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:)

Celebrating Growth, Even When You’re Bad at Math

I’ve been thinking a lot about math lately.  I’m terrible at math, I always have been.  It was the only subject in school where I was happy if I even squeaked by.  But it took some growing up to understand that the concepts in math are much more relatable to life than I expected.

I’ve started to notice that each time I get into a rut about where I’m headed, it’s because I am looking at the “numbers” in my life instead of the rate of growth.  That’s a math thing, right?  Rate of Growth?  Growth Rate?  Charts?  Great, I took on another blog metaphor that I don’t understand, like that whole basil thing.  Well, here we go!

On those lousy mornings when I feel waves of despondency, it’s often because I am looking at the actual number in my bank account, or the number of shows I’ve done this year (or haven’t done), or the number of things I have fallen behind on.  I look to everyone else’s numbers and feel like a failure, or that I am starting to go in circles.  I think about when I first moved to NYC, confused and broke and start to think, “Aren’t I still confused and broke?”  And things get much worse when I suddenly think, “Will I always feel confused and broke?”

And then it hits me.  If I had the income I have now back in 2010, or wrote online as much as a I did, or had so many wonderful theatre people to collaborate with, I would have considered myself a success.  I would have felt like I suddenly hit the jackpot.  And yet in these low moments, I feel like I haven’t made progress at all.  So the bad self-talk takes over, which spirals me into a state that actually temporarily stops the amazing progress I was too blind to see I was making.

Sometimes it takes all getting in the same place to realize how far we've come. Go team go!

Sometimes it takes all getting in the same place to realize how far we’ve come. Go team go! Photo Credit: John Reardon

Recently I’ve been trying to measure growth over numbers, and here are some helpful things I came up with:

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If the Whole World Took an Acting Class

As an actor, I have spent my fair share of time laying on the floor and barking at the ceiling.  Okay, I’m not barking, per se, I am sending my voice through the space from the top of my head.  I have sat on the backs of classmates and been sat on by teachers, all for the sake of a vocal exercise.  I have chased fellow classmates around the room, repeating what they say, and I have run up and down a flight of stairs until I felt the “sensation of doing a line of coke” to start a monologue.  In my children’s theatre days, I’ve played princesses, fairies, puppies, teachers, moms, horses, trees, and once a shrubbery that slowly transformed into Lady Gaga.

Blanka Zizka and I in her workshop at the Wilma in 2014. Photo credit: The Wilma Theatre

On the other hand, I’ve waited in eight hour lines, spent overnight film shoots on the floor of an abandoned Brooklyn middle school, eaten dollar pizza while literally running between two jobs with four bags while dressed as a “hipster type”, and lied to several bosses about dental emergencies because I got a spot at an EPA.

As we all have, I’ve done some strange things, and no, I wouldn’t trade that for security any day.  But two nights ago, when laying on the floor of my Alexander Technique class, my teacher used the phrase “Pelvic Ears.”  I lost it.  I lost it to myself, because I deeply respect my teacher and the group in my class, but for some reason, after many years of the strange things I’ve done, I lost it at “pelvic ears.”  In the context of the exercise, she made complete sense.  Yes, I did want to listen with my pelvic ears!  But seriously, it’s truly remarkable that this is a career path.  And I wish it on everyone that is missing out.

Group exercise before a performance in college

Last night on a particularly crowded train, I sat next to a friendly man who started up a conversation.  The regular chatter began: Where do you work? Where are you from?  Why are you on NJ Transit?  All that stuff.  He was in IT, and I am an actor.  Here is what I notice about genuinely interested non-theatre people:

-They often call their own profession boring in comparison to hearing you are an actor.  Dear sir, this is not true.  If you are good at what you do and you are happy, then you go for it.

-They ask if you’re on Broadway.  This is fair, I get it, why would I know the ins and outs of IT?  I don’t!  There’s no reason you would know there are shows outside of the commercial theatre world.

-But most importantly, they tend to bring up one theatre experience from their past, either from school or community theatre.  Their stories are always specific, personal, and vivid.  It’s as if you suddenly gave them the green light to say, “Yes!  I was upset that I didn’t get cast in Oklahoma in 1994!”  or, “I’ve always want to go back to it, but I’m not as brave as you are.”

