Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Self-Soothe

"Maybe your body is trying to tell you to slow down."

Oh, Willy. You're sweet.

Willy, everybody, is my friendly neighborhood healthcare provider who I suspect is several years younger than me. Yes, he insists I call him by his first name, and no, his name is not actually Willy. (Yay, insurance!)

Poor Willy and I have seen a lot of each other lately. It's getting stupid. We may have actually started to form some inside jokes. Today, when he told me to slow down, I retorted with my usual zippy vim:

"You don't come to New York to slow down, sir."

This made us both groan. And then cry. Or maybe that was just me.

The thing is, Willy has a point. (See what I did there?) My body is - often - usually - telling me to slow down. I went through three years of MFA training so that I could listen to my body, dammit. I hear you, Body. I do. It's magical to communicate with you and all but you just don't seem to understand that I am trying to ignore you on purpose.

I don't know about the rest of you artsy lot, but I've realized over the years that I have a rather addictive personality. I over-do things. It's never just one donut hole with me, oh no. Just ask anyone who has supped with me or seen my closet; boundless enthusiasm and terrible planning. (This is why none of my clothes match any of my other clothes.)

Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky. Mostly the things I binge on are pretty innocent so far: work, wine, the occasional guilty-pleasure Netflix marathons, secret late-night Freddie Mercury Google searches...

But I wonder, is this bingey thing that I do realllllly innocent? So I'm not doing drugs, that's good, but is it ok that I have a file on my computer for inspirational quotes I've downloaded in moments of lonely, wine-sodden weakness? (Goals ARE dreams with deadlines. Wow. How did I never see it before?) Can I really justify writing a blog entry after midnight on a Tuesday? Is it smart to expect my body to do well rehearsing two full-length non-union plays at the same time while working all my dayjobs, after five months of hiatus?

Or are my self-soothing/bingeing habits actually detracting from my discipline in creating better art?

I totally stole this from the internet.
Here's what I mean. Fellow actor buddies and I have talked about the famine/feast thing, how work seems to come all at once and then not at all. The pattern seems to be echoed in our personal lives. I'll have a flurry interesting work and my personal life will sort of (necessarily, I tell myself) go on pause. Then, I'll have months of no acting work and I'll burst from my social cocoon and it's all champagne and experimental jazz until the cows come home (ok more like it's all Yellowtail and Bon Jovi until I get a headache, whatever, who cares! life is NOW!). Then, repeat.

Know what I mean?

Thing is, as artists WE ARE THE ONES CREATING OUR WORK. So...

I must be the one setting this bizarre pace. That's my astoundingly deep insight into myself for the day. Maybe I've been approaching my artistic career more like a junkie looking for a fix and less like a journeyman, but storytelling isn't a substance I can hit. I have to make it from scratch. There's a really petulant impatience at the bottom of my decisions: an "I want my artistic fulfillment and I want it NOW!" sort of nonsense, like a big moody baby with grabby hands. And, since that is impossible and actually meaningless as a statement, I guess I've tried to fill in that hunger with things that are actually real. Like wine. Wine is super real. But not necessarily art.

I take that back. Wine is definitely art.

I don't know which comes fist, the instability, the addictive personality or the binging. But I am starting to wonder: wouldn't Willy and I both be happier if we never met again? Nothing personal, Willy.

Oh look, cheese and wine and more not sleeping. How nice. I'll have some.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Loco De Mayo

