How to Return

The past two nights, I’ve stumbled through NYC pretending that I fit in, ignoring–or hiding–that I still feel like an outsider.  I stop extra long at busy intersections–at one point so long that a feisty West Village pedestrian smacks into the back of me without a word of “Oops” or apology.  I’m in the way.  But I can’t explain to them that I recently spent five weeks with traffic as one of my biggest contenders.  Before you leave, you avoid telling your parents or husband that car accidents are the biggest–and pretty frequent–cause of pilgrim injuries, or worse (Hi dad!).  I scuttered across a few too many highways with a heavy backpack because the yellow arrows told me to.  But alas, here I am, a safer New Yorker.

I am also used to being the “other” in a city. I see women walking toward me with makeup and fashionable clothing, and my brain still tells me that I am an outsider in hand-washed hiking pants, a faded blue shirt, and a nylon headband covering the heat rash on my neck.  I know I’m not, I’m one of the normals now.  But that’s the issue, I don’t feel like it.  I don’t feel like them and I know I’m not like them.

The true issue is figuring out what the hell you do with this confused energy right after you get back from a trip of this sort.  This happened to me last time as well, and honestly, I thought it had to do more with life events at the time, and not a pilgrim-reintegration syndrome, an issue I just made up all on my own.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total mess by any means. In reality, I’m sitting at my new homemade desk (because I now write from home for a living, yay!)–with some calming folk music, a hot mug of freshly made coffee, and even a small oil diffuser that calmly changes colors every few seconds.  I could not be in more of a comfortable, introvert-friendly, privileged scenario than right now.  So why am I such an emotionally stunted grouch half the day?

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Day 30: The Day We Decided to Get Married

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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The morning and afternoon leading up to Ben’s proposal was one of the worst days as a temp to date.  At the time, I was assisting a married couple’s computer business in a small office on 18th street.  For several weeks, I was greeted each morning by passive-aggressive comments about how my days as their assistant might be numbered, and that we should explore different online personality tests to figure out if we were really compatible–so you know, healthy work environment.

Somewhat contradictory to their mistrust in my abilities, they decided to leave me in charge of the business for the first time (note that this is two weeks after I started).  On this day, I believe the phone rang approximately 100 times.  This is not, be any means, an exaggeration.  By noon it had become a joke.  Today was the day whenever every wealthy person’s computer decided to die, explode, fall off their desks, mysteriously self-destruct.  Interspersed with the panicked, entitled-rich-person phone calls came the, “Hiiiiii, I just wanted to have a nice slow chat about what your company does.  Are you the owner?”

By lunch time–or lack of lunch time–I had spent no more than five minutes looking at my email, which was now overflowing with emotional meltdowns.  Now, I swear to you, though most days were busy, they were never like this by any stretch of the imagination.  By the time my bosses called to check in, I had scheduled 9 new clients, set up over 15 meeting for fixing computers, and personally put out several fires by just looking up computer-y things on Google.  For once, thank the Lord, they were impressed with me.  Unfortunately for them, this madness put the nail in the coffin of whether I would ever accept this as a permanent position.

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Public Journal in Peterborough

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Today is the first day in months, many months, when I find myself sitting in a town where I’ve never been, with nothing to do and no one to see.  I didn’t have to plan anyone’s hotel, their car, the food.  I could head up to our rental house right now and lay on the porch all afternoon and no one would know or care. No one would call or email, or ask me to just “do them a quick favor.” Right now, I sit in a large renovated mill-turned-coffee brewery and have no intention of moving anytime soon.  There’s no fancy dinner to arrange, no museums to visit, no prime-time beach time to take advantage of.  There’s just a room full of coffee beans and the view of a small dam and waterfall.

Some guy on NPR was recently talking about the three pillars of happiness in modern American society: a fulfilling relationship, financial security, and a sense of purpose.  Apparently if you have those three, everything falls into place and you have nothing to complain about. Well, I can confidently say those three things have been relatively solid for the past year, and I have been anything but at peace with the world.  I am grateful for all the wonderful things we have in our lives, very very grateful.  But I am also definitely not the first person to discover that “playing the game” of society will not necessarily bring you fulfillment.  The passionate drive to collect: money, furniture, resume additions, and above all–actions of purpose, have been long overshadowing my ability to step back and try to remember who I wanted to be before I jumped on necessary the “collecting game” with everyone else. My long things-to-do list may make me look like a proper contributor to society, but I drag through my list with frustration and coldness, slowly becoming another artist who became too busy to create anything.

