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.

It’s Let It Go Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

The rant-y part…

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

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

For your troubles: puppies in buckets.

 

The myth of revenge

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

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

ALL of the mailing lists!

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

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

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

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

shocked koala

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

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

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

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

1315

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

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

So long, Elizabeth Street.

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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.

Creativity Snooze Button

It was hard getting out of bed this morning.  When our upstairs neighbors use their heat, the steam travels up the pipes, making a hundred little stops along its way on the sides of the old metal radiator in our bedroom.  In my mind, the steam has transformed itself into little creatures with metal construction worker hats bouncing back and forth with glee, occasionally smacking their little hammers on the pipe for added affect.  By 5:30 or so, Ben gave up on sleep and I sprawled out, covered my head, and wished that the birds weren’t already chirping along with the hammering creatures in the pipes.  Both were conspiring against me.

Finally, my alarm went off, and I knew I couldn’t hide from the birds any longer.  I sat down to write and debated if 15 minutes more in bed would save me from a day of exhaustion.  I spent a sold five minutes writing about sleeping instead of writing or sleeping.  I finally gave in and realized what my problem was- I’m great at finding reasons to put things off, whether the pipes were clanging all night or not.  And as I usually do, I wanted to figure out why.

After we gave up on sleep...

After we gave up on sleep…

Things to DO lists…

For close to five years, I temped, consulted, stopped-in, freelanced, helped out, and part-timed my way through my work life.  Though all my “part-time” jobs usually added up to more than a 40 hour work week, I was always temporary.  Walking in and out of these offices without commitment and knowing that no one expected me to stay helped me maintain control of the feeling that I could be creative any time I wanted.  I could just up and leave to go be an artist whenever the mysterious and elusive art world called my name.  Choosing a dreaded full-time “permanent” job, as they’re known in the temping world (which really needs some rebranding), seemed like the end of the creative line.  I thought that adopting this kind of schedule would give me a “doing” life, and not in the “get stuff done Home Depot ad” kind of way.  I imagined it full of errands, schedules, distractions, and predictability.  I was worried that I would look back after a year and realize in terror that I hadn’t created a thing.

And yet, here I am, at my new “permanent” job (again, terrible name) with more time and space in my mind than I did when I had one foot out the door.  I am not saying that all you freelancers (and I’m sure I will join you again someday), should jump on a full-time job, I am saying that there is no perfect atmosphere or specific time to create.  But there is a balance to be found.  For example, for a while, I tried to only work “creative” jobs that would aid my drive to write and audition in my spare time: background work, teaching crafts classes, non-profit work.  At another point, I completely distanced myself from the creative world: hedge funds, PR firms, law offices.  Perhaps making more money and the starkness of the scenery would encourage me to write more.  But no matter where I was, the patterns stayed the same.

Writing and auditioning came in pretty unpredictable spurts, but usually coincided with the rare moment I was not obsessing with getting my constantly changing schedule or financial situation under control.  These moments were rare, since maintaining this magical flexibility was more exhausting the more it worked.  If I booked a job, I had less time to try and book the next job.  But if I didn’t book anything, I have to work extra hard to find something to maintain my budget.  So where did creativity fit into any of this?  My only choice was to focus all my energy into maintaining this work life, I had to eat, and I had to pay rent. And to be a complete musical theatre nerd and quote Cabaret, “Feet don’t waltz when the roof caves in.”

Write for your life!!  Raaaah!!

The point that I’ve come back to over and over, is that I cannot live a life without creativity.  When I am not working on a project, my weekly existential crises number double.  Poor Ben has to give me the “you’re always an artist” pep talk more than any husband should.  Even when I was a kid, my dad would tell me that I was grump when I wasn’t in a show.  The “I’m bored” whine-fest as a child was met with, “Oh, you just need a show,” or if that didn’t work, “Go clean the hallway closet.”

What happens to me when I don't write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

What happens to me when I don’t write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

So why is it so difficult to squeeze our creativity into this list of survival needs? Is it that no one is holding us accountable?  Is it because the world will keep spinning if you ignore it?  If I don’t make dinner, for example, I won’t eat, and then I will be hungry, and eventually get sick.  We have to seek out food in order to eat it.  But if I don’t write my play today, nothing changes.  Nothing bad will happen.  I will just feel blue that I ignored my play again.  Is this just as important as eating?  It’s great to sound poetic and say it is, and sew it on a Pinterest pillow, but really though?  How do we make this need a life necessity?

