It’s been 10 days since arriving in Baton Rouge and every day is full of discovery. The number of people who’ve asked “Why did you come here?” as in why would anyone choose to move here is really amusing. We’ve gotten that question from both locals and transplants. Maybe we haven’t been here long enough to see all the things wrong with it, or we haven’t been here long enough to love it enough to knock it like they do.
I thought I would miss the familiar plant life of New England, but instead I’ve been excided discovering the different plants and specially animals in our neighborhood. A gecko or similar lizard returns nightly to our front window so he can simultaneously hunt bugs and taunt our cats. The birds that frequent our yard have voices I’ve never heard before. And my favorite encounter so far is a small toad that is silent until just after a heavy rain. When the ground is wet and mildly flooded the toads call for mates. The best I can describe is they sound like miniscule sheep and they are loud. I got close enough to one that it screamed “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” in my face.
Not all the encounters with the natural world have been the fun ones. A day after giving our cats a flea treatment we discover they have fleas. We don’t know how long they’ve had the parasites or if the fleas have infested the house so we go out and buy flea powder for the rugs and furniture. The previous tenants left behind a small vacuum and we want to get treat the possible infestation immediately. We give the cats some extra treatment, spread the powder wait a while, and go to vacuum. The machine dies shortly after it fires up.
We try to troubleshoot the problem but rather than spend a long time on it we go buy a new vacuum, one of the stick style ones that can transform in to smaller hand vac for the stairs. The stick vac is not designed for the job at hand and it over fills, shoots powder in to the atmosphere overheats and shuts itself off a couple of times. Eventually we have to concede that cleaning the place will be a 2 part and 2 day job. I get really frustrated and am rather unkind to myself as a result. This morning I made a point to thank L. for being the level headed one last night.
I visualized last night going very different yesterday. I imagined a calm evening writing a blog post about my reading goals and the first visit to campus. That wasn’t how things went. In a way it reflects my expectations in coming to grad school and reminds me where my work lies. I’ve been expecting that leaving the hustle of my home market to study and having a set schedule instead of the inconsistent schedule of the working artist, would create a sense of calm for me. I thought that I could rely on external changes to make me chill. The Battle of the Fleas is a reminder that’s not the case. Life won’t stop because I want to write a blog post, or need to read a thousand pages by dawn. The fleas are coming. It’s on me to create that sense of centeredness internally so I can respond to them and any other challenge from that place. Did not expect to learn so much from a few fleas.
Looking out of a window in to another I think about the things that I most trust to be familiar. The things I trust so deeply they escape notice, and soon will all change. Things like the peeling paint in familiar buildings, and the architecture that reflects tastes of the past. The little plops of green too small to be a yard that dot apartment complexes with the single evergreen tree I’ve seen all my life but can’t name. I’ll miss the windows of the apartments I’ve always dreamed of living in, and the parts of town that are “the last place I want to be.” I’ll miss the smell of ferns in the summer, the brown pine needles in the fall. I’ll miss the million little notes from the environment that I barely notice yet in silent chorus remind me I know where I am. All those notes will change in one week to new and alien song.
I will miss the trust that my environment is familiar. Until my new environment becomes the same.
I’m resurrecting my blog so as to keep a journal of my experience in the LSU graduate Theatre program. Everyone has a story and I hope you find some value in mine. My name is Alan R. White.
Part One: The Movie That Started It All
The year is 2013 and I have the world in my hand. I’m a working actor in Theatre Espresso, The Freedom Trail Foundation, and City Stage Company. My reputation in the theatre community, is that I’m professional, and reliable. Between the three ongoing companies and occasional work on the main stages in Boston, I can sometimes go for 2 years without a survival job and I own the studio apartment of my dreams. Everything is perfect.
But, then I went to see Twelve Years A Slave and I saw everything differently. There was a moment, in that film that changed my perspective of my entire artistic life. It wasn’t the emotionally wrenching scene where Chiwetel Eijofor’s character Solomon Northup, is forced to torture Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o). Its a different moment, or rather two moments that are worlds apart and very alike. When we first meet Solomon Northup in the beginning of the film, he’s walking in a park on a bright sunny day.
People are engaged in leisure activities around him. He is confident, and relaxed with his head high and his step sure. He’s secure in his world and in himself. And then, toward the end of the film, there is another similar scene. Solomon is walking on the plantation where he has been enslaved for twelve years. Its another bright sunny day. People are engaged in back breaking labor all around him. The composition of the scene is similar to the earlier one, but Solomon is transformed. His walk is stooped, and small as if every step is an attempt to be invisible. His gaze shifts from side to side like one who is in a constant state of fight or flight. He was still the same person but so changed from the one we met 2 hours earlier.
When I see this scene, this moment, this walk, I’m longer lost in the story. For the first time I’m able to see both the story and an actor’s craft as it plays out before me. Watching Chiwetel Eijofor in the moment, walking. Every one of my performances over the past thirteen years rushes back to my mind and I start to cry. Compared to what I see in just that walk, every all of my performances, are mediocre.
Something must change.