Perhaps ironically, I find myself in the beautiful town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, the town where Thorton Wilder wrote and set Our Town.  I did this show my senior year of high school when my personal and family life was disastrously falling apart.  My pillar of predictability, my main source of joy, was the option to return to Grover’s Corners every afternoon after school, and marvel in the beauty of the world I had overlooked as Emily Webb. The beautiful simplicity of life is lost on the townspeople engulfed in its details, its day-to-day predictability.

In a way, by moving to Montclair and stepping back from the obsessive pursuit of an acting career that seems to want very little to do with me, I hoped to find this simple daily schedule that reminded me to appreciate the mundane, the calm.  This is a concept I definitely never had growing up.  After years of emotional roller coasters and endless family hurdles, all I wanted was to be like some of my friends and live a life in my own personal Our Town.

So where am I going with this? I’ve realized in the past several months that I’ve been seeking simplicity and clarity in the wrong place. By moving toward a life that our society deems as predictable and fulfilling, I have settled in a place of “making the best of things.” No, I don’t enjoy being an assistant, and yes I have a hard time feeling like I spend 75% of my day working toward nothing other than a paycheck, but what is the alternative?  The crazy, frustrating, and financially stressful life I had before when I was auditioning?  If I am run by the amount of money needed to maintain my life–a life that frustrates me–then maybe the answer is needing less, is requiring less money.  Instead of making more, needing less.

My recently enhanced studies of Buddhism have reminded me that the things we desperately pursue are the root of our suffering, of our discomfort, and our disconnection with reality: even when it comes to things like chasing an artistic goal. The more you chase, the bigger the idea grows, and that harder it is to reach. Your bank account never looks big enough, your promotion never sounds high enough, your acting resume is never up to par with everyone else.  You’re never quite there. And all the while, here you are, missing it.

For the past two to three months, I’ve had a recurring and undiagnosed health issue that makes me feel like I have the flu every couple weeks and achy and uncomfortable every day in between. It could be any number of things, and hopefully I’ll know more soon, but as of now, it feels like my body is fighting back against my obsession with “making the best of things.” I don’t actually want to collect.  I don’t need to be rich, to have a long or impressive acting resume, or be considered the best darn personal assistant in my school. All I really hope for is a place to sit by a river, in a simple town with friendly faces full of artists who want to create something. I’m not sure how to get there yet: this mysterious “there.” But I do know that letting go of the ladder climbing is part of it. In my opinion, the artistic game is broken, and becoming more and more for the wealthy, and only the wealthy.  So the only way I see around this is by cutting down the things I purchase, collect, and obsessively seek.  This is the first step toward this elusive, perhaps unattainable freedom, that I wouldn’t have to “make the best of.”

In the Pema Chödrön book I’m currently reading, she provides a beautiful image to help with meditation.  She said that a person who meditates without expectation of enlightenment is often compared to the image of an older person sitting on the beach and watching their grandchildren play in the sand.  They have reached a point in their lives when they no longer feel they are supposed to pursue something, to reach some socially acceptable career goal.  They simply sit and enjoy the happiness and enthusiasm of those around them, and through this, are truly present. This is the state of mind, the freedom, that I seek before hitting the age when everyone tells me I’m supposed to retire from the practice of collecting things.  To be present with the beauty around me and add to it the best I can.  How to reach this, to break the rules of how our artistic society is set up, is another story.  I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m relieved to be able to articulate it.

Well I’m out of coffee. And now there’s an antique shop with a bird on the sign that is calling my name.  Thanks for reading to my ramblings and happy weekend.

Information Overload and the Tale of the Deadly Pear

Creative Commons by Krzysztof Puszczyński

Creative Commons by Krzysztof Puszczyński

My pear tried to kill me this morning.  I was driving to work and was, ironically, listening to a segment on NPR about their “Infomagical challenge”–all about removing distractions.  Just as I rounded the corner into school, my pear, precariously placed on the middle console, leapt forward and rolled under my break pedal.  Luckily, I watched a ton of Rescue 911 when I was a kid and was very prepared for this moment.  Two of my childhood fears were water bottles rolling under brake pedals and playing near ravines just as the town opened the dam somewhere a mile away.   I was very fortunate to be at an empty intersection, so I kicked the pear away and leaned down to grab it.  I am now eating this pear–as revenge.

