Day 11: That Time I Worked at Abercrombie

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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By the end of high school, I cared very little about trying to mesh with the popular or stylish crowd. It was freeing really, I saw college on the horizon and had no qualms about keeping to my trusty and supportive group of theatre friends. At the end of the day, I just wanted to graduate, lay low, and get out of there.

Nevertheless, I accompanied a friend to the Rockaway Mall one afternoon so she could interview for a position at Abercrombie.  I’m pretty sure I had never bought anything from, or even walked into an Abercrombie before this, but wanted to be supportive (Abercrombie is the younger version of Abercrombie and Fitch–less shirtless models, more angsty pre-teens).  But as we entered the store that day, the manager said we were all welcome to join in on the group interview if we wanted to–even me.  And so I thought, I have nothing to lose!  Why the hell not?  I needed money and a job.

And so several young blonde girls and a manager named Fanta walked us outside the store, ponytails and an perfectly “distressed” flare jeans and all. It was relief to find respite from the overwhelming odor of men’s cologne that they spritzed around the store every half hour.  The interview consisted of several spunky questions like, “If you could be any fruit or vegetable, what would you be?”  When it came to my turn, I said that I would be a potato, because they can be cooked in so many versatile ways and have the ability to conduct electricity.  To this, the manager said, with a squeal, “Oh yes!  You can like, stick them in electrical sockets, right?”  To which I responded, “Oh, no, please don’t try that.”

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New Writing Projects!

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Happy Saturday all!  I have to say, I’ve been staring at the, “Add New Post” link for weeks now, wondering why my blogging bubble has been recently burst.  But as strange as I feel about letting this blog hang out on a story about my mom scaring neighbors away with musical theatre, I have been up to some great new writing ventures!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my goal this year is to branch out and build a more versatile artistic/writing career around new things.  Nicely vague but strangely motivating.  It turns out that blogging makes me happy as long as I’m not falling into the trap of writing for websites that only invite angry commenters to analyze my life choices.  But more on that later.  For the good news! (And perhaps some guidance for new writers looking for a starting point):

Wireless Wipes and Budget-Friendly Ways to Clean Your Home

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When I began to expand my writing, many friends/fellow bloggers here advised me to write for brands I supported, or explore the use of content marketing in general.  My main concern was how to incorporate my goofy voice in an article for a wider audience, without distracting from the message that the product is awesome and everyone should buy it.  I’ve had several nice experiences tackling this, but this was a particularly lovely one.  Please check out my article on a cheap way to clean your home with Essential Oils (shoutout to Christina for introducing me to EOs).

This connection was made via a site called Clearvoice, which I am happy to elaborate on in the comments or through private message if you’re interested to hear more.

Creative Nonfiction Essay Submissions

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve been concentrating on essay writing–a longer-form, slightly more structured version of all my craziness on this site.  Whether my pieces are still a hot mess or not is neither here nor there, but writing this way has forced me to spend weeks on one piece–finding a more thorough way to tell stories that deserve greater love and attention than one the comments section on a feminist blog can provide.  I highly recommend Creative Nonfiction, both their book and website, if you haven’t read them already.  They have several contests a year/ongoing submission openings.  Also, they’re based in Pittsburgh.  So go Steelers.

More updates to come soon, but I’m off to carry a tired Ben home from Brooklyn after running the half marathon.  I shall bring him many donuts.  Have a lovely weekend!!!

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!

Call for Advice: To WP.org or Not to WP.org?

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Hello fellow bloggers!  I am getting close to my five year mark here and I am very interested in making this a much bigger part of my professional life.  Overall, I am trying to write more frequently, create a rhythm with weekly topics, etc. In a magical world, I would be able to focus on this full-time.  Though it will never be about making money for me (because when that’s the goal, nothing ever really works), but more about allowing myself the time to develop this further.

So I have been looking into transferring my site to WordPress.org and hosting through Bluehost.  I am however, in the very beginning stages of researching how to do this and if it is even worth switching.  So I have a few questions for the group:

1.  Do any of my readers receive income from blogging, even if it is a small amount?  If so, what were your first steps?

2. With the understanding that it requires more hands-on management, have you had a good experience with WordPress.org and/or Blue Host?

3.  Am I better off staying on .com and applying for Adwords?

3. Have you felt in danger of losing the integrity of your blog and writing by using an SEO program?

4.  Do I have no idea what I’m talking about/do you know of any good starter websites or classes I can take to be less clueless?

