When I look back at different phases of my life, some of them seem so strange. Especially the phases of come-down after intense times of output.
Upon quitting acting, when I was 21, I chopped my hair into the most unattractive, very short haircut. It was spiky in some places, flat in others. I packed up my Hollywood apartment, got in my maroon Oldsmobile which dipped in the back from the weight, and hauled ass across the country.
I was headed home to Vermont to regroup. But after such an intense phase trying to succeed as an actor, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. At 21 I felt terribly old.
I remember driving East through the Utah Canyonlands at night… seeing those giant rock monuments looming beside the road in the moonlight. They looked like blank movie screens at a drive-in theatre and I felt so in awe of their beauty… and my wide open future.
I tried to sleep slumped over the passenger seat in a truck stop in Southern Colorado. But it got too cold, so instead I went inside, poured a tall cup of coffee like the truckers were doing, and kept driving til dawn.
I stopped in Vail where my sister was working in the ski resort and considered becoming a snowboarding instructor for the rest of the season. I interviewed with the head of the snowboarding school who took me out for a few runs and observed how my technique was all wrong, because I’d taught myself and never properly learned. He said I could still stay and teach. But that didn’t really seem like the thing to do. So I kept moving East.
It was early springtime when I rolled up in the driveway of the farmhouse where I grew up. Over the next few days I unpacked the car and set up the corner room I had slept in when I was a little girl. It had a twin bed and two windows overlooking cow fields. Now what? I thought.
The next few months turned into a most unexpected period of doing very specific, seemingly pointless things. I bought a guitar and started to teach myself how to play. I ONLY listened to Leonard Cohen’s double CD of his greatest hits over and over. Actually sometimes I listened to the White Stripes album too. “I just don’t know what to do with myself…” sang Jack White.
I also set up a desk against the window in that room and painted pictures of horses in meadows of flowers or tall grass. Completely pointless, mediocre paintings of horses.
My little brother Galen was 15 and together we watched the entire series of 24 and had many Kiefer Sutherland jokes. I purchased a tiny puppy – a Yorkshire Terrier who I called Ivy and she would creep under Galen’s bed and poop tiny poops while we watched Kiefer make miraculous recoveries from gunshots and bombs.
Galen and I also took frequent, like pretty much every day, trips to Ben & Jerry’s. After a couple years of obsessively trying to be skinny, I plumped up from cone upon cone of ice cream… but I couldn’t see how or why it mattered.
To make money I worked the breakfast shift at a seedy old restaurant called the Lincoln Inn in Essex Junction. My co-waitress was named Betty and she was an older lady with died orange hair who told me I should get black plastic sneakers from Wal-Mart to waitress in. So I did. They were pretty comfortable.
I was in this strange in-between phase for about six months. Doing these simple things. Connected to very few people. Having no idea what the future would hold. Then in the autumn I went back to school at University of Vermont (I had done a year at NYU when I was 18), and motivation and purpose started to take over again.
That six-month period of painting horses and listening to Leonard Cohen and eating ice cream was just one of those come-down phases. I always seem to have them after big times of output.
Now that I’m a little older, and I can see the pattern of them, I have come to really love them. They are strange and mysterious times when the body restores, the mind rests and curiosity reigns supreme. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes melancholy. They are times when I have regrouped for the next big thing in an unconscious, illogical way.
I write this because I want to honor the come-down. I want to encourage you to fully relish and trust your periods of come-down as times when you may not know what the hell is going on, but you choose to shift into an intuitive, trusting place in yourself anyway.
Who knows what restoration is happening? What seeds are being planted during those times? Who cares? It’s really not about that.
How about you? Have you ever had one of these? What was it like?
Photo: George Stackpole