Here is what I take away from these interactions:  theatre has an incredibly lasting emotional impact, and the business scares non-career performers away.  I think this is silly and needs to change.  I know there are corporate coaches that bring theatre exercises to executives, but in my tempting experience, it is not seen often, and many of the execs I’ve met look like I just threatened to sell their first born when I suggest they take an acting class.

Skills learned on the road.

What is unclear to those outside the business, is that acting classes make you better at being a human.  A human in public, a human alone, and a human who cares about their present.  Also, a human who knows their emotions are justified.

If I grabbed a selection of executives from one of the many offices I’ve temped in, and threw them into the acting business for a year, this is what they may learn (ups and downs included):

-How to find their feet, and support their body for a healthy life, perhaps correcting the computer slouch from 40 years at a desk.

-How to lay on the floor and make continuous sound, at whatever volume you like, without ever being judged or told to be quiet.

-How to trust a classmate, or essentially, a stranger, to respect your feelings and perhaps catch an imaginary ball.

-To find their true voice.  And experience an entire room of people listening with respect.

-How to be pretty fantastic at costume parties.

Mad Men New Years 2013

-How to think on their feet, and never be scared of the question “What are you doing?” ever again!

-How to ROCK at the “Questions” section of Kings.

-What it’s like to experience the difficulty of not making ridiculous faces during a photo shoot, and reveling in it when you do.

Photo credit: headshot  proof by Emily Lambert

Photo credit: Headshot proof by Emily Lambert

-To see what your body and mind is truly capable of.

-To become closer with a group of people than you ever thought you could be (after three weeks!), and to share your life story over drinks instead of bad-mouthing your coworkers.

Celebrating Opening Night at Speranza Theatre.

-How to support yourself emotionally after leaving a difficult audition, especially after hearing the dreaded words, “You’re free to go.”

-How to stretch $50 until next Friday, and become friends with your mailman, who smiles when he has your check.

-To memorize all the free places in NYC to use the bathroom, and how to kill two hours between gigs without spending a dime.

-To forgive yourself and know that not getting hired is beyond your control.

-To get up time after time, burnout after burnout, and realize you still have your feet, your voice, and even your pelvic ears.

If you are an artist reading this, let us make it our responsibility to share this incredible world that has become a normal part of our lives.  If you are not an actor, you’re always welcome.  The door is always open, and I think you’d be amazed at what you’ve been missing.

What do you think people outside the business could learn from a theatre class?  Are there other similar industries I should jump into as well?  Let me know!

An Unexpected Tale of Perseverance

The story of my morning has three characters: a spider, the Quick Chek Man, and me.

The Resilient Spider

For the past week, a brown and black spotted spider, about the side of a nickel, has taken residence in our driver side mirror.  When he isn’t building his web, he crawls inside the casing, angrily taking shelter from the wind of the car’s motion.   He first appeared last Tuesday when Ben and I came back up from vacation.  We came back up midweek to work a few days, and then returned on Wednesday.  When I left my house for work Tuesday morning, I opened the car door and felt familiar, “Oh crap there’s a spider web attached to me,” feeling and quickly smacked around my head to make sure its owner was not attached.  This time, it was.  Swinging toward me like an panic-stricken trapeze artist, the equally frightened spider came barreling toward me.  He was attached to my dress.  I did the only logical thing and screamed like a small child, to which my brave heroic husband came to the rescue and brushed him away.  The spider swung up to the car and begrudgingly took to his hiding spot.

It wasn’t until I got into the car that I saw the beautiful web attached to the car I had almost completely destroyed.  I didn’t have much of a choice, I had to drive my car, but I still felt bad.   To both our surprise, there he was the next morning, beautiful web right back where it was.  Well now I just felt like a jerk.  The spider saw me, retreated into his mirror, and I started the car.  The web was gone by the time I got to school.  Even after leaving for Cape May for four days and then returning, he is still at it, claiming our car for his home every morning.  I tried to snap a photo of him this morning, but only got his house.  As much as I don’t like spiders, I have respect for this little guy’s perseverance.

