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.

Continue reading

If the Whole World Took an Acting Class

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

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

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

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

Group exercise before a performance in college

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

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

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

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

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

Skills learned on the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-How to be pretty fantastic at costume parties.

Mad Men New Years 2013

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

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

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

Photo credit: headshot  proof by Emily Lambert

Photo credit: Headshot proof by Emily Lambert

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

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

Celebrating Opening Night at Speranza Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Tale of Perseverance

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

The Resilient Spider

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

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

FullSizeRender-4

The Quick Chek Man

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

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

Me

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

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

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

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

 

Keep doin’ your thing, everyone:)

 

Backwards Budgeting: For National Blog Posting Month!

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

Unless your a freelance psychic, this is for you

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

learnvest

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

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

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

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

amelia

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

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

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

Treat yo' self.

Treat yo’ self.

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

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

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

Three cheers for budgeting!

Three cheers for budgeting!

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

The Train to Ben Bartolone

Today is the fifth anniversary of meeting my incredible husband Ben.  Just before we moved further into the suburbs, I was riding the N train back from visiting a friend in Astoria (where Ben and I first lived together) and thought about the stories connected to each station.  The N line, the Path, and now NJ transit to Montclair tells the story of our relationship.  So here is our subway map- from Astoria to Montclair…

Ditmars Blvd: Where Ben lived when we first met.  I would get to this station late at night when he was done with his show.  At this hour, the bakeries were always baking bread.  I will always connect that smell to those magical months where he was one of my only friends in the city, and Astoria was just for us.

From Martha's Country Bakery, our favorite date spot off Ditmars.

From Martha’s Country Bakery in 2010, our favorite date spot off Ditmars.

Astoria Blvd: Where we had our first apartment, and man was it a terrible one.  I choose to remember it fondly because it was our first, but there will always be the story of our “awful first apartment off the tri-borough bridge that was covered in mold”  It is also home of the Astoria Beer Garden, where Ben and I went for his 30th birthday and the bouncer taught him how to say happy birthday is 5 languages.
anniv 2

30th Ave:  My first apartment.  When I chose it, I sat down in my parents’ house and realized that it was 11 blocks from Ben’s apartment, perfectly walkable on a pretty summer night.

First apartment!

First apartment!

Broadway: Right off of this stop is a Starbucks where Ben and I applied for our first apartment together.  We scraped up every dollar we could find to pay that security deposit and prayed that no one would find out we were actually actors (and not whatever full-time job we made up).

nervous

36th Ave and 39th Ave:  We sailed through these stops and always said “I bet these neighborhoods will be expensive some day, it’s that funny?”  A bedroom is now about double of what I paid in 2010.

Queensboro Plaza:  The tradition of texting “My train!” began.  When we came above ground, Ben would text me that his train was coming.  I knew that if I waited four minutes after the text, I could get to 30th Ave and jump on Ben’s train heading to Ditmars.  He would often go in the front car so I could find him.  To this day we still text that when we’re close, that the other one can listen for the train going by.

59th and Lexington:  This station always reminds me of coming back from the first Steelers bar I even went to with Ben.  I was confused by the sunlight after being in a dark bar on a Sunday for four hours.  And I realized then that I should probably learn about what the heck in going on in a football game.  It eventually caught on…Go Steelers.  (If you change trains at this station, you can take it to where we first met)

steelers

5th and 59th Street:  On our second anniversary, Ben and I boated around Central Park Lake.  This was after he bought me shoes because mine were falling apart.  We hopped on the train to get ready to go out that night.  It is how I hope to always remember Central Park.  (From here you can also walk to where Ben proposed)

ben boat

57th Street 7th Ave: This is where Ben once comforted me after our train stalled between stations.  It was one of those weeks where my patience with NYC had run out.  I was exhausted and claustrophobic and just needed to get home.  Ben and I were one of the only ones on the train and just as I was saying/crying that I felt I had no personal space in this city, the homeless man on the train began to CLIMB UNDER OUR SEAT.  Ben was there to keep me from completely losing my mind.  And is a strong man for it.

