Public Journal in Peterborough

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Today is the first day in months, many months, when I find myself sitting in a town where I’ve never been, with nothing to do and no one to see.  I didn’t have to plan anyone’s hotel, their car, the food.  I could head up to our rental house right now and lay on the porch all afternoon and no one would know or care. No one would call or email, or ask me to just “do them a quick favor.” Right now, I sit in a large renovated mill-turned-coffee brewery and have no intention of moving anytime soon.  There’s no fancy dinner to arrange, no museums to visit, no prime-time beach time to take advantage of.  There’s just a room full of coffee beans and the view of a small dam and waterfall.

Some guy on NPR was recently talking about the three pillars of happiness in modern American society: a fulfilling relationship, financial security, and a sense of purpose.  Apparently if you have those three, everything falls into place and you have nothing to complain about. Well, I can confidently say those three things have been relatively solid for the past year, and I have been anything but at peace with the world.  I am grateful for all the wonderful things we have in our lives, very very grateful.  But I am also definitely not the first person to discover that “playing the game” of society will not necessarily bring you fulfillment.  The passionate drive to collect: money, furniture, resume additions, and above all–actions of purpose, have been long overshadowing my ability to step back and try to remember who I wanted to be before I jumped on necessary the “collecting game” with everyone else. My long things-to-do list may make me look like a proper contributor to society, but I drag through my list with frustration and coldness, slowly becoming another artist who became too busy to create anything.

Perhaps ironically, I find myself in the beautiful town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, the town where Thorton Wilder wrote and set Our Town.  I did this show my senior year of high school when my personal and family life was disastrously falling apart.  My pillar of predictability, my main source of joy, was the option to return to Grover’s Corners every afternoon after school, and marvel in the beauty of the world I had overlooked as Emily Webb. The beautiful simplicity of life is lost on the townspeople engulfed in its details, its day-to-day predictability.

In a way, by moving to Montclair and stepping back from the obsessive pursuit of an acting career that seems to want very little to do with me, I hoped to find this simple daily schedule that reminded me to appreciate the mundane, the calm.  This is a concept I definitely never had growing up.  After years of emotional roller coasters and endless family hurdles, all I wanted was to be like some of my friends and live a life in my own personal Our Town.

So where am I going with this? I’ve realized in the past several months that I’ve been seeking simplicity and clarity in the wrong place. By moving toward a life that our society deems as predictable and fulfilling, I have settled in a place of “making the best of things.” No, I don’t enjoy being an assistant, and yes I have a hard time feeling like I spend 75% of my day working toward nothing other than a paycheck, but what is the alternative?  The crazy, frustrating, and financially stressful life I had before when I was auditioning?  If I am run by the amount of money needed to maintain my life–a life that frustrates me–then maybe the answer is needing less, is requiring less money.  Instead of making more, needing less.

My recently enhanced studies of Buddhism have reminded me that the things we desperately pursue are the root of our suffering, of our discomfort, and our disconnection with reality: even when it comes to things like chasing an artistic goal. The more you chase, the bigger the idea grows, and that harder it is to reach. Your bank account never looks big enough, your promotion never sounds high enough, your acting resume is never up to par with everyone else.  You’re never quite there. And all the while, here you are, missing it.

For the past two to three months, I’ve had a recurring and undiagnosed health issue that makes me feel like I have the flu every couple weeks and achy and uncomfortable every day in between. It could be any number of things, and hopefully I’ll know more soon, but as of now, it feels like my body is fighting back against my obsession with “making the best of things.” I don’t actually want to collect.  I don’t need to be rich, to have a long or impressive acting resume, or be considered the best darn personal assistant in my school. All I really hope for is a place to sit by a river, in a simple town with friendly faces full of artists who want to create something. I’m not sure how to get there yet: this mysterious “there.” But I do know that letting go of the ladder climbing is part of it. In my opinion, the artistic game is broken, and becoming more and more for the wealthy, and only the wealthy.  So the only way I see around this is by cutting down the things I purchase, collect, and obsessively seek.  This is the first step toward this elusive, perhaps unattainable freedom, that I wouldn’t have to “make the best of.”

