September 8, 2020 ☼ Word of the Day
I’m writing this note to save your life. If my motives seem selfish, that’s because I’m you, and you-gotta-listen-to-me letters from your future self are by definition, a little self-serving. But you really gotta listen to me. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
The time, place, and manner of this note is on purpose. I considered catching you in first grade, right before you wet your pants at student assembly. But instead, I see you right where you are. I remember this place. I remember this feeling. I remember the road ahead of you.
Do you remember the past? You’re closer to it than I am. Look at the mountains through your office window. You made that happen. The suede (instead of leather) sofa upstairs. You let that salesman talk you into it. Your job, your friends, and your family. It’s because of decisions you made in your past. Right now you have everything you ever wanted. And you don’t appreciate it at all.
Instead you are obsessed with fame. You have since you were six. Maybe it started when dad brought home the Camcorder; you would have caught the bug eventually. You want and need to be famous.
And if I timed it right, today is the day you decide to do something about it. Today you stop wishing and start working. You finish that one-act you abandoned last year, and send out tape after tape. You get auditions. You finish that play with Kirby. You grow. I remember this time. I remember feeling tired and feeling a boundless energy that I was creating myself. You are creating yourself.
I hate spoilers as much as the next guy, but let me spare you some anxiety. You book a guest spot on a major TV show, and it goes well. You get a recurring role shortly after that. I’ll spare you the details, but after a lot of right time and right place you’ll end up here. In the shade of a palm tree, next to a pool, looking at the houses on the hill, sending a note through time.
What’s it like here? Well, you can pay your rent, no worries about that. You live in Beverly Hills. You have no choice but to live Beverly Hills, because you can’t quite afford Celebrity New York and you’re too famous to live in a normal American city. (We tried and lasted two weeks in Albuquerque.)
You’d be surprised how little freedom you have when you start making gobs of money. You take jobs you don’t like to pay for things you don’t need. You have an apartment in London you’ve only been to twice. Even though you pay some clever men to manage your money (hi Ira, hi Mike), you constantly feel like you’re on the brink of bankruptcy. (This is funny because I read in US Weekly that you made $20 million dollars on that last movie.) Forget about swimming in your money like Scrooge McDuck: you only ever see a tenth of what the tabloids report.
Speaking of tabloids, they are your life now. You are followed around by photographers, every day, because you are a celebrity. And you hang out with celebrities. Sounds cool, but to be honest it’s like hanging out with rich teenagers, and we already did that in high school remember?
Becoming a celebrity makes you hate strangers. Your face turns ordinary people into snarling monsters who feed on selfies with you, no matter how you are feeling, no matter how down you are. Strangers beg you for smiles every day. Think about that. You’ll love it at first, then’ll you hate it, and then you’ll accept the bizarre normalcy of fame. You aren’t just a performer. You are part of the lives of people who think they know you, who believe they love you. Every day you reassure citizens while they hyperventilate in your presence. It’s not their fault that your characters are so well-written. As you tell them to “breathe, it’s OK,” you can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt for having this power over people.
That’s the ones that like you. Your detractors are not shy about pointing out how much they don’t like you. I remember complaining about how much email I got. Now you get 40 times that volume in hate mail. You say you won’t read it, but every now and then you do. You say it doesn’t bother you, but it does.
Yes, sure, you can pay your rent, but there is no amount of money that will keep your friends around. Everything changes once you are famous. You, me, we, change.
You start replacing the people that love you with folks that sort of like you. But they are famous and you are flattered by their attention. Or they have access to other people you want to have access to because of their access, et cetera. Eventually, your friends discover that they no longer have access to you. And they will give up.
The irony of celebrity is you only feel safe in the presence of other celebrities. Your peer group becomes socially crippled rich people in the entertainment industry. Do you think that’s healthy?
Before you ask, yes, you get to have some crazy sex with unbelievably beautiful people. Let me know how it goes. Are all your problems solved now?
I’m not writing this to undermine my life, I’m writing to highlight yours. You have friends that love and admire you. You have a family. You can pay your rent. You get to ski every now and then. And from what I remember (drugs are cheaper when you’re rich, and you do them a lot), you have a job that you don’t hate. You were a writer, right?
Well you don’t write much anymore. Your staff writers are smarter than you and do a better job. You think they secretly resent you, and you can’t blame them. You’re on TV, and they’re not. You’re rich, and they’re not. But you’re jealous of them. They have jobs. You have… an existence. Celebrity isn’t a status, it’s a reality. You’re the opposite of anonymous, you are socially radioactive. A walking lump of plutonium.
And I’m over it. I only know about of two ways to neutralize this existence:
The first way is to wait it out. Embrace obscurity and move someplace like Bali for 10 years. (For this, you’ll want to get into psy-trance and grow a long beard.) You’ve been to Bali by the way, and you won’t want to spend a decade there. You like work, remember? You love routines, like walking the dog and getting beans from the local coffeeshop. You love your view of the mountains and your almost-leather sofa, remember? You love date night with Rebecca. Remember your wife? How long do you think she sticks around after you become stupidly famous and you make everything but her a priority.
Of course this method doesn’t work. Everyone who’s tried it has failed. But there is a second way.
I learned it from a shaman during an ayahuasca ceremony. (Dave is also my personal DJ.) The method involves two components, the plea and the sacrifice, and you must make your offering before the rise of the crescent moon.
I’m writing this note to save my life. Today, you make the choice that changes your future and my past forever. When you pull that switch, you move us inevitably through fame and fortune, and through heartbreak, emptiness and loneliness. I am the stop at the end of the line.
(As I write this, it’s hitting me: you’re the only person I know.)
My plea is this: don’t pull that switch. Look around. You’re not chasing anything you don’t have. You are famous to your friends and your neighbors. You are adored by your biggest fans: your wife and your dog. You get to ski when you want and take Fridays off. You write what you like.
You want more, but I promise you, if you make it here, you will want less. On my today, I am ready to settle for nothing at all. I see the rising crescent moon against the pink-blue sky and it is the moment of sacrifice.