Anatomy of a Weird Day

Taken on the ride home.

Taken on the ride home.

This is going to be a bit of a weird post for me.  Then again, yesterday was a pretty weird day.  And I can’t really put my finger on why.  Nothing wild happened.  It was just odd–as in, something significant, however small, happened in each step of the afternoon.  So I’m going to write about it.  Because I have a blog, and in theory I could put a daily picture of a cat riding a skateboard and no one could tell me not to.

Oh and it’s a tad long.  Grab some tea.

The Cat

The day started out normally–the weirdness really started out with a cat sitting on the railroad tracks.  I was crossing over the street and reading that sign that tells you not to walk on the tracks, when I saw what I thought was a rabbit.  Turns out it was a big white cat, totally chilling out, just being a cat that enjoys laying on warm things.  So now I’m ignoring all the signs , and I’m running along the tracks like a crazy person at a cat that just keeps transferring where it’s napping–usually a few feet down the track each time I yell at it.  This is like a suburban railroad station, not like the subway or anything.  In other words, I was in no immediate danger.  Anyway, the cat finally books it under the fence and across the neighborhood, but the people at the end of the station clearly had not seen said cat, and think that I am a wacko.  Good good.

The Train

The next funny part was running into an old friend on my train, but being too spastic of a social being to find a way to say, “Hey friend!  You’re on my train!”  You know what’s great about NYC?  You could live/work in a city for 6 years and never ever run into that stinky ex of yours but somehow you continuously run into the people you do enjoy.  I always think it’s a way of NYC saying that it’s secretly not all that bad.  Anyway, we get off the train and he’s just far enough away that I can’t scream his name without scaring everyone on the platform.  So I decide that the least socially-awkward thing to do is to run up behind and lightly body check him.  Nailed it.  We walk for a few blocks, part ways, and as usual, assume that NYC will probably send us bumping into each other in the obligatory two months or so.  He comments on how, in the good old days, when you just move to NYC, you wander around NYC, amazed by everything– and this sticks in my head for the rest of the day.

Wine.  And Lunch with my Dad.

This, as usual, is where the day takes a turn toward tipsy-land.  Because my dad and I always order wine with lunch when we go out, and since I’ve cut back on my drinking, I can get accidentally drunk on very little wine.  I always seem to forget this.  Anyway, toward the end of the meal, we get talking about the stories from the beginning of his career which involve working at the Fernald State School in the 70’s–a then-terrifying, unregulated home for the mentally disabled.  He and his coworkers were part of a movement that turned around the state regulations required to protect those with developmental disabilities.  I only learned that he was a part of this a few years ago, and am still amazed by it. I kind of think it needs to be turned into a movie (if anyone would like to give me a whole bunch of money to produce a movie…).  But anyway, we get rolling on the topic and he directs me toward a book that was written by another coworker who worked at Willowbrook Hospital, a similar home with similar, terrible issues. We part ways and I go on a drunk hunt for this book that I am going to apparently start adapting into a movie on a Friday afternoon in midtown.

No one knows I’m drunk!

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I Love New York, But I May Never Be A Good New Yorker

 

Creative Commons Wojtek Witkowski

Creative Commons Wojtek Witkowski

I may now live in North Jersey, but I put in my time living in Queens and Jersey City (which we considered a borough of Manhattan- I mean seriously, it is) for seven years.  I have also worked/trained/performed in NYC since my dad started taking me to auditions when I was ten.  Back then, I had the right to be terrified of NYC.  It was the mid-90’s, and no one wanted to spend a lot of time lounging in the delightful place it was then.  At that age, Manhattan was about large pushy crowds, walking much farther than I thought my little legs could carry me, intimidating auditions, and tunnels that kind of smelled like pee.  Going into work with my dad was always fun, and yes, I did love acting, but if these two things could have been outside of Manhattan, I wouldn’t have been heartbroken.

Another twelve years passed and the time finally arrived- I had to move to NYC.  I have always been an actor, and since the energy of LA will never be my style, I knew this was my destiny.  I started an internship with a wonderful company in 2010, and eased my way into the NYC life by commuting from home for several months. Then in September, I had take the leap.  I found roommates on Craigslist, put a deposit down on an apartment (more cash than I have ever handed over in my life up until that point) and settled into Astoria on September 1st.

