50-for-50 interview: Jan Pessin, #1

miss jan pessin with the late benny the dog

Roughly 10 years ago, my new friend Jan Pessin redefined the word “courage” for me. Until then, I’d associated it with cunning and spectacular feats of derring-do—things involving burning buildings and precipitous drops and other showy overcomings of obstacles. But as her story unfolded, I came to realize that bravery can also be about putting one foot in front of the other. About making art or just making a living while carrying extraordinary invisible burdens. About agreeing to put your pain on stage because it’s what you do—even singing it, when that is most definitely something you do not do. Which is why Jan will always remain #1 to my admiring #2. That, and because she lets me come over and watch her cable TV while she feeds me steak and broccoli. Never underestimate the value of a good, home-cooked, SCD-legal dinner.

When did you decide to become a writer?

Every time I put pen to paper. Seriously, it is a daily decision.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Cameron Thor, my acting teacher. He always encourages his students to write.

In fact I wrote a play with Colleen while at his acting studio. Also Jack Grapes is a great writing teacher, he really got me to write in my own voice.

What do you love to write about?

I love taking something that isn’t anything on the surface, but to me there is something very funny and moving about it, if I can get that from my head to paper, I couldn’t be happier!

What has writing taught you?

That I’m funny. I always thought, Well, I’m funny, but there is something about putting it down on paper that makes it real.

How has writing made you stronger?

I’ve written when I’ve been at rock bottom, and it always brings me back. Very powerful to put your stories down on paper.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

Don’t smoke!! Don’t ever smoke!!!!!

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

The Magus: It was the perfect read when I was 24 and living in Paris and took a holiday in Madeira.

Olive Kitteridge: it won the Pulitzer and now I want to read all the past winners.

The Steig Larsson trilogy

All of the articles from New York magazine that Colleen sends me.

All of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.

Hard to pick just 5. Each read is of a time and the place I’m at.

Jan Pessin is an actress/writer living in Los Angeles. She is originally from Kentucky, but has lived in New York, Paris, and Chicago. She has performed in numerous theaters. Her favorite role was playing herself in the play she wrote with Colleen called #1 & #2. She is currently working on her one-woman show, a screenplay, and a novel. Why the fuck not!

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