Day 24: Beginning at the End

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 also 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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During the six weeks leading up to our move from Plainfield, I kept a countdown both on my bedroom calendar and in my butterfly-adorned diary.  Even back then I was a passionate journaler, but I held back in what I wrote.  A few years earlier, my older sister ripped all the pages out of my diary and posted them on the refrigerator to get me in trouble (I said some not-so-nice things about my mother).  Years later, when I started blogging, I though of it as a form of “posting my own diary on the refrigerator,” but this time about the thoughts I chose to share–and not ones about lamenting the daily life of a 5th grader.  It’s the harder stories, the ones that I fear will somehow come back to get me, that I hesitate before writing.  And yet, if this birthday challenge has taught  me one thing, it’s that these are just stories.  They are not my current reality.  Still, our pasts can drive our decisions and mold our views of the world in ways we don’t even recognize.  When I finally started seeing a therapist in college, it was like wearing glasses for the first time.

My issue now is that I don’t have the words to tell these stories, to really do them justice.  So where do you start?

Continue reading

Rainy Day Post for Robin Williams

Yesterday afternoon I hit a writing high.  I wrote a blog post in the morning, revamped my layout in the afternoon, and submitted an article after work.  Every hour brought a new blog post idea, and by the time I left the house to write at a coffee shop, I was on fire.

Yet a strong melancholy creeped its way into my evening.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.  And then it hit me, today was the anniversary of Robin Williams’ passing.  You see, even though his death is by no means about me, he was my generation’s Peter Pan, on and off the screen.  In his spirit and unbridled silliness, I found comfort that even though I was constantly growing up, here was proof that you can still live your life as an enthusiastic child, especially as a performer.

I was walking home from a dance class last year today when I got the news.  I called my mom and we cried together over the phone.  His beautiful life had a lot to do with me wanting to be an actor, and I guess it selfishly hit me that I would never have the chance to shake his hand and thank him for this.  But again, it isn’t about me.

I have always been an irrational believer in signs.  When I started thinking about all this while writing in the coffee shop last night, I pressed further into the editing of my article, desperate to get it done so I could walk home.  Suddenly, a shiny blue sneaker poked into my peripheral vision.  I looked up and a small wide-eyed boy, probably about six, stared at me, unforgivingly stretching out his leg in front of him.

“Do you like my new shoes?!” he yelled with excitement.

“I do!” I said, “The colors are so bright and awesome!”

He ran back to his mom’s table happily and sat down.  She swiveled in her chair and apologized, “I’m so sorry to interrupt you, he never does that.  He just suddenly said, ‘I need to ask her about my shoes!'”

I laughed, told her it wasn’t a problem and waved at the boy.  I smiled and returned to my writing.  When the mother was paying later on, he snuck by my chair and sat in the seat across the table from me without saying a word.

Just then, an adorable toddler walked by the coffee shop (I was sitting by the window), locked his sights on me, squealed with delight, and pulled his dad into the coffee shop.  I waved when he came in and then he ran to the barista for a hug (clearly he was the cutest regular ever).

I developed a new enthusiasm for my writing, perked up by the adorable and unexpected visitors.  I paid and walked home.  Now maybe it was just a growth in my awareness, but I felt like every kid in the neighborhood was out enjoying the unseasonably cool air.  A girl on her bike passed by and said hello with the familiarity of an old friend.  Just as I thought I was making it all up, I walked into my backyard only to be greeted by my upstairs neighbor and her painfully adorable 1 year old daughter.

She has recently learned to walk, well waddle, and took a determined journey to our garden to retrieve a ground cherry that had fallen off its stem.  She nearly face-planted to lean over, grabbed the muddy fruit and launched herself up to her feet.  With a dramatic swivel, she reached up with kindness and offered me the cherry.

Well, there was my answer. If you, or your soul or your energy, or whatever you believe, goes anywhere after you leave this earth, then perhaps Robin Williams sent me a hoard of smiling children the moment I started to feel sad about his premature departure.  And if not, if it was all a coincidence, then his memory allowed me to find meaning in a wave of generous toddlers.  I said good night to the adorable little girl, went inside, poured myself a glass of wine, and watched the impending storm from the porch with childlike enthusiasm.