In the Pema Chödrön book I’m currently reading, she provides a beautiful image to help with meditation.  She said that a person who meditates without expectation of enlightenment is often compared to the image of an older person sitting on the beach and watching their grandchildren play in the sand.  They have reached a point in their lives when they no longer feel they are supposed to pursue something, to reach some socially acceptable career goal.  They simply sit and enjoy the happiness and enthusiasm of those around them, and through this, are truly present. This is the state of mind, the freedom, that I seek before hitting the age when everyone tells me I’m supposed to retire from the practice of collecting things.  To be present with the beauty around me and add to it the best I can.  How to reach this, to break the rules of how our artistic society is set up, is another story.  I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m relieved to be able to articulate it.

Well I’m out of coffee. And now there’s an antique shop with a bird on the sign that is calling my name.  Thanks for reading to my ramblings and happy weekend.

The Buddhist Actor

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Last week, I had a rare opportunity to sit in on a Taoist workshop lead by the head of the Chinese Taoism Society, Master Meng Zhiling.  I knew very little going in about Taoist culture and beliefs, only that they would be a great complement to my Buddhist studies (and helpful toward my goal of sitting and meditating for more than 10 minutes at a time without deciding the clean the living room).

During the second workshop, Master Meng spoke specifically about breath and meditation, focusing on body position and the role of Chi. In a nutshell:

  • Shoulders relaxed and down
  • Breath is focused three inches below your belly button
  • Spine and neck are in line
  • Head is lifted but not tense (like a basket on a string!)
  • Overall, you should feel physically light and balanced
  • This practice takes time and patience, since we most likely have been breathing differently all our lives

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xoJane Article on Background Acting

Hello all!!  It’s been a bumpy month for writing.  I feel like my head has been spinning around for weeks.  Nonetheless, back in March I wrote this crazy little piece and it just popped up on xoJane!  Also, if you’re new to this site and would like to read more about my background work experience, I wrote this blog post a million years ago when I was in the heart of it all.

There will be more writing in July, hell or high water.  Have a lovely 4th, everyone!!

I Worked as Movie Extra for Years, And It Got Me Nowhere in My Acting Career

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Blooms By the Box Featured Our Wedding!

How flippin’ cool is this?  Blooms by the box, the fantastic wholesale floral company we used to arrange our wedding flowers, featured our story and photos on their blog!  Right after we got married, I had this weird DIY-overacheiver-panic that I was supposed to somehow be crafty and stylish enough to be featured on a wedding blog. Over two years later, long after those irrational expectations have worn off, here we are!  Big congrats to our amazing photographer, Kim Craven and of course, The Chalfonte Hotel, where I plan to someday retire until they kick me out.  Looking forward to arranging my sister’s wedding flowers from here next summer as well!

Check out the post here!  Woo, exclamation points!

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

If a Blog Post Falls In the Forest…

It's the Reader-ship....get it? Readership? BOOOOOO.

It’s the Reader-ship….get it? Readership? BOOOOOO.

I was recently told, in a rather brash manner, that people only read 15 seconds of online copy before moving on to the next article.  Any writing past that is “antiquated and wasted energy.”  I would brush it off as laziness or a disinterest in creating thought-out work, but it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this.  It’s everywhere.  Be short and sweet, know your audience, follow the trends, keep it simple.  If you veer away from this, people start giving you the old, “Well then you just won’t make any money from it,” speech–as if they’re a judgmental parent telling you to make a better living, you lazy millennial (please note my parents never said this, nor do I think they care what millennials are).  Also, don’t get my wrong.  Short pieces can tell a whole story.  Like this haiku I just tried to write:

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New Writing Projects!

