THE ROSS ALAN STORY or How This Whole Thing Got Started

It seems to me you are owed an explanation. Many reading my blogs may be asking, “What’s this chick’s problem?”

Believe me, I realize how lucky I am. I truly do. I am healthy. My family is healthy. I adore my husband. He adores me. I have two great dogs. We have a wonderful home. We have fun. I get it. I’m lucky.

As an artist, I am in crisis. And the thing is, I’ve been denying this for some time.

I have always lived by a realistic capitalist code: We all have to pay our bills. We must work to do so. So if my acting wasn’t cutting it, I would get a side job. Always. ‘It’s my obligation to the team. I have to do it for the money.’

Most years my acting career was all I needed.  But I have always been keenly aware of my obligation and greatly concerned with money.

Consequently, I’ve worked my share of side jobs. As an artist in America, I am intimately familiar with the food & beverage industry. Also airline reservation-ist, wealth management assistant, movie theater ticket-seller. Most recently, fitness instructor and lecturer of astronomy.

These most recent side jobs were pretty great. On the face. I had part time positions with two highly respected LA institutions. Both drew on my acting expertise, in a way, sort of – if you kinda stood sideways and squinted. Both, for the most part, left me alone to do my job. And I did it well. I educated myself in the subject matter and changed people’s lives. Literally. I’m not joshing you. Read this.

However, there was a problem. A fly in the ointment, as they say.  Well, a couple of flies. At one place, I seemed strangely downward-ly mobile the more popular I became. At the other, my level of expertise made me a threat.

One could argue this is typical American management stuff: suspicious of hard work, rewarding of mediocrity, fearful of initiative. No support, encouragement or appreciation. Of any kind. Ever. ‘Pay for your own Christmas party.’

But these are august institutions. (‘Your reputation exceeds you.’)

Good hourly. Flexibility.

But after a decade, I was getting tired.

My body was bruised and battered from teaching 5 – 11 fitness classes a week. I had given over 2000 lectures on just one of the 3 astronomical topics available. And the salient points of both jobs, the fine details, the really interesting stuff was completely unwelcome in either environment.

I was tired of the grind. Tired of the frustration. Tired of the lack of support. Tired.

“But I have to do it for the money. I’ve got an obligation to the team.”

I was slowly gaining weight. I was slowly losing my fitness. I was slowly losing connection to something meaningful. I was slowly losing myself.

Now one might ask, “How’s your acting career going?”

Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s great work if you can get it, and I do love to act.

The audition process, however, is grueling, belittling, and becoming more so all the time. Calls for auditions the morning of. Waiting times in excess of an hour or more WITH an appointment. The trickle down of reality shows bringing more and more household names vying for smaller parts. Women of a certain age and ethnicity getting fewer and fewer roles.

My heart said, “Is this valuable? Do you really want to sell another box of soap? Do you really need to play one more grieving mother whose child has been kidnapped/murdered/shot/molested/lost/fill-in-the-blank?”

I was slowly gaining weight. I was slowly losing my fitness. I was slowly losing connection. I was slowly losing myself.

And then the world began to turn.

One year ago just about, my dear friend who I would trust with my life calls to say she has a job for me. I go to work for a huge national conglomerate. Still drawing on my acting expertise, in a way, sort of – if you kinda stand sideways and squint. I’m virtually left alone to execute the content. I am speaking my own words, using my own techniques. I am respected by my peers. I continue to change lives.

Did management get any better? What are you crazy? This is corporate America, Baby.

I made a ton of money.

I was on the road, always. (And when I got home the first question was, “Where’s the Svedka?”)

I gained a great deal more weight. I completely lost my fitness. I had no connection to anything. I was almost gone.

What may you ask does this have to do with the Ross Alan Story? I will tell you.

My husband and I were converting a bizarre unused space into a work room. We had decided to put in a long work table – 10 feet long, 21 inches wide. Instead of bogus formica or laminate we decided to use reclaimed wood. After talking to one guy who wanted to charge us $3000.00 – this is CA after all – we found a place in the Valley that sounded like it might be the best fit. Ross Alan Reclaimed Lumber.

