Tag Archives acting

That Time I Almost Accidentally Joined a Cult

All the chatter about the HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, got me thinking about my own experiences with a similar church I’ll call the Church of OddPhilosophies. Because I would never say anything bad about the Church of Scientology.

I was once on the run from the Church of OddPhilosophies.

Ok, so things weren’t as dramatic as that, but there did exist a time when I had to avoid the COO.

Picture it: the early ’00s, Los Angeles, California. A city of towering palm trees, near constant sunshine, and an overabundance of injectable-filled faces. A twenty-something woman full of youthful energy and naiveté dreams of a brilliant acting career.

(This young woman is me, by the way).

I’d often flip through Backstage West, an entertainment newspaper, looking for classes, seminars, casting notices and odd jobs. On one such occasion I came across an ad that looked something like this:

Fake Ad for Acting Seminar | The Girl Next Door is Black

That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s sure how I read it! Every actor knows there’s big opportunity and money in nationally broadcast commercials. SIGN ME UP!

It wasn’t until I arrived at the Famous Centre on the eastern edge of Hollywood that I realized it was part of The Church of OddPhilosophies.

I should have turned around as soon as I made the connection.

Instead, I parked and entered the estate. I’d driven by the grounds of the Famous Centre before and thought it beautiful and quintessentially old Hollywood. Now I had the chance to see the inside! Besides, I figured other churches sometimes rent out use of their space to non-religious groups as an income generator.

Church of Scientology Celebrity Center | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, which looks very similar to the Church of OddPhilosophies Famous Centre
Source

A cheery young blond man ushered a group of about 30 of us hopefuls into a small room with seats arranged in rows facing the speaker.

“Hi, I am Felicia Lister, Denise’s less famous and less talented sister.” What happened to Denise?! Who is Felicia?

For the next half hour, Felicia charmed and dazzled us with motivational platitudes and positive affirmations.

“Maybe your dream is to win an Oscar one day. Your dream is RIGHT WITHIN YOUR GRASP! How badly do you want it though? Do you just talk the talk or do you WALK THE WALK? Do you want success?! Are you tired of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent?”

Yes! Tell me how!

“I’ll tell you how! Some of our students are today’s biggest stars. We can’t name names because we respect their privacy. But, you know who they are.” Felicia winked.

Most of the actors were focused on Felicia, transfixed by her promises of glory and riches.

“We can help you achieve your dreams! Our methods are highly successful. So, if you’re serious about being serious about MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE, Chad will take you into the next room to watch a short film.”

Wait – so far, no one has mentioned anything about commercials. When is that going to happen?

I didn’t get the chance to ask as we were quickly hustled into an already dark screening room with about 20 seats. Somehow we’d lost 10 of our original number, so we all fit. I was beginning to feel trapped.

They showed us a 30-minute film that was part history of the Church of OddPhilosophies, and part propaganda documentary, including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.

It’s still one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my entire life.

Chad blocked my attempt to exit after the film.

“We’re almost done.” His smile slowly widened and his eyes glistened, “After this we’ll talk a bit about the program and then you can go if you’re not interested in MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.”

I now understood how I people get entangled in cults. Save me.

Help me, Save me - Photo by miamojoline, | The Girl Next Door is Black
Help!

After the film, Chad led us into yet another room. This one grander, with a vaulted ceiling and lots of glittery gold. It was when they told us that for the program to work we’d need to sign a promise to stop taking any and all mind-altering drugs like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and the like, that I got my ass out of there.

Holy crap. Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?

Oh had the tale ended there.

Unfortunately, I’d given my home phone number to the COO when I signed up for the seminar. A week later I received a call from a sugary-voiced member of the church, Mandy. Mandy wanted to know if I would like to finish my consultation and join them on the road to MAKING MY DREAMS COME TRUE.

“It’s not for me.”

Mandy protested, insistent that the COO held the keys to my future bounty, but I cut her off: “Yeah, I am not interested. Thanks, Mandy! Bye!”

In the following six months, I received monthly – sometimes bi-monthly – calls from the Church of OddPhilosophies. This, despite requesting multiple times that they remove me from their list and failing that, flat-out hanging up on them. I told my roommate to regard calls with extreme suspicion if the person on the other end asked to speak to me and sounded unnaturally happy.

It took moving to a new apartment and disconnecting my phone number to finally dodge the COO.

I haven’t heard from them since.

I still screen all my calls though. You can never be too careful.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale, my friends.

If There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block, Why Can’t I Write?

Writer's Block Struggle from The Girl Next Door is Black

I’ve struggled with a major case of writer’s block for several months now. Whatever past invisible force moved me to put fingers to keypad appears to have gone on a vacation. In my quest to bring it back from the beach or whatever safari it’s on, I’ve read several posts by other bloggers and writers who struggle with the same blockage. More than a few are adamant that there’s no such thing as writer’s block.”

If that’s the case, then why is it that each post I crank out lately seems to take me eons to produce? Sometimes I’ll write one sentence, proclaim it “garbage” or not something I can create a post around and there it sits, another unfinished draft.

I understand that writer’s block isn’t just about the seeming inability to write or lacking ideas. There are often underlying reasons for why the words won’t come out.

