Jim's Blog

A Thousand I’s

ON PERSISTENCE

Once, I drew a cartoon for my mailing list “caption this cartoon” contest. It was of an enormous housefly taking an order at a restaurant table for a man and a woman, who was holding a wine glass. The winning caption, which I still find funny, has the male companion saying to the fly, “A thousand eyes and you can’t see I need a glass?”

Persistence is a word that should be spelled, I think, with a thousand “I’s” in the middle.

It should be spelled P-E-R-S-IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII (etc.) -S-T-E-N-C-E.

Persistence. Such a short word for such a long actiivity.

When I was in my early twenties in New York City, I remember stopping a Broadway character actor on the street who I had just seen onstage in a play. I told him I was going to be an actor and asked what his words of wisdom were.

“Persistence” was what he told me. And like an idiot, I thought I knew what he was talking about.
“Persistence, sure!” I thought to myself. “No problem! I was planning to do that anyway! I’m in it for the long haul!”

I had NO idea what I was talking about.

PERSISTENCE!

Lots of things persist. Diamonds persist. The pyramids persist. (Not as well as diamonds, but pretty damn well.) Music and songs, in their way, persist. Stars in the heavens really persist.

A banana doesn’t persist very well. So, there’s a sliding scale. The Banana/Star Persistence Scale.

Any actor needs to understand that persistence is a long, long, long game.

It goes on far longer than you would ever guess, especially if you’ve only been acting for a couple of years, or five years, or ten years, or…

In my case, after two years of auditioning, I finally started booking jobs. Two years. That’s not even persistence, really, but that would have shaken off a few less motivated people. Then, once I got going, I enjoyed steady growth for about 7 or 8 years. That was great.

But since those 7 or 8 years had dominated my experience up to that point, I made the mistake of thinking that the “Persistence Phase” of my career was done and I could check it off.

Nope!

Years later, as I now settle in to my 33rd or so year of being a professional actor, I see that I’m just getting started with the whole “persistence” thing that that actor I met on Seventh Avenue (Bill McCutcheon, I finally remembered) advised me to embrace.

Persistence means recognizing that this is your job, and that if you don’t do it, no one will do it for you.

Persistence means that there is always another chance, and another challenge. A challenge to go farther and do better. A chance to pull off a win and make it happen… again.

Persistence means acknowledging your own mortality, and your own immortality, frankly.

Persistence doesn’t allow for reasons to quit. They are like the sandstorms that try and wear down the pyramids; the comets that streak across the sky toward distant stars. The “constructive criticism” doled out by secret competitors.

One has to endure all the attempts to get one to give in and leave the game.

So, I say to YOU what the late, great Bill McCutcheon said to me; the key is PERSISTENCE.

Make sure you dot every one of those thousand “I’s” in that word.

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