AOC Challenge Week 6 & 7: Break Time

Photo via Unsplash

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

https://onbeing.org/programs/brene-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart-feb2018/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. BROWN: Yes. That’s exactly right.

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

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

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

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AOC Challenge Week 5: Soup Kitchen Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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AOC Challenge Week 4: The Women’s March

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

Christina looking fierce. Photo used with permission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AOC Challenge Week 3: Let’s Talk About Breweries

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

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

But without further ado:

Week 3: BONDING OVER BEERS!

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

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

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AOC Challenge Week 2: Coffee and People Watching!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week, thanks for reading, all.

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AOC Challenge Week 1: I Punched Some Things!

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

Week One: CKO Kickboxing class in Lyndhurst, NJ

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

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

“That’s what you do in yoga class!”

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

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

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

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

Expectations vs. Reality

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To Reach Others, You Must Reach Out

Almost a year after reaching my 100 follower goal, I just got the notification that I hit 200!  Neato, team!  I love to think that a community has gathered over the past five years to share in my mental wanderings through the ups and downs of pursuing this wacky career.

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Blogging has taught me something way more valuable over the years though.  I meet many actors and writers alike, including myself, who say that they want to pursue this career to affect people–to challenge their thinking, to touch them emotionally, to support them through a life change.  When I was 13, I was in a show at The Growing Stage, an incredible theatre for young audiences in North Jersey.  The show was about an orphan searching for a place to feel at home without a family.  It was one of the most beautifully written shows I’ve ever been a part of.  After one of the performances, an older woman approached me, probably in her 80s, and said that she grew up as an orphan in a similar time and part of the country and really appreciated the show and how it made her feel less alone.  This has never left me, and I use it as an example of why I stay in theatre each time I get disheartened.

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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!

Exciting News! I was featured on Blogher!

Photo by Kim Craven

Photo by Kim Craven

Hello all! My recent post, The War Against Office Snacks, will be featured tomorrow on Blogher!  Blogher is a wonderfully insightful and inspiring site that promotes women bloggers.  I was floored by their offer to feature my post and am so thrilled to be a part of their blogging community.  Check them out here!!  My post is up now, but will be featured on their Facebook and Twitter tomorrow: Blogher Post!

And as always, thank you for all your support!  I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week and when Ben and I return from Cape May, hopefully I will have some lofty posts about the ocean, childhood vacation spots, and getting drunk on the beach.

Woohoo!!!

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.

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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.