My mom has always talked about saving money for a rainy day.  Today, at least in North Jersey, it plans to pour for most of the afternoon.  I have also been very personally affected by the inexplicable pain of depression and anxiety, a disease which still strongly eludes this country’s understanding, so I know a good amount about doing something nice for yourself or a loved one on a rainy day.

Today I suggest a loving, enthusiastic child-like act in remembrance of our fellow-human who inspired us in his work to see the innocent enthusiasm in all things.  Find a rainy day adventure, as simple as it may be, and do it in honor of those who may be struggling to find their inner kid.

Thanks for reading.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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).

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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)

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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)

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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….

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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.

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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

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.

It’s Let It Go Tuesday!

I do NOT enjoy writing negative blog posts.  But I do reserve these moments for when it is sadly the healthiest option to get these thoughts out of my relentlessly badgering brain.  And when I blog, the opportunity for snarky headers, structured paragraphs, and a happy-go-lucky conclusion actually helps me work through my anger.  Because I am a nerd.

People with compensating hair-cuts normally don’t like me

I have always prided myself on being able to get along with a wide-range of people.  I’ve never liked confrontation, and I strongly believe that holding onto rage is only harmful to yourself.  And yet when people take advantage of your kindness simply to make a point, I have trouble keeping myself quiet.  Last night Ben and I were royally screwed over by someone we thought we trusted- some who was actually our friend for years, who fed our cats when we went off to get married!  And no, she can’t find this blog, and yes it was our old landlord.  I am not into vague-booking.  The option was this or a letter, and since a letter only would have given her the satisfaction to rip into us with other asinine accusations, I am blogging with pictures of puppies instead.

Guess what, ex-landlord?  These puppies are also tired of you bullsh*t.

Guess what, ex-landlord? These puppies are also tired of your bullsh*t.

The rant-y part…

Originally there were three paragraphs here outlining how she nickel and dimed us out of a large chunk of our security deposit for things beyond our control as tenants.  But then I realized it didn’t matter if it was on here or not.  So I replaced it with more puppies.

For those who skipped the last part, and those that read it...so everyone.

For your troubles: puppies in buckets.

 

The myth of revenge

We got in the car feeling completely defeated.  Because of the excessive amount of time it took her to give us any of the money, and her petulant reply when we tried to reason with her, we didn’t feel like it was worth going in circles.  You cannot reason with unreasonable people.  And at the end of the day, would small claims court be worth the frustration of still having her in our lives?  It was an exhausting ending to an exhausting move.

It is clear, most unfortunately, that she is not a happy person.  A great lesson I got from my mom when I was little was to figure out why someone is grumpy.  My sister had a discouraging teacher, famous in the school for making 5th graders fail, which really takes effort in my opinion.  And yet instead of hating the lady, we were asked to consider why she was so mad.  Because yes, speaking up and defending yourself is appropriate a lot of time, but what happens when the problem is more than poor teaching or a security deposit?  When the problem is misdirected anger or loneliness, than what can I do for that person other than have pity on them, and if sadly necessary, cut them off from bringing me down too?  I talked about this way-back-when in a post about people ranting online.

ALL of the mailing lists!

When we got home last night, we finally hit that place when all that was left to do was laugh.  It took the whole car ride to talk myself out of calling her and re-sparking the fight.  I am lucky to have a husband to talk me off my soapbox when there wouldn’t be an audience for my protest.  But then we started to list off joking ways to get back at her cold send-off: mailing her nickels and dimes on post-cards with messages like “thought you might need these!”; or spamming her email with every creepy website on the internet; or even reporting her to any online forum for landlords abusing their position.

I woke up with these little silly but obnoxious plans in my head.  They were jokes, we weren’t going to put the energy into them.  And yet I couldn’t get them out of my head.  I woke up physically tense, tired, and unable to focus on anything other than sifting through NJ tenant rights docs online.  I found nothing useful.

And then a thought went through my head that not only shocked me, but ENDED my plotting.

Without going into personal detail, it involved David’s Bridal, and it wouldn’t have been kind.

shocked koala

If you’ve ever experienced David Bridal’s marketing plan, you know they come at you at all angles, at all times of the day.  I was once called by an automated message congratulating me on my engagement 6 times in one day.  They even called from different numbers so I would pick up.

