I have recently taken a few steps back from acting. 2011 was really about concluding a huge chapter of my life, a chapter filled with rainy days in Vancouver, strange aliens from another galaxy, more make-up than I would ever wear on a normal day, and consistently responding to a name that was not my own.
The final day of filming on Smallville felt so strange. Strange, in that it was no different than any other day. There was no special send off, no signs, no fireworks, just a box of pictures, a few cards, and a closed trailer door. The end of ten years was so simple, unassuming. But after packing my bags, turning over the keys to my loft, and boarding a plane for NYC I accepted the finality of it all. It was truly done. What now?
I was stuck on that question. “What now?” It haunted me. And it seemed to be the first line of all pleasantries. I would see an old friend: “Hey you! So. . .what now?” Give an interview: “So, Allison. . .Smallville is in the can. . .what now?” Even my big brother, in his ever so loving and protective way, put his arm around me and said, encouragingly, “What now? I mean, where do you go from here?” Face to face with old friends, random journalists, and one loving big brother, I had no answer. I’m talking serious crickets.
I expressed this concern, this incredible feeling of loss and lack of direction to a dear friend and mentor of mine, Keith Raniere. He asked if I had ever thought about taking a little time away from acting to see what I would find. He inquired about times in my life when I did not work, times when I didn’t attach myself to the title “Allison Mack, Actress” and was just plain, simple, me. On top of being a powerful, actualized character called Chloe Sullivan for the better part of my twenties, I spent fifteen years prior to Smallville being different daughters, best friends, girlfriends, and troubled teens. I have gone from one wardrobe office to another director’s chair my whole life.
As wonderful as all these characters were, and are, they are not actually me. None of them have the unique habit of swearing like a sailor (the f-bomb is my favorite word, especially when coupled with “dude”), peeing in front of friends (that’s how you know you have been accepted into my close circle), and laughing like a drunken opera singer being goosed. There is a definitive woman behind the mask of all the others, but she has been so ignored, so undervalued for most of my life that if I am not playing someone else’s story I feel incredibly shallow in my own. I have almost no memory of myself without the identity of “actress.” How strange.
So I decided to take Keith’s advice and give myself some time to build the character of me. The actual me. I had no idea what this would entail, but I wanted to give it a shot. A sense of self sounded like a good thing. I could definitely use some of that.
I have always wanted to change things in the world. Wanted to be a woman that helps to redefine how all women think and feel about themselves. I have wanted to be a superhero in my own right, “Be the change I want to see in the world” (thanks Gandhi) and help others do the same. Interestingly enough this desire can only be actualized from the inside out. No amount of make-up, hair, lights, or script lines can get me the inner strength and fortitude necessary for achieving such goals. I have to build it in myself. There is no faking this.
So, cut to me, three months later. I’m on a panel at a conference and someone from the audience asks me “What now?”. . . crickets. . . bastards. . .still no answer. And now. . . without Chloe, no alter ego, no pre-written snarky lines to answer those daunting questions for me.
What do I have to offer now? I am not providing any sort of service, not fulfilling any job title. So then what am I doing? And, still, with that same damn question present, “what now”?
It turns out Keith asked me to look at the one area of my life I felt most insecure. I felt as though I had ripped the very foundation out from under myself and I felt paralyzed. Where was I supposed to go from here? Years of transforming the nods of approval that used to come from behind the camera into nods of love and affirmation. I grew up like an Olympic gymnast looking for her score cards. “And it’s a 10!!! The crowd goes wild!!!! She has permission to continue to exist!!” Which is exactly why I now want to prove to myself that I am alive without the applause. I am worthy without the curtain call. I want to trust I am still here without an audience.
Coming up to my second spring in NYC, it has been almost one full year without score cards, without nods of approval, without a perfect wardrobe and flawless make-up. I am learning to approve of myself in a different format, for a different reason. Instead of filling my time with kryptonite and super human abilities, I am now writing for my blog, potential books, and magazine articles, and singing, lots and lots of singing. And I have found a passion project, something I believe will change and nurture the world while changing and nurturing me in the process: I am working with an incredible new women’s organization, Jness. And through that work I am discovering things about myself I had no idea existed before. All these things were living in the shadow of who I thought I was, who I thought I should be. Now wouldn’t it have been great if the woman behind the curtain was more together, more elegant and consistent than before. But instead I get all this newness. A baby giraffe standing for the first time. On ice. What do I do with this?
And I suppose that is the question of the hour. Instead of focusing on “what now?” maybe I need to shift my focus. Instead of focusing so much on accomplishment I could instead explore.
Maybe my life isn’t intended to consist of job, applause, rinse, repeat, job, applause, rinse, repeat. Maybe this momentary pause in the pattern is about wonder, the unknown, and expansive curiosity.
And maybe, just maybe, those crickets are serenading in perfect harmony. And if I just listen I will learn to sing along.