The Darker Side to My Arts Addiction

I started acting in this ridiculous field when I was a kid. Next year is my 25th anniversary of jumping off into the deep end. My parents–both veterans of the theatre world in different respects–warned me from the get-go not to fall into some of the common traps of growing up in theatre. They’d seen it all–the egomaniacs, the obsessives, the bad-mouthers, the creepy men. I lived in fear of becoming one of these spoilsports among an otherwise-supportive and wonderful community. But my parents were always–and remain–very supportive of my choice to follow this crazy business. In a nutshell, my mom often came back to quoting Stanislavski at me: “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cure to what seems to be a much larger problem in this oversaturated field today–not so much the over-confidence, but the opposite–the constant feeling that you’re banging your head against a door that won’t open. The complete disconnect between effort and results. The fruitless pep talks after your 3rd audition of the week that leads to nothing but silence. I see less and less puffing of the ego feathers in audition spaces and more exhaustion, self-deprecation, and encouragement of unhealthy habits.

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AOC Challenge Week 6 & 7: Break Time

Photo via Unsplash

Hi All! I’ve hit a wonderfully busy time of my year, and for my own sanity, have decided to give myself a blogging pass for a bit until things settle down. In the meantime, last week’s On Being episode speaks to a lot of what I’ve been contemplating here. If you need a nice lift this morning, have a listen to this episode.

One of my favorite clips from the interview transcript, referring to a distancing that has occured since the election…

MS. BROWN: Yeah, no, we’ve sorted ourselves into ideological bunkers. And what’s so crazy is how that social demographic changing — of sorting into those ideological bunkers — tracks exactly with increasing rates of loneliness. And so I would argue that — and this goes back to your paradox — nine times out of ten, the only thing I have in common with the people behind those bunkers is that we all hate the same people. And having shared hatred of the same people or the same — I call it “common enemy intimacy” —

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, right. That’s such a good phrase.

MS. BROWN: Our connection is just an intimacy created by hating the same people, is absolutely not sustainable. It’s counterfeit connection.

MS. TIPPETT: So it’s not true belonging.

MS. BROWN: Oh, God, it’s not true belonging, it’s hustling of the worst magnitude. It’s just hustling. And so my question was, for the men and women who really carried this sense of true belonging in their hearts — they didn’t negotiate it with the world; they carried it internally; they brought belonging wherever they went because of their strength and their spiritual practice around it — what did they have in common? And so this first practice of true belonging is, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?

MS. TIPPETT: Actually, I think, the real spiritual practice — or at least hand in hand with that — the spiritual practice you’re pointing at is reclaiming our belonging, our human belonging, and having a courage to stand alone in our own groups, to transcend the tribal politics. Is that fair?

MS. BROWN: Yes. That’s exactly right.

MS. TIPPETT: So that we defy the sorting. We just say, “We’re not gonna live this way.”

MS. BROWN: I’ve probably been in front of — let me think — realistically, 25,000 people since this book came out, on a book tour across the United States. And every time, I ask the audiences, “Raise your hand if you deeply love someone whose vote in 2016 you find incomprehensible.” And 99% of hands go up. And we have to find a way. Then I ask, “How many of you are willing to sever permanently your relationship with the person you love, because of their vote?” And maybe one or two hands goes up.

I’m not; I am personally not willing to do that. Now I’m not going to tolerate abuse, or I’m not going to tolerate dehumanizing language. I’m not going to have a curious and open dialogue with someone whose politics insists on diminishing my humanity. Those are lines that were very clear with the research participants. But short of that, I’m going to lean in, and I’m going to stay curious.

AOC Challenge Week 5: Soup Kitchen Time!

Hello! in 2018, I’ve decided to start my own personal writing challenge based on “Acts of Connection,” something I hoped to further develop after hiking the Camino de Santiago. You can find the whole story here

I’m a tad behind here, so get ready for a two-post week!

