Of Meisner and Men

So for almost the last two years, I have been taking a Meisner Technique class down in the West Village on Saturday afternoons with a great, no BS teacher named Alan Gordon.  For those unfamiliar with the Meisner Technique, it is so named for Sanford Meisner, one of the preeminent American acting teachers.  Meisner came out of the Group Theatre alongside people like Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Elia Kazan and eventually created his own approach to acting, which became known as the Meisner Technique.  The main points of the Meisner Technique are about not doing anything until something happens to you, doing something because of how you feel, and doing whatever you do fully.  Get that?  It’s all about DOING.  No thinking.  No trying.  It involves a LOT of repetition, which most people would assume is boring, but it disciplines you to listen, focus on your partner, and get out of your own head.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s basically a magic sedative for your neurotic tendencies. 

Well, at least it is for me.  I can’t speak for the OTHER 8,999,999 people in New York City.

Anyway, in Things That Never Happen To Twentysomething Female Actresses in New York (which will probably be the title of a chapter in my memoirs), my acting class happens to have quite a few straight men. 

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This is a vision board I made this past summer while drinking a glass of white wine, and yes, features a Beyonce quote. #hypocrite

Yes, you read that 100% correctly.  I am just as baffled as you.  I spent four
years at an artsy university where our unofficial slogan was “gay by May or your money back.” (That is a real thing. #goStars)  I haven’t been around so many straight men in a creative scenario for so long, it feels like being in a foreign country.  The best part is I didn’t even have to make a vision board (which, if I understand correctly, is where women drink white wine and cut pictures of yachts and six-pack abs and Beyonce quotes out of magazines?) or use the Secret to manifest this, it simply happened!

I am at an unusual stage in my development as an adult woman, I think.  My last relationship ended over three years ago, and I really haven’t dated anyone seriously since.  Yet, 75-85% of my closest friends are all in serious relationships now.  I’m 28, and I’ve basically had all of about two actual boyfriends in my life.  I realize I shouldn’t really compare myself to other people, but sometimes I look around and think, am I doing something wrong?  Even my ex is dating someone else (and honestly, I don’t even want to get into THAT right now).

And did I mention that I pretty much work with all men, the majority of whom are straight?  I am surrounded day in and day out by single, eligible men, and I didn’t even have to subject myself to being on the Bachelorette to do it.  No roses to give out.  No weird hot tub conversations.  No fantasy suites.  I wouldn’t mind chatting with Chris Harrison, because we went to the same university, but I don’t want to do it while I’m also trying to court twenty-five dudes with appallingly preppy names like Chad or Geoff (apologies to all non-douchey Chads and Geoffs).

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Chris Harrison, fellow OCU Star, and red rose/love advocate

ANYWAY…College Emmy would excitedly down half a Four Loko (the original version with caffeine, because those still existed in my day, sorry body) and proceed to try to get one of these dudes at work or in her class to be interested in her.  She’d try way too hard and get very drunk and force her best friend to drive her to get cheeseburgers from Whataburger at 3:30am and help her take her pants off before going to bed (which may or may not have happened…several times.  Sorry/Thank you, Caitlin.).

But Current Day Emmy can’t be bothered.  It’s not that I’m not interested, exactly; it’s that I’m less interested in TRYING.  Why should I TRY to make any of these men like me?  Why should I TRY to force my way into a relationship I’m maybe not enthusiastic about for the sake of saying I’m in a relationship?  I tried very hard to make my last relationship work, but truthfully, his heart wasn’t fully invested in it or in me.  Trying just isn’t good enough; it isn’t active enough.  Trying isn’t enough.  It is because of my Meisner class that I have become less interested in trying and more interested in DOING.  In FEELING.  In BEING.   I believe it was Yoda who said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  I subscribe to that more than ever these days.  It’s like carrying my OWN little Yoda on back through my personal Dagobah training ground (i.e. New York City…which CAN actually get quite swampy in the summer heat).  And that is why I just DO my work and don’t try to make men like me anymore, and you know what?  I have noticed interesting things have started to happen to me.

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I carry my Meisner Technique training on my back like it’s Yoda…except my sweaty hair never looks as good as Luke’s.

