How to Win in L.A. (Just give up.)

Photo by Troy Conrad

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” 
 ― Rainer Maria Rilke

If LA were a video game, most people wouldn’t make it through one day. Everything is a battle in Los Angeles. Everything. Not a tangible fight-or-flight battle for your life, which would almost be a relief; it’s a subtle, daily battle to maintain your sanity. The City of Angels masters in psychological warfare and she takes no prisoners. Given the chance, she will scalp you and hold up your lucidity as her prize, leaving you wandering the streets, talking to bushes. Her victims are everywhere you go in the city, on the street corners, under freeways and I tell myself, “I won’t end up like that.” But I know if I let my guard down, if I make just a couple of bad decisions, I’m really only a bottle of whiskey away from walking down Sunset Blvd. with a broken high hell and a boa screaming, “I MADE UP A WORD ONCE!!!”

So I fight. I fight for parking at Trader Joe’s. I fight endless lines, everywhere. I fight to get somewhere on time and then I fight the rage bubbling up as I am forced to wait. I fight an hour of traffic for 5 precious minutes of stage time. I fight rejection, endless amounts of rejection: from agents, managers, producers, editors, publishers, talent bookers, men, family, comics, cross-armed audiences staring blankly at me, faceless internet masses hurling insults, social justice warriors telling me I’m a “shill for the patriarchy,” male rights activists telling me I’m a “slutty bully.” And then there is the “constructive criticism”: I’m “too old.” I’m “not commercial enough.” I’m “too provocative.” I’m “all over the place.” I “need to focus on one medium.”

Last Thursday someone online told me to, “Just give up.” Perfect. If the “LA: The Videogame” had a logline, “Just Give Up” would be it. Because trust me, the external obstacles I listed above pale in comparison to the internal war I wage everyday.

I fight self-doubt, “I’m not young. I’m not funny. I’m not educated. I’m not a Vine star.” A million variations of, “I’M NOT ENOUGH.” I fight negativity. Jealousy. Desperation. Fear. Worry. Hopelessness. Cynicism. Approval-seeking. The self-centeredness and selfishness all seem to bottleneck at a paradoxical state of restlessness that can only be described as: I hate everyone and everything. Please love me.

PLEASE LOVE ME. (photo by Jay Light)

Long before the world has a chance to reject me, I wake up and reject myself. If I had a motivational pillow it would just read:

NEVER FORGET: YOU’RE FUCKED.

Some people wake up naturally chipper and confident in their abilities. I hate those people. I start every day behind the eight ball. And this is why I have to wake up extra early to do a series of 10 fucking things just to get out from under the crippling self-defeat that has been my constant companion as long as I can remember. In fact, a large part of the reason I quit drinking was realizing that waking up with a hangover was not helping my ability to wage the war against my propensity to epically self-destruct.

Maybe if I see it enough, it will seep into my subconscious until I finally believe it.

My routine varies depending on the day: Open eyes. Brain screams, “YOU’RE FUCKED.”

On my bad days, I react to this by opening my “smart” portal to the world and reading everything I can to prove brain right. I gorge on a breakfast of bad news, outraged, reactive, thoughtless “think pieces” and steady feeds of toxic snark. I tumble down a rabbit-hole of fear, rage and insecurity. The day goes sideways before my head has even left the pillow.

On my good days, I shuffle out of bed and quietly remind brain we haven’t even had our coffee yet. I make coffee. Read three daily readings. Meditate. Journal. Then, and only then, am I prepared to take in some news or some jokes. I only give myself 15 minutes to engage, and then it’s time to write.

But anyone who writes knows that writing is a battle, too. Please don’t mistake this for complaining. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my current job and truly love the industry I have chosen to work in. And I thank the heavens every day that, at the moment, I have a job where I get to write. After 20 years of waitressing and hustling, I will NEVER, EVER scoff at an opportunity that affords me the ability to do what I feel I was put on this Earth to do and I realize I’m not out of the woods yet. If I don’t turn this inch into a mile, I could be waitressing again next week.