On the first night of my Camino in 2017, in a massive old Cathedral-turned-pilgrim hostel, Christina and I poked through a table of hiking gear left by previous pilgrims. After that terrible trek over the Pyrenees, you’re usually willing to give up that “just in case” sleeping pad or $200 extra pair of shoes. Anything to make your pack lighter. For so many of us, those tables were god-sends. When my hiking socks left me with a new blister every day, I found a new pair of unused socks that rescued my poor, desperate feet.

At the end of most days, a family or local restaurant pooled their resources and cooked a low-cost or donation-based dinner for all us carb-starved pilgrims. The generosity never failed to bring half the table to tears. Maybe we’re just an emotional bunch. When the volunteer chef entered the dining room with that giant pan of paella, you better believe the whole room cheered.

Last week, when I found myself in a particularly low mood, I took another shift at our local soup kitchen in Montclair. I started volunteering there after the election. Full of rage and desperation for hope, I realized I couldn’t sit around anymore feeling hopeless about humanity.

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AOC Challenge Week 4: The Women’s March

Hello! in 2018, I’ve decided to start my own personal writing challenge based on “Acts of Connection,” something I hoped to further develop after hiking the Camino de Santiago. You can find the whole story here

Christina looking fierce. Photo used with permission.

Toward the end of election night, when things really started to go south, Ben and I took a walk. We were in the next town over, watching the returns with a group of close friends. We headed into a nearby park, lit up by glowing, old-fashioned oil lamps–something the village of this town is known for. It was beautiful outside. Misty, but unseasonably warm. It’s always interesting how the weather refuses to reflect the state of the world.

At one point, we stopped walking, a mutual agreement without words. “I feel like the earth is in mourning.” I’ve never felt such piercing sadness–for the fate of the earth’s health, for anyone outside of the 1%, for all my friends (and those I didn’t know) that belong to any minority soon to be targeted by this administration. I mourned for those who had given into their fear, sadness and loneliness, who had been duped by this administration. I mourned for the years of healing it would take to recconect, long after this is all behind us.

This mutual pain eventually turned into loneliness. Apparently, we were outnumbered by those willing to put other’s needs before our own. At least that’s how it felt.

Eight months later, I’d find myself in a room full of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, singing with a group of nuns in the middle of nowhere. They asked the room, “Why did you decide to walk to the Camino?” People answered the question in all languages, from all over the world, from different backgrounds and religions.

When my turn came, I surprised myself by saying, “I needed to believe in humanity again.” The room nodded in understanding. Since I’ve returned home, I’ve continued to this search. The “real world” is often alienating, especially compared to a five-week hike built around unwavering generosity and community.

For this week’s challenge, I decided to reach out to my circles online, requesting stories from an event that I did not experience first hand. I hope to invite more guest writers throughout this upcoming year.

Though we have a long way to go, movements like The Women’s March have energized otherwise silent or disconnected individuals into a mutual movement. In fundraising, one of the hardest challenges is getting someone to donate for the very first time–the same goes with activism. Sure, these marches are just the beginning and there’s more to be done, but for many people, the marches provided a day of identity, a reminder that we can connect in world that avoids eye contact.

Some people have been asking why we march. I am not here to explain that lengthy list right now, but you can read it here. For my writing project purposes, I must celebrate this homegrown Camino energy that has come from people reconnecting through the care and service of others.

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to massage me with both positive and not-so-positive takes on your experience. Your courage inspires me to keep moving. It heals the hurt and anger from those horrible months. And as I hoped for in my hike, it helps me continue in my journey to believe in humanity again.

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AOC Challenge Week 3: Let’s Talk About Breweries

Hello! in 2018, I’ve decided to start my own personal writing challenge based on “Acts of Connection,” something I thought about while hiking the Camino de Santiago. You can find the whole story here

Quick note before I start: This week’s challenge was supposed to be about attending the NYC Women’s March. Due to an audition and an unmovable doctor’s appointment, it was not in the cards for me this year. BUT! I would love to put together a blog post mid-next-week about your experience at any of the Marches, this year’s or last. Please feel free to send me (through here or through Facebook) a short paragraph about how marching may have strengthened your feeling of connection and unity with the world and community around you. I will put them together in a post around Thursday!  Thanks in advance!