The more I have focused on my work and doing the things I want to do, the more opportunities have started to come my way.  Better creative jobs.  People wanting to collaborate with me.  Money is flowing in.  I’m happier (other than the deep worry over the spectre of fascism associated with this dumpster fire of a presidential election).  It feels as if the universe is conspiring on my behalf (I know, Amy Schumer; I’m the worst.) the more I DO my own thing, the more I DO my work.  And that has also led me to feeling a lot more comfortable in my own skin and worrying less about whether or not dudes are into me.  It’s actually really freeing.  And when you’re comfortable in your own skin, I think it also makes you more attractive to others.  It’s amazing how when you let yourself be seen for who you really are without apologizing for it (which is a major struggle for women, because we always think we have to be someone else in order to please everyone in a way men never do), the right people start making their way into your life.  You are far more interesting when you’re really being yourself.  And some of the gentlemen around me these days are noticing that confidence and noticing me…if you know what I mean.

And as great and flattering as it is, I realized I actually like having my skills and work validated more than my relationship status on Facebook.  It’s taken me awhile to get there, and I could very well change my mind tomorrow, but if I’m really being true to myself, I’ve always cared more about what I’m doing and putting out into the world my whole life than whether I’m attached to somebody else.  I KNOW.  That’s a pretty big life realization, but it’s the truth.  I never really remember dreaming about my wedding as a kid; it was always about what I was going to DO with my life.  But you all know that if Benedict Cumberbatch or Oscar Isaac or Tom Hiddleston or Michael Fassbender (or any of my other Dream Internet Boyfriends) came knocking on my door, there’s no way I’d be turning THAT down. Honestly, if I feel a strong attraction to a dude now (and maybe I currently do to one one of the fellows around me…which I will neither confirm nor deny at this moment in time), and I feel it’s worth doing something about, then I will (okay, fine, I’m currently doing something about it; I’ll confirm it).  But gone are the days of TRYING; that only led to me feeling unhappy and like I was less than others.  I may not have all the same things in my life right now as many of my friends, but that doesn’t mean anyone is better or more fulfilled than anyone else.  It’s just different is all.

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Oscar Isaac: deserving recipient of my pancakes, $12 maple syrup, and my undying love/devotion

Do I get lonely sometimes?  Sure.  I’m a really supportive, smart, funny person who makes awesome pancakes that I think an intelligent, funny guy would enjoy eating for breakfast, but I’d rather the RIGHT intelligent, funny guy get those pancakes than waste my precious time and energy and maple syrup on a string of wrong guys (Hey, real maple syrup from Vermont or our Canadian neighbors is like, $12 a bottle. Not giving that liquid gold to just ANY Chad or Geoff.  Chris Harrison, you may have some.  Also Oscar Isaac.).

And it’s only natural that so much of what I’ve learned in nearly two years of studying the Meisner Technique has begun infiltrating my personal life.  If art truly imitates life and vice versa, then how could I possibly avoid speaking my mind/feelings honestly with others both onstage and off?  I’ve always been a confident person, but having grown up in the Midwest where politeness is prized above plainspoken candor, I haven’t always felt comfortable communicating my wants/needs out of fear of insulting others or being a burden.  But you reach a point where that repression is unbearable and you have a choice: wallow in it or DO something about it.  So now I DO something about it.  And that has made all the difference, because when you are clear about what you want and/or how you feel, it makes it easier to deal with others and for others to deal with you.  You can’t control how others will respond, but you eliminate the guesswork.  Honesty is still, most of the time, the best policy.  DO something because of how you feel.  DO it fully.  Meisner’s mantras are now MY mantras.   They should be all of our mantras.

So DO your work.  DO things that make you happy.  Don’t worry about the other stuff.

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Nothing says “I’m a confident, independent Millennial woman” like a hipster filter-y Instagram selfie on a mountaintop (that probably has a caption like #wanderlust)

“We know what we got, and we don’t care whether you know it or not.”

