Saturday, April 28, 2012

I am an actor.

I am practicing saying this out loud.  And also writing it in public spaces.

I have always had trouble answering confidently when people ask, "What do you do?"

My hesitation derives from a combination of self-doubt (every artist's personal demon) and the idiotic responses I get from people when I say I'm an actress.

Proof!  Look at me learning lines at the last minute!

Actually, let's start here: gender.  I tend to say I'm an actor.  To me, this is a gender-neutral term (although my friend Ariel did suggest the alternative use of 'actron', and I like that), and it leaves out some of my personal qualms with the diva qualities (personal prejudice) associated with the word 'actress'.
New Acquaintance: "So, what is it you do?"
Anne: "I'm an actor."
NA: "Don't you mean 'actress'?"
I don't remember getting this particular line so much when I was in the States, so maybe it's a British thing, but I find it infuriating.

To be fair, some of the people who ask me this question do not speak English as a first language, so it could be a sign of a genuine translation problem, especially for those whose native tongues include gendered articles and pronouns.  Nevertheless, if they continue to argue the point after I say, "No, I mean actor.  An actor can be a man or a woman," I generally sigh and walk away.

If we get beyond or bypass this first hiccup in the conversation, what usually follows is this:
NA: "That's great.  Been in anything I would have seen?"
It's probably because I have not been in anything you would have seen that this question perturbs me so (refer to aforementioned self-doubt), but I also find this type of comment naïve and reductive.

It's like when I tell people I do stand-up and they say, "Really?  Tell us a joke."  It's as though, if you told me you were an accountant, I'd say, "Really? File my taxes."  Because being an accountant means that you want to do my accounting.  Right now.  In this environment that is totally inappropriate for crunching numbers.

I also think that if I had been in something you had SEEN, you probably would have SEEN me in it, thus making the question moot.

As a result, when asked this seemingly uncontroversial question, I usually begin with, "Um..."  In that moment of verbal hesitation, I am considering whether I should just lie; whether I should tell this person that I am just a bartender (I am a bartender, so it's not an egregious falsehood), rather than delve into a lengthy explanation of an actor's struggle to be valued and paid as a part of a creative venture.

No more!  I am an actor, and a damned good one at that.  I landed a paid gig at my first London audition.  In the last year I have shot three short films (two of which I wrote or conceptualised), was flown to France to perform at the Cannes Film Festival, worked with two wildly popular and successful interactive theatre companies, and secured two commercial auditions, all without an agent or showreel.  Imagine what I'll do when I get the agent and showreel sorted.

I am an actor.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wedding season begins

A few weeks ago, I went to my second cousin's wedding.

This is one of two second cousins that I only realised I had a few years ago when we reunited on my mom's recommendation whilst I was living in France.  I knew my mom still had cousins in the UK (my grandparents are Scottish), but I didn't realise there were any kicking around in my generation.

In the strange turn of events that has reversed the immigration of my family to the US (okay, not my whole family, just me, but it has that "full circle" sentiment), I have bonded with these cousins, and when the younger one decided to get hitched, he invited me along.

I didn't know many people at the wedding.  In fact, other than the half-dozen or so people I am directly related to, I only knew one person.  We created the false appearance of being together by arriving together, and I didn't want to cramp his style.

Weddings are obviously — if I understand movies to be an accurate reflection of life — rife with desperate (probably sexy), single women whose desperation and single status are being thrown in their faces by the ONE THING they want MORE THAN ANYTHING: marriage OR, if you get them drunk enough, any single dude in sight.

Anyway, I wanted to let my non-date get on with the mingling, so I had a lot of time for personal reflection.  Here are some things I learned (or was reminded) about myself:

1.  My camera is shit

Or I am a terrible photographer.  Or both!  My digital camera is definitely old, and when I bought it on sale four years ago before moving to France, I didn't know anything about appealing features, other than low price.

In any case, the only photos that turned out from that day were those taken by other people.

The good news is, I now have lots of fun pictures of me with relatives that I don't get to see very often, including one with a my Gran's sister's sister-in-law (you figure it out) whose name is also Anne!