“I wanted it enough”…and other BS

I’ve never liked this phrase.  I’ve heard successful people say many times, “I simply wanted it badly enough.”  Great, so do the rest of us.  I usually find that the people who say this are either not mentioning the generous help they received along the way, OR the incredibly unhealthy unsustainable lifestyle that goes along with their career.  Simply wanting something does not write a novel or put you on Broadway.  Did wanting something enough make your parents buy you a Tamagotchi?  Is that where this is coming from?

It can’t just be about desire.  Basic needs, discipline, opportunity, education, and health play a pretty nice role as well.  As artists, we may never have a constant safety net.  And we can choose to focus on falling or being envious of someone else’s net.  But we can also look the possibility that balancing these things can assist in keeping us up in the air.  Perhaps it is about supporting each one of these puzzle pieces to weather any storm or any changing circumstance.  When one puzzle piece is out of balance, you have the others.  Your money is low, but you have discipline in your schedule to fall back on.  Or your education is lacking, but you have the opportunity to reach out for advice from someone.  You’re sick, but you have money to get yourself to the doctor or take time off.

What will happen if you lose the balance...

What will happen if you lose the balance…

 

Yes this blog post only had cat pictures…

I actually didn’t begin writing this post knowing how it would end.  Writing out these thoughts got me here though.   Having this blog added that tiny bit of discipline I talk about that keeps me writing, even if it’s not in the way I planned when I woke up today.  There may never be the absolute ideal moment to work on your art, but you also can only get so far with the “But I want it!” mentality.  Respecting how difficult it is to care for your creative energy is the only way to maintain this wild life-long journey of being an artist.  So I am going to start looking at these puzzle pieces as way to balance out my brain when I find the excuse to hit the snooze button or ignore my writing.  At least this is something I can put my finger on and tackle from a new perspective.

 

As always, feel free to share thoughts below!  And thank you for reading!

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.

blog again

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!

blog 7

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.

Rephrasing the “Fall Back” Question

About four years ago, right after I moved to NYC, I started a word document simply called “Life.”  It evolved into my Morning Pages, and sometimes acts as a ranting journal for when I don’t feel like using a pen.  Occasionally, especially on snowy days like today, I skim through it and relive getting to know Ben, quitting a million temp jobs, and struggling through an endless slew of days loving or hating New York City Theatre.  I will gladly skip the tiring bits about Sallie Mae or getting stuck on the D train and gravitate toward the wine-induced evenings when I sounded surprisingly poetic.  Good for you, tipsy brain.  Either way, it’s always an adventure to read.  It usually ends in me declaring I forgot to feed the cats, and then the sentence abruptly ends.

The hard part when looking back is seeing the patterns.  Have I always complained about not being able to pay my bills?  Have I always believed that I don’t work hard enough toward acting?  Have I always hated living in a densely populated city????  Am I a crazy person going in circles slowly accumulating cats and cat pictures??

It's possible.

It’s possible.

I’ve struggled with getting caught in patterns for years.  If you look back through these posts, you’ll definitely see it here.  I have written about pretty similar themes each time: surviving your survival job, overcoming stress in an audition, not going insane even though you’re broke.  Round and round I go.  Not to say these posts weren’t genuine or warranted, but they weren’t kidding when they said being an artist is exhausting  (They being all my guidance counselors before college).

Speaking of guidance counselors…

I partially blame this fretting cycle on the American Dream-esque rhetoric we are fed in school.  “If you try hard enough (or “want” something enough), you can achieve anything.” Then I mix this with a good dose of, “If you can’t stand the hard life that comes along with acting, what will your fall back be?”  Ew.  What a terrible, and illogical amount of pressure to put on yourself, not to mention your creative self.  I should pick a secondary career to pursue if I decide one day that I don’t “want” something enough to push through the hard stuff?  That doesn’t sound pleasant or productive.  What I feel the question leaves out is:

-When you act/write/paint/stand on your head while juggling, do you feel that you are truly at home?  Do you know that this is the best way to share your ideas with the world?  Then congrats, you are that.  That’s the end of it.

