Is contentment the same as complacency?

audition on darkened stage
Headshot of author Michael Joel Green

Michael Joel Green has authored four books and is writing a memoir for The Writing Thing Press

Looking back, looking ahead

This Thanksgiving marks the twentieth anniversary of my move to Los Angeles. I left acting over ten years ago and began to write books. Though, if I’m honest, I haven’t done much writing during the past year. Instead, I play bass for my church’s worship team. It’s a creative diversion with a) a built-in audience and b) a sense of purpose that all creative projects share. My wife plays percussion in the band, too, a nice bonus. It isn’t possible to involve my wife in my writing. 

Do people in LA go to church, you might be asking? Some do. We attend a small church of about fifty people. Every week after the service, we all eat lunch together in the courtyard. 

One of my wife’s friends came to town yesterday. She visited our church. After the service, everyone ate orange chicken with rice and broccoli. We packed shoeboxes full of Christmas gifts for needy children across the world. It’s a long-running tradition for churches in October and November, “Operation Christmas Child.” My wife’s friend was charmed by the small, family feel of our afternoon, right in the heart of West LA. 

Serena, my wife’s friend, came over to our place afterward. We sat and talked. Our dog jumped in her lap. She remarked on how happy my wife and I seemed.

I was always someone who couldn’t relax. I had my creative goals.

“It’s a good season,” I admitted. “I was always someone who couldn’t relax. I had my creative goals. I’d work a day job, then go to band practice, or acting class, or rehearsals, or come home and write all night. Now, I work my day job ’til four, go for a run with the dog, cook dinner. We watch TV on the couch.” I glanced at my wife, and the dog moved to her lap as if to punctuate the point. “I’m very content.”

As I said the words, I remembered my former declarations about creativity. Comfort is the enemy. Complacency must be fought.

About five years back, my agent called. I was a wannabe actor in LA, determined but unsuccessful. I was always happy to hear from my agent. There was a film audition in Koreatown on a Saturday. She didn’t tell me much about the character I’d play. He was a brilliant but mad scientist. That Saturday afternoon, I changed into a makeshift costume I created for the audition—black vest, wrinkled button-down shirt, black trousers, and scuffed boots. I drove an hour to Koreatown in this get-up. 

I was sure half of LA had done the same at some point. Afterward, I’d be helping a friend from church to move and then going to a birthday party. Hopefully, I’d have something good to tell my friends. The audition was held at a theater in a nondescript building on Wilshire Boulevard. In the lobby were over 100 people gathered to audition for various roles. I observed women, children, and at least 30 men who fit my casting type, male, aged 25-35. I signed in, grabbed a copy of the script, and sat against a wall for what I suspected would be a long wait.

Looking over the script, I began to identify with the character. This mad scientist is a big dreamer, though perhaps delusional. (He’s dead set on harnessing brainwaves to achieve telepathy). During a fight with his longtime lover (who doesn’t believe his theories are possible), the mad scientist accidentally sets fire to his lab and loses all his research. 

The audition was held at a theather in a nondescript building on Wilshire Boulevard. In the lobby were over 100 people…

My impromptu study was interrupted by a loud voice. I looked up and saw an older man, paunchy, wearing stonewashed jeans and sneakers, walking around, speaking to several men. “You’re too young for this part,” he told them. When they protested, he said, “I know this character. Trust me. You’re too young. You might as well leave. You’re just wasting your time.” Some took his advice and left. Others ignored him.

I rolled my eyes. The man was himself some burned-out actor trying to thin the competition.

Soon, I saw him stroll my way. I buried my head in the script, hoping to avoid eye contact—until the tips of his sneakers pushed their way into my line of sight.

“You’re too young for this part,” the man said.

“I’m still going to audition.”

“Believe me. You have no chance of getting this role.”

I lifted my eyes and stared. “You’ve been walking around for an hour telling everyone that. We don’t care what you think. We’re not listening. Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“I’m the casting director,” he answered.

He watched my sneer vanish. Wearing a smirk of his own, the man turned and left.

My eyes lowered to the script. I continued studying, my enthusiasm gone. For a weekend wannabee, the only choice was to leave the audition with my tail between my legs. For a committed LA actor, there was no recourse. I had to see this through, play the rest of the hand. The man could have been lying. Would a real casting director, who needed taste to choose actors, be caught wearing stonewashed jeans? Moments later, a woman called my name. I followed her into a small theater and stood on a stage in front of several onlookers. The man sat in the front row. 

“We don’t care what you think. We’re not listening. Who the hell are you, anyway?”

I should have been embarrassed. Instead, a warm calmness enveloped me. My body relaxed. Looking this man square in the eye, I announced my name and the character I was reading—the mad scientist. I spoke my first lines. All I have is lost. How could you tear me from my life’s work?

As I spoke my lines, silence fell upon the room. As I went through the script, I was in the script. I saw debris from the fire. I could hear the voice of the scientist’s lover casting accusations. I stood with my hands to my sides and faced the audience. 

A grin appeared on the casting director’s face. “That was really good.”

I thanked him, thanked the director, and left the theater. As I fought the usual traffic on the way to helping my friend move, I thought about the audition. The mad scientist was buoyed by his big dreams. Sure, they were almost certainly impossible. But great things would never get done if no one was allowed to dream that way.

Did I get the role? No. (I was definitely too young). Los Angeles was home to big dreams back then. There was always something going on. Rehearsals. Plays. Music shows. Dinners. Birthday parties. LA was brighter in those days. 

There was always the pursuit. Of career. Of relationship. Of legacy. Pursuit. Pursuit. Pursuit. It feeds us. Keeps us driving. 

At this point in life, I don’t feel the need to pursue. I’m content. Is it a bad thing?

Is contentment the same as complacency? 

I find myself, like many others in this pandemic world, at a crossroads. I gave up music and acting for better pastures. Now, I write. I’m a writer. I think, “If I give up writing, it wouldn’t be for another pursuit. It would be to stop the pursuit altogether.” Contented writers don’t get much done.

I don’t feel the need to pursure. I’m content. Is it a bad thing?

Had I lost my passion? Could I find it again? The creative muscle has atrophied, perhaps, and for good reasons. It had atrophied due to lockdowns, to life’s realities, due to loving my wife and marriage and focusing my energy there. Is it possible to build the creative muscle again? 

I don’t have the answer yet. For now, I work my day job, cook dinner, watch TV with my wife, and (fingers crossed) write during the spaces in between. Or as much as one can write with a dog on his lap. 

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