I moved to Los Angeles straight out of college in 2008. Flush with excitement, high on the sense of newfound freedom, and drunk on youth, I just knew—I knew—I was a perfect fit for Hollywood. They were waiting for me. They would welcome me with open arms just as soon as the plane landed and I settled in, because I had something really special that everybody wanted: a fresh voice. A new talent. A breakthrough perspective.
I was going to make it!
Back then, “make it” meant becoming a famous actress in movies with other famous people. In high school, I had landed lead roles in the plays, and though the college landscape was vastly more competitive, I wasn’t deterred at all. I just knew that Los Angeles was the place for me. So, in the fall of 2008, I packed up the car, and drove with my mom from Colorado to L.A. She helped me move into my new apartment with my new roommate from Florida, and then she left, and I was all alone.
Hollywood was completely indifferent to my being there.
The breadth of the city took me by surprise. Pavement stretching as far as the eye can see felt oppressive, and the heat made my head spin. How many times did I sit in 10 mph traffic on the freeway with a bursting bladder on the way to an audition? How many hours did I spend mailing out headshots, hoping to get called in for a bit part in an independent film? How many acting classes did I attend in small, musty black-box theaters, hoping that next week I’d catch a break?
My roommate, who some days would only eat brownies, moved back to Florida. We didn’t keep in touch. Months went by, and I learned more about the industry. I got an agent who told me to lose weight, so I did. An acting coach said I wore “dowdy” clothes, so I updated my wardrobe with brighter colors and stretchy fabrics that hugged my shape. A casting director said I should get a pixie cut and dye my hair platinum blonde—that’s where I drew the line.
I tried, really hard. I tried to mold myself into someone I thought could be a successful actress in L.A. Deep down, I had connected my value as a human being and my lovable-ness with whether or not I became a working actress. Isn’t everyone’s worst fear that they are ultimately insufficient and unworthy of love? Somehow, in my warped young mind, I had decided that being famous would make me lovable, and I was damn determined to prove that I was lovable.
When I reflect on this, I wonder how many famous people hold this same internal narrative.
Slowly but surely, through my efforts, I transformed. My body changed. My thoughts changed. My goals changed. I dated a smooth-talking poker player who took me to Las Vegas every month, and I felt more grown-up than ever. (What’s more grown-up than sitting at a poker table in a leopard print mini-dress and strappy platform heels?) We went to clubs on Sunset Boulevard where I wore short skirts and drank 7 and 7s. The height of sophistication.
Time passed and too many hangovers began to wear on me. My sense of adultness flaked away into a feeling of disempowerment as I realized that I was treading water. The glamorous lure of Hollywood was wearing thin, even though I did book acting work here and there. Just not enough to make me lovable. Something was missing … something important. In the back of my mind I knew that things weren’t right. Waiting around to be cast didn’t feel right. Dragging myself to Las Vegas every month no longer felt right. The rumblings of change were in the air.
It was time to grow. I could see it coming miles away, and I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant.
After a few marathon fights in our Marina del Rey apartment, I broke up with the poker player and moved into an apartment on my own for the first time. It was a dark time. Much wine was consumed, many bags of cookies were eaten, and for a period of about six months, I felt generally low and lonely and alone and afraid that I had failed. In that time I was forced to confront something that truly disturbed me: after four years of living in Los Angeles, I felt I had made no difference. No progress. No significant headway in what I had envisioned would be an illustrious career and a charmed lifetime.
I was despondent.
Somewhere in all that mess, I started writing again. It came back easily, like riding a bike, and a flicker of confidence stirred deep within me. Even if no one else read or saw it, I knew I was creating something. I was doing what I set out to do when I moved to L.A.—not so much the “get rich and famous” part, but the “tell stories and express yourself creatively” part. It felt good.
The flicker turned into a small flame.
Growing bold, I submitted my work to some local theaters, and before I knew it, a few of my plays were produced around town. One of them even won an award.
My outlook changed. I felt invigorated and motivated. Writing was empowering, and fun, and fulfilling.
A little voice in the back of my head tugged at me, “Write! Write more stuff! Produce it yourself, if you have to! Make things!” Lucky for me, I’d experienced enough demoralizing rejections by then that the thread of hope that some Hollywood executive would pick me out of a crowd and magically make my career happen was nearly extinguished.
I was ready to listen to my inner voice.
In the years that followed, I wrote and produced eight short films, two features and a narrative podcast. None of them got into Sundance (I always cry when my work doesn’t get into Sundance; it’s practically a tradition in my household), but they got into other film festivals, and some got distribution. I still write, every single day, for work or for pleasure or both. I know now that I am a creator, and I will always create.
Nothing can stop me from that.
Fourteen years after arriving in Hollywood, I’ve developed a sense of detachment from my work—its success doesn’t determine my value, which frees me to write whatever bubbles up without attachment or judgement.
It took years of disappointment to finally push me into figuring out where I fit in the entertainment puzzle. Not just where I fit, but where I want to be, and where I can find satisfaction as a creative.
Looking back, I wonder if moving to Hollywood was less about “making it” and more about growth. Was there some part of me that wanted young, misguided Allison to get whipped into shape as quickly as possible? To let go of any notion that being rich and famous is the only way for one to be worthy? To wolf down a big old slice of humble pie, the biggest piece she could find, served up relatively early in life so she could get to the really fun parts of adulthood?
Hollywood certainly knows how to dish it out.
And adulthood—it’s fun. I like it, a lot. It turns out that taking on responsibilities like paying bills and getting jobs actually gives one tremendous freedom. To me, a career in writing is the same: when I finally took responsibility for creating my own opportunities, I began to feel much more free. I’ve made a living as a writer in one way or another for the past 10+ years. Sometimes the writing is very fun and fulfilling, sometimes it is fact-based and clinical, but it’s always rewarding.
My running theory is that despite what we may think we’re pursuing, we transplants don’t really flock to Los Angeles to obtain fame and fortune. Fame and fortune may sometimes come, but what if we’re here for something deeper? Something that shapes us at the core, that humbles and challenges us. Maybe on some level, we’re really here to face daunting obstacles and impossible odds so that we can evolve and ultimately become more fully-formed artists, more compassionate people, and just overall better human beings.
This comforts me, and reminds me that life isn’t about becoming rich or famous or even “successful” in a traditional sense. Life is about love and expansion and creativity and finding ways to be true to ourselves and kind to others.
Hollywood taught me so much about who I am, why I’m here, and what I want my life to be about. Thank you, L.A., for being such an indifferent bitch. You forced me to confront my worst fears and biggest flaws head on and show me that I can handle it. I can evolve and adapt and move beyond.
That’s a true friend.
*Feature photo by Roberto Nickson (Pexels)