For Ermengarde, Wherever You May Find Her

I recently received a Facebook message from my friend Kaela, owner of Frock Clothing Co. in downtown Kelowna. It was partially a thank-you to a number of people she credits for inspiring her and also a large blog post about a chance encounter she recently had, how it affected her, how the person she met was affected, and piece of personal advice. I felt it was important to share her post here, with her blessing of course, in case any other creative types were feeling tired, burned-out or confused about where they are in life.

I got the most incredible letter today from a girl whom I met while she was shopping in my store. Let’s call her Ermengarde for storytelling purposes (after a character in my favourite childhood novel. I was always like: wow. Cool name.) Ermengarde was at a crossroads when we first spoke: feeling like she needed to pursue something creative, but also feeling the pressure to succeed financially. These two things aren’t always mutually exclusive (pretty sure Angelina Jolie isn’t ripping through the ‘seen-better-days bargain basket’ at the co-op looking for the loaf of bread with the most easily removable mold). Unfortunately, the term “starving artist” exists for a reason. There are no pensions. There are no “benefits” if you get sick. Job security is as tangible as a pet unicorn, and you’re often asked to work for free. (think of the exposure!) In fact, most of the artists i know have a Joe-job to cover their bills.

Joe-job (noun): The thing you get paid minimum wage to do so that you can afford your career as an artist; e.g. Server, salesperson, pretending to be a criminal at the justice institute while police in training interview you (yes, that’s a job, and yes, you do have to sign a waiver stating that if your acting is so great that you force an officer to physically restrain you and you get hurt, you will not sue).

My First Impression of Ermengarde: A Paragraph

This girl is beautiful. If you were standing behind her in a bookstore line you’d be irritated because she’s too pretty to be reading books and being all smart. That’s not fair to the rest of us. It crossed my mind that I should probably trip her because life is going to be too easy for her and someone needs to teach her that life is hard. Like a floor. After books fall on you. But then when she speaks she’s gracious and funny. She laughs at herself. She’s totally vulnerable when she talks about her dreams, and vulnerability in anyone is so lovable because it makes us feel less afraid to open our own hearts a little. I remember thinking after she left: wow. That girl will succeed no matter what she does. I actually thought that! When does that happen?? And then I got this letter.

Letter from Ermengarde

She starts by thanking me. She says I am inspiring and that my last blog post really moved her. My first thought: holy shitballs! Someone who isn’t my best friend is actually reading my blog!!!! Yessssssssssss!!!! My second thought: ooooh shitballs. Am I being honest in my blogs? I’m a shit-show. Did I clarify that somewhere?? Dear reader: these are my thoughts. I want to share them with you but be forewarned – I’m a total flake. If you want to be inspired you should find a different blog from someone who actually knows stuff. I can’t remember putting that in my last blog. I have a mild panic attack and then continue reading.

Ermengarde goes on to say that she feels lost. She’s got the 9 to 5 job and the boyfriend. She bakes. Her home is so clean it sparkles and she’s hosting this year’s Christmas party. Somehow her life turned into a cookie cutter existence and she’s lost her spirit. She wants advice. She wants to know if I really believe in jumping into something without having any idea where you’ll end up or what the consequences might be. She asks me what steps she should take. She thinks I’m qualified to answer these questions because I’ve somehow opened a business that’s artsy. Jesus.

Things I’m Thinking of In Response

Yes. I really believe in following your heart. I always do what my heart tells me to do even when my brain is violently opposed. It’s never been the wrong thing for me. But I’m not a success story. I’ve got no business giving advice to anyone.

On my first day of theatre school my orientation began with this statement: “If any of you in this room can think of anything you could do with your life that would make you happy other than the performing arts, please (pause), please (longer pause. Exhale), go and do that. There is not one thing about this path that will ever be easy.”

She wasn’t wrong. I spent years after theatre school chasing my dream. I’ve auditioned for countless horrible commercials, prepared a million monologues for generals, been kicked out of a T.V. and film audition after only having delivered one line. That was the worst, “Okay, thank-you,” I’ve ever received. I’ve been asked how quickly I can drop ten pounds. On one callback (3rd. I had stars in my eyes!) the casting director came into the room where I was sitting with one other woman and exclaimed, “Hi!!!! Just so you know, this is pretty much a formality. The director really wants you. We’re just going through the motions.”

She wasn’t talking to me. That was such a blow. I’d spent days working on my sides. I was over the moon that I’d gotten a callback. I’d paid for a private coaching and had my make-up professionally done that morning to make sure I looked pretty on camera. That’s so embarrassing to me now… that I wanted something so badly. The worst part: I had called my dad and he had sounded proud of me. I sat on my kitchen floor when I got home and sobbed. I slapped myself in the face over and over and over again because I needed to feel anything other than absolute failure. I said out loud, “Why are you so useless!!?? (slap) You’re useless!!! (slap).”

I said it so many times I believed it. On bad days I still hear those words in my head. I didn’t shower for a week.

When I was in university people would often ask what I was taking. I’d say, “Theatre arts.” And they’d say, “Well what are you going to be?” I’d say, “An actor.” They’d say, “But what will you do for work?” I’d say, “Act.” They’d say, “Better stay in school.” Ha ha ha. I’d think, “Go fuck yourself.” Ha ha ha.

During those years I’d often talk in my sleep. I’d try to serve my boyfriend drinks in bed. He’d nudge me gently and say, “Take a break, Kaela. It’s break-time. No one needs drinks.” Apparently that would stop the talking. I’m a very good server. I can actually do it in my sleep.

Don’t get me wrong. Magic happened for me in these years too. I’ve been in commercials and films, I’ve written and produced my own one woman show, I’ve gotten incredible theatre parts. A standing ovation in a theatre is indescribable. The lights are in your eyes so you can’t see faces, just outlines of bodies. And they just keep clapping. Those are moments I will have for the entirety of my life. I’ve earned them and no one can ever take them away.

How Can I Wrap This Up?

The store… Oh man! I love my store!! It’s not making millions, but it’s paying the bills. The key to its success? Artists!! It’s so strange. I think artists are like sharks sometimes and we can smell blood in the water. I’ll post a quote at the end of this that will make that line make sense. Artists bring me insane clothes to sell. Artists come to my shop before they go anywhere else because they are trying to support me. I often use dancers and photographers and musicians in my events. I can’t even express what artists have done for me with almost no monetary reward. Even my employees; they’re artists and they deliver again and again and again. Artists take care of their own.

For Ermengarde

Sometimes the grass is greener on your side. There is no stability over here. I think I’m incapable of tying myself down. I have so many friends with beautiful homes, and routines, and kids that they throw birthday parties for. I watch it all from outside and sometimes I am racked with sorrow. If only my house sparkled!! My advice for you is cliché. I’m sorry.

Be you.

That’s all I’ve got. You’ve got success written all over you. Like for real. And every time you put yourself out there as an artist, the arts community will do its best to hold you up.

This is who I am: I’m brave. I follow my heart. I am ridiculous. I am a terrible example always. I can handle a little failure but I’m really fucking dramatic about it. This store that looks successful? It’s temporary. I’ll blink my eyes one day and just disappear.

Hemingway


Leave a Comment