It’s Been 10 Days

Just a heads up that this is not going to be a normal post.  I honestly just need to rant, and writing privately for myself is not doing it for me right now.  I have woken up every day since the 8th angry and deeply, deeply worried.  Even hearing people managing to go on with their days sends me into a personal fury, and I am still at a loss of how to move on without rage.

I’ve heard the whole, “This is how the other side felt when Obama won.”  Well, here’s the thing about that.  My fear is based in the idea that people (including myself) will lose their rights.  Fear of Obama was based in racism.  Even if people were unaware of this deep-seated bias, all their vocalized fears can be traced back to the fact that a portion of the country does not trust a non-white man to make intelligent and caring decisions.

I’m currently struggling with the difference between intent and impact.  I have always been a blind believer that intent is by far the most important thing, and that we must find a way to have ultimate compassion for those who act with the intention of genuinely doing good for themselves and those around them.  But the past ten days have truly made me realize that choosing not to recognize our impact hurts others, and for this, I am losing patience.  As someone who has studied Buddhism inside my bubble of suburban peace, I am lost on how to build the discipline to have empathy for those who could threaten the lives of literally millions of people around the world.

As usual though, my Buddhist studies are helping me work through the pile of garbage that has been the past two weeks.  First off, let’s talk about:

Ignorance and fixation on strength.  One of our largest challenges as human beings is seeing the world without lenses and biases.  It has become our nature in the Western world to believe there are only two sides of things, right and wrong, good and evil, democratic and republican.  We often ignore balance and, strangely enough, see the idea of balance as weak.  And heaven forbid if anyone calls us weak!  It’s like we’re a country of Biffs from Back to the Future, waiting for someone to call us yellow so we can unleash our wrath of Facebook vitriol to prove them wrong and show the world how strong we are.

We’ve only just passed Mental Health Awareness week, and already we are judging ways that people are choosing to cope with this legitimately frightening occurrence.  As someone who has spent large amounts of energy and many years managing my anxiety, I recognize projection.  When someone online calls another person weak or whiny, it’s because they are not at peace with their own confidence and mental wellness.

Anyway, lenses.  I have them, you have them, the Dalai Lama has them.  If we didn’t, we’d all be perfect, enlightened beings and wouldn’t need to be on earth anymore.  These lenses fog up and misdirect ideas and information around us.  The issue has become so extreme that false news stories are actually shifting the results of world-altering decisions.  Our job in the coming months is to remove these lenses, and to challenge others to remove theirs.  We should not give others our lenses, but instead, actively seek out the truth–actively seek out what we would still see if we were wearing neither side’s biases.

Obsession with Winning.  We have been taught, through our myths and fairy tales, through our religions, through our schools, through our superhero movies, that good wins and evil loses.  The whole week, all I’ve seen is “You’ve lost, get over it.” It comes from this mindset that the world through their biased lens has prevailed, and that peace and certainty will be restored to their unstable lives.  “Before” was bad, and “now” is good.  They chose their hero, ignored any words against his qualifications to be a hero, and fought for his victory.  Now that they believe they have “won,” they are confused by those around them looking outside of winning and losing.  They think we’re upset about losing a race, they think we wanted the trophy.  No, we don’t want the trophy, we want everyone to have the freedom to safely live their damn lives.  We want everyone to feel supported by our country’s system and to feel equal to someone they pass in the street.  Because, guess what?  We are equal, we just aren’t treated as so.  It’s not about winning, it’s simply about living and having the option to work and thrive.

Levels of Awareness.  When you’re driving in your car and someone cuts you off, what’s your first response?  I flail my arms and usually scream something like, “What is wrong with you?”  I see others do it all over town.  I am, quite literally, seeing the world in my small bubble of awareness.  I am protected there.  I then get to work and talk to my coworkers, talk to my husband online, and occasionally hear from my family and college friends through email or on the phone.  This is my medium bubble of awareness, and I want to protect this bubble.  Both Bubble One and Bubble Two feels within my control.  For some people, this is where their world ends.  They only have these two sections, and seeing outside of this world feels daunting and confusing.

