‘You like to tell true stories, don’t you?’ he asked, and I answered, ‘Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.’
Then he asked, ‘After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people to go with it?
Only then will you understand what happened and why.
It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.’
– Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
My name is Jamie Anderson.
I am an actor. I am the son of a Presbyterian minister like my favorite author quoted above. Growing up I have done more fishing in both the literal and metaphorical sense, than the biblical concept of becoming a “fisher of men”.
I have come close to taking my life. I am working on recovering from an exhaustive depression, prolonged alcohol abuse, as well and worst of all living for myself. I am a recovering soul.
From an objective perspective, I was raised in the confines of a strict religious environment. It has certainly taken a toll on me. As much as I would love to blame some of the issues discussed here completely on this factor alone, I cannot. I’ve tried many times. Yet it fails to account for my troubles.
I believe in truth. I believe in trying not to use clichés in writing. I do not profess to hold the keys to the meaning of life or any sense of enlightenment. I believe in paradox. I would lay down my life in the name of defending the unique paradoxical condition and true beauty of the human condition.
This is why I believe in stories. This is why I am working on not jumping off a bridge when I hear myself say, “I am a writer” or “I am an actor”. Perhaps with the serious nature of this piece that analogy is inappropriate. But it’s how I feel and it makes me laugh because it is true. I think Anne Lamotte sums it up best in her hilariously heartbreaking Bird by Bird: “One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do — you can either type, or kill yourself ’.”
Two moments stand out in my life when I realized that I was in serious risk of self-harm while undergoing one of the deepest fogs inside my mind:
- The first was when I lost the ability to laugh at the darker things in life. One of the greatest strengths of our species is resilience. I have always used humor to deal with the storms in this life and in my head, and I truly hope I always will.
- The second was when I stopped enjoying fishing.
This is a story about both.
It happened around four years ago. I was twenty at the time and in the beautiful boundary waters of Northern Minnesota and Canada in a place called International Falls. My grandfather had acquiesced into going fishing with me on Rainy Lake, 345 square miles of aquatic mystery.
As teenagers, my elder brother and I would take my grandpa’s boat out past the first refuge of visual safety called Birch Point. If we could manage our patience, we would wait till we were around “Seagull Rock” to light our first cigarette of our two pack fueled session of “sinful” debauchery. Our grandparents never saw us through the long lenses of their binoculars sitting on their chair overlooking the lake. Yet the more I think about it, like our lives, I’m sure they saw but chose not to speak.
EXT. RAINY LAKE MN, EARLY MORNING- DAY
My grandfather on my dad’s side, Ellsworth “Andy” Anderson, late 70’s, wispy white hair and a boyish gleam in his eyes (but only when he smiles), acquiesces to taking his over-zealous grandson Jamie, early twenties, alcohol abuser, depressed actor, who has some serious issues in his personal and work life, on a fishing trip despite the heavy fog that has stuck to the lake in the past few days…..
But gramps, don’t you think we look like Orangutans? I’m not a science guy, but why couldn’t God have made evolution as a part of our historical and developmental fabric? You know I heard Darwin was even a Christian!
Jamie glances at his grand father to see if his words have had their intended effect. He doesn’t bite.
Lures or live bait?
Jamie takes the hint.
Live. Do we have chubs or shiners?
You brought them….
CUT TO: PRESENT
I feel very misunderstood. A potential mentor of mine has recently told me that if I am not careful, I will fall prey to the age old Hollywood disease of “believing my own bulls***”. What he said knocked me on my ass. He was right. I am truly fortunate to have an Ego Doctor to prescribe just the right medicine when I need to hear it most. Because like many young dudes in our generation, I often subscribe to the idea that because I am “aware of my flaws” that makes it okay. It is this quasi sincerity and humility that is truly dangerous. I’m just so fortunate to be so well-grounded and such a caring person…. I’m sure you’ve heard that right? And if not, then start guessing. It’ll be a lot closer to home than you think. My advice? Go buy yourself a shovel, but don’t forget to ask a friend to buy the ladder you are gonna need to crawl out of that hole.
I am working on my own attempts at a renaissance. I used to hear people, especially in LA talk about re-branding or revamping or re “somethinging” themselves. I see that for as cliché as it sounds, it has a lot of truth. I’m off the booze. It is working for me. I don’t know if it works for everyone because people are wonderfully different. But I was a drinker who literally had “just one” or “a couple” or “just three” about ten times in one night. Alcohol is one of those things for me.
