Get off the Floor

I fell over a lot as a kid.  I think it’s pretty common when you’re little – sometimes your top half moves more quickly than your bottom half, you seem to slip on everything, or you just simply tip over all the time.  It’s as if you haven’t quite figured out the whole “leg” thing yet.  Here is what went through my mind when I fell over:

1. I am walking, enjoying being five, gee this is great!

2.  Woh, that’s slippery, I think I will flail in all directions to keep this from happening.

3.  I am suddenly on the ground and I do not like this!  I have no idea if anything is broken or god forbid, my knee is scraped.

4.  I think I’ll cry now.  Someone else should asses the situation.

Me as a kid...staying low to the ground

Me as a kid…staying low to the ground

This was pretty standard. But one day in the school hallway, I want to say in about 1st grade, I was walking to the bathroom by myself when I slipped on some water.   I totally wiped out and landed on my back on the linoleum floor, leaving me laying there by myself.  I remember revving up to cry, but then realizing that because no one was around, it wouldn’t make a difference if I cried or not.  So I took a big-girl-deep-breath, got up, and carried on with my day.  From then on, tipping over was not the end of world.

The image of staring at the empty hallway as I sat on the floor, terribly confused, has been popping into my head a lot recently.  Across the board, I have been trying to reassess the way I react to things.  I’ve never enjoyed the phrase, “Choose to have a good day.”  I think it’s crap, unrealistic, and clearly whoever made it up never dealt with anxiety.  But about a month ago, I happened to come across a book called The Diamond Cutter, which delves into one of the oldest-known printed texts on Earth (which I think is pretty nifty), the Diamond Sutra.  The text outlines a Buddhist approach to business and living your life as a generous, compassionate person.  My biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of “mental imprints”, or essentially, the way we choose to code our view of the world.

diamond cutter

Think about a rainstorm.  My parents had an outdoor theatre company when I was in high school, and each summer we would obsessively stare at the radar to track any possible storms before the show.  My teenage happiness was often contingent on being a part of these productions, and to me, a rainstorm was a complete tragedy.  I was also 16, so things were very serious ALL THE TIME.  I loved having all the feelings.  I once sobbed to my dad when he cancelled the final performance of a show as a monsoon-strength storm rolled in over the stage.  I still felt like was doing it to spite me.

Midsummer in 2003. Maybe Eric just told me it was going to rain.

On the other hand, the storm we got here last night practically sent me out dancing into the streets.  The whole town was waiting for this storm to break the heat.

The point is, that at the end of the day, a rainstorm is just a rainstorm.  It isn’t good or bad.  It is really…just a damn rainstorm.  An event is only colored by an emotion when someone assigns it one.  Now this is not saying that either reaction, or an extreme emotion is wrong.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about this when people are trying to understand the cause and effect portions of Buddhism.  If someone is getting hurt in the process, the emotions we project on this happening are very real, and very important.  The idea of imprints is not that our emotions are wrong, but more about how the coloring of an experience does indeed come from us.  The event itself is neutral to begin with.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and that whole thing.  It’s just figuring out with coloring will do the most good.

storm

An example:

Lousy Imprint:  Offices are bad, theatre is awesome 

Office:  I put a lot of energy into hating check requisitions. And why?  I literally write a number on them, put the number in a spreadsheet, and put then in a mailbox.  Then I never see them again.  That is it.  And yet every time one comes across my desk it’s as if someone has just dumped days of work on my plate, trapping me for all eternity in my office!  No.  It’s anxiety that I’m going to do it wrong and someone won’t get paid.  Somewhere down the line, probably when I first got here, I was nervous about messing one up, and then never changed my mind about it.

Theatre:  I always walk into an audition or rehearsal full of hope.  Maybe a little too much hope.  Even if I am absolutely thrilled to be there, which I am, I tend to forget that there are parts theatre that get under my skin.  I am very shy person most of the time, I have just trained myself to open my mouth to say something more than I’d prefer.  A lot of the time in theatre, you are either surrounded by extroverts or people like me, who are desperately trying not be too much of an introvert.  So when I leave rehearsal, I tend to feel completely exhausted, and terrified that I said something doofy.  But again, why?  Of all places for me to be doofy, it might as well be in a business full of proud oddballs.  And also, just because #soblessed girl talks an hour about her 15th chance to play Juliet or how she privately meets with the ghost of Uta Hagen, it does not mean I need to buy into or be effected by that culture.

#bffwithuta

#bffswithuta

The point is that my brain has become pre-wired to like or hate certain experiences.  Before I know it, I am unable to enjoy really lovely days in my office or feel frustrated when I don’t have a rehearsal full of sunshine.  Somewhere in there is reality.

Hashtag Hashbrown

Let’s stop hating Mondays

I would like to challenge everyone here to try something out.  The next time there is a wave of commiserating online about how much Monday sucks (because heaven forbid we like going to work), let’s stop and try to figure out what is bad about the experience.  Would an “I love Mondays” hashtag be too obnoxious or sarcastic?  This won’t only help getting up in the morning, but it will also significantly help with the Sunday night blues.  Unless you have a root canal Monday morning, maybe we can reassess how much we dread leaving our weekend behind.   If you’re upset, you’re upset.  But what about?  Might as well ask.  Mondays may be the shared enemy we bond over, but what is this doing to us?

Let’s stop hating each other

I know that sounds harsh.  But I catch myself glaring at almost every post on Facebook these days with a grumpy cat face.  Someone gets in a show and I think they’re bragging, someone has a bad day and I think they’re whining, someone is a Republican, and I think they’re a moron.  I have unfollowed so many people that my newsfeed is basically just cat pictures now.

taco cat

Ben and I talked about this and how the process of blocking out the negativity has made us more negative.  So instead of having the knee-jerk reaction to judge everyone’s post, Ben has suggested the hashtag #ibelieveinyou or something similar.  So instead of flipping a table when someone books another broadway show, or instead of rolling our eyes when someone is screaming about another first world problem, maybe we send support instead.    It makes the “likes” more personal, and Facebook more about celebrating each than comparing who is eating a prettier brunch.

 

 

 

Don’t just sit in the hallway 

So I’m suggesting to just give this all a try.  The next time you find yourself seeing something as a major problem (and you or someone else’s life or rights are not being threatened) consider when this became such  negative aspect of your life.  This way, instead of suppressing negative thoughts and slowly building up tension like a pressure cooker, you are simply trying to see reality more clearly.  You may actually be able to get off your butt and walk to class.

But What If It’s All Crap?

Last night and I had a super bizarre dream.  It was one of those “Peggy Olson” pregnancy dreams – I didn’t know I was even pregnant and then BAM! I had a baby.  It was just there.  So Ben and I are suddenly walking around with this surprise baby and introducing it to all of our very confused friends.  As I always do in these dreams, I’m wondering how the heck all the logistics will work out (I kept thinking that I didn’t even have a stroller!).  Then suddenly, there’s no baby.  I look down and I realize I have just been carrying around an empty blanket the entire time.  At this point, my friend Claire comes up to me and very gently reveals that they, “Know I have gone insane, created an imaginary baby, and that they have been humoring me the whole time to be nice.”  Yikes bikes.

Surprise!  You're pregnant!

Surprise! You’re pregnant!

If you took this literally, you’d think it was anxiety about moving to the suburbs and all that jazz.  But I don’t think it is.  Because last night I fell asleep again with that age-old fear about myself: What if all of the art I have been doing and creating is just a bunch of crap?

