Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Cinderella Story

Anna Kendrick was born in Portland, Maine in 1985. She was raised in a middle class family, her mother an accountant and her father a substitute teacher. She went to public school, ate mac and cheese and instant oatmeal, and lived a life just like the rest of us growing up in the nineties in Northeastern Suburbia. But there was something different about her, something wild, she actually believed that a girl growing up in Maine could make a living as an actress.

That was a crazy thing to believe.

Bewildered but supportive, her parents let her believe it. They took her to regional theaters as a six year old and she got to act in local plays, like Annie. She didn’t play the lead. She had a side role playing an orphan but the acting bug stuck.

She must have been adamant because she started auditioning in New York City a few years later. Her parents would take their little girl on the long trips from Maine into the city and let her audition for commercials and plays. It was hit or miss. She wasn’t deterred.

Kendrick’s parents both worked full time, and the family realized they couldn’t sit on a sixteen-hour round-trip bus ride every time there was a ten minute audition on a weekday afternoon; so her older brother (14) and her (12) rode the bus into the city on their own - trying out for the scraps of their dreams. As insane as that sounds, that’s what was necessary for a preteen from Maine to have a shot at being an actress. And it was worth it because at age twelve she landed a gig playing in High Society on Broadway. She did damn well—was nominated for a Tony—the third-youngest nominee in history.

After the run of show she went back to being a kid. She returned home to Maine, back in public school. Kids made fun of her. She joined the Drama Club but the woman who ran it wouldn’t even give her a role in their school plays (talk about rejection…). She had unrequited crushes on boys (more rejection). She ate lunch in the auditorium. She was short, slightly built, and self conscious about being 15 and still having the body of a ten-year-old boy. She wanted out. She wanted more.

She graduated early and moved to New York City, alone, at age 17. She worked and landed some pretty impressive roles in the theater world, including performing at Lincoln Center, but there was a lot of struggle as well. Even when you’re “making it” being a working actress in isn’t always a glamorous life, especially when you're new in town. 

After a short, broke, time in NYC she moved to Los Angeles for a television pilot (which went nowhere) and she stayed on the West Coast. Now 3,000 miles away from family and friends she started landing roles in films that made a name for her. You probably don’t remember them, even if you saw them. Movies like CAMP and Rocket Science, indie films that let her shine and were adored at Film Festivals but the general public rarely saw. She kept auditioning anyway.

Her salary covered the rent and that was about it. She lost her cable due to not paying bills, had the lights shut off, eventually  she had to walk into glum, grey, offices with cashiers checks to keep the lights on. Once she lived off a gift of Cadbury Cream Eggs shipped in the mail from her dad when she couldn’t afford food. But she kept going regardless of all the signs it wasn't working out. Because the small girl eating lunch in the auditorium who couldn’t land a role in her high school's musical wanted to be an actress, dammit.

Eventually she passed the endurance test. Directors and film buffs started raising eyebrows when they saw her name. Eventually she landed small roles in huge movies like the Twilight Franchise. Then she got her breakout role playing the tightly-wound college-grad opposite George Clooney in Up in the Air. Remember that movie? Yup, that was her, and she was nominated for an Academy Award at 23. That was 2009.

Since then Anna has blown up, at least to those of us paying attention. She’s starred alongside Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. She’s been working her ass off, up to eight movies a year. She’s made this amazing thing happen she was never even supposed to allow herself to want in the first place. If you’ve been to the movies, clicked around Netflix, or turned on your car radio you have probably watched her act and heard her sing without realizing it. She’s under a lot of people’s radar, which is astounding since she has a Tony nomination, an Oscar nomination, and a Platinum Record on her wall thanks to a happy accident with a plastic cup and a camp song from the 1930s. She’s sang for the president, speaks publicly for gay rights, and she was just honored with Variety’s Power of Women award. She’s probably at work right now.

So why does a homesteader feeding pigs in upstate New York in a torn sweater from Goodwill care about an actress in Hollywood? Because if you read my stuff you probably are drawn to living your own dreams - one of self reliance and nature, one many people consider just as much a fantasy as being a movie star. It allows for freedoms even actors can’t have. Homesteading means being your own boss, making your own hours, the constant satisfaction of relentless resourcefulness combined with the rewards of a tired body doing work outdoors. It is as crazy a dream as a little girl from Maine riding the bus without her parents wanting to be on Broadway.