The real struggle is exactly what I signed up for when I decided to pursue the creative path. There is no path. There often isn’t an immediate reward, if EVER. Your life is filled with crushing disappointments tempered with brief moments of victory; just enough relief to give you that 2nd wind or that 3rd wind or in my case, 23rd wind you didn’t know you had. It’s taken a while to get to this place — but I’m happy to fight the battle because I take responsibility for the choice.

But sometimes, all the meditating and positive affirmations and yoga and BULLSHIT Rumi Pinterest quotes isn’t enough. I’m losing the battle externally and more importantly, internally. So, like all good warriors, I need to retreat.

I’m losing it.

I know when I need to retreat because I start feeling battered. I’ll become particularly sensitive to sound — sirens, the electric buzz, TV, chewing, walking — like an autistic kid, I’ll want to put my hands over my ears and scream. My fuse gets short. I snap at friends. I reach out to assholes incapable of affection, knowing full well they’re too self-absorbed to be in touch with any kind of genuine emotion. They are merely a reflection of my inner state. I’ve become attached to results. Obsessed with my looks. Feeling poor. Ugly. I heard my brain say, “You’re barely a 6” the other day as I looked in the mirror fixating on a new wrinkle. My ego has me by the throat. My sanity is slipping away.

That’s when I realize, HOLY SHIT, I’ve lost my sense of direction. The grind does exactly that — it grinds on you. It interferes with your inner compass. Your true North. I’m chasing the shiny things. The fame. The power. The money. The analytics. Negative and positive attention. Youth. Ego.

But that’s not why do any of this. It’s never why I did any of this. It’s certainly not why I do stand up. I don’t “do stand up.” Stand up does me. I choose to do it — but I really don’t have a choice. If I choose not to do it, it will haunt me. So, it’s easier to get on that stage and bomb for the next 15 years. It’s not why I write. I write because I have no choice. It pours out of me. For 10 years, I wrote for no reason. For nobody. For 200 people if I was lucky on a website that existed in the backwaters of the internet, that no one read. It was a place for me to process the world around me. Then I had an idea for a script. So I wrote that. Then I had an idea for a show. So I wrote that. And lyrics. And erotica. And a play. I wrote it all because it was inside of me and needed to come out. That was a good enough reason.

A wise, artist friend once told me, “These are the good ol’ days, Bridge. When you start getting paid to do what you love, be wary of turning your muse into a mule.”

“The real you is not a puppet which life pushes around; the real, deep down you is the whole universe.” ~ Alan Watts

He was right. Because now I write a column. For men. And a book proposal. For a potential agent. And a humorous self-help book. For women. And a show. For a production company. I’m extraordinarily grateful to have other people pulling the strings for once, but I can’t lose sight of the fact that if none of those people existed, I would still write. I DID STILL WRITE.

If I was in prison, I would write on the walls. If I was stranded on a desert island, I would write in the sand and watch it wash away. I HAVE TO WRITE. And I absolutely cannot lose sight of this fact.

It’s why I come to the desert, alone. To reset my nervous system. To remind myself I’m small. This is all fleeting. To be alone with my thoughts. To get back in touch with my heart and nature and silence and stillness. I love telling stories, my stories and stories I make up, because I love connecting with humanity on a basic level. The story that’s told a thousand times, a billion different ways. I’m in this to connect to the universal themes. Not for accolades. Or awards. Or bells and whistles. I tell jokes and write to connect to you. And I can’t connect when I’ve got my head up my ass, chasing prizes.

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.” ~George Carlin

My job is to stay open. Receptive. Patient. This and filling up the page is my only job. “Solitude is everything,” because it’s in the quiet moments where those qualities reside. That’s how you win, “LA: The Videogame.” In the midst of the hustle you realize it’s not about the prizes. It’s about the process. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And “it’s” not going anywhere, but you need a fucking break. And so, just give up, surrender, check out for a weekend to recharge alone in Joshua Tree.

And write a blog for no reason other than to say, “This is how I’m feeling. Maybe sometimes you feel this way, too.”