I believe the problem began once I transitioned from blogging as a hobby to blogging for income.

I resisted monetizing my blog for the longest time despite the fact that several people encouraged me to do so:

“Your blog is great, you should try to make money from it. More people should read what you write!”

“You’re a great writer; you could write a book!”

I demurred for nearly two years, explaining that I enjoy writing as a hobby and don’t want to ruin the fun of it by adding monetary pressure to the mix.

It’s a legitimate concern for me. Back when I was pursuing an acting career, I took classes on different types of method acting, on succeeding in commercial auditions and learning to cold read, among others. It seemed as though the more I learned about the business side of acting and the more I deconstructed acting into a series of methods and it became more about mechanics than the joy of performing, the less pleasurable I found it. Acting used to make me feel alive. I loved losing myself in a character and fed off the energy of delighted audiences. The contentment and sense of liberation I once derived from entertaining, dissipated until I didn’t enjoy it anymore. Once you no longer enjoy acting, putting up with the business of Hollywood shenanigans hardly seems worth it.

Last summer, after getting laid off from my job at Fancy Startup from hell, I knew I had to make a change. I’d spent years agonizing over what my “passion” is. What could I do that’s truly enjoyable, will generate enough income for me to live on (including travel) and not require me to work in the confines of an office – which I’ve never liked – living for the weekend, serving as a lackey to other people’s whims, goals, values and deadlines, along with the accompanying stress, all to make some rich guy richer. One day the proverbial lightbulb appeared and I thought, “Duh, Keisha. Your blog! You do it for free and you love it, why not turn it into something?” Work for myself, you say, self? Yes! Sign me up!

Typewriter w/Crumpled Paper - Writer's Block  from The Girl Next Door is Black

Things went swimmingly until I began to care more about things like traffic stats, comments, social media following and writing the best headlines to get attention. Everything I read and researched in an attempt to help my new business grow, seemed to make me feel more inadequate as a blogger and writer. Am I actually going to make it at this?

Now when I think of what to write, these are some of the thoughts that cycle through my head:

“But, how will I write an intro that hooks readers?”

“Is anyone going to care about this?”

“What is my point? People come to my blog for thought-provoking reads; this post has no point. It’s fluffy.”

“That’s not funny enough. People expect me to be funny.”

“This would make for an excellent blog post, but x person and y person might be offended that I chose to write about this and not that.”

“Passive voice is bad. I have to reconstruct that sentence. Argh!”

“If you want blogging success, you have to write x number of posts a week.”

Each of these notions fill me with apprehension and dampen my desire to write.

It doesn’t help that I’m an overachiever with high standards for work quality.

I want my writing mojo back! Come back my friend! Return to me!

Do you believe in writer’s block? Have you experienced writer’s block; if so, how have you worked through it?

What Happened to OFFline Dating?

What Happened to Offline Dating | The Girl Next Door is BlackDoes anyone meet anyone in real life these days? Offline? For dating purposes, that is. You know like:

Guy sees cute girl at bus stop.

Guy makes joke about the horrid stench wafting from a black trash bag near the bus shelter.

“Ah, the sweet smell of street funk and human waste,” he cracks.

Girl giggles. She relaxes her street defenses.

They discover they share a preference for puffy Cheetos over crunchy.  “This is awesome,” they both think. 

They chat animatedly as they wait for the bus, trading witticisms back and forth. He uses a word infrequently woven in conversation these days and it further endears him to her. She finds it sexy when a man has a big vocabulary and knows how to use it well. 

He likes her laugh and the way she thinks.

He asks if he can take her out.

She says “Yes,” with a bashfulness he finds charming.

The bus arrives.

Only in my (safe for sharing on the internet) dreams!

In real life: men on the street say things to me so inappropriate that, if said on TV, would make the Parent’s Television Council triple their angry email writing output; or at the bus stop I’ll smile at a cute guy and he’ll look the other way, jeez; or worse I inadvertently pique the unwanted interest of a creepy co-worker who I’d often catch staring at me when I was at my desk.

When people ask me, “How’s your love life?” I’m taken aback as though they’ve asked me why I haven’t eaten vegetables in a while. Like, “Oh. Right. That’s something people do, date and stuff.  That’s part of life too.” I mean, I know it happens. I kinda remember there being a time when I did things like that. I hear other people talk having love lives, but I don’t think I know what that is anymore.

This love life thing keeps coming up lately.

I went on a weekend trip with a group of a friends for one of their birthday’s this summer. I roomed with V__ (a dude) and K ___ (a dudette), fellow single thirty-somethings. We returned to our room at 3am one night and both V__ and K__ pulled out their phones to Tinder. [If you’re unfamiliar with Tinder, it’s a dating app for meeting people in your area. It uses your Facebook profile (’cause Facebook isn’t over-involved in your life enough) and I’ve gleaned from friends’ experiences that a lot of people on there aren’t exactly looking for “a relationship.” It seems like more of a shallow way to meet people given you decide “yes” or “no” on a person based on a few photos and whatever information they’ve bothered to share with Facebook.]