Then there’s Bubble Three: everyone else, both in time and space.  People from America both now and 100 years ago, people from Australia, from Pakistan, etc. You get the idea:  not you and not your personal circle.  This circle most likely will not come to you, you have to go there yourself.  For me, I read constantly, if I’m busy, there are audiobooks.  I listen to podcasts, I read blogs, I read articles across political lines, across country lines.  I don’t get locked into one job for too many years at a time.  I work in theatre–a job that constantly pushes you outside both small levels of awareness.  I study religions other than the one I was raised on.  And hey!  I am not wealthy.  I am also not an Ivy-League educated person.  I do have extreme, extreme privilege, however, and I recognize that.  I am also still incredibly ignorant to so many things.  But, these are my weapons against staying safe inside my small levels of protected awareness.

When the bubble breaks.  I always felt a little different from my childhood friends because I was forced to see the outside world when I was very young.  It was obvious to me the moment my house was broke into that my small level of awareness was not all that existed.  Illness can also be something that breaks this myth.  On the other side of the spectrum, really amazing surprises like winning the lottery or getting hired for an incredible job can break this bubble as well.  They are all reminders that you are part of a larger world.  But without an occurrence like this, or without the push to seek out the environment outside yourself, what happens to someone?

It’s sadly clear that many people choose to only protect and defend their space, oppose to reaching out and learning about the greater world.  They build walls, they buy guns, they erect a fortress of fearful beliefs.  They keep themselves locked in a tower. Now suddenly, all these tower dwellers have felt that they’ve won, that their tower will be protected.  No one is going to force them to look outside their bubble anymore.  Hooray!  What these people don’t realize, is that by hiding, they are perpetuating the idea that those without the privilege of a protective bubble will be stripped of their rights as citizens.

But tower dwellers are not just rustbelt Republicans.  When I get really low, my bubble shrinks.  I often literally feel like the space around me is getting smaller.  I lose motivation to read, to reach out, to find new career opportunities.  I want to hide inside my personal space and protect myself from anything that will challenge me to come out of it.  I develop what, psychologically, is known as learned helplessness.  I begin to accept that I will always be in my small bubble, and nothing will bring me out of it.

This is what I see when someone tells me they are unwilling to see outside their own views.  I see the pattern of learned helplessness–the acceptance that what they know is all they can ever know.  Their small bubble is protective and perfect and strong, and the large bubble of the world only wants to threaten that, to destroy it.

But this week, I am watching their fear, and using it to become more aware of my own.  I am not helpless, and neither are you.  This past week has allowed me to feel justified in my anger, in my fight.  I got over my fear of writing to representatives and electors, I got over my fear of defending my choices online.  I got over the fear of reaching out to friends with opposing views and trying to gently start a difficult conversation.  And I am so uncomfortable. I feel terrible.  And you know what?  Good.  It’s really good I feel terrible.  If I didn’t, I would still be going on long walks and thinking lofty thoughts about my plans for next summer.  I would still be assuming that Obama’s beautiful presidency had actually calmed the racist fears of many Americans too afraid to see their weaknesses.

I’d rather feel terrible now than later find out I had spent my life living in ignorance.

What He Tried to Take From Us

The original title of this post was, “What he took from us.”  I decided against this.

I woke up this morning with a better hold on my thoughts and on my body.  As I learned on the Camino, a body is capable of more than we give it credit for, especially when the day requires us to get up and simply put one foot in front of the other.  As the Zen quote teaches us, “Chop wood, carry water.”  Or, both before and after enlightenment, we must continue to work, to improve, to continue on.  But the mind, without rest and nourishment, with the stressors that send our bodies into uncontrollable shaking and tension, requires greater care, patience and kindness.  And so I waited to put my words out there in there in the world until my mind could rest.

When I “woke up” yesterday (I use that lightly because I’m not sure I technically ever fell asleep on Tuesday night), I sat in my dark living room with my husband Ben and watched the sunrise.  I needed to see that it would indeed do so, after such a dark night of pain for myself, the ones I love, the country, and the world.  I believed that something had been taken from us–not just the belief that love could overcome hate, not just the belief that our rights would be protected by a caring leader, but over a year of feeling degraded and spit upon by a fearful, small, and ignorant man that awakened a world of hatred in a sea of vulnerable people.

But. By the end of a remarkable day, if you can call a day filled with so much pain remarkable, I realized that he had taken nothing from us, that he has already failed in breaking us apart.  Ben and I, for the first time in our six-and-a-half year relationship went to church tougher.  There was an interfaith service in Montclair that brought together Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, and a wide range of Christians, to both grieve and show one another that we will not be broken, that we will be brought together.  This to me, is true religion.  It is the recognition of our interconnectivity, it is the the turning away of no one.  As we stood with our candles raised, like wands to the sky, and as we sung and chanted a Jewish song, I saw that there was light to be found.  And now, with my mind rested and my spirit slowly on the path of restoration, I am drawn to my words.

