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

BG 2

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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The 7 Types of Online Commenters

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

I reached a nice milestone in my writing career this week–I learned to stop looking at the comments when my articles are published on mainstream websites.  This wasn’t an issue in the beginning.  I only wrote on my personal blog, which I shared with my Facebook circle–a group I feel is full of tactful, educated people.  However, when my writing made the leap to a wider audience, I hit a rough adjustment period.  Up until then, I spent my days wrapped in a safety blanket of ignorance, only occasionally receiving criticism–and if I did, it was a constructive and usually very helpful.

Jump ahead to the summer when my writing took off a bit, and the floodgates opened to not only a wider supportive crowd, but also a whole different one as well–the rest of the online commenter community.  Or, the angry mob, if you will. For a while, I had a hard time looking away from the train wreck of comments that would follow one of my articles–people who thought I was attacking them, people who thought I was lazy, or my personal favorite–people who didn’t read the article (admit they didn’t read it), but rip into the idea anyway, usually talking about an issue in their own lives.

Luckily, I have a very supportive husband and group of friends that taught me to “just say no” to reading, or giving any weight, to nonconstructive online criticism.  But as someone who writes about feelings and human interaction a whole bunch, I still can’t look away.  I’ve been watching Jon Ronson’s TED Talks , and am starting to read his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed:A Journey Through the World of Public Humiliation.  He has a lot of good points.  In his talk last summer, he paints the picture of a time when Twitter was used to display our insecurities in order to connect with similar people. Nowadays, unfortunately, Twitter seems to be out to “get” people, ready to jump on a poorly-worded joke or a less-popular idea.  It can be about getting attention for upholding your personal ideologies, even at the writer’s expense.  What’s most fascinating, is that many of these people, usually egged-on by groupthink, genuinely think they’re fighting for some good cause.

Amidst all this seriousness though, all I can do at the moment is laugh in the face of negativity.  It isn’t right, and not funny for the people who are being attacked.  But instead of wasting my anger on them, I will celebrate their comments in the only way I know how–sarcasm.

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xoJane Article Publication

Happy Monday, everyone!  One of my articles was published on xoJane today.  I’m staying away from the comments section–clearly it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  But this is a great exercise for me in learning to take the good with the bad as a writer.  As they say in teaching–if you reached one person, you succeeded:)

Also, thank you for all the support with The Native Navigator this past week!  Still a huge work in progress, but I’m really proud with where it’s been going.

Have a lovely week, all!

I’m an Ambitious Woman Who Feels Guilty for Relaxing, And I’m Not the Only One

IMG_0967

Confidence vs. Context: An Artist’s Dilemma

Creative Commons by Josefa Holland-Merten

Creative Commons by Josefa Holland-Merten

When I was little, and acting came more easily to me, I was constantly told to make sure it “didn’t go to my head.”  Because I was an anxious child, I immediately tucked this idea up on the shelf with the other “Things to be Super Terrified Of,” and decided that being conceited was one of the worst fates of the artist.  To go a step further, I started to wonder: why are people mentioning it so much?  Has it already happened?

It wasn’t until my teens that I realized I was actually afraid of confidence itself.  My dad, always my strongest supporter, would step in for me when asked what show I was working on–not because he was overbearing, but because I would shut down when someone gave me an open door to celebrate my work.  I started to realize that my fear of big-headedness had ruined my ability to believe in what I was doing.  These fears were confirmed when a bitter acting teacher  in high school announced in front of my class that I “thought I was better than everyone else because of my ‘big, fancy’ professional credits.”  So I shut  my mouth and that was that.

Fast forward fifteen years, and it’s very clear I am not remotely alone in this feeling.

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Our Guilt Isn’t Getting Us Anywhere

Creative Commons via Unsplash

Creative Commons via Unsplash

Several months ago, I wrote an article for Offbeat Home about trying to make it through a yoga practice without stopping to clean up balls of cat hair floating by my face. Even though I’m still working on making peace with my occasionally fuzzy home, I still have issues meditating in the morning without glaring around the room in horror at all the papers out of place or sneaky dust piles that crept up over night.  It wasn’t until this morning that I recognized this feeling as guilt.  To my surprise, I feel guilty about dust, and somehow, about pretty much everything else.

