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.

Adorable Little Lions

First of all: I’m excited to say I finally have another blog post in the works.  Often when I get an idea like this, it’s important to let it brew for a while.  But I want to wait until it develops into a post that I myself would want to read, otherwise, why ask you to read it??  So please stay tuned!  Another post is in the works!

New blog post soon?!  Hooray!

New blog post soon?! Hooray!

In the meantime…

I was inspired by an incredible Humans of New York post this week that raised, or as I’m writing this HAS raised over $530k for a struggling school in Brownsville, New York.  If you don’t know about Humans of New York or this incredible fundraiser, check it out, and feel all the wonderful feelings about society: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard.

Little Lions Need Our Love!

Over the past several years, I have had the joy of working in fundraising, and I am always reminded of the power of a community to support one another: with their time, their money, their enthusiasm.  This HONY post was a reminder that a community of “strangers” is just as powerful.  As cheesy as it sounds, we crazy group of internet strangers ARE one another’s community.  We read each other’s posts, like each other’s cat pictures, and sometimes, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so kids can have a summer program and a trip to Harvard.  Go us!!

In the spirit of this belief in our incredible internet world, I am sharing the story of a group of Boston Public Middle Schoolers who are currently rehearsing, and completely self-funding, a production of The Lion King.  A dear friend of mind is their teacher.  She was once my director as well, and I know she’s something special to these children.  They have held community fundraisers as well, but as all of you theatre people out there know, theatre is EXPENSIVE and they are doing all they can on a dime.  I would love to tell them that we are their community too!

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Let’s Support The Lion King!

http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/the-lion-king-and-beyond-/286629#.VKoZMpA8QNs.facebook

And what does that really do?  It sends the message to students (or whoever the fundraiser is for) that human beings are out there are thinking of you.   It is a reminder that we notice what you are doing, and you matter.  Donating or sharing a link may not seem like anything against the world’s many problems.  But a teacher can go back to group of adorable children learning “The Circle of Life” in a Boston Public School and announce that the world sees what they are working towards and they applaud you.

So if donating money isn’t an option (I get it, I am very often counting my pennies), and sharing the link is also not really your jam, please send them good thoughts and happy warm-fuzzy wishes for a good show.

Thank you for reading, and happy Saturday!

Now let’s feel super happy about our morning by watching a bunch of Australian actors sing The Lion King on an airplane because it is FABULOUS.