[As I go through massive change in my life at the moment, I am reminded of those other moments of massive change in my life, when I left NYC for Berlin, and then when I left Berlin for LA. I’m revisiting those changes partly out of nostalgia and partly as a way to feel more grounded and complete now. As part of that process, I am sharing some entries from my diary as I remind myself of what that time felt like.]
Monday, October 27, 2003
Today I received an email from my friend Julia. I immediately printed it out and stuck it on the wall.
As for failure in New York, you’re wrong, success is not a straight line, and talent is not made in an instant, it’s a process. You learn on the job. You are adding with each step, to a body of work. Great careers happen over a lifetime.
Berlin is allowing you to stretch your abilities, and test new directions, that’s why traveling is important if you hope to touch wider audiences. Each culture you encounter has a lot to offer you, currently and historically.
Don’t lose courage, that’s half the battle. In the mid-80’s I met Iggy Pop, he’d been living for years in Berlin with a wealthy women, wasting time mostly, writing a chaotic drug induced book. He was totally broke, David Bowie had recorded China Girl to help him out, but he felt his career was over. Sitting on the floor of my shop, he despaired over his failures, he called himself a one-hit has-been. And it seemed to be true. I remember we went to an MTV party one night, the doorman was willing to let my designing partner and myself in, but not Iggy. Nevertheless, he’d managed to record an album and started his concert promotion of Dog Eat Dog. We created the costumes and saw the first shows in New York, which weren’t very good. He was rusty and lacked confidence, but slowly he gained momentum. By the time he returned to NY after the tour, he’d reinvented himself.
When you feel down, go to bookstores, or the library, study the images of earlier performers, look at art magazines, listen to different musics, see modern dance and theater, fill your head with old and new ideas. Art will lift you spirits, and ghosts of the stage will whisper inspiration in your ears.
As for talent, are you telling me you think Bob Dylan has a nice voice, or David Bowie, or Madonna? Bowie was a minor player in his early days, and Madonna was, at first sighting, just another disco doll. They now seem larger then life through the lenses of revisionist history and good PR.
Like Bowie, you’re using performance to entertain with ideas and visual symbols, commenting on aspects of our changing culture, or that’s what I get from the powerful voice you write with.
As a woman, biology is pushing your brain to find security, the old “home sweet home” hormones at work. That accounts for the nagging self-doubt. To beat it, reframe your work, think of your friends as your family, the stage as your home, and your career as your child to be nurtured. You speak for your generation, you have in you the power to open doors. That, with a microphone and lighting is talent.
I am feeling better today. I did yoga. I’m going to the hardware store to get paint for my room…thinking yellow and red…life still feels overwhelming and uncertain but at least it is sunny outside, and i bought a lovely lamp at the flea market yesterday.
i have been spending a lot of time with this boy who is a friend of a friend of mine. Part of me is feeling that definite crush sensation, but it is being paired with an almost physical fear of opening up my walls a crack. I am so barricaded right now because I am so vulnerable that I am afraid to open up at all for fear that everything will come rushing out in a huge gush of tears and fears and needs.
I am not on stable enough ground to start standing still.
One reason my apartment is so bare is because I have spent so little time in it. I have actually been pushing myself pretty hard, trying to get as much of my energy out into the world as possible, since I think that is the first essential step to getting anything started.
But yes, i have been meeting lots and lots of amazing people. I keep feeling like I am on first dates with them all, since I keep telling everyone the same introductory stories, but they have been worth telling the stories to, and they have told me some pretty worthwhile ones back.
I met a wonderful woman named Monica who is going to sing with me…we are going to put together a duo where she sings along with me on my songs, and we also write some new ones together. Her style couldn’t be more different than mine, but I think it will complement mine really, really well.
I have also met a woman named Merle who is a choreographer and a dancer and who is going to work with me and Monica on this project. We will see where it takes us…
In the meantime, I expend all the energy I can in searching for other collaborators…I feel like the more people I meet and connect with, the more my energy is sent out through the city, and the greater my chances of success and happiness.
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I did go on to record with Monica. You can hear one of the songs here:
I did choreograph some songs with Merle. You can see little clips throughout this video.
I stayed in Berlin for three years, during which I built up a pretty amazing body of work, some pretty amazing experiences, and made some pretty amazing friends. But I got tired of the solitude of being a one woman company. I got tired of touring almost constantly. I got tired of never knowing if I’d be able to pay my rent next month. And I knew I didn’t want to be living that life when I was forty.
So shortly before my thirtieth birthday, I left it all behind and moved to Los Angeles to go to graduate school. I was going to get my MA and become a teacher. Which is what I did. And I’ve spent the last five years teaching.
And now, ten years basically to the day from when I first moved to Berlin, I’ve started a whole new path, yet again. I’ve abandoned safety and those “home sweet home” instincts Julia so wisely referenced. I’ve gone back to school, (foolishly?) in pursuit of a PhD. I’ve cut back on my teaching load, I’ve abandoned the comfort zone, and I’ve decided to keep investing in my career. Most days, it feels like the only thing I’ve got.
But one of the remarkable aspects of revisiting my diary entries from ten years ago is a reminder of the fact that it’s never easy. Time heals and blurs, encouraging you to forget how fear felt, how anxiety gripped you, so that you have the courage to try again. It’s the same reflex that allows you to fall in love, no matter how bitter the last heartbreak.
Even though I feel like I “failed” in New York, and in certain ways I “failed” in Berlin, in the sense that I didn’t get everything I wanted, even though I had to leave to get closer to where I wanted to be, careers happen over a lifetime. I’m building a body of work.
So now, when everything feels overwhelming and terrifying and new and impossible, I take comfort in the fact that everything has felt like that before, and still I managed to survive. Odds are, if all goes as planned, I’ll survive again this time.