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The Quick Chek Man

For the past two days, I have stood behind an older man in yellow at the Quick Chek by my school.  After noticing him the first time, I’ve started to see him every time I drive down the main road leading to the store.  Each morning on my way to work, and each afternoon on my way home, I see him, walking back and forth to Quick Chek.  He walks with the gait of a determined sleepwalker, and though his presence is intimidating, he has a kind face and is always polite to the cashier.  I worry about him in the heat.

In my family, we would say he’s “one of my dad’s.”  My father has worked with mentally disabled adults since we were kids and since using the phrase “mental disability” was hard for younger kids (and because the word “retarded” was NEVER accepted in my house, even before people realized it was a hurtful term), we always said “one of my dad’s.”  I’m not sure of Quik Check man’s situation, but I do see him three times a day, making his journey back and forth, even in the recent weather.

Me

I spent the morning feeling sorry for myself.  Sometimes I feel like it’s just when we think we have our feet on the ground, something slips through the cracks, and yet again, we’re scrambling.  Nothing major happened, and yes, we will be fine.  But because of what has to be a bank error, we woke up to an all too familiar frustration.

It’s hard to not feel like you’re starting from square one sometimes.  Like the days are going around and around and each day someone is ripping down the web you spent all yesterday building.  I dropped Ben off at the train and drove off feeling bad about our financial goof, bad about screwing over the spider, and just bad about anything I could find the excuse to feel bad about.

And then I saw Quik Check man.  He was on his morning trip, making his familiar journey to a place I’m assuming brings him comfort.  I started to feel bad for feeling bad, but because of my experience with this cyclical frustration in the past, I caught myself.

The spider, Quik Check man, AND I, have places to go and things that are important to us.  It’s frustrating to feel like you’re only going in circles, hoping that things change.  That throughout the day, you’ll get some magical email that says everything will be a little easier now.  But the important thing is that the three of us are all still showing up.  We got out bed and we are doing our thing.  We are trying.  Why does the constant rebuilding or the continuous journey back and fourth need to feel like a failure?  And if this frustrating morning helped me connect to a spider and a stranger, then I am thankful for that.

 

Keep doin’ your thing, everyone:)

 

Backwards Budgeting: For National Blog Posting Month!

In honor of NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Post Post Month) I took on Blogher’s challenge to write about something I feel I am an “expert” in.  To say I am an expert at budgeting is VERY far from the truth, but when it comes to somehow keeping our heads above water while freelancing, I have some experience.  So below I have included our tactics for “backwards budgeting!”  Woohoo!

Unless your a freelance psychic, this is for you

In a perfect world, freelancers would have consistent income like the full-timers out there.  For the majority of my time freelancing, I worked more hours than when I have a 9-5.  The hours in between actually creating my art are spent chasing after the next gig or organizing my finances so I can continue to maintain my career. Up until last Spring, my husband and I freelanced at the same time, making our hair stand on end every 1st of the month, because things never seemed to line up.  I recently took a full-time job outside my career to catch up for a bit, and it’s given me some insight into why so many non-freelancing friends of mine are able to do things like chip away at their debt- they have a predictable budget.

learnvest

After discovering the website Learnvest, an incredibly relatable financial site written for women, I started to grab hold of our finances and felt much less alone in our situation.  Apparently I am not the only one frustrated that most budgeting instructions begin with “Enter your income.”  But here’s the kicker – since freelance jobs often come in last minute, and the timing of paychecks vary from job to job, you often do not know your income on the 1st.  (This was one of the hardest things about figuring out the Affordable Care Act forms). But alas, this is a sacrifice that you happily make to do something you truly care about. Still, there had to be a way to catch up.  The constant wave between feast and famine was leaving us in a purgatory of credit card debt that slid up and down depending on the week.  After many failed months of trial and error, this is what we came up with:

1. What do you need vs. what do you have

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The first thing we did when we built our spreadsheet was create a section just for “Essentials.”  These were the “if we ignore these, someone will come knocking on our door” payments.  Rent, credit card minimums (not ideal, but again, bare minimums), and student loans.  I also added groceries to this list, but this was more a psychological trick for me, to remind myself that if all else fails, we will still eat.  I have managed, in a very tight month, to get our grocery bill down to $200 a month for the two of us.  This is thanks to Trader Joe’s and a lot of pasta nights.  The other items on this list are train tickets, gas money, electricity, and internet.  If you cannot do your work without them, you should pay for it.