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Happy Saturday all!  I have to say, I’ve been staring at the, “Add New Post” link for weeks now, wondering why my blogging bubble has been recently burst.  But as strange as I feel about letting this blog hang out on a story about my mom scaring neighbors away with musical theatre, I have been up to some great new writing ventures!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my goal this year is to branch out and build a more versatile artistic/writing career around new things.  Nicely vague but strangely motivating.  It turns out that blogging makes me happy as long as I’m not falling into the trap of writing for websites that only invite angry commenters to analyze my life choices.  But more on that later.  For the good news! (And perhaps some guidance for new writers looking for a starting point):

Wireless Wipes and Budget-Friendly Ways to Clean Your Home

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When I began to expand my writing, many friends/fellow bloggers here advised me to write for brands I supported, or explore the use of content marketing in general.  My main concern was how to incorporate my goofy voice in an article for a wider audience, without distracting from the message that the product is awesome and everyone should buy it.  I’ve had several nice experiences tackling this, but this was a particularly lovely one.  Please check out my article on a cheap way to clean your home with Essential Oils (shoutout to Christina for introducing me to EOs).

This connection was made via a site called Clearvoice, which I am happy to elaborate on in the comments or through private message if you’re interested to hear more.

Creative Nonfiction Essay Submissions

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve been concentrating on essay writing–a longer-form, slightly more structured version of all my craziness on this site.  Whether my pieces are still a hot mess or not is neither here nor there, but writing this way has forced me to spend weeks on one piece–finding a more thorough way to tell stories that deserve greater love and attention than one the comments section on a feminist blog can provide.  I highly recommend Creative Nonfiction, both their book and website, if you haven’t read them already.  They have several contests a year/ongoing submission openings.  Also, they’re based in Pittsburgh.  So go Steelers.

More updates to come soon, but I’m off to carry a tired Ben home from Brooklyn after running the half marathon.  I shall bring him many donuts.  Have a lovely weekend!!!

Monday Ramblings on Loud Cars, Narcissism, and Into the Woods

I was recently advised, and rightly so, to find a way to let off some steam for my acting’s sake.  And so here we go.

My neighbor (who I assure you will never read this blog because he definitely can’t remember my name), has a habit of sitting in his car on warm afternoons and playing music to himself.  Well, playing bass to himself. Essentially his car just thumps for a few hours and then he goes back inside.  I’d say he’s warming up the car, but it’s currently 80 degrees and he never actually goes anywhere.  So perhaps he’s just taking in some quality me-time or maybe he’s doing other things that aren’t my business. Nevertheless, here’s dorky-ol’-me sitting in the backyard in my floppy white hat, 20 feet from his car, reading my book and eating pickles, when it strikes him as a grand idea to blast music.  Ah!  I meant to listen to some thumping, thanks for taking care of that for me.

I once did a gig with a girl who told me I was a narcissist for hating loud cars.  She claimed that if someone bothers you, it was your own fault–and that furthermore, you had the right to do whatever made you happy, no matter how it affected anyone else.  As you can imagine, this young lady was a delightful coworker.  Anyway, I think of her, much to my dismay, every time a car drives by blasting its music. Am I being selfish by hating your tunes?  Perhaps you are just hard of hearing.  Or am I just disappointed that you haven’t chosen good music to share with the group?

Because I assure you, most people who blast music, do not blast good music.  The only thing that makes it worthwhile is when they sing along.

Until I was eleven years old, I lived in a rougher area of Union County, New Jersey, surrounded by people that definitely followed my coworker’s philosophy of life.  Every day around 4pm, a family of approximately 30 people (that all seemed to be somehow living in one small house), took to the street to play soccer, drink and blast music.  Sometimes, as an extra treat, they would set off their car alarms–perhaps just to be sure they still worked, how responsible of them!  Well, as you can imagine, after four or so years of this, you start to crack a bit, especially since they would occasionally get a little too drunk and knife each other at your ninth birthday party.  But that’s another story.

To our further dismay, the cops had stopped caring–probably having much bigger fish to fry–so nothing else could be done short of confronting them ourselves–which was really the last thing we needed.

Sometimes the feeling of complete helplessness sparks creativity.  On one tense summer afternoon, my mother came up with a different plan.  After the usual failed attempt to report them to the police, my mother suddenly went to the backyard, armed with car keys, determination, and a cassette tape.  She pulled the car up to the front of our house, and sent none other than the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Into the Woods sailing into the humid afternoon air.