"What Happened to Offline Dating" - Photo cr: Wayan Vota, flickr.com Tinder Screen | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Wayan Vota, flickr.com

My friends happily Tinder’d while I interrupted them with questions about why they found it so fascinating, who and what were they texting, and who else was up at 3am?

I tried Tinder once when I was at a Starbucks and freaked out when a guy sent me a chat. “Can he see me? Is he nearby?!” Like a grandma who doesn’t understand how this newfangled technology works.

Another time, two of my friends, both of whom were in relationships at the time, stole my phone to Tinder for me, despite my weak protestations. I don’t know why I hadn’t deleted the damned app by then. Anyway, I know that really, they just wanted to see what it was like; to get a taste of the single life again for one sweet moment. I see you.

I am not one for idle texting back and forth and it seems like Tinder involves a lot of this. I can’t even figure out how to work normal text messaging, how the hell am I going to seduce someone on Tinder? Oh who am I kidding? All I’d have to do is show a little cleavage in my photos and use lots of emoticons and coy responses when I chat.

I feel the same way about online dating. I don’t want to go through this back and forth, tell me your life story, what’s your favorite color, do you like to cuddle, let’s have a pre-date phone call business. If I like what you’ve got to say in your profile and if in your communication with me you use adult-level grammar and don’t make gross sexual comments to / about me, let’s meet and see if we click. There’s no need to drag this process out. This is why I don’t understand the show Catfish. How are you “in a relationship” for seven months or a year, or five, with someone you’ve NEVER MET, and then shocked when they turn out to be a Shrek masquerading as an Efron?

I’ve given online dating plenty of shots. You might even call me an online dating early adopter. In 2003, I went out with a guy I met through Yahoo Personals. (Yahoo Personals people! Old school internet!)  It was disastrous. The date went downhill the minute I told him I moved to L.A. to try to make it as an actress. He treated me like I was an airhead. Nobody likes actors in L.A. except other actors, the people they pay to like them and their fans.

"What Happened to Offline Dating?" -- Peggy Awkward Online Dating | The Girl Next Door is Black Photo cr: hadesigns, flickr.com
Photo cr: hadesigns, flickr.com

I know people who’ve met and married or at least dated successfully through online dating. Personally, I’ve found it to be like a tedious a second job, as well as disappointing experience. I’m nowhere near the most popular female demographic in the e-dating pool. It gets old seeing guy after guy indicate interest in every ethnicity except “Black/African-American.”

Every boyfriend I’ve had I met through a friend, doing things I normally do, being myself and not feeling like I’m being auditioned for a starring role in someone’s life. Not only does meeting someone through your social network make it easier to blend your social lives, if there’s any of the “bad” kind of crazy in your prospective boo, your friend can give you the lowdown.

One time, ONE TIME, I agreed to a date with a guy who I met at a bar. I was young and dumb (and drunk, holy beer goggles!). The night of our date, he drove us around Hollywood for nearly half an hour looking for street parking, missing the beginning of the show at The Knitting Factory. At each light, he’d stop, look into my eyes and say something utterly fromage-y like, “Your eyes shine like stars. I could get lost in them.”

WHO SAYS STUFF LIKE THAT FOR REAL?!

He turned out to be one of those short guys with a Napoleon Complex and the associated serious anger management issues. By mid-date,  it was so bad, I contemplated excusing myself to go to the bathroom and crawling out the window to freedom. I decided not to, mostly because he was my ride home and in those financially-leaner days, I really couldn’t afford the $50 cab ride from Hollywood to my place in the Valley. When I didn’t go out with him again, he became increasingly irate and left vile messages on my voice mail. I had to change my number.

I have never dated a guy I met in a bar again.

"What Happened to Offline Dating?" -- Pink Phone Box Long Live Love Life | The Girl Next Door is Black Photo cr: Bruce Stokes, flickr.com
Photo cr: Bruce Stokes, flickr.com

I suppose online dating hasn’t been all bad for me. Last year, I dated a guy for a few months who I met on Match. He’s a great person and I learned a lot when I was with him, but ultimately I felt we’d be better off as friends.

During a recent lunch with one of my college roommates who met her husband of three years on eHarmony, she talked about why she’d decided to give eHarmony a try. She said:

“I knew I was ready to meet my husband and I made it a priority. You have to make it a priority.” I realized then that it wasn’t and hadn’t been a priority to me for quite some time. Somehow, I’d forgotten about having a love life. I guess I’d been busy with other life things, like figuring out what to do after I got laid off and realized that once and for all that I need to make a career change.

The subject of my love life arose once again in the form of an email. A friend of mine is currently off in Europe on a sabbatical of sorts and recently started up a hot romance with a strapping Nordic man. She’s happily enamored with him and inquired, “Have you met anyone interesting?” I stared at my screen, puzzled, “Met anyone? Interesting? Men? How would I even do that? How do people meet people offline to date?” Some of the ideas I shared for making new friends are applicable to meeting people to dateAnd I have tried them. But, you can’t force these things.

It’s been almost a week and I haven’t responded to her email. I don’t know what to say. I would love to meet someone interesting, but I’d like for that to happen offline. Is that too much to ask?