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  • Writer's pictureZachary Desmond


Updated: Sep 8, 2023


May 19, 2023

Vol 1, Issue 6

Dreamers! Rogues! Companions!

It is a monumental effort not to scour Redfin for dozen-acre lots right now. Upstate property prices have leveled off as interest rates rise and I am leaping ahead of myself by many tens of thousands of dollars and half a decade of professional success, reviewing plans for tiny houses, comparing road frontages, looking up flood risk surveys in minor hamlets of the Hudson Valley.

Fantastical real estate shopping is one of my favorite STERBs (Short-Term Energy Relieving Behaviors) and I’ve been a little tense lately so I’m very proud of myself for writing right now. Hard to get going but once the stone is rolling, inertia transforms the task. A shamanic act, to write. I string together a few squirrely symbols and you see a woodland creek; wet, muscley tree roots hugging a smooth grey-blue stone; a damp brown toad sitting on the stone, no bigger than your thumb, breathing. It appears to you, you weren’t looking for it; and then, with a word: leaps. It’s gone.

T-O-A-D looks nothing like a toad and yet we all saw it. Where did it come from, if not by magic?

A series of magical aphorisms:

The Well You Draw From Is the Well That Replenishes

I have done no research to confirm this. It feels true. That said, I have been watching videos about fluvial geomorphology, the study of how geophysical structures change and are changed by the flow of rivers (because I’m writing a play, let’s say). Rivers are constantly seeking equilibrium, a dynamic interplay of water volume, slope gradient, amount of sediment the water carries, and the granularity of that sediment. A change in any one of those variables effects the degree of erosion or deposition happening downstream. To oversimplify: if erosion and deposition are balanced, the river is stable, its behavior predictable, consistent. Go ahead and build your riverside inn!

Map from 1944 depicting how the Mississippi River has changed its path.

“Predictable river,” however, appears to be an oxymoron. This gorgeous map depicts the many meander belts (what a term!) of the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Mississippi, over millennia. The huge volume of sediment carried by the Mississippi River gets deposited wherever the water slows down, around a big bend for instance. Silt and sediment build up and plug the river’s main channel, eventually causing the river to rise up over its lowest banks and find a new route home. If we’re all rivers (and why not?), let us consider the possibility that we flow and flow and flow and change the land we flow through, until that land changes us. Our course diverts, drying up towns like Vicksburg in 1876, rushing nutrient-rich freshwater through unrivered land toward the hungry sea. Perhaps we find our way back to the main channel downstream; perhaps we end up hundreds of miles away from the fan-shaped delta we’ve built over centuries. Perhaps we change course again 200 years later, taking us back to Vicksburg, now a ghost town (pretending the Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t built the Yazoo River Diversion Project to bring this major shipping lane back to Vicksburg’s empty riverport by 1903). All this change: same valley, same river. At least according to the mapmaker.

A well then--thanks for the long walk--is fed by groundwater, aquifers, the underground structures unhurried by meander belts and daily diversions on the surface. We dig a hole and draw the water up from the darkness. The rope blisters our hands. We drink the water. It moves through us. We add it to the river. Every day we do this. I’m writing for an hour this morning, hoping that tomorrow morning or the morning after, callouses will replace the blisters, my hands will know every inch of the rope, familiar, even in the dark.

I Am and Will Be Financially Free…

…is written in black permanent marker on butcher paper taped to the ceiling above my bed.

I don’t worry about money the way my parents worried about money, or the way my friends with children do. I have enough for the next few months. Surely more will arrive. I believe that at some point in the next three months to five years there will be a huge windfall of resources that will allow me to create many good works, buy land, build a home, have a family, seed a production company and invest in other artists through a lushly nourished creative enterprise. Of course, the money may not come. Of course, the belief that it will ensures its arrival.

I invested more money in the last three months in my career than I ever have--unless you count the 65,000 dollars and four years of not earning a salary at Juilliard. What do we give and what do we get, we artists, financially speaking?

Here’s a narrowly defined list of what I gave, since my last newsletter:

I gave 1,200 for taxes, ouch.

I gave 850 for new headshots (photographer, hair and make-up, outfits, and prints).

I gave 1,050 for a two-week series of casting director sessions and a chance to audition for 12 agents and managers.

I gave just over 1,000 for 15 weeks of on-camera classes with Devin Kawaoka, an exceptional acting coach and actor based in LA.

I gave 500 for subscriptions to three online classifieds for actors.

I gave another 660 for individual casting director workshops.