But without further ado:


Except for that dark year when doctors believed I was allergic to gluten, Ben and I have always been beer people. At least we thought we could be considered beer people at the time. Micro breweries had yet to enter our lives. As we move further and further away from the age where it’s acceptable to blow way too much money sitting at a bar and stumbling home at 2am, we started searching for something to fill that social gap. Sometimes you just can’t sit inside and play with your cats or watch another rerun of The Good Place again.

From 2000 to 2016, craft breweries in America shot up 165%. In New Jersey, this jump reached 203% in just four years due to legislation that increased licenses to microbreweries and loosened serving and distribution laws. Now you can drink at a small brewery after doing a tour of the facilities–which is usually done with a beer in hand.

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AOC Challenge Week 2: Coffee and People Watching!

Hello! in 2018, I’ve decided to start my own personal writing challenge based on “Acts of Connection,” something I thought about while hiking the Camino de Santiago. You can find the whole story here. In a nutshell, the past year’s terrifying political climate has distanced me even more from my community, and I’m seeking 52 ways to reconnect with other humans and cultures. I hope it will be a helpful–albeit, wacky–guide for those feeling the same way now or in the future.

My weekly challenge hit an early-in-the-year snag because my “Camino knee” has started acting up again. Apparently whacking my leg against a kickboxing bag isn’t great for a messed-up knee joint. So alas, my plan to try Kundalini Yoga for this project must wait a few weeks.

And so, this suddenly left me without an Act of Conneciton for week two. Enter my favorite freelancing coffee shop–something I’ve very quickly learned to take for granted after only 4 months of freelancing. When I worked in an office–even though it was incredibly social and friendly–I found myself hitting a wall of loneliness by 11am. By nature, I need to move around, see the outdoors, and balance my alone time with seeing other human beings in order to stay sane.

Well, freelancing at home–as much as everyone drools over the potential of doing so–can be just as lonely. I find myself explaining my schedule to my cat, turning on podcasts to here another human beings’ voice, or hoping that the mailman will FINALLY wave back when he drops off our mail at 11. He’s got stuff to do, I get it. But I will befriend him if it’s the last thing I do.

Anyway, as I sit here in Montclair’s cozy, wood and burlap-filled coffee shop, desperately trying to find an activity to take the place of my yoga, I noticed something. It’s Thursday afternoon and this place is packed. In an office, I thought the world slowed to a halt during the week, that everyone else was wandering around with babies at this hour, that it would be quiet and tedious. And yet, as I sit here, I am watching a four-person knitting club, about 12 similar freelancers typing away like me, an arts society meeting (I eavesdrop), and the occasional adorable local toddler with her babysitter coming in for a cookie.

The man in the knitting group just finished the top of an ENTIRE sweater and put the darn thing on as he finished. That’s insane to me. I can’t finish half a scarf without it turning into an abstract dish rag. The arts society is a diverse group of feisty locals talking about benefitting a local nonprofit with their next event.  The pair sitting to the left of me has been talking about starting a fashion consulting business and the barista is talking about his trip to Spain. All of this buzz is topped off by lively Michael Jackson music.

If we’re really lucky, this adorable two-year-old comes in with her sitter, and let me tell you, she is the star of the neighborhood. Since they come in around the same time every day, she knows the baristas and half the usual writers sitting here sipping their third coffee. High-fiving a toddler wearing a unicorn hat is a welcomed break to editing marketing copy.

So why does this matter? And why would all these random people in one make-shift office mean so much to me? Because for at least five years, all I’ve dreamed of doing is joining their ranks. It never fails in helping me beat the midday blues. A packed Thursday morning coffee shop is a reminder that things are happening, even when I feel like the world has stopped within my own small bubble. People are meeting, creating things, starting new ideas. And I’m allowed to be among them. This energy is infectious. You don’t have to talk to your cat or feel like the world is disappearing when you sit among this energy.