The most powerful article I read yesterday was entitled, “This is Why We Grieve Today,” by Jon Pavlovitz.  The site is oddly down right now, and I hope I may share it with you soon.  After a morning of heated bickering online, it became clear to me that many Trump supporters, even those I am close with, were not clear about why we grieved, why we felt the heavy weight of despair and fear for the future of our planet.  This bigoted, physiologically unstable man is trying to demolish a world of love and hope that we have fought so desperately to build.  And we have made beautiful, beautiful progress.  Yesterday, we did not grieve losing an election, losing a contest, we grieved the belief that love could triumph over hate in our political system.  We grieved for the safety and the rights of our LGBTQ community, for our non-white and non-Christian friends, for ourselves as women.  Yesterday, after years of being harassed on the street by dangerous men that I did not feel safe enough to yell back at, I was told that this hatred was supported, was reinforced, was strengthened.  I was told that my niece and nephews, both of which are half African-American, lived in an even less-safe world.  I was told that our beautiful, stunning, delicate planet was not worth the loss of financial gain, that the effort and research into renewable energy sources and safer, cleaner sources of energy-related jobs, were simply not worth the research and care, because the bottom line would not profit those in the top 1% of our financial elite.  I was told that a truly lost and angry man could dupe and mislead nearly half the country into believing he would fight for them, that he was their advocate.  He not only tried to steal the hope from the hearts of those that fought against him, but he made a fool of the people in my life that supported him.  This is what he tried to take from us.

But he has, and will continue to, fail–as will the organizations that fight against love.  For we will not stop standing together in community centers, in churches, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods, to speak up for one another, to watch out for one another, and to slowly find a way to realize that we all want to feel safe and loved.  We must begin talking to one another slowly and patiently, and we must begin listening.

In the past 48 hours, I have learned two major things:

  1. That nearly half the country believes that something had been taken from them during the past eight years, that they were somehow losing the respect and support from a country they believed was slipping away from their grasp.  They believed they were not loved, that they were forgotten.  And because of this, many turned to the fear in their hearts and pinned their blame on either a minority group or a social movement, and ignored the character of the man who took advantage of their fear and sorrow.  If you are reading this, I want you to know you are not forgotten and you are loved.  This leader will, sadly, most likely not fight for you, and I am so sorry for the days ahead that will make this clear.  But as one country, a country that was built on the ideals that all of us can act from a place of love for all beings and beliefs, we will rise above our system and protect one another.
  2. I also realized that I have been living in a bubble of safety.  This feeling, that my right as a women, as a citizen, and a human being, could be taken from me by two men that act from places of greed and greed alone, washed over me at 2am yesterday morning.  But this is how many minorities feel every day.  Every morning walking down the street, watching the news, and even observing the predominantly white society in our entertainment world, they feel they are not cared for, that they are in constant danger of losing their basic freedoms.  I will never thank the current President-elect for anything, but I will be grateful to the movement that followed for opening my eyes to this ignorance.  And as someone who will be relatively untouched by his terrifying policies, I will stand for all of you with as much energy as I can.  I cannot stay silent anymore.

For both sides reading, please take a moment to consider that we are all acting from a place of fear.  And in respect to your minds, this is to be recognized, it is to be acknowledged with care.   Once we acknowledge this fear, however, we must question ourselves: How is this fear causing us to act and respond?  Are we staying silent in discomfort?  Are we narrowing our vision to only focus (and vote) for one particular issue?  Or are we allowing ourselves to grow and open our minds to all types of love?  Please put your defensive swords down, and pick up your metaphorical sources of light.  When you hear or read words that spark rage in you, take two deep breaths, and continue with patience and recognition of this fear that is poisoning all of us.  Now is the time to speak up for one another, to act, to volunteer, to donate, to protect.  We can still shock our broken political system, and prove them all wrong.  We can listen to each other, respect new ways of life we may not understand, and above all, recognize which choices and actions are supported by love, and not greed or prejudice.  It is okay to be wrong.  It is okay to change.  It is okay to reach out to someone you fear with patience and truth.

