The Day My Large Eyebrows Came Back Into Style

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Featured on Blogher!

My eyebrow relationship has been a bumpy uphill battle.  It began around sixth grade when I was alerted that “No, my eye brows were not actually supposed to meet in the middle. ” It was the dreaded year I also learned about dressing “in fashion,” understanding makeup (and since it was the 90’s — this meant as much glitter as possible), and the realization that I could no longer wear my ten year old Bartman t-shirt.  It was a rough year.

A friend of mine sat me down in her bathroom and tweezed my brows through what was one of the most infuriating fifteen minutes of my life.  It was the beginning of my body’s fight against the ridiculous traditions our society’s trends put us through.  When she was done, they did indeed fit the standard of the thinly-plucked, arched brows from all the magazines.  To this, she explained, “Ew, now you look like a cheerleader.”  As theatre people, we didn’t consider this to be a good thing, because, you know, middle school is weird.

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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!

An Unexpected Tale of Perseverance

The story of my morning has three characters: a spider, the Quick Chek Man, and me.

The Resilient Spider

For the past week, a brown and black spotted spider, about the side of a nickel, has taken residence in our driver side mirror.  When he isn’t building his web, he crawls inside the casing, angrily taking shelter from the wind of the car’s motion.   He first appeared last Tuesday when Ben and I came back up from vacation.  We came back up midweek to work a few days, and then returned on Wednesday.  When I left my house for work Tuesday morning, I opened the car door and felt familiar, “Oh crap there’s a spider web attached to me,” feeling and quickly smacked around my head to make sure its owner was not attached.  This time, it was.  Swinging toward me like an panic-stricken trapeze artist, the equally frightened spider came barreling toward me.  He was attached to my dress.  I did the only logical thing and screamed like a small child, to which my brave heroic husband came to the rescue and brushed him away.  The spider swung up to the car and begrudgingly took to his hiding spot.

It wasn’t until I got into the car that I saw the beautiful web attached to the car I had almost completely destroyed.  I didn’t have much of a choice, I had to drive my car, but I still felt bad.   To both our surprise, there he was the next morning, beautiful web right back where it was.  Well now I just felt like a jerk.  The spider saw me, retreated into his mirror, and I started the car.  The web was gone by the time I got to school.  Even after leaving for Cape May for four days and then returning, he is still at it, claiming our car for his home every morning.  I tried to snap a photo of him this morning, but only got his house.  As much as I don’t like spiders, I have respect for this little guy’s perseverance.

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The Quick Chek Man

For the past two days, I have stood behind an older man in yellow at the Quick Chek by my school.  After noticing him the first time, I’ve started to see him every time I drive down the main road leading to the store.  Each morning on my way to work, and each afternoon on my way home, I see him, walking back and forth to Quick Chek.  He walks with the gait of a determined sleepwalker, and though his presence is intimidating, he has a kind face and is always polite to the cashier.  I worry about him in the heat.

In my family, we would say he’s “one of my dad’s.”  My father has worked with mentally disabled adults since we were kids and since using the phrase “mental disability” was hard for younger kids (and because the word “retarded” was NEVER accepted in my house, even before people realized it was a hurtful term), we always said “one of my dad’s.”  I’m not sure of Quik Check man’s situation, but I do see him three times a day, making his journey back and forth, even in the recent weather.

Me

I spent the morning feeling sorry for myself.  Sometimes I feel like it’s just when we think we have our feet on the ground, something slips through the cracks, and yet again, we’re scrambling.  Nothing major happened, and yes, we will be fine.  But because of what has to be a bank error, we woke up to an all too familiar frustration.

It’s hard to not feel like you’re starting from square one sometimes.  Like the days are going around and around and each day someone is ripping down the web you spent all yesterday building.  I dropped Ben off at the train and drove off feeling bad about our financial goof, bad about screwing over the spider, and just bad about anything I could find the excuse to feel bad about.

And then I saw Quik Check man.  He was on his morning trip, making his familiar journey to a place I’m assuming brings him comfort.  I started to feel bad for feeling bad, but because of my experience with this cyclical frustration in the past, I caught myself.

