My junior year of college I was selected with another female from our theatre department to drive to Chicago for a film starring opposite Claire Danes. I guess they were looking for an unknown, and my professor sent along our set designer to chaperone and drive us immediately back for rehearsal that night. We were in the midst of a production of “As You Like It,’ and took our theatre seriously. It was my first time auditioning for film. I had only auditioned for stage at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and reading sides for a film opposite “My So Called Life” idol was surreal.
I was led into a sparse room which later in life would become second nature, but this first time I was like, really? This—is where the magic happens? They read my cast mate first and released her, but me they whispered about after, and placed a thick script in my hands asking if I could go to a coffee shop to read and come back in two hours to be put on tape. Another first lesson of film; being put on tape for the director is a big deal.
That’s when everything got wobbly, and I was too green to stay grounded. The rest of the day floating, with my college friends now having to wait with me in Chicago and my professor back home saying it was okay if we missed some rehearsal because she was so excited for me.
Kate Beckinsale nailed the role, and the movie was a flop you probably never saw, called “Brokedown Palace.” Famously, Claire Danes and her did not get along while shooting, and I always imagined she and I would have become best friends. But I believe it was the first time in my life, I became truly competitive. And understood talent could go beyond my rural upbringing, and that I did, indeed, have chops.
That evening back in the dressing room getting ready for a run through, my cast mate playing Rosalind to my Celia let out her jealousy telling me she was a true actor who didn’t do film. That you didn’t have to be good, just pretty. I paid no mind and received an Irene Ryan award for my Celia, deemed huge in the collegiate world.
I went on to become a perfectionist. I moved not to Chicago, but straight to New York City and believed in myself like no other. I took voice lessons, acting classes, casting workshops, and I worked in television scoring coveted off-off Broadway roles, never looking back.
I grabbed a yoga certification one year in between acting projects, and nailed that, too, becoming a popular instructor to this day. My voice was placed on the back burner only because at some point I decided in order to be cast on Broadway, I was going to have to become a film star first. So I moved to L.A. where my theatre credits were made fun of, and I was lost in a sea of other pretty girls who played the game better.
I don’t know how I got the guts to move to New Mexico and keep acting, I only know Hollywood was crushing my creativity, and I wanted to be a real artist, like Georgia O’Keeffe. My point is I never did anything in my life I wasn’t really good at, or at least put on tape for.
Cut to the Cerrillos Sunday Jams, where the first time I went, I brought my guitar and stuck it in the corner drinking whisky while the other musicians played on. I’m not good at guitar, my fingers don’t quite work and throughout the years, even though I exchanged yoga lessons for a teacher in Brooklyn, I never practiced the amount you needed to to get good. I had yoga, and TV pilots, and writing to do.
Now in my forties, and maybe for the first time in my life, I’m humbled. The leader of the jam asking why I hadn’t pulled my guitar out of the case, and that it would be good practice for me if I did. So the next jam I sat in the farthest corner I could and began playing poorly. Interesting it’s taken me this long in my lifetime to have the guts to do something I’m not good at. I hadn’t even realized how severe a perfectionist I am, how much my entire career has been about being the best. The thing is I make mistakes at the jam, the leader calling out, “Branden—A minor,” when I’m playing an A. And then I lose my rhythm and have to wait for my brain to connect to my fingers, and by the time I get to A minor they’ve moved on to C and there I am, the worst player in the circle. I’ve never been the worst at anything—well, maybe sports.
The thing is I’m learning…and some jams I surprise myself and notice practicing to the metronome is helping, and my brain is getting quicker when my leader shouts out chords keeping up on “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” and even ending on the right chord with the rest. It’s two steps forward and five steps back, but I’m getting braver. And what’s crazier is I don’t have a goal with my guitar playing, I just have this voice inside saying this is good for you, keep doing it.
And maybe that’s what this new decade is all about, us doing things we’re not good at. Maybe it’s time we all stepped into what scares us, because isn’t humility a way out of our top dog culture? Maybe humility will help us not burn the koalas, and find a new way of government that takes care of us all. Maybe, by not being the best we become more caring, showing our faults to the world and humbly, getting better.