Am I alone in this thought?  I have been writing a play recently that I actually started over four years ago.  In the past two months though, I’ve been finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m probably about 30 pages or so from the end, and the only thing that trips me up is the occasional wave of, “What if this is just really terrible?”  Luckily, probably because I live with a very encouraging playwright, this thought has not completely lead me to throwing up my arms in defeat.

Knowing you’re not going to know

And no, I am not actually thinking that everything I do is awful, it’s more about the idea of: how do you really know if what makes sense in your head will make sense to anyone else?  I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few weeks now, with the thought of writing a blog post, and realized that the answer is: you don’t know.  Until someone gives you legitimate feedback, someone whose opinion your trust and who isn’t going to sugarcoat what they think, all you have is what makes sense in your mind.

It’s like the other day when I was whistling that song from Fun Home from the Tony’s and Ben came in and said, “Why are you whistling ‘A Horse with No Name’?”  Now does this mean I’m a really lousy whistler?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just one of those things where I hear one thing and everyone else hears something completely different.  That’s how I feel about my play.  I think I just need accept that when people read my play for the first time, they may hear something other than what I hear.  And there’s a chance that what they hear is also not crap.

Or like this Rorschach test...where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle...

Or kind of like this Rorschach test…where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle…

Ego vs. Confidence

I may get several very sweet and encouraging messages from this post about how I should have more confidence in my writing, and yes, please believe I deeply appreciate those.  They have really kept me writing this blog.  But it isn’t really about confidence here.  I like my writing voice, and I am happy that I’ve had a place to develop it so I can work on all these different projects.  This is more about finding that middle ground between having the confidence to write genuinely and being an egotistical writer that refuses feedback.

grumpy cat

So many times, Ben and I have come across playwrights or actors that simply say “no” to any constructive criticism.  As soon as they do, we both get a wave of, “Oh what a shame.”  Because you know they will only get so far with that naive attitude.  You can stand up for your work, of course, and at the end of the day, no one can make you do anything.  Also, no one is forcing you share your work at all.  But if you truly don’t want to change it, then why let anyone hear it in the first place?  You might as well just line up all your stuffed animals, give them the voices of your characters, and march them around your living room.

On the other hand, I tend to cringe during talk-backs gone rogue.  Ben teases me for my terrible poker face that develops when a group discussion about a play goes on too long or when the moderator loses control of a few audience members who are trying to turn the play into a whole new story (that maybe they should just go home and write).  There has to be a balance between “this is the story I want to tell” and “I want the story to be clear enough so that others can relate.”

So why do it?

Perhaps the real question is: why are your creating that particular project? If it is 100% for your own fulfillment, there is nothing wrong with that AT ALL.  At least you know what you want and there will be great passion in what you make.  Many will naturally relate to that.  But if you want others to connect with a story you’ve created or a character you are representing?  Then you have to learn to let your ego take a seat.  If we want to create a human experience, you need other humans to help bring that story out of you.

Ginny, you’re holding a blanket

So before I jump off that terrifying cliff and share my first draft with a group, I would like to find that middle ground so I can at least write the damn thing without judgement.  I don’t want to hand off something that I think is very special only to have the world say that it isn’t even workable.  Or worse, have everyone pretend it’s perfect when it’s not, just to protect my feelings.

Thoughts?  Mutual anxieties?  Whiskey suggestions?  I’m open to anything that will help me finish this draft.  Thanks for reading, everyone!!

Childhood Dreams of Growing Up

Way back in high school, when the “reach for the stars” talks started turning into “where do you see yourself in five years?” talks, my friends are I started chatting more bluntly about our artistic dreams.  I always knew I wanted to be an actor, it was encouraged before I was even born.  My mother directed shows while she pregnant with me, before my parents could officially plant the idea in my head.  But at eight, I was introduced to Tennessee Williams in my first production (I know, strange childhood), and I was hooked.  There was no question after that.  Until the middle of high school, I never flinched when asked about my mathematically-plotted artistic future.

Stop telling me to be calm, posters.

Stop telling me to be calm.

Later in high school though, I started loosely tossing around another idea altogether.  But I always mentioned it with an air of “I’m not really serious though.”  The two paths I laid out seemed like polar opposites:  I claimed I would either move to NYC and accept the life-long rush of auditioning OR I could move to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, work at a school, get to know the local theatre, and write children’s stories in the afternoon, probably while drinking a lot of tea in cotton dresses.  So basically, opposite life-tracks.

And yet yesterday afternoon, I walked out the front of my school (where I started working a month ago) and realized that somehow I was pulling off both.  I may not be in the middle of nowhere, but it definitely isn’t NYC.  I drive to work, I am home in 5 minutes, we get welcome letters in the mail from tiny family-owned companies nearby – with signatures!  And yet, when I walked outside, the petals dramatically swirling around me in the breeze from the lilac trees on campus (oh come on), I couldn’t help but think, “This isn’t too bad.”

Outside my door.

Outside my door.

But why isn’t this the polar opposite life that I expected?  Why didn’t I have to make some huge decision one day to give up my professional acting career to move here?  I think it’s because we’re lied to.

Reach for the stars, but you better know what those stars are at 15!

Sneaky girl with a net seems to be stealing those stars.

If your dream is to steal stars with a net.  Sneaky star stealer.

The guidance counselor message of the 90’s was geared toward kids who had very strong opinions on things they didn’t know a lot about.  And that sounds harsh, I know.  But I had the balls to believe then that I knew how to be a professional actor, and never stopped to think that MAYBE there would be other factors along the way- like a changing industry, or an economic recession, or you know, a lack of real-life experience.  So how was I supposed to have these solid goals when I didn’t know how the industry, or my own mind, would look in 10 years?

By the time I moved to NYC in 2010, the pressure to make this all look easy, as everyone on Facebook had managed to do, was intense.  I thought- you get a food service job, you go to auditions, you get drinks with your friends to talk about your crazy NYC lifestyle, you get into shows, and that’s that.  #blessed and #actorlife, or whatever.

Only #blessed that this show exists.

Only #blessed that this show exists.

It wasn’t quite like that.  I would go into the details, but the past four years of this blog has it all there (because as you can see, I had all of the feels).  But my point is that no guidance counselor ever said, “And hey, if you get to where you planned to go and you don’t really like it, don’t freak out about changing your tactic.  That doesn’t mean you’re a failure.”  Yeah no, “don’t give up on your dreams” is a wonderful mantra, but it really should include that you may not know the extent of your dream yet.  How could you?  You are not a time traveler, and most importantly, you are young.

You’ll know where you’re going when you get there.

A few nights ago, I met two fabulous actresses, who in two separate conversations, said the same thing.  They explained that they recently moved across the country, and had no idea how natural it would feel to live there until they arrived-  as if they were always meant to truly be themselves in this new place.   That’s how I felt when I walked out of my school yesterday.  When I lived in the city, no matter how much I tried, I never felt like I blended in with the crowd.  I would get home at the end of the night and spend so much time decompressing that writing was one of the the last thoughts on my mind.  And auditioning?  I was running around from job to job so often, planning the next day, figuring out my schedule, that auditioning was always an afterthought.  When I got in an audition, all I could think about was my stress.

But I wouldn’t have guessed that my “alternate” plan from childhood would make the original plan happen.  Now that I live somewhere that makes me feel more like, well me, I want to write, I want to take classes, I want to look at a real long-term acting plan.  My brain has the space to do what it wants because I am no longer pretending to be who I decided I would be when I was 15.

Tiber is pretty pumped about the suburbs too.

Tiber is pretty pumped about the suburbs too.