Or,

Steps of How Not to Sleep on (Potentially) Your Only Night Off in May
  • End the evening venting about professional and romantic feelings with your witty German actress buddy, because THAT will be uplifting for BOTH of you. It ALWAYS is. (Sorry Toni. You're great. I brought us down. My bad.)
  • It's now 8:30pm, sooo....go home. It's time.
  • Converse with roommates. Be momentarily uplifted because they rock. 
  • Realize the Mindy Project rocks. You watch and laugh together with your roommate LIKE A FAMILY OR SOMETHING until the show seems all too painfully familiar and you need distraction from the pain. 
  • Wait. You just said you're in pain from watching a sitcom? What's wrong with you. Goodness gracious.
  • Existential crisis.
  • You need distraction. You are thinking too deeply into things, so you should waste time on Facebook. 
  • Waste time on Facebook.
  • Be disgusted with yourself for wasting time on Facebook and decide to do something productive.
  • Be productive. In your brain right now, 'being productive' somehow means sending a thinly disguised needy email to your boss asking for positive feedback without overtly asking for positive feedback but really actually just asking for positive feedback. Because, let's face it, you are feeling needy.
  • Admit you're feeling needy. Try to channel your thoughts in more positive directions. End up thinking about all the lines you have yet to memorize and all the dayjob stuff you have yet to finish.
  • Briefly think about studying your lines, decide not to.
  • Reprimand yourself. 
  • That self-reprimand was harsh. Feel needy again.
  • Existential crisis 2.
  • Call your mother because you are feeling needy. She answers the phone by saying she just sat down and is taking her first bite of pizza. 
  • Feel guilty. Say goodnight. 
  • Feel needy. Feel guilty for feeling needy.
  • Roll your eyes at yourself.
  • Repeat.
  • Start to really wish you were eating pizza with your mother and get all nostalgic, then suddenly get really, really hungry. 
  • Once the hunger beats the nostalgia, remember that you had a cookie for dinner instead of dinner. Feel both proud of/disheartened by your choices and decide that although you deserve to eat again if you want, you have already brushed your teeth and having to do it again sounds too hard.
  • The time is now 11:00pm, somehow. Try to account for the last 2.5 hours. Fail.
  • Take a sleeping pill.
  • Turn out the lights.
  • Check your email on your phone in case your boss wrote something nice. Aw, he did! Feel less needy.
  • Now you can't stop thinking about pizza. Try to channel your thoughts in a more positive direction.
  • Existential crisis 2.1: over-analyze everything in your life. Decide that if you are thinking so much, it means you must care, and being able to care is good, right? So, that's good. Maybe you're okay, since you care. But then, caring about something doesn't necessarily mean it's important, does it? Maybe you're caring too much about things that don't matter? So, that's bad. Also, why are you thinking about this now? Is it urgent? No. Can you fix anything? No.
  • Self-reprimand 2: WHY AREN'T YOU OFF-BOOK FOR STUFF YET!?
  • Ask yourself: what pizza places are open right now?
  • Try to sleep.
  • Try to stop thinking about pizza.
  • Pizza.
  • Pizza on a bagel.
  • The leaning tower of pizza.
  • Pizza pizza.
  • Oh my god.
  • Try to distract yourself from pizza, because it's now 11:30pm and there is no cheap pizza available, probably. Do anything/everything to forget the crushing desire for pizza. 
  • Examine your freezer. There's no pizza. 
  • Eat some cheese with nothing.
  • Identify the solitary late-night scarfing of cheese with nothing as an allegory for your life. Realize that thought makes no sense.
  • Roll your eyes at yourself. Again.
  • Go to bed. Again.
  • Think about pizza. Again.
  • Remember that it's Cinco de Mayo. Think about Mexican food. 
  • Remember that you forgot to brush your teeth again.
  • Give up. On everything, maybe. Or maybe just on your immediate desires. Just give up.
  • Feel suddenly better. Have you moved past wanting? Wow, is this non-attachment?
  • Achieve enlightenment.
  • Fall asleep. Dream of pizza.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lifetime Achievement Award

Oh hey there, blog. How are you. I know it's been a long time since I've paid any attention to you. I could say I had forgotten you were there, but that is a lie. I knew you were there all along, full of blank draft pages and unborn witticisms blinking back at me from the eternal, empty white screen. Blog, I know you were there, just waiting to link me with brave Readers, to help us share a moment in time. The thing is, I just didn't know what to say.

If we were lovers, dear blog, then I was definitely the neglectful, estranged, frustrated jerk who just up and disappeared one day without a word or warning, leaving you in the lurch and maybe wondering why. Yes, I've done that before - not to other blogs I mean, but to people. Several times, in fact. Whether or not they wondered, I don't know. But you could safely say that by now, at this point in my character, it's becoming a pattern.

I should say I am sorry I disappear but the fact is I am not sorry.

Sometimes it just takes me a long time to be honest with myself about what I want. But once I know, I know. The jerk part is that once I am honest with myself about what I want, I am selfish about it. Once I see clearly, I use the clarity to make a decision and rarely bother to explain that to others.  It's not that I don't care. It's that I have stuff to go do.

