A Note on Vulnerability

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

“The Bathroom is Downstairs”

Last night Ben and I used a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant around the corner.  It’s BYOB, and though I haven’t been drinking this month, I figured the glorious food was worth pairing with wine.  So to say the least, after 4 solid gulps of Chardonnay, I was having a time.  Not drinking for two weeks sure does make you a cheap date.  Either way, I kept it together and eased back on the wine until desert time.  By the time Ben got up to go to the bathroom, I was in a silly place.  For some unknown reason, I blurted out, “It’s right downstairs.”  And instantly collapsed into giggles as he walked away.  Why?  Because this is a tiny Montclair restaurant built in the corner of a small brick apartment building.  The dining room itself is a stones throw from one wall to the next, and so there is literally one option of where the bathrooms could be, without walking into the kitchen.  There were no steps.  Anywhere.  I am hilarious.  Why did I do this?  I do not know, I was feeling crafty, and I blame the glass of wine.

Either way, as soon as Ben turned to the corner to look at the real bathrooms, looking for the steps, he had a moment of, “I must have missed something,”  to which he turned to see my giggling with a, “Very nice, honey,” look on his face.  Marriage, everyone!

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Finding Your January Beach

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

Creative Commons Clara Nomen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day My Large Eyebrows Came Back Into Style

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Featured on Blogher!

My eyebrow relationship has been a bumpy uphill battle.  It began around sixth grade when I was alerted that “No, my eye brows were not actually supposed to meet in the middle. ” It was the dreaded year I also learned about dressing “in fashion,” understanding makeup (and since it was the 90’s — this meant as much glitter as possible), and the realization that I could no longer wear my ten year old Bartman t-shirt.  It was a rough year.

A friend of mine sat me down in her bathroom and tweezed my brows through what was one of the most infuriating fifteen minutes of my life.  It was the beginning of my body’s fight against the ridiculous traditions our society’s trends put us through.  When she was done, they did indeed fit the standard of the thinly-plucked, arched brows from all the magazines.  To this, she explained, “Ew, now you look like a cheerleader.”  As theatre people, we didn’t consider this to be a good thing, because, you know, middle school is weird.

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The Benefits of Being a Multi-Artist

Feeling artistically stagnant and starved is something I didn’t understand when I was little.  If I was in a grouchy mood for days at a time, I was often told, “You just need a show!”  But I didn’t truly understand the validity of this until my twenties.  I did legitimately need to do something artistic, to create, ANYTHING.  And since theatre was my thing, I would riffle through the local newspapers and Backstage every Thursday, hoping to solve the theatrical dry spell.  Usually it worked.  As I got older, it worked less.

Kindertransport in 2001.  Photo credit: Barntheatre.org.

Kindertransport in 2001. Photo credit: Barntheatre.org.

Turns out, I am not the only female brunette 20-something aspiring to be an actor.  So back in 2010, my husband very wisely suggested I take up writing as an outlet for this all-too-familiar theatrical dry spell.   As he always says, “No one needs to hire you to write!”  It was a definitely a breakthrough for me.  With theatre,  I could perform my monologues to the cats all I wanted but at the end of the day, unless I took a class, was cast in a show, or produced the whole thing myself from the ground up, I wasn’t creating.  Writing was my savior during those days.

“So are you a writer now?”

One of the unfortunate negativities I have come across in my career is the “throwing in the towel check-in.”  Even if they don’t realize it, there are a group of artists out there that like to ask the questions, “Oh so are you like, not an actor anymore?”  Will you cool it please?  I realize that this is just a projection of your own instability as an actor, but working on another art form or career does not mean you are giving up your passion.  If life was as easy as waking up one day and following your dream, then would no one would write about it!

The truth is that writing has put me more in touch with my acting and acting as put my more in touch with my writing.  I currently work in the Curriculum Office of an Independent School and I am reminded every day of the importance of interdisciplinary education.  If you think back to middle school, you’ll remember it.  “Huck Finn rafted down the Mississippi.  How many miles did he float down the river if the speed of the current was….” and then there would be a lot of math and I would go to la-la land.  But you get the idea.  We make these connections with different parts of our minds to better understand them.

Put on your writer pants

Sweatpants are great!

Sweatpants are great!

Discovering my love for writing was like finding out that I could wear my pajamas to work.  I have always considered myself an introvert.  When you’re little, they just call this shy, and you assume it’s a phase when you hide behind your parent’s knees when a stranger tries to talk to you.  And yet the feeling to hide behind things on some days never quite went away.  And then suddenly, the creation of Buzzfeed and the internet’s obsession with lists taught me that there are other introverts out there that ALSO want to hide behind things!  And apparently that’s cool now!

Being an introverted actor is often difficult.  A good deal of the business is networking and building your community.  Performing is actually one of the most personal and introverted portions of the field.  Standing in line with 30 people that look just like you who are talking about going on their 5th world tour of Midsummer, while practicing scales in between each sentence, is not as bearable.  There are days when I just don’t want to put on my actor pants.  I don’t want to wear makeup or curl my hair, or bring a change of heels.  I don’t feel like maintaining my “I could take this or leave it” persona while being graceful and welcoming, all the while remembering the words to my monologue.  Sometimes, I just want to throw my hair into a pony tail, find some flip flips, throw on my college hoody, drag myself to the nearest back corner of a coffee shop, and write.  The only person who has to deal with me sounding/looking like a recluse is the barista, and I know from experience that she has seen worse.