For the past three weeks, the middle schoolers outside my office have been rehearsing Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The school chooses a Shakespeare play each Spring and in addition to the auditioned cast in the full production, every student learns one scene for their class.  So I have 10 versions of the lovers’ fight one day, and 10 versions on Puck’s final monologue another.  It’s adorable.  I have also reconnected with several NJ theatre companies, and because this job pays me (imagine that!) I am already starting to sign up for summer classes.  Hallelujah!  I almost cried when I registered for an Alexander Technique class yesterday.  I thought that was a luxury for the trust fund babies.  But what I’m saying is, I am now surrounded by theatre, just when I thought I was taking a step back.

Maybe you also need some chocolate…

It isn’t just these big lofty life goals that need this intuitive-based treatment.  I’ve been realizing more and more that when I say yes to unexpected opportunities, I usually find what I didn’t even know I needed.  I knew I was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  It’s like when you’re exhausted and can’t figure out why, and then you eat an apple and think, “Holy hell, I haven’t had fruit in a week!”  Or when you want to punch the wall, but a snickers actually makes you feel better.  It’s finding what you need without overthinking it, and working from your gut instead.

So no, I am not suggesting we wander through life aimlessly hoping we bump into the thing that fulfills us, but I have not had a lot of luck obsessing and calculating what I will need down the line. My real answer to that awful question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is, “Someone who can inspire those around me, in whatever I am doing then.”  My only real hope is to find a way to share the adventures and lessons, just in case they help someone else too.  Is that done by following some career formula?  I don’t have a clue.

I cannot control where I will be happy living in two years, or how much education or acting will be a part of my life, I do not know 30 year old Ginny yet.  I know what makes me happy now, and I will continue to welcome those things into my life.  But if my plans change, that doesn’t mean I am disrespecting my current goals.  I don’t know everything, and if I did, that would be terribly boring.

Poll for the group:

What have you always wanted to say to the dreaded interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To get you started, Ben’s answer has always been: “Not answering this question.”

 

Happy weekend!

Maybe there will be Manhattans

The other day I got really excited about having garbage bags.  I needed to switch out the garbage and became, perhaps irrationally, thankful that we had our act together to own…garbage bags.  So at some point recently, we had the money to buy something in bulk before we moved.  And it reminds me that the days of: “Oh nuts, we’re out of garbage bags, and OH CRAP we have $17 in our account and since the corner store has a $10 minimum on credit cards, I have to buy a candy bar with the bags to make the minimum, which at least I can eat while feeling sorry for myself since I now only have $7 in my account” are over.  So you see, having garbage bags means we don’t have to deal with that noise anymore.

Comfort Snickers

Comfort Snickers

Since it was a sunny day and I was feeling particularly on top of the world, I pranced over to Ben to tell him about my realization.  I have been noticing more and more how many little things are slowly falling into place.  And if I hadn’t had gone without them in the past, I may no be overlooking them now.  As another example: clean towels!  A clean towel when I was little was just a clean towel.  I threw it in the corner of my bedroom after I got out of the shower like an obnoxious teenager, and it eventually magically made its way to the washing machine downstairs.  But move to NYC as an artist on a dime, and that towel is going to stay dirty until you have 3 hours to kill while it isn’t monsooning to drag that towel, and the rest of your clothing, down the block to the laundromat, where you hopefully have enough quarters hidden in the couch seats and old coat pockets to wash your clothes.

I tried really hard to watch Broad City.  I didn’t make it very far.  I think one of the biggest issues they faced in the episode was not having enough money to buy drugs or go to a concert…or something, I mainly blocked it out and filled that space with pasta recipes.  But all I could think was, “Am I missing the point?” and more importantly, “Is this how anyone my age lives in the NYC?”

If I was to make a show about struggling NYC girls trying to live on little money, triumphs would include adding the leftover goat cheese from your protein box at Starbucks (one of the cheapest last minute dinners you can grab while running around) to pasta sauce and make it taste really fancy.  Or that if you suggest a random happy hour special to a particularly empty bar after work (pretending you don’t know if they “still offer it”), they will usually give you that special anyway so that you don’t leave (half-price bottles of wine is the key).  I don’t think anyone would watch a show of my life, but at least it would be closer to reality and include many less hipster-scowls.  These little tid-bits of experiential knowledge have changed the way I live, they make me feel like I don’t need a trust fund to live better than the tv-twenty somethings.

Freakin’ out 

These little triumphs add up.  All of our ducks might not be in line, but seeing these small progressions remind me that I am at least not going backwards.  A few days before I moved, I started to get that familiar panicky feeling in my throat.  Maybe I am wrong about leaving Jersey City!  I change my mind!  We’re keeping the apartment.  Unpack everything! And for the first time, a little voice inside my head (uh oh) said “Oh just cool it.”  I was a little taken aback by my judge-y inner monologue.  But it was right, perhaps this is all part of how everything is meant to pan out, and constantly pushing against that is wasted energy. Perhaps I will look back and say,”Thank goodness we moved, it made everything else fall into place.”  or “If I hadn’t worked those 55 temp jobs, maybe I wouldn’t have landed that national commercial that ran for 25 years.”  It’s similar to when I wouldn’t get cast in a show when I was tiny and my dad would give me a pep talk about how it was simply making room for a better role.

An old bottle of Vermouth and a snarky picture of Shakespeare

When I started to write this post last night I was drinking a Manhattan in my living room thanks to a bottle of Vermouth someone brought to one of our parties about 4 years go (it doesn’t go bad..right?).  The whisky has come and gone but whenever I am feeling frumpy about my evening, I have this one  extra ingredient to throw together something that makes me feel fancy.  Even if it’s a week when my laundry is hanging from the ceiling fans and the cats are bouncing off the walls, I can clear my spot, have a Manhattan, and write.  I will remember these little moments of joy much more than the freakout “everything is out of control” moments. I believe this is what shows like Girls and Broad City were trying to do- showcase the little day to day idiosyncrasies of young people living in NYC.  And perhaps I haven’t given them enough of a chance, but these shows are about as close to reality as a perfectly decorated living room on Pinterest.  It ain’t gonna happen.

You're cute.

You’re cute.

Last Saturday, Ben and I went to the STNJ gala and had the chance to sit at a table with not one, BUT TWO former governors, and feel mega-snazzy about our strange lives.  Oooh look at us!  We mutually shared a “what is our life” moment when we sat down at the table off the corner of the stage.  After having a day thrilled about garbage bags, this was really blowing my mind.

Oh and I had drunk about 4 glasses of wine.  Halfway through the cabaret, I looked down at the odd but striking picture of Shakespeare they are using on their season program this year.  At any other time, I would have thought, “Huh, really?  That’s the picture you go with?”  But there he was, looking a little grumpy and persistent, staring at me from Tom Kean’s plate.  Call me completely insane (or drunk), but in the moment I felt like Shakespeare was judging me, my excuses not to write, and all the anxiety that has been standing in my way of not only being an actor, but also whatever else in the future I fight against.  I have had opportunities come my way, but often, because they are not specifically an acting role, I have been less than enthused about them.  That is dumb.  I have a play that needs to be written, producing opportunities I can get underway, and chances to take classes.  I felt like ugly Shakespeare was saying, “Stop bitching and get to it.”

Got myself a keychain of it too!

Got myself a keychain of it too!

