I Never Wanted a Barbie Dream House

On my drive to work this morning, an old Barbie Dream House had been left out on their curb for bulk trash day.  And of course, it’s raining, so it was a wildly depressing sight. But the size of the thing!  That dollhouse, now crumbling and filling with water, must have been up to my hip and as wide as my car door.  I started to think about a reoccurring memory from childhood–sitting in my school friend’s bedroom, “playing” with that massive Playmobil mansion (I could have sworn it was Lego, but the internet tells me otherwise). It seemed like everyone got the same gift for Christmas that year.  We were barely allowed to change around any of the pieces, so I use the term “play” loosely.  The massive toy house had several floors, an epic front yard, a full cleaning staff, and all of these little lego flowers that you could “plant” around the garden.  I thought about how my cats would probably eat these lego-like pieces in a heartbeat if I had it at home.  To me, sitting there, staring at this untouchable dollhouse, was a rare, mature moment of clarity in elementary school when I thought, “I do not need this bougie dollhouse in my life.”

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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!

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.

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

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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.

A Mindful Wedding: Pinterest Propaganda

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About a week before the wedding, I was using our paper cutter at work to slice the ceremony programs (which is why they were all a little crooked). I texted my bridesmaid Helen to ask to if I should order a bushel of dried lavender so I could glue a sprig on each program and make them look better.  Because right now they looked pretty busted.

And the great friend that she is (who always promised to tell me if I went to far), she finally asked, “But why?”  And all I could think was, “Because it isn’t enough!  I haven’t done enough!”

The crazy didn’t end there, oh no.  After my failure to construct a ribbon curtain for our outdoor ceremony, I stopped on the way to our venue at a garden center for some potted plants.  Ben asked me why we needed them to which I responded, completely in zombie bride mode, “My ribbon curtain failed.  We have no ceremony decorations!  You have to have those!”  Later, during the ceremony, I remember snorting at myself a bit when seeing the $40 potted plants I fought so hard for, tipping over in the front of the lawn where we got married.  The ceremony was outside.  Why did I need plants?

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.

Now it wasn’t until the end of planning that the stress caught up with me. I was told otherwise I stayed surprisingly low key throughout the process.  But now that I look back, I see how the crazy seed was planted: Pinterest, The Knot, and all those budget bride blogs that only show the good (and never the ugly) sides of DIY.  They were like crack for a budgeting bride, and the lanterns and birdcages were how I got my fix.

Buddha to the rescue

A friend of mine recently lent me the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris from ABC, who chronicles his discovery of Mindfulness while reporting on various religions.  I was excited to find that a newer “convert” of Buddhism was writing on this topic since its a goal of mine as well; and I often feel unworthy since I’m NOT a retreat-attending, yoga-for-the-people card holding,  non-meat eating Buddhist (yet?).  In the scheme of things, I am very early in my Buddhist education, and was excited to find that Dan Harris’ cynical yet quirky tone is similar to the one I aspire for on this blog.

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At one point, he mentions that during a retreat a teacher of his talked about the common misinterpretation of the Buddhist idea of Dukkha, aka “Life is Suffering.”  Most people hear this and think, “Why would I want to follow a religion that sounds so miserable?  I’m supposed to accept that life is terrible?  Fun!”

Well, we’re all missing the boat a bit, but that’s okay.  It’s an odd phrase and very confusing if you aren’t told the rest of the message.  Turns out it’s poorly translated as well.  Dukkha actually translates more closely into “Life is stressful.”  Yes!  Yes it is!  And the rest of the main message is that the stress (or suffering) comes from attaching ourselves to the idea that A. Things or events will make us complete and B. Those things are going be around forever.  The more we let go of these ideas, the closer we come to enlightenment (which in their terms is a jolly mix of understanding, compassion, clarity and contentment…in a nutshell).

