Tuesday, June 26, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 5)

1 Corinthians 1:25 - "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

"The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!"

- Robert Burns

the following may or may not have fictional elements added in or subtracted from...to keep you wondering what actually happened, of course.

warning:  this entry is long.  it could be tl;dr.  perhaps i will write a cliffnotes version sometime.

Lancaster, PA Summer 1997

As an adolescent boy, there's a muddled period where one may mistake being in love for many different things, from a close friendship to a physical feeling in one's loins.  But one thing is for sure, an adolescent boy's heart doesn't fear falling in love, whatever that may look like, as it has not yet experienced inevitable moments of heartbreak.

As a logical and somewhat already cynical teenager, I had already become somewhat misanthropic.  I expected the worst in people, partly because it seemed like most people shat on my face and gave me their worst growing up.  I grew up feeling like I had to prove something to people.  Because of that, the idea of love, let alone love at first sight, seemed like a baseless one to me.  I rolled my eyes at stories like "Romeo and Juliet", based on a bunch of 13-14 year olds who killed themselves because of a relationship that spanned a few days.  It also didn't help that my self-confidence in social scenarios was at an all time low.  I remember turning down this cute girl at a dance in middle school because I thought she was asking me to dance as a practical joke.  (Looking back, I don't think she was.  Drats.)

My perspective all changed one night when I was at nerd camp.  It was the last night and there were dance festivities, and fortunately, since everyone was a nerd, there were no inhibitions of trying to look "cool".  Everyone was getting into the night, singing, dancing, having a ball of a time.  Then it happened.  It was a typical scene in a hackneyed movie plot, the popular girl who's actually secretly a wallflower was hanging out with her posse of friends.  But in that one moment where she wasn't totally engaged with the rest of her group, her gaze slowly drifted towards mine.

Although she was pretty cute, it wasn't like she was particularly beautiful, but in that moment she might as well have been the only girl on the planet.  There was just something about that second where a few feet away, her eyes just locked with mine and all this information (or imagined information) transferred as if we could see into each other's respective souls.  From that look, I believed that I knew everything about her personality, that somehow I knew that she was down to earth, free-spirited, warm-hearted, and sometimes liked to spend time indoors with a good book on a rainy day under the glow of a candle-lit lantern.  That second in time was bliss in itself, there was no commitment, no relationship, no words, just that moment frozen, where the imagination could lead to infinite possibilities.  It felt almost criminally pleasurable to be in that moment.  And I was thinking what the hell, it's hard to look right at you baby, so here's my number...

But then my inhibitions took over.  The time to act had passed and I broke eye contact.  I had been given a trip to the free throw line and I didn't even bother to take the shot.  I spent that entire summer going back home wondering what I could've done differently, and wondering if a moment like that would ever come back, where the magical feeling of being in love was that simple and easy.

Of course, now being more than twice that age, I can tell that boy that he was being stupid.  "You only lived 13 years of your damn life and you're already regretting things you haven't done?  STRAP IN AND PREPARE FOR THE RIDE, BITCH."

But to this day I've never felt that way, however fleeting it was, about anyone else.  It made me believe and hope for something mystical pure and exciting, and that belief in and of itself can become a dangerous thing, when you realize that sometimes you're just chasing after ghosts.

Durham, NC Fall 2002

I can remember thinking that there were a lot of trees.  My parents and I drove had driven through the forest of Duke and I was a tad apprehensive about the surroundings.  I had never visited campus prior to applying to the school, in fact, I knew little about it before applying except that my cousin had went before and their brochure and packet looked interesting enough to apply.

Being a northerner, it's almost a culture shock to come down south, even though it's technically the same country.  To be sure, Duke is somewhat shielded by its college campus bubble, but everything just seemed slower, the demographic was a bit whiter, but I suppose the air was a bit cleaner.

It was truly a harrowing experience for me, as I felt like a fish out of water.  I didn't know anyone at Duke, and honestly, unfamiliarity is not my cup of tea.  I didn't think it would turn out like this, seeing as this was the only school I applied to that was not in the northeast, but alas, it seemed that the way I envisioned things were going to be different from how they were.  I was somewhat somber as I knew most of my friends would be staying in a general 250 mile radius away from New York, and I felt like I was getting booted off the island.

(in creepy Michael Emerson voice): "It's what the island wants, John, it's what the island wants."

There was one friend I knew living in North Carolina, who had graduated from Tufts University that year.  He was the older guy from my home church that everyone looked up to, because he had his life "figured out" at that point, having success in his field of computer science and landing a good job out of college at IBM.  Early on, once I had landed, I had a dinner with him at a nearby Chili's.

We chatted over dinner, mainly about his college experiences, and what to expect going in.  Then I asked him why he came to NC to work, as IBM had plenty of other offices in more attractive locations.  He told me that he came here specifically because it was different than what he experienced, that it was an opportunity to grow as a person.

I didn't know what he was talking about back then, but a decade later, I think I get it.  Being too comfortable doesn't allow you to see outside of yourself too often, and I've found that you don't really change for the better in those kinds of scenarios.  Going to Duke was an experience I may not have wanted, but it was something I needed.

San Juan, Puerto Rico Fall 2006

Life was changing at a pace I wasn't ready for.  It was weird to wake up and realize that you're a millionaire after being just a regular kid a few months back.  I was determined to live life as "normal" and treat the score as a one time deal that I'd just put away.  Despite that, I felt a lot of overwhelming responsibility and pressure, as if I had to justify myself and my circumstances.  The new people I met treated me differently, I suspect, than if I was just another person.  It felt a little isolationist to be identified as "the poker guy" when I felt I was so much more than that; it was hard to make deep connections with people.