I’m 15 days in to my low carb diet. Mostly it’s been easy to change my eating habits. I think the fact that I quit smoking long ago has worked in my favor. I’m not counting carbs very often. I’ve stopped eating grains, refined sugars and baked goods for now. For the most part I only check the carb content when I’m tempted to buy snack. If a single serving of the snack has over 20g of carbs or a high sugar content I put it down and make another choice. Fortunately I love nuts *snicker* so they are a go to for me. Otherwise I eat more proteins and double down on the vegetables. I did recently have a major need for sweets so I found a recipe for keto cookies that foot the bill.
When I get back to my target weight I want to bring grains back but in much smaller portions than I’ve eaten them.
So about that target weight thing. My scale lies lies LIES! We have a digital scale which one would think is very accurate. But depending on the day I step on it it tells me a different weight. When I started this trip my scale said I weighed either somewhere between 176 – 174lbs. those numbers were 24 hours apart and this was before I changed any eating habits.
At different times It has said I weighed different amounts throughout. So Today I decided to test it. I stepped on the scale three times in a row. Not changing anything except allowing the scale to recalibrate to zero between each weighing. It reported that I weighed 172, 168, 170 lbs in that order. Lies lies LIES!
I’ve started a low carb diet to 1: see if I can make my stomach less squishy, and 2: Help reduce my risk of diabetes which runs in my family big time. I don’t want to go on an extreme keto diet even though people have had amazing results from it. I tell myself that I think the <20 grams of carbs would require habits I can’t sustain. Honestly though I’m repulsed by the idea of butter in my coffee. So I’m setting a limit of <100 carbs a day. That just feels more reasonable to me. Also I’m leaving my options open for cheat days.
Today is day 4 of eating low carbs and right away I’ve noticed that I’m thinking more about what I eat. My automatic snacks used to be something like crackers or a granola bar. I’d grab them as much out of habit as anything. Now when I go for a snack I need to take a moment to think about what I’m going to eat. This has helped me to recognize a lot of eating habits I want to change. Like the number of times a day I go for a snack when I’m not hungry, but I need a break from whatever I was doing. Another big realization was that I don’t sweets as much as I thought. I see a candy bar or a cupcake and have an impulse to buy it and eat it. Since that’s right out I plan what I will have when I get home. Shortly after I’ve left the store and the sweet treat isn’t in my line of vision I realize I’m not hungry and I don’t actually want the thing it was just there. I still feel those impulses almost like a addicted response but I know what they are and I leave the Take 5 bar alone. The range of foods available on the low carb diet are a big help. I’m lucky enough to like a lot of food so I don’t feel like my choices are limited to the levels that I’m suffering and I’ve adapted surprisingly quickly to coffee without sugar.
This is such an excellent post please check it out https://www.imannmilner.com/blog/2017/7/24/6-things-to-ask-artists-instead-of-what-are-you-working-on-a-plea
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing “American Moor” at the BCA Plaza. It’s elegant, powerful passionate theatre that seamlessly moves from precise control to raw emotion. Keith Hamilton Cobb drops truth with humor, grace and a total command of the stage that commands the audience’s engagement. The play is about Cobb’s experience as an actor of Color in America. I experienced both my similarities and differences to his story and left the the theater unable to contain my own vast emotions. I strongly recommend this show! American Moore runs until August 12.
The Dwarves -Pinter
No matter where you are on your theatrical journey you will receive a great deal of advice mostly from people who are not actors nor even work in entertainment or the arts. While they mean well, most of this advice should be ignored. I understand the implicit hypocrisy of writing advice to ignore advice and I remind you again to feel free to ignore me, or if you prefer think of these as letters of inspiration.
The moment a young man or woman states “I want to be an actor.” there will be no end of well meaning loved ones, friends, and strangers quick to offer such advice as “That’s a hard way to make a living.”, “Don’t quit your day job.” or “Just do it as a hobby”. Should the young person persist in their interest then the second wave of advice will come and the well wishers will say “Make sure you have a fall back.” and “Have a five year plan.”.
Should you encounter such advisors dear actor, bear them no ill will. They do not speak from a place of malice, but an honest desire for your happiness. Unfortunately, many well wishers in an honest desire to see you happy expect you to fail. Again, this is not with malicious machinations, but an honest wish to protect you from a life of tragedy. Friends and family who love you but do not see your world from the inside have a very limited view of its possible successes and failures. They will imagine you as the starving artist seeking shelter in derelict buildings, subsisting on scraps of food, walking miles through the snow in hole riddled clothes to desperately audition for steel eyed directors only to face rejection after rejection. Worst of all for those well wishers, they will imagine you unhappy, weeping, crying out frustrated in your dark hovel with only the cockroaches to hear you.
The imaginings of these well wishes is a possibility, but not a necessity dear actor. Thus unlike those who love you, you must expect to succeed. It is in the face of this loving advice that staying true to the expectation of success is most difficult. Because in those instances where the expectation of failure does come from one who is malicious, resentful, or just a dick; we have, just by living among other people, years of experience in deflecting such negativity. But such advise is most insidious when it comes from those most well meaning and it as at such times that it must be most resisted. For if you expect failure, and plan for failure, that is exactly what you shall achieve.