But experiencing this simple phenomena has nothing to do with freelancing. The first time I ditched life for a coffee shop was during my semester abroad in London. I was incredibly overloaded, getting sick, and was simply burning out. So I took off on a Monday and wandered through the streets of London. I was a stranger, unseen, weaving around the bustling business folk. I had no plan, no destination, just the chance to blend and become invisible a crowd of Monday people.

I eventually ended up in a cafe with a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee, journaling about all the crap I needed to get out of my head. The weekday coffee shop saved me. And it has continued to save me.

So I will put this on my list: when feeling disconnected, pick a local, small-business coffee shop and come soak in the energy of the place in the middle of the week. If you can, take one day off, or just take a longer lunch.

It didn’t occur to me until recently that non-writers may not spend as much time soaking in this world as I do. People-watch, write and ramble in a journal, doodle, read a book. Just soak in the energy of a community. It’s an ambivert’s dream! You get the energy of being social without having to talk to anyone!

Until next week, thanks for reading, all.


AOC Challenge Week 1: I Punched Some Things!

Hello! in 2018, I’ve decided to start my own personal writing challenge based on “Acts of Connection,” something I thought about while hiking the Camino de Santiago. You can find the whole story here. In a nutshell, the past year’s terrifying political climate has distanced me even more from my community, and I’m seeking 52 ways to reconnect with other humans and cultures. I hope it will be a helpful–albeit, wacky–guide for those feeling the same way now or in the future.

Week One: CKO Kickboxing class in Lyndhurst, NJ

“So what happens if you can’t keep up and need a break?” I asked Ben, panicked, “do you just lie down on the ground?”

“Like in the fetal position?!” he asked.

“That’s what you do in yoga class!”

I wish this was me, I dig her tattoos. But alas, it is an awesome stock photo by Matheus Ferroro.

It feels odd starting this challenge with a kickboxing class. But connection comes from unexpected experiences, and I’m a little tired of the traditional advice for feeling less alienated in today’s society. So I figured, let’s start out with a bang. Or a punch. Oh boy.

My husband Ben has been kickboxing for years. Though I took one trial class with him years ago, I never got the courage to get myself back in there. These classes are no joke. They put my hiking strength to shame. But they also supply something I didn’t even know I needed until it was available to me–the opportunity to safely hit something with all my might.

It’s important to note that I am not a violent person. I carry fruit flies outside in cups (they only get a month to live!). I’m still thinking about a spider I killed because it came at me in the shower a month ago. And yet, an hour of slamming my body into a heavy bag of sand made me realize how much I’d been missing out on. If anything, it will keep me–and probably many others–from ever getting angry enough to be violent in the first place. It also, much to my surprise, became a plausible act of connection perfect for this project.

Expectations vs. Reality

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The 2018 Writing Project, Title TBD

1. The Inspiration

About two weeks into my hike across Spain this past summer, I posted this status on Facebook:

“Since I arrived, many people have asked why I decided to return to the Camino a second time. And honestly, I’ve found myself somewhat stuck on how to answer. All I know is that I needed to come back–but a less-than-clear answer has continued to bother me.

And then a few days ago, after running into quite an angry, confrontational, Trump-supporting pilgrim (an extreme rarity all around), I found myself asking why on earth he would choose such a pilgrimage–one that accepts all and celebrates every belief. I sat in a church, angry and crying, after he confronted me about my thoughts on protecting the environment. A difficult reality I had managed to avoid since leaving home came rushing back.

Since then, I’ve felt my guard up, worried I would see him again. But as I continued on today, and saw my line of fellow pilgrims friends ahead of me, I was reminded of something very important. Each day–on the Camino, other pilgrimages, and in everyday life–there are people all around the world seeking to grow and change in some way, to become more connected. The reason for seeking change is not important, what matters is that they know they can be better–more honest, more compassionate.

