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!

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:)

Rituals, Direction, and How to Not Kick Your Cat While Doing Yoga

daily rituals

 

A couple months ago, I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book that many bloggers have been chatting about recently.  Man did this collection make me feel better about myself as an artist. He has collected the daily routines of famous and historic writers, artists, scientists, and other great minds throughout history.  By breaking down how each person spent their day, it is A.) a fantastic read for someone with a short attention span like me and B.) incredibly humbling and inspiring.

The most eye-opening part?  They were all regular people, who ate meals and did chores, had crazy sleeping schedules, and errands to run.  They’re like you and me!!  Doing people things!  So I tackled the whole “if they can do it, I can give it a go” mantra and broke it down.

These are some of the themes I spotted (The quotes are all pulled from Mason Currey’s Blog, also listed above.)

1. Consistency, even when life takes a turn: On Joseph Campbell: “So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. ”

2. Drugs, drugs, drugs: On Paul Erdos: “Erdös first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. “A mathematician,” Erdos was fond of saying, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”

2. Guilt: On Alaa Al Aswany: “I have a very firm schedule. I must wake up at six a.m. or I feel very guilty. I write from 6:30 to 10:30 six days a week, like a soldier—no interruptions.”

4. Above all, doing whatever the hell works for you: On Gary Panter: “Get up at 7:30 in the morning — feed cats, drive daughter to school, read the NY Times and drink chocolate milk.”

5. A wonderful amount of interestingly-timed whiskey.: On Winston Churchill: “At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”

There wasn’t a single artist that was the same, thus disproving any self-help/success guru that claims there is one way to do things.  But looking at this list, obviously there are some things I can do without.  I need to go to work, so an 8 hour regimen is not possible yet.  If I stayed home all day, I would probably start to go crazy.  Drugs aren’t up my alley.  I get nervous when I take too much Tylenol.  So scratch that.  Guilt?  I was raised Catholic, so I am not in short supply of guilt.  Consistency!  Heeeey, there’s something I’ve never been great at, that may do!  And whiskey.  I can keep that part.  I would be up for making Moscow Mules a brunch staple.

Literal Sun Salutation…

Taken on the Camino!

Taken on the Camino!

For the past four weeks (at least on weekdays, all bets are off on weekends), I have gotten up a little earlier than usual to write and do about 5 minutes of yoga before hopping in the shower and going to work.  At first I thought:

This isn’t going to last, it will be like one of those Pinterest Yoga challenges I desert for sleeping in by day 4.

Or…

It’s so dark out in the morning, this is depressing, I am in my dark living room doing yoga with my cat chirping at me.

But it’s wild: the more I did it, the more I couldn’t imagine not doing it before work.  It’s still slow, I am not about to join a 6am yoga class or anything, but I have found that I am no longer an evil anxious human being while getting ready.

And what’s even more fascinating: without planning or following some sort of guide, my yoga and writing have been going a bit longer each morning.  Thanks to my cat who wakes me up for food at 5:45am, I have a natural alarm clock.

The other wonderful thing about writing and yoga at this specific hour is watching the days get longer through the winter.  When I first started, it was still dark by the time I headed off to the shower.  Now, the sun is rising as I start yoga.  I am so much more aware that Spring is on its way, no matter what this little asshole says next week.

The Cat Part of the Blog Post

Strangely enough, I didn’t expect the ritual to grow into something far more important than exercise and journaling.  Of course this makes sense, if you do the same thing every day, you’re going to feel more comfortable with it.  Right?  But I honestly didn’t assume that 20 minutes out of my day would make much of a difference.

I recognized I had made a yogic breakthrough when I no longer wanted to smack my very loving cat the moment I rolled out my mat (Hey I rhymed!).  Whenever I stretch down to floor level in a sun salutation, here comes Tiber, our overfed dog-like cat rolling, cooing, and running back and forth under my downward dog like I’m a playground bridge structure.

tiber

At the end of my practice, I meditate for a few minutes while Tiber purrs and occasionally makes his signature “chirping” noise that translates into, “Hhhey….Heeeey….Hey youuu.”  With each chirp, he pats my knee with his claws half extended.  It’s great.  After many days of shooing him away, lightning struck.  All of my Buddhism instruction talks about remaining in the moment while meditating, not closing your eyes and drifting off into philosophical la-la land, a common misconception. So Buddha Tiber (he has the belly for it) is the present moment saying, “Heeey…stop thinking about cleaning the floors.  Hey, yes we still have cereal…heeeeeeeeeey, HEY.”