The bad news is that I have no reasonable photos of the actual bride and groom, or of the ceremony itself.  Maybe I should stop taking my camera out of the house, altogether.

2. I am bad at turning off my hospitality-industry self

REALLY bad.  It is a special combination of social awkwardness and control mongering (sprinkled with a pinch of critical nature) that makes a person want to clear away champagne glasses and serve canapés rather than interact with unfamiliar human adults.

This was the first wedding I had attended in a year at which I was not a member of the service staff, and I found myself either gripping my own thigh to prevent myself from removing empty glasses from outdoor ledges, or engaging in conversations with strangers about what the service staff was doing wrong.  Because it's okay to be a dick about service when you're part  of the service industry.  Right?

3. I like holding babies and playing with children

In fact, I like both of those things way more than trying to make small talk with people I will never, ever see again.  (Refer to above feelings about interacting with unfamiliar human adults.)

I really like babies.  You might call it a 'maternal instinct' or my 'biological clock ticking away', but  I have loved babies since I was about 7 and saw myself fit to look after the 'smaller children' at family gatherings.  I was definitely not old enough to bear them, so there.  I get all warm and fuzzy when I see babies and I like to hold them and coo and cradle them back and forth.  (Also, holding a baby means no free hands to obsessively do the waitstaff's job.)  Sue me.

I also have a survival instinct.  I like to hold babies for a little while, and then I like to give them back.

Playing with children is something I probably enjoy more now than when I was a child.  Okay, that can't be true, but I was kind of an anxious nerd of a kid, and so many games seemed to involve a level of athleticism that I did not possess, so — as not to injure my fragile pride — I spent most recesses in the library.  In fact, I think they made a new rule limiting the number of recesses you could spend in the library per week because of me.

Now, though, I love playing with kids.  They are so much easier to win over than adults.  Instead of talking about the weather — and that painful, 12-minute conversation actually did happen — or explaining what it is you do, you can just be silly and make up games like Put Your Foot On a Rock!  Kids love it when you're silly.  Plus, I have become much more athletic in my 20s than I was as a child, and I can set the bar really low with games like the above-mentioned and by competing against a 4-year old.

4. I am softening on this whole marriage/wedding thing

I used to always say having kids was much more important to me than ever getting married.

I'm sure, if pressed, certain friends would recall me declaring, "I'll never get married!" in a highly impassioned manner.

I've definitely said that if I did get married, I would not have a wedding, "because there are better things to spend money on!"  I still think it's silly to spend what some people do on weddings, but I've been to some really special ones of late (discounting the ones I've worked at), and I guess I can kind of see the point.  Love and celebrating with friends and all that.

That's the end of the list but I just want to say one or two more things.

I had a lot of fun at this wedding.  My list makes it seem like all I did was complain to toddlers about the quality of service, but I only did that for a few minutes before I realised I was at the wrong table.

Thanks to the magical social lubricant that is alcohol, I did manage to have ongoing conversations with adults, and I might have even made some witty remarks.  I danced, I mingled, I ate a delicious dinner, and my trusty non-date let me pass out for the entire train journey back to London, ensuring only that I did not carry on sleeping and miss the last tube.

If more of my days were filled with holding babies, drinking pink Prosecco, and sleeping through long public transit journeys, I don't think I'd have much to complain about.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Home Sweet East London

I love my neighbourhood.

I crutched down to Roman Road today—an area known either for its tourist-attracting market or prevalent pick-pockets, depending on whom you ask—to return a library book and pick up a few grocery items.  It was (momentarily) sunny, the Cockney salesmen were shouting from their stalls, and my foot was feeling pretty good.

(I went for my latest check-up/rebandaging on Monday, by the way, and it's looking good.  Half of the skin has grown back, and my fingers are crossed for full coverage by my next appointment on Thursday.  I'm still using the crutches, but I'm able to put partial weight on my foot, as opposed to its previous state of too-sore-to-touch-ground.  Exciting stuff!)

I had completed my errands and was returning back down the road towards my house as two construction workers approached me.  One of them looked at me, made a sad face and said, "Aw, babes*, are you alright?"  I chuckled lightly and said, "Yeah, thanks."