I don’t know quite how these two realizations are connected other than that my moments of clarity often coincide with my moments of gratitude.  I recently read about a psychological trend known as “learned helplessness.”  After something bad happens to you over and over, you learn to accept it instead of trying to change it.  I’ve felt myself slide into this many times, and have watched many people fall into as well.  But these little glints of improvement break me out of it.  So though I have had about 20 or so “unsuccessful” auditions in a row, have ignored my play time and time again, and seem to just can’t figure out what makes me sick when I dance (case of the dizzies), it does not mean I accept that this is “just how things are now” and hide under my desk.

We had garbage bags.  And two years ago we didn’t. Sometimes that does it.

Creativity Snooze Button

It was hard getting out of bed this morning.  When our upstairs neighbors use their heat, the steam travels up the pipes, making a hundred little stops along its way on the sides of the old metal radiator in our bedroom.  In my mind, the steam has transformed itself into little creatures with metal construction worker hats bouncing back and forth with glee, occasionally smacking their little hammers on the pipe for added affect.  By 5:30 or so, Ben gave up on sleep and I sprawled out, covered my head, and wished that the birds weren’t already chirping along with the hammering creatures in the pipes.  Both were conspiring against me.

Finally, my alarm went off, and I knew I couldn’t hide from the birds any longer.  I sat down to write and debated if 15 minutes more in bed would save me from a day of exhaustion.  I spent a sold five minutes writing about sleeping instead of writing or sleeping.  I finally gave in and realized what my problem was- I’m great at finding reasons to put things off, whether the pipes were clanging all night or not.  And as I usually do, I wanted to figure out why.

After we gave up on sleep...

After we gave up on sleep…

Things to DO lists…

For close to five years, I temped, consulted, stopped-in, freelanced, helped out, and part-timed my way through my work life.  Though all my “part-time” jobs usually added up to more than a 40 hour work week, I was always temporary.  Walking in and out of these offices without commitment and knowing that no one expected me to stay helped me maintain control of the feeling that I could be creative any time I wanted.  I could just up and leave to go be an artist whenever the mysterious and elusive art world called my name.  Choosing a dreaded full-time “permanent” job, as they’re known in the temping world (which really needs some rebranding), seemed like the end of the creative line.  I thought that adopting this kind of schedule would give me a “doing” life, and not in the “get stuff done Home Depot ad” kind of way.  I imagined it full of errands, schedules, distractions, and predictability.  I was worried that I would look back after a year and realize in terror that I hadn’t created a thing.

And yet, here I am, at my new “permanent” job (again, terrible name) with more time and space in my mind than I did when I had one foot out the door.  I am not saying that all you freelancers (and I’m sure I will join you again someday), should jump on a full-time job, I am saying that there is no perfect atmosphere or specific time to create.  But there is a balance to be found.  For example, for a while, I tried to only work “creative” jobs that would aid my drive to write and audition in my spare time: background work, teaching crafts classes, non-profit work.  At another point, I completely distanced myself from the creative world: hedge funds, PR firms, law offices.  Perhaps making more money and the starkness of the scenery would encourage me to write more.  But no matter where I was, the patterns stayed the same.

Writing and auditioning came in pretty unpredictable spurts, but usually coincided with the rare moment I was not obsessing with getting my constantly changing schedule or financial situation under control.  These moments were rare, since maintaining this magical flexibility was more exhausting the more it worked.  If I booked a job, I had less time to try and book the next job.  But if I didn’t book anything, I have to work extra hard to find something to maintain my budget.  So where did creativity fit into any of this?  My only choice was to focus all my energy into maintaining this work life, I had to eat, and I had to pay rent. And to be a complete musical theatre nerd and quote Cabaret, “Feet don’t waltz when the roof caves in.”

Write for your life!!  Raaaah!!

The point that I’ve come back to over and over, is that I cannot live a life without creativity.  When I am not working on a project, my weekly existential crises number double.  Poor Ben has to give me the “you’re always an artist” pep talk more than any husband should.  Even when I was a kid, my dad would tell me that I was grump when I wasn’t in a show.  The “I’m bored” whine-fest as a child was met with, “Oh, you just need a show,” or if that didn’t work, “Go clean the hallway closet.”

What happens to me when I don't write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

What happens to me when I don’t write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

So why is it so difficult to squeeze our creativity into this list of survival needs? Is it that no one is holding us accountable?  Is it because the world will keep spinning if you ignore it?  If I don’t make dinner, for example, I won’t eat, and then I will be hungry, and eventually get sick.  We have to seek out food in order to eat it.  But if I don’t write my play today, nothing changes.  Nothing bad will happen.  I will just feel blue that I ignored my play again.  Is this just as important as eating?  It’s great to sound poetic and say it is, and sew it on a Pinterest pillow, but really though?  How do we make this need a life necessity?

“I wanted it enough”…and other BS

I’ve never liked this phrase.  I’ve heard successful people say many times, “I simply wanted it badly enough.”  Great, so do the rest of us.  I usually find that the people who say this are either not mentioning the generous help they received along the way, OR the incredibly unhealthy unsustainable lifestyle that goes along with their career.  Simply wanting something does not write a novel or put you on Broadway.  Did wanting something enough make your parents buy you a Tamagotchi?  Is that where this is coming from?

It can’t just be about desire.  Basic needs, discipline, opportunity, education, and health play a pretty nice role as well.  As artists, we may never have a constant safety net.  And we can choose to focus on falling or being envious of someone else’s net.  But we can also look the possibility that balancing these things can assist in keeping us up in the air.  Perhaps it is about supporting each one of these puzzle pieces to weather any storm or any changing circumstance.  When one puzzle piece is out of balance, you have the others.  Your money is low, but you have discipline in your schedule to fall back on.  Or your education is lacking, but you have the opportunity to reach out for advice from someone.  You’re sick, but you have money to get yourself to the doctor or take time off.

What will happen if you lose the balance...

What will happen if you lose the balance…

 

Yes this blog post only had cat pictures…

I actually didn’t begin writing this post knowing how it would end.  Writing out these thoughts got me here though.   Having this blog added that tiny bit of discipline I talk about that keeps me writing, even if it’s not in the way I planned when I woke up today.  There may never be the absolute ideal moment to work on your art, but you also can only get so far with the “But I want it!” mentality.  Respecting how difficult it is to care for your creative energy is the only way to maintain this wild life-long journey of being an artist.  So I am going to start looking at these puzzle pieces as way to balance out my brain when I find the excuse to hit the snooze button or ignore my writing.  At least this is something I can put my finger on and tackle from a new perspective.

 

As always, feel free to share thoughts below!  And thank you for reading!

Two Dollar Last Chance Mums

I saved a plant yesterday.

I went to Pathmark near our new apartment during a particular grumpy morning.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been thrilled about our new town so far, especially the fulfilling job that doesn’t involve body-checking people on the Path train, fantastic friends nearby, and best of all- a porch to sit on.  And yet, I hit a slump yesterday morning.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

The Pathmark near us is not the place to go if you need to feel better about the state of the world.  It’s A.) Disturbingly empty whenever I go, and B.) I wouldn’t surprised be if their produce section was made up of what the Whole Foods down the street decides to chuck.  It’s also tucked inside a plaza surrounded by recently closed businesses.  When I left, there was a man standing with two bird cages yelling, “I’ve got these finches!”  ….??!