How many hundreds of thousands of people out there want things and can't (or won't) do the work to get them? How many farmers give up? How many people never gather the courage to quit jobs they hate? How many aspiring actresses bowed out, gave up, or left the cutthroat world of auditioning because it tore them apart? They listened to all the negativity around them and crumbled. They believed they did not deserve it. They didn’t feel they were talented enough, beautiful enough, curvy enough, thin enough, tall enough?

How many people give up on their farm dreams because they didn’t feel they were wealthy enough, smart enough, brave enough, ruthless enough, sacrificing enough? Be it farming or acting - all of us are swimming in the company of failures. We are warned to not even try. Why put yourself through that? Fairy tales are not real.

But if you are one of the few naive idiots out there who have convinced yourself you can have that dream - you are drawn to others who share the disease. Anna's story is a Cinderella story lived out by a woman who actually got to play Cinderella. This world is insanely magical for some people and I am comforted by that. I depend on magic. A lot.

I am protective of this stranger. I selfishly keep up with her online because she inspires me. We lead totally different lives and will never cross each other’s path but her being part of this world balms me to no end. I know all of these things about her, facts collected from countless interviews and articles, because I read about her when I am scared or doubtful about my own ridiculous dreams. It's an escape from fretting about the mortgage or the price of sheep grain, to listen to her struggles and overcoming the odds.

She’s my morale boost, my Patron of Unreasonable Happiness. Proof positive a woman can want more than she is supposed to, doesn’t have to be married with kids at thirty, and can literally turn herself from soot into Cinderella. She chose to try for a life few would ever even let themselves dream of, much less work towards with dogged determination. So have I.

I need to believe Fairy Tales come true.

That is why I named that little, feisty, hawk of mine after her. It seemed fitting because the likelihood that a middle class girl from Maine would grow up to star opposite George Clooney is about as crazy as a girl from Pennsylvania growing up to publish books about her imported British pony and hunt with her hawk on a Tuesday morning. We're supposed to be in an office somewhere, right? These are fantasy lives. They aren’t supposed to be real.

I don’t keep up with other farm and lifestyle bloggers, but I do keep up with a lot of actors, comedians, and musicians because while our worlds are different I can relate to a complicated, creative, energetic person trying to figure out how to sell their story and make a living. I know that life far better than a person just down the road with the same farm animals and zip code.

I’ll take Anna’s potty mouth tweeting about MasterChef any day over a mommy blogger sharing her canning recipes. That is not a slight on mommy bloggers, just a distance I can’t grasp. I can relate to cursing at television shows after a long day of pouring your heart out for strangers, showing sides of ourselves we are supposed to keep quiet. We are both sharing the messes and doubt, confused and befuddled by our luck and force.  I can’t relate to setting up photo shoot of your perfect reclaimed barn-board kitchen table and gently sharing recipes, meditation tips, and yoga poses while your kids are at the Waldorf School and your husband builds a bookshelf in the background...

So I root for Anna. I watch her movies. She is an Ally in the Unreasonable. I see that in a lot of actors, but not as much as her.  Maybe because we’re close in age and share a similar background, probably because I discovered her story and took the time to learn about her when I was so worried my own dreams were falling apart. A happy accident I am grateful for.

I know some of you readers are still furrowing your brows. I am, after all, probably the farthest thing removed from a petite actress in California. I’m built like a Tolkien dwarf and can’t sing a lick.  I do all these things that make me seem like a Viking Reconstructionist and yet it is still this 5’2” actress in Hollywood that I look up to from the back of a draft horse for inspiration.

We could not be more different in what we wanted from the world, but we could not be more alike in relentless wanting of something magical. We both fought for it, suffered through the hard times, and kept going. I am still here on this farm and I can hardly believe that. Anna has six movies coming out soon. Look at us go.

Strangers can help you be a better person. Lives touch lives every day. I wish her nothing but a future of happiness and success and when she does win that inevitable Oscar there will no louder cheer in all of New York than the one coming out of this farm. Us unreasonable women need to look after each other, and I need to know that luck and hard work can make the impossible real in this messy and awkward world.