Hooray!

Hooray!

-If you enjoy something else right now (working in an office, bartending, driving the A train) does that mean that you’re not actually meant to be an artist?  No.  Wrong.  And let’s stop saying “meant to” please.  You are what you are.

-If someone doesn’t hire me to practice my art, does that mean I am failing?  Nope!  It just means ten million other people are doing what you are doing, and there is no logical latter to the top of the arts.  Actually, there is no top of the arts.  But that’s another blog post.

-Is my friend on Instagram who always takes pictures of their feet before an audition trying harder than I am?  Probably not.  They just take more pictures. #blessed #coolit #unfollow

If I was to talk to a room of doe-eyed college seniors in a theatre program right now, I wouldn’t threaten them with, “Times are hard!  Jobs are few!  If you can’t take it, don’t be an actor!”  Instead I would say, “You have your art, whether you need to pay back Aunt Sallie or not, money or time will never dictate that.  The trick is keeping your lifelong goal of acting alive.  So what job will you take on that will feed your creative soul while allowing you to progress as a person at the same time?”  Hey, hippie Ginny, nice to see you this morning.

Finding Your People, and your Lifestyle

iPhone Pictures 673

One of the biggest artistic things I have learned from my older and sometimes wiser husband (he is currently debating with me that he is never wiser, but I disagree) is that there is one thing in theatre that cannot be rushed: building your community and finding your people.  There is a joke among Ben’s friends called “the six degrees of Ben Bartolone.”  When he meets someone new in theatre, chances are they were his college buddy’s ex-girlfriend/worked at the mall with his best friend in high school/goes to his Steelers bar/actually a distant relative.  It never stops amazing me.  Why?  Because he knows the power of community in this field, and that time is necessary to build one. We are all running in circles at times, it’s just a matter of starting to run into each other.

Realizing who you don’t work well with is just as important.  I’ve taken a few acting classes when I’ve felt that I was missing some inside joke the rest of the group was riding on the whole time.  I felt old (not in a bad way) and that I’d rather go home to a book and wine at the end of the night instead of shots of fireball at a crowded midtown bar.  I sit in the Equity Lounge (something I couldn’t wait to do) and wonder why I don’t have any interest anymore in spending 12 weeks in a van performing Shakespeare to middle schoolers.  Does this mean I don’t want to be an actor enough?

Between the countless Drew grads in my life that share the same bitter-snarky optimism, and some lovely people I have found during my time here, I see how a community clarifies your artistic path.  Suddenly, like magic, my thoughts have shifted from “who will hire me?” to “what do I want to create with these wonderful people?”

box on head

Wonderful people.

Happiness also exists when you’re not in a show…

I am very fascinated by the phenomenon of two questions:

“What are you working on?”  In case you haven’t seen this…

and

“Oh you’re writing now…so you’ve given up Acting?”

Whaaaat??  I recently told a group of my coworkers that this was a common theatre phrase and they looked horrified.  What kind of career constantly asks you if you are giving up your career?

Since the wedding, I have been primarily freelancing in fundraising, specifically in a school.  I originally sought this out with the expensive wedding on the horizon.  But amazingly in the process found that working around adorable babies while working toward a cause I care deeply about, was pretty damn fulfilling.  It transformed from something I could do to something I wanted to do.  And the happy side effect?  I can finally work toward financial freedom, afford classes I enjoy, and free up a little part of my brain that used to focus on bills but now focuses on writing and acting.  How delightful! Am I going to EPA’s every morning and hoping to win the acting lottery?  Not right now.  Will I again?  I’m sure.  But my life is by no means on hold in the meantime.

The New Question (open to suggestions here):

Instead of “What will you do if you fail as an artist?” how about “What will I do to remain an artist?”

In other words, in today’s economy, with NYC becoming a more and more expensive city full of more and more trained talented actors (like yourself), what work can I put my energy toward that I care about, is in-line with my ethics, and will sustain that innate part of me that is, and will remain, an artist.