2. Special Essentials: Or what to do when you drive a U-Haul into your neighbor’s gutter The next section is Special Essentials.  These are all the oh-so-special bills for that month in particular.  Things like union dues, medical payments, and random things like parking tickets or a bill from your neighbor for breaking his gutter.  The only reason they are not in the top category is that they can wait if absolutely necessary.  The world will not stop spinning if a bill has to be a little late.  But it isn’t ideal, and no, it doesn’t feel great.  But it is what it is.  I also try to put savings into this category when we can.  Paying yourself first, especially for an emergency fund is always a priority.

amelia

3. Lifestyle
And this is where all the “living your life” stuff comes into play.  These are the items people often bring up when they say, “Maybe you can just cut back a bit.”  I assure you, freelances are most likely not splurging the way you think they are.  For me, this category is often Restaurants/Bars, Coffee, Gifts, Shopping, Education/Gym, Misc., and any special events that month like a wedding.  Determining your priorities is very helpful here.

4. Making the numbers add up (to something over $0) And this is where the backwards part comes up.  Back at the top of the spreadsheet, have a place for your income.  You can break it down by source if that helps, or by person if you combine finances with someone else.  I like to use a line for expected income and actual income, so that when money is deposited, I enter the actual one and the formula changes the amount that is still expected that month.  Creating a center box for all this is really helpful.  If you are interested in seeing how we set up our sheet itself, I would be happy to write a follow up post:)

As your gigs line up for that month (and you know the check will arrive before the 31st) add this to your income.  This way you can see how far away you are from breaking even.  If at the start of the month, you are not breaking even from what you know, adjust all the lifestyle categories.  If that doesn’t fix it, take off the Special Essentials.  Most importantly though, add the amount you are putting off to next month so that it is not simply brushed aside.  This way, you have a timeline for paying it off.  Having a timeline and a plan is better than putting it in a sad growing pile of bills with the post-it “someday” on top. If your expected income suddenly spikes (hooray!) we try to add a small portion to section of lifestyle, a small section to our savings, and the remainder to our credit card and loan payments.  This way, the extra is going to getting rid of debt, paying into your future and emergency fund, and also giving you some physiological wiggle room to go out to lunch occasionally.  Without this wiggle room, I have found that I begin to resent my art form.  No we are not going out for a night of snazzy cocktails when this happens, but we may have a beer and wings night without worry.

Treat yo' self.

Treat yo’ self.

5. Diagnosing the sneaky problems The first few months for us were very eye-opening.  Every several days, I check in on our account and add the purchases to the appropriate category.  At first I realized that we were spending a comical amount on coffee.  We used to have a Dunkin Donuts next to our train station and so we stopped almost every time.  I think at one point we spent $200 on breakfast sandwiches.  So yeah, that stopped.  But we didn’t even realize it until it was adding up in front of us.  So now instead of wondering where all the money is going, we can see the reality of $3 sandwiches adding up over time.

6. More income over less spending Sometimes there is only so much you can cut.  When you have to pay a bill, you have to pay a bill.  You need to eat and live somewhere, and getting to work is not always cheap.  So this year, I also stopped beating myself up for spending  money on essentials and remembered that increasing income is often way more effective.  Unfortunately, it’s much more out of your control.  I’ve come across similar posts where comments go off track and accuse the writer of “not getting a real job.”  If you are confused by artists and why they break away from the typical structure of 9-5s that aren’t related to your interests, message me, I’m happy to chat. But nonetheless, sometimes your budget can alert you that it is time for a change.  An extra gig, an attack of a particular credit card to cut down your monthly payments, or perhaps an overhaul of how your approach your career in the long-term.  All of this is very helpful to consider.  It’s also important to remember that these things take time.

6. Taking a deep breath Though obviously budgeting will not literally create money, I felt a huge weight life off my chest after we set this up. Learnvest also has a fantastic budgeting program that goes into way more detail, but having an excel spreadsheet worked better for us as far as sharing.  Seeing your end of the month total pop above $0 always feels like an accomplishment, even if in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to think about this.  But at least this gives you a game plan instead of holding your breath the last week of the month, hoping that it all adds up.

