“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There’s no middle ground.”
After partially recovering my health from six years of crippling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I moved to Los Angeles on March 31, 1994. I had about half the strength I had before I ever got sick in February of 1988. I thought I’d return to UCLA and finish my degree in Economics, but I was scared of going back to the style of life that might’ve led to my collapse.
Dennis Prager said he might have work for me if I moved to Los Angeles, but that didn’t come through.
As I opened up the LA Weekly in that Spring of 1994, I saw lots of ads seeking models and actors. I didn’t know but suspected at the time that most of them were scams.
My last girlfriend, Paula, worked for the Ford modeling agency and suggested I pursue this. So I had some photos taken and was signed by agent Debbie Durkin.
This success gave me confidence that I could get something going in LA’s entertainment industry. I spent all my money on acting classes and headshots, living out of my car to make this dream happen.
Desperation to get something going, desperation to launch myself, desperation to develop a career doing something I loved, desperation to jump-start myself past my six years lost to illness underlay all my big credit card spending.
I’d never felt such desperation before and never spent so desperately.
During 1994, I went on about 40 auditions, had a couple of call-backs, but landed no high-paying roles (I did several student films and one pro movie that never sold).
I kept taking acting classes on and off through 1998. Several people who met me during these years had the sense that my dedication would pay off. They expected me to make it. I was focused, driven, learning all the angles. Despite my commitment, I never did make it as an actor.
Classes were a great way to meet girls. They were probably good for me in other ways as well. They helped me look at life from completely different perspectives than what I was used to. I found Hollywood intoxicating. I wanted to be a star.
So what did I get out of all my expenditures on acting classes? I learned some on-camera techniques that served me well during my media halycon days of 1998-2007.
I was always going to be a writer so everything else I pursued was potential fodder for my work and a way of deepening my understanding of life.
“I remember when I met you in yeshiva [circa 1994],” said a friend recently. “You were the best looking guy around.”
By June of 1995, I was tired of fruitlessly pursuing acting and modeling work, so I decided to take things into my own hands and produce a documentary on what women want. I put ads in various acting papers and got hundreds of submissions, eventually interviewing about 60 women. The poor technical quality of my work doomed its success. I realized I should focus on writing and cast about for a suitable topic.
My first thought was to develop upon some of Dennis Prager’s ideas into a book on how to be a good person. I sent Dennis a letter and he quickly asked me to hold off.
So I went to bookstores and looked around for books on topics that interested me, eventually settling on a history of sex in film. I felt like I could make a contribution to a compelling topic.
Over the next nine months, I maxed out my credit cards to the tune of $18,000 and finished my book (which did not come out until 1999 until the title of A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film).
From the summer of 1996 to the early fall of 1997, I took temp jobs in various offices, until I found I could make a living expanding upon my book at my website lukeford.com.
Money was desperately tight for me between May of 1996 until April of 1998, but then lukeford.com became a nice earner (of between $36,000 to $48,000 a year) and I paid off all my credit cards in 2000.
In October of 2007, I ceased writing on porn, sold my website lukeisback.com, and tried to figure out the road ahead. The business model for journalism was in distress and my friends were getting laid off right and left. I was as confused about my way forward as I was in 1994. Then as now, I started spending through my credit cards to find a way out. This time I invested in countless courses on how to make money online.
By the time I quit about a year later, I’d spent about $10,000, which I eventually earned back directly, and through the courses, I learned some marketing skills that indirectly led to me making more than $40,000.
In the fall of 2008, I decided to train to become an Alexander Technique teacher. The three years of schooling would cost $24,000 in tuition and about $60,000 in lost earnings because I’d be so exhausted that I wasn’t good for much else during much of those three years.
When I quit writing on porn in 2007, I had $6,000 in the bank and no credit card debt. And now I have $45,000 in credit card debt, $10,000 in other debts, and I owe my parents $20,000 and my sister $1,300 and my brother $6,000. And a year ago, I gave up my Kaiser health insurance. But am I paying them back? Not yet! I’m taking classes in creating solo shows. Over the past year, I’ve spent about $3,000 on this.
So how will my solo show be different from my other ventures?
When I debuted my show Feb. 3, three people showed up.
I expect this new venture to be in line with my previous ventures. Some of them worked out well, some of them haven’t paid off financially yet, and some were useful but had no monetary return.
There’s no downside to my latest classes (other than the opportunity cost). They develop my writing and performance skills, two of my priorities. Whatever I do in life from here will largely depend on these techniques.
I’m older, wiser, and more accomplished than when I previously ventured. I’ve finished my conversion to Orthodox Judaism and I’ve finished my three years of Alexander Technique teacher training. I’m nearly two years sober from my emotional addictions. I have eight years of psycho-therapy under my belt. I’ve learned to stand on my own two feet and not depend so much on mirroring. I’m able to self-soothe. I have the nicest apartment and nicest car of my life. I have the right combo of Chinese herbs to keep me in peak shape and they’re all piled up in my drawer.