The spider, Quik Check man, AND I, have places to go and things that are important to us.  It’s frustrating to feel like you’re only going in circles, hoping that things change.  That throughout the day, you’ll get some magical email that says everything will be a little easier now.  But the important thing is that the three of us are all still showing up.  We got out bed and we are doing our thing.  We are trying.  Why does the constant rebuilding or the continuous journey back and fourth need to feel like a failure?  And if this frustrating morning helped me connect to a spider and a stranger, then I am thankful for that.

 

Keep doin’ your thing, everyone:)

 

Backwards Budgeting: For National Blog Posting Month!

In honor of NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Post Post Month) I took on Blogher’s challenge to write about something I feel I am an “expert” in.  To say I am an expert at budgeting is VERY far from the truth, but when it comes to somehow keeping our heads above water while freelancing, I have some experience.  So below I have included our tactics for “backwards budgeting!”  Woohoo!

Unless your a freelance psychic, this is for you

In a perfect world, freelancers would have consistent income like the full-timers out there.  For the majority of my time freelancing, I worked more hours than when I have a 9-5.  The hours in between actually creating my art are spent chasing after the next gig or organizing my finances so I can continue to maintain my career. Up until last Spring, my husband and I freelanced at the same time, making our hair stand on end every 1st of the month, because things never seemed to line up.  I recently took a full-time job outside my career to catch up for a bit, and it’s given me some insight into why so many non-freelancing friends of mine are able to do things like chip away at their debt- they have a predictable budget.

learnvest

After discovering the website Learnvest, an incredibly relatable financial site written for women, I started to grab hold of our finances and felt much less alone in our situation.  Apparently I am not the only one frustrated that most budgeting instructions begin with “Enter your income.”  But here’s the kicker – since freelance jobs often come in last minute, and the timing of paychecks vary from job to job, you often do not know your income on the 1st.  (This was one of the hardest things about figuring out the Affordable Care Act forms). But alas, this is a sacrifice that you happily make to do something you truly care about. Still, there had to be a way to catch up.  The constant wave between feast and famine was leaving us in a purgatory of credit card debt that slid up and down depending on the week.  After many failed months of trial and error, this is what we came up with:

1. What do you need vs. what do you have

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The first thing we did when we built our spreadsheet was create a section just for “Essentials.”  These were the “if we ignore these, someone will come knocking on our door” payments.  Rent, credit card minimums (not ideal, but again, bare minimums), and student loans.  I also added groceries to this list, but this was more a psychological trick for me, to remind myself that if all else fails, we will still eat.  I have managed, in a very tight month, to get our grocery bill down to $200 a month for the two of us.  This is thanks to Trader Joe’s and a lot of pasta nights.  The other items on this list are train tickets, gas money, electricity, and internet.  If you cannot do your work without them, you should pay for it.

2. Special Essentials: Or what to do when you drive a U-Haul into your neighbor’s gutter The next section is Special Essentials.  These are all the oh-so-special bills for that month in particular.  Things like union dues, medical payments, and random things like parking tickets or a bill from your neighbor for breaking his gutter.  The only reason they are not in the top category is that they can wait if absolutely necessary.  The world will not stop spinning if a bill has to be a little late.  But it isn’t ideal, and no, it doesn’t feel great.  But it is what it is.  I also try to put savings into this category when we can.  Paying yourself first, especially for an emergency fund is always a priority.

amelia

3. Lifestyle
And this is where all the “living your life” stuff comes into play.  These are the items people often bring up when they say, “Maybe you can just cut back a bit.”  I assure you, freelances are most likely not splurging the way you think they are.  For me, this category is often Restaurants/Bars, Coffee, Gifts, Shopping, Education/Gym, Misc., and any special events that month like a wedding.  Determining your priorities is very helpful here.