So if you’re feeling odd about your day, don’t go to Pathmark.  Nonetheless it’s cheaper and closer, so we’re not complaining too much.  In the back of the store sat a table of very sad plants.  Drooping daffodils, rotting Easter flowers, and a few struggling roses.  A sign stood in front reading, “$2.00!  LAST CHANCE!” I desperately looked for something I could salvage.  Lo and behold, there was a a pot of yellow mums calling my name.  The leaves were completely slumped over and when you picked it up, half the petals fell onto the table.  It was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of Mums.  Determined to turn my morning around, I put it in my basket and accepted that I looked like the weirdo who was buying a dead plant to my three fellow shoppers.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

The cashier’s words are what truly did it.  It’s funny when strangers say things that stick with you all day.  Maybe it’s because they’re strangers, and kind words are coming from a place of complete selflessness. He didn’t need to say anything about my dead plant.  But he did.  As I was walking away, he yelled, “You bring that plant back to life, BRING IT BACK TO LIFE!!”  Yes!!  Yes, cashier man!  I debated buying some finches from a screaming man, and headed home.

So as you can imagine, Ben was very confused when he found me on our back patio passionately watering a nearly-dead plant surrounded by grocery bags.  Two hours later, with the help of a lot of water, a very sunny spot, and a lot of pruning, the leaves stood back up.  It now looks like a real plant on its way to growing new flowers, not just a two dollar last chance mum.

I stayed outside on the porch for a good chunk of the morning and remembered that I came to this town feeling drained.  Drained of energy, of creativity, and of belief in my art.  I’ve had this blog for four years, and since then have moved farther and farther away from the city I tried so hard to work in.  Throughout my time working in NYC, I worked as: a secretary, a teaching artist, a barista, an auction assistant, a development administrator, a background actor, a post-it note display decorator, a props designer, a gas station promotor, a casting assistant, a scientist welcomer (long story), an exchange student conference organizer, a gift basket stuffer, a babysitter, an accidental Mac help-desk specialist, an audiobook recorder, a conference planner, and a database specialist (I punched holes in documents for four weeks). As thankful as I am to have all these jobs and experiences, I am TIRED.  Only two of these jobs on the list are related to acting.  So after almost five and a half years working in the city and trying to find time time to audition, I have to change my approach before I hate theatre altogether.

So I am working at an incredibly positive school while taking classes in the city until I am ready to return to the audition scene as a useful human being.  Because I wasn’t one.  I was a jaded, angry New Yorker that wanted to punch every musical theatre 20-something that still looked full of hope.  I felt everyone around me had more money, time, talent, and confidence than I did, which I know is bull, but I needed to get out to remember that.

I am very grateful for all these odd jobs.  If I hadn’t worked them, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now, surrounded by adorable students and genuinely friendly coworkers.  Every office around me has a candy and girl scout cookie secret stash, including mine.  If I hadn’t marked this path out for myself, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go when I get burned out.

Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Brain Rules that describes the physical reaction your brain has to exercise and other stress-reducing activities.  You are actually feeding your brain.  Since I couldn’t go for a run without someone calling me “baby” in my old neighborhood, I am looking forward to my new running path and the less stressful town all around.  I am looking forward to perking back up and waltzing into Ripley Grier someday soon without looking like a droopy plant.

 

Where I'll be.

Where I’ll be.

So I am going to sit on my porch for a while with my glass of wine next to my revived flowers.  And when I no longer look like a two dollar last chance mum, I will head back to the races.  Until then, I hope to finish my book…or my play…or maybe just my bottle of wine to start.  In the meantime, I have a porch with extra chairs, extra wine, and extra plants that need watering for you city-dwellers that also need some porch time.  Don’t hesitate to come sit with us.

 

Happy Monday all, enjoy the sunshine:)

Rituals, Direction, and How to Not Kick Your Cat While Doing Yoga

daily rituals

 

A couple months ago, I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book that many bloggers have been chatting about recently.  Man did this collection make me feel better about myself as an artist. He has collected the daily routines of famous and historic writers, artists, scientists, and other great minds throughout history.  By breaking down how each person spent their day, it is A.) a fantastic read for someone with a short attention span like me and B.) incredibly humbling and inspiring.

The most eye-opening part?  They were all regular people, who ate meals and did chores, had crazy sleeping schedules, and errands to run.  They’re like you and me!!  Doing people things!  So I tackled the whole “if they can do it, I can give it a go” mantra and broke it down.

These are some of the themes I spotted (The quotes are all pulled from Mason Currey’s Blog, also listed above.)

1. Consistency, even when life takes a turn: On Joseph Campbell: “So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. ”

2. Drugs, drugs, drugs: On Paul Erdos: “Erdös first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. “A mathematician,” Erdos was fond of saying, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”

2. Guilt: On Alaa Al Aswany: “I have a very firm schedule. I must wake up at six a.m. or I feel very guilty. I write from 6:30 to 10:30 six days a week, like a soldier—no interruptions.”

4. Above all, doing whatever the hell works for you: On Gary Panter: “Get up at 7:30 in the morning — feed cats, drive daughter to school, read the NY Times and drink chocolate milk.”

5. A wonderful amount of interestingly-timed whiskey.: On Winston Churchill: “At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”

There wasn’t a single artist that was the same, thus disproving any self-help/success guru that claims there is one way to do things.  But looking at this list, obviously there are some things I can do without.  I need to go to work, so an 8 hour regimen is not possible yet.  If I stayed home all day, I would probably start to go crazy.  Drugs aren’t up my alley.  I get nervous when I take too much Tylenol.  So scratch that.  Guilt?  I was raised Catholic, so I am not in short supply of guilt.  Consistency!  Heeeey, there’s something I’ve never been great at, that may do!  And whiskey.  I can keep that part.  I would be up for making Moscow Mules a brunch staple.

Literal Sun Salutation…

Taken on the Camino!

Taken on the Camino!

For the past four weeks (at least on weekdays, all bets are off on weekends), I have gotten up a little earlier than usual to write and do about 5 minutes of yoga before hopping in the shower and going to work.  At first I thought:

This isn’t going to last, it will be like one of those Pinterest Yoga challenges I desert for sleeping in by day 4.

Or…

It’s so dark out in the morning, this is depressing, I am in my dark living room doing yoga with my cat chirping at me.

But it’s wild: the more I did it, the more I couldn’t imagine not doing it before work.  It’s still slow, I am not about to join a 6am yoga class or anything, but I have found that I am no longer an evil anxious human being while getting ready.

And what’s even more fascinating: without planning or following some sort of guide, my yoga and writing have been going a bit longer each morning.  Thanks to my cat who wakes me up for food at 5:45am, I have a natural alarm clock.

The other wonderful thing about writing and yoga at this specific hour is watching the days get longer through the winter.  When I first started, it was still dark by the time I headed off to the shower.  Now, the sun is rising as I start yoga.  I am so much more aware that Spring is on its way, no matter what this little asshole says next week.

The Cat Part of the Blog Post

Strangely enough, I didn’t expect the ritual to grow into something far more important than exercise and journaling.  Of course this makes sense, if you do the same thing every day, you’re going to feel more comfortable with it.  Right?  But I honestly didn’t assume that 20 minutes out of my day would make much of a difference.

I recognized I had made a yogic breakthrough when I no longer wanted to smack my very loving cat the moment I rolled out my mat (Hey I rhymed!).  Whenever I stretch down to floor level in a sun salutation, here comes Tiber, our overfed dog-like cat rolling, cooing, and running back and forth under my downward dog like I’m a playground bridge structure.

tiber

At the end of my practice, I meditate for a few minutes while Tiber purrs and occasionally makes his signature “chirping” noise that translates into, “Hhhey….Heeeey….Hey youuu.”  With each chirp, he pats my knee with his claws half extended.  It’s great.  After many days of shooing him away, lightning struck.  All of my Buddhism instruction talks about remaining in the moment while meditating, not closing your eyes and drifting off into philosophical la-la land, a common misconception. So Buddha Tiber (he has the belly for it) is the present moment saying, “Heeey…stop thinking about cleaning the floors.  Hey, yes we still have cereal…heeeeeeeeeey, HEY.”