We drove my red 2001 Toyota Tacoma to the big warehouse/airplane hangar. It is filled with old wood from barns and signs in every size and shape. It was like walking into the middle of a dismantled Midwest farmyard. Stacks and stacks and sections and shelves of grey and brown old wood planks and boards and hinges and knobs. In the back people are sawing and cutting and there’s hip music echoing against the metal walls and it’s dusty and it smells good and we know we are in the right place.

We are looking and lifting and measuring and talking and then this really calm and clean cut person with bright eyes and a smile walks up and asks if he can help. I begin to describe the project. He takes us to the appropriate pile. He makes suggestions. I have ideas. We work very well together, figuring out how to go about this thing because we will probably have to take two boards and join them down the middle and will the top be seen more or the bottom? and this weird crook might make an interesting edge and so on and so forth.

I know nothing about woodworking but with this person’s guidance I am thinking intuitively and really designing an outstanding work table. We are having such a good time, I introduce myself and my husband. And he says, “I’m Ross.”

Yes, he’s Ross Alan.

Of Ross Alan Reclaimed Lumber.

Which seemed kind of special.

This cool grassroots, bedrock, basic business belongs to this young, kind, lovely guy. How cool!

Now we are on a first name basis. We have picked out the perfect lumber. We have determined Ross will cut it, glue it, finish it. He lets us know he has a few other projects ahead of ours. It might be two weeks. I say that’s OK because I will be out of town on business. My husband comments it doesn’t matter because he is always around. He can pick it up. He’s a musician. He has a pretty flexible schedule. And suddenly Ross seems sort of starstruck. Laser focus onto my husband.

Now I get this. I’ve been married to my husband a long time. There is something somehow magical about being a musician. Everyone loves musicians. Perhaps it is because it requires a certain expertise to be one – one must actually be accomplished on the instrument they play in order to be successful. Usually.

Actors do not command such respect. Everyone can walk and talk.

But at this point Ross Alan says something like, ‘It must be really great to be an artist, to get paid for doing something you really love.’

And my husband says something like, ‘Yeah, I’m really grateful. I feel really blessed.’ Or something like that.

An artist.

An Artist.

‘Yeah, I’m really grateful.’

It was like when Leonardo DiCaprio spins the top in INCEPTION. The world stopped. My head was in a vacuum. And it wasn’t just that I, who clearly must not be an artist since I was to be “out of town on business,” had just disappeared from the room and the conversation.

There was something about the ‘grateful’ part. The ‘blessed’ part.

My husband has never ever taken a side job. Partly because he is a man in the American entertainment world. His time is a whole hell of a lot more valuable than mine. But more significantly, he never operated under the same obligation as me. He never did anything for the money. His work would ebb and flow as it was wont to do. And he would ebb and flow with it. Always working hard to get more work, but only music work.

When this occasionally became a sticking point between us, he would say, “What am I going to do? Sell shoes?” He was being facetious. My response was, “Yes!”

But he never sold the shoes.

I did.

In that Ross Alan moment, that silent, frozen, dead, stopped world, I was thinking, “Hey, don’t I deserve a little of that gratitude? Haven’t I been the one busting my ass at shit I hate?”

Wait – Why have I been busting my ass at shit I hate?

Why hadn’t I held out for what I deserve?

Had I sold my own self short? Had I sold myself out? ‘Obligation to the team,’ ‘I have to do it for the money’ – was this just an excuse, a place to hide, a distraction because I was afraid to really put it out there? Afraid to fail? Afraid to succeed?

Did I not have the same courage, the same resolve, as my husband?

After all this time, all these 411 other jobs, was I simply just not as brave as Bruce?

On the drive home with our boards in the back, I told Bruce about what was happening to me. This extraordinary moment in time, this reckoning I was experiencing. And I knew.

I knew what I had to do.

I told my husband I would stay with the corporate job until it was through. (We were in Month Ten of a potential three year job.) Then it was over.  I was done with side jobs. Done with obligation. Done with ‘doing it for the money.’ I wasn’t going to do anything any more that didn’t feed my soul. Feed my art. Whatever that turned out to be.

I couldn’t. If I did, I’d die.

As we pulled into our driveway, my phone rang. It was my trusted friend telling me the job with the big conglomerate was over. February 28, 2017 would be my last day.

It was February 1st.

I laughed.

That’s the Ross Alan Story.

Be careful what you wish for.

Or maybe not.

###

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