It turns out, I really needed a breather from you, blog, and from other things too. In November my streak of artistically satisfying plays ended and I had a sort of a personal heartbreak. A sort of disappearance of a hope, you might say. I say sort of because it was a long time coming and a long time on repeat, and nothing actually happened other than that I woke up one morning fully aware and OK with the fact that I didn't approve of my own nonsense anymore, that the thing I was hoping for had never actually been on the table, that it was time to vaporize and re-materialize somewhere else, hitch my wagon to another star. My Dad calls it a Moment of Truth, or the Five Minute Rule: it only takes five minutes to be honest, really actually honest with yourself. Not that it isn't a little scary and hard sometimes. But in November, I managed to do it.

November was when my brain switched gears.

I panicked a little. I skipped out for a bit on certain things, hoarding my new found clarity. I stopped submitting for auditions. I stopped blogging, basically. I cut down on sleeping. I started dating pretty much everybody in New York City. (Just kidding. Only a handful. I am not actually cut out to be a man-eater.) And, on a deeper note, I had yet another Acting Crisis that lasted all day every day for a few months there: why am I doing this? Am I even doing this? What do I want to do with this? What have I done with this, and what do I want to do next? And, most importantly, WHAT IS THIS THAT I AM DOING?

In graduate school when I had another whirlwind episode, prompted by another heartbreak, my roommate Treasure said that in the days where I would disappear (and I would sort of disappear, coming home to our apartment only every four or five days to change clothes), she pictured me riding around the city on the backs of fire trucks, howling at the moon.

Close enough.

This time, though, my howl reached heaven and my life actually changed. Through a super cool and bright actress I know, I got an actual writing job. I prayed for it. My mom prayed for it with me. We prayed together as I pressed the send button with my emailed application. And twenty minutes after I emailed in my writing sample, I was hired. I jumped up and down, I bounced off walls, I danced and hopped and squealed for several weeks like a cliche from a 90s high school movie. It was an actual turning point, a bolt from the blue, a gift from God.

I may have never mentioned this to you, blog, but I had a very specific dream when I was a little girl. My kindergarten teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up, and I said, "My own boss." I wanted to write and act. Those were the only two jobs I ever wanted. I wanted to have lovers from every country in the world and eventually children from every country in the world. I think my logic was, why just pick one? It is hilarious and amazing and somewhat disturbing to suddenly step back from my life right now and realize that I am actually doing it. (No babies yet, though, please.)

I am actually doing it.

Sure, there are points I'd like to hit in my acting career that I feel very far away from. I'd like to get great representation, star in feature films, win an Oscar. Sure. There are points in my personal life and finances that are not the best they could be. If I live long enough I'd like to someday get married and have kids (this is very hard for me to admit) and maybe - maybe - even open a savings account. But you know what? I am actually doing the things that I dreamed of doing when I was 6. If I don't thank God every day, shame on me.

This week, I got to go visit my 81-year-old Dad in Texas. Our time together is always too short and we try to cram a year's worth of presence and intimacy into a few days, so it's always super intense. We go and sit in Carl's Jr. because he likes it and we drink decaf coffee and talk for hours. I told him how amazed and excited I am about the writing job, about my weird new attitude about acting that I haven't quite placed or defined, about how strong and lucky and perhaps almost empty I feel, in a way that seems good. Maybe open is a better word than empty. Maybe full is a better word than empty. Maybe empty and full are the same.

And my Dad looked at me and said what might be the most important thing that anyone has ever said to me: "When I go, I get to go knowing that I've left the world a better place because you are in it. Because of who you are, not just what you're doing, but because you are a point of light in the world."

So, blog, I just had to write again and say all that, to try to explain how the last months have given me moments and choices and gifts that changed me, and what was significant about them. Not everyone gets to hear words like that from their Dad. I really, truly wish they did. We need to know what we mean to people, what our lives can be. I am sharing this not because I want to rub it in peoples' faces or anything, but because I want people to know that you CAN say words like that, and that when you do, it makes someone's life. We have that power with each other. I want to share that you can disappear in a positive way, to transform and resurrect. That resurrection is real.

It turns out, life is pretty simple. I may never win an Oscar or really "make it" as an actor in terms of shiny money things, but I've made it. I may never be a New York Times bestselling author, but I have had my writing published and read by strangers who paid my rent for me. I may never actually have kids from all the countries in the world because that would be 196 children and that is just a totally stupid idea in retrospect. I may always be a little bit of a jerk sometimes, when I am hurt, because I am a human being and no matter how hard I try to do the right thing I will sometimes fail. Yet I see that I can try to do the right thing - I have that option to choose - and that is the important bit.