When I thought of this, I chuckled, gave him a pat, and he stopped chirping.  He purred, which was way more calming than my spastic thoughts.

Cats: Better than Overpriced Yoga Props

viola

Since I have learned to work with my furry yoga partner, I have been noticing other helpful things about his distractions.  He is often standing exactly where I was about to put my foot, causing me to have to look where I am placing it.  This was often mentioned in yoga classes I took anyway, but I never really understood its importance.  When I look before I place, much like spotting in dance, I see where I am headed and have less of a chance of flailing around like a drunk person.

not yoga

For example.

I am more present, because I don’t want to kick Tiber, and I feel more in control of the movements.

Thanks cat!

What does any of this have to do with a book about rituals?

What I loved most about the routine book is that each artist built upon their work, slowly but surely through some consistency.  And because of this, they found a direction, however abstract.  It’s hard to have direction as an artist when so much is out of your control.  You can build it, but you don’t actually know if they will come.  So I find setting a goal is tricky, and they often sound too abstract to act on.  Building on the smaller things is actually in my control, and they just take time.  I feel I have made some progress at the end of the day, however little, and this is invaluable.

Writing and exercising each morning is something I can act and build on, and I have already started to learn from it.  So I tip my hat to you, Mason Currey.  Thank you for showing me that accomplished artists live regular lives like the rest of us in the same world we know.  It’s not on some magical wealthy creative cloud that we can’t reach, but usually in their living room, with dirty dishes in the sink, and maybe some whiskey.

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.

A Perfectly Imperfect Wedding

wedding 1

It has taken some time to figure out how to express our wedding planning experience.  It’s like going on a life changing trip and then having people ask, “Well, how’d it go?”  You have too much to say, and yet nothing you can think of seems to do it justice.

To begin though, it helps to clear up some reasons I was hesitant to share my thoughts for a while…

One of the thousands of messages sent my way via the online wedding industry was: “Don’t write about your wedding, it’s uncouth, and people may see you as an ungrateful or disorganized bride.”  And Lord help us if people pass judgements on us based on old traditions and their own insecurities.

So I am slowly beginning to lay out what I learned in hopes to mold my ideas into a Buddhist-inspired wedding planning guide. I use guide loosely…how about: Suggestions on How to Not Lose Your Mind While Planning the Largest Party of Your Life While Still Remembering That You Are Focusing on the Beginning of Your Amazing Marriage.  And Buddhism is Pretty Neat Too.  I’ll work on that.

Here are some general ideas that I found did NOT aid us in planning our wedding.  They will not make sense for everyone.  You and I are different people, we have different relationships, so we’re going to have different wedding traditions.  Take what you like, and ignore the rest.  I LOVE feedback, but please don’t go all rainbow cake on me:)  (What I mean by rainbow cake.)

Suggestions I didn’t care for…

wedding 2

1. The Proposal must always be a surprise, and if it isn’t, paint your nails.

Ugh.

Here is the approach Ben and I took: through some alcohol-inspired conversations, and a night where I stumbled upon the ring while looking for some wires for the Wii, I knew Ben was going to propose.  Did that make it any less special?  Of course not.  Knowing ahead of time gave me the proper time-frame to process the idea of getting engaged.  As Ben admitted later, the person proposing has months or years to process this giant idea and the person getting proposed to better decide in under ten seconds, or shit gets awkward.  In the end, it still surprised me, and I was in good shape to say “absolutely”.

Now, many magazines told me that the benefit of knowing is the chance to paint my nails, hire a spy/photographer, and arrange all my friends to stalk us in the bushes for instant party time!  My advice?  Even if you know about it, you will be so full of adrenaline that you will forget what words you said, what the hell your nails looked like, and basically how to stand up (and we were on ice skates to top it off).  All I wanted afterwards to was to be around Ben.  I knew celebrating with friends would follow soon enough.  Oddly enough, both our phone batteries died minutes after he proposed.  So we couldn’t post anything or text anyone, and we were able to walk down Madison Avenue in blissful solitude.

I completely understand why someone would want to capture the moment or hug friends afterwards, I totally get it, and have seen some beautiful photos of friends’ proposals. And that depends on your personality.  But I definitely don’t think fashion or your nail color will be the first thing on your mind.  And all you really need is the person you just got engaged to.

wedding 3

Looks like someone didn’t read the article on camera face…

Document everything, because it’s better to look back on it later than live in the moment.  Oh and look pretty in pictures, damnit.