I have to say, I was very lucky during my transition.  I had two part-time jobs going in (the internship and at Crumbs Bake Shop), and a fantastic boyfriend who lived exactly 11 blocks from my apartment, who had lived in NY for many years.  If it wasn’t for Ben, I would have shuttered myself in from the noise within a week.  Thus began my love/hate relationship with my time in NYC.

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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!

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.

IMG_3522

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

IMG_1349

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.

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!

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.

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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.

Two Dollar Last Chance Mums

I saved a plant yesterday.

I went to Pathmark near our new apartment during a particular grumpy morning.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been thrilled about our new town so far, especially the fulfilling job that doesn’t involve body-checking people on the Path train, fantastic friends nearby, and best of all- a porch to sit on.  And yet, I hit a slump yesterday morning.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

The Pathmark near us is not the place to go if you need to feel better about the state of the world.  It’s A.) Disturbingly empty whenever I go, and B.) I wouldn’t surprised be if their produce section was made up of what the Whole Foods down the street decides to chuck.  It’s also tucked inside a plaza surrounded by recently closed businesses.  When I left, there was a man standing with two bird cages yelling, “I’ve got these finches!”  ….??!

So if you’re feeling odd about your day, don’t go to Pathmark.  Nonetheless it’s cheaper and closer, so we’re not complaining too much.  In the back of the store sat a table of very sad plants.  Drooping daffodils, rotting Easter flowers, and a few struggling roses.  A sign stood in front reading, “$2.00!  LAST CHANCE!” I desperately looked for something I could salvage.  Lo and behold, there was a a pot of yellow mums calling my name.  The leaves were completely slumped over and when you picked it up, half the petals fell onto the table.  It was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of Mums.  Determined to turn my morning around, I put it in my basket and accepted that I looked like the weirdo who was buying a dead plant to my three fellow shoppers.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

The cashier’s words are what truly did it.  It’s funny when strangers say things that stick with you all day.  Maybe it’s because they’re strangers, and kind words are coming from a place of complete selflessness. He didn’t need to say anything about my dead plant.  But he did.  As I was walking away, he yelled, “You bring that plant back to life, BRING IT BACK TO LIFE!!”  Yes!!  Yes, cashier man!  I debated buying some finches from a screaming man, and headed home.

So as you can imagine, Ben was very confused when he found me on our back patio passionately watering a nearly-dead plant surrounded by grocery bags.  Two hours later, with the help of a lot of water, a very sunny spot, and a lot of pruning, the leaves stood back up.  It now looks like a real plant on its way to growing new flowers, not just a two dollar last chance mum.

I stayed outside on the porch for a good chunk of the morning and remembered that I came to this town feeling drained.  Drained of energy, of creativity, and of belief in my art.  I’ve had this blog for four years, and since then have moved farther and farther away from the city I tried so hard to work in.  Throughout my time working in NYC, I worked as: a secretary, a teaching artist, a barista, an auction assistant, a development administrator, a background actor, a post-it note display decorator, a props designer, a gas station promotor, a casting assistant, a scientist welcomer (long story), an exchange student conference organizer, a gift basket stuffer, a babysitter, an accidental Mac help-desk specialist, an audiobook recorder, a conference planner, and a database specialist (I punched holes in documents for four weeks). As thankful as I am to have all these jobs and experiences, I am TIRED.  Only two of these jobs on the list are related to acting.  So after almost five and a half years working in the city and trying to find time time to audition, I have to change my approach before I hate theatre altogether.

So I am working at an incredibly positive school while taking classes in the city until I am ready to return to the audition scene as a useful human being.  Because I wasn’t one.  I was a jaded, angry New Yorker that wanted to punch every musical theatre 20-something that still looked full of hope.  I felt everyone around me had more money, time, talent, and confidence than I did, which I know is bull, but I needed to get out to remember that.