As far as I am concerned, my Dad just gave me the Lifetime Achievement Award. Even if I never accomplish anything else, I'm good.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Women in Film


Do you watch movies? Are you a human? Then this is important to look at.

Women comprise only 30% of speaking characters. And that's just actually dumb.

My vision is to be one of the people whose work can contribute to changing these statistics. Create, create, create! Not just because women are awesome and deserve fair treatment, but because art should tell the truth.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/samimain/the-truth-about-gender-inequality-in-film

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Peace-Out New York City

Lots of reasons to love New York City today.

1) Conversation at work included, "So this is random and hilarious, but speaking of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ..." Also, I went to work with one purse and left with one purse and two giant bags of gifts. Church ladies are the nicest. Also, all Hershey's kisses are gone.

2) Witnessed TWO verbal altercations that almost became physical. The first was while looking at the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window display, and two chicks were getting into it over a dude. Holiday cheer, people...HOLIDAY CHEER! The second was on the train, when a woman started shouting "Hey pervert, stop staring at my titties! I don't like it and you are making me uncomfortable." Her shouting "titties" made everyone else uncomfortable, especially the older gentleman I accidentally made sustained eye contact with - a mood only compounded when her boyfriend then proceeded to remove his rings, threatened to pummel the pervert, and whipped the headphones from his iphone so we could all hear the uptempo ditty that he presumably meant to be the soundtrack to the Pummeling of the Pervert. To be fair to the pervert, the lady with the titties did have a rather large, inscrutable word tattooed on her cleavage that I myself was tempted to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering. Odestinated? Marikesh? Orelia? It is actually impossible to say. And I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, lady. I just was really trying to read. I'm sorry literacy and intellectual curiosity offend you.

3) Speaking of reading, I got to be a reader for auditions tonight and there is NEVER a dull moment on either side of the table, that's for sure. Note: the right answer to "can I touch you?" is always yes. No exceptions.

4) Pretty sure the apocalypse happened and we all missed it because it's 70 degrees and the humidity/B.O. factor is at it's summer high. I always hoped I'd at least see Jesus riding by on his white horse when this happened, but I guess I'm left behind...ugh...sigh.

5) One of my best friends lives literally two blocks from me and I was able to swing by on the way home while she gave me tea and edamame while debating the ethics and morality of dating. Meanwhile, her horny cats made parrot noises as if to challenge everything we said. Somehow I left feeling as if they know something we don't.

6) I'm leaving tomorrow. Which makes everything about New York City better. Beautiful-er. Brighter. Tolerable. Endearing. Gross.

BOOM. I love my adopted home. Merry Christmas, crazies.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Night, Starving Artist Style

You realize your already open bottle of wine won't keep during the coming week, (the week you had vaguely resolved to abstain from all alcohol - you know, to cleanse), but since you like to economize and hate to waste foodstuffs of any kind, you decide you can't just throw away that open bottle. That's disrespectful, you know, to the starving kids in those remote places in the world you hear so much about. Once it's gone, THEN you can cleanse. Yeah, you could offer it to your roommate...but...reasons not to...

So, you pour a glass of wine or two for yourself whilst cleaning your room. It's Friday, after all, and shenanigans are in order. You deserve it and that's how you roll because you're a young vigorous beast. You're gonna clean that room cleaner than clean has ever felt before. Brace yourself, world.

As things progressively get more wild and crazy with you and your room, you're filling up that bag for goodwill like a boss and rocking out to Christmas music like a LEGEND, you suddenly realize that all of your belongings have either holes, wine stains, or both holes and wine stains.

This isn't surprising, really. If you are honest with yourself, you sensed the truth deep in the core of your being and felt it coming. Somehow, though, halfway through the second mason jar of wine and elbow deep in your t-shirt drawer, it becomes distressing. My god, everyone in the world must know you're covered in holes and wine stains all the time. Why haven't your friends told you before? Do they secretly laugh at your holes and wine stains after you leave parties? Yes, your work uniform is all black, but SURELY they can all see the wine stains. How can you face them again? THEY KNOW.

You must fix this. You can't remove the stains because that requires practical homemaking skills and some serious hand-eye coordination.

There is only one way out. You must shop. Yes, shop.

