Next Life, I’m Coming Back as a Cowboy Poet


 I was talking to a friend I’d met in a coaching class and she said, “You know, I just don’t love coaching. Every time I’d go to meet with a client, I’d just feel dread. So I stopped and it feels much better. I feel relieved. But I don’t really know what to do now.” And then we talked a little more, and she said: “Well, I’d really like to go to film school, but I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.”

Her voice, when she mentioned film school, got light and excited and lyrical. You didn’t have to be psychic (and I’m not, though oh, how I wish I were! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? How useful? I mean, just the way it would cut down on things like anxiety about flying—oh, to know all the answers in advance! Next life, I’m coming back as a psychic. I mean, I hope I will. Obviously, since I’m currently not one, I don’t really know…) to hear the excitement in her being.

I said: “Of course you should go to film school. Of course it’s the right thing to do.” Then I paused. “Because of how you said it, I know it’s the right thing for you to do; I just don’t know if it will bring you enough money to make a living. But—the thing that lights you up is always the right thing to do, even if it’s not the money thing to do, even if you don’t get any success from it.”

Which brings me back to myself. Yes. I know. One day I’ll write about other things again, but—

When last I sent out this blog, I was a blithering puddle of soggy disappointment. I’d tried something that had meant so much to me and I’d failed, yadda, yadda, yadda…

I spent a couple of weeks crying. I got very cynical. I felt stupid and embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I was talking to my coach-friend because I felt so very shitty. And then I heard this thing come out of my mouth and dammit! It was true. What lights you up is always the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t ultimately result in enough money to make a living.

Now, every coach friend I know would agree with this—would agree with doing what lights you up. And then they would say: But eventually, being that this is a spiritual and energetic universe, you really will make money with what you love.

Oh, how I wish I were one of those coaches! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To believe that you can make money with what you love, just because the universe has given you the wherewithal to love it and to put energy into doing it? To know that money will follow the energy of love? Next life, I’m coming back as a spiritual money-maker! 

Because, alas. For me, so far in this life, that has not been the case. (Yet.) (Okay. I’m still enough of a spiritual hedge-bettor to tentatively, parenthetically add the word “yet.”) It’s true. I’ve been an actor/writer/singer/life-coach or some combination thereof off and on for the last 30 years—and when I added it up, I realized I’ve made about $27,000. No, no. I don’t mean yearly! I mean in 30 years, this is about the total I’ve made from ALL of my creative work. Holy Moly! That’s an amazing total! But not in a good way. And guess how much I’ve spent learning? Gaaak! I’m too embarrassed to tell you.

Now—really, if I looked at this from just a money perspective, I’d have to quit. The story I’d spin could be whatever: there are 1,000 actors for every one job; stage acting pays very little; there’s 98% unemployment at any given time among SAG actors; I shouldn’t write “on spec”; I should never coach for free; I’m untalented. All those stories could work. I’ve used every single one of them when I get too discouraged to try again. They might even be true.

But truer: Doing what lights you up is always the right thing to do. 

And—oddly, at first it feels like you get to choose what lights you up. But the truth is, what lights you up chooses you. Some people get lit up by numbers or computers. Oh, how I wish I were one of those people! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To be an accountant and to love it? Or to do—-whatever it is—-computer people do? The world always needs technical folks. Next life, I’m coming back as a techno wizard!

But no. For now, I’m stuck being lit up by writing and singing, by acting and coaching.

So—yesterday I sat and listened to some music and thought about the next show I could write. I could write about love and all its insanity and smallness and hugeness and boredom. I could write about being in a female body in this crazy country and what that’s meant to me. I could write a short video about a woman who tries something and when it goes badly, she wants to quit, but doesn’t.

The point is—I could write.

(Writing and singing, by the way, are a little easier to jump back into than acting, which seems to require an audience; which, if you do it on your own no matter what—8:00 o’clock every night, no matter where you are, you just drop everything and pretend the curtain is going up—well you could do that, but then that bleeds a little uncomfortably into the gray area of mental illness—actually, no, it makes you a total freaking nut job. Best if I don’t explain how it is I know this…) But writing. Yes.

Later that day, I called my mom and dad—to congratulate my dad on getting his early 91st birthday gift—4 more years of a Democratic president (“I think I was born a Democrat,” he says, no small feat in my eyes, for someone born in, you guessed it: Idaho. That hotbed of Democratic philosophy.)

They asked if I’d gotten any response from my showcase and I said no; and then I told them that I still thought it was the right thing to have done. “It still lights me up,” I said. “Even if I never get anything from it, I still want to do it.”

My mom said: “Well, you don’t get nothing from it. You get satisfaction.” And, as mothers almost always are, she’s right. And that’s true. And I think others get satisfaction from seeing it.

Mom added, “Like your dad gets from his poetry.” Backstory: My dad had just performed at another cowboy poetry gathering to his usual acclaim. He recently self-printed books of his poetry and he gives them away at his readings. (When he told me he was going to do this, I said, “Why don’t you charge? You could at least cover your printing costs!” He said, “Oh, but then I’d have to claim more income and get into the whole tax thing. It’s not worth it. I just give them away, and if anyone wants to, they can make a donation of the price of a book to some cause they think is worthwhile.”) He said: “It’s true, honey. You never know what your writing might mean to somebody. Funny, a woman came up to me this last time, and asked me to sign the book—and she had tears in her eyes when she was telling me how much she enjoyed it.”

He sounded surprised and touched. I’m not. His poetry just lights up the hell out of him. I’m not surprised that others feel that. Writing is his right thing to do.

Mine, too, along with acting, singing, coaching. So I know I’ll keep at it, as sad as I can sometimes get about it. Honestly, I think in the end, I’ll be prouder to be a person who tried and failed than one who said: I coulda, woulda, shoulda. 

Here’s a poem of my dad’s that sums this all up better than I ever could. Oh, how I wish I were a poet! Can you imagine how convenient that would be? To say exactly what you mean with so few words, perfect expression with brevity? Man. Next life, I’m coming back as a cowboy poet.


Lookin’ Backward

By Holger Albrethsen, Jr.


As I look back through the decades

There’s a thought somehow prevails:

We are born without a road-map,

With a choice of many trails.


Some are steep and some are rocky.

Some would lead you plumb astray,

So you have to choose ‘em careful

‘Cause there’s forks along the way.


There is one you think is easy,

Free of doubt and fear and care,

But it might not be the best one

‘Cause it won’t lead anywhere.


So you take the one that’s rocky,

Take a path up toward the hill.

It might be you’ll reach a summit—

Find some grass that’s greener still.


But whatever path you follow,

Up the creek or ‘round the bend,

Do an honest job of livin’—

Ev’ry trail has its end.


Though you might not see one forward,

There will be a trail behind;

So be careful what you leave there

So’s to keep your peace of mind.


If sometimes you find no pathway,

Lookin’ backward ain’t no sin.

You can live with where you’re goin’

If you’re proud of where you been.










This entry was posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2012 at 11:37 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Next Life, I’m Coming Back as a Cowboy Poet”

  1. Josephine Says:

    Hi Sonja!

    Wanted to put in a comment before I get distracted by other things. Seems to me, by and by, that just by being who one really is, is the ONLY job that we all have to do during our time here. Just be. Not only for yourself but for everyone around you and the people you have no idea how you are connected to. Like what you are doing now. Even if one is not making any money (I know, its a hard one to get past.)

    We just have no idea how we affect things. And you do, Sonja.


  2. Sonja Says:

    I think you’re right, Josephine. Just to be! And who knew it would affect someone in Singapore! Thank you! And much love to you.

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