I am very grateful for all these odd jobs.  If I hadn’t worked them, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now, surrounded by adorable students and genuinely friendly coworkers.  Every office around me has a candy and girl scout cookie secret stash, including mine.  If I hadn’t marked this path out for myself, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go when I get burned out.

Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Brain Rules that describes the physical reaction your brain has to exercise and other stress-reducing activities.  You are actually feeding your brain.  Since I couldn’t go for a run without someone calling me “baby” in my old neighborhood, I am looking forward to my new running path and the less stressful town all around.  I am looking forward to perking back up and waltzing into Ripley Grier someday soon without looking like a droopy plant.

 

Where I'll be.

Where I’ll be.

So I am going to sit on my porch for a while with my glass of wine next to my revived flowers.  And when I no longer look like a two dollar last chance mum, I will head back to the races.  Until then, I hope to finish my book…or my play…or maybe just my bottle of wine to start.  In the meantime, I have a porch with extra chairs, extra wine, and extra plants that need watering for you city-dwellers that also need some porch time.  Don’t hesitate to come sit with us.

 

Happy Monday all, enjoy the sunshine:)

Some Hope for Our Brains on a Slushy Day

The Grumpy Part of the Blog Post

I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel the city is struggling today.  The 6 inches of slush aren’t helping and I’m assuming a good deal of us were up later lamenting or celebrating the Patriots catching a lucky interception.

Whatever it is though, the city is iced over, and so is my brain.  Nonetheless, I rolled out of bed at the regular time thanks to an extra few nudgy pats from Viola who must have noticed I put my morning alarm on too low a volume to hear.

Cat clock.

Wake up, lazy human!

I grumpily heard my landlady stomping around outside our door, who for some reason, has decided recently she no longer wants to have tenants and has been a ball of joy since.  I sit down to write my morning pages with Grumpy McGee slamming things in the hallway and my ear is pounding.  My ears haven’t been a fan of cooperating with my body for a few years now and when they act up, the room spins and it makes an odd popping sound if  someone speaks too loudly.  So if I ever give you this face:  blog 1 this is why.

I haven’t found a doctor yet (or insurance that covers an ENT) that tells me anything other than, “You have an ear infection!”  To this I say, “Yes, that’s clear.  But I seem to get them every other week soooo…what’s that about?”  *shrugs shoulders, carries on being a doctor*  Good talk, Doc, here’s $200.

Anyway, ears are angry, landlord is angry, Ginny is grumpy.

10 Good Days for a Bad Day

And then I start writing, and because the universe is good, there is coffee.  I convince myself to not ignore yoga today, so Tiber and I spend a little longer in child’s pose ignoring the impending walk in the snow before attempting anything else.  As the part approaches when I normally try balance poses, I am considering skipping them altogether.  I can’t seem to move my head without feeling dizzy, so standing on one leg sounds like a recipe for falling into the coffee table.

And yet…I get there.  I put up one leg and I don’t go down like a drunk flamingo.  I feel woozy but I stay up.  I don’t know why, but my one leg under me decides to stay under me, and I actually hold the pose for a decent amount of time.  Because after one month of this, that’s just where my leg goes, even when I feel like crap.  The good days are starting to support the bad ones, much to my surprise.

Turns out, your brain likes to feel nice

jumping

I finished Dan Harris’ book this morning, the one I talked about on Saturday, and lo and behold, there was a relevant explanation.  He talks a bit about your brain’s preference to settle into a healthier pattern.  A Yale Doctor, Judson Brewer, is doing a study on Mindfulness and meditation, and their effects on the part of our brain which focuses on self-awareness.  He claims that once the mind is given a taste of something calmer, it will gravitate toward it, the same way we avoid things we dislike (say, the 6 train).  All you need to do is give your mind this option continuously.  Meditation is just one path to get there.

So here I am, NOT falling over, and I start to believe that a better morning is possible.  So I put on my big-girl rain boots, stomped my way through the slush, and made it to work in one piece.

I may not feel fantastic, but I am happy to see these slight manifestations on crappy days after giving my brain a chance on easier ones.  The sunny ones are there to support the slushy ones.

Safe travels today, everyone:)

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.