This post isn’t about beating myself up for terrible driving, but more about introducing you to the Infomagical Challenge on NPR’s show Note to Self.    The millions of tasks I tried to focus on during my commute, almost kept me from doing the one thing I was supposed to do–drive safely to work.  The video on this link is particularly interesting.  Overall, this 5-day challenge asks you to observe what happens when you cut out certain parts of information-overload habits.  For example, it challenges us to recognize our urges to multi-task or our obsession with memes and trending material on social media.  It turns out that the habitual part of our brain keeps us clicking and scrolling, long after the flexible part of of brain, the hippocampus, runs out of steam.  And so we actually train ourselves to stay engaged online, instead of allowing ourselves to process selected information.

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Avoiding Negativity in the Groundhog Season

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

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

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

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

Removable Obstacles

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

Replace Them with Ladders

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

Call out the problem

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading and have a lovely week:)

Beaches vs. Blizzards: A little story about 2010

Timehop can be a pretty enlightening app during its first year of use.  If you’re unfamiliar with Timehop (looking’ at you, Dad), the app displays all your social media posts and pictures taken on the current day, each year back in time.  It’s fun to check in the morning, usually to say, “Hey, another cat picture!”  But there is one particular year, especially around January, that is hard to look at: 2010.  Because despite the fancy Instagrammed photos of my feet on a beach and palm trees along the Western coast of Florida, I know what is behind each photo, and very few others do.

I started thinking about this when I woke up this morning to the stunning snowstorm outside our window, only truly stunning because we have no responsibilities to go outside today.  The only reason I’ve put on pants so far is to bring a pot of pumpkin seeds to my squirrel-friend, who looked very cold and miserable on the tree outside our bedroom.  I don’t think he has quite warmed up to our friendship yet, but I have hope.  Anyway, after sitting for a bit with Ben, cups of coffee on hand, flanked by cats in purring comas, I checked my Timehop for any fun insights into the past.  I first realized that this is me and Ben’s “half” anniversary of meeting, something we excitedly celebrated early on, and honestly still think is fun, because why not? Five and a half years today!  But I also saw a gorgeous photo of a sunset off Lido Key Beach in Sarasota, where I was living during an internship in 2010.

Now in one universe, the one where I play into social media misperceptions of reality, I would have posted the two photos side-by-side, beach and blizzard six years apart.  I could have said something about wishing I was on that beach, warm and happy, mixing sand through my toes.  Or I could have chosen option B, (my go-to approach with pictures from that trip) which is to ignore them, and never allow them to see the light of social media again.  Or C, write a blog post all about the photos, just to make a point about something.  Ah C, you’re a great option for a day stuck inside.

I wasn’t into hashtags at the time, I can’t honestly remember if they were a thing yet, and if they were, if I understood what their point was.  I later learned their purpose is threefold: some people use them to tag the obvious (#feet #sand #beach #toe #metatarsals #heels); others use them to attract a group to check out their post (#actor #dancer #corporateofficeworker #brainsurgeon); and others, and this is my personal favorite for creativity’s sake, use it for subtext (#soblessed #ilovecheese #mycatisajerk).

Honest posting during difficult times however, is a tricky thing.  Because in the end, who is it really for?  I know when I posted my photos during that bumpy period of my life (understatement of the year), I was doing it just for me.  And yet, ironically, by posting how awesome everything around me seemed, I may have alienated people I desperately needed to connect with.  Was there a better option?  I don’t know.  But I get thinking about this whenever I see these photos come up on Timehop from that year.

Let’s back up a bit.  If I’m going to allude to a crappy time of my life, I might as well at least touch the surface of what was going on.  Essentially, I had recently graduated college and just finished walking the Camino.  My six-day trip to London, after walking 500 miles across Spain, sent my inspired, enlightened, and motivated mindset plummeting into a sharp nose-dive to Depression-land, something I had warded off since my early teens.  A relationship I had thrown all my energy into, dramatically and humiliatingly came to an end four days after reaching Santiago.  As an older adult, I now know that relationships end for a reason–it’s hard, and life goes on with the support of your loved ones.  But add the layer of being 22, graduating college without a solid plan, growing family issues, digging through all of my emotional layers that had been suppressed since childhood during a 5-week hike, and jumping back into a job with hostile coworkers, and that’s where you’d find me at the end of 2009.  The history of anxiety and depression did not help, something I didn’t yet realize should be treated as a physical illness as well as a physiological one.