Three cheers for budgeting!

Three cheers for budgeting!

As stressful as it can be, I don’t think we will ever give up the freedom of pursuing our art.  And though we may bring in less money than many, I believe we as artists need to be more diligent and organized because of our income’s inconsistencies.  The best thing I always remind myself is that we are still plugging away, doing the thing that we love and somehow squeaking by.  Perhaps in a few years the phrase “squeaking by” will be a thing of the past, but at least for now we can sleep more soundly because of a meticulous excel spreadsheet.

The War Against Office Snacks

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A few days ago, my boss purchased a fun little candy dispenser from Costco.  We’ve been trying to make our office more welcoming for teachers to come work. So when she came across this awesome little candy machine, she went for it.  We filled it to the brim with Peanut M&M’s and mini Hershey bars and placed it by our door.

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Now overall, this office has been a million more times open minded than anywhere I’ve worked.  I genuinely enjoy the company of everyone who comes by my office, and I am always impressed by how healthy the environment this.  However.  A trend is forming that I’ve seen almost everywhere, from the most corporate hedge funds down to the most liberal middle school.  We’re terrified of snacks.  We think that if we don’t hide them in secret drawers behind the receptionist, that they will force themselves into our stomachs, making a b-line for our thighs!

Ever since we put out these candy dispensers, I’ve had a range of comments:

“You’re evil!”

“That’s so dangerous!”

“No!!  Terrible!  I can’t even be NEAR chocolate.”

“I saw that, did you see that?  Where did it come from?”

Back, snacks, back!

Back, snacks, back!

Yes, I know these are playful comments, I’m not trying to be uptight here.  But let’s back it up a bit.  When I worked at a similar school in the city, the tension between my coworkers and sweets became an outright war.  Someone would buy cupcakes for someone’s birthday and with each bite the room would scream, “Oh I shouldn’t!  Oh this is awful!  Why am I do this?!”  For Christ’s sake eat the cupcake.  Now on top of the processed sugar, that yes, it not excellent when eaten in giant quantities, you are stressed.  So now your body is not only working to break down the sugar, but also releasing all sorts of angry stress chemicals.  All over a birthday cupcake.  If you have chosen to cut back on sweets, or simply don’t like them, that is totally fine.  A simple “No, thank you” will suffice.

The Skinny Myth

high school

At a theatre competition in 2004

Ever since I was in middle school, I’ve gotten passive aggressive comments about being thin.  I didn’t break 110 pounds until I was about 18.  I got a lot of, “Oh be quiet, you can eat whatever you want.”  But did being thin make me healthy?  I think I drank 2 glasses of coke with each meal until high school.  I went through my teenage years making an ice cream sundae a night.  No, I do not have some super-human ability to expel all that sugar from my body, it just didn’t hang around as fat yet.  But that doesn’t mean it didn’t negatively affect my body.  Strangely enough, it wasn’t until I became more in touch with my actual hunger and started eating better that I reached a healthy weight (by gaining some).

But I am literally sitting here eating a brownie as I write this, and happily.  I will not spend the whole day guzzling soda or beer and will not have five more brownies after this.  I am just enjoying the damn brownie.  The problem about these casual comments is the dread and body shaming that lie underneath them.

Awareness vs. Body shaming

The sweets in an office are “dangerous” because eating them (apparently against our own control) will lead to something “terrible”, like weight gain. Heavens forbid!  My “beach body” will  apparently not be up to par with those only drinking milk shakes this month.  Our relationship with food often seems like a direct relationship with our physical awareness.  If we took the energy we put into fighting back the evils of chocolate and the need to complete a certain amount of squats in a day, and used it instead to figure out what our body actually needs and how it works, then we may be able to stop fearing everything we consume.  We may even figure out why we eat and what we truly want to eat.