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Things I Do While Waiting On My Seamless Delivery to Arrive

  • Practice pirouettes in the living room in my socks, especially on the left, because my left pirouettes are atrocious.
  • Pour myself a glass of wine, which I drink in between pirouettes.
  •  Take a shower, frantically sticking my head out from behind the curtain every two minutes to listen for the buzzer.
  • Eat a handful of Reese’s Pieces.
  • Become wayyyyyy too involved in 5-10 minutes of a Say Yes to the Dress marathon.
  •  Immediately pin 5 different wedding dresses to my secret wedding board on Pinterest (which I will forever deny having if you ever ask me because how dare you suggest I am THAT Girl™).
  • Obsessively look out the window for the delivery man during a commercial break.
  • Swiffer living room and kitchen floors.
  • Track my order on Seamless. – “Still cooking.” Damn.
  • Pour another glass of wine.
  • Eat a handful of kettle cooked potato chips.
  • Flip to one of the fifty bajillion showings of Shawshank Redemption and ask why Morgan Freeman doesn’t also have fifty bajillion Oscars instead of just one.
  • Obsessively look out the window again like a nervous heroine in a late 70s/early 80s horror movie.

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    Looking out windows for Seamless and Michael Myers since 1978

  • Attempt another left en dehor pirouette.  Not on fleek.
  • Hate myself for five seconds for using the term “on fleek.”
  •  Eat a spoonful of 1% cottage cheese.
  • Switch over to Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire just as Movie Dumbledore slams Harry against a wall like a WWE wrestler and yells in his face, “HARRYDIDYAPUTYOURNAMEINTOTHEGOBLETOFFIRRRRE?!?!?!”
  • “He asked CALMLY,” I say pointedly to the TV, rolling my eyes.

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    Did no one read the book before shooting that scene?  Accio done with your nonsense, Steve Kloves.

  • Track my order on Seamless. – “Out for delivery.” YAAAAS QUEEN!
  • Favorite and retweet @lin_manuel about 6 times
  • Donate $16 to Hillary’s campaign
  • Obsessively look out the window again.  Is that a clown?
  • Do a Duolingo French lesson on food.  J’ai faim.  Je voudrais un sandwich.
  • “Like” two different girlfriends’ engagement announcements on Facebook. Ugh. Je voudrais un boyfriend.

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    Literally the only French you need. Stop being greedy, Francois! Crossing YOU off le boyfriend list, merci beaucoup.

  • Laugh at Snapchat video sent by my friend Kevin
  • Attempt a Snapchat recorded pirouette video to send back to Kevin.  #fail
  • Eat another handful of Reese’s Pieces.
  • Make mental note to rewatch E.T. the Extraterrestrial soon.
  • Make another mental note to phone home.
  • Instagram my third glass of wine with the Valencia filter and a caption pretentiously quoting a Transcendentalist author. #basic
  • Get nervous/excited when the buzzer rings like I’m going on a first date…except if I were, I wouldn’t have ordered Seamless
  • Mentally play the Super Mario End of Level Theme Music in my head as I receive my bag of food from the delivery guy.

5 Lessons From 5 Years in New York

I’ve been trying to find the words all day to articulate how I feel about living in New York City for five years.  You’d think as a writer they’d come easily, but that’s just the thing: writing is intellectual.  It puts you in your head, and as someone who is already admittedly an “over-thinker,” finding words—or more precisely, the EXACT words—to describe an experience or sensation or anything else can sometimes keep me from writing anything at all.  Over-thinking can keep you from doing a lot of things, actually; not just writing or something else creative.

When I moved here five years ago, I was as green as the wannabe Elphabas I sat next to in audition holding rooms.  I would never have admitted it at the time, but the truth is everyone is green when they move here, because no matter how many times you’ve visited, nothing can prepare you for the real ins and outs of daily life in New York.  Everyone thinks they “know how it works,” but I definitely didn’t and none of those wannabe Elphabas did either.  And that leads me to what I really want to talk about: who I am and what I’ve learned.