When I thought of this, I chuckled, gave him a pat, and he stopped chirping.  He purred, which was way more calming than my spastic thoughts.

Cats: Better than Overpriced Yoga Props

viola

Since I have learned to work with my furry yoga partner, I have been noticing other helpful things about his distractions.  He is often standing exactly where I was about to put my foot, causing me to have to look where I am placing it.  This was often mentioned in yoga classes I took anyway, but I never really understood its importance.  When I look before I place, much like spotting in dance, I see where I am headed and have less of a chance of flailing around like a drunk person.

not yoga

For example.

I am more present, because I don’t want to kick Tiber, and I feel more in control of the movements.

Thanks cat!

What does any of this have to do with a book about rituals?

What I loved most about the routine book is that each artist built upon their work, slowly but surely through some consistency.  And because of this, they found a direction, however abstract.  It’s hard to have direction as an artist when so much is out of your control.  You can build it, but you don’t actually know if they will come.  So I find setting a goal is tricky, and they often sound too abstract to act on.  Building on the smaller things is actually in my control, and they just take time.  I feel I have made some progress at the end of the day, however little, and this is invaluable.

Writing and exercising each morning is something I can act and build on, and I have already started to learn from it.  So I tip my hat to you, Mason Currey.  Thank you for showing me that accomplished artists live regular lives like the rest of us in the same world we know.  It’s not on some magical wealthy creative cloud that we can’t reach, but usually in their living room, with dirty dishes in the sink, and maybe some whiskey.

Rephrasing the “Fall Back” Question

About four years ago, right after I moved to NYC, I started a word document simply called “Life.”  It evolved into my Morning Pages, and sometimes acts as a ranting journal for when I don’t feel like using a pen.  Occasionally, especially on snowy days like today, I skim through it and relive getting to know Ben, quitting a million temp jobs, and struggling through an endless slew of days loving or hating New York City Theatre.  I will gladly skip the tiring bits about Sallie Mae or getting stuck on the D train and gravitate toward the wine-induced evenings when I sounded surprisingly poetic.  Good for you, tipsy brain.  Either way, it’s always an adventure to read.  It usually ends in me declaring I forgot to feed the cats, and then the sentence abruptly ends.

The hard part when looking back is seeing the patterns.  Have I always complained about not being able to pay my bills?  Have I always believed that I don’t work hard enough toward acting?  Have I always hated living in a densely populated city????  Am I a crazy person going in circles slowly accumulating cats and cat pictures??

It's possible.

It’s possible.

I’ve struggled with getting caught in patterns for years.  If you look back through these posts, you’ll definitely see it here.  I have written about pretty similar themes each time: surviving your survival job, overcoming stress in an audition, not going insane even though you’re broke.  Round and round I go.  Not to say these posts weren’t genuine or warranted, but they weren’t kidding when they said being an artist is exhausting  (They being all my guidance counselors before college).

Speaking of guidance counselors…

I partially blame this fretting cycle on the American Dream-esque rhetoric we are fed in school.  “If you try hard enough (or “want” something enough), you can achieve anything.” Then I mix this with a good dose of, “If you can’t stand the hard life that comes along with acting, what will your fall back be?”  Ew.  What a terrible, and illogical amount of pressure to put on yourself, not to mention your creative self.  I should pick a secondary career to pursue if I decide one day that I don’t “want” something enough to push through the hard stuff?  That doesn’t sound pleasant or productive.  What I feel the question leaves out is:

-When you act/write/paint/stand on your head while juggling, do you feel that you are truly at home?  Do you know that this is the best way to share your ideas with the world?  Then congrats, you are that.  That’s the end of it.

Hooray!

Hooray!

-If you enjoy something else right now (working in an office, bartending, driving the A train) does that mean that you’re not actually meant to be an artist?  No.  Wrong.  And let’s stop saying “meant to” please.  You are what you are.

-If someone doesn’t hire me to practice my art, does that mean I am failing?  Nope!  It just means ten million other people are doing what you are doing, and there is no logical latter to the top of the arts.  Actually, there is no top of the arts.  But that’s another blog post.

-Is my friend on Instagram who always takes pictures of their feet before an audition trying harder than I am?  Probably not.  They just take more pictures. #blessed #coolit #unfollow

If I was to talk to a room of doe-eyed college seniors in a theatre program right now, I wouldn’t threaten them with, “Times are hard!  Jobs are few!  If you can’t take it, don’t be an actor!”  Instead I would say, “You have your art, whether you need to pay back Aunt Sallie or not, money or time will never dictate that.  The trick is keeping your lifelong goal of acting alive.  So what job will you take on that will feed your creative soul while allowing you to progress as a person at the same time?”  Hey, hippie Ginny, nice to see you this morning.

Finding Your People, and your Lifestyle

iPhone Pictures 673

One of the biggest artistic things I have learned from my older and sometimes wiser husband (he is currently debating with me that he is never wiser, but I disagree) is that there is one thing in theatre that cannot be rushed: building your community and finding your people.  There is a joke among Ben’s friends called “the six degrees of Ben Bartolone.”  When he meets someone new in theatre, chances are they were his college buddy’s ex-girlfriend/worked at the mall with his best friend in high school/goes to his Steelers bar/actually a distant relative.  It never stops amazing me.  Why?  Because he knows the power of community in this field, and that time is necessary to build one. We are all running in circles at times, it’s just a matter of starting to run into each other.

Realizing who you don’t work well with is just as important.  I’ve taken a few acting classes when I’ve felt that I was missing some inside joke the rest of the group was riding on the whole time.  I felt old (not in a bad way) and that I’d rather go home to a book and wine at the end of the night instead of shots of fireball at a crowded midtown bar.  I sit in the Equity Lounge (something I couldn’t wait to do) and wonder why I don’t have any interest anymore in spending 12 weeks in a van performing Shakespeare to middle schoolers.  Does this mean I don’t want to be an actor enough?

Between the countless Drew grads in my life that share the same bitter-snarky optimism, and some lovely people I have found during my time here, I see how a community clarifies your artistic path.  Suddenly, like magic, my thoughts have shifted from “who will hire me?” to “what do I want to create with these wonderful people?”

box on head

Wonderful people.

Happiness also exists when you’re not in a show…

I am very fascinated by the phenomenon of two questions:

“What are you working on?”  In case you haven’t seen this…

and

“Oh you’re writing now…so you’ve given up Acting?”

Whaaaat??  I recently told a group of my coworkers that this was a common theatre phrase and they looked horrified.  What kind of career constantly asks you if you are giving up your career?

Since the wedding, I have been primarily freelancing in fundraising, specifically in a school.  I originally sought this out with the expensive wedding on the horizon.  But amazingly in the process found that working around adorable babies while working toward a cause I care deeply about, was pretty damn fulfilling.  It transformed from something I could do to something I wanted to do.  And the happy side effect?  I can finally work toward financial freedom, afford classes I enjoy, and free up a little part of my brain that used to focus on bills but now focuses on writing and acting.  How delightful! Am I going to EPA’s every morning and hoping to win the acting lottery?  Not right now.  Will I again?  I’m sure.  But my life is by no means on hold in the meantime.

