My Heart

What they can't take away

I was really excited for this agent meeting. And it felt really good when the agent looked at me and said, You have a great look. That was the extent of the ease in that meeting. She continues:

You look androgynous in your pictures. It didn't sit right, but I smiled along and said thanks, unsure of what I was thanking her for. I needed to process whether my unease was because it was an offensive thing, or if my ideas of what female/male look like are narrow. I don't know. I still want to look female even though I have short hair. My short hair insecurity journey continues. I feel like I have very female dimples and eyes and cheekbones. But is it a bad thing to look like a guy, too? Is it a bad thing to look a little male here and a little female here. Is it because I identify as female? Is it okay that I identify as female? I don't know. Next spiral...

She goes, What are you, like I know you're Asian, but...What am I? I'm a fucking human. I'm an actress. I'm a person. What am I? What are you? Do people ever say that to you? Do people ever wonder what you are? I doubt it, but I get that ALL. THE. TIME. For a moment, it snaps me out of this reality where I am 100% human. That question brings me into another world, where the spotlight makes me think, I AM FOREIGN. I AM DIFFERENT. I AM A STRANGE CREATURE. What am I? After getting that question for so many years, I know what the question asker wants. They want to know what kind of Asian am I, but what does that get you? What if I said I was Korean? What if I said I was Thai? What if I said I was Pakistani? What do you get from that besides thinking, I must also speak this other language because I am so other that I cannot simply be like you and ONLY KNOW ONE DAMN LANGUAGE. Why can't I be as limited as you and only be fluent in one language? Why can't that be normal for someone like me? Which leads to the final question that actually makes me quite protective of my parents.

Being protective of parents seems like a common trait among first generation children. Often I'm in spaces where my parents are the butt of jokes or the reason for laughs or stares, and I go out of my way to either hide these so they don't see them, or I call these damn motherf*er's out. We are the protectors of our parents because everyone treats them like aliens in this land they know probably better than most. They are probably more American than any of you judgy people, who define "American" as those who work hard and get successful, are. Our parents, our immigrant parents work HARD and they are successful: LOOK AT THEIR CHILDREN. HA. Yeah. I own that. We own that.

Back to this agent. She goes, well, shouldn't you be fluent if your parents speak in Mandarin? Um...look at China. Look at how big it is. It has over 1 billion people! China has hundreds of dialects! Are you serious? Are you serious? Why should I be fluent just because my parents are fluent in their specific dialect? Language doesn't just come to people via blood and birth. You know what my parents were doing so that I could be sitting across the table from you to have this agent meeting? Working their asses off so you wouldn't question their place in this country. Working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. So yeah, I know enough Chinese from those hours I saw them. I know how to say hungry and bathroom and it's so damn hot and stop smoking in Toisan Chinese, excuse me, but no I am not quote on quote fluent. What is fluent anyways? 

I think in English. I dream in English. There are phrases I say that show that another language has influenced my lingo and I have a very "unique" accent, but English is what I'm fluent in. Yes, I am like you: fluent in English. 

I left smiling, but I felt unsettled. I mean, I'm still a cordial person. But to this agent and many like this agent:

I know that many people come knocking on your inbox for a representation meeting. But remember this isn't a one way interview. I'm also gauging who you are! You will be, dare I say, working for me. If I don't get work, you don't get paid. And when it's a solid relationship, we truly work together, we work for each other with good communication, thank you cards and text message reminders of auditions. 

To my brave and beautiful actors: Don't let people steal your power and your integrity. Have your first principles and hold onto them even when seemingly good opportunities come knocking. Sometimes that might mean letting go of the only person who "seems to be on your side". You will know when people are on your side and on your team, when you meet them. These people see you and believe in you. They see you beyond the skills you can write on a scale from 1 to 3. They see you beyond that blue polo shirt commercial shot. They see you beyond that dramatic monologue you did from "Long Day's Journey into Night." They see a human person who's got something real special and they want the world to see it too. If that person doesn't give you that vibe, honestly it's not worth it. These die-hard people give me reason to keep doing this insane life. Thank you fam.

When you go on a Bumble date and your date kind of sucks, why would you settle for him or her? Same here. I get it. You say, but Nancy, I've been single a very long time. Do you even understand that? And to that point I will say, yes indeed I understand that, because I am probably more single than you and I don't see a change coming in foreseeable future. (God, this does not mean I don't want you to open the door for me and he-who-must-not-be-named. I love this guy. EEK.) But the thing is settling for someone that doesn't fully see you will only make you bitter, insecure and prevent you from finding the better one. Patience young jedi.

