We all spend our youth daydreaming about being movie stars, astronauts, or Nobel prize-winning scientists. We wax romantic about what it will be like when we are rich and our retweets reach the thousands. Usually our friends and family encourage us and tell us that those dreams are realistic, whether they actually believe that or not. I guess for some people such high aspirations are certainly obtainable. The world does have celebrities, astronauts, and Nobel Prize winning scientists after all. As a child I became one of those people obsessed with the idea of fame, and tried to go down that career path. Being famous seemed as realistic as working at McDonalds as the fry girl (a job I held briefly in high school). But, as I have learned lately, not everything happens the way you have it planned out in your Password Journal.
If you walked up to me at fifteen years old and asked me what I would be doing for a living at the age of twenty-five, I would have rolled my eyes and handed you the screenplay I was working on, and that you so ignorantly interrupted. There would be no question. I would be successfully writing for Hollywood by then.
Ever since I was twelve years old and I snuck downstairs one day to turn on Days of Our Lives, I knew what my destiny was. It was not good enough to just watch the show every day – sometimes twice a day – I had to be part of the cast. I could feel it in my bones that I would play the long lost sister of Brady and Belle Black someday. My character would live with Brady and nurse him back to health and then years down the road she would inherit Basic Black when her entire family die in some freak plane crash on a remote island. Stefano DiMera would be the cause of the accident, of course. And then there would be a plot twist and we would find out that the family is alive and held hostage and I would help orchestrate their rescue and we would all live happily ever after. I was going to play such an integral role.
That same year, at the tender age of twelve, our grade seven class was shipped off to attend the local high school because there had been some sort of logistical mix up. I went to school every day (okay there were some days that I faked sick so I could stay home and watch the first airing of Days) and I mostly hid in the small wing of the building that was designated specifically for us youngsters. I didn’t much like attention at that point, because I was focusing my energy on not getting beaten up in the school yard. However, one day while walking to the cafeteria to buy three giant cookies and a medium chocolate milk for lunch, that all changed. Timid twelve-year-old Lisa saw a poster. That poster read:
LIMBO – A ONE ACT PLAY
AUDITIONS TO BE HELD THIS WEEK
I looked long and hard at that poster and knew that this was it. I had to audition. This would be my ticket to Burbank, California. This would be my ticket to making tens of thousands of dollars annually as a daytime television star. I became so overwhelmed with excitement about my bright future that I wanted to rip that poster off the wall, burst through those double doors and sprint all the way home to tell my mom the good news. Unfortunately, my inhaler expired a few months prior so I waited out the school day and patiently took the bus home at 3pm.
That evening during supper I told my mom that I was going to audition for a main role in the high school play, and that I would naturally be given said role and then while performing the play at the regional drama festival in a rural town of two thousand people on a small Canadian island, a Hollywood scout would see me and take me back to the set of Days of Our Lives with her. Or to a Disney Channel Original Series set, maybe to play Kirsten Storms younger sister in the next Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century movie. I expected my mom to say something like “zetus lupetus, Lisa, you’re going to be so famous!” Instead, my mom looked at me like I had ten heads and told me, quite blatantly, that I should not audition because there is no way I could get the part. She was trying to protect me, I know, but I felt betrayed. Had she not seen me playing with my Happy Meal figurines in the bath tub all those years as a child? Surely from that alone she could discern that I am a natural. Oh how Hercules wept when My Little Pony fell through the ice and got trapped, losing his wings forever to frost bite. Or what about that time I broke her queen sized bed by jumping on it and it became severely sloped to one side allowing me to pretend I was Rose from Titanic? I would grab for Imaginary Jack as the stern of the ship lifted into the cold Atlantic night, shivering from a mixture of fear and hypothermia. Surely those scenes were worthy of an Oscar. Some people are just born with gifts, and I recognized that in myself. Why couldn’t she?
So, like the mature, globally recognized celebrity I was to soon become, I stormed off in a tantrum to my room to work on my Days of Our Lives fanfiction. “I’ll show her. Oh, I’ll show everyone!” I thought, like a crazy superhero movie villain.
The next day I showed up for the audition after school. The hallway was teeming with senior year students. They were so much older than me. The guys had hair growing on their faces around their mouths and the girls even had boobs. I had just been allowed to purchase my first training bra (it was neon green and I’m pretty sure that it was visible through all of my Adidas t-shirts). I figured that my mom was right. I couldn’t compete with facial chin hair and cleavage. But I decided to give it a shot anyway. I just could not give up on my soap opera dream that easily. The fact that I was five years younger than everyone and had only ever acted for an audience of one – my reflection in the mirror – did not bother me. They called my name and I walked into that room with my head held high. The casting panel was not expecting to see an elementary school student, and I suppose they really were not expecting that elementary school student to be a good actor. But I was. I know, I was just as surprised as you are. I was given one of the leads and more importantly, I was given the opportunity to rub that in my mom’s face.
Acting in a high school production wasn’t as luxurious as I was expecting. That week between the audition and the beginning of practices, I daydreamed about how the cast would meet after school and on weekends in this beautiful, secret lounge back stage in the school gym and we would all wear berets. In reality I kept on wearing my Adidas t-shirts and we never really had a place to practice so I would keep sneaking the whole cast and crew into my living room after school and then feed them all of my Oreos because I was filled with such fear that they would not accept me. Remembering lines and cues proved to be rather difficult because I was used to playing all of the characters at once. And when the time came to perform our play to a packed high school gymnasium I vomited profusely right up until I stepped on stage for my first scene. But in the end we did a pretty good job. We remembered most of our lines and I did not vomit on any of my fellow cast members in front of my whole town. There were no Hollywood scouts hanging around but I did win an acting award which solidified my idea that I would be the hottest Daytime television star soon, very soon. I knew for certain as we bowed and graciously accepted our applause that this was what I wanted to do for a living. And this was different from that time I wrote in my grade two journal that I wanted to be a bobsled when I grew up.
