I was STOKED.
I'd just gotten a call from a casting director offering me the lead role in a martial arts-driven action movie--starring Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers) and James Hong (Blade Runner)--as a replacement for the original actor who was marooned in Asia.
I raced to the director's house to meet him and the producer, and we had a great meeting. Decent connection. Enthusiasm all around.
Principle shooting started in just a couple of days: would I be able to reschedule my life so as to make time for the weapons training, stunt choreography, S.W.A.T. training, etc? Yes, please! I immediately went for a run, thinking, "I've got to get into action-hero shape!"
The paperwork was prepared and I began my research in anticipation of playing the Good Guy for at least 16 full shooting days. There was the typical back and forth with production and my manager, and I informed my personal training clients that they'd be on their own for a while. It was time to be a professional actor again.
On a beautiful morning before our first day of shooting, I made a french press of coffee and meditated while it steeped, feeling pretty fucking smug about things. I was still smiling when I got a call from the casting director.
"I am SO sorry, Thomas. The actor was able to get on a flight, and his agent is threatening legal action. You're out, he's back in."
And that was that.
This was not, unfortunately, the end of an incredible run of what might be called "failures" in 2015. But just for the sake of reference:
1. I didn't work a day as an actor in 2015. And the number one reason I moved to Los Angeles was to do more acting work.
2. In my quest to get back into the print game, I submitted to the top five male modeling agencies in L.A. Not a single response. Then a meeting with Wilhelmina through an influential friend. Nice lady, good connection. No response.
1. Began a graphic novel of my script "Jack 7 Is Offline," spending 4-8 hours per day for nearly 5 months. Finally abandoned when I realized no amount of practice was going to allow me to draw with the ease and pleasure and skill of, say, Jim Lee.
2. Began to work in oil paints on the recommendation of my online gallery representation. I was told that I needed to start working in archival-quality mediums, and acrylic was not that. This seems like good advice for a would-be commercial artist. I quickly abandoned painting altogether.
3. I was simultaneously writing the other two parts of my sci-fi trilogy scripts, and another called "The Ministry." When "Jack 7 Is Offline" did not advance in any screenwriting competitions, I abandoned all three.
Illness wracked my family in the form of cancer, and there were many difficult days watching its effects ravage my loved ones. Additionally, Mimi seemed to have taken a turn for the worse and my visits often seemed pointless in the midst of her rapidly-deteriorating mental state.
My body seemed to be falling apart for most of the year. I've been dealing with substantial intermittent disc pain since 2011, but this year it seemed to be exacerbated by low and high-rep work, bodybuilding or surfing, sitting or standing. Nightmare.
Add to that the tendonosis (chronic tendonitis) that has crept in over the last 18 months, and long gone are the days of doing 31 strict pull ups at a bodyweight of 198.
Results Fitness L.A., as it was called at that time, had hit an all-time low. I had actually managed to shrink my stable of personal training clients, which hasn't happened since I was certified in 2008. Granted, people moved, got sick, divorced, and what have you, but it still seemed like Herakles was putting his balls on my hopes and dreams.
The Iliad Framework
Before we go any further, I realize that with the exception of the cancer, these are fairly first-world, highly-niche problems. I am not creating this post as a request for sympathy or implying that my failures are more devastating or difficult than yours.
I am simply listing everything that I can think of that directly challenges the ethos of a creative person in the framework of their pursuits. Also, I happen to be a huge fan of Homer's Iliad, and when things don't work out it's quaint to envision the panoply of Greek gods lounging around bickering about the intricate ways they can fuck with you.
But let's talk about how to approach this practically.
Tactics - What Can Be Done?
1. REEXAMINE AND RE-EVALUATE WHAT YOU WANT AND WHY.
Has it changed? What do you really want to accomplish, and what metrics are you using to determine your pursuits "successes" or "failures"? Why?
I tend to push very hard when I come across something for which I have a perceived ability, especially when I enjoy it. You are probably similar. But it is truly unsustainable if your reasons aren't aligned with things that make you excited.
For example, I like the idea of having created a finished graphic novel. But the thought of actually doing the years of work necessary to complete it makes me want to start drinking. This means that as long as that is my mindset, I will be incapable of making something great. Good, maybe. Not great.
It's also important to understand why something didn't work for you. I tend to be a feast or famine kind of guy with respect to what's working: if I haven't sold a painting, a screenplay, won an Academy Award, benched 405, or grown to capacity in my business, things must be broken.
This isn't the case, of course, and it's important to take a more sober view of the degrees of success you have achieved if you are going to level up. In other words, that the casting director even thought of me to replace the lead in a SAG Modified Low Budget feature is a decent win for only four years in this town. But because I did not ultimately do the film I was sad about the missed opportunity.
Beware of this.
2. REDEFINE AND REBRAND YOURSELF.
You can always be whomever you want to be. If it's not working, change it. I've done a lot of disparate work via multiple identities in the last couple of years, but if I were to give them generic names, I might call them: 2013 Beardo (long hair and a beard in order to land a spot in Game of Thrones or Vikings--didn't happen); 2014 Painter (sold a few, repped by a couple galleries, should I do this full time?); 2015 Desperate (nothing's working, am I too old?, what the hell?); 2016 Fire Monkey (new training business, print agency, podcast, and more).
Every year I try to grow into the next best version. I wouldn't be nearly as far along in my current endeavors or as optimistic as I am today without the terrible desperation of last year and my evaluation of it. In this way failures are more like stepping stones.
With respect to the family illness, I learned a lot about how I perceive change and how it impacts me by redefining my opinion of it. I choose the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius for this mental conditioning: things aren't happening to us. Things are happening, period. And they will continue to happen because the only constant is change. That is what the natural world is.
But while this change has the capacity to make us sad, happy, or otherwise, it is completely up to us.
3. REDEDICATE YOURSELF.
What matters to you? How do you want to spend your time?
Do the thing that won't leave you alone.
If you don't have that thing, try lots of things! You will probably have many passions in this life, but they will rarely fall in your lap. You need to get in the saddle and see what works.
My current path has me embarking on a mission that has very little to do with my reasons for moving to Los Angeles. But it won't leave me alone. I think about it when I wake up and before I go to sleep, and if I don't give it everything I have I will be haunted by it until I do.
If you want to stop failing at things, keep going. Tenacity makes failure impossible.
It's always a choice.