A minute later, after a very old man briskly overtook me on the sidewalk—this probably would have depressed me last week, but today I just found it funny—, another man who was walking in front of me stepped into a doorway, turned, saw me and said, "Oh, sorry love, you alright?"

Now, British people do have a propensity towards being overly apologetic—the word "sorry" tends to be used  in place of "Excuse me", "Watch out", and "Oh my god if you don't move I will kick you"—and "Alright?" is a common East London greeting, rather than a genuine enquiry after one's well-being, but I still felt the love.

I've now been in London a year (as of the 1st of April), and I've been in my current place since July.  Moving to London was an exciting but rough transition, and it's taken me this long to finally start feeling at home.  I'm doing lots of writing and filming these days, I'm looking for new, less terrible jobs,  and members of my community call me "babes" and "love" and clear out of my crutchy path.  I may have a bum foot at the moment, but the cockles of my heart are toasty warm.

*It took me a while to adjust to the fact that everyone on this isle uses terms of endearment in a very familiar fashion.  I used to get a little bit offended and want to yell things back like, "I'm not your sweetheart!", but now I like it. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

I know it could be worse.

I almost cried at the hospital today.  It was not out of pain, though my foot has suddenly gone from being blissfully walkable to excruciatingly sore in the past few days.  No, these would have been tears of a control freak who has lost her grip on her own life; tears of frustration.

Today was my fifth hospital visit in ten days.  Things could be worse.  I could have burned both feet.  I could have burned the bottom of my foot, rather than just the entire surface of it.  I could be bedridden.  I could be dying of starvation in a small Ethiopian village.  I could have a huge, outstanding hospital bill or be refused treatment for lack of insurance (both of which would most likely be the case, were I still in the States).

Things could also be better.  I could not have an ongoing injury that is keeping me from working.  I could have a job that offered sick pay.  I could be rich.  I could be so rich that I wouldn't be having panic attacks about missing so much work at shitty hospitality jobs that I do not love.  I could be so rich that I could afford a butler!  A butler could go to the shops for me and bring me more codeine and call me "Miss," because I would instruct him not to call me "Ma'am."  A butler would mean that I wouldn't have to go on impeding the healing process by walking around on this stupid foot so much.

When the nurse unwrapped my foot for the fourth time today and it looked EXACTLY the same as it did the last two times — raw, pink, bleeding, swollen, generally really ugly — and then said, "Oh, wow, I didn't expect it to be that big," (one of the joys of a university hospital: you never seem to see the same person twice) I did want to cry.  

I wanted to scream, "Has no one made notes about the size or location of this burn?!  Why am I asked every single time where exactly on my foot it is and what they said last time?!  This is not my job!"  Of course, they usually ask out of kindness, to be sure not to graze it when they're cutting the bandages off.

I was spoiled for the first couple of days of my injury.  After my initial A&E visit, the pain was manageable with ibuprofen.  I was walking all over the place and marvelling at my proactivity in the face of adversity.  I shot a short film!  I worked two bartending shifts!  I told the anecdote of my pasta foot (I called it pasta foot) with the humour and distance of one who has made it through the worst part.

Even my first follow-up appointment on Tuesday morning was fun.  I was in a relatively good mood, despite having waited an hour for a scheduled appointment.  My nurse was goofy and friendly and from somewhere like Germany or Denmark.  I didn't ask him, but we had a good rapport as he "gently, gently" (his words) burst my new blisters and peeled away all the skin from the top of my foot like so much Elmer's glue.  It was dead!  It didn't even hurt!  I was convinced that all nurses were people I would like to get drinks with.  Maybe Maeve and Heke— (his name started with something like that) and I would go out together when this was all over and have good laugh about lancing blisters on my left foot!

Whereas walking around was good for my foot for the first few days — the nurse today explained that the increased circulation would have created more fluid under the "blister roof" (that is totally what it is called), thereby making the dead skin easier to remove on that second visit — it is now just bringing a lot of fluid (blood) to my foot and preventing it from healing in a timely manner.  She recommended staying off of it as much as possible.  She gave me crutches.