The New Question (open to suggestions here):

Instead of “What will you do if you fail as an artist?” how about “What will I do to remain an artist?”

In other words, in today’s economy, with NYC becoming a more and more expensive city full of more and more trained talented actors (like yourself), what work can I put my energy toward that I care about, is in-line with my ethics, and will sustain that innate part of me that is, and will remain, an artist.

Isn’t that better than waiting for some impending moment to pull the plug on your passion?  Also, isn’t this option more logical?  There is no more “starving artist” archetype.  There is however, a “working three jobs while also doing my art-starving artist” archetype.  We need to adapt with the times without giving up our art, otherwise, the world will miss out of what you have to give.  So we need a better way to sustain ourselves: financially, creatively, and physically.

As usual, it’s all about intention.

If your intention when taking a job is just to make money (see myself, three months ago) there is a chance you will hit an artistic wall.  It is not in our nature to be obsessive consumers.  If your intention is hiding from being an artist, I can make an easy guess that will also fail.  It will find you.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

I have to say that since I have set my sights on making education administration a long-term part of my life, I have begun chipping away at two writing projects, met a lovely Jersey City theatre community, and started singing regularly again.  This idea will not work for anyone, why would it?  But removing the pressure to live an actor’s like in a “typical” way, strangely made me feel more like an artist.  So let’s give ourselves a break and remember this is our life goal, not a “by next week” goal.  By having a varied and dynamic life, we are still hard workers, still passionate, and yes, still actors.

If you build it, they will….read your blog?

A lovely idea launched me into writing this morning, and perhaps it will help you as well.  My friend Christina has been writing a lovely blog containing a thank you note a day to different things in her life: people, organizations, inanimate objects.  And this morning, she received a thank you note in return from one of the organizations!  As much as you hope people may glance at your art, it’s still incredibly thrilling and shocking when people do.  It’s especially thrilling when you realize that your writing has effected someone positively.

And then I thought for a minute about what would have happened if Christina had decided to write a post a day about everything she hates. What kind of response would she get, if any?  Essentially, it would be a giant invitation for rage and rants.  What a waste of energy on both ends, and pretty much the most obnoxious blog ever.

Most importantly, it was a reminder that when you send out gratitude, people appreciate it and send it right back.  When you send out enthusiasm, people feel enthused, and when you send out a constructive piece of advice about a problem, people sit and think, which is never a totally bad thing.

In the past several years of having this blog I have discovered a few (possibly obvious) things:

1. If you write it, people will read it.  Someone needs to hear what you need to say.  Hooray!

2. There are many ways you can present one idea.  No kidding, Ginny.

3. The way you choose to present your thoughts will affect the way you live your life and how others feel in theirs.  If you can’t find the best way to say something, hold off, it will come to you later.  Writing about writing?  Getting a little meta for me, please explain.  Also, are you talking to yourself in bold?  Does Ben know you’ve lost your mind?  Hush.

These sound like obvious points.  Why would anyone write a post a day about things they hate?  How exhausting!  And yet, you find it all the time online, just not listed this bluntly. SO I’ve started to think about where all this online negativity comes from.

What an interesting soapbox you have there….

We are human beings that need to feel all the feels sometimes, but it is important to keep an eye on what you are putting out there for public consumption and what you’re instead, putting in your journal.

It seems that negativity is often falsely regarded as confidence.  You have the right not to like something, I understand that.  And the world is far from perfect.  Constructive ideas are needed to fix many terrible things in society.  But the next time you write about how all people should stop doing something because you think it’s dumb and then have no logical take on how to fix it, think about why you are throwing all that negative energy into something that is A. beyond your control, and B. Most likely an insult of someone else’s personal expression.

Ask yourself if it’s harming you or anyone else.  If it isn’t, maaaaaybe you’re actually upset about something else.  If it is, it is still that person’s belief, and so there are more constructive ways to speak to them effectively.  Let’s be big girls and boys about this.

Pick a nicer soapbox, you have your choice

There aren’t many things in life that you have complete control over.  Your soapbox is one of them.  If you have a particularly open mind about a political problem, and a practical approach about how to improve someone’s life, then by all means, shout away!  I will support you!  (Though I will probably not come to your literal soapbox because I hate crowds.  But I will totally give to your Kickstarter).

If you find joy in making scones and posting scone recipes, power to ya!  Who doesn’t like scones?

Home Baked Scones Tea With...

I had to google “public domain scones” for this one.

Okay good example: Let’s say you hate scones.  Hate them.  They’re dry and your great-aunt made you eat them when you were little while yelling at you about being too skinny (This did not happen to me.  I love my aunts.  And scones).  But damn those dense pastries of doom!  You go on this person’s scone blog and rip into their very being of artistic identity.  And now it’s for all the world to see, not only the writer/struggling baker.

Your negative comment sparks a defensive attack online that somehow causes half your facebook readers to storm away from their computers, yell at their barista, yell at their dog, over-eat pastries out of spite, and then stomp around for part of the day carrying your family issues with them.

I believe it all goes back to fear.  And fear mixed with a healthy dose of ignorance creates a tunnel vision of rage and bizarre soap boxes.

The best example to me is the Ice Bucket Challenge.  I know, I’m late to the game.  But I wanted to wait until the angry people calmed down a bit so we all had some hindsight.  I found that people who ranted about the Ice Bucket Challenge had trouble looking at the whole story, and perhaps were projecting their own discomfort with group activities altogether.

Many people said, “What does pouring ice on your head have to do with ALS?  THIS IS DUMB!”  *throws laptop, pouts, eats scone*  

Now if they had perhaps researched the story of the challenge a little further, they would have seen that the challenge was to raise awareness about a disease that didn’t have a lot of attention.  By spreading knowledge, we realize it’s a problem that perhaps lost fundraising steam, which clearly is something to be fixed.

I also read, “People are just trying to get attention instead of donating!”  *posts on facebook, hopes for likes and comments*

As I used to tell my first graders at camp, don’t worry about what your classmate is doing, worry about yourself.  If you feel that their approach to spreading awareness about a disease is too showy, then don’t do it.  Keep gluing your macaroni.  No one is leaving you out.

And then the ever confusing, “This is taking away from other charities.” (Well, now I’m just getting judgy. I see how easy it is!)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t donate to a list of charities each day, and it took me a while to get used to donating at all.  But one way to get in the habit of giving to ANYONE, even if it’s a smaller amount, is having something inspire you to think of yourself as a charitable person in the first place.  It is easy to assume that a good portion of the Ice-Challenged gang was not planning on donating to Gorillas in Need (made that up, I’m not sure if they’re in need) that day and decided to blow them off.  So it was a good step all around.

Same amount of energy for something more worthwhile

Instead of using the word “better” or “right”, let’s go with constructive or worthwhile.  So much energy goes into choosing negativity without properly researching your point.  Will your rant actually help the situation, or are you a commenter that likes to stir up trouble because you’re speaking from a place of anger?

I have plenty of moments when someone has said something simply asinine online and I have to hold myself back.  If that guy I went to high school with is defending another crazy Fox News Anchor simply because he isn’t exposed to anything outside our small home town, would it be worth me lashing out at him without a plan?  No.  People who carry angry ideas are always looking for someone to be defensive.  And from his point of view, he believes he is fighting the good fight.  Me attacking would get us both nowhere.  Until I have a calm and helpful way to approach it, I will keep my mouth shut.

People do listen!  If you build it….you get the point.