I can see you starting to roll your eyes thinking this is yet ANOTHER blogosphere tome of Millennial angst and self-actualization in the Big Apple (HOW original! #not), and it might turn out that way (after all I’m just making this up as I go, folks), but you should know that these lessons can apply to literally anyone of any age who feels stalled in life or work or love or whatever.  And you don’t have to live in New York City to learn them or understand them.  And what I’m offering isn’t—as so many in my generation would usually opine online—special, but it never hurts to hear it again.  And maybe the way I say it will hit someone who needed to hear it THAT way instead of the five bajillion other ways they’ve heard it.

ANYWAY.  This is in no way an authoritative guide on how to live your life, but it’s helpful, okay?  Here’s five things I’ve learned in five years in this magical if occasionally frustrating city:

  1. Own who you are unapologetically. Though I do not claim to speak for all my fellow Millennials by any means, I have noticed we do this thing where we try to downplay our passions so we don’t come off as uncool or crazy or whatever to other people.  We live in a culture right now where overt shows of emotion, especially passion, are treated as uncool or some kind of weakness, and to quote our very cool Vice President Joe Biden, “that’s malarkey!”  IF SOMETHING LIGHTS A FIRE UNDER YOUR ASS AND GETS YOU EXCITED, YOU DON’T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE FOR IT.    A lot of people, especially creative people, are sheepish about admitting they’re actors, singers, dancers, painters, writers, comedians, musicians, etc.  I won’t get into how society still questions the validity of jobs in artistic fields because that is another discussion, but suffice it to say that I hear too many people, including myself, essentially apologize to people around us for being creative rather than “being something else.”  If the people around you think you’re uncool for being passionate, that’s THEIR problem.  For the first 4 ½-ish years I lived here, when people asked me what I did, I’d respond like, “Oh I temp to make money but I’m really an actor-y, writer-y person like everyone else. [insert various sarcastic jokes here]”  I wouldn’t really fully own up to being the things I most wanted to be.  And I hear people say all the time, “Oh I want to be a” whatever instead of “I am” this or that or the other.  Somewhere over the last year, I stopped doing that and started fully owning my identity as a writer, actor, and producer.  And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because as soon as I stopped essentially apologizing for it, I started picking up writing jobs and making films and being asked to produce things.  When I started talking the talk, not only did I feel better and happier but I also opened up doors for myself to do all the things I like doing.  But just talking isn’t enough, you also have to…
  2. Do the work. I’m a workaholic, you guys.  I have an insatiable drive to accomplish stuff, so I struggle with even taking a day off, which is important for mental health (seriously).  Talent is great, BUT there is no substitute for actually DOING THE WORK.  The only way you’re going to learn how to do anything or be anything is by doing it over and over and over again.  I’m a paid writer these days, but I’m a writer whether or not I get moolah for sending my editor 1000 words on Tom Hanks.  I write all the time in various styles because it’s the only way to get better at it.  I go to acting class twice a week and do endless Meisner repetitions because it makes me more spontaneous and vulnerable.  I read.  I research stuff.  If I don’t know how to do something, I try to figure it out by trial and error and Google searches and occasional phone calls to my Dad if it’s something related to carpentry/home improvement.  If you do the work and know HOW to work, you’ll be ready for when those bigger and better opportunities come along.  Not only that, but having a good work ethic shows people you’re serious about what you do.  Set goals/deadlines.  Hustle to meet them.  Have consistent hours for practicing/doing whatever it is you do.  And the hard part is you have to do it because you love it and are serious about it and not because you have expectations that it will somehow always lead to “fortune and glory.”  BUT you can also create your own fortune and glory too, which brings me to…
  3. Give yourself permission and run with it. When I first moved, I had this idea that I had to essentially ask people for permission to do my art.  I’d go into auditions, like so many of my colleagues, and through my audition material inadvertently ask, “Will you please let me be in your show so I can perform?”  YOU DON’T NEED ANYONE’S PERMISSION TO BE AN ARTIST, BECAUSE THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO BE SUCCESSFUL.  Feel free to read that several times until it sinks in.  It took me some time to learn that one myself.  Write the script.  Film it.  Put it online or show it to friends.  Go to that open mic night and do your standup.  Choreograph a dance and perform it wherever you can.  The more I have read about how various people got into the business, the more I have learned there isn’t some secret formula or special handshake to admit entry; it’s about work, ingenuity, and a lot of times, luck.  I finally took the plunge and started writing a television pilot, and I have no idea what will happen once I finish it, but I’m doing it because I want to have my writing and ideas seen and heard…that won’t happen if I wait for someone else to give me permission to write it.  You know what I REALLY think?  I think waiting for permission is a way of letting yourself off the hook because it’s scary to do something that hasn’t been done before.  You could fail.  You probably WILL fail at some point or another, but you will absolutely feel better just doing what you want to do than waiting for someone to “let you” do it.  Give yourself permission and don’t think twice about it and then do the work and share it with people.  Van Gogh made basically nothing while he was alive, but he kept painting anyway.  He also cut off his own ear, but I would advise you to think twice before doing THAT.
  4. Surround yourself with people who root for you no matter what. Life is too short to spend your time with people who:
    • Condescend to you
    • Talk about you behind your back
    • Don’t care about anything or anyone else
    • Only are available to you when it benefits them
    • Belittle your ideas/dreams
    • Don’t listen with the intent of understanding (as opposed to listening so they can just respond)
    • Are racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, etc
    • Don’t tip waiters/maids/service industry folks
    • Don’t read/educate themselves
    • Take themselves too seriously