I gave many hours and thousands of words to: the Macdowell Fellowship application (denied); the Public’s Emerging Writers’ Group application (pending); The Playwrights’ Realm’s writing fellowship application (pending); the Creative Capital Grant application for film and visual arts (pending); the Mercury Store Directing Intensive application (denied).

How could that possibly be measured against what I got:

I got paid to act for a week in a play I love called Degenerates at Ars Nova, with a director and playwright and acting team I enjoy so much.

I got paid to play with fabrics and pretend I was a sea anemone in a big bright studio by my house.

In the same big bright studio, I got paid to sing songs from the The Sound of Music and cry with my pretend siblings, pretending to visit our pretend dying mother (Maria Von Trapp) in her nursing home.

In the same big bright studio, I got paid to improvise and devise a family tragedy about reality television and the death of the American hardware store.

In the same studio, I got paid to build forts out of pillows and fiddle with a fragment of Hamlet’s split consciousness.

In the same studio, I got paid to clown for a day and then decode some intense misogyny and racism in Menander’s Ancient Greek “comedies”.

In the same studio, I got paid to build puppets out of butcher paper and then nearly light them on fire.

I got paid to pay my friends to read my first full length play in 6 years to a sold out audience (of 30 people) at Alchemical Studios.

I got invited to produce said play at The Tank Theater.

I got an artistic fellowship from Playhouse Creatures Theater Company, for which I will be paid a stipend to practice and write and present new theater for the next two years.

I got to deepen bonds with 20 actors at the Mercury Store who I am genuinely excited to work with every week.

I got to see so much theater, much of it for free, some of it very good: Highlights include A Family Tragedy at MTC, Sorry For Your Loss at Minetta Lane, Primary Trust at Roundabout, Initiative at the Public, Cuck, Cuck, Bull at Columbia University, Moonchildren at Rockwood 3.

I got to audition for one of my favorite theater directors.

I got a commercial agent.

I got meetings with a potential manager and two potential agents, one of whom I liked a lot and will be meeting again in a couple weeks.

I got a monthly stipend from the Creatives Rebuild NY to be an artist.

There is no way I could survive without a second job if not for this CRNY grant (See: Issue 1). I wouldn’t be traveling to Norway this summer, or Germany, to visit other theater artists and learn from them. Acting can be so lonely. When you’re cast, you’re playing an essential part in a community. When you’re not, you’re not. The jobs are scarce, the compensation pitiable for all but a few. Becoming one of the few is most actors’ goal. Conviction is required of course, that I am better than 95% of the other people who are trying to be actors, that I am actually the best, or will be, if I keep myself sharp for when my number gets called. Competition compels me, but it probably doesn’t make me a better artist. Uncertainty, on the otherhand, when surrendered to, puts me into conversation with luck, with fate, with the gods, where the best of the artists hang out.

Without getting into the psychology of actors, the need for attention, the consequences of constant rejection, the scourges of nepotism, the proud man’s contumely, the law’s delay, all that, there IS something about having almost no control… of giving oneself to something completely, acknowledging the insane odds against. Imagine a loving self-immolation: the fire of absolute conviction, the ash of utter humility. Bowing to the muse, digging into the earth with both hands, cutting off your fingertips and planting them in the soil, begging for rain from your knees.

Treat Every Day As If It Is The Last Day Of Your Life…

… that you’re not famous.

I have been asking myself lately not to avoid this abyss: What if in the earnest pursuit of becoming a financially secure actor and writer, something much more interesting happens? Destitution. Good art. Love. Things beyond my imagining.

I’m at a bar right now, looking over at my Mercury Store colleagues gathered around on the patio and chatting over drinks. Mercury Store was already always unlikely, unsought, a miracle. That I work there is an additional miracle of timing, training, proximity, luck/fate. Rehearsal finished early, we got paid today to play in rooms with artists we look up to, a creative process more rewarding than anything I would have thought to ask for. They are talking and I am writing. My body was hurting so instead of going to the bar right away, I stayed in the studio and did 40 minutes of yoga. Now I’m sitting across the courtyard and typing away. I watch them talk and laugh and release the week. I am solitary, but not alone. My community is around me, and yet I am taking care of myself, and I’m proud. There is nothing to fear. I couldn’t be happier. A quiet, heavy happy. The pride wheels around and giddies up into my throat. The wind jostles pale petals from the branches of the Magnolia above. One falls into my cider. An ant crawls across the page and up into the ivy along the fence. You see it. I see it. Then it’s gone.

If one understands that there is no deserving, that the industry, the world, your children, even your own gods owe you nothing, that everything is already given as gravy, that magic is as plain as black text on a white page, what is there but to be enthused?

Yours, Truly,


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