If “Acting is Doing” Then What is Everything Else?

Oh hey, it’s 21-year-old me, getting a B in historical dance because I never “stepped out of my comfort zone” (I’M NOT BITTER, YOU’RE BITTER.) Okay, on with the blog post.

My acting teacher in London was never a huge fan of me. Though I like to believe I’m a rather agreeable human, I consistently clash with a very specific personality. We’re like two liquids that simply cannot occupy the same space. In one of our first classes, she asked us in a raspy tone, “What IS acting?!” She then buried her head in her hands and waited for us to respond.

Oh brother, I thought.

We made our educated guesses — quite prolifically may I add — for a solid five minutes until her frustration peaked. If I’d known she just wanted us to quote Stella Adler then we could have gotten on with the class. But our school was of the “break them down until they think they’re morons so we can provide them with new confidence” mentality. Kind of like a cult.

“Acting…is DOING,” she yelled at the eight of us.

Hoo boy.

As an adult who misses acting with every fiber of her being, I have a better appreciation for diving into the different philosophies of how to build a character. At the time, however, I didn’t want to start from scratch and I didn’t want to waste our quick four months together getting barked at for not winning the “expert acting teacher” guessing game.

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The World Opens Up to You When You’re Not a Douche

Yay not being a douche!

I realize that the title of this post is a bit off-brand for me, but I couldn’t think of anything sugar-coated to really sum up my morning.

Around 11am, I headed off to my usual coffee spot to get some work done. On my walk, I greeted the guy who owns the antique store, the waiters at the local outdoor diner and the man who owns the men’s clothing store. We talked about how we both have bad knees and I asked how his is holding up with the storm coming.

When I walked into the cafe, there was one man in front of me — 30’s hipster type, not particularly off-putting or daunting, just standard Montclair Freelancer Man. And then I heard him say something odd but couldn’t make out what it was. All I knew is that it was rude — no, beyond rude, it was some sort of attack. Everyone around him stopped and stared. He puffed up his chest and locked eyes with one of my favorite baristas. She stood dumfounded at what to stay. A few moments later, he stormed out.

“Whhaaaat was that about?” I asked. She looked startled.

“He stared into my eyes for a really long time in silence and then asked why I was charging him for a refill. Then he wouldn’t stop staring. I didn’t know what to do. It freaked me out.”

The other baristas and I helped her shake off his weirdness. Meanwhile, that a-hole went on about his day.

I headed home later, the weirdness of the guy behind me and, it seemed, behind the barista as well. I crossed the street and found myself in the pathway of a woman about my age hurrying somewhere. We did that awkward which-way-are-you going dance and when I smiled and said, “Excuse me,” she rolled her eyes and made a childish huffing sound past me. Something in the air today, I thought.

On the rest of my walk, I pondered what life must be like to carry anger and fear around on the surface that way. No matter where it comes from — pride, righteousness, exhaustion — that behavior must all go back to anger and fear. And however it appears, it’s rarely about the person receiving it, if ever. Still, do these people even know how much they’re missing out on by projecting their anger everywhere?

Quick note: Please know I am talking about people who have the ability to seek help for mental health issues. I’ve struggled with problems for years — in some phases of my life, serious ones. If my anger or anxiety gets out of control, I seek help and I realize I have that I privilege to do so. It is within my power, and therefore if my responsibility, to not redirect it toward the rest of the world. In this post, I’m speaking about the regular schmo carrying their rudeness about like a badge of honor.

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A Note on Belonging

I had a pretty difficult time returning from both of my Caminos. The noise of American televisions, the lack of connection with people in your neighborhood as you walk down the street, the speed of everyday life. The biggest shock driving home from the airport was the rigid geometry of the streets in our suburban town. Everything was a square: the yards, the houses, the intersections.

My left brain, which found some sweet rest while hiking across Spain, grumbled out of hibernation as I tried to adapt back to a regular, monotonous town and schedule. The sound of English was jarring–I missed being forced to find the overlaps in our shared languages to interact.

On the other hand, the Camino opened a social doorway for me. On at least five or six occasions, I’ve had the chance to sit down with other Camino pilgrims and long-distance hikers right after they’ve returned from their own trips. No matter what we talk about, I always ask them the same question: how have you been adjusting to coming home?