I learned pretty quickly that most advice online or in magazines is for presenting your engagement/wedding to the rest of the world and your future self, not for you and your significant other while it is happening.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in photography.  I am super grateful for our gorgeous wedding photos from Kim.  She and Dan were a huge part of our experience.  It’s the other stuff that gets a bit questionable…

Here are some scary gems:

-Don’t wear a weird dress, you’ll think you look dumb in 20 years

-Photograph every moment and always look your best, people love how pretty brides are. Oh, and learn to smile in photos, no one wants to see that double chin.

-Spending money shows that you care about your wedding and your guests.

-Never get tense or stressed around family or bridesmaids, people will think you’re a Bridezilla.

wedding 9

Raaarrrr!!!

-Be respectful of talking about your wedding too much (or at all to those not invited), it may upset people.

-Choose a date that’s best for every guest, and make sure they have endless information on how to get from point A to point B.

And my least favorite?

-Join a gym.  Being in great physical shape will make you happier with your photos.

Woof.

Looks like all that stretching paid off.

Looks like all that stretching paid off.

One of the ideas I want to primarily focus on in my writing, with the help of some Buddhist teachings, is the idea of living presently and compassionately.  This is both to yourself and others.  I have always loved the idea of “help yourself to help others and help others to help yourself.”  It’s the version of the Golden Rule that makes more sense to me.

In wedding terms, being yourself and taking care of your health and mind will make people naturally celebrate with you.  You want to work out?  Great!  Exercise is wonderful for you. You want to stop eating anything but green beans so you don’t have arm fat?  Maybe rethink your priorities.

And being grateful and respectful to your friends, family, vendors, and guests (the same way you were to them before you were engaged) is all they need to feel appreciated during your special day.  They don’t need their hand held, they don’t need proof that you’re pretty and organized, and they won’t judge you.  If they are, that’s their own deal, not yours.  They love you, which is why you are inviting them to your wedding.  Your wedding is to give people a glimpse of the world you have created as a couple.  And to eat a lot.

wedding 5

My wedding party has signed up to be indentured servants

Oh Lordy.  Why why why?  These people are your closest friends, the ones you want IN THE ROOM WITH YOU before you go take your wedding vows.  They have agreed to spend money on a dress (or suit) they wear once, several expensive trips, and parties they are expected to plan.  These are fabulous people.

I realized early on that having a bridal party was an excuse to get together with five very close ladies in my life and celebrate each other.  They have cried with me on bathroom floors, gotten me home in one piece after parties, and celebrated each step of my relationship with Ben.  You are blending your life with someone else’s life, and these people are a part of that.  So have a drink, and don’t boss them around.  Think of them as an extension of your constant party that is planning a wedding.  Otherwise, the wedding will end, and you will feel stinky about being a jerk.

My goals was to make sure they were always a little bit tipsy on champange.

wedding 6

Everything has to be “Perfect”

I snort a little when I think of this word.  A. Because I’m not sure what it means and B. It’s dumb.  Life is never “perfect” and I prefer it that way.  If life had been how I was planning it, I wouldn’t have been living with my parents the night I forced myself out of my moping stupor to go to Jenn’s party. I wouldn’t have met Ben, and wouldn’t be planning this wedding in the first place.

Screw perfect.

Stuff will happen on your wedding day and leading up to it.  Money for your dream budget will not come through, your wedding craft project may look a little wonky (sometimes the wind blows when you’re spray painting tambourines and leaves get stuck on them), a guest you love has to back out, or something really hard happens, like losing a family member or friend.

Life keeps moving even while you’re planning, and it can be hard when your emotions are understandably in la-la land.

wedding 7

My advice?  (And the basic theme of my book that will theoretically be written?)

Dream about how your want to feel on the day of your wedding, everything else (how it will look, who will be there, how everyone else feels) will fall into place.  Figure out together how your thoughts differ, and find a happy balance.

I knew that when I imagined a “perfect” party, people would be so comfortable in their surroundings that they never want to leave.  It was that feeling of nostalgia you get on a peaceful vacation.  I’ve always had that feeling at the Jersey Shore, so that’s how we found Cape May.