I kept acting, and then I naturally branched out into writing my own one-act plays and screenplays. I kept singing obnoxiously loud in the shower but no matter how hard I tried I knew I could never be a triple threat. As much as I ached to some day play the Phantom in a Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera, I was okay with just being a famous actress and television writer.
I went everywhere with my purple Sharpie marker (my writing utensil of choice during adolescence) and my packages of loose leaf. I wrote scary movies. I wrote psychological thrillers. I wrote a heart-wrenching coming of age family dramedy. I adapted How The Grinch Stole Christmas and performed it with my friends for our whole school. I wrote and directed fake informercials for weight loss pills. I even adapted Scary Movie for stage and had my friends travel from classroom to classroom performing it for our peers. There was no stopping me!
I continued doing drama festivals each year and I continued winning acting awards. Once in junior high I even marched my awkward pimply face into an audition to host a Canadian kids television show. I surprisingly didn’t get the part, but that was okay because each audition was bringing me one step closer to the set of Salem, Massachusetts.
Through good times and bad, I wrote my plays, movies and Days of Our Lives fan fiction. I rehearsed all of Joey Potter’s monologues in front of my mirror. I practiced how I would act if I were in a coma. I practiced how I would act if I were pronounced dead and came back to life weeks later. I was honing my craft so that my skills would not rust. I still had Hollywood in my veins and as soon as I finished high school I was going to blow that popsicle stand of a town and move to Burbank. I was even mailing letters to NBC Studios in hopes that they would hire me.
And then I graduated high school and I drove as far as three hours north-east of that popsicle stand, and that’s where I stayed. It would be really hard to break this news to Fifteen-Year-Old-Lisa. But, instead of Tinsel Town, I enrolled in university to study liberal arts.
In those early years I still held on to my dreams, though. In my first year of university I binge watched the first season of Supernatural and then, obviously, I became obsessed with the show and decided I was going to move to Nova Scotia, live on my father’s couch, and get a television production diploma from community college. As soon as that diploma was safe in my jeans pocket I was going to move to Vancouver and get a job on the set of Supernatural. I would become close friends with Jared and Jensen and they would invite me over for barbecues. Then they would do a musical episode of the show and ask me to star in it and sing “Walk through the Fire” from the Buffy musical episode. And then when that season was slated to be released on dvd I would go into the studio and record a commentary with “the boys” about how fun it was, and all of the pranks we played on each other. My dreams were still going to come true, just in a colder climate.
All I had to do was get through one more semester of university and then all of those dreams could be my reality. But then I went and did something very stupid. I took a Religious Studies course as an elective, because I wanted to coast through the semester, and I had to go and fall head over heels in love with the study of religion. So I got a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies. And then I got a Masters degree in Religious Studies. And then I worked in a bookstore. And then I worked as a retail manager. And then I got sick so I left that job to be a fitness club manager. And then I hated my job so much that I had hourly panic attacks and wanted to move home to Fifteen-Year-Old-Lisa’s bedroom, so I became a secretary instead. Famous Daytime Television Star and Award Winning Television Writer/Producer Lisa Walters became a secretary in St. John’s, Newfoundland. But on the bright side it’s like they all say, St. John’s is the Hollywood of the North (no one actually says that).
Now the closest I get to being a famous actress and television writer is when I binge watch The Mindy Project on Netflix for so long that I think Mindy and I are in fact the same person and I just furiously point at the screen every time she does something that reminds me of me. I point and squeal and then I put down the box of chocolates long enough to text all of my friends that I am Mindy Kaling, no seriously, it’s kind of creepy how much her character is just like me. No other girl is like that. Just me. And she’s a television actress and writer, so that pretty much makes me a television actress and writer.
I wrote this essay about my failed attempts at chasing my dreams in a journal that says on the front cover, in very bold font, “Follow Your Heart. Live Your Dreams. Be Passionate. Never Give Up. Your Energy Is Limitless. Embrace Possibility.” If nothing else, at least Fifteen-Year-Old Lisa would enjoy the irony.
You have to promise me you won’t start pitying me now. It’s probably all for the best, anyway. I don’t know many chubby, asthmatic twenty-five year olds with braces that are really making it in Hollywood nowadays. It’s sort of a niche market, I would think. Yeah, I would have been cool for maybe a nano-second back when Juno was in theatres, but chances are I would now be writing this blog from my shared bedroom in some Hollywood Hills crack den, using wifi I stole from the tattoo parlour downstairs. Come to think of it, being a secretary in St. John’s, Newfoundland isn’t so bad.
I turned to my boyfriend while we were in the car this morning and put my arm on his shoulder. “Maybe my life didn’t turn out to be like the Lizzie McGuire movie, but at least I found my Gordo,” I said. He looked confused, but that thought filled me with acceptance. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. If it did there wouldn’t be so many motivational posters printed annually. One day you are planning your life as a television star and you are writing letters to soap opera actors asking them to be your date to junior prom, and then before you know it, you are in your mid-twenties and you’re answering phones for a living and you become addicted to slot machine games on Facebook. I can’t say that I completely gave up on my dreams, I guess I’m just accepting that it’s time to chase slightly different dreams. I may not have limitless energy like my journal suggests, but I promise to never stop embracing possibility (or trying to be Mindy Kaling’s best friend).