The sunny posts I see from these days usually do not have descriptions or hashtags, simply because I couldn’t lie as much as I would have needed to without sounding like a I was reaching out for help.  In reality, these photos would have said (hashtags/comments added)….

#lidokey #icomehereafterworkbymyself #ittookme45minutestowalkhere #ifeellikepoo

#honesthashtag #icomehereafterworkbymyself #ittookme45minutestowalkhere #ifeellikepoo #sunset #walkingbackinthedark

Or…

Honest caption: These are the seashells along my bedroom windowsill, where I spend most of my time! I have nice roommates but my tour mate is trying to get me fired and harasses in the afternoon. Apparently she thinks I'm racist, which makes no sense whatsoever! Hooray! What a fun sexy time this all is!

Honest caption: These are the seashells along my bedroom windowsill, where I spend most of my time! I have nice roommates but my tour mate is trying to get me fired and harasses me in the afternoon/doesn’t let me sleep. Apparently she thinks I’m racist, which makes no sense whatsoever! Hooray! What a fun sexy time this all is!

Throughout the experience, I constantly thought about how I was in a such gorgeous setting while constantly standing on the edge of falling apart. During performances, I stood in the wings, usually getting nasty glances for Ms. Friendly during the show, while taking deep breaths to put on the cheery face I wanted to share with children.  Looking back, I should have gone home, but had never faced a situation like this, and didn’t want to let her win.  Why this girl hated me so much is beyond me, but it sure was the icing on the cake.  She was very small, we probably should have just duked it out once and for all.  But that’s not like me.  And we all know how karma works, now don’t we.

As you can tell, especially compared to my other posts on this site, thinking about these 6 awful months of my life put me in a pretty bitter place.  And so I go back to the image that inspired this post in the first place.  Snowed-in with my husband and cats, blizzard going full-steam outside, nowhere to be, and nothing to do but write and watch SAG screeners.  Six years ago I couldn’t have predicted this turnaround.  I couldn’t have predicted that 7 months from these photos being taken, I would meet Ben, move to NY, start this blog, and forget about petty people that make you feel smaller than them.  Which is hard to do when they’re already quite tiny.

We have no idea what anyone is facing when they post online, and often it’s hard to know how to reach out unless you do know.  As much as I would love that every happy photo I see is genuinely from a place of joy–we only have the visual, the other senses, and more importantly, the storyline behind the photo, is left off.  There may not be a way to be truly honest on social media about our emotions, nor do we really want be, but recognizing that we are only skimming the surface of that person’s life, is important to remember when comparing it to our own.  We only see the feet, or the cats, or the sunset.  It’s better to reach out to find the rest.

#blizzardof2016 #snugglykitties #betterthanthebeach #nowheretogo #gonnagomakelunchwithBen #actuallyhappy

#blizzardof2016 #snugglykitties #betterthanthebeach #whoneedssand #nowheretogo #gonnagomakelunchwithBen

Powerball Daydreaming: The Financial Litmus Test

Creative Commons by Andrew Pons

Creative Commons by Andrew Pons

Though the odds of winning are quite slim, I did have a good deal of fun during Powerball mania.  Coworkers stopped by my office to chat about their daydreams and stories bounced around about the wild ways people reacted when they mistakenly believed they won.  Groups have been formed, alliances made, contracts drawn up — all over the possibility of throwing your predicted life path out the window.

So even though we are all losers today, we can still take something away from the fun week in millionaire la-la land.  Besides, what have you got to lose to join in on the daydream?  $2? And throughout it all, I had a fun time analyzing the three stages of lottery mania and what each one says about your financial literacy and health, your relationship with your lifestyle, and your overall anxiety.  We may not be millionaires (and if you are, would like you to fund my writing/acting career?), but let’s at least try to learn a little something about ourselves.