4. Making the numbers add up (to something over $0) And this is where the backwards part comes up.  Back at the top of the spreadsheet, have a place for your income.  You can break it down by source if that helps, or by person if you combine finances with someone else.  I like to use a line for expected income and actual income, so that when money is deposited, I enter the actual one and the formula changes the amount that is still expected that month.  Creating a center box for all this is really helpful.  If you are interested in seeing how we set up our sheet itself, I would be happy to write a follow up post:)

As your gigs line up for that month (and you know the check will arrive before the 31st) add this to your income.  This way you can see how far away you are from breaking even.  If at the start of the month, you are not breaking even from what you know, adjust all the lifestyle categories.  If that doesn’t fix it, take off the Special Essentials.  Most importantly though, add the amount you are putting off to next month so that it is not simply brushed aside.  This way, you have a timeline for paying it off.  Having a timeline and a plan is better than putting it in a sad growing pile of bills with the post-it “someday” on top. If your expected income suddenly spikes (hooray!) we try to add a small portion to section of lifestyle, a small section to our savings, and the remainder to our credit card and loan payments.  This way, the extra is going to getting rid of debt, paying into your future and emergency fund, and also giving you some physiological wiggle room to go out to lunch occasionally.  Without this wiggle room, I have found that I begin to resent my art form.  No we are not going out for a night of snazzy cocktails when this happens, but we may have a beer and wings night without worry.

Treat yo' self.

Treat yo’ self.

5. Diagnosing the sneaky problems The first few months for us were very eye-opening.  Every several days, I check in on our account and add the purchases to the appropriate category.  At first I realized that we were spending a comical amount on coffee.  We used to have a Dunkin Donuts next to our train station and so we stopped almost every time.  I think at one point we spent $200 on breakfast sandwiches.  So yeah, that stopped.  But we didn’t even realize it until it was adding up in front of us.  So now instead of wondering where all the money is going, we can see the reality of $3 sandwiches adding up over time.

6. More income over less spending Sometimes there is only so much you can cut.  When you have to pay a bill, you have to pay a bill.  You need to eat and live somewhere, and getting to work is not always cheap.  So this year, I also stopped beating myself up for spending  money on essentials and remembered that increasing income is often way more effective.  Unfortunately, it’s much more out of your control.  I’ve come across similar posts where comments go off track and accuse the writer of “not getting a real job.”  If you are confused by artists and why they break away from the typical structure of 9-5s that aren’t related to your interests, message me, I’m happy to chat. But nonetheless, sometimes your budget can alert you that it is time for a change.  An extra gig, an attack of a particular credit card to cut down your monthly payments, or perhaps an overhaul of how your approach your career in the long-term.  All of this is very helpful to consider.  It’s also important to remember that these things take time.

6. Taking a deep breath Though obviously budgeting will not literally create money, I felt a huge weight life off my chest after we set this up. Learnvest also has a fantastic budgeting program that goes into way more detail, but having an excel spreadsheet worked better for us as far as sharing.  Seeing your end of the month total pop above $0 always feels like an accomplishment, even if in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to think about this.  But at least this gives you a game plan instead of holding your breath the last week of the month, hoping that it all adds up.

Three cheers for budgeting!

Three cheers for budgeting!

As stressful as it can be, I don’t think we will ever give up the freedom of pursuing our art.  And though we may bring in less money than many, I believe we as artists need to be more diligent and organized because of our income’s inconsistencies.  The best thing I always remind myself is that we are still plugging away, doing the thing that we love and somehow squeaking by.  Perhaps in a few years the phrase “squeaking by” will be a thing of the past, but at least for now we can sleep more soundly because of a meticulous excel spreadsheet.

Motivational Plant Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woody Artist Stem

woody basil

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

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

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

Back to Making Veggies

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Get off the Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me as a kid…staying low to the ground

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

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

diamond cutter

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

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

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

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

storm

An example:

Lousy Imprint:  Offices are bad, theatre is awesome 

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

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

#bffwithuta

#bffswithuta

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

Hashtag Hashbrown

Let’s stop hating Mondays

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

Let’s stop hating each other

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

taco cat

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

 

 

 

Don’t just sit in the hallway 

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

But What If It’s All Crap?

Last night and I had a super bizarre dream.  It was one of those “Peggy Olson” pregnancy dreams – I didn’t know I was even pregnant and then BAM! I had a baby.  It was just there.  So Ben and I are suddenly walking around with this surprise baby and introducing it to all of our very confused friends.  As I always do in these dreams, I’m wondering how the heck all the logistics will work out (I kept thinking that I didn’t even have a stroller!).  Then suddenly, there’s no baby.  I look down and I realize I have just been carrying around an empty blanket the entire time.  At this point, my friend Claire comes up to me and very gently reveals that they, “Know I have gone insane, created an imaginary baby, and that they have been humoring me the whole time to be nice.”  Yikes bikes.