Some fairy tales are real. Seek them out, pay attention, and keep going.

Photo of chair from Anna Kendrick's Instagram Page, video by ABC


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get it. We look to people who are different than us for inspiration. I look to you even though I have zero inclinations to start a farm beyond providing our own food. I think if you can do this farm thing then I can certainly, mental and chronic illness and all can run a charity I built. It's fun to do these things that others doubt of us isn't it?? We are kicking some ass. --Torina

November 4, 2015 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You're absolutely right: doing something different than what is prescribed for us is really difficult: emotionally, mentally, sometimes physically. I just started grad school, a first step on the road to a very demanding career: ministry. It's not acting, it's not farming, but it's also not the desk job that I currently have. It's not waiting for my husband to make enough money so I can be a stay-at-home mom, like all the women in my family and his family have done. It'll be weeknight meetings, and Sunday morning work, and leaving my husband to wrestle with our kids in the pew, and Saturdays spent doing funerals and weddings. It's really hard to step off the path. That's one of the reasons I read your blog: you hustle and you do a great job writing about the hard work it takes to make the life you dream about for yourself.

November 4, 2015 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger meigancam01 said...


Very nice article.
Thanks for sharing.

November 4, 2015 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What if, one of these days, we arrange for you to lunch with Anna? Wouldn't that be great!! (6 degrees of separation, I'm telling you!!) Let's dream big!

November 4, 2015 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

AT 5:00 in the interview, she is very uncomfortable, even though she's joking with this guy. Her body language is screaming, "get me outta here!!".

November 4, 2015 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Beautifully written Jenna, I love your world view. And yes Anna rocks! (So do you)!

November 4, 2015 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you for writing this, great writing, and thank you for Anna' story!

November 4, 2015 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Pay attention to her, for certain. thanks for the comments!

November 4, 2015 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Goose Goose - I don't think meeting her would be a good idea. I am a weird stranger to her, but if she ever did happen by CAF I'd just pour her some booze and ask what she hoped would happen in season 2 of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It would be underwhelming and wonderful or awkward and weird (for her).

November 4, 2015 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ahh, but she may be the weirder stranger, lass! :) lol.

I'm not familiar with her, or Kimmy Schmidt but why not? lol.

November 4, 2015 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

and if she ever happened to CAF, you'd have to vlog it.

November 4, 2015 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I was sent a comment by a reader that I posted and then realized she wanted deleted, but basically she felt I was being snarky towards family life based on this comment. It pissed her off.

"I can’t relate to setting up photoshoot of your perfect reclaimed barnboard kitchen table and gently sharing recipes, meditation tips, and yoga poses while your kids are at the Waldorf School and your husband builds a bookshelf in the background... "

All I said was I can not relate to it, because I can't. A family, even a boyfriend, is foreign idea to me I can't relate with - that doesn't mean I am shitting on them. I just can't relate to them. I can relate to a 30-year-old woman who curses a lot who has never been married without kids because I am a 33-year-old woman who curses a lot who has never been married without kids. I have no qualms with married people, shelves, yoga, meditation, kids, husbands, or repairing things. I just can't relate. If that struck you as a dig because you do want or have those those, please know I simply can't relate to it. That isn't a validation or a dig, just a different life. The only reason I wrote it was to explain why I don't read other farm and lifestyle blogs but do know all this stuff about a different type of public person.

November 5, 2015 at 6:35 AM  
Blogger mgardener said...

It is funny that out of the entire post she zero'd in on that part. I am sure she regrets even responding. 😬 Wonder whats up her butt?

PS. Folks say they want a baby. No one ever says they want a teenager.

PSS. I am a strong believer that those who use foul language will live longer. Yay for you and me.

November 5, 2015 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for putting this out there, Jenna! It's easy for me to let folks knock me around for having (what they call) celebrity crushes. I've told them, "It's not just a crush, s/he's my hero!" Still, only those who have the ear for it will hear.

Your blog is what I read to keep me going when the small, daily failures make me want to quit. I guess that makes you my Patron of Unreasonable Happiness? :-)

November 5, 2015 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Wow, great story

November 5, 2015 at 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, great need to share this with her on Twitter!

November 6, 2015 at 5:50 AM  

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