Isn’t that better than waiting for some impending moment to pull the plug on your passion?  Also, isn’t this option more logical?  There is no more “starving artist” archetype.  There is however, a “working three jobs while also doing my art-starving artist” archetype.  We need to adapt with the times without giving up our art, otherwise, the world will miss out of what you have to give.  So we need a better way to sustain ourselves: financially, creatively, and physically.

As usual, it’s all about intention.

If your intention when taking a job is just to make money (see myself, three months ago) there is a chance you will hit an artistic wall.  It is not in our nature to be obsessive consumers.  If your intention is hiding from being an artist, I can make an easy guess that will also fail.  It will find you.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

I have to say that since I have set my sights on making education administration a long-term part of my life, I have begun chipping away at two writing projects, met a lovely Jersey City theatre community, and started singing regularly again.  This idea will not work for anyone, why would it?  But removing the pressure to live an actor’s like in a “typical” way, strangely made me feel more like an artist.  So let’s give ourselves a break and remember this is our life goal, not a “by next week” goal.  By having a varied and dynamic life, we are still hard workers, still passionate, and yes, still actors.

Adorable Little Lions

First of all: I’m excited to say I finally have another blog post in the works.  Often when I get an idea like this, it’s important to let it brew for a while.  But I want to wait until it develops into a post that I myself would want to read, otherwise, why ask you to read it??  So please stay tuned!  Another post is in the works!

New blog post soon?!  Hooray!

New blog post soon?! Hooray!

In the meantime…

I was inspired by an incredible Humans of New York post this week that raised, or as I’m writing this HAS raised over $530k for a struggling school in Brownsville, New York.  If you don’t know about Humans of New York or this incredible fundraiser, check it out, and feel all the wonderful feelings about society: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard.

Little Lions Need Our Love!

Over the past several years, I have had the joy of working in fundraising, and I am always reminded of the power of a community to support one another: with their time, their money, their enthusiasm.  This HONY post was a reminder that a community of “strangers” is just as powerful.  As cheesy as it sounds, we crazy group of internet strangers ARE one another’s community.  We read each other’s posts, like each other’s cat pictures, and sometimes, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so kids can have a summer program and a trip to Harvard.  Go us!!

In the spirit of this belief in our incredible internet world, I am sharing the story of a group of Boston Public Middle Schoolers who are currently rehearsing, and completely self-funding, a production of The Lion King.  A dear friend of mind is their teacher.  She was once my director as well, and I know she’s something special to these children.  They have held community fundraisers as well, but as all of you theatre people out there know, theatre is EXPENSIVE and they are doing all they can on a dime.  I would love to tell them that we are their community too!

lion king

Let’s Support The Lion King!

http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/the-lion-king-and-beyond-/286629#.VKoZMpA8QNs.facebook

And what does that really do?  It sends the message to students (or whoever the fundraiser is for) that human beings are out there are thinking of you.   It is a reminder that we notice what you are doing, and you matter.  Donating or sharing a link may not seem like anything against the world’s many problems.  But a teacher can go back to group of adorable children learning “The Circle of Life” in a Boston Public School and announce that the world sees what they are working towards and they applaud you.

So if donating money isn’t an option (I get it, I am very often counting my pennies), and sharing the link is also not really your jam, please send them good thoughts and happy warm-fuzzy wishes for a good show.

Thank you for reading, and happy Saturday!

Now let’s feel super happy about our morning by watching a bunch of Australian actors sing The Lion King on an airplane because it is FABULOUS.

 

Wandering on Mother’s Day

Yesterday could have been a disaster.  I woke up to some all-too-familiar problems at my parent’s house, that lead to scrapping all Mother’s Day plans.  I had a very sweet offer from Ben’s family, and normally I would have happily joined them.  But at this point I wanted nothing to do with the Hallmark holiday, and was in a very cynical “I’m better off staying in bed all day, eating a block of cheese, and watching Say Yes to the Dress.”

cheese Plus   say yes

Luckily that didn’t happen.  Because I left my sunglasses at a friend’s house the night before…

Trusting you wandering intuition…especially when you feel like crap

A consistent thread in many of my blog posts is that good things happen when I have thrown my plans out the window and gone out wandering.   Some of the most unexpected and lovely days occur after a very discouraging event.  My “plan” yesterday was to mope down to Dan and Kim’s to get my sunglasses simply as an excuse to get out of the house before climbing back into my blanket cave.  But alas, they suggested food, and so that lead to a lovely brunch.  That lead to ice cream, which lead to a suggestion to check out a church book sale, which lead to me buying an awesome book, which lead to sitting in the park for 4 hours surrounded by toddlers and dogs, which lead to Helen running into me, which lead to drinks at a new bar, which lead to a great tipsy nap when I got home.  All because I forgot my sunglasses.