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And by cafe, sometimes I mean my couch.

No one needs to give you permission

The most wonderful thing about writing?  When you sit down and create something, you are a writer.  Congratulations!  Some days, you just need this freedom.  No outside force is telling you yes or no.  And the best part?  When I do return to auditioning, I am not so artistically starved that getting the role is the only salvation from insanity.  Because as I’ve heard before, desperation is always louder than your audition.

An actor friend of mine relayed this idea from a teacher to me once, “Theatre is like a healthy romantic relationship.  You need other passions in your life other than just that person, otherwise you’re not growing, and all of you happiness is dependent on things working out.”

So, Theatre, to keep myself from being a needy girlfriend, I will be over here writing in my metaphorical sweatpants.  When I’m ready to put a dress on again, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next month, I will be back.

I strongly encourage the opportunity to explore other art forms without permission.  The difference between someone who is judging what you created, and you, is that at least you created something.  So if you are worried about judgment due to lack of experience, training, or a relevant career, throw that aside.  Creating art is never for the critics, so you might as well give it a go.

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.

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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.

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 War Against Office Snacks

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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

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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.

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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.

The Tuesday Situation

It’s been one of those mornings.  I woke up with a mysteriously sore jaw (probably from sinus problems, because the human body is strange), and so I haven’t been able to open my mouth more than about an inch.  It’s really attractive.

Then I arrived early to work for a large event I’m helping run and the milk delivered with breakfast was very rotten, causing a group-wide spit take when everyone seemed to simultaneously sip their coffee.  It was an event planner’s nightmare.  Something has affected the caffeine source, the morning now hangs on the speed at which I can run to the A&P before a coup begins.

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But then I walked past the nurse’s office and this was written on her whiteboard:

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It was a nice reminder that the people around me recognize “situations” happen, and that most likely, other people are having them as well.  In the scheme of things, no, a sore jaw and rotten milk is not a real problem, it’s fixable.  But it was my situation.  And now I will remember that the delivery guy, the teachers who had to drink the rotten milk, and the store probably now getting yelled at for their rotten milk, are all also dealing with some sort of situation this morning.  Luckily, you occasionally bump into reminders like this – that you are capable of working harder than the little annoying things that pop up, and perhaps we can have a better day than our morning predicted.

Monday Boost: An Ode to Schleppers

I name this hot muggy Monday, National Schlepper* Appreciation Day!  It is for all the people who think delivery is lazy (or too expensive), who run the office errands, the family errands, the boring “I know the CVS pharmacy is going to take forever” errands, and everything in between.  We work several (usually strange) jobs, commute on sweaty trains, kill two hours in the city without spending money because it isn’t worth going all the way home, and are not afraid to walk those fifteen blocks instead of spending $2.75 on the subway.  We are the ones that get strange glances and are asked “Wait, you’re walking there?”  And you say, “Yes!  I have legs!”  and carry on in the 94 degree heat.  You are the one that teaches on the Upper East Side, babysits in Flatbush, temps in the Financial District, lives in Queens, and makes it to Amelie on West 8th because they have a cheap happy hour.  All on Tuesday.  Today we should be proud.  And in my half-asleep blogging state today, I name this day for you.

*By “Schlepper” I mean, a person who schleps, or carries things all over the place.  It’s Yiddish.  Dictionary.com tried to tell me otherwise.  It is wrong.

$10 Wine Flights...

$10 Wine Flights…

When I was young, I always heard my mom talking about having to “schlep” all over the place.  To the store, to the bank, back and forth to work.  I realized pretty quickly after moving to NYC that I was destined to also live the life of a schlepper.  At one point in time, I had seven different possible jobs at once.  Seven.  One week I was just a babysitter, and then the next I was a babysitter, a secretary, a background actor, and a teaching artist, all depending on if I answered my phone in time to accept the work.  To say the least, it was a lot of running around with many clothing changes, snacks, and all the various crap you need to do these jobs.  I once carried 14 shoe boxes in a shopping bag on the 6 train during rush hour.  This will be my whiny story I tell our grandkids about walking uphill both ways in the snow.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

I am always surprised by non-schlepper’s shock when you use a little more physical energy to do something than is normally required.  The other day, a caring coworker asked me if I needed help carrying a case of water bottles up to our office, and to not hurt myself.  I was tempted to say, “I work in theatre, I once carried a flight of steps up a flight of steps!”  But I didn’t feel like explaining because I was carrying water bottles…and didn’t want to sound like a jerk.

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I was once paid $11 an hour to cover this wall in post-it notes…after buying a lot of post-it notes.  At many Staples.

But today, when I am not particularly high on energy, I was thankful to be part of this motivated bunch.  I had a fantastic weekend up in Boston with my college roommates – a group of fellow schleppers that know how to keep a friendship going despite living in different states after almost ten years of friendship.  But because of this wonderful weekend, I am a zombie.  A warm, tired, slightly overwhelmed zombie.  So when my office ordered lunch today, and I was faced with waiting an hour for a delicious sandwich or getting off my butt and picking up everyone’s delicious sandwich, I chose the latter, got the sunshine I desperately needed, and became the sandwich hero (hehe) of the day.  They may look at me like I am an overachieving pushover…but I got to get up and get outside.

Our schlepping will also: (all taken from American Heart Association)

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

Ha!  So there!  Today is for us!  We will travel across state lines, borough lines, and out into the hot muggy day to get sh*t done.  I declare we all end the day with a glass of wine, that we all schlep to Trader Joe’s to purchase.