There are a bunch of other things I could add, but those are big things.  You want people on your team who want the best for you and others…especially on days when YOU don’t always want the best for yourself.  TRUE #squadgoals are people who support your dreams, motivate you to keep working, listen to/assuage your fears and sadness, and always treat you and others equally.  Accept nothing less than the best from those around you.  The dead weight will eliminate itself from your life once you make it clear you only want positive people around.  See?  You CAN lose weight and feel better without drinking any weird green juices!

  1. Stay in your own time zone. What I mean by this is there are always going to be people who are ahead of you and behind you in work and life and any number of things.  Don’t focus on what’s happening to them because they’re operating in a different time than you.  You aren’t in Jennifer Lawrence’s time zone (or probably even her friend zone, honestly), so don’t try to be.  You can only do what you can do and you’re “Jennifer Lawrence” to someone behind you.  I’m not saying I never am envious of people having successes that seem bigger than any of mine, but by focusing more on my own work and less on other people, it makes it easier.  Our teachers didn’t say “keep your eyes on your own paper” for no good reason!

I have also learned that bagels really DO taste 1000% better in New York than they do anywhere else, and no, I don’t know why, but that’s just how it is.  I’ve yet to need a therapist or have a totally crazy meet-cute with a charming Tom Hanks-type on top of the Empire State Building a la a Nora Ephron movie, but I’ve done pretty okay in my first five years here, I think.  So onward for the next year of carbs and writing and acting and self-indulgent ennui and running all over these crazy, occasionally mean streets.  Happy New York-iversary.

To you on your 31st Birthday

To be honest, I have thought of you nearly every day the past two years; sometimes just for a fleeting second, and sometimes, it’s all day.  When it’s the latter, there’s an all-encompassing sadness I just can’t shake; a feeling of helplessness.  A feeling that I – and so many others – failed you somewhere in your brief life; that maybe if I had called you more often or been that much better as a friend, you’d still be here.  And then I realize the wondering and “what ifs” makes little difference at all; what happened happened.  I can’t change it.  And so the sadness and helplessness I feel on those days turns to anger.  Sometimes, I’m angry with myself for being so distant and unaware of what was happening to you that led to your death.  Sometimes, I’m angry with you for your mistakes and your last awful choice even though I know that’s unfair to you.

On the days where the memory of you is fleeting, it’s something small that triggers me: a man with a similar profile, a few measures of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an old SNL sketch, or maybe a Dixieland jazz band in my neighborhood with a clarinetist who’s a bit of a show-off.  Those fleeting moments are usually the pleasant ones, but the memories they conjure up are bittersweet.  Happier times that feel like an entire lifetime ago.  My brain can almost convince me you’re still here on days like that, but my heart knows better, and the sadness seeps back in.