We must defend our beautiful planet, we must defend our rights to believe in different versions of God, the Universe, and our interconnectivity, and we must defend our brilliant differences in sexuality, gender, race, and background.  We all have beautiful stories to tell, and if we are willing to listen and to speak up, to discover our own personal strengths and contributions, then we can all overcome this together.

I believe in you.  Nothing has been taken from us, because we have not lost one another.  And to quote Anne Frank:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

I will not let go of this, and I will keep fighting for all of you in any way I can.

 

Day 30 Thank Yous–And just all-around HOORAY!

I have to say a final, massive thank you to everyone who supported my stories and fundraiser over the past 30 days.  I took a writing break yesterday after realizing how worn out I’d become after dragging a personal tale out of my brain every day for a month.  In a way I am going to miss it, and on the other hand, I am happy to climb into my little introvert shell for a bit.  More on this later though.  Until then–

We raised $1,092 for Zara Aina!!!!!

This is absolutely incredible.  That’s 21% over my goal during the month.  I have two more people to thank for the final donations that rolled in.  Though the 30 days is through, this fundraising page will always stay hanging out on Crowdrise.  If you still get inspired to give this way, I will happily stop what I’m doing and still write you a thank you post.  You are all amazing!!!

Jenna Clancey!!

So, not only is Jenna a super-awesome coworker and much-needed presence of positivity and silliness, but she’s also very generous!  For about four months of working with her I was convinced she was a 4th grade math teacher, which is not true.  She works in development.  I am still tickled by this.  I am so lucky to have her as a friend and fellow MKA lady!

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Claire “The Liar” Higgins!!!

Okay, let me explain.  A. This is the nickname Claire used to donate, and B. Claire is not actually a liar.  Senior year of college, my quad all chose silly nicknames for ourselves like we were a 90s sitcom.  Claire was not present to fend for herself, so we made her The Liar.  It stuck.  Claire and her lies!  Anyway, Claire is awesome and donated to my fundraiser!  I know her from…living together, being in three singing groups together, walking across a country together, and from her being my bridesmaid.  We’re basically related at this point.  Love youuuuuu.

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Day 30! Thank you!!!!!

Hi All!!  Even though we’re on our last(ish) day of the fundraiser (I may do an extra something for tomorrow), donations are still coming in!!!!

Thank you so much to Fangzhou Zhang for donating to my fundraiser!  Fangzhou is a very sweet and super-inspiring teacher here at MKA.  I am so lucky to have her as a colleague!  You are the best!

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Day 30: The Day We Decided to Get Married

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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The morning and afternoon leading up to Ben’s proposal was one of the worst days as a temp to date.  At the time, I was assisting a married couple’s computer business in a small office on 18th street.  For several weeks, I was greeted each morning by passive-aggressive comments about how my days as their assistant might be numbered, and that we should explore different online personality tests to figure out if we were really compatible–so you know, healthy work environment.

Somewhat contradictory to their mistrust in my abilities, they decided to leave me in charge of the business for the first time (note that this is two weeks after I started).  On this day, I believe the phone rang approximately 100 times.  This is not, be any means, an exaggeration.  By noon it had become a joke.  Today was the day whenever every wealthy person’s computer decided to die, explode, fall off their desks, mysteriously self-destruct.  Interspersed with the panicked, entitled-rich-person phone calls came the, “Hiiiiii, I just wanted to have a nice slow chat about what your company does.  Are you the owner?”

By lunch time–or lack of lunch time–I had spent no more than five minutes looking at my email, which was now overflowing with emotional meltdowns.  Now, I swear to you, though most days were busy, they were never like this by any stretch of the imagination.  By the time my bosses called to check in, I had scheduled 9 new clients, set up over 15 meeting for fixing computers, and personally put out several fires by just looking up computer-y things on Google.  For once, thank the Lord, they were impressed with me.  Unfortunately for them, this madness put the nail in the coffin of whether I would ever accept this as a permanent position.

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Day 29: The Break-In

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

Google Maps screenshot of our house, with the tree mentioned in this post, before it was cut down

Google Maps screenshot of our house, with the tree mentioned in this post, before it was cut down

When I began this month of writing, I knew at least one of my major Plainfield stories had to make an appearance during the final week.  But I have been dreading it.  The picture above is a huge step for me, it is a mixing of my two realities–now and then.   It makes me stomach churn to look at it, but it proves to me that nothing bad happens when the two realities come together.