I always wanted crutches when I was a kid.  Or maybe it was a broken leg.  I think what I really wanted was the feeling of importance and popularity that comes with a cast and a Sharpie pen.  Crutches, as it turns out (and as everyone knows who has ever used them) are not so much fun.

The Standard European Issue are the ones with arms holes and handles at the front, as opposed to the more common underarm American model.  They are easier on the armpits, but harder on the hands.

I have only used them for one journey, so far: the one from the hospital onto the bus, the bus to my estate, and finally, the climb up the stairs to my flat.  That last bit was a bit awkward.  I hate them already for slowing me down and making me acknowledge that I have a real injury.

In an effort to stay positive, I will now make a list of things I can do from my current position with my foot elevated (I want to say levitated every time, it's so weird) on the back of the couch:

1. Write a novel
2. Eat snacks (which Jeeves should be brining me shortly)
3. Apply for jobs that offer sick pay
4. Find the humour in all of this and work it into my stand-up set
5. Watch disaster films and be glad that that hasn't happened
6. Become a caricature cartoonist
7. Do crunches

I threw that last one in because I am missing exercise, particularly cycling everywhere.  I don't even like doing crunches.  If you have any more suggestions for activities to be executed from a semi-recumbant position, please do let me know!

Monday, April 02, 2012

TG for the NHS

Last Sunday night was supposed to be a quiet one.  The bar I supervise was pretty dead, so I closed early and was home by 8pm.  My plan was to make some dinner and some food for the next day, and get a good night's sleep before my day-long rehearsal leading up to Tuesday's film shoot.

When I got home, though, two of my flatmates, Jerome and Lisa, were about to head out for a Sunday evening pint, and they convinced me (there was very little arm twisting involved) to go along.  We had a lovely drink together at the Hackney Pearl, and then I came home to make my pasta for the next day.

The three of us crowded up the kitchen, and when I took my pasta off the stove and over to the sink, I realised someone had moved the colander.  I set the pasta down on the edge of the counter, and as I reached for the colander, the pot teetered and then fell onto the floor, boiling water landing all over my foot.

I proceeded to swear and jump up and down as Lisa shouted, "Cold water! Cold water!"  I hobbled up the stairs, tearing of my socks and jeans en route, and stuck my foot under the cold tap in the bathtub.  My foot looked red and the skin was puckering a little in the middle, but it didn't seem too bad, and as long as it was in the water, it didn't hurt.  Still, Lisa thought it was best to look on NHS (that's the National Health Service, for all you Americans) Direct website for advice.  She asked me if the burn was bigger than the size of my hand.  I said it was the size of my foot, so yes?  This response to the symptoms questionnaire prompted her to dial 999 (that's like 911, guys).

So Lisa calls 999, and we're told that for burns, we need to go to casualty, a.k.a. A&E (Accidents and Emergencies, not Arts and Entertainment).  I reluctantly agree, as it's now after midnight and I'm supposed to be getting a good night's sleep before my rehearsal, plus my foot looks totally fine... until I take it out of the cold bath.

As I wait for Lisa to pull her car around, my foot really starts to hurt.  It feels a little bit like it's on fire.  I limp into some shorts, and Jerome insists on carrying me down the stairs, which is a little bit awkward, but very kind of him.  He puts his arm around my waist as I protest, but then cave and tuck up my knees like a child being lifted over a fence.  I get into the car and resume my string of expletives.

By the time we arrive and Lisa drops me at the entrance to A&E, my foot has started to come out in some pretty gnarly blisters.  I limp through what turns out to be the wrong entrance, and a sympathetic security guard, to whom I whimper, "I burned my foot," directs me next door.  I get to the reception desk and wince while I wait to be checked in.

Among the information I was asked to provide were my name, my date of birth, what the hell I did to my foot, and my postcode.  In what still seems a small miracle to me every time I seek medical care in this country, there was no question of insurance.  In all of my vacillating about my trip to the hospital, a consequential £20,000 bill was not one of my concerns.  The guy at reception didn't even ask for proof that I live in the UK, which is good, because I was way too busy trying not to cry when I left the house to think about bringing my passport.