You’d be 31 today.  Yes, it’s your birthday.  Facebook keeps prompting me to write on your wall not knowing you can’t even read it.  You’re a ghost, albeit a digital one, and your page will remain eerily stuck the way it is forever until Facebook ceases to exist.  There you are smiling in your profile picture in sunglasses on a tropical beach looking happier than you did the last few years of your life.  Maybe you’re on a beach wherever you are, but I’d like to think you’re in some heavenly concert hall playing music with all the greats you idolized.  That’s more like you; you were happiest making music whether with others or alone.  I know you can’t read this any more than you can read the birthday messages people are posting on your Facebook page, but it’s not really for you anyway.

You’re not 31 today.  You’re still 29.  You’re always going to be stuck at 29; never reaching 30.  You made it two years longer than Janis or Jimi.  Two years longer than Kurt or Amy.  But it stings that you’re forever hovering near 30, and I’m going to pass you soon.  I’m catching up to you.  I’ll be 28 this year, and then the next, I’ll meet you.  Then I’ll keep passing you and passing you and passing you, and it’s not fair.  And it’s not right.  It’s not right that I get to have more birthdays than you so early in life.  You should be here…even if it would have been harder to be here than wherever you are.  You would have found a way to make things right.  Or maybe you wouldn’t.  The point is you’d be here, and I wouldn’t have to keep reminding myself you’re not.

It’s been almost two years since you left, but I still can’t bear to delete your number from my phone.  The thought of doing it gives me a sharp sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; maybe because that makes it final.  Or maybe it’s because I feel guilty about not dialing it more often when you were here.  Maybe it’s both, but I just can’t do it.  Though we disconnected from each other a long time ago as it happens from time to time with friends, I’m not ready to cut that last cord.  I can’t face it, even though I logically know no one will pick up the other line.  If I still have that number, I still have a part of you; I can keep you with me 24/7.  You’re right there in my pocket.

I’m not even sure what else to say except that I miss you way more than I ever could have anticipated.  I miss the stupid pranks you’d pull.  I miss the way you’d laugh at things I said.  I miss your music and the look on your face you’d get like you were the only one in the room playing.

Does this get any easier?  Maybe.  I don’t know.

“Tell me please,

Where can he be,

The loving he who’ll bring to me

The harmony I’m dreaming of.

 

It’ll be goodbye, I know

To my tale of woe,

When he says, “hello!”

 

So I am just a little girl

Who’s looking for a little boy”

 

-“Looking For a Boy,” George & Ira Gershwin, (1925)

 

“Always.”

I think my first exposure to Alan Rickman was the superb 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility penned by and starring his best friend (and one of my biggest heroes), Emma Thompson.  His character, Colonel Brandon, is meant to be this aging, semi-severe bachelor who suffers from unrequited love for the blossoming, beautiful Marianne Dashwood played to youthful perfection by Kate Winslet.  rickman 1Naturally, she sets her sights on the young, dashing, too-charming-to-be-real cad Willoughby and rebuffs Brandon’s advances, thinking him incapable of feeling love or inspiring it in another. And even though Brandon knows what Willoughby is capable of, that he has less-than-honorable intentions, he doesn’t interfere.  Instead, he quietly, humbly goes on loving and supporting Marianne through all her worst moments even when it aches him to do so.  He is unfailingly kind and chivalrous to the last.  And when Willoughby has left Marianne inconsolable with a broken heart as Brandon knew he would, Brandon does not revel in being proven right.  He does not gloat or chastise Marianne for having chosen such an undeserving man to receive her love over himself.  Instead, he goes on loving her and caring for her without hope or expectations until one day, she realizes she has fallen in love with him and they marry.rickman 4

At one point, Willoughby says, “Brandon is just the kind of man whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”  But for me, Brandon is the best part of Sense & Sensibility.  Beyond our heroine, Elinor, he is the one whose quiet, lovelorn suffering stings most true.  Brandon is the emotional and moral center of the story for me; he’s the one who does what is right above all things, sometimes at the expense of his own heart.  Brandon shows us that love often doesn’t come in the form of charm and sizzling passion, but that it often looks far more like tenderness and compassion.  rickman 2Marianne’s assertion that love must be “inspiring” and loud is met by Brandon’s subtler acts of love, and she realizes he is far worthier of her heart than a man like Willoughby could ever be.  While Austen illuminates this quite well in her book, it didn’t really sink in fully until I saw Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Brandon.  I saw the pain in his gaze, the love in his every action.  He made us all fall in love with Brandon, but I also fell in love with Rickman himself.  And I learned a lot about how to love as a direct result of his performance in the film.