Thank you so much in advance for all your thoughts!  This is a slow but fun process and I’m hoping to just keep growing in the next year.  As always, thank you to all my very encouraging readers and please never hesitate to alert me of posts you are particularly proud of below, and I always happy to read.

For your troubles, here’s a picture of me looking like Maggie Smith.

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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.

MaybeThereWillBeCupcakes.com Lives!!!

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfectly Imperfect Wedding

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

 

Rephrasing the Fall Back Question

It's possible.

It’s possible.

 

Camino Writing: Take One

us with pepe

 

The Secret Life of Background Actors

Play "Find the Ginny"

Play “Find the Ginny”

 

My Real Resume

PLOTTING

 

First post ever!!

toys r us

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Plant Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woody Artist Stem

woody basil

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

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

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

Back to Making Veggies

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Get off the Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me as a kid…staying low to the ground

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

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

diamond cutter

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

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

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

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

storm

An example:

Lousy Imprint:  Offices are bad, theatre is awesome 

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

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

#bffwithuta

#bffswithuta

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

Hashtag Hashbrown

Let’s stop hating Mondays

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

Let’s stop hating each other

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

taco cat

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

 

 

 

Don’t just sit in the hallway 

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

Childhood Dreams of Growing Up

Way back in high school, when the “reach for the stars” talks started turning into “where do you see yourself in five years?” talks, my friends are I started chatting more bluntly about our artistic dreams.  I always knew I wanted to be an actor, it was encouraged before I was even born.  My mother directed shows while she pregnant with me, before my parents could officially plant the idea in my head.  But at eight, I was introduced to Tennessee Williams in my first production (I know, strange childhood), and I was hooked.  There was no question after that.  Until the middle of high school, I never flinched when asked about my mathematically-plotted artistic future.

Stop telling me to be calm, posters.

Stop telling me to be calm.

Later in high school though, I started loosely tossing around another idea altogether.  But I always mentioned it with an air of “I’m not really serious though.”  The two paths I laid out seemed like polar opposites:  I claimed I would either move to NYC and accept the life-long rush of auditioning OR I could move to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, work at a school, get to know the local theatre, and write children’s stories in the afternoon, probably while drinking a lot of tea in cotton dresses.  So basically, opposite life-tracks.

And yet yesterday afternoon, I walked out the front of my school (where I started working a month ago) and realized that somehow I was pulling off both.  I may not be in the middle of nowhere, but it definitely isn’t NYC.  I drive to work, I am home in 5 minutes, we get welcome letters in the mail from tiny family-owned companies nearby – with signatures!  And yet, when I walked outside, the petals dramatically swirling around me in the breeze from the lilac trees on campus (oh come on), I couldn’t help but think, “This isn’t too bad.”

Outside my door.

Outside my door.

But why isn’t this the polar opposite life that I expected?  Why didn’t I have to make some huge decision one day to give up my professional acting career to move here?  I think it’s because we’re lied to.

Reach for the stars, but you better know what those stars are at 15!

Sneaky girl with a net seems to be stealing those stars.

If your dream is to steal stars with a net.  Sneaky star stealer.

The guidance counselor message of the 90’s was geared toward kids who had very strong opinions on things they didn’t know a lot about.  And that sounds harsh, I know.  But I had the balls to believe then that I knew how to be a professional actor, and never stopped to think that MAYBE there would be other factors along the way- like a changing industry, or an economic recession, or you know, a lack of real-life experience.  So how was I supposed to have these solid goals when I didn’t know how the industry, or my own mind, would look in 10 years?

By the time I moved to NYC in 2010, the pressure to make this all look easy, as everyone on Facebook had managed to do, was intense.  I thought- you get a food service job, you go to auditions, you get drinks with your friends to talk about your crazy NYC lifestyle, you get into shows, and that’s that.  #blessed and #actorlife, or whatever.

Only #blessed that this show exists.

Only #blessed that this show exists.

It wasn’t quite like that.  I would go into the details, but the past four years of this blog has it all there (because as you can see, I had all of the feels).  But my point is that no guidance counselor ever said, “And hey, if you get to where you planned to go and you don’t really like it, don’t freak out about changing your tactic.  That doesn’t mean you’re a failure.”  Yeah no, “don’t give up on your dreams” is a wonderful mantra, but it really should include that you may not know the extent of your dream yet.  How could you?  You are not a time traveler, and most importantly, you are young.

You’ll know where you’re going when you get there.