For me, it was like that moment when you all of a sudden realize you’ve had too much to drink, usually by taking off your heels at a wedding, cutting your foot on shard of glass, and thinking it’s HILARIOUS.  It’s that sneaky kind of drunk you never see coming, but you should probably look out for.

I had been stewing in my anger for this woman for so many months that I was coming up with really really awful schemes to make her feel lousy.  And why?  What would it do for me other than realizing how much of an asshole I am after I “sober up” from being this angry?  It wasn’t like me.

So yeah, I surprised myself, and decided it was time to let it pass.

1315

I’ve spent this whole day debating if standing up for myself would get me anywhere.  And I’ve 100% come to the conclusion that, no, it would not.  When someone on Facebook posts about their ignorant or ill-researched political views, or writes about their triumphs in an obnoxious way, where does it get me to rip into them?  I will feel worse, and all I am really trying to do is to make that person feel as badly as I do.  So now I am the one causing harm.

Someone hurting enough to ruin a friendship by screwing them over this way does not need to be lectured.  They are already drowning in whatever problems have brought them to that point in life.  Tonight Ben and I will go to a friends party, enjoy the warm summer evening, and return to our non-hostile home surrounded by trees and peaceful neighbors (and happy landlords). Also, Jersey City was a wonderful place to us, and full of many incredible moments in our relationship.  Her pettiness changed none of that, and that is what matters.  She may have that money, but we still have our lives.  I hope that money brought her as much happiness as she hoped.

So long, Elizabeth Street.

image1.PNG

Here Comes the Sun Doo Doo Doo Doo

I started out having a pretty negative week.  On Wednesday, I had one of those “Me against the world” days.  A former job was a week late in paying me, my parent’s insurance company had a “computer glitch” and therefore couldn’t cover me (you read that correctly), another job that pays me in cash wasn’t able to, and the I generally was feeling pretty angry at the world.   Essentially, until Thursday morning, I was broke.  Broke broke.  So yeah, not a great mood.

I am very thankful that Wednesday night things turned around a bit, as they tend to do before I write a blog post.  After getting screwed over by the insurance company, I moped home and bought a scratch off ticket in protest of my bad mood.  And what would you know?  I won enough money to go to my dance class I couldn’t afford.  If you need an affordable dance class at a WONDERFUL studio, trek out to Astoria to Astoria School of Fine Arts.  On Wednesday and Thursday night, Roy teaches, and you don’t want to miss it.  This man could make Eeyore cheer up and dance

IntenSati

The next day, Christina encouraged me to go to an IntenSati class.  What is IntenSati you ask?  Oh!  Well, it is basically a mixture of zumba and the yelling of self-affirmations.  You scream chants about how awesome you are while you punch the air and do pretty intense aerobic moves.  At first, I felt pretty odd.  I couldn’t get Richard Simmons out of my head.  But not even ten minutes into it I was a self-cheerleader kicking and yelling away with everyone else.  By the end, my week had turned around and the whole way home, I couldn’t help but look for the signs of hope around me.  And not just in my own life, but everywhere.  So I did some research…

 

Proof things are getting better…

The IntenSati class was so inspiring that I have made it my goal for the past 24 hours to find as many signs as possible that the attitude of society on the whole is getting better; and by better, I mean more positive, more compassionate, and more balanced.  It’s very easy to find the negative, especially in a harsh city like New York.  It’s also easy to only find negative and discouraging signs on the news and internet.  When I googled different topics about the overall health of Americans, I mainly came across articles about the increase in obesity and depression.  Which is interesting, because with a little digging, there are studies saying the exact opposite, they just get buried by the negative ones.  My opinion may seem naive.  I am not saying to ignore the obvious problems today, just to combat them with hope.

The Gallup Study:

Gallup is a worldwide research and analysis company which, among many other things, has been surveying a selection of people in the US, UK, and Germany for the past several years on their optimism and mood.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/154892/Americans-City-Optimism-Reaches-Four-Year-High.aspx

This article is particularly interesting because the studies show that since the economic crash in 2008, the Optimism levels with each person’s local area has surpassed what it was before the crash.  If you go to the site, check out the many other articles and studies, they’re very fascinating.  What’s my point?  Perhaps even when there are so many unsettling things in the world as a whole, there are many shifts nowadays toward a healthier lifestyle and more supportive community. 