Well, my friends, if you’ve ever wondered about the one thing that will stop a group of thirty men from blasting cuss-filled music in their front lawn, it’s this: the beautiful belting vibrato of Bernadette Peters, projected at full volume out of an old Mazda 626, captained by a worn out mother at the end of her daily rope.  Though they came back to play their music the next day, that afternoon, she had won.  The music stopped, and so did ours.  She triumphantly returned to the house and we remained silent in stunned amazement.

I thought of this while staring at my territorial music-blasting neighbor.  Perhaps I should take this approach the next time he claims the backyard for himself.  Or perhaps I should save Bernadette for a real emergency.  As always, thanks for the inspiration, mom.

New Camino Post on xoJane

Good Morning!!  If you check out my post from yesterday, I was in a hell of a slump.  But an article I wrote for xoJane was published last evening, and so far seems to be going over pretty well!  It was definitely the boost I needed after a poopy day.

If you are just finding my site because of the xoJane article, welcome!  I’ve noticed that many people in the comments are either discussing their own Camino experience or interested in going sometime in the future.  If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I love to talk about it, and though my trip was seven years ago (and I’m sure a lot has changed with the growth of technology since then), I can definitely get you started.  I even have a packing list saved that I wrote up for a few friends of mine.

Also, just for the record, the Camino was not all about shaking fists of rage and cursing the stars.  It was also about choreographing interpretive dances, singing The Proclaimers in the middle of the desert, and drinking one-Euro bottles of wine with people from all over the world until you’re told to go to shut up and go to bed.  It’s grown-up summer camp, with a lot of walking.

The backpack dance

The backpack dance

Motivational Posters and Funky Monday Mornings

I’m having one of those mornings.  I feel like the day hasn’t actually started.  First of all, it’s super gray outside.  Maybe-you-should-just-go-hide-in-the-back-of-the-library-all-day type of gray.  Also, I’m currently out of projects with deadlines, and man do I love a good deadline.  The hardest thing about art-related careers is that no one forces you to work.  When inspiration is low, doing that one thing to move your career ahead is difficult to find if you’re not running through the happy fields of creative abundance.  And unless you want to bang your head against a wall a few times, it doesn’t feel like inspiration is going to magically drop in.  It’s not like an office job where you have things waiting for you whether you like it or not.  Without an artistic project to chip away at, you’re left sitting staring at the birds hop around in the front yard.

As you know, I am in limbo of these two worlds.  I do have office work, but I also am trying to build my artistic career.  When these two are out of balance, I get grouchy.  I feel like every ounce of creativity stayed in bed while I somehow got myself in the car and to my desk chair.

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Downstairs, in one of our hallways (I work in a school office), there is a poster of the ocean with the words “SUCCESS” written across the bottom. It’s a bit like the one above.  Whenever I go past it I have a mini-existential crisis.  Is laying on the beach considered success?  Or is it the feeling you get when you’ve somehow gotten yourself to the beach?  I snap out of it, realizing that there are confused fourth graders watching me glare at the beach poster with a twisted, bitter look on my face. Good ol’ Crazy Administrator McGee is lost in the 4th grade hallway again.  Someone should shuffle her back to her office.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what picture I would choose to replace that ocean with.  My first thought, ironically, is a picture of the Atlantic ocean in Cape May, NJ.  Having the freedom to lay on the beach and write in Cape May all summer is actually a huge form of success for me, but there are other options too.  I’m also a big fan of the following:

  1. A rehearsal studio
  2. A piano
  3. An empty theatre before tech
  4. A hiking trail on a warm summer morning
  5. A table covered in food that I’ve cooked, surrounded by people I know (Stole this one from Under the Tuscan Sun. Because I have thing about wanting to be Diane Lane).
  6. And this long-standing daydream of me standing in the doorway of a log cabin with a cup of coffee and a dog sitting at my feet.  I don’t where this one comes from–but it appeared to me when a mediation exercise once asked me to envision my idea of success.  If this moment ever happens, I’ll post it here and freak out a bit.  Just need a log cabin and a dog.  Good on coffee.

As you can tell, my main way of bursting out of a creatively funky morning is writing down any darn thing that comes to mind.  Like this post. In case you feel like keeping the conversation going: what would your success poster look like?

If you had a funky morning too, I hope it gets better, and that you find a way to break through the cloudiness of the weather.

Thanks as always for reading:)