This is what I share with the pilgrim who confronted me. Why we came here does not matter–what matters is that we knew we needed to. And as angry as he made me feel, he is several kilometers behind me, with pilgrims surrounding him on all sides day after day. He is encircled by the fierce inclusivity of the Camino. We experience the same sunburn, the same blisters, we are taunted by the same relentlessly unchanging horizon of the endless Meseta–a sight that forces every pilgrim to reassess the contradictions of their character. In the end, there is no escaping the mind on this journey, and both he and I are no exception.

I will trust that the road, the welcoming eyes of the hospitalaros, and the unmatchable bond of a fellow pilgrim–no matter their beliefs or background–opens his mind to his angers and fears, no matter what his reasons for starting out on this bizarre journey. And I hope it does the same for me.

Whether I have future Caminos ahead of me or not, I do know I will continue to seek actions of connection, for it’s here that I am reminded of the genuine fierceness and determination of the human spirit to grow–even without goals, expectations, or a clear reason why.”

I never ran into this particular pilgrim again, at least not long enough to continue our discussion. What I did experience were countless moments of connection that bridged the spaces between age, country or belief. The Camino is an even playing field. You cannot “win” or “be better” at the hike than anyone else. Because of this, you are all the same, you guide and you bolster, you lovingly challenge while accepting your own mistakes. It is both a time to listen and a time to share your own story. Each human contributes to the spirit of the whole.

When I returned, my expected post-Camino crash kicked into action. The same thing happened after I returned in 2009. It’s a bit like working on a play and dealing with the indescribable loneliness in the few days after the production closes. Your temporary family parts ways, and though you promise to reunite as often as possible, you know deep down that it will never be the same. Life goes on, separately.

2. The Problem

I feel lucky to have seen this love, both in theatre and on the Camino, but the crash that comes from the return has opened my eyes to another problem: these opportunities of connection are often hard to find without encouragement. Even when Facebook helps us remain in touch with loved ones, we’re still looking through a glass screen in the solitude of wherever we are.

This past fall, Harvard Business Review did a study called Work and the Loneliness Epidemic. It states that over 40% of American adults report feeling lonely. It goes on to describe the psychological and therefore physical outcomes of stress and loneliness and how our social and professional structures do little to combat the growing space between communities.

As an actor and a writer, I’ve sat at many a reception desk for days at a time. As a temporary outsider, I often hear the otherwise-unspoken secrets of the office. I become the confessional booth for pent-up, disconnected corporate communities, unable to approach one another with their issues. In the heart of a human-packed city, people are bursting at the seams for true connection.

On the other side of the spectrum, I occasionally visit my hometown up in Sussex County, NJ, an area that has three main roads connecting it to the rest of the state. If these roads are snowed out, well, you just don’t go anywhere. When I visit my parents and run errands in town, I see the same looks of longing. I’ve gotten in long conversations with waiters, store clerks, old friends just about wanting to do something else, to feel more than their daily lives, to change.

This sense of disconnection, of not really belonging anywhere, bridges all demographics. Even if we’re surrounded by loving family, a passionate religious community or a job that hosts weekly coffee gatherings, this feeling of separateness can still ring true. If anything, it can be a bit worse because then it comes with the feeling “if I have all this, why do I feel alone?”

3. The Idea

I’ve decided that in 2018, I need a project, a tangible action. One that helps others based on feelings I deeply understand. 2017 was a challenging, relentless year. I feel taken apart, knocked down and a bit like there is no ground beneath my feet. This puts me in a perfect place to begin building again.

I would like to launch a year-long writing project that explores weekly “Actions of Human Connection.” I’m still working on this phrasing and would love ideas or feedback on the title.  Each week, I will write–narrative-style, since that seems to work for me–about one action someone can do to begin easing this feeling of separateness. It may be small, something possible to do on your own: go to a museum and experience a piece of history or work of art that lets you into the mind of someone from 100 years ago. Or it could be difficult, something that requires years of planning: how to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage, for example, or running a Tough Mudder. But mostly, it will be everything in between–practical actions that you can do to reconnect with a world that feels far away.