When they announced the cast for the first Harry Potter film, my heart leapt with joy at hearing Rickman’s name announced as another long-suffering lovelorn character: potions-master Severus Snape.  Most people today are going to be talking about how great Rickman was at playing the villain (and in all fairness, Hans Gruber and the Sherriff of Nottingham are both thrilling and sexy performances and steal the show of their respective films), but I’d argue that Rickman was actually better at romance, and more specifically, showing us the trickier, more painful aspects of love.  Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility.  Snape, who is villainous at times, but has carried the pain of love for so long, it has eaten away at him.  Harry in Love Actually, who doesn’t realize his foolishness is wrecking his wife.

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With the brilliant Juliet Stevenson in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

And especially Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply, who must try to let his former love go while helping her learn to let him go.  These roles aren’t quite as showy as the villains, but they pack more of an emotional wallop.

It is only in mourning Alan Rickman’s death today I realized I have treated him a bit like Marianne Dashwood: accepting he would always be there for emotional support but never fully giving him the attention he truly deserves.  I was blind sighted by the news of his passing, because I had come to love him far more deeply than I ever realized; his presence was always a welcome one onscreen or onstage.  And don’t get me started on that marvelous, iconic speaking-voice.  He gave us everything selflessly with the deepest of love and greatest care for his craft, collaborators, and those of us who sat in darkened rooms watching him.  He deserved far more, but he made the absolute most of what he got.

All I can offer in return is my deepest affection and gratitude for the many gifts he gave me as I’ve grown up watching his films.  Rickman IS Brandon: the kind of man everyone speaks well of and whom all are delighted to see, but damned if he’s not also somebody we ALL deeply care about.

Thank you, Alan.

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1946-2016.

Naughty AND Nice

We’ve reached that time of year when everyone starts doing their “year in review,” and I know that because Facebook is pushing it hard every time I log into my profile.  And magazines are all doing End-of-Year editions, wrapping things up, making lists, and, you know, checking them twice.  Everyone gets very reflective during the last few weeks of the year as though they’re debating what to write in the yearbook of their high school classmate they didn’t really know all THAT well but want to pretend like they did for the sake of future nostalgia.  There will be extra-long Facebook statuses (and not just from your really crazy conservative uncles) talking about how #blessed people were in 2015 or how shitty the year was but how much better 2016 is going to be because this is FINALLY the year they get their lives together.  We’ve heard it all before…just like Leo hearing he’s the front-runner for the Oscar only to have it snatched away come February.

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Will 2016 finally be Leo’s year?

But I’m going to tell you something no one else will around this time of year and certainly not Santa: it’s okay to be naughty, you guys.  Seriously.  Sometimes, it’s better to be naughty than nice.  Naughty people get shit done.

I should probably clarify.  When I say “naughty,” I don’t mean murder or adultery or not tipping your waiters (IF YOU DON’T TIP, YOU’RE THE WORST…or possibly European?  In which case, if you’re European, don’t worry, because your waiters are fortunate enough to get salary, so good job Europe).  I don’t mean voting for Donald Trump or being racist or misogynistic or destroying the planet with pollution.  I don’t mean charging a gazillion dollars for an HIV/AIDS medication like Martin Shkreli. 