Stress relief is actually just a lovely side-effect of seeing the world clearly.  The idea of Buddhism is not the notion that life sucks and we should learn to deal with it.  It’s understanding that there is good and bad, and neither is going to remain permanent.  Whether it’s the most delicious tiramisu on the planet, a root canal, or say…a wedding day…

(Whenever I do this, I hear “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof start to play but  with the word “Transitiiiiionnn, Transition!”)

Wedding Dukkha

When planning a wedding, in regard to my own and while helping friends, there is the inevitable feeling that your list will never end.

Even when you enlist your friends' help!

Even when you enlist your friends’ help! (yes that’s a sand bucket)

And it’s not only your things-to-do list, but also your shopping list.  Now there are a million blogs out there about small budget weddings, glitzy weddings, hipster weddings, the whole thing, and all of them seem to have a similar thing in common: lots of things and lots of steps.  Personal touches and ways to impress your guests are wonderful, but when do these things start to overshadow the marriage itself? And once you’ve bought into the idea that someone else managed to make their wedding “that cute” with little money and “little effort” a modern day pressure to craft grows into an obsession with obtaining a blog worthy wedding.  At least this is what happened with me.

There is a Buddhist idea wrapped up in the lesson of impermanence that we are always waiting for the next thing to complete us.  This is another idea that came up is Harris’ book.  We are waiting for the next relationship, the end of the week, the next paycheck, the next cup of coffee.  That thing will make us complete.  And because of all this waiting, we are missing the fact that the last thing arrived, and it wasn’t enough.

This was how my wedding planning snowballed for me.  I was on a budget, yes, but we also wanted to throw the majority of our budget into our guests being well-fed, well boozed-up, and comfortable.  So once that was taken care of, the money for all the tchotchkes Pinterest tells you to buy was slim.  And this is when this weird panic set in as a bride.

I am throwing the money into the food and experience, but not into things like a matching cake, disco lighting, 500 paper lanterns, and a mashed potato bar (which I’ll admit, I was pretty sad the day we cut it).  But nonetheless, I still tried to keep up with the Pinterest pressure.

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It wasn’t until I was spray painting 150 small handstamped tambourines with glitter paint that I asked myself, “What am I doing???”  Here I am with the wind blowing paint all over my apartment door (it’s still sparkly) two weeks before my wedding.  I’m making inside joke wedding-favors that most people will not even take home.  All because I learned that you are supposed to get personalized favors.  I was proving my worthiness through homemade dollar store props.  And with each addition of things, I never felt that complete feeling I was searching for.  Even after the wedding was over, I still stressed looking through the pictures that maybe I hadn’t done enough.

But what actually matters is that I had one of the best days of my life.  Everyone was incredible loving and generous, no one cared when little things went wrong, the food was delicious, the crazy idea to DJ it ourselves worked out, people DANCED, our made-up cocktail was a hit, and Ben and I got married!

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The part of the blog where I relate this to other parts of life…

This realization continued to help  me past the days of hot gluing ribbons to mason jars.  When it comes to my job, my artistic career, decorating the house, and even on our honeymoon, I remind myself a lot that our Pinterest idea of things in not going to bring happiness.  When these blogs and Pinterest were invented, they were created to share ideas, which is dandy, and I still love to use it for that.  But when it comes to things in our lives that we believe we are judged for (money, career, weddings), it can become a social peacocking site.  And clearly I’m leaving out the pressure from the wedding business itself, that isn’t a walk in the park as far as pressure, but since I mainly approached things from a DIY standpoint, I can only speak of this side of things.

But to all my friends who are planning now, remember that the personal touches and projects that bring you joy are the ones to keep around.  But there is no need to go past that.  There are plenty of other logistical tasks to throw your energy into, including caring about your relationship and your guests, the whole original reason you’re planning all this craziness in the first place.

Either way, planning a huge event is never going to be “easy”, but the more we remember that it is all passing (the good and the bad), the more we can take a step back and realize that it is all enough, and pretty wonderful.

 

All wedding photos by and linked to Kim Craven Photography because she’s awesssooommme.