When I was walking up the hill to my house, I realized it was 5.  I left my house at 10 that morning.  What was supposed to a quick walk to stomp out my family frustration, became an entire sun and friend-filled day.

Hamilton Park in Jersey City

Hamilton Park in Jersey City

So I can quit my job, right?

Oh most definitely.  Because of yesterday, I made peace with that fact that I am leaving my temp job.  Any logical person would look at my situation (saving for a wedding, terrifying student loans, desperate need for dental insurance {stupid wisdom teeth}), and say “Do not leave that job!”  I make a somewhat decent hourly wage, and in theory, this is supposed to turn into a “permanent” position; which by the way, I think is the dumbest/scariest word you can put near a job title.  Permanent.  Ew.

Anyway, I can’t do it.  Every bone in my body for the past four months has told me that I simply cannot justify sitting in a chair all day with barely anything to do, except occasionally file a form.  I am not contributing to anything or anyone, especially not to myself.  I am just making money, and barely enough to save, which was the whole point in the first place.  So when I was reminded how much I missed the acting lifestyle at an amazing audition several weeks ago, I scrapped this plan.

When I gave my notice, my boss thought I was insane.  Like out of a movie, she started yelling about the “stock options and vacation days” that would await me if I stayed for several more months.  One day I’ll look  back at that moment as one of those funny crossroads of when I could have accepted some financial security in return for my sanity.  Or I may look back and kick myself.  Who can say.

It’s not for everyone, right?

I realized that I couldn’t have explained my plan to her even if I tried.  It’s not in everyone’s nature to choice an artistic career over a steady job.  I wasn’t screwing her over technically.  The job did not remotely end up being what she described at the start so the situation was now, “stay as long as you can and it may go permanent in a few months.”  Still, I see how doing this all day makes more sense to people than jumping from job to audition to job.  A friend of Helen’s once described the acting lifestyle as “running off a cliff.”

road

I got thinking this morning as I watched the push-and-shoves marching down 42nd street.  I bet many of them love their jobs, maybe they’re in the career where they feel fulfilled.  And maybe monotony to them is just consistence.  I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them would view things differently if they let themselves off their daily trail once and a while.  I wonder those things a lot actually, but who am I to judge them?  It’s just a sea of suits after a while.

This difference may be why I have felt so left out recently.  I’m here, and everyone is perfectly nice, but I feel like I don’t get something.  I am sent the simplest projects and people ask my if I need days to complete them.  No.  A robot could do this.  Also, the things that people complain about in offices blows my mind.  So all in all, I leave at the end of the day frustrated and bored, and not that much richer.  So whoever this lifestyle is for, power to ya.

My point

The moment you stop worrying about your plans working out, they usually do.  If you’re feeling lost, or if you feel there is something wrong with you because you haven’t chosen the 9-5 life either, give yourself a break.  There is something to  be said about trusting an inconsistent work schedule.  And about giving opportunities a chance, even if they seem illogical.  Some of the best things that have happened to me have been because I’ve trusted my gut instead of my paranoid logic

.If you have found a 9-5 that makes you happy, I’m not crashing your parade either.  I know that’s not the expression.  But I like the image it creates.  Very Ferris Bueller.  Anyway, I’m just reiterating the old “get lost to get found” adage.  I’ve been getting lost and running into wonderful things (and people) for about four years now, and I “plan” on continuing.

Your 9-5 Parade.  That I am not crashing.  Or raining on.

Your 9-5 Parade. That I am not crashing. Or raining on.

P.S. If you would like hire me to do anything while I am auditioning, let me know!:)  I am great at hot gluing, entertaining large amount of toddlers, and showing up to things on time.  I also accept pie, alcohol, or wedding craft project help as payment.

Thanks for reading, all.