Another one of my favorite articles is from Learnvest.com, a site geared toward women managing their personal finances.  The article summarizes that a generally positive attitude in your community actually improves your local economy.  Just like we chanted while stomping around in IntenSati, believing that things will get back can actually make things better in reality.

http://www.learnvest.com/2011/10/find-your-happy-place-how-optimism-affects-the-economy/

 

 

Signs of Awesome:

I started writing this blog post with the idea of having tons of great statistics backing up that the world is great.  As positive as I am feeling, I didn’t have the best luck.  It’s slightly too big of a topic to google (i.e. “Is the world getting better?”).  So I went on my lunch break (temping today) and contemplated how to go about this.  I keep coming back to the small things.  What directly affects our day-to-day life are the common things we interact with.  So perhaps the above articles can be explained by those.  Below is a list of my “signs of awesome” or things that reinforce my happy hypothesis:

1. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!

We live in a time of food celebration!  With the development of the “foodie” community, a better awareness of international food trends, and an encouragement for healthy choices, I am very thankful to be eating in today’s world.  Turn on the food channel: both men and woman are chefs.  It is now an art to eat in a healthy way with interesting and unfamiliar ingredients.  I know obesity is still a major problem, but I have hope we are moving in the right direction.  These are simple examples.  But you get my drift.  Keep your eye out.  Vegetarians are taking over:)

I am also thankful for places like Trader Joe’s, where I can buy organic dairy free ice cream at 10pm at night for $3.  Why?  Because I’ve never eaten it.  And it’s yummy. And then I can chat with the cashiers who are happy as clams because they get full benefits for working part-time hours (we chat a lot).   I also can eat at places like Pret A Manger, who donate all of their food to the homeless at the end of the night and promote eco-awareness.  I also can go down to the 30th avenue farmers market in Astoria and get a slew of produce I don’t even recognize for under $5.  My point is that it’s becoming “cool” to not eat endless amount of processed junk.

2. Kid Music.  And kids in general.

I keep a Pandora station on in my art class on Thursday afternoons called “Tweens.”  Everyone knows the words to everything.  I started to notice that the general themes of songs geared towards teenagers are very positive these days.  And trust me, a room full of 12 nine-year old girls singing “Firework” is pretty exciting.  I also had the chance to hear Lady Gaga’s mother speak at an event I attended several months ago.  They have started the Born This Way Foundation, a group empowering youth and fighting against bullying.

I also did a project with them at the end of last semester asking if they could invent one toy that would help another human being, what would it be?  I got this idea from a TED talk.  The class of 1st and 2nd graders were ecstatic.  Many people created inventions that helped the blind and deaf (apparently this is the first thing that comes to mind when you’re 9 and you think someone needs help.  Fair enough.)  I also got ideas for toys that instantly cheer you up if you’re sad, magical transporters that connect you with the people you love, and food machines for the hungry.

And so, I have hope in the next generation, even those on the Upper East Side.

Social media.  Yes, social media.

No matter what the older generations say, I am thrilled that we are a society that can communicate so easily with one another.  All the options may not solve things like loneliness or feeling alienated, but there are benefits on the surface if viewed positively.  I worked with students from all over the world, primarily from countries that are dealing with a slew of serious problems.  And to see every now and then on Facebook that all is well with them is something that I am very thankful for.

Because of Facebook, I know that when I end a show or a job, it doesn’t have to be the last time I hear from that person.  I know when they are in a show, getting married, or visiting NYC.  I disconnected myself a little bit  from Facebook after the stress it caused in college, so I have to say, a balance is very necessary. 

THIS BLOG!  This blog has been one of the most supportive factors in my artistic growth.  A year ago, I was mortified the first time I posted something.  I only told about 10 people this even existed.  The knowledge that people are now willing to take the time to read my writing, give me feedback, and even hit the “like” button on Facebook, sends me to the moon.  I am now writing a play and a book about the camino.  So my advice for those who feel uncomfortable about starting to write: people are overwhelmingly supportive if you give them something of yours to support.  What you need to say may be what someone needs to hear.  So write it.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE if we kept a conversation going about what positive things give you hope.  Something big or something that seems small.  Either way, I do feel that if we all even make the smallest effort to believe things are getting better, it will continue to grow in that direction.