There are so many hard things for actors. We come across desperate, sometimes, because, hell, we serve a-holes at mininum wage jobs, work for free 90% of the time, and get fit in this rejection hamster wheel. I know. I know. But don't let others take the integrity of who you are from you. That is what will make you endure and last in this career: Your integrity and the confidence to know, YOU ARE awesome and enough!

Can you make it with big legs?

You’re so fit. You’ve got strong legs. Do you work out?

I get those comments a lot and maybe in a “normal” person’s head, or in an “empowered woman’s mind”, they would own those “affirmations” and feel really good/proud/happy. When I get those comments, this is what I hear:

You are not skinny. Those legs…yikesSSSSSS. You are so average-sized.

You might judge me and think I have no grounds to complain. Whatever. You're not in my head. You're not in the dressing room with me. We all have our inner demons. I have spent my whole life struggling with body image, most of us have, especially females. There’s a standard of beauty that is plastered all over magazines, internet and in our daily conversations. Being Asian and growing up in America gave me a very confused mapping of beauty. To be a beautiful Asian, I should be skinny, pale and smiley. To be a beautiful “American”, I should not be Asian, fail, I should have a nice bridge on my nose, thought about plastic surgery, and I should make heads turn, I get random cat calls from sketchy people. I didn’t know how to be beautiful, so I just did everything to get to this idea of it.

I am acquainted with many diets: Whole 30, journaling, apps, Master Cleanse, only coffee, Paleo, Atkins, Binge & Starve, don’t eat after 5pm, only eat after 5pm, only eat fruits, never eat fruits, only eat lemons, "be happy and eat"...

I have fallen prey to many diet fads: green tea pill, Hydroxycut family of pills, apple cider vinegar, pills.

I have spent hours googling: How can I get my legs to shrink? Are calves genetic? Are there safe surgeries to make fat genetic calves go away? Do people like women with big legs? Can you be famous with big legs?

I don't look in the mirror and immediately think, damn girl. But every time I look in the mirror, I know I have a choice to make. Only recently have I been able to look, breathe and think how what I see in front of me is the exact me I need to be right now. I look at my legs. My mom has the same legs. She worked in the farms, she worked in the factories, she is a hard working woman. My legs remind me of my mom. My arms are big and dark. My dad is darker than most Chinese people. He cooks in the kitchen for 12 hours a day and even though he’s so skinny from all the cigarettes, he’s got definition. My arms and my color remind me of my dad. My round face reminds me of how I am Asian and how God specifically and uniquely created certain people to have certain features. I have a round face and that reminds me of God’s diverse creations and how even though I am here in New York or Los Angeles, I am somehow connected to a lot, a lot of the world. 

I carry in my body, this imperfect, scarred but sometimes soft body, (I do give myself that - I have very soft skin), my history, my cultures, and the breaking of what should be. I am not skinny, and I am beautiful. I am not pale, and I am beautiful. I don’t always smile, and I am beautiful even when I am sad. I might be more beautiful when I'm sad but stand still without smiling.

I don’t feel "small" like someone can easily pick me up. I get nervous that I look like Pillsbury dough boy on the screen because the camera is unforgiving like that. I still want to be skinny, but I can’t stop eating chips and salsa. I just can’t because the crunch, the salt, the margaritas are too damn good. I'm already thinking of my next happy hour.

I am working on respecting the “strong” that is my body. I am working on owning “strong.” When I see other women who are strong and fit, I think they are so beautiful and so powerful. Why can’t I afford that same grace to myself?

I am strong.

Maybe my body is a beautiful gift from God to remind me every day that I don’t fit into some standard and that’s special. 

I am beautiful because I breathe. 

Nancy Ma
Be Powerful

We all want to be powerful

But what if power means bending down and washing another's feet

Because having power means an ability to meet others where they're at without thinking it sacrifices your own position

What if being confident in your gifts and talents

Means sitting down and giving another person the chance to shine

Because you trust that what they bring will never be exactly the same as what you bring

What if power means standing still in the midst of circumstances

Stripped from this need to prove that you're something when everything seems to be going to shits

What if power means you are

Exactly where you need to be and exactly what you need to be to 

Make the people around you feel a smidgen more seen, more loved, more empowered

What if power means a willingness to share

Because even if you invite other people to the table

You realize the table is big enough for everyone

What if power attracts those who are in distress because they know you can bring them out of that stress

What if power attracts the outcasts because they know you know what it feels to belong

What if power attracts not the people who can help you, but all the people you can help

Isn't that power

Isn't that more powerful than refusing to let go of ego

Isn't that stronger than people unwilling to budge because they're too afraid change would affect their worth

What if power is scary because it pushes you into uncharted fields that outside of God

You would not be able to handle

You think you could move mountains without the help of something outside of you?

