We had the good fortune of connecting with Jen Parkhill and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jen, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
I’m still finding a comfortable work/life balance. I heard this adage once: the universe sends you messages that at first feel like little pebbles raining down. When they go unanswered they become rocks and finally, boulders. It was like that for me in regards to my work/life balance. I was living in New York City – the city that “never sleeps”, having freshly graduated from NYU, and chasing my dream with such vigor that it felt as though I was running the tread clean off my shoes. I said yes to every opportunity that came through for fear that if I didn’t, nothing would ever be offered to me again. I was caught up in comparing myself to my peers held myself to a standard that wasn’t human. Trading comments about how tired we were, and how hard we were hustling with friends I bumped into on the train became a kind of toxic currency. We laughed it off. But inside I was unraveling. I was breaking out in hives, sleeping very little, struggling to memorize lines for the various plays and workshops I was taking part in while trying to balance a career as a commercial director. I was living in a state of scarcity. I was blowing opportunities by showing up under slept and frazzled. I had neglected my partner, resulting in a breakup and a kind of crippling heartbreak I had never experienced. I returned home to LA broken and in deep need of rebuilding a self care routine for myself that would nourish me and give me the stamina to pursue my art from a healthy place. I’d lost twenty pounds. My mental health was crumbling. I had to metaphorically clear all of the furniture out of my brain and start again from a clean slate, placing things back slowly and in a new formation. I went into a state of hibernation and healing – therapy, sound bathes, yoga, journaling, meditation, time with animals and family and a break from the industry for nearly a year. And then the pandemic hit. I would need to be still and remember that first and foremost I am a human being and reconnect to the reasons I got into this business to begin with. I found a pair of rollerblades in my mother’s garage. I’d skated every day as a child. In the afternoons I started putting on my skates and getting outside to roll and connect with gratitude for my body, for music, and roll through ideas about what my purpose on this earth is. Healing came through skating, through play. I began to remember the me – the free and childlike me – the playful artist I have always been. Rekindling that connection to who I was as a child before the world and the idea of success came into my brain allowed me to reframe my relationship to my work. As I’ve begun taking work again in the entertainment industry, I’m learning to prioritize play in a way I have never done before with an understanding that giving myself time for play and imagination is what keeps my well full so that I have something to offer to the projects I collaborate on. I am always excited when a day on set wraps before sunset because it means I have the opportunity to get on my skates and play for a bit and let the day fall away. I keep them in my car and you will often find me skating on my lunch break. And I am learning to say no to projects that don’t light me up. “No” has become one of the most important words to me. I never knew how to use it until this past year of solitude. I’ve learned to enjoy my own company and live by my own mission statement for why I make art and say no to projects that are not in alignment with that mission or will tax my mental health to a degree that I now understand is not healthy for me. I’m learning to carve out time to be human, as this after all, is what feeds us as artists – our experiences as human beings. Play, travel, time in the company of friends and strangers who can teach me about our world, and time dedicated to giving back to the community have connected me back to what I am doing this all for. My personal success has become less important to me. Making a difference in this world through art and maintaining a joyful and sustainable life has ironically led me toward more “success” than the hustle mentality I was previously living in. It’s a daily check in I must have with myself to remember that the ultimate goal for me is to stay human. To make art, but to stay human as I go.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started working professionally as an actor at age 11. It was something I wanted – not something my parents pushed on me. I grew up on sets to some degree – whether professional or ones I made at home making movies with my friends. It was in me from a young age and it took a while for me to own that I am a swiss army knife of sorts and that my interests shift from acting, to costuming, to directing, to writing, and back and forth and back and forth. I was in my late twenties when I finally worked up the courage to pursue a degree in the arts at NYU. I’d spent 6 years in LA in an “acting class” which later revealed itself to be a kind of cult and it would take time for me to wash off the manipulation I’d endured in that environment and the self doubt it embedded in me. The Hollywood reporter recently published an article which I went on record for, entitled “The Guru of Toluca Lake” and you can read more about this there. What I will say is that young artists are very susceptible to the toxic manipulation of perceived mentors. It can take time to find one’s footing and stand firm in who we are as artists and shirk off outside influence so that we may hear our own voice and what our offerings are.
We are all in this together. I believe in storytelling. I believe in healing through the telling and creating of stories. I believe in using the stories of my own life, my family, love lost and found, my queerness, my struggles with my own mental health, and my experiences of being raised by an immigrant family to connect with others and learn more more more about what makes us human, what makes us brave, and the paths we take to overcome challenges. I came up in the theater and the feeling of running away with the circus, working collaboratively to make the spectacle come alive, and taking care of one another along the way is all there is for me. Those beautiful moments of making a story come alive with other radiant souls beside me is the greatest feeling there is.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
When a friend visits, the first place I take them is a tucked away little beach in South Laguna. There are a bunch of steps to get down there and a breathtaking view awaits at the bottom. I like to swim around the big rock on the left to where the little private cove is and just lay in the sand. That little piece of nature has always been a place that anchors me and connects me back to nature. I love to share it with others, grab a taco on the walk back to the car and shake the sand off our feet. I’d probably take them to see a show at UCB and have a laugh and maybe a drink at the Bourgeois Pig next door afterwards. There’s a weird little shack in the back room lit with black lights where I used to spend a lot of afternoons writing and it’s one of those funky places in LA that still has some grit and quirky vibes that I love. I avoid the shiny places – the “LA” places. Most of them feel pretty false to me. I waited tables in a good number of them and saw behind the curtain enough to understand that they are too “clean” to feel like an artist in and the pomp and circumstance of it all just feels strange to me. I like the messy stuff. The crumbly theaters and the alleys that have yet to be beautified. I’d probably take a friend to a backyard barbecue and just stare out at the views of a twinkling city that fills artists with hope and despair and is more complex than what the magazines will tell you. I am an Angelino and I like to give visitors the full experience of what that means – both the glamorous aspects and the mundane stuff. I love Jumbo’s Clown Room for a night out. But truly, Los Angeles is more about the people I love there, rather than the places. I’d probably take them to a backyard concert or to see a performance artist.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
All ships rise. Together, we make a difference in the entertainment industry by doing away with the idea that someone else’s success means that we will be offered a smaller share of the pie. There is space at the table for all and it our duty to help one another rise. Rebecca Dreiling has been an incredible teacher and guide on my path, leading by example at every turn the ways in which we out to support one another, create boundaries, and act from a space of generosity and love for one another. I am incredibly grateful to my community of female filmmakers who have offered me a seat at the table and continue to teach me how to make room for us all.
Photography by Adam Coleman