I also think that the announcement for this station is really sassy, like the lady has a sexy secret about 7th avenue.

49th Street: Early on, Ben told me this was one of his favorite stations because of the beautiful brick and because it reminded him of being in school.  I’ve appreciated the brick each time since.

42nd Street: Is it possible to have a fond memory of Times Square?  Let’s say because it’s closest to what was once was Lily O’Briens chocolate cafe in Bryant Park.  Our second date, we went there to get hot chocolate and talked in the park about Joseph Campbell for approximately three hours.

34th Street:  It’s one of my least favorite parts of the city, but it became our home-base for two and a half years when we rode the Path train.  I once had too many Manhattans and Ben bought me a very delicious chicken kabob off the street.  I told him it was the third best meal of my life.

23rd Street:  I can’t think of anything other than Trader Joe’s.  But it did feed us for a long time.  So yay Trader Joe’s!

14th Street: For a few months, Ben and I actually worked off the same stop and commuted together.  Every morning we would walk by a puppy daycare and look at the doggies playing before parting ways.

9th Street: The neighborhood where I came up with my vows:)

After drinking at Amelie...

After drinking at Amelie…

Christopher Street: We used to have a favorite Italian Bakery off this stop but it turned into a snazzy flower store. But still..delicious.

Hopping to NJ….

Hoboken Station:  Texas Arizona..we will see you in the fall.

hoboken

Newport Station, Jersey City:  Where Ben and I used to wander along the pier on pretty summer nights after getting ice cream.  We once watched a poor confused group of friends trying to figure out why the sun dial was broken at night….

JC

Grove Street, Jersey City: The first station we ever visited in Jersey City.  On the walk back here we decided it would be a nice place to live.  We have shared birthdays, anniversaries, and every frozen yogurt night in between at this station.  We even decided on our wedding ceremony ritual at Roman Nose a block away.

Getting our marriage license off of Grove Street

Getting our marriage license off of Grove Street

Journal Square: This station was the bane of our existence during our time in JC, but it was the station that took us home.  During Sandy, we stood out front and fully took in how the community was trying to come together after such a terrible storm.

directing traffic

Pedestrian directing traffic during Sandy

Harrison:  No information on this topic.  What is this station?  Is it a real thing?

Newark Penn – Newark Broad:  These will always bring me back to our Audible days.  Ben boosted my confidence enough to not only ride the light rail by myself, but also record a few audiobooks.

Hopping to NJ Transit…

Walnut Street: Our new beautiful home, with the most peaceful walk I could ever ask for.  Ben still meets me though, even though our neighborhood is safe, and it is only a few blocks.

wine

One of the nicest things though?  There’s a bakery nearby that bakes bread, and that smell always reminds me of you.

Here’s to many more train stations, many more walks home, and many many more years.

Happy Anniversary sweetie:) I love you.

Photo by Kimberley Craven Photography

Photo by Kimberley Craven Photography

The War Against Office Snacks

edbadge_Featured

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

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

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

“You’re evil!”

“That’s so dangerous!”

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

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

Back, snacks, back!

Back, snacks, back!

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

The Skinny Myth

high school

At a theatre competition in 2004

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

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

Awareness vs. Body shaming

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

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

sailing

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

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

SO!  Snacks!

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

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

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

MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com Lives!!!

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfectly Imperfect Wedding

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

 

Rephrasing the Fall Back Question

It's possible.

It’s possible.

 

Camino Writing: Take One

us with pepe

 

The Secret Life of Background Actors

Play "Find the Ginny"

Play “Find the Ginny”

 

My Real Resume

PLOTTING

 

First post ever!!

toys r us

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Plant Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woody Artist Stem

woody basil

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

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

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

Back to Making Veggies

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Get off the Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me as a kid…staying low to the ground

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

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

diamond cutter

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

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

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

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

storm

An example:

Lousy Imprint:  Offices are bad, theatre is awesome 

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

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

#bffwithuta

#bffswithuta

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

Hashtag Hashbrown

Let’s stop hating Mondays

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

Let’s stop hating each other

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

taco cat

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

 

 

 

Don’t just sit in the hallway 

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