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  • Mattie Jo Cowsert

Do It For The Story

I guess I want to start this off by saying, I acknowledge that I've taken kind a bit of a hiatus from writing about dating, sex, and how it relates to religious deconstruction content to writing about...whatever I want to write about. Which is fine, because this is my blog and I can do what I want.


For the last few years, cuz pandemic and starting to write a book, my relationship with the stories I share here on the blog has shifted. And that makes me nervous because I'm like "will no one want to read if I'm not explicitly talking about dating and sex???" Then I think, "I started this blog to share stories about my life in hopes that they would be helpful to others. If the stories I want to share are different than they used to be, maybe that means I'm different than I used to be. And wasn't that the whole point of this? To grow and change and get the hell outta my damaging belief system(s)?"


Also, again, it's my blog I can do what I want.


Anyway, I've just wasted 3 solid minutes of your time half apologizing for not writing about my dating/sex life and how it relates to my constant breaking down of Evangelical trauma that still lives in my Exvangelical adult psyche on the internet. So without further ado, what I actually want to write about!


Yesterday a friend of mine reached out to tell me she’s experiencing some jealousy about another friend’s success in booking a really great acting job.


My friend expressed her frustration that she has no nepotism helping her get roles like that…she moved here from another country and has worked her ass off pouring every one of her poopy diaper changing dollars into casting director classes, agent workshops, acting classes, how to take on this industry for the cost of more poopy diaper changing dollars yadda yadda.


And yet, she still isn’t as far as “that.”


Oh brother have I been there. Or rather, Oh brother do I frequent there. When I end up there, I have to remind myself "MJ, that is not your story."


I heard her, I listened, and asked if she wanted any input because asking for what people need in a moment of frustration is very important, I've learned. Then I replied “I 2000% get your frustration. But her story is not your story.”


I went on to share about my experience in facing my own industry comparison jealousy monsters.


I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being from a solid working class family. My work ethic is still a huge part of my identity and something in which I’m very proud. I enjoy being able to say I have truly built the life that I currently live. That it is my own.


Must be nice, ya spoiled fucks


But when I got to my BFA program and realized there were students who didn’t have to do “all that work”, yet excelled further in their musical theatre career than I could, I was pissed!


How does hard work not equal success??? One of life’s (America’s) most devastating bamboozles.


I was jealous of the kids who got to do Summer Stock theatre for experience while I worked at the Marriott Vacation Club as a lifeguard/cabana manager to pay for college. I didn’t have the privilege of getting paid $50/week to do Pippin at the Barrell Round Hay Theatre on the Square as a resume builder.


I told myself my lack of time and money was the reason I wasn’t “as good” as other kids in my program and therefore, not cast very often. My work ethic was doing absolutely nothing for my getting the lead in The Musicals of Musical the Musical. How tragic.


Then I moved to New York City where my industry comparison jealousy monsters festered hotter than 17 versions of Goldendoodle piss on Park Avenue in the Summer.


I was slapped in the face with the reality that some people were achieving career milestones earlier and younger than I because they had rich parents. The end.


I am not saying my peers weren’t talented, they absolutely were and deserved those jobs! What I’m saying is, they were talented AND they had time because they had money.


I was beyond frustrated watching friends of mine who didn’t have to juggle multiple jobs to pay for rent, dance class, voice lessons, headshots, and LuLuLemon because why the fuck did the MOST EXPENSIVE ACTIVE WEAR become the standard for dance calls??? like I did. I literally scrubbed toilets at a dance studio until midnight two nights a week in order to get discount classes. And then often couldn’t get to many dance classes because I was working other jobs that took up my time!


I was mad they didn’t have to do the mental and physical gymnastics to somehow “do it all.” And then, those friends would book more than me! Must be nice, ya spoiled fucks: my internal, and frankly, MEAN monologue.


I was also jealous of the kids who got into better college programs than mine so they had quicker access to Broadway and/or Netflix. I steamed knowing that just because someone went to Carnegie Melon, Juilliard, or the University of Michigan, they got to walk straight from graduation to the fucking Gershwin. And there I was, serving those kids drinks with my Missouri State University degree after they’d finished another performance of Wicked.


Okay, I think you get the picture. I had a secret, steaming chip that had for sure moved from my shoulder to my insides.


I was jealous, annoyed, and angry.


I was also stuck, unsuccessful, and miserable.


It was also robbing me of my own story because I was so convinced I needed to be living somebody else's.


Over time, I eventually learned that my being so focused on everyone else’s success was causing me to feel like a failure. And feeling like a failure reaped failur-y outcomes. My jealousy monster catalyzed and perpetuated a vicious internal cycle which affected my external cycle.


Furthermore, I was unfairly judging people by assuming they had it soooo easy. Everyone is fighting their own demons. Just because someone is a series regular, doesn’t mean they feel successful or are even happy. Just because someone has rich parents doesn’t mean they haven’t had other things to work hard through. My jealousy was robbing me of empathy, perspective, and valuable connection.