There are the main stories though, the ones that significantly shifted our lives, that–as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts–are less likely to ever end up in a blog.  But there is one story I can now write about that I couldn’t talk about for years–not because anyone in my family was physically injured, but more so because it was the jumping off point for years of anxiety that still shape the way I see the world.  It was the event that broke the false idea that my small world was protected from “things that happened to other people.”  I’ve told Ben about my lottery theory.  The whole “it could happen to you” idea with winning a million dollars, can also go the other direction.  When something bad happens, you have the same eye-opening reaction.  As in, oh, it can happen to me.

Anyway, here we go.

Quick note as of 1:30pm: After chatting with my parents after this went up, a few details have been clarified below.

It’s important to remember that each traumatic event usually involves several realities occurring at once.  In this case, there were three.

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Day 28: The Keeping Your Sh*t Together Award

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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As the final day of this writing challenge approaches, I wanted to write a story focusing on gratitude–especially for those who go out of their way to commit small acts of kindness.  Many of these, especially for people in vulnerable situations, rarely go forgotten.  This is dedicated to my junior high principal–

It was the end of my 8th grade year, and yet again, I found myself sitting in on a sticky plastic seat staring at the rafters of the gym ceiling.  One of the teachers was at the mic, giving a presentation of awards for students that had volunteered to save puppies or build houses for the homeless, or something else genuinely admirable.  If I had had the time to do such things, I’m sure I also would have appreciated a piece of shiny paper with my name on it.

But for me, assemblies like this required a special type of self care and mental armor, and luckily I had plenty of time to build this up.  I was always a decent student–it really wasn’t until I got to 6th or 7th grade that I got anything lower than an A.  But that’s about as far as my in-school achievements took me.  Theatre was the real world in my mind, for not only did it define who I was, but it was my true escape from the family issues we had been working through since I was about eight years old.  I didn’t get awards, and didn’t expect them.  “What do you do with them anyway?” I always thought.  Still, year after year of blending in with the scenery during these meetings was a dreaded moment of the year.

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Day 27: A Story for Joe

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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Looking back, it’s fascinating to think that my in-person relationship with Joe Patenaude was actually quite brief.  We first met when I was ten, in the height of the Plainfield saga.  He was one of those people that bridges the two worlds for me–I met him when I was still living in my old life, and then he returned in a bigger way, in my new life, many years later.

My mom had a play produced at Drew in 1996, a poster I’d always look for at our annual end-of-the-year theatre party, a reminder that I actually stood in my future-college cafeteria, many years before college was even a thought.  I remember very little, other than the fact that the show went up with a David Ives one-act, and during the little party afterwards, I shook his hand and remember thinking that he had rather large eyebrows.  That’s now all I can think of when I come across David Ives plays.  Tall man (because I was very little at the time), big eyebrows.  As my eyebrows started to get bushier in my teen years, I genuinely believed that I was getting some sort of Karmic punishment for making fun of David Ives’ eyebrows in my head.  But I digress…

To my knowledge, Joe was there that day as well.  Again, I was little and barely remember which adults were which. Nevertheless, I had a great time that afternoon and went on my merry way, livin’ my life.  When senior year crept up, and I seemed to be the only one among my friends who was completely lost when it came to choosing a college, my mom reminded me that Joe could be a deciding factor.  She reminded me I met him as a kid, that I would already had a familiar base of people there, and that she approved of him as a teacher.  My mom knew a lot of wacky 70s acting teachers that had their own bizarre ways of teaching performance, and she passionately steered me away from these guys.  For Joe, however, she gave the stamp of approval.  So this was not to be taken lightly. Continue reading

Day 26 Fundraiser: It Continues!

Even though we’ve reach our goal, the generosity keeps coming!  The wonderful thing about this whole project is that Crowdrise doesn’t cut you off by a certain date or amount, so we can just keep going and see how far we get!

As for two awesome people who pushed me over the $1k mark…

Tom and Anita Bartolone!!

I am so lucky to have these two loving people as an aunt and uncle.  The Bartolone’s welcomed me to their large, caring family the first time I came to the famous Christmas Eve party.  So happy to get to see these two, and everyone else, in just a few short months:)  Thank you, Tom and Anita!!!