If there is one main theme I have learned from studying Alexander Technique, it’s that our body knows how to take care of itself if we get out of its way.  Once you do, you will know when you need cardio, or to eat some protein, or to stretch.  Forcing a regimen on yourself that is perfect for someone else is like buying a size 10 shoe when you’re a size 7, just because you liked how that specific shoe looked on someone else.  It doesn’t work.

sailing

How I felt when I stopped worrying about my “beach body”

So I will say now, with complete respect to my Beach Body friend representatives, please stop sending me Beach Body invitations.  Without realizing it, you are inferring that I need to alter my body to go to the beach.  And frankly, I am doing plenty to try and get in touch with my best diet and exercise patterns, but I am not going to do them in the name of a bathing suit.  I am not going to go for a run and check my calves when I get home.   I am not going to chart out my calories every time I take a bite.  I am going to continue educating myself on how my specific body responds to sugars and chemicals, and I will continue to find the best way to keep my energy high and fabulous through whatever exercise I damn well please.  But that is up to me, and it is a timely process to find the balance.  So please cool it.

SO!  Snacks!

Let’s begin by cutting back the snack shaming.  Saying that something is “dangerous” infers that no one else around you should eat it either.  And that isn’t your business.  The snacks can exist in your presence, and if you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat them.  So until you find that happy place and know what your body needs to feel good, cut down on the accusations.  That poor plate of brownies did nothing wrong, and neither did you by eating one of them.

Feelin' good about my recent ability to run a full mile AND drinking that glass of wine.

Feelin’ good about my recent ability to run a full mile AND drinking that glass of wine.

The Tuesday Situation

It’s been one of those mornings.  I woke up with a mysteriously sore jaw (probably from sinus problems, because the human body is strange), and so I haven’t been able to open my mouth more than about an inch.  It’s really attractive.

Then I arrived early to work for a large event I’m helping run and the milk delivered with breakfast was very rotten, causing a group-wide spit take when everyone seemed to simultaneously sip their coffee.  It was an event planner’s nightmare.  Something has affected the caffeine source, the morning now hangs on the speed at which I can run to the A&P before a coup begins.

meme

panic

But then I walked past the nurse’s office and this was written on her whiteboard:

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It was a nice reminder that the people around me recognize “situations” happen, and that most likely, other people are having them as well.  In the scheme of things, no, a sore jaw and rotten milk is not a real problem, it’s fixable.  But it was my situation.  And now I will remember that the delivery guy, the teachers who had to drink the rotten milk, and the store probably now getting yelled at for their rotten milk, are all also dealing with some sort of situation this morning.  Luckily, you occasionally bump into reminders like this – that you are capable of working harder than the little annoying things that pop up, and perhaps we can have a better day than our morning predicted.

Monday Boost: An Ode to Schleppers

I name this hot muggy Monday, National Schlepper* Appreciation Day!  It is for all the people who think delivery is lazy (or too expensive), who run the office errands, the family errands, the boring “I know the CVS pharmacy is going to take forever” errands, and everything in between.  We work several (usually strange) jobs, commute on sweaty trains, kill two hours in the city without spending money because it isn’t worth going all the way home, and are not afraid to walk those fifteen blocks instead of spending $2.75 on the subway.  We are the ones that get strange glances and are asked “Wait, you’re walking there?”  And you say, “Yes!  I have legs!”  and carry on in the 94 degree heat.  You are the one that teaches on the Upper East Side, babysits in Flatbush, temps in the Financial District, lives in Queens, and makes it to Amelie on West 8th because they have a cheap happy hour.  All on Tuesday.  Today we should be proud.  And in my half-asleep blogging state today, I name this day for you.

*By “Schlepper” I mean, a person who schleps, or carries things all over the place.  It’s Yiddish.  Dictionary.com tried to tell me otherwise.  It is wrong.

$10 Wine Flights...

$10 Wine Flights…

When I was young, I always heard my mom talking about having to “schlep” all over the place.  To the store, to the bank, back and forth to work.  I realized pretty quickly after moving to NYC that I was destined to also live the life of a schlepper.  At one point in time, I had seven different possible jobs at once.  Seven.  One week I was just a babysitter, and then the next I was a babysitter, a secretary, a background actor, and a teaching artist, all depending on if I answered my phone in time to accept the work.  To say the least, it was a lot of running around with many clothing changes, snacks, and all the various crap you need to do these jobs.  I once carried 14 shoe boxes in a shopping bag on the 6 train during rush hour.  This will be my whiny story I tell our grandkids about walking uphill both ways in the snow.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

I am always surprised by non-schlepper’s shock when you use a little more physical energy to do something than is normally required.  The other day, a caring coworker asked me if I needed help carrying a case of water bottles up to our office, and to not hurt myself.  I was tempted to say, “I work in theatre, I once carried a flight of steps up a flight of steps!”  But I didn’t feel like explaining because I was carrying water bottles…and didn’t want to sound like a jerk.

postits

I was once paid $11 an hour to cover this wall in post-it notes…after buying a lot of post-it notes.  At many Staples.