A few nights ago, I met two fabulous actresses, who in two separate conversations, said the same thing.  They explained that they recently moved across the country, and had no idea how natural it would feel to live there until they arrived-  as if they were always meant to truly be themselves in this new place.   That’s how I felt when I walked out of my school yesterday.  When I lived in the city, no matter how much I tried, I never felt like I blended in with the crowd.  I would get home at the end of the night and spend so much time decompressing that writing was one of the the last thoughts on my mind.  And auditioning?  I was running around from job to job so often, planning the next day, figuring out my schedule, that auditioning was always an afterthought.  When I got in an audition, all I could think about was my stress.

But I wouldn’t have guessed that my “alternate” plan from childhood would make the original plan happen.  Now that I live somewhere that makes me feel more like, well me, I want to write, I want to take classes, I want to look at a real long-term acting plan.  My brain has the space to do what it wants because I am no longer pretending to be who I decided I would be when I was 15.

Tiber is pretty pumped about the suburbs too.

Tiber is pretty pumped about the suburbs too.

For the past three weeks, the middle schoolers outside my office have been rehearsing Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The school chooses a Shakespeare play each Spring and in addition to the auditioned cast in the full production, every student learns one scene for their class.  So I have 10 versions of the lovers’ fight one day, and 10 versions on Puck’s final monologue another.  It’s adorable.  I have also reconnected with several NJ theatre companies, and because this job pays me (imagine that!) I am already starting to sign up for summer classes.  Hallelujah!  I almost cried when I registered for an Alexander Technique class yesterday.  I thought that was a luxury for the trust fund babies.  But what I’m saying is, I am now surrounded by theatre, just when I thought I was taking a step back.

Maybe you also need some chocolate…

It isn’t just these big lofty life goals that need this intuitive-based treatment.  I’ve been realizing more and more that when I say yes to unexpected opportunities, I usually find what I didn’t even know I needed.  I knew I was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  It’s like when you’re exhausted and can’t figure out why, and then you eat an apple and think, “Holy hell, I haven’t had fruit in a week!”  Or when you want to punch the wall, but a snickers actually makes you feel better.  It’s finding what you need without overthinking it, and working from your gut instead.

So no, I am not suggesting we wander through life aimlessly hoping we bump into the thing that fulfills us, but I have not had a lot of luck obsessing and calculating what I will need down the line. My real answer to that awful question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is, “Someone who can inspire those around me, in whatever I am doing then.”  My only real hope is to find a way to share the adventures and lessons, just in case they help someone else too.  Is that done by following some career formula?  I don’t have a clue.

I cannot control where I will be happy living in two years, or how much education or acting will be a part of my life, I do not know 30 year old Ginny yet.  I know what makes me happy now, and I will continue to welcome those things into my life.  But if my plans change, that doesn’t mean I am disrespecting my current goals.  I don’t know everything, and if I did, that would be terribly boring.

Poll for the group:

What have you always wanted to say to the dreaded interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To get you started, Ben’s answer has always been: “Not answering this question.”

 

Happy weekend!

Maybe there will be Manhattans

The other day I got really excited about having garbage bags.  I needed to switch out the garbage and became, perhaps irrationally, thankful that we had our act together to own…garbage bags.  So at some point recently, we had the money to buy something in bulk before we moved.  And it reminds me that the days of: “Oh nuts, we’re out of garbage bags, and OH CRAP we have $17 in our account and since the corner store has a $10 minimum on credit cards, I have to buy a candy bar with the bags to make the minimum, which at least I can eat while feeling sorry for myself since I now only have $7 in my account” are over.  So you see, having garbage bags means we don’t have to deal with that noise anymore.

Comfort Snickers

Comfort Snickers

Since it was a sunny day and I was feeling particularly on top of the world, I pranced over to Ben to tell him about my realization.  I have been noticing more and more how many little things are slowly falling into place.  And if I hadn’t had gone without them in the past, I may no be overlooking them now.  As another example: clean towels!  A clean towel when I was little was just a clean towel.  I threw it in the corner of my bedroom after I got out of the shower like an obnoxious teenager, and it eventually magically made its way to the washing machine downstairs.  But move to NYC as an artist on a dime, and that towel is going to stay dirty until you have 3 hours to kill while it isn’t monsooning to drag that towel, and the rest of your clothing, down the block to the laundromat, where you hopefully have enough quarters hidden in the couch seats and old coat pockets to wash your clothes.

I tried really hard to watch Broad City.  I didn’t make it very far.  I think one of the biggest issues they faced in the episode was not having enough money to buy drugs or go to a concert…or something, I mainly blocked it out and filled that space with pasta recipes.  But all I could think was, “Am I missing the point?” and more importantly, “Is this how anyone my age lives in the NYC?”