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Day 26: My One-Day Modeling Career…Or, My Last Day as an Ingenue

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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I can’t speak for every actress, but for me, there was a specific moment when my worries about women in theatre hit me like a brick wall.  I was very lucky in one large respect as a child–I had theatre, and the roles written for young female actresses–to provide me with the belief that women had something to say in the theatrical literature.  I played Helen Keller, Anne Frank, understudied Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Perhaps most memorable in my own personal experience, was a character named Girl in a beautiful play for young audience’s called Mother Hicks.  Girl–who has never been given a name–is an orphan in a small mid-western town during the Great Depression who spends the play searching for a true home.  Like Helen and Anne, she is on her own hero’s journey–not one that trails along beside a male character.

Yet as I got older, even when I got to college, it was obvious that these rich character arcs were getting left in the dust as I entered the ingenue stage of my life.  In college, though I was very grateful for the roles and great people I worked with, I played psychologically damaged women, or the tough older character that guided the crumbling, delicate ingenue.  The strong, dynamic characters being written for women, were often deranged or in the process of having divorce-induced nervous breakdown.  Luckily, in educational theatre, it is acceptable to act outside your type and age, and so my full disappointment for women’s roles was delayed until I graduated and moved to NYC.

Because then the roles essentially stopped.  After many years of padding my ego as a community theatre child–big fish syndrome–I found myself floundering to make sense of the Juliets and the Ninas, and it was clear in my auditions.  The roles I have been cast in are those rare gems like The Laramie Project, where a woman is not playing the role of a women, she is playing an activist, a writer, at one point and bigoted old lady that I had to somehow connect with.  I’ve played devious 17-century wives that are trying to ruin their husbands, I’ve played men!  But more often than not, the roles I am not cast in leave me feeling like I’m missing something.  I connected with the women on the stage as a child, and yet in these audition rooms, I feel like an unkempt, masculine woman who just can’t bring herself to wear heels as the rest of the room is popping on their 3-inch stilettos.

It took me some time to stop resenting women who could be vulnerable enough on stage to play these beautiful roles–these characters are not to be diminished.  I did play Juliet, but I never felt like I figured her out, almost to the point of embarrassment. Either way, the women I’ve come to know who can rock these roles with confidence, are often tough, fiery ladies, not the docile, introspective characters-in-love they portray.  So I am stuck between the dilemma of longing to have this strength and waiting until the characters I connected with as a child return as I get older.

But where am I going with this?  I’m supposed to be telling a story.  I came to terms with this shift  during that time I mentioned in the flash-mob post, when I was applying for every job that was remotely related to performance.  During my background actor days, I submitted daily through Casting Networks–a site for BG work–for a casting call for “Model Types.”  I assumed that it just meant tall, thin-ish women with high cheek bones.

The thing about growing up in theatre as  girl is that once you hit your teen years, everyone loves to comment on your appearance.  “Oh she’s an actress?” a well-meaning friend would say to my parents, “I can see it, so pretty, she should be a model!”  I know this is meant as a compliment, but for years I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me.  Maybe it’s because as a kid, I did not fall into the typical confines of overly groomed beauty.  My hair went past my waist until the 7th grade, and until I was about 10, I barely brushed it.  It was like a mane to be pulled out of my face so I could get on with the day.  I was told that longer hair would get me cast more, so I was terrified of cutting it.  To this day, it is why I have never dyed my hair either.

Anyway, when I hit puberty, I wouldn’t say I instantly blossomed into some sort of flower.  My eyebrows met in the middle, I struggled letting go of my Bartman t-shirt, and I cut my hair out of fear that public school would be harsher on me than my former bubble of Catholic School.  I can’t say I enjoyed any of this change though, and I was startled by the increase in physical comments the second I started following along with the expected standards of girlish upkeep.  Why comment on my looks when I say I’m an actress?  You haven’t seen me act, who cares about my hair?

By my early twenties, I learned to play the part of “lady” and gritted my teeth in silence when the comments from friends turned into catcalls from men on the streets or checkout guys at the supermarket.  When I began to explore background work as a means of an acting-related side job, it was even more clear that there were a few boxes for women–model types, polished business type (must had upscale matching suit), hippie type, edgy women (tattoos and colored hair encouraged), hipster girl, high school student, prostitute.  The one category I seemed to fit into was high school student, which is why I paced back and forth between my fake locker on The Carrie Diaries for way too many months.  I also had good luck with period pieces, but that’s mainly because my thick eyebrows and un-dyed hair qualifies me for 1920’s secretary.