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The Light at the End of an Obstacle-Filled, Obnoxiously Long Tunnel

Whenever my stress hangs around for long enough, I start having Plainfield nightmares. Plainfield is the town where I grew up until I was 11. It was less than safe and far from pleasant. Last night I dreamt that that there were people outside the house, people I couldn’t see–I usually can’t–banging on the doors and windows trying to get in. I try to lock the doors, but somehow I know I’ve forgotten one lock at the other side of the house and spend the dream sprinting from place to place, trying to lock them all in time. In last night’s dream, a giant wind whipped through the house, keeping me from closing everything without the wind blowing them back open.

My last blog post was mid-Camino writing. As always, an unforeseen rhythmic change in life derailed my usual patterns of writing and habits of self-care. I took a month-long job in an office with a three-hour round-trip commute, Ben and I moved apartments (which was far from drama-free), and I’ve hit one of the longest freelance dry spells I’ve had since this all started.

Also, I broke my toe on Sunday. There’s nothing like hobbling slowly through Manhattan during rush hour when everything looks like a possible toe-smashing device. A bunch of Amtrak-bound girls donned in bachelorette gear came at me with rolling suitcases last night in Penn Station and I almost balled up into the fetal position.

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It’s Time To Clear Off the Tables

Photo via Unsplash

Last night I had a dream about climbing a snow-covered hill on the Camino.  I could see a group ahead of me, Christina and some other familiar faces among them, all cresting the hill and out of sight.  It wasn’t snowing, but there were at least six inches of thick wet slush on the trail, weighing down each step. Suddenly, a strong wind lifted me off my feet and carried me, not unlike a bird caught in a crosswind, off the trail and into an adjoining field.  I saw my fellow pilgrims getting further and further away, continuing on as I stood far from the path.  Just up the hill from my landing place, was the extension of a long, endless cafe.  The building began at the crest of the mountain, back on the Camino itself, but stretched out all the way to my part of the field, like a long one-floor corridor with old dusty windows and wood-framed doors.

When I walked up to see inside, rows and rows of unused, antique cafe chairs and tables lined the corridor, clearly untouched for years.  It had a spooky, forgotten quality, and I worried in the dream that I might see something unexpected in the shadows of the dream cafe.  But suddenly, in the distance back by the trail, I saw the cafe’s lights begin to flicker on, showing signs of life for the first time in what was clearly a long time.

As quickly as the first gust came along, another gust of wind lifted me back to the Camino and I enthusiastically began to climb to the snowy hill to catch up with my fellow pilgrims.  The incline became so steep that I began digging my hands into the snow, pulling myself up the hill.  But I wasn’t angry or afraid at this point, just fighting through the all-too-familiar exhaustion faced at the end of each Camino day.

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Aaaaand We’re Back

Man.  Well that was something.

In a nutshell, we did indeed walk from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago de Compostella.  After a pesky foot injury, I came very, very close to skipping a stage by bus, but somehow it just never happened.  I’m not sure I’m proud of ignoring my body’s message, but my foot does seem to be healing, so there’s that.  It took 34 days, spanned 799 kilometers, and required one roll of kinesthetic tape, several boxes of bandaids, one container of compede, almost a full container of an ancient salve for pilgrim joints and skin problems, an unknown number of bottles of wine and plates of patatas bravas, several midday beers, approximately four emotional meltdowns, and a lot of pep talks.  Compared to my last Camino?  The word that keeps coming to mind is: harder.  My body, mind, and life is significantly different.  Processing all the moments of beauty and all the days of endless difficulties is something I am only, slowing beginning to tackle.  And writing it down feels a bit farther away. I can say for certain that the miraculous world of the Camino still provides all the love, protection, and support that anyone needs to get through the mountains of self-doubt and endlessly developing blisters the morning hours bring.  But more on that later. For now, my emotional brain needs a snooze.

After many years of waiting, obsessive planning, and borderline-neurotic budgeting, I am finally a freelancer.  On my first morning over here, I am currently one- for-one with showering, eating a proper breakfast, and putting on real-people clothing.  Ben bought me a sweet little bird statue and I have decided that he is my freelancing mascot.  I have yet to name him/her.  Perhaps Carmella II–after my Camino walking stick that I had to leave behind in Santiago. She will be missed.  Anyway, though I’m handling my panic quite well, this is all a bit terrifying–this whole “getting what you want and hoping it works out” thing. Three nights ago, I landed at JFK, bleary-eyed, confused, and crotchety after a full 24 hours of travel to get from a hotel room in Santiago de Compostella to the apartment I have dreamed of laying my eyes on for the past six weeks.