Ben always wanted a Bar Mitsvah-like atmosphere of celebration, where everyone knew they could let loose, eat good food, and celebrate how much they love each other.  And this is how we found the Chalfonte (they had famous fried chicken, we were sold).

wedding 10

All of the other options: colors, fabrics, flowers, clothing, were then flexible.  If we didn’t have $500 centerpieces as high as the ceiling, would we be able to feel the way we hoped on our day?  Yes.  So screw it, we’ll make our own centerpieces.

I knew that physical distractions drive me crazy.  So I didn’t get a corseted dress and I put flip-flops under our dinner table.

Also, since we are both in theatre, I expressed that I didn’t want our wedding to feel like a flashy production.  We have enough of that.  So we chose The Chalfonte backyard and made almost everything by hand.

It amazed me how all the ideas made sense by the end, and they all had a story behind them.  We made friends with most of our vendors, and we want to return to the Chalfonte every year now.  What more could you ask for?

Things did fall apart: my nails were totally chipped from arranging flowers, my body decided to shut down the week before, and it was 50 degrees days leading up to it.  None of this ever mattered, and we still got married. And still felt nostalgic, relaxed, and ready to party the whole time.

So that’s a start for now!

My goal for writing down all my ideas in some sort of organized manner is to help any couples that feel the way we did about the wedding industry.  There’s a lot of crap out there, and a lot of wonderful traditions as well.  It’s all about finding what works for you as a couple, and enjoying the adventure of planning.  At the end of the night, you want to be pleasantly buzzed, exhausted from hugging everyone and dancing, and ready to continue celebrating how awesome marriage is.

wedding 8

Clearly more wedding posts to come.  This is just a start to get my mind rolling and write something down.  Thanks for reading:)

Thank you to Helen for the awesome blog title idea.  She is a thinker!

And all of the photos from the wedding day are by Kimberly Craven Photography.  Check them all out at kimcraven.com!!

Here Comes the Sun Doo Doo Doo Doo

I started out having a pretty negative week.  On Wednesday, I had one of those “Me against the world” days.  A former job was a week late in paying me, my parent’s insurance company had a “computer glitch” and therefore couldn’t cover me (you read that correctly), another job that pays me in cash wasn’t able to, and the I generally was feeling pretty angry at the world.   Essentially, until Thursday morning, I was broke.  Broke broke.  So yeah, not a great mood.

I am very thankful that Wednesday night things turned around a bit, as they tend to do before I write a blog post.  After getting screwed over by the insurance company, I moped home and bought a scratch off ticket in protest of my bad mood.  And what would you know?  I won enough money to go to my dance class I couldn’t afford.  If you need an affordable dance class at a WONDERFUL studio, trek out to Astoria to Astoria School of Fine Arts.  On Wednesday and Thursday night, Roy teaches, and you don’t want to miss it.  This man could make Eeyore cheer up and dance

IntenSati

The next day, Christina encouraged me to go to an IntenSati class.  What is IntenSati you ask?  Oh!  Well, it is basically a mixture of zumba and the yelling of self-affirmations.  You scream chants about how awesome you are while you punch the air and do pretty intense aerobic moves.  At first, I felt pretty odd.  I couldn’t get Richard Simmons out of my head.  But not even ten minutes into it I was a self-cheerleader kicking and yelling away with everyone else.  By the end, my week had turned around and the whole way home, I couldn’t help but look for the signs of hope around me.  And not just in my own life, but everywhere.  So I did some research…

 

Proof things are getting better…

The IntenSati class was so inspiring that I have made it my goal for the past 24 hours to find as many signs as possible that the attitude of society on the whole is getting better; and by better, I mean more positive, more compassionate, and more balanced.  It’s very easy to find the negative, especially in a harsh city like New York.  It’s also easy to only find negative and discouraging signs on the news and internet.  When I googled different topics about the overall health of Americans, I mainly came across articles about the increase in obesity and depression.  Which is interesting, because with a little digging, there are studies saying the exact opposite, they just get buried by the negative ones.  My opinion may seem naive.  I am not saying to ignore the obvious problems today, just to combat them with hope.

The Gallup Study:

Gallup is a worldwide research and analysis company which, among many other things, has been surveying a selection of people in the US, UK, and Germany for the past several years on their optimism and mood.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/154892/Americans-City-Optimism-Reaches-Four-Year-High.aspx

This article is particularly interesting because the studies show that since the economic crash in 2008, the Optimism levels with each person’s local area has surpassed what it was before the crash.  If you go to the site, check out the many other articles and studies, they’re very fascinating.  What’s my point?  Perhaps even when there are so many unsettling things in the world as a whole, there are many shifts nowadays toward a healthier lifestyle and more supportive community. 