I was told that the wait for a doctor was 3 to 4 hours, at which point I nearly did cry.  I was assured a nurse would see me within about 20 minutes, though, to assess the damage.

I couldn't sit still in the waiting room.  The inside of the hospital felt unbearably warm, and the only way to alleviate some of the throbbing pain in my foot was (strangely) to walk around on it.  Lisa stayed in the waiting area while I stepped outside to pace with my one bare foot on the cool pavement.  There were three police officers just inside the double doors, and one of them must have taken pity on me in my crazed, wincing patrol of the A&E entrance.

He came out and said, "Jesus, what did you do?  Burned your foot pretty badly."

"Yep," I whimpered, "boiling water."

"And they just told you to walk around on it?"

"No, they didn't have anything for it, and this is the only thing that's making it feel slightly better at the moment."

"Just a minute," the blessed man responded, "I might have a burn mask or something in the car."

And so the lovely police officer, my third hero of the night (after Lisa — for advice in the case of an emergency and hospital transportation — and Jerome — for feeding me dinner whilst my foot bathed and then carrying me down the stairs), fetched a burn mask from his car, escorted me back inside to a seat, and wrapped my foot in the gloriously cool, tea tree oil soaked cloth.

My remaining wait time, which came closer to 45 minutes in the end, was much more pleasant as the three kind officers joked with me.  When I heard my name called, I shouted "Yes!" and practically leapt out of my seat.  I apologised for the mess of oil I had left on the ground, but I was told not to worry about it, and Lisa helped me into the consultation room.

The nurse's reaction to my foot was also something along the lines of "Jesus, that looks like it really hurts," which was simultaneously comforting (as an affirmation of my pain) and worrying (as this woman sees a lot of injuries).  I described the incident to her, confirmed that I have no allergies that I know of, and watched her type all of this into her computer.  She finished, paused, looked at my foot again and said, "I'll be right back."

I knew this was the moment of truth.  Either she would come back and say I'd need to wait three hours to see a doctor, or she'd come back and sort it out herself.  I said a small prayer to no one in particular.

The nurse returned a minute or two later with a cart full of dressing.  As she wheeled it through the door, she explained, "I'm a Nurse Practioner, so I'm going to dress your foot for you."  I don't think I've ever been so grateful.

"I'm going to clean your foot, burst all the blisters, and dress it for you," she said gently.  I think she could see my eyes go big and crazy when she said the bit about popping the gigantic, numerous blisters on my sore foot.  She assured me, "Don't worry, all of that skin is dead, you won't feel anything."

WARNING, if you're squeamish, I wouldn't read the next few paragraphs.  The nurse was right: I didn't feel a thing as she lanced and drained each oversized pustule.  It stung a bit as she cleansed the wound with saline solution, but the co-codamol she had given me before going to town on my foot was starting to kick in, at least in its giggle-inducing side effects.

As she explained to me that all of that skin would need to be removed — probably when my foot was schedule to be redressed Tuesday morning — I started telling her how great she was, and how amazing it was that she was doing this for me.  I had asked her earlier whether she was just starting or just finishing her shift (it was the latter), so I felt that I had laid the groundwork for a real friendship.  Flattery is clearly the best way to make friends, so I carried on asking about her history as an A&E nurse (she's been doing it for 12 years, it's what she always wanted to do), and telling her what a great job she was doing with my foot.  As we were leaving, I asked her for her name (Maeve), and I might have asked her for her number if Lisa hadn't escorted me out of the room.

To be fair, Lisa (who was not high on codeine) agreed that Maeve was an especially personable and fun nurse, and also conceded the next day that it would be great to get a drink with her some time.

As we left the room, though, I looked deep into the eyes of my fourth hero of the night and said, "Thank you, Maeve.  You were amazing."  And I meant it.  Maeve is amazing, and so is not having to pay a penny for a late-night emergency hospital visit.  I will happily watch my National Insurance contributions reduce the size of my paycheck if it means my foot does not fester into a pile of gout.  Or whatever happens to burned feet that go untreated.