But you can't. It's too late for you even though there are technically 15 minutes of Black Friday left, because even the online Black Friday deals don't change the fact that you already spent your potential shopping money on wine. You already spent two hours online canceling an order because you couldn't afford it. You already spent your day not trampling people to death in BestBuy because, let's face it, you don't know how to use an iPad yet.

You need another glass of wine.

Wine...wine...there was something you had decided about wine...to finish the bottle tonight? Right?

#starvingartistblackfriday

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Feeling All the Feelings


The Cherry Orchard at Horace Mann Theater
Oh boy, it's been a fall, y'all. Last time I remember knowing what day it was, it was definitely August 21st. Or 22nd? A Tuesday?

I am always thankful for the busy. Sure, I cry into my whiskey in the shower out of sheer exhaustion sometimes. I definitely drink whiskey in the shower, yes. I know because there's probably still a cup in there. And as the weeks go by and I sleep less and forget to eat, I end up having to wear children's shirts at work because I forgot my uniform, and I start making questionable decisions about who to bark back at on the subway...sure...but all in all, busy and sleep deprived are the bread and butter of any working actor. We like it when we can't feel our faces because we rehearsed until midnight and had to get up at 6 for our dayjob. We like it when we have to cram for an audition after our brunch shift and before tech. We'll be the first ones to tell you that, and simultaneously complain.
The Weirdest Tree I've ever climbed.

But really, I can't complain. I don't know if you remember this one day in August, but I do. I was such a mess that I had to blog about it, but the friendly fellow I auditioned for sans shoes or make-up made the surprising decision to go ahead and cast me in TWO of his plays anyway. So, I've been doing that. I got to work with wonderful, talented, insane people on The Weird Tree, a devised and very physical play based on an Eastern European fairy tale, as well as a notably non-traditional rendition of The Cherry Orchard. See the balloons? The snow drifts? It was pretty magical. And, while all that was happening, I also shot two short films and went to Los Angeles for a week. Because reasons.

It always happens at once, and you have to just go ahead and feel all the feelings and get it done.

Varya doesn't care anymore.
At the beginning of the year, my former roommate and I declared that 2013 would be the Year of Awesomeness. We had said 2012 was the Year of Men, so, 2013 definitely had to be something else. Various 20-something problems aside, I think our prophecy has come rather close to the truth. It was the first year I got very specific and clear with myself about what I wanted. I wrote a list of professional goals, all of which are neatly checked off even though it's only November. It's kind of amazing, actually, and humbling in the sense that many of the goals came about through channels other than my own pursuit. Some of my goals came and found me. After they roughed me up a little bit, we got along great.

Perhaps it was simply a matter of confessing that I wanted them, that I was willing to risk failure for the sake of saying their names out loud. LA, for example. I have been thinking of scouting out the town every since finishing acting school, but it was always a little scary to find the money or the time. So, finally, with a little help from my friends, I just went and did it. I forced myself to make some uncomfortable but right choices personally. I asked for what I needed, and mostly got it. But I had to ask. I had to own it. And now I grow less afraid with each whirlwind.  There will be valleys and peaks, and I now know better how to navigate myself in them. It's not so much navigating the changing landscape of my career, I am finding, but how to craft and navigate myself. 
You have to ask for what you want, Lopahkin!

And I can't skip any steps. It's all connected. I have tried so many times in the past to skip steps. I've so wanted to fast forward to the money days, the married days, the champagne in a slipper days. But you just can't. First you have to grow. You have to go through the whole process, from excitement to disappointment to joy to brutal teeth-gritting to drudgery to joy. The ending never comes first.

I am always in such a hurry to get to what I consider to be the good stuff. But how the heck do I know what the good stuff is? When I look back over the last few years, I realize that my perspective at the time was a little muddled, and I can only assume my perspective now is equally muddled. Only later can I really see how the decisions, work, and time were building up toward something new. Now we see through a glass darkly...And I really do think it will all come together when it most needs to, in the way that is best. Cheesy, but yeah. I am actually having this moment of realizing that something very cliche is true. Not in a tie-dye and crystal kind of way, but in a frustrating, painstaking, reality way. Blah blah blah.

So, with all of my latest projects winding down, I am feeling all the feelings. Pride, elation, thankfulness, and the inevitable post-show-slump. And I am not avoiding any of it, because I want to feel all the feelings. Preferably through a buffer of whiskey. Then, and only then, can I press onward and forward.
I got to wear my glasses onstage! It's the little things.