But today, when I am not particularly high on energy, I was thankful to be part of this motivated bunch.  I had a fantastic weekend up in Boston with my college roommates – a group of fellow schleppers that know how to keep a friendship going despite living in different states after almost ten years of friendship.  But because of this wonderful weekend, I am a zombie.  A warm, tired, slightly overwhelmed zombie.  So when my office ordered lunch today, and I was faced with waiting an hour for a delicious sandwich or getting off my butt and picking up everyone’s delicious sandwich, I chose the latter, got the sunshine I desperately needed, and became the sandwich hero (hehe) of the day.  They may look at me like I am an overachieving pushover…but I got to get up and get outside.

Our schlepping will also: (all taken from American Heart Association)

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

Ha!  So there!  Today is for us!  We will travel across state lines, borough lines, and out into the hot muggy day to get sh*t done.  I declare we all end the day with a glass of wine, that we all schlep to Trader Joe’s to purchase.

 

 

MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com Lives!!!

It’s official!  After nearly 5 years, I have purchased perhaps one of the longest URL’s in history: Maybetherewillbecupcakes.com.  If you are willing to type that baby out, then you are a true dedicated reader, and I love you.

Five years ago I started this blog on an angsty afternoon in my Astoria apartment after a job interview asked me to submit a personal experience writing sample.  I wrote some rambling story about my adventure on the subway once, and I did not get the job.  The GOOD that came out of that was that the interviewer wrote back a very caring rejection email, mentioning that though I didn’t fit the position, he really enjoyed my writing voice and it got him thinking.  That to me, was all that mattered.

A few months before that, my friend Christina has mentioned starting a blog for a class assignment and after seeing how cool hers was, I took a leap and started this little site.  Now Christina and I still write, and I am very thankful for it.  Each time I find myself slipping into the pits of theatrical despair, I come back to my writing and start fresh.

But most importantly, it was the overwhelmingly kind responses from all of you that kept this going.  As much as  we all hope to move ahead in life independently, it is truly our communities that give us the swift shove in the right direction when we need it.  I cannot express my appreciation enough for helping me find my writing voice.

Just for nostalgia’s sake, here are a few posts I’ve been particular proud of over the past several years:

A Perfectly Imperfect Wedding

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

 

Rephrasing the Fall Back Question

It's possible.

It’s possible.

 

Camino Writing: Take One

us with pepe

 

The Secret Life of Background Actors

Play "Find the Ginny"

Play “Find the Ginny”

 

My Real Resume

PLOTTING

 

First post ever!!

toys r us

 

 

 

A poll for you!  Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Plant Metaphors

Last week, I signed up to water our school garden.  The science department has a super impressive situation out back, with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and about five planters of herbs.  I don’t know a whole lot about gardening, the extent of my knowledge comes from helping my mom drop seeds into our backyard when I was 5 and asking if I could sit there and watch them grow.  I also know how to get rid of slugs with beer.  That’s about it.

Ben and I have just started our own small backyard garden, so we could use all the help we could get.

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Signing up was one of the best choices I’ve made since starting here.  Each morning, I got to go visit my little basil plants, chat with my lettuce, and prune my cherry tomatoes.  The fact that they hadn’t all died over night was a huge accomplishment.

Luckily I had some helpers.  One afternoon, a colleague of mine swung by with some scissors saying, “We need to eat all the lettuce tonight, the stems are going woody!”  I stared at her and, for a moment, pretended I knew what she meant.  “Not woody stems!…why don’t we want woody stems…”

Here’s the deal (and remember, I am still no expert), apparently leafy plants, as they get older, begin to harden off their stems,  and when they do so, stop producing the edible leaves we harvest.  Basil will turn into a beautiful large bush eventually, but you can only eat the young leaves.  So to keep it from turning into a bush during the season, you pluck off its flowers and trim it down.  Certain types of lettuce get super woody stems as they get older, and if you chop them down to the dirt, they will rise again – producing more delicious salad greens.