Someone told me lately not to go to bars for business meetings. I let them know I had no personal troubles thus far with it as I have never personally had cravings or withdrawals. Now nicotine, as people who know me, is a totally different story. But anyways, this person said if I hang out long enough in the barbershop I’m bound to get a haircut. I saw the logic in her point and agreed it’s not a good idea in general to be putting oneself in that environment.
But then I thought about it and got angry with her. Because that means that my whole life is one big barbershop. And I refuse to live that way, always in fear. I accept my shortcomings. I have really failed and fallen short with so many people. I am trying to make amends. For me, I discovered that it doesn’t matter if I am technically an alcoholic; I’ve heard different answers from different P.H.D shrinks. What holds weight is my acceptance of it, and recognizing how it affected me.
I have no shame in saying how helpful antidepressants have been in aiding my recovery. They got me to a mental state healthy enough to understand the amazing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that was graciously and patiently administered to me at Alexian Brothers Mental Health Hospital in Illinois. My therapist Adrian there was a Godsend. She spent hours and weeks with me and watched me grow, with perspective I need to add, from a lost boy who literally could not form a sentence, to a developing young man on the right path to recovery.
Thankfully my problems with alcohol landed me in a different wing of the same facility, but I was still able to drop by and thank her!
If we think for a second of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I feel as if I am gripping tightly to that last pyramid block of self-actualization, with just my head and bulging eyes peering over to the beautiful future. I have my family, my friends, and my beliefs that provide structure to help me organize the essential foundation in my life. Now I am thinking less and less about me and it feels amazing.
I want to help people. I want to put a positive spin on the negative in my life and use it to aid people undergoing or who have dealt with similar issues in the past.
I am currently finishing up an MFA in Screenwriting at Hong Kong University-a wonderful institution that has been incredibly supportive and helpful in harnessing my creativity/insanity into a bottle and packaging it… Said bottle will be free of course-not really I still need money to buy my live bait. I always did feel bad for the minnows though…
Right now I live in Hong Kong. It’s technically China but not really. It is truly a place where the eastern and western worlds have clashed in the past but now is coming together in some truly exciting ways. I spoke with a dear friend recently about what is happening here and between me, an aspiring writer, and he, a former ad executive and king of buzzwords, failed to quantify it in language. The best we could do was a moronically hilarious gesture of two hands interlacing.
My experiences have changed my perspective. I feel like I am taking a crash course in the subject at the moment. Everyday you get a little more, and then you lose some, and then hopefully you get it back. Right now I am really struggling with slowing down. I have never been healthy and void of substance long enough to be high on life as I feel right now. As my academic advisor the gifted writer Dino says, “Bro, sobriety is the new drunk, hell it’s almost hipster”.
As overused at the phrase is in truly wonderful support groups that have helped saved my life such as Alcoholics Anonymous, “One day at a time” could not be truer. I want to focus on the present. And have faith that things will work out. And if they don’t then they don’t.
The little I know about the subject of perspective is to focus on the spectacular now, to enjoy those you love, a network of friends if you are fortunate to have them, and a greater cause or power that helps guide you. Whatever that may be for you and I, for the first time in years I trust it.
I live to love. I try my best not to live for myself anymore. I don’t live to drink, to be depressed or to feel bad about a chemical imbalance in my head. I am no longer constrained by the metaphysical enslavements of remorse and self-hatred. I am working on living for love-that unquantifiable truth for which we all yearn…that unfathomable beauty for which we cannot describe justly with words.
My name is Jamie or in my self-admitted pretentious, but equally appropriate Chinese name, 靜雷. This means Quiet Thunder.
I am from South Dakota, I am 24. I like to write and act. I like to root for the underdog, as I have always been one myself. I do not have very much figured out. But this much I know…I have decided to live for love, and it has made all the difference.
There is a sign in my Acting Manager Ryan’s office that says “Good artists create, great ones steal”. So in that vein, I would like to quote the man who I hope will one day be my father in law. He said “人生要過得簡單和開心，要知足常樂，最緊要是健康。” Which roughly translates as “You need to live a happy and content life. But first you need to be healthy”.
EXT. RANDOM DOCK ON RAINY LAKE
A waving flag comes into soft focus through the fog.
Praise God! It’s a flag. I’ve never been so happy to see the red white and blue.
*Writer’s note- Grandpa Andy is colorblind.
A smile of relief washes over Jamie’s scared face.
Grandpa, it doesn’t matter what color the flag is, we are safe.
We slowly move in close to a bright red maple leaf, blowing gently in the wind, coming in and out of focus amidst the fog.