstruction of the scene and the character, the *work* that went into getting to know who the characters were and *why* they were in *this* scene, what was at stake, and what all their obstacles were. As a writer, now, I use all that training I had for scene preparation, when I’m creating a scene from scratch. It’s awesome.
But, way back in 1990, I was just afraid of so many things, and I wasn’t supported in the ways I needed, so I let that fear consume me, and didn’t attend a single class. I have always regretted that.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to take an online course, not for credit, but just for knowledge. I looked at TONS of courses, and decided that I would take a writing course. I have a lot of practical experience writing essays like this one, narrative nonfiction, and short opinion pieces, but I have no formal writing education, beyond reading some books. This is not to say that reading some books hasn’t been helpful! I have learned a TON about structure and character design and pacing from books. I’m a competent fiction writer, and I credit the books I read with helping me understand my own writing process a little better.
But I decided to take a writing class, anyway, because I thought I would get some insights that would help close up the gaps in my knowledge. I spent a lot of time looking around online, and decided to take Brandon Sanderson’s course at BYU. It’s a series of 11 lectures and a Q&A, that was recorded in 2017. I’ve been watching one lecture a day, taking weekends off, and tomorrow I’ll finish.
It’s been a fantastic experience for me. I haven’t learned as much new stuff as I thought I would, but even more importantly, I’ve had many of my instincts and experiences confirmed and validated by someone I respect and admire, who is successful in my field. The new things that I did learn have been PROFOUND for me. Like, huge, epic, explosive revelations and insights that I did not expect at all.
I doubt myself way too much. I’m smarter and more capable than I was raised to believe I am, and it would serve me well to trust my instincts more.
The biggest revelation hit me this afternoon, as today’s lecture was wrapping up: I doubt myself way too much. I’m smarter and more capable than I was raised to believe I am, and it would serve me well to trust my instincts more. I should listen to my OWN voice when I’m creating, and not invent voices that criticize me, humiliate me, or minimize my accomplishments.
I got a lot of good, useful, practical, experience and knowledge from Professor Sanderson’s class, but the most profound thing I got out of it wasn’t even directly related to what he was teaching, which I believe is what going to college is all about.
I don’t know what it’ll be, but I’m going to start another course when I finish this one. Maybe something in history. I’ve always been interested in learning more about the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and that seems really, grossly, horrifyingly relevant to this moment in our history.
I’m really grateful that I can pursue knowledge for its own sake, and I’m even more grateful that I’m not afraid to do it.