I got to thinking, as I do, and talked to Ben one night over a bottle of wine about the metaphor in lettuce and basil bushes.  After this sentence, instead of calling me a lunatic, he said “Sounds like a blog post!” And that is why we’re married.

Woody Artist Stem

woody basil

It takes a great deal of stamina to work past the late-twenties artist slump.  I can only speak for this transition because that is what I am in right now, but I’m sure it applies to other ages.  I have a lot of friends in this position, including myself, and the struggle comes down to much more than if you’ve had a “successful” career thus far.  At least for me, the focus of my stressful expectations have shifted from “I’m supposed to be doing theatre all the time!” to “I thought I would have done so much more by now.”  My present-tense panic has become a past-tense panic.  And this one feels much more damaging.

The past-tense panic includes regret and self-pity, two things that easily lead to throwing in the towel, especially if financial realities of being an older adult (no longer able to live on Ramen)  leaves you in a job that has nothing to do with your art.  After spending a good deal of cuddling time with my friends Regret and Self-Pity, I discovered they ironically come from a place of pride.  There is a lot of hemming and hawing in my mind –  including “But I’ve studied acting for years”, “But I did shows one after another when I was a kid,” “But I’M PRETTY!” …and other BS entitlements.

It was hard to admit this was my major problem, because even if I was the most down-to-earth, trained, talented person on the planet, there’s a chance that I still wouldn’t be working consistently.  There are so many factors out of our control in this business that blaming yourself is not progressive either.  But since I can only change what is under my control, I decided to focus on this.

Back to Making Veggies

IMG_1349

When we moved to Montclair, I cut back my stem a lot.  Not only do I have more time away from the hustle and bustle of auditioning and temping, but I have also had some space to reassess what actually makes me happy as an actor.  Writing to every Playbill and Backstage post that I would possibly be right for by some stretch of the imagination, even if I wasn’t that passionate about the project, was not helping.  Taking classes to meet a Casting Director I felt I “needed” to prove myself to, was not helping.  I spent so many years trying to prove how great I was that I didn’t leave time or money to train or grow.  I also barely had a community.

So I went back to the drawing board.  I took a class that did not require an audition and has no competitive energy.  I emailed every local theatre company I could find and asked to help with ANYTHING, even if it was to hand out programs.  I cut myself back a lot.

Suddenly, it’s like the floodgates of acting have opened.  My class instantly brought me back into my old skin.  It also brought me back to before the days I started ticking down my “biological acting clock”.  Since I’ve begun focusing on my community and my personal growth, instead of my career, things have been making sense again.

I don’t believe that someone needs to move to the suburbs and start from scratch every time they get burned out.  But I do foresee this concept helping me at different stages of my career.  Even if things are going wonderfully, the moment these entitlements take over again, the moment that energy will show up on stage and in my auditions.  And then I’m right back to frustration-land.

Kate Mulgrew did a talk a few years ago at the SAG Foundation, and I never forgot what she said toward the end.  To paraphrase, she said “It’s all about loving the work. Do the work and the rest of the shit with fade away.”  Since I’ve stopped chasing my next job, a lot of the shit has indeed faded away.

You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush

Still a great looking plant!!...just less pesto.

Still a great looking plant!!…just less pesto.

So here is where my metaphor could turn sour.  There is nothing wrong with a beautiful bush that used to produce Basil.  If you choose to take a different path in life, you are not a pointless bush.  Nor do I condone putting yourself down to become a better artist, some acting teachers definitely latch onto that idea.  What I do feel is that the rigid nature of our habits and expectations hold us back as artists.  THAT is what will keep us from creating.

So whether things are rolling a long for you right now or not (and I hope they are), it’s comforting to know there is somewhere to go back to when if you hit a similar wall.  A rigid plant does not mean a dead plant, it just needs some pruning.

 

 

Special thanks to Karen Braga, our Alexander Technique class at ESPA, for inspiring this post and teaching me where my feet are.