As someone who has battled with depression, sometimes all you’re capable of doing it laying and watching your computer screen. Well, perhaps there’s even a version of that for this project. I want it to be a guide for the days when you feel there is nothing to do, for times when you need something more, or that something is missing. Instead of saying “how can I improve my appearance, weight, health, etc.” this will be a guide to “How can I feel I am part of the narrative of human experience?”

With two days left in the year, I have quite a challenge ahead of me: try to begin planning 52 actions of connection, one for each week.

4. Where You Come In

For this, I would love your help. How do you reconnect with the world or with other communities when you feel separated? Do you have a religious or spiritual community? A running club? A knitting club? Or do you visit somewhere on your own–a particular park, a movie theatre, a library? Do you volunteer with an organization? Do you visit the zoo?? Do you see a play?

Anything. I want to hear them. And if you’re part of a community that I am not a part of, such as a religion, I would love to come with you to a service. I mean all religions. I’ve never felt it would be respectful for me to go alone, but if it would be appropriate for me to tag along as an open-minded guest, I am all for it. I want to see and tell the story of where we are connecting, where we’re succeeding in coming together.

As always, thanks for reading. This blog has often become my own lifeline, my own way of feeling heard and reconnected.

Sending all my love to you this New Year’s Eve.






On The Other Side of Oral Surgery

Pain meds + iced cream + ice sculptures

Last night, I broke down crying over a slice of bread because it had seeds in it. Man, was I excited to try that bread, it was supposed to be a victory lap after three-and-a-half days of very successful healing. But I’m not supposed to eat seeds yet, and this bread turned out, had seeds. And that was the end of me. I fell into a pit of self-despair as I poured myself another damn bowl of soup.

Obviously, the break in my emotional dam was not really about seeds. This has not been a good few months. When I got back from the Camino in August, I developed a white spot on one of my gums next to a crowned tooth. As someone with unexplainable dental issues since childhood (one of those issues being a debilitating fear of dentists), this spot sent me into a panic and a slump. As a child, I ate the same amount of sugary junk any other 90s child seemed to eat, and yet my friends came out with clean bills of health from the dentist, and I did not. I didn’t get it. I brushed, I flossed, I used that mouthwash where you squeeze the bottle and it fills up the cup on the top. As an adult, I’m borderline obsessive about my teeth. I was excited to work from home so I could brush my teeth more. I’ve nearly completely cut out sugar and I’ve looked into acid reflux. And so I linked my oral health to humiliation and the inability to do something right. It must not be enough, I must be doing something wrong. No one else talks about tooth issues, so it must just be me, right?

Back to August:

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A Story About a Bee and a Hug

On the second-to-last day of our hike to Santiago, Christina and I weren’t exactly on the top of our game. While Christina’s physical health was wavering, my mental stability and patience with the trip fell more and more each minute. I was growing weary of the whole ordeal, which is not where you want to be at the end of a spiritual pilgrimage.

After failing to find a bed in the cozy private hostel nearby, we ran across the speedy highway to a small “village,” made up of one bar, the public hostel, and a gazebo with a Jesus-looking man selling books (if the historically inaccurate white Jesus from your American Catholic School textbook aged a few years and sold books on the side of a dirt road).

He waved with kind eyes and his yellow lab came out to greet us. This made me laugh a bit, as I had been making a “joke” in my head for about a week of wanting to find Jesus. Not in the sense that many Christians mean–though I deeply respect their beliefs, I do not share them. Instead, this Buddhist on a Catholic pilgrimage was slowly turning into a grouchy insomniac with a bruised bone on the top of her foot that just wanted to go home. And so, I had spent the past week desperately longing to rediscover the human connection millions had found in these little Camino villages, churches, and roads, but had somehow eluded me the closer we got to our destination.

We waved back and walked down the road to a bench outside the albergue (Camino word for hostel), as it did not open until 1. It was noon. As Christina tried to prop herself up and sleep a bit, her obvious fever growing, giant Mack trucks flew by us approximately every 10 seconds. Hoards of happy, energized pilgrims that had only just started their walk a week prior, bounced on to the next city, waving as they passed and looking with an air of “You alright?” each time.

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