I am at a casting studio in Hollywood, looking out over a bleak sea of chambray and denim and brown faux leather. madewell, American apparel, j crew, Target. there are three girls beside me with brown spiral locks and denim button-downs. I must have missed the wardrobe memo. or maybe the obvious meaning of “hip casual” is FULL BODY DENIM. everyone looks brown—not ethnically brown, but aesthetically—neutral. beige, blah, boring. like the dingy carpet in my parents’ first house. are they trying to look like this, for the purpose of the audition? or is this just them, at their most individual? i feel like i’m in some sort of conspicuous drag amongst these folks. i’m not trying to make it seem as if i’m this super-individual who just can’t help but feel different in every context. it sounds as if that’s what i’m saying, but it’s not what i’m feeling. in this casting studio, i feel a sucking sense that i’m disappearing. everything and everyone looks the same color as the sun-bombed landscape of the entirety of Southern California in mid-afternoon. the color that forces me indoors for a few hours in poetic despair because I just can’t endure the sight of it.
I don’t normally get depressed at auditions. with specific regard to artistic endurance tests, I’m firm that depression is a luxury I cannot afford. or it’s one that i refuse to afford myself out of disdain for indignity. it’s narcissistic and boring and besides, my best friend’s husband is in Afghanistan, with casualties in his unit already. artists are just whiny. we are. i go to meet Patrick for coffee. we have a conversation with a true-crime writer who gives me his business card. it says “FLAWLESS.” he tells us about a pitch for his next book and then adds that he knows his agent will not like it.
we go back to Patrick’s house and he plays me a handful of new Empty Palace mixes. every song is an accomplishment, and i do mean that. many of them have been through several incarnations already and they are sounding really good. i listen to a song for a minute and it all comes back to me—the early writing sessions, the unedited Korg programs, the hot summers in Highland Park. sounds as familiar to me as any of the treasured shit i grew up listening to, and still do. Patrick and Karl are listening to the arrangements critically, evaluating the four dimensions of the bass frequency and making timed notes. it seems like i am not listening but i am. i’m excited for and jealous of anyone who gets to hear the Empty Palace stuff for the first time. i’m listening and i’m thinking, god these are some gifted motherfuckers. plenty of us are friends with people whose art sucks (hi have we met?) and we all kind of put up with it with an ambivalent but congenial appreciation of how they are “putting themselves out there.” i’m in the consistent position of being blown away by the work of the people i know. i am like jesus, you fucks are talented. and every single one of them will bitterly and invariably exclaim something to the effect of
"there is no such thing as talent. it is all hard work."
everyone wants their hard work acknowledged and i get that. i’ve lost myself. just the hard work of staying alive and going to your job and making time for your music, your girl, or whatever have you, so you can live to fuck another day, is a lot most of the time. but i’ve lost myself. i still feel like an outsider to all of this. like peter pan against the glass looking in from the rain on a family party. an actor that doesn’t vibe like an actor, a would-be musician that butchers every note, basically a bent-up writer in my room. the advice i get from friends and lovers a decade over:
you should be writing, you should be writing.
you get that i don’t write because i like it, right, but because i physically have to? like eating and breathing and every other duty i carry out routinely against the eventual death of my body. it’s pretty much a necessity but it isn’t a passion at all. there we go, i’ve lost myself. i’m home again and the day feels long. i’m still on New York time.
i walk into the kitchen and almost immediately shatter one of our few remaining wine goblets in an attempt to clean the kitchen. now i just hope i can keep the cat out of there long enough to clean up the glass.