Surprise!  You're pregnant!

Surprise! You’re pregnant!

If you took this literally, you’d think it was anxiety about moving to the suburbs and all that jazz.  But I don’t think it is.  Because last night I fell asleep again with that age-old fear about myself: What if all of the art I have been doing and creating is just a bunch of crap?

Am I alone in this thought?  I have been writing a play recently that I actually started over four years ago.  In the past two months though, I’ve been finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m probably about 30 pages or so from the end, and the only thing that trips me up is the occasional wave of, “What if this is just really terrible?”  Luckily, probably because I live with a very encouraging playwright, this thought has not completely lead me to throwing up my arms in defeat.

Knowing you’re not going to know

And no, I am not actually thinking that everything I do is awful, it’s more about the idea of: how do you really know if what makes sense in your head will make sense to anyone else?  I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few weeks now, with the thought of writing a blog post, and realized that the answer is: you don’t know.  Until someone gives you legitimate feedback, someone whose opinion your trust and who isn’t going to sugarcoat what they think, all you have is what makes sense in your mind.

It’s like the other day when I was whistling that song from Fun Home from the Tony’s and Ben came in and said, “Why are you whistling ‘A Horse with No Name’?”  Now does this mean I’m a really lousy whistler?  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just one of those things where I hear one thing and everyone else hears something completely different.  That’s how I feel about my play.  I think I just need accept that when people read my play for the first time, they may hear something other than what I hear.  And there’s a chance that what they hear is also not crap.

Or like this Rorschach test...where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle...

Or kind of like this Rorschach test…where two Russian dancers teach a native jig to a spiky beetle…

Ego vs. Confidence

I may get several very sweet and encouraging messages from this post about how I should have more confidence in my writing, and yes, please believe I deeply appreciate those.  They have really kept me writing this blog.  But it isn’t really about confidence here.  I like my writing voice, and I am happy that I’ve had a place to develop it so I can work on all these different projects.  This is more about finding that middle ground between having the confidence to write genuinely and being an egotistical writer that refuses feedback.

grumpy cat

So many times, Ben and I have come across playwrights or actors that simply say “no” to any constructive criticism.  As soon as they do, we both get a wave of, “Oh what a shame.”  Because you know they will only get so far with that naive attitude.  You can stand up for your work, of course, and at the end of the day, no one can make you do anything.  Also, no one is forcing you share your work at all.  But if you truly don’t want to change it, then why let anyone hear it in the first place?  You might as well just line up all your stuffed animals, give them the voices of your characters, and march them around your living room.

On the other hand, I tend to cringe during talk-backs gone rogue.  Ben teases me for my terrible poker face that develops when a group discussion about a play goes on too long or when the moderator loses control of a few audience members who are trying to turn the play into a whole new story (that maybe they should just go home and write).  There has to be a balance between “this is the story I want to tell” and “I want the story to be clear enough so that others can relate.”

So why do it?

Perhaps the real question is: why are your creating that particular project? If it is 100% for your own fulfillment, there is nothing wrong with that AT ALL.  At least you know what you want and there will be great passion in what you make.  Many will naturally relate to that.  But if you want others to connect with a story you’ve created or a character you are representing?  Then you have to learn to let your ego take a seat.  If we want to create a human experience, you need other humans to help bring that story out of you.

Ginny, you’re holding a blanket

So before I jump off that terrifying cliff and share my first draft with a group, I would like to find that middle ground so I can at least write the damn thing without judgement.  I don’t want to hand off something that I think is very special only to have the world say that it isn’t even workable.  Or worse, have everyone pretend it’s perfect when it’s not, just to protect my feelings.

Thoughts?  Mutual anxieties?  Whiskey suggestions?  I’m open to anything that will help me finish this draft.  Thanks for reading, everyone!!

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.

1315

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

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

So long, Elizabeth Street.

image1.PNG

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.