If I was to make a show about struggling NYC girls trying to live on little money, triumphs would include adding the leftover goat cheese from your protein box at Starbucks (one of the cheapest last minute dinners you can grab while running around) to pasta sauce and make it taste really fancy.  Or that if you suggest a random happy hour special to a particularly empty bar after work (pretending you don’t know if they “still offer it”), they will usually give you that special anyway so that you don’t leave (half-price bottles of wine is the key).  I don’t think anyone would watch a show of my life, but at least it would be closer to reality and include many less hipster-scowls.  These little tid-bits of experiential knowledge have changed the way I live, they make me feel like I don’t need a trust fund to live better than the tv-twenty somethings.

Freakin’ out 

These little triumphs add up.  All of our ducks might not be in line, but seeing these small progressions remind me that I am at least not going backwards.  A few days before I moved, I started to get that familiar panicky feeling in my throat.  Maybe I am wrong about leaving Jersey City!  I change my mind!  We’re keeping the apartment.  Unpack everything! And for the first time, a little voice inside my head (uh oh) said “Oh just cool it.”  I was a little taken aback by my judge-y inner monologue.  But it was right, perhaps this is all part of how everything is meant to pan out, and constantly pushing against that is wasted energy. Perhaps I will look back and say,”Thank goodness we moved, it made everything else fall into place.”  or “If I hadn’t worked those 55 temp jobs, maybe I wouldn’t have landed that national commercial that ran for 25 years.”  It’s similar to when I wouldn’t get cast in a show when I was tiny and my dad would give me a pep talk about how it was simply making room for a better role.

An old bottle of Vermouth and a snarky picture of Shakespeare

When I started to write this post last night I was drinking a Manhattan in my living room thanks to a bottle of Vermouth someone brought to one of our parties about 4 years go (it doesn’t go bad..right?).  The whisky has come and gone but whenever I am feeling frumpy about my evening, I have this one  extra ingredient to throw together something that makes me feel fancy.  Even if it’s a week when my laundry is hanging from the ceiling fans and the cats are bouncing off the walls, I can clear my spot, have a Manhattan, and write.  I will remember these little moments of joy much more than the freakout “everything is out of control” moments. I believe this is what shows like Girls and Broad City were trying to do- showcase the little day to day idiosyncrasies of young people living in NYC.  And perhaps I haven’t given them enough of a chance, but these shows are about as close to reality as a perfectly decorated living room on Pinterest.  It ain’t gonna happen.

You're cute.

You’re cute.

Last Saturday, Ben and I went to the STNJ gala and had the chance to sit at a table with not one, BUT TWO former governors, and feel mega-snazzy about our strange lives.  Oooh look at us!  We mutually shared a “what is our life” moment when we sat down at the table off the corner of the stage.  After having a day thrilled about garbage bags, this was really blowing my mind.

Oh and I had drunk about 4 glasses of wine.  Halfway through the cabaret, I looked down at the odd but striking picture of Shakespeare they are using on their season program this year.  At any other time, I would have thought, “Huh, really?  That’s the picture you go with?”  But there he was, looking a little grumpy and persistent, staring at me from Tom Kean’s plate.  Call me completely insane (or drunk), but in the moment I felt like Shakespeare was judging me, my excuses not to write, and all the anxiety that has been standing in my way of not only being an actor, but also whatever else in the future I fight against.  I have had opportunities come my way, but often, because they are not specifically an acting role, I have been less than enthused about them.  That is dumb.  I have a play that needs to be written, producing opportunities I can get underway, and chances to take classes.  I felt like ugly Shakespeare was saying, “Stop bitching and get to it.”

Got myself a keychain of it too!

Got myself a keychain of it too!

I don’t know quite how these two realizations are connected other than that my moments of clarity often coincide with my moments of gratitude.  I recently read about a psychological trend known as “learned helplessness.”  After something bad happens to you over and over, you learn to accept it instead of trying to change it.  I’ve felt myself slide into this many times, and have watched many people fall into as well.  But these little glints of improvement break me out of it.  So though I have had about 20 or so “unsuccessful” auditions in a row, have ignored my play time and time again, and seem to just can’t figure out what makes me sick when I dance (case of the dizzies), it does not mean I accept that this is “just how things are now” and hide under my desk.

We had garbage bags.  And two years ago we didn’t. Sometimes that does it.