Here’s to hope for more happiness!

Oh I should, should I?

Bugs Bunny and $5,000 coffee tables

Last night I started working a new part-time job.  Without going into company details that could get me into some trouble, the job involves me assisting at auctions and mingling with lots of drunk rich people.  Though my co-workers and most of the people I helped with the auction were perfectly fine, I had an attack of confidence last night that knocked me off my feet.

The whole night, I kept saying to myself “I should be happier about this shitty job.  I should be making more money.  I should stick with it.  I should stop whining.  I should feel better!”

By the end of the night, I had drunk impatient creepers (with no personal space apparently) telling me to up their bid to $5,000 for a damn coffee table just because they saw that Joe Schmoe on the other side of the room had outbid him.  I wish I had a better poker face.  With a flu-bug and after 6 hours on my feet without a break, I was getting delirious.  Also, the auction was serving the most bizarre collection of food we weren’t allowed to touch (whole carrots with the leaves {so there were lots of people walking around like Bugs Bunny}, sausage, and oversized soft pretzels.  And everyone seemed to be walking a giant fluffy dog.)  I started to think my fever had gotten out of control and I was high.  I then went home and tried to figure out if I had enough money for a decent dinner.  I was a weeee bit frustrated.  So I had hummus with Ben and a can of $1.59 Honey Brown (delicious), and then I think I figured out the problem…and so…another rainy day blog post.

Should Should Should

It wasn’t until I met Ben that I realized how many times I used the words, “I should…”   Ben always had a response that I at first was really confused by and I thought was an extension of his acting teacher’s philosophy.  He would always say, “Oh yes? You should?”  Bewildered, I usually answered,”Uuuhh…Yes…I should.”  He eventually explained, and it really changed the way I spoke to myself.  “Should” sure is putting a hell of a lot of pressure on yourself.   Replacing “should” with “I’d like to” or “It would awesome if…” and so on, takes a real load off your shoulders.

For example, I would constantly say:

“I SHOULD be doing more yoga.”

“I SHOULD be doing as much theatre as that person I’m reading about on facebook.”

“I SHOULD eat something other than spoonfuls of  Nutella while writing blog posts.”

Now I’m not saying that having goals or discipline about these things aren’t important, but there must be a healthier way.  I have a lot of random jobs I jump around between, most of which allow me to meet a lot of new people.  And the biggest thing I have come across are artists saying that they don’t feel like they are doing enough or that they are trying to do more to change things.  Which in a way, is all well and good.  I say these things too, and I understand the importance of pushing yourself farther and constantly growing.  Sometimes you don’t have a choice.

But I also noticed that more people than ever have the flu or some form of it.  I have been fighting off a nasty bug, antibiotics and all, for a few weeks.  I’m sure there are many things we could blame going on in the world for the general sense of exhaustion with everyone, but whatever it is, I think we all deserve a break, at least from our own heads. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people I know, including myself, have a bad case of “trying to catch up” this year.  Not quite sure how to exactly do that(there would be  many more blog posts about food I cook if I did), but I do have something new I am using to help while I am doing all that catching up.

Ambition without dropping dead

In college, I used to get so frustrated by the idea that the dedication to your art was measured by a masochistic pride of how little you had slept.   Or if you managed to direct, take 20 credits, not eat dinner, be in 3 shows, work at admissions, AND find time to be the school mascot (Drew had a mascot?), you were clearly a shoe-in for a scholarship!  I’m sure it wasn’t just in the arts either.  I hear this from so many people my age out of school now too.  And I don’t know who decided that teaching ambition without health was a good idea.

So what am I ranting about?  Give yourself a break if you can, because I’m here with the flu unable to do everything I think I “should” be doing because I said “should” too much.  Even if you can’t quit your crappy job right now or afford to take a day off, maybe let go of a few small things a day.   Slowly replacing “should” with something more productive has really been helping.  So thanks Ben:)  I kinda like you a lot.

So I would LIKE tell you more about my plans to start a food blog soon.  But instead, I’m going to take a bath, listen to Norah Jones, and eat some more Nutella.

Love to all those who need a break.  Hope everyone gets healthy soon and thanks for reading:)