I Could Have Been the Next Zoolander

Gratuitous modeling contact sheet.

Shortly after moving to New York City, I decided to pursue a modeling career.  I was 25 years-old, tall, in good shape, directionless, and longing for affirmation.  The decision was a no-brainer.  I had some snapshots taken and used contacts from some gay men who’d taken a liking to me to get in with the top agencies—Ford, IMG, Boss, etc.  Most of the agents said the same thing:  “We like you, but you’re too commercial.”  This is agent-speak for you don’t have what it takes.

Despite narcissistic tendencies that say otherwise, I don’t think I was ever meant to be a model.  I could never warm up to the camera.  There was always a waft of fraudulence in my expressions—like I didn’t know why my picture was being taken.  The other problem was that most top models—male and female—have slim, photograph-friendly facial features.  I have a jawline as soft and narrow as an aircraft carrier.

Despite my physical deformities, one agency, Wilhelmina, did bite.  They asked me to test.  For those not in the know, a test is a professional shoot unrelated to a paid gig.  Some people test to have fresh shots in their portfolios.  I was testing so Wilhelmina could see how I’d look through a professional lens.

Interest by one of the world’s top agencies played into my fantasies.  I saw my life unfold—I would get the contract, I would travel around the world to exotic shoots, get a young, model girlfriend (probably French), wear awesome model clothes, swap workout tips with my model buddies.

And then Wilhelmina didn’t bite after seeing my test shots.  No exotic locales, no girlfriend, same clothes, same homely buddies.

A friend told me that many models cater-waiter between jobs as many catering clients like pretty boys to staff their parties.  Though I wasn’t pretty enough to model Diesel jeans, I was pretty enough to pass trays of champagne and caviar-topped blinis.

It was also suggested to me that many models act.  I had never shown any interest in acting, but I figured why not.  I wasn’t going to miss out on the possibility of getting attention.  I signed up for some commercial acting classes, and because I had the notion that I was funny, I signed up for some improvisational comedy classes.

Throughout these “acting-class years,” I waitered several times a week.  Working parties, I swapped stories with the other waiters, many of whom were models and actors, about the struggles of our craft—about agents, auditions, castings, headshots, callbacks and so forth.  But there was something I was omitting.  In my whole “career” I had been on no more than a half-dozen castings and auditions—a couple student films, one or two TV bits, a modeling gig for a big-and-tall men’s shop and a few others I can’t remember.  I didn’t book shit.  In other words, I was calling myself an actor because I took acting classes, a model because I had a couple meetings with a top agency.  The only thing I could authentically call myself was a waiter.

These days, a friend and I take stock of my life once a week.  It’s mostly a survey of the things that aren’t working.  Here are some not-so-hypothetical examples of things I might write:

  1. I am afraid of failing as a writer
  2. I am deceiving myself by not looking at my financial situation.
  3. I am afraid of expressing my needs to my girlfriend

I find the metaphor of taking “stock” or “inventory” a useful one.  If you’ve ever worked retail or other product-sales, you know that some products move and others don’t.  The same can be said of our lives.  Some of our behaviors “sell” and others sit on the shelves taking up space.  For example, I don’t have problems with exercising.  I get a lot of it in my day-to-day life as well as focused workouts.  I feel healthy and strong.  It’s a “seller.”  On the other hand, I do not consistently put my work into the world, often getting bogged down in doubt and fear.  This is a non-seller.

It could be said that our freedom depends on our ability to let go of bad stock.  The first step to doing this is taking stock.  It’s tough to let go of bad inventory when we’ve shoved it deep in the basement.

Relating this to my acting and modeling “career” (a misnomer if there ever was one), I couldn’t move past my delusional way of life until I became aware that I was deluded.  Models model.  Actors act.  I did neither.  I was a waiter.

Through taking stock and getting in touch with reality, I was able to see that the reason I had started acting and modeling was to stroke my fragile ego.  When I really looked at it, I saw that modeling as a profession is, with few exceptions, completely inane.  And while I had some positive experiences acting, I wasn’t so devoted to it that I was willing to do the things necessary to be a professional.  My strides were furtive because my connection to acting was weak.  It’s hard enough making it as a committed actor, much less a tepid one.

Today I see that all of my problems stem from a disconnect with reality—the “what is so” of life.  I want to be a writer, but I’m not writing consistently.  I want to have a great relationship, but I’m not communicating.  And I can either look at these things and move through them, or I can shove them in my psychic basement, neither looking at or discussing their existence.

With this in mind, here are some things to think about:

  1. Take stock of your life. Write down an assessment of your relationships to family, friends, work, health, money, society, etc.  In particular, look for “non-selling inventory.”
  2. Why is this inventory not selling (if you don’t know what it is, ask someone.  If he or she is a friend, he or she will tell you)? For instance, one bit of non-selling inventory is that I want to make my living from writing, but am not.  One big reason is that I’m not selling it consistently.  No sales, no money.
  3. Tell someone about your situation. I don’t know why, but confession works.  Something happens when we get honest with another human being that just doesn’t happen when we’re thinking alone.  Our delusions and rationalizations are easy to conceal when we’re the only ones exposed to them.  Getting real with another helps us get real with ourselves.
  4. Move from there. Oftentimes, just being aware is enough to propel us forward.  We cannot move toward something unless we’re aware of our present location.  Once we do get that location, the following steps get much clearer (apologies for the mixed metaphors).

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