So the good thing is that people do listen!!  I have found that when you put your art out there in the world, people do care and appreciate your effort, even if it takes a little while to make a career out of it (Want to cast me??  Ginnybartolone.com! *insert tap dance*).  So write that blog!  Start that painting!  Build that baseball field for ghosts!  Just remember that what you build will reach people, and helping them grow in the process is much better than millions of other lousier and honestly, less interesting options out there.

Survival Job Sanity: A Call for Advice

In October, I will turn 28, thus marking my 20th year in theatre.  Other than sending me into a bit of a crisis about how I thought I’d be a Rockette by now, I feel it will also give me the right to have loud, dramatic diva tantrums involving long scarves and phrases like, “I’ve been in this business for TWENTY YEEEAARS.”

Tiny me in Barn Theatre’s production of Kindertransport way back when.

What I found interesting about this realization is that I do not have a feeling of, “Where did the time go?”  I know where it went.  A lot of shit has gone down since I was eight.  Good and bad.

And I believe that theatre had a lot to do with me not feeling that life has just skipped on by.  Theatre fills your life with unique experiences and challenges you to be constantly looking at who you are and where you’re going.  Go theatre.  Ten points.

My issue?  I’m scared I’m losing that feeling.  Acting has been more of a struggle for me in the past four years that it ever was as a kid or even in college.  Part of that is a lack of consistent practice, part is keeping up with the bills and adult life, and a big part is good ol’ fashioned laziness.  Of course, another large part is that I’m not one of 10 young girls in Central Jersey pursuing acting anymore.  The odds have tipped a bit.

But things do need to change.  And recently, I have been making a great attempt to figure out where to start.

So I am raging against this loss of artistic presence by doing what I love most: over-analyzing my situation from a sociological standpoint and writing a blog post about it.  Hooray!!!

My Two Lives

Way back in high school, I had my first food service job.  I quickly realized I was the worst waitress on the face of the earth, so needed to find another game plan for my impending impoverished life as an actor.  Someone suggested secretarial work, and that was that.

For four years in the city, I have befriended several temp agencies, two of which have been very encouraging about my theatrical endeavors.  They know I am looking to bounce around between projects, that I am not looking for advancement in a company, and I am willing to do horribly mundane projects if they let me leave for auditions.  For all this, I am very grateful, and everyone wins.

Yet the culture of most corporate offices, and the culture of let’s say, the Equity waiting room, might as well be on different planets.  And most mornings, I bounce between the two. This is starting to mess with me.

Scenario A: Moseying into the office: non-audition days.

(Not a particular example from one company, just a mish-mash of experiences from where in I’ve temped.)

I come in at 8:45 and usually my office is still empty.  I’m a morning person and since theatre has taught me that being late is a mortal sin, here I am (My mom once told me that unless I was on my death-bed, I get to rehearsal on time.  Childhood!).

I go to the cafeteria and chat with the staff up there, who will be more chatty and friendly with me than pretty much anyone I interact with all day.  Except for the mail room guys.  For whatever reason, the mail room is always where the party is going on.  And for the most part, my immediate supervisor is also always a doll since they are also the go-to administrator.

I settle down with my breakfast at my desk and check my work email.  I don’t have any mail, because essentially, no one is really sure about what I do.

I start my ongoing data entry or filing project, feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a pile of file folders up a hill, but still being very grateful that I don’t have to wait tables and drop plates all day.  I drop things a lot, it would be a disaster.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

Around 10:30, someone notices I’m there, very nicely thanks me for doing something boring and then I spend the day either talking to no one or chatting with the janitor, who often also has a real personality.

I leave at 5, and without a doubt, someone will make a comment about how it’s almost Friday, or how they wish it wasn’t only Tuesday, etc.

Repeat.

After about four months, I have a life crisis, take my favorite pen, and switch to a new office.

The qualities that I adore in theatre people (friendliness, near-obsessive passion for their work, motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm for Mondays) are rarely present in the officers where I spend 75% of my waking day.

What do I learn?  You can get by in this type of office by giving about 50% and you’re still patted on the back.  Complaining about being at work helps you fit in with the culture. Would this attitude fly in theatre?  Nope.

Scenario B:Audition Days

I wake up early and spend my shower and prep time warming up my voice and stretching.  I usually sprint around looking for the stapler to put my headshot and resume together and make it out the door by 7.  If I make it to the Equity building by 8, I usually get an appointment early enough that it doesn’t interfere with “office land” at all.

The waiting room is full of focused, energized, and anxious people.  Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to make you feel present and awake.  Yes there are always a few chatters who love to talk about the twelve productions of Midsummer they’re currently starring in, but I’m working on zoning them out.

There is a delightfully strict decorum, which as a former ballet dancer, I think is just dandy.  You have all your shit in order and if you don’t, you don’t audition.  You stay close by and respect each others space while sending out happy energy to those around you who know are in the same bizarre boat you are.  This is as close as I can get to making audition waiting rooms sound magical.

Overall, as stressful as auditioning is, you are awake, excited, and surrounded by grateful interesting people.

Where things get wacky

Here’s where everything goes a bit awry.  I get into the audition room and feel like a million bucks when I introduce myself.  Here I am!  Ready show you my one-woman one-minute play!

And then I open my mouth.  Apparently there is a room in my brain that holds my monologues, songs, and acting skills.  Also in this room lives every anxiety about theatre, my career path, my hatred of data entry, my self-consciousness about that spot on my dress, the idea that I gained weight after the wedding, and this Spiderman-like sense of every noise, smell, image in the room. It’s just a delight.  I then become the psychic of the year and believe I can read into every note taken by the audition panel, every body shift in their chair, every clearing of the throat.

From a Buddhist perspective, this is fricken awesome to analyze.  There are tons of things to learn from what your mind does when you are this present.  And though I know I can learn from it, it’s not super helpful for getting cast.

Suddenly, my monologue is over, and I leave confused, frustrated, and unable to remember how to do basic things like use the elevator.  Right, buttons.  We press those.  I return to office-land, where no one seems to really give a hoot about if I was ever gone, and I fall deeper into this frustration.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let's take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let’s take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

My call for advice…

I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have made great strides as far as my discipline in my training.  Great, so I’m no longer feeling uncomfortable getting in the audition door.  I am now Equity, and am super grateful that I can audition for so much more.  And yet, my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

If I do not maintain a healthy and happy life outside of the audition room,  it clearly shows in my acting.  I am not fully present on stage, and therefore, no one is going to give a crap about the story I’m telling.

So where is the balance?  Bills are important, and a life in theatre is hella expensive.

Here is my question for you actors and artists out there (or anyone else who can relate, I’m sure it doesn’t only happen in theatre):  how do you “leave everything at the door”?  When did you reach the point where your frustrations with the business and the life you build around maintaining the business stopped interfering with the art itself?

I am not totally without ideas.  I recently took an incredible workshop with Blanka Zizka down at the Wilma which focused on a new form of actor training.  It was all about the your physical capability as an actor to be in the moment at all times on stage.  Her magical word that stuck with me was “Insist.”  Insist on your breath, insist on being seen, and insist on telling your story.  What a wonderful lady and teacher.

So this is part of my insistence to not let this complacent office culture, a part of my life necessary to supporting my art, take away from the art itself.

All comments and advice welcome!  Thank you ahead of time for your love and happy auditioning/rehearsing/data entering this week.

 

In case you missed my recent crazy life updates, my name is now Ginny Bartolone and I have a new acting website in the works at GinnyBartolone.com 🙂  Yahoo!

I will close this with me making a ridiculous face while trying to cut our wedding cake. Wedding posts soon to come.