The Dark Night Of The Soul - Pt 2

For the last several years, I've been writing a novel. I’m now trying to get it published. The novel started as a reaction to a year-long period in my life which I could call now, “My Dark YEAR of the Soul.” I couldn’t find any film or teaching work in LA, my father was dying of alcoholism back in Kansas City, I had gained fifty pounds, was feeling middle aged, (having just turned forty), and I was more broke than I’d ever been. It was a terrible time. My husband and friends had no clue how to help me. And I struggled each day, just to get out of bed.

One morning, sick of it all, I sat down at my computer and started to write. Since I couldn't think of one single profound thing to say, I just wrote about myself. The first words were: “Kirsten gets depressed. She doesn’t know why, because normally, Kirsten is a bright light…” The words just started flowing out of me and onto the page.

Two years later, those early morning self help ramblings turned into an entire novel. What started out as me, became someone else - a whole new young woman, whose life story was, oddly, different, and yet also, somehow familiar to my own. This character’s struggles (on the page) helped inspire my OWN life struggles, because I began to see MY life in archetypal ways. The character, and myself, were becoming the same person. We had the same dreams, the same failings, the same longings and desires, even the same insecurites.

I began to understand that every single soulful, intelligent, deep person has these longings to change the world, and often feels misunderstood, alone, even bored by their lives. Everyone has an amazing journey, called life, each with high points, and low points, and a lot of boring stuff in between. The amount of humor I found in this story always amazed me, and I realized I had forgotten to see how funny my own life struggles really were. This also helped me. Two years later, I still suffer some "dark nights" but they don't last very long, and I am finally able to get out of bed!

Being an artist is very hard, especially because trying to make a living from one’s art can be close to impossible. Many of us are so intelligent, and yet, we feel like our brains are wasted. We may find ourselves needing to take stupid jobs in order to pay our bills, so that we have the time and energy, on our days off, to pursue our dreams. And this makes us feel like we’re wasting our lives and letting ourselves down (not to mention, our families.) Don’t beat yourself up. Remember, it takes courage to try and make a living in this business - especially if you live in an expensive city like Los Angeles or New York. Remember that taking a “stupid” job may also be the difference between your friend who’s living out of his car, and you, who are still living in your nice apartment, going on auditions! The writer, T. S. Eliot, worked in a bank for many years . He did this so he could write his poetry, and support his family, even though he'd gone to Harvard, and gave lectures and classes all over the world. He also suffered many nervous breakdowns, and struggled with depression his whole life.

As an artist, being an actor can be so hard, because the fulfillment we get from acting doesn’t come often enough, and it's not something we can do alone. We have to rely on other people, more often than not, to be able to act. We can only act if we are chosen by the casting director, or the filmmaker, or the theatrical director, to play a certain part in their production. I always joke that painters and writers have it easier. They can just sit down at their desks and start drawing, painting, or writing, while actors have to be cast in something to do their craft.

With this in mind, try to keep your daily focus on WHY you care so much about changing the world – that – and the reasons BEHIND why you loved acting (and film and theater) in the first place. Besides loving to be in the spotlight, it probably has something to do with changing the world, and helping others (and yourself) to think more deeply about life. Use your current boring job as a way to fulfill your need to perform, whether or not it’s in sales or waiting tables. Put a grand spin on everything you do, have fun, entertain your customers, and live another day, making people happy! Listen to people’s stories, as you work with them at your job, whether customers or co-workers; write them down, learn from strangers, and make each tiny moment in your day count.

If I can get through one boring day at my sales job, just listening to an old lady tell me about her life, and if I can make her feel heard, and feel good about herself, then I feel like I’ve really done something. Maybe God gave me this sales job (I might tell myself) so that I could help strangers throughout the day. Maybe my life is something bigger and more profound than I could ever imagine. They always say that the most profound acts of grace come in small packages, tiny moments of connection. I always keep than in mind when I find myself wanting, MORE, MORE, MORE!

Also, I want to tell every actor reading this post to start writing! Actors can take charge of their careers by writing original works themselves. It will give you material to act, and it may also make you realize you’re also a very good writer, and maybe even, a director. It’s one reason I began writing myself. I realized I had so much more to say than the stupid lines I was reading at commercial auditions, or badly written indie films. As a result, I also feel like I’ve taken some power back, and that I can be as inspired, or as lazy, as I want to be. I love writing. It’s not only changed my life, it’s saved my life!

Write your own, one-person show. Get out of your apartment and go to some open mic poetry readings, or standup gigs. Have a party in which your friends all bring two pages of original writing, or songs, or have them perform scenes, or play read a famous Shakespeare play. And as I always advise, get yourself into an excellent weekly acting class, so you can at least keep you acting chops exercised.

And finally, I always recommend going to any kind of 12 Step meeting. I myself have loved going to Al-Anon, the free group that meets weekly to discuss growing up in an Alcoholic family; or if you have ever been affected (say, by a boss, friend, or coworker) by someone’s behavior, who has an addiction. You don’t have to have alcoholism in your life, to go to Al-Anon. Maybe your father was a work-a-holic, or verbally abusive. Maybe your mother was clinically depressed, or didn’t show love. The dysfunction you may have grown up with may also be the reason you love drama. It’s a common thought that growing up in a dysfunctional family usually creates the best artists!

We are the truth tellers: first, of our families, and then (as adults), of society. We want to make everyone else feel better. The problem with this is we often don’t know how to care for ourselves. Sometimes the solution to our “dark night” is simple. Maybe we are just hungry. Maybe we are just angry. Or lonely. Sometimes we are merely tired. I have a sign on my wall that says “HALT!” I put it there to remind myself to go through this list of four things: (H-ungry, A-ngry, L-onley, T-ired) - and see if I might just be feeling one of them, and then, after eating, or calming down, or resting, or calling a friend -- if I’m still upset, then I look for some other cause. Or I start to write.

Sometimes it’s the simple little things that can make us feel better. Don’t isolate yourself. Look for answers. Pray. Mediate. Exercise. Talk to friends and family. Get up off of your sofa and take a walk. Write. There are so many things to do to help you feel better. However, remember that sometimes, we just need to feel bad. Maybe we're grieving. Feeling bad is okay, as long as it doesn’t take over your whole life. Please remember too, that if you need help, get it. Going to a professional therapist, or getting on anti-depressants, or other meds, can really change your life too.

I hope this helps, and keep acting!

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City