Then you're dreaming must be way too small, way too human

We want godly intervention

To be powerful is to act beyond your comforts

To be powerful is to see something bigger than yourself

To be powerful is to dream so high that when things happen

All you can do is drop to your knees and 

Receive it

And say thank you

And ask, what can I do with this to serve the world?

I want to be this kind of powerful

Nancy Ma
2017: The Year of Sleeping Around

Over 20, just since June. 

Don’t be ridiculous. I am not talking about sleeping around as in having sex. I actually don’t have sex. Not anymore at least. Well, except for a handful of lonely, often alcohol-lubricated times. But that confession is a discussion for another time because it entails longing and heartbreak; and lots of Jesus, tissues and whiskey. 

My sleeping around is literally sleeping around at different places this year. I had planned to go to New York City to attend the Circle in the Square summer program in June. I immediately sublet my room for two months. After seeing that there was no way I could afford a no-financial-aid program, I had to stay in Los Angeles. Except now, I was without a place to sleep.

Whoops. I shared my stupidity with several friends. People offered up their couches, but I didn’t want to be a bother. I figured they didn’t really mean for me to take up their offer anyway. I also didn’t want people to think I was an irresponsible free loader who was living this stereotypical struggling-hustling artist life. What now?

A week before I was going to be without a home, a petsitting gig trickled in. Then another petsitting gig. Then my friends offered up their home because they were going to be in Italy for 3 weeks. The serendipitous and humbling offers kept coming and somehow I pieced together a summer of beds and new pet friendships. The requests overflowed into the rest of the year and into even more diverse sleeping arrangements. I slept on the train to Portland. I stayed with the maker of Beard Balm in Detroit. I nursed a constipated cat on the Upper East Side. I had never been more pumped and proud to see another’s poop. My tale of homes and homies have taught me 4 things:

Ask for help. 

I was honest that I was in need. It’s vulnerable to ask for help because it meant I couldn’t do things on my own. It teared at my self-reliance and grew my love for community. It made me sensitive to every blessing and provision that came by way. It helped me see the generosity of others. People want to help. “It is more blessed to give than receive,” Acts 20:35. But receiving grace is difficult.

Accept grace.

I want to work for the things I receive so I don’t owe anyone and I can say I did it on my own. Grace can’t be earned. It is uncomfortable. Grace tells us that we are worthy regardless of how much we contribute. Jesus is grace personified. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not for yourselves, it is a gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9. He is a love and forgiveness so undeserving that puts you in the spotlight, gently brings you to your knees and embraces you with wholehearted acceptance exactly as you are right now. Being seen yet fully wanted seems far-fetched, especially when I have to battle the voices in my head.

Address your insecurities.

I am an actress/writer living month to month who shared a room and relies heavily on free food. I didn’t want people to think that I was scheming to save money because, well, I cared so much about what people think. I want people to see me as generous, not needy. I want people to see me as successful, not scrounging for change. I want people to see me as a planner, not a play-it-ear kind of hustler. Being in an situation that made me feel uncomfortable brought up a lot of my insecurities. I had to examine them, accept some of them, and work on others. Sometimes who I want people to see me as isn’t who I really am. I need to be sanctified and come back to a worth not determined by others. Look, people are going to think what they think. Sometimes we really suck like that. I just have to do me in the most generous and honest way. If I can live like that, then I am not run by people’s opinions of me, but led by the Spirit that is in me. That is the only way to live.

Attack life with radical faith.

Only by living a life led by the Spirit can I live radically because the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23. I want to be marked by these traits. I want to trust in the power of God. This year God provided from day to day. It was scary. I had to be more present to see how he was going to provide outside of the box, in ways I could not predict. My predictions are humanly drawn. His provisions are always heavenly colored. So trust in a perfect timing, with enduring patience. Be present at all times and look everyone in the eyes. No one is merely mortal. Dream projects that if done by human endeavors will fail, but with God all things are possible. Hope for the deepest kind of love that makes your knees tremble. Be exposed because that is the most beautiful you. Besides if people can’t take you with morning hair and bare faced, they don’t deserve you at eyelash extensions and NARS red lips. Life is scary and hard and out of our control, so why not jump and trust in the biggest?

2017, the world flipping on its head aside, I want to say thank you. I default to self-pity, preaching to myself that no one actually loves me, but when I recall the radical generosity I have experienced this year, I know I am loved. I tend to isolate. I think many things are fixed, that I will always struggle with the same thing and always default into anger and heartbreak. Things can change. 2017, you let me sleep around. I have experienced love. I have been humbled. I have become more fearless. God provided through people. More than ever I know that we are called to live in community, rely on community and heal in community. 

 

Nancy Ma Comments