But I was looking forward to coming back to New York, because I saw it as a place where I could get back to home, a place of a familiarity.  But instead, starting a job as a consultant, I was being shipped off to Puerto Rico from Sunday to Friday, and although my team members were friendly enough, I was not happy about moving to a totally new place and having virtually no friends and no stability for most of the week.

I was unhappy my first year, there was an incident where I was accused of visiting suspicious websites at work, when that was simply not the case.  The client we worked at had some sort of software that red flagged a poker forum website I frequented, and apparently it came up as malware.  The story then ballooned into a rumor where I was caught for either playing poker and/or watching pornography at the client site.  I was almost fired my first few weeks at work because I was reading forums and updating my fantasy baseball teams at 2am when my computer was busy performing model calculations.  I found this to be pretty fucked up.  My next year and a half at the company had this cloud over me because of this incident as a result.  Looking back, fuck them.

Because of another dramatic incident that happened around the same time, I was at the brink of clinical depression.  I spent a lot of nights in my hotel room lying on my bed alone, listening to the piano version of "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera that the maids would leave in the CD player.  Sometimes, I'd even go out to the beach alone (that's one good thing that damn place was good for) and walk for a bit.  It was very emo.

One of my sister's friends from Harvard was on my first project with me, serving as somewhat of a mentor for me.  She helped me get through those times by speaking up for me and supporting me throughout the transition into real life.  One morning on the way to work, as I was voicing my doubts about the path I was taking, she told me that she believed my sister and I were capable of great things.  She told me that all this was a growing process of finding what I really wanted.

It would be later on that I did not consider my bosses to be doing great things in the world, and finally decided that I did not want to remain in that industry.

Orange County, California Summer 2008

Between me and my new friend that I met in Las Vegas, we must have lost close to 100k that summer playing silly poker tournaments.  Although I had made a decent amount from cash games in the months after I left the finance world, losing a car or two's worth of money wasn't a fun experience, especially when I was technically unemployed.  I decided to spend a few weeks afterwards in California to take my mind off things.

I hadn't been to the LA area since I was in middle school doing that cliche Asian tour of the Grand Canyon, LA and Las Vegas.  It was very...chill.  I stayed with a friend from church in the Diamond Bar area, who had some friends that we would hang out with on a day to day basis, and it was very relaxing as we mainly went to the beach, house parties, ate some in n out burgers etc.  I spent a lot of that time wondering what life would be like on the west coast, what it would look like actually living there.  It was a good way of getting away from the hectic past two years.

That summer I had also been considering pursuing acting, and being LA, it was natural that my friend suggested that I move out there.  I was still unsure and on the fence, at the time I didn't realize how much the industry permeated the city.  Since my family and friends all resided on the east coast, the prospect of moving out to LA was even more daunting than the previous experience I had moving for college.

But I couldn't escape the feeling that something felt right here, thousands of miles from familiarity, for the first time in a long while, I felt something close to being...happy.

Columbia University, New York Winter 2009

I walked away from something I had held onto for years.  A glimmer of hope slowly faded like a glowing ember in the fireplace.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was something that was for the better, and that's not just me saying that to comfort myself in hindsight.

In these kinds of moments however, events have a way of burning themselves into your mind permanently.  You remember that you were eating chicken, that you spill hot chocolate on your right arm, the feel of the light snow and cold in the air, and you remember every word being said to you, and you hold on dearly, because you know they could be the last.

Out of that moment there was one last question I remember that stuck with me.  The question posed to me was, "What is your greatest fear?"

I thought about it for a bit, but not too seriously, but my gut response was that my greatest fear was that at the age of 50, I would look back at my life and want to do it any differently.

She told me, "So promise me that you won't."

I promised.

- - - - - - - - - -

If someone were to assess my talents and skills, they would probably say that my competitive advantage lies in quantitative and conceptual knowledge, that I would probably be best suited in some sort of mathematical oriented field.  It's somewhat true, and I get it when my mother believes that I would be better suited to pursue a career that would lead to being someone like the Federal Reserve Chairman of the United States.  And who knows, maybe I will come back to something like that in the future.

But if there's anything I've learned from my life, it's that no matter what I planned or pursued, there's been an unseen force that's been guiding it in another direction.  The pursuits that I thought were to be wise, or innocent, or pure, ended up being poisoned by my own misdirection.

All my life, I've hungered for control.  Control for where I was going, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to become.  Part of it was because I felt like I had so little control in my childhood, because I was sacrificing it in exchange for control I would have over my life later on.  There was a sense of entitlement, that I had somehow deserved to be in control.

And this clinging onto control has led me to failure multiple times, and will probably lead me there many more.  And that's what's scary about going into acting, because there's precisely no knowing of what will happen.  It's out of my hands, it's out of my control.  Qualifications and everything go out the window, and it comes down to how much of life can I showcase to the world.

But I do have the belief that I do have a lot of life.  I was shifted to a lot of different places, through college, work, poker, and other travels, so that my path was laden with people from all different walks of life. From my above average sense of recall, I have been able to synthesize that into my own experiences.

And though I don't know ultimately where this road will take me, I want to act because I believe it is the next step of my growth as a person, the step that God will lead me to.  It is ultimately up to Him whether I "make it", but even if I don't, I'm starting to find the mentality that it's not the result but the journey that matters.

- - - - - - - - -

That being said, I'm going to miss New York.