Stage One: Bandwagon Justification Stage

I, like most people I know, only buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot reaches an absurd number like $90 million.  And yet, today, after three people won the prize, it has dropped to a still impressive $40 million.  No small peanuts.  And so sarcasm and judgement abound online today, pointing out that logical people would ideally play in every drawing, since even 1 million dollars would change your life. But at the end of the day, we have to ask: why we are actually buying them at all?  For me, jumping on the bandwagon means two things:

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Finding Your January Beach

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

January List of Awesome for Your New Year’s Resolution

Creative Commons Photo from Morgan Sessions

Creative Commons Photo from Morgan Sessions

At least in the world of blogging, I have remained rather silent the past several months, only emerging out from under my writing rock yesterday, just before the New Year.  While comfortably hibernating, I have been surprisingly busy otherwise, mainly focusing on trying to get my stubborn creativity rolling again.  It happens — you have a huge burst of motivation, make all these super tangible and well-thought out goals, and suddenly your brain is physically incapable of producing anything new.  Blank pages, deleted blog posts and cancelled yoga plans abound.  But it doesn’t need to all be for nothing. These periods of rest are vital to having anything to write/act/sing/create goals about in the first place.  Without material and space in your mind to organize it, you’re just shuffling through a busy frustrated brain of jumbled and misguided creativity.

So as you embark on your New Year’s Resolutions, here are some tools and recommendations I used throughout my silent days of creative solace.  Please feel free to add your own in the comments of this post, I would love recommendations throughout January!

For the Creative Soul:

The Compass Podcast by Leah Walsh

I’ve written about this lovely podcast in the past, but it has seriously helped me through the fall, while taking a rather challenging acting class.  Leah is a friend of Ben and I and a very talented NYC actress.  In the Compass, she interviews artists from across the theatre world, and explores how they avoid “going to the dark side” and what the “dark side” itself means to them.  The podcast uniquely reveals the vulnerabilities that artists face in an unpredictable and emotionally exhausting field, while reminding you that you are not alone when you have to take that lousy side job or feel as if you are somehow professionally behind your peers.  If you need a creative boost, check this out.

The Artist’s Way and Blog by Julia Cameron

I realize this book has been around forever, but in case you have never read it or haven’t picked it up in a while, I cannot recommend Julia Cameron enough.  She mixes discipline with creative kindness to spark you writing/creating again.  Even if you are not a writer, but feel stuck otherwise, her philosophy will provide you with a practice to slowly climb back into the the light of day.  If anything, check out her intro’s for Morning Pages and Artist Dates.

For the Spirit and Mind:

Notes from the Universe

When I roll out of bed, I reach for my phone, no matter how many times I have tried to train myself otherwise.  Old habit.  But adding Notes from the Universe was guaranteed was to add some positivity to my inbox at 6:15am.  It’s always there, ready to be perky and motivational.  It’s literally just a daily personalized message that sets you rolling.  One of my favorites, as an example:

“Never compromise a dream, Ginny.
Do what you must. The fears, beasts, and mountains before you are part of the plan; stepping-stones to a promised land; to a time and place that is so much closer than even you suspect.Don’t let your eyes deceive, Ginny, for even as you read these words, your ship swiftly approaches.

Tallyho,
The Universe”

Clearly, they are a delight for difficult mornings.

Pema Chodron

If you’ve met me, then you’ve probably been told to read one of Pema Chodron’s books.  I try to pawn them off on everyone because she is magical.  She is an American Tibetan Buddhist monk and speaker with the personality of your favorite friend that always knows how to break you out of your head.  I also preface giving out her books with, “I know the titles sound like cheesy self-help books, but don’t be deterred by that, they’ve changed the way I see the world.”  Even if you are not interested in Buddhist practice, the philosophical viewpoints of Buddhism are practical for everyone’s life and challenges.  She rocks.  In my opinion, start with When Things Fall Apart.

Marie Kondo

The very popular new book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has officially roped me in.  Her tone of writing is not completely up my alley, but her practice and the discipline of maintaining it, changed the way I felt about my home in about a week.  I was incredibly skeptical.  And no, she is not paying me to write this.  I spend so much less time fussing over my house now.  So not only does my home not look like a tornado went through it every day, but it has given me the gift of more time.