At the moment, I still feel odd even adjusting my eyes to the look of a computer screen. My brain has not required this type of focus since late June, and I’m shocked at how strange it feels to stare at one white square while trying to type this out.

So instead of totally freaking out at the freelancing task ahead of me, I’m starting with small, controllable steps.  And when I reach the day (hopefully very soon) when I can genuinely begin to piece together the stories from my second Camino, this will be its immediate home.

Until then, this is where I’m at logistically:

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The Counting Down of Days

I’ve always been a calendar counter.  When I was a kid, I used to pick something in the future to look forward to and write numbers across the little boxes on my wall calendar.  I’d cross them off with big markered x’s, even occasionally adding a half slash around noontime.  As a now-Buddhist, this isn’t ideal.  The days and moments leading up to a change are not to be scratched off a calendar or discounted as unimportant.

And yet about a year ago, I began counting.  The months at first, then the Mondays, then the workdays.  Last June I could say for certain that I had 12 months left until I could walk away from a desk life.  And even though it had been very good to me, I disconnected from a part of myself.  And so I counted. And I set my sights on the landmarks that would remind me of the passage of the year.  The seasons, the holidays, the little celebrations in between.  I wanted to time to pass so quickly that I discounted the most obvious factor–one that you’d think I would have learned after 30 years of counting–life happens, and sometimes really happens whether you decide to keep your head down and count the hours or not.  A year ago, I saw the upcoming 12 months as just that–time to be passed.  And now that they are gone, I see them for what they were: a year of life changing, earth-shattering changes, troubles, and celebrations.  Long sleepless evenings, beautiful nights of friendship and love, and endless reminders of the strength of a strong community.

To honor a year that never deserved to be counted down on a calendar, here is the year I never expected–the year that lead me to the start of my Camino, or perhaps was the beginning of it in the first place:

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BRB: Ukulele Parade

Today I celebrated the Summer Solstice by marching in a ukulele parade.  I do not, sadly, play the ukulele, but I did play a mean plastic maraca and tried to sing along.  Also, I broke a curse! This was the first official parade that I’ve ever  marched in.  I’ve been scheduled to march in several parades since I was a kid, but three now have been rained out.  So with my merry band of about 10 people and my awesome coworker Pia, I finally broke my cancelled parade streak.

It’s important to note that I’ve had more coffee today than I’ve consumed in the past week put together.  Reading over the letters of this blog post is like trying to catch sentences bouncing around a screen.  My health has finally improved, and so coffee is my friend again.  Also, I clearly needed an iced coffee to make the ukulele parade an even more beautiful experience.  So if this post doesn’t quite make sense, have a coffee, then reread.

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Solvitur Ambulando

Mid-Camino-Training Walk

I’ve had a serious case of blogging writer’s block.  Even writing this blog post has lead me to extreme distraction and procrastination.  I am now currently pan frying some brussels sprouts, because A. I was craving vegetables, B. That Kerry Gold butter we splurged on isn’t going to eat itself, and C. Cooking is not blogging. To be fair however, at least I feel like writing again.  Though I have written a good amount in the past year, it’s all primarily been a reflection of how lousy things have been since November.  So coming out of my eight-month anxiety cocoon is a welcomed feeling–the wedding I had a huge role in planning has passed, the film I partially produced is all set, and my non-career-related job that I’ve held down for two and a half years is in its final days.  And most importantly, a trip I’ve planned/saved for/talked about for nearly seven years is three weeks away.

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I Never Wanted a Barbie Dream House

On my drive to work this morning, an old Barbie Dream House had been left out on their curb for bulk trash day.  And of course, it’s raining, so it was a wildly depressing sight. But the size of the thing!  That dollhouse, now crumbling and filling with water, must have been up to my hip and as wide as my car door.  I started to think about a reoccurring memory from childhood–sitting in my school friend’s bedroom, “playing” with that massive Playmobil mansion (I could have sworn it was Lego, but the internet tells me otherwise). It seemed like everyone got the same gift for Christmas that year.  We were barely allowed to change around any of the pieces, so I use the term “play” loosely.  The massive toy house had several floors, an epic front yard, a full cleaning staff, and all of these little lego flowers that you could “plant” around the garden.  I thought about how my cats would probably eat these lego-like pieces in a heartbeat if I had it at home.  To me, sitting there, staring at this untouchable dollhouse, was a rare, mature moment of clarity in elementary school when I thought, “I do not need this bougie dollhouse in my life.”

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