Here’s my own cycle of guilt, in a nutshell:  It’s dusty in here because I don’t clean enough, I don’t clean enough because I’m balancing two careers at once, I’m balancing two careers at once because my primary career has yet to be financially sustaining, it would be financially sustaining if I were more talented.  The guilty accusations go round and round and round.  Substitute other life issues–family trouble, relationship bumps, money issues–and you have my brain on any given day.

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When Mainstream Advice Doesn’t Do It for You

I have a love-hate relationship with social media and blogging that fluctuates daily.  On the one hand, this community of 24-hour connection–whether you’re in a dense city packed to the gills with crowds, or in a Midwest office surrounded by prairies–can be a true gift.  It spreads ideas, it encourages opinionated discussions, and it allows for people to “stay” in your life, long after you’ve started hiking down a different path.  All good stuff.  Hooray interwebs.

It can also be incredibly alienating at times.  For the past several months in particular, I’ve been finding that the inspirational “go-get-’em-champ” part of the internet has been causing me to squish my face into a bitter twisted scowl, paired with an annoyed eye roll.

Photo on 2-18-16 at 1.38 PM

A bit like this.

Stock photos of women standing on cliffs doing yoga with a superimposed text misusing Joseph Campbell’s “Follow Your Bliss” quote, don’t really do it for me.  It never has.  Honestly, they just make me nervous because I’m not particularly fond of heights.

cliff

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Avoiding Negativity in the Groundhog Season

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

A few mornings ago, I woke up to an article on Elephant Journal about what is know as the Buddhist Dön season (vowel pronounced like “could”).  In a nutshell, the ten days leading up to the Tibetan New Year (this year on February 9th) are believed to enhance our awareness of daily obstacles and provoke frustration with our current situation.  Whether you believe in this type of thing or not, it’s hard to ignore the how many people feel during this part of the winter — sick of the cold, overwhelmed with cabin fever, and angry at Punxsutawney Phil.  Even with the unseasonably warm temperatures this week, I can feel my body and mind going into that slump that I always battle around this time.  Not enough vitamin D, dry skin, angry immune system, and vehement annoyance toward slushy puddles.  But underneath all this annoyance, is the possibility of a plan for the much lovelier months ahead.

Since we are about to hear from Phil tomorrow, and the Dön season conveniently overlaps with February 2nd, I will call this Groundhog Season for my own purposes of this blog post.  I’ve had a lot of extreme highs and very low lows over the past several weeks.  I started this Whole Life Challenge, I was cast in a show, and have begun auditioning again.  On a good day, I feel energized by my sugar detox, over the moon about finally being cast again (especially in a company I have such  a wonderful history), and can jump on each new audition and writing project with energy and impermanence.  And by impermanence, I mean I don’t beat myself up when nothing comes from the audition or a blog post flops.  On a not-so-good day, I get resentful toward salads with olive oil, am judgmental about artistic choices, and feel that I am falling farther and farther behind my artistic colleagues that don’t work 9-5s.

The latter description has been winning the battle the past several days, and strangely enough, finding out that this is a commonly recognized time of difficulty in the Buddhist calendar, made me feel a lot better.  No matter what you believe, there’s a reason why traditions like this come about.  And chances are, if you feel lousy at the same time every year, then you’re probably not alone.  The trick is accepting that the next few weeks will be bumpy, and extra attention is required to keep yourself from losing your cool (or in my case, eating all of the almond croissants.  That’s all I want.  Just one damn almond croissant).

Removable Obstacles

The first step for me, which I will start to take on this week, is removing the things in my life that invoke negativity.  I don’t think we should hide under our comforter and watch Chopped all week, as much as I would love to do that, or hide from anything that challenges us.  Hiding doesn’t work, I’ve tried.  But instead, recognizing what doesn’t serve us and removing it from our habits is a strong first step.  For me, this is Facebook.  On days, or weeks, when I’m feeling particularly aggravated with myself, digging through social media drives me up a wall.  I take all of my own achievements and place them below the announcements flooding my Facebook feed.  “Oh I’m in a show?  Well, that person just booked a national commercial and won a Tony.”  Really helpful, brain.  Also, not how I want to feel toward that friend.  So for me, detoxing from Facebook before I become a bitter secretary that talks about her glory days, is pretty imperative.