Another one of my favorite articles is from Learnvest.com, a site geared toward women managing their personal finances.  The article summarizes that a generally positive attitude in your community actually improves your local economy.  Just like we chanted while stomping around in IntenSati, believing that things will get back can actually make things better in reality.

http://www.learnvest.com/2011/10/find-your-happy-place-how-optimism-affects-the-economy/

 

 

Signs of Awesome:

I started writing this blog post with the idea of having tons of great statistics backing up that the world is great.  As positive as I am feeling, I didn’t have the best luck.  It’s slightly too big of a topic to google (i.e. “Is the world getting better?”).  So I went on my lunch break (temping today) and contemplated how to go about this.  I keep coming back to the small things.  What directly affects our day-to-day life are the common things we interact with.  So perhaps the above articles can be explained by those.  Below is a list of my “signs of awesome” or things that reinforce my happy hypothesis:

1. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!

We live in a time of food celebration!  With the development of the “foodie” community, a better awareness of international food trends, and an encouragement for healthy choices, I am very thankful to be eating in today’s world.  Turn on the food channel: both men and woman are chefs.  It is now an art to eat in a healthy way with interesting and unfamiliar ingredients.  I know obesity is still a major problem, but I have hope we are moving in the right direction.  These are simple examples.  But you get my drift.  Keep your eye out.  Vegetarians are taking over:)

I am also thankful for places like Trader Joe’s, where I can buy organic dairy free ice cream at 10pm at night for $3.  Why?  Because I’ve never eaten it.  And it’s yummy. And then I can chat with the cashiers who are happy as clams because they get full benefits for working part-time hours (we chat a lot).   I also can eat at places like Pret A Manger, who donate all of their food to the homeless at the end of the night and promote eco-awareness.  I also can go down to the 30th avenue farmers market in Astoria and get a slew of produce I don’t even recognize for under $5.  My point is that it’s becoming “cool” to not eat endless amount of processed junk.

2. Kid Music.  And kids in general.

I keep a Pandora station on in my art class on Thursday afternoons called “Tweens.”  Everyone knows the words to everything.  I started to notice that the general themes of songs geared towards teenagers are very positive these days.  And trust me, a room full of 12 nine-year old girls singing “Firework” is pretty exciting.  I also had the chance to hear Lady Gaga’s mother speak at an event I attended several months ago.  They have started the Born This Way Foundation, a group empowering youth and fighting against bullying.

I also did a project with them at the end of last semester asking if they could invent one toy that would help another human being, what would it be?  I got this idea from a TED talk.  The class of 1st and 2nd graders were ecstatic.  Many people created inventions that helped the blind and deaf (apparently this is the first thing that comes to mind when you’re 9 and you think someone needs help.  Fair enough.)  I also got ideas for toys that instantly cheer you up if you’re sad, magical transporters that connect you with the people you love, and food machines for the hungry.

And so, I have hope in the next generation, even those on the Upper East Side.

Social media.  Yes, social media.

No matter what the older generations say, I am thrilled that we are a society that can communicate so easily with one another.  All the options may not solve things like loneliness or feeling alienated, but there are benefits on the surface if viewed positively.  I worked with students from all over the world, primarily from countries that are dealing with a slew of serious problems.  And to see every now and then on Facebook that all is well with them is something that I am very thankful for.

Because of Facebook, I know that when I end a show or a job, it doesn’t have to be the last time I hear from that person.  I know when they are in a show, getting married, or visiting NYC.  I disconnected myself a little bit  from Facebook after the stress it caused in college, so I have to say, a balance is very necessary. 

THIS BLOG!  This blog has been one of the most supportive factors in my artistic growth.  A year ago, I was mortified the first time I posted something.  I only told about 10 people this even existed.  The knowledge that people are now willing to take the time to read my writing, give me feedback, and even hit the “like” button on Facebook, sends me to the moon.  I am now writing a play and a book about the camino.  So my advice for those who feel uncomfortable about starting to write: people are overwhelmingly supportive if you give them something of yours to support.  What you need to say may be what someone needs to hear.  So write it.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE if we kept a conversation going about what positive things give you hope.  Something big or something that seems small.  Either way, I do feel that if we all even make the smallest effort to believe things are getting better, it will continue to grow in that direction.

Here’s to hope for more happiness!