Going to War in Oliver Stone’s Army

Going to War in Oliver Stone’s Army

By Risa Bramon Garcia

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I went to war in Oliver’s army. Oliver Stone. 8 years starting in the mid-80s, movies back to back. Some got made, some didn’t. The work was intoxicating. And I was unstoppable, or at least that’s what it felt like. I battled agents and any perceived enemies like a fanatical warrior. I dug in. It was personal. The lines blurred. I didn’t stop. I got sick. I slowed down, but only long enough to figure out how to bandage myself up to get back in the fray. I still wanted a taste of the Hollywood I came to know and actually like. I still was driven to achieve.

I wanted kids. My body didn’t. So I went into another relentless battle, my body torn open in an obsessive fertility ritual. I had to leave Oliver’s army; it was time to leave the battleground for softer moorings. A good friend and manager made me choose.

I had kids. I was happy. But there was still more to do. I went back into combat. Confusing my passion with obsession and desire with ambition. Realizing I was doing battle with myself, with my parents’ ghosts, I attempted to prove my worth to any punishing father and any demanding mother I could find. Still running as fast as I could. And finally getting my shot to direct, 2 babies on my hip, long, cold nights on the streets of NY, perfect battleground. More wars to win. Or lose.

But where was the joy? The rush I’d felt in that high school auditorium directing the high school musical. South Pacific. That thrill had been replaced with a constant drive to prove myself. Work harder. Be better. Keep on fighting until they finally caught up to me, stepped over me, or found me out. It was Oliver’s army all over again. It was like that for a long time. Through triumphs and failures. Conquests. Disappointments. Dreams. It felt empty, and so I battled on blindly.

And eventually I hit the wall. About a year or more ago I got fired. A lightweight casting job, I was a political sacrifice. Ultimately it meant nothing and was forgotten (other than the nagging reminder perpetuated by the group of very talented actors I had cast who bonded to produce their own internet show. I mean … really? But they’re too good to rebuff.) Yet it brought me to my knees. I was miserable. All the signs of disaster were flashing with neon intensity. After vomiting in the bushes after a brutal network test, I crawled home, pleading with my husband: How do I get off this show? Quit, he said. I can’t, they won’t pay me, I replied. We needed the money.

So the next morning I suited up. Put on my worn and torn armor, and headed for the front line. Pushed down what I knew in my gut, and did what I did every day – fought the fight. Until I was cut down right in the middle of the battlefield. It was humiliating. But in the dishonor I suddenly knew: This is not what I deserve. This is not my calling.

I’ve been around. I’ve seen a few things. I’ve got the battle scars to prove it. And I’ve given a piece of myself to every venture along the way. I regret nothing. But it’s time to give up being what a wise comrade calls: the urgent skipper. Standing at the helm of the ship, through storms and endless nights, often alone, mostly exhausted, depleted, and frustrated. I see it in the mirror. I feel it in my bones. I know it in my heart.

I knew that it was time to let go. To stop holding my breath. To relinquish control, even a little. There’s great power in the years behind me. There’s great achievement in all I’ve done. It was time to experience “arriving,” owning my own personal greatness.

Writing the word greatness stops me cold, but I’m permitting it. I have to. Time to set a course that’s sourced from an inner compass, rather than an outer drive. To give energy to my own creative expression rather than engage in endless strategic maneuvers, grasping to fulfill someone else’s vision. (We do this a lot in our industry and it destroys us.)

It was time to move forward as if I’ve already arrived. To take my rightful seat. In the Zen tradition, at the back of the room, while the new learners come to meditate, chant, do yoga, discover … I had to surrender. Release. Be fully in myself. Hold the wisdom I have to offer in order to take my seat in my own greatness and bring others to theirs.

Now I approach the work differently. I’m still ambitious. I direct, write, cast, teach. I create from and for myself and those around me who will receive. Now I sit wholeheartedly at the back of the room and hold true what I know and love: My creative force, my family, my artistic kin, my original spirit. And while the storms still beckon and the armies call, I allow them to pass, knowing that there are calmer waters ahead. There will be new urgent skippers to man the post, to dive into the trenches. I get to sit back in my rightful seat and intentionally direct my life.

I have everything I need within me.
I’ve done the work.
I don’t have to do anything (rather I get to do what makes sense).
I have arrived.

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