Replace Them with Ladders

Just removing something like Facebook doesn’t fix the problem for me.  I have to replace it with a new focus or I have no where to go when I zone out.  For some, this is puppy videos, which is totally cool.  For me, it has to be something relatively challenging or I start to slump farther into the “what am I doing with my life” pit of despair.  Every time I get the urge to wander through a news feed, I run to a podcast or website that is not related to other people’s rants, announcements, or motivational posters.  Telling me that I have to “jump into the deep end to reach my goals” or “build a rocket to reach the stars,” or whatever else, doesn’t actually help me in this moment.  It’s a nice thought with no practical instructions.  If the posters said, “Get up from your desk and go for a walk, you’ll feel better,” I’d be more into these types of things.  Either way, there’s nothing wrong with changing up your daily input.  It doesn’t make you weaker or less connected with your friends, but rather reminds you that there are a few negative sources can be controlled like a faucet, especially when many cannot.

Call out the problem

The most helpful part of the Dön season, is approaching this frustrating time of year with a Buddhist mindset.  Because of the weather, it is the hardest time of year for me to do this.  I recharge by going outside, and without this option, I start to close in on myself.  But Buddhism has never been a fan of hiding away or suppressing issues — it’s all about calling them out and even inviting them over for tea.  In the Shambala Times, a lovely Buddhist online magazine, a Dön is described as “anything that distract[s] us from engaging with the present moment in the most clear, precise, and authentic manner possible.”  I know that when I get distracted by resentment or jealousy, I waste countless hours wondering where I went wrong with my acting career, what else I “should” be doing, and why everyone else clearly has some magical answer.  Since I am tired of looking back on that wasted time, I’m trying a new approach cut out all this wallowing.

Here’s my new idea, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

  1. Make a list what is bothering you.  From big things like “I am always frustrated about money” to “My toe hurts.”
  2. Write possibilities (obvious ones), about what is causing them, such as, “You have more debt than income” to “I keep stubbing my toe”
  3. Brainstorm ideas of what would fix the problem, without yet considering if it is immediately possible or not.  For expample, “Get an extra job, build a budget, talk to a financial advisor, cut up your credit cards,” or “Move the table you keep stubbing your toe on”
  4. Here’s the fun whiney part.  Write out all the excuses (legitimate or not) why none of your solutions will work. “I have no time left in my week, I don’t know how to build a budget, financial advisors intimidate me/cost more money, I occasionally need my cards for emergencies,” or…you may find there are no excuses, and all you need to do is move the damn table.
  5. Look through your list and figure out which excuses are completely inflexible and which ones have even the slightest gleam of hope.  Anytime you see “I don’t know how,” start small, and list out possible places or people you can seek out help from.  Break it down to the very very early stages of change.  For example, you could google financial blogs about debt, look through your bank’s website for debt consolidation options, or even open an excel spreadsheet for 10 minutes a day in an attempt to build your own budgeting system that works for you.  If you found an answer in #3, then your flow chart has come to an end!
  6. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, document your progress and its purpose.  For example, I sought my current job out last year in order to eventually help my artistic career. In the long run, I will be in a much healthier financial and psychological place to return to the life of a full-time actor when the time comes.  But on days like today, in the midst of the Groundhog Season, it can be hard to remember that.  Each small step is a large part of a long hike (hey look, I made a poster quote!), but it’s important to remember the hike itself and how you are making progress.   The credit card payment, that unsuccessful audition, and even that short walk around the block, is all important.

Wow, this has turned into an epically long post, and I’m pretty thrilled that it’s given me some direction this morning.  Whether the unrest I’ve been feeling is a part of a larger cosmic season or just pure annoyance with the cold, I hope (as always) that a positive spin can be placed on this first day of a new winter month.  If you have any advice on how you tackle particularly negative moods and stages, please let me know below!  I always love to hear from you.