For the Body

This is a tricky suggestion section for me to write, since I deeply believe in finding your own relationship with food and exercise that works best for you.  I am not into  most trends and plans, but simply into feeling out what your body needs to be safely and properly nourished.  This is a continued journey for me, and a huge part of my resolution- not for weight loss but more to feel more present and healthy.  I feel it’s my responsibility to find out how healthy I can feel, without ever sacrificing a positive body image or peace of mind.

So here are a few things that have helped me recently, or I am trying this month:

The Whole Life Challenge

Our fabulous friends, the Weisman’s, are not only our new neighbors but also motivating me to join them in The Whole Life Challenge this winter.  In a nutshell, you join a team, sign up for their app, and choose a plan for 8 weeks.  They range from giving up gluten to giving up practically everything processed.  We are taking the middle ground from mid-Janury through mid-March, giving up added sugars, glutens, most dairy, and a range of other things.  This works for me since I have been on the hunt for the ingredient that has been making me feel spacey for quite some time.  So this may narrow down the culprit.  The challenge also gives you points for daily exercise, water intake, and reflection.  It’s all light-spirited and has no pressures about buying their shakes or looking good for anyone else.  It seems to me to be focused on a lifestyle shift.  But I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tastespotting

My love of cooking was sparked by three things: cooking shows, staring at pictures of delicious food, and eating something I created.  Tastespotting had a lot to do with it.  I have never been great at following directions to a t, mainly because I like to take creative liberties (which is why I’m a terribly baker).  But to get me started, I go here for inspiration.  Cooking at home not only saves you money, but also supports healthier and whole-food based meals.  You also get to show off on Instragram.

Jessica Smith TV

If you’re like me, and fitting a gym membership into your budget is just not doable half the time, go make friends with Jessica Smith TV.  I found her one day when I was looking for a barre workout online, since the in-person ones in my area are upwards of $30 a class.  Gaaaah.  She now has a very wide range of videos, a super positive attitude, and most importantly, an adorable dog named Peanut that sits at her feet.

For the Wallet

Learnvest

If anyone in the future ever asks me about how I finally roped in my student loans and credit card debt, I will tell them I have Learnvest to thank (and Christina Kosyla for telling me about them).  Geared toward women taking control of their personal finances, Learnvest pretty much taught me how to budget.  Their articles are also practical, easy to read, and make you feel like you don’t have to fall into the trap of reading those, “Millennials can’t handle their money” articles.  Because that’s BS.

The Financial Diet

If you need a good daily read, check out The Financial Diet.  They are even more down to earth than Learnvest and get straight to the point.  If you have ever felt alone or guilty about any lousy financial choice, this website covers it in a very honest way.  I greatly appreciate that people from our generation are being proactive about rising out of the stereotypes as entitled or irresponsibly spenders.

 

As I got rolling with this list, I realized I have way more I would love to share, but am out of time (and space!).  So I think I will try to keep this list thing going, especially if you find it helpful.  As I said above, please leave your recommendations below and I will happily look into them and spread them around.  I am particularly on the hunt for a website to replace my Facebook binging.

 

Happy New Year everyone and enjoy the day!

How I Turned My Mornings Around

mornings

Up until last December, my mornings were pretty predictable. My alarm went off 45 minutes before I left for work, I hit the snooze button twice, jolted awake, and then stared horrified at the clock before sprinting to the shower.  Next, I struggled for the remaining 15 minutes or so to find an outfit that wasn’t either in the laundry, wrinkled, or under a sleeping cat, and rushed out the door without breakfast.

Then last January, when my husband left for his bi-annual grad school retreat up in New Hampshire, I kept waking up early by accident.  It was a weird change for me, the house being so quiet.  So I woke in the still-dark morning (at this time during the polar vortex) feeling weird and scattered.  I’ve learned in the past that rituals and schedules help me escape any impending bad mood funks, so I did just that, thinking that it would only help me through the two weeks with him away.

My new morning

1. Wake up a half hour earlier

Since I couldn’t seem to sleep past 6am those mornings, I would find myself putzing around the house waiting for the sun to rise.  And though I would have originally thought the extra half hour of lost sleep would leave me sluggish all day, it really didn’t.  Without the worry of launching out of bed for the morning race, I allowed myself to slowly roll around and eventually get up on my own schedule. I also had time to eat breakfast and make coffee, something that seemed like a luxury in the past.

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