“Model-type” however, was a surprise.  I got called the day before for an audition.  I was asked to wear heels, 3-inches or higher.  We would be asked to “walk.”  Now remember, this was less than a year after hiking the Camino.  I knew how to walk, I just didn’t know how to walk up tall in a straight line with sticks hooked to my feet.  With the little money I had, I bought hideous, three-inch black leather heels from Payless that latched on to my toes like a Medieval torture device, and clonked across my tiny Astoria apartment throughout the evening.  I watched bits of Top Model and other tutorials on model walking/what the hell I was supposed to do with my face.  The thing I hadn’t even thought about for some reason, was my body type.  I was 120 pounds from the age of 16 until about 25, I didn’t worry about my weight at that point.  Anywho, I pack up my stuff and headed to midtown the next day.

As I exited the elevator, a line of striking, made-up women lined the hallway, all towering over me as I passed to pick up my sign-in card.  The casting office, through one of the doors, was only for casting personnel, the hallway was as far as we were allowed.  The requirements of the day were clear, “Walk toward the casting table as if it is a runway, wait for the director to tell you to stick around or not.”  A quick, “No, thank you,” or “Please wait over there” was heard after each girl.

I sat in the corner of the hallway to slip on my heels, and smiled at a few women around me.  It was clear from the very beginning that I was out of my element–that this was a whole other world of female performers that I was unfairly infiltrating.  They sat, focused on their pocket mirrors, adjusting their makeup, fixing imperfections in their hair, and most notably, ripping their body images apart to one another.  Now, before I go on with this, please know that I respect these women and was only taken aback that this particular groups was a creating negative hell of self-deprecation.  I cannot assume that this represented the modeling world–for I have never returned to find out.

“I’ve been working on getting rid of this.” She tugged grotesquely at a inconsequential amount of fat on the back of her thigh.  “Ugh, I know, I’m disgusting today,” answered the pristinely assembled women behind her, “I hope they just told look at my shoulders today.”

I started to think about what I would say if I joined in on the conversation.  “I HAVE MAN ANKLES!” I daydreamed proudly screaming.  I loved my muscly legs, my disproportioned thighs, my blotchy red skin from five weeks in the sun.  As the conversations went on, I began to let of my hopes for the day.  What was I trying to do here?  If the audition is stressing me out, why would I want to spend a week being viewed with these expectations.

I hobbled along the line in my wobbly heels and watched the skilled, strong-as-steel women strut down the slippery linoleum hallway.  I knew my walking looked nothing like that, and I knew that many of my body’s small curves would be considered a disqualifying factor.  So about three women to go,  I just thought, “Well, screw it,” and began to laugh at each panicked, self-conscious inkling that tried to work itself into my mind.  I also started to desperately crave donuts.  It must have been all the anti-food talk reverberating through the halls.

When it came time for me to walk, I distinctly remember the casting director glancing at me for a moment, and then looking back down at his notes to talk to his assistant about the person before me.  No one was even going to watch me try.  So, with a donut dream in my heart, I hobbled with pride and comedy down that loud hallway as two grown men shuffled papers and looked the other way.  I had never been so proud to be ignored.  I stood obediently for a moment, ahead of the table, waiting for my verdict.  The guy looked up, “Oh!  Yeah, you’re free to go.  Thanks.”

As I leaned against the back of the elevator, it dawned on me that I had started to buy into the idea of women in NY theatre and film.  If this was all there was, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.  But come on, there’s no way this was it.  I knew that, but I needed to reach this point of rock-bottom frustration with what I was not to start figuring out what roles I longed to play again.  Why are the child female characters in plays written as such vehicles of bravery and wisdom?  And why do you have to wait until your 30s to get a glimpse of that again?

As I sat at Andy’s deli on 7th, eating a glorious cheeseburger, I contemplated my great respect for the model women who had the strength to project such presence.  I did not, nor did I long for, this skill.  I longed for the Helen Keller roles, the Annes, the Girls.  To all my playwright friends–please keep writing women who have their own Hero’s Journey, and not just one that makes her decide between her cushy-yet-suffocating domestic life and a life with another man (I’ve started seeing this trend in theatre).  We can do more than look pretty and care for families.  Here’s hoping my 30s are more enlightening than my ten years of failed attempts at playing the ingenue.