 

Thanks for reading and have a lovely week:)

Finding Your January Beach

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

It is very chilly today in North Jersey and something funky is going on with our heat.  And by something funky I mean it isn’t turning on.  Fortunately, because it’s a super old house, the pipes that heat my upstairs neighbors run through our floor, and since those are incredibly hot, they warm our apartment at the same time.  If they weren’t doing this, the cats, pipes, and I would be frozen ice cubes.  I would go join my upstairs neighbors (as they are lovely people), but alas, they are in Costa Rica.  The irony that I am freezing my buns off and mooching off their heated pipes as they lay on a hot beach, is very much not lost on me.  Luckily, I’m spending most of the day at work where it is nice and toasty due to a functional furnace the frenetic angst of middle schoolers.

My neighbors are some of the many people on Facebook who have made the brilliant choice to jump ship this January and head for sunnier shores.  Other than the obvious factors of money and responsibility, I’m not sure why we didn’t also find a way to leave town.  Coming back after the holidays is a bit like crawling out of the warm covers in the morning when you know your slippers and hoody are across a very chilly room.  If I could have returned to school wrapped in a  comforter, I would have.  To be fair, last year at this time, I spent most of my time at my desk wrapped in a  Snuggie.  Because I am an adult.

But alas, no matter how much I begrudge the pictures of warm feet on hot sandy beaches (usually flanked by cocktails), I am not going to magically wake up on a tropical island tomorrow.  And so my only option is to make the best of January, and find that Cape May State of Mind I long for this time of year.

A few years back, I took one Intensati class with a friend of mine.  It’s amazing how many times that one class comes up in blog posts.  It was a good one.  One thing we spoke about were desired mindsets- not desired life changes, necessarily, (because so many of those are out of our control) but mindsets–these are much more malleable.  The instructor asked us to pinpoint the part of our lives that caused us the most stress.  For me at the time, this was money.  She then said to imagine that our particular issue was solved.  100% gone.  It felt like such a tease — a mean trick to play on my brain.  I knew when I came out of it I would still be taking a free workout class and going back to a bowl of rice a beans in a moldy apartment.  But I gave it a try.  Okay.  Money issues are gone.  I don’t have to think about where my bills are coming from or how to buy groceries.  She she said to take a look at how this felt.  What changed in your body?  And even more importantly, what else did you brain make space for without the worry in its usual place?

This reminds me a bit like those NY Lottery ads, but instead, you don’t actually have to win the lottery to have these footloose and fancy free ideas.lottery

As cruel as this imagination game felt, she had a great point.  I did instantly begin thinking about things I never had the room to consider.  I had no idea how much I longed to get back into class, I felt how much I tensed my back, and I generally felt less full of self-pity.  Playing this imagination game took practice, but the slow changes that occurred allowed me to make financial independence a reality.

Now I know you’ve heard it all before, the fake it until you make it mantras are all over motivation posters on Facebook.  But the specificity of this exercise was eye-opening to me.  That “magic if” of financial independence had a lot to do with my planting the seeds for my actual financial independence.

 

Which brings me to a larger challenge–finding the beach mindset.  Each year when we go to Cape May, I sit there half the time wondering how I can spend more of my life by the warm sea.  In a magical world, I am someday paid for my writing and I grab a towel, a beach umbrella, and my laptop and call it a summer.  I may be working full-time on the beach, but hell, I’m on the beach.  I know this is unlikely in the near future, and in reality, could get old quickly. But what I do wish for is a way to bottle up that vacation energy, and to mimic the headspace that comes along with the first few days of escaping the monotony of winter.

And so for tonight, I am going to take some time to figure out what that headspace actually entails, the same way I studied what it felt like not to worry about money.  I know, just sitting here, that vacation to me means I do not have to think about immediate responsibilities.  Since that is clearly not true when you are living your life, this game has to be more about matching that feeling opposed to actually dropping everything and everyone that depends on you.  It also can’t mean getting lazy and letting go of standards.  And yet I would love to feel like the monotony of my day-to-day activities are not draining my energy.  Again, it’s all a mind game that takes time.  But a worthwhile one to try out, yes?  If over time, even amongst the toughest days, we have a bit of that beach-brain to venture into the January tundra, I feel that is worth the months of meditation to get there. Also, I feel like everyone would be a little more enthusiastic about seeing each other, and even more generous–the way you feel just before a holiday break.