It was also robbing me of my own story because I was so convinced I needed to be living somebody else's.


If you’ve been keeping up with God, Sex, and Rich People, you know that my first apartment (through a series of events you can read about here) in New York City was a Cinderella story. I’ll let you do your research, but the short version is, I lived in the maid’s quarters of a luxurious penthouse on the Upper West Side. It was weird, and it also laid the foundation for this very cool story I’ve been sharing with you for the last seven years.


When I first toured that apartment with my future roommate Colin, I really didn’t think he’d let me live there. He was in his 30s with a successful career in commercial real estate (or something). I was a wee pup fresh from the land of Wal-Mart and “anyone who isn’t white is Mexican, right?” As a born and raised New Yorker, I thought for sure he’d be very not keen on the idea of living with a basically teenager from the Midwest.


Years after I moved out – over dumplings in Midtown East after a fancy networking event he’d attended – I asked Colin why he agreed to let me live there. I was far enough into adulthood to realize that was a pretty wild favor he did. “Weren’t you afraid I was going to be an irresponsible mess? Or, at the very least, annoying?” “Not really.” he answered. “Not after you told me you worked four jobs, went to college full time, and planned to pay for your gym membership in New York on the money you’d save from selling your car. I thought ‘Damn. That’s the kind of 22 year old I can live with.’”


My work ethic (and lack of rich parents) is what got me that damn penthouse.


Remember the story about scrubbing toilets for dance class? Years later, after I was nearly about to quit my go at musical theatre, I got an invited audition for a contract that would earn me my Equity Card. I walked into the audition and the director was a guy with whom I had spent many nights scrubbing toilets at that dance studio. I was immediately relaxed for that audition, knowing I knew someone behind the table who would vouch for my stellar attitude and work ethic, even if I couldn’t belt a high E.


I booked the job. And that is how scrubbing toilets for ballerinas got me my Equity card.


Last Fall I was contacted by a reader of my blog about submitting a book proposal to the publishing company where they work as an editor. Over the next two months. I wrote 150 pages of my book and put together a book proposal. “I can’t believe one of my readers is going to be the reason I get published!” I thought.


And then, I did not sign with that publisher (you can read more about that process here). I was devastated. I wanted to be impressive and be ”published by 30” blah blah. And here I was again, missing the mark of “success.”


Last month I went on a walk with one of the first parents I ever babysat for in New York. She's a journalist and her husband a top industry filmwriter and producer. We’ve kept in touch over the years as her kids have grown out of really needing a sitter. I’ve moved on to do some acting coaching for them, as well as host a mean annual karaoke session every year for her daughter’s birthday.


Anyway, we caught up on all my current goings on and I mentioned my book. “I have some friends in publishing,” she said. “Send me your book proposal.”


!!!!!


I have no idea what’s going to happen here. Her publisher friends may be totally unimpressed with my proposal. And then I will keep going. Keep telling people I’m writing a book and eventually I will find the right publisher.


But what I do know, is that being a working class hustler baby juggler got me an incredibly talented and generous mentor in the world of writing before I even knew I was a writer. And this mentor is willing to extend my writing work to her peers!


Writing a blog for 7 years got me a reader who wanted to help me get published. Having specific deadlines with that potential publisher got me ⅔ finished book and book proposal ready to show whenever asked. And not having rich parents or getting cast constantly gave me the drive and unmatched tenacity to just keep going. In this City, in this industry, and on my specific joy path.


In one of my earliest blog posts, I talk about how my motto for a long time was “do it for the story.” My version of that back then was saying yes to almost any experience. So if I ran into someone I’d just seen in a Broadway show at a bar, I wouldn’t be shy. I’d always go say hi and introduce myself. And then if that Broadway star invited me back to his place, I would also say yes to that. And then if once I got to Broadway Star’s home, his roommate turned out to be a recognizable TV celebrity, and they asked me to smoke weed while dancing to Ciara, I would also say yes to that. MJ’s early days “Do It For The Story” looked a lot like a reckless version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.


Now, “Do It For The Story” manifests differently for me. I’m not as reckless, mostly because I am too tired. I’m not as interested in all of my stories having to involve almost fucking a celebrity (I at least want to actually fuck them. I’m kidding I’m kidding...okay I’m half kidding). Now, “Do It For the Story” is more of a reminder that every goal or “arrival” in my life is going to have lots of experiences and stories in between.


And they are my stories. Stories so wonderful and weird and crazy specific to me. If I remain obsessed with what I perceive to be others’ success, I will never be present or grateful for the my stories. The stories meant just for me (that I will then share with all of you because I am a total blabbermouth).


Throw joy, not jealousy at others’ success.

Their story is not your story.

Remember to always “Do It For The Story.”

Do it for the my story.







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