Ideally, in the end, I won’t need a life on the beach to find that happy place.  There isn’t a ton of theatre on the beach itself, and so staying there all the time would not actually be super productive.  But small steps toward this vacation brain may not only free us from longing to be somewhere else half the time, but also eliminate the resentment toward those that can travel whenever they please.

Feel free to post your own beach photos for inspiration, and stay warm out there today.

Ben on the Beach in Hawaii during our honeymoon in 2014.

Ben on the Beach in Hawaii during our honeymoon in 2014.

Keep Shining, Rainbow Butterfly Girl

Creative Commons Photo by Aaron Burden

Creative Commons Photo by Aaron Burden

 

Today is school Halloween.  Which means I am currently sitting at a desk dressed as Nancy Drew as a Panda leads a group of students (dressed as a collection of Donald Trumps, Storm Troopers, cats, and football players) up the stairs to their classes.  It’s really the best.  If I could wear a costume to work every day, I would be all about that.

While leaving lunch, I pass a door out into the back playground area, where the current recess group is out frolicking as their character of the day.  There’s a clump at the tetherball area, another group playing some sort of game called Gaga (which still confuses me), and a group of girls dressed as cheerleaders are choreographing a routine in the corner.  But separated from the rest of the kids, in a fantastic beam of light coming over the top of the roof, is a girl dressed in a flowing homemade butterfly costume, which mainly consists of black clothing and iridescent fabric pieces connected to her arms.  Without a care in the world, she’s flapping around and looking at the pattern her rainbow wings are making on the concrete as the sun catches the fabric.

Little lady, I get you.  This was totally me.  And maybe still is.  When I was a kid, organized sports were not my jam.  Being forced to do this in gym was enough for me.  To say the least, when recess was no longer a thing, I was not heartbroken.  It was like, “Hey kids, go out and hope that another group also does not enjoy playing a game involving throwing a ball at your head or ramming into each other.”  As an introverted person, heading out into a crowd without structure created the same feeling I currently get when I go into a crowd of “networking” people who just want to small-talk.

Nope.  I was all about spinning around and looking at shadows.  I wanted to stare at the trees and play with the grass.  This made me a terrible softball player and a very happy theatre kid.

The thing that seems to confuse people as you grow up as a butterfly kid is that being shy means being emotionally delicate or immature.  Though of course it’s important for teachers to check in with kids who are disconnected from the crowd, there were many times I was perfectly content doing my own thing.  And as you get older, I’ve find myself defending my shyness more than when I was little.

In the past several months in particular, I’ve had several people make comments on the importance of “toughening up” and “accepting that life is hard.”  Christ, people.  Just because someone isn’t going with the flow of pushy societal norms all the time does not mean they don’t know how to handle stress in a healthy manner.  I recently read a really lovely post about being called “too nice” and why this personality choice takes as much effort as being assertive.  As expected, the first comment contained what I constantly hear: a message about passive aggression and bad intentions.  People who assume that your kindness is “manipulative” is truly the result of projecting personal paranoia, and yet it does wear on you when you legitimately want to be a nice person.  It is not a sign of weakness or subtle subtle aggression, maybe it’s legitimately “being real,” as everyone seems to love saying.  “Being real” does not have to mean being a forthright jerk.

So yes, this has been a bit of a rant against those that have thrown their assumptions about weakness my way recently.  But the happy butterfly child in the backyard was a nice reminder that there is nothing wrong with spinning in the breeze instead of chucking a tetherball at your friend.  Both are fine.  And both are what make that person happy.

So keep spinning, butterfly girl!  Just because you are on Jupiter, I will never read into your silence as unintelligence, bad intentions, or emotional immaturity. Keep doin’ your thing and I will be over here also doing my own thing.