When I say it’s okay to be a little “naughty” I mean:

It’s okay to be a little selfish

I know, right?  In the season of “sharing and caring,” I’m telling you it’s okay to to do neither of those things on occasion.  And it is.  I happen to be one of those people who has often been far too accommodating of other people’s feelings and needs to the detriment of my own.  We all have that one friend or family member who just sucks us dry but never replenishes the well, and frankly, it’s not fair or okay.  Sometimes, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others, and that is a lesson I have learned the hard way.  It’s not selfish to focus on how YOU feel or to spend time on projects that are important to YOU.  It is perfectly okay to put yourself first sometimes, to say no to things and people, and to focus on what is best for you.  I wish I could tell you that everyone has YOUR best interests at heart, but the truth is there are a lot of assholes out there who don’t and will do anything to get ahead of you in life.  Be kind to others and to those people especially (because they probably need it to make their Grinch hearts grow three sizes).  Always be kind.  But don’t be afraid to do things for yourself. 

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Wonder Woman doesn’t put up with your crap, and neither do I.

It’s hard to say no to people who always expect you to say yes, but a well-chosen “no” can change your life just as much as a “yes.”  I started saying “no” a lot more this year, and so now when I say “yes,” it’s to things I really want to do and to people I really want to help or collaborate with.  I’m a lot happier because I know what makes me happy, and now I have the emotional space to actually help others without feeling guilty about how I feel or what I’m not doing to take care of myself.

Embrace your inner-Slytherin aka be ambitious

Slytherins get a bad rap.  Yes, they were the house of Voldemort and a bunch of terrible Death Eaters, but they weren’t all bad.  I say this as a Gryffindor who should be predisposed to disliking them, but I also know that if I’m being honest, I embody some of the qualities of the House that Salazar Slytherin built: cunning and ambition.  It’s the latter that I want to talk about, and especially as a woman.  Men are allowed to be openly ambitious and no one thinks anything of it, but if a woman is openly ambitious, she is often viewed as selfish or aggressive. 

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Go for what you most desire…even if it’s just a bottle of peroxide to touch up your roots.

It’s not a bad thing to know what you want and to go after it wholeheartedly.  Ambition, for whatever reason, is viewed with negative connotations, and I honestly think it’s because people are afraid to see others working hard to achieve their goals when maybe they aren’t doing the same.  Where many Slytherins went wrong is in the methods they used to achieve those lofty goals (i.e. like making Horcruxes), but they never apologized for being ambitious, and neither should you.  I am not shy about what my goals are, and I’ve come to realize that I don’t care if people don’t like that I’m ambitious…because it’s my life and goals and not theirs.  Which leads me to my next point…

Don’t try to make everyone like you

This is a battle you will never win…unless you are Paul Rudd, because, to my knowledge, everyone loves Paul Rudd.  ANYWAY, it’s pretty much impossible to get everyone to like you.  It’s stressful and takes up a lot of time you could be spending on achieving your ambitious goals instead.  And definitely don’t TRY to make people like you by attempting to ingratiate yourself on others.  Do or do not; there is no try. 

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Yes, Paul Rudd. I care about you deeply. Like, I maybe care too much. Marry me?

People either will like you or they won’t, and there is nothing you can do to change that (other than not be a total asshat).  I have spent way too much time trying to appease other people, which has led to me being walked over once or twice or even thrice (okay, I really just wanted to use the word “thrice”).  In the end, I wound up being really hurt by those people when it was obvious to everyone else BUT me that no matter what I did, they were never going to really like me anyway.  Some people just won’t like you, even if you’re awesome and nice and work hard and make people laugh.  We can’t all be Paul Rudd.  So just do your own thing, feel good about it, and stop worrying so much about what other people think of you.  The right people will think you’re a Paul Rudd.  The rest probably prefer Pauly Shore, and who wants to prefer someone whose career peaked in 1995?  (Paul Rudd’s essentially STARTED in Clueless in ’95, so…)

Work hard, but let yourself live a little

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So sayeth the Lord(s)…

Know when to quit.  I fully admit to being a bit of a workaholic, but sometimes I forget to enjoy myself and the fruits of my labor.  It’s okay to have a lazy day once in awhile where you watch Netflix in your pajamas all day.  It’s okay to meet up with a friend for a drink after a stressful day at work.  It’s fine if you want to take a day-trip away from where you live to recharge and explore.  And it’s also fine to do this if you’re poor (you know, within reason).  It can be really easy to let yourself fall victim to the grind of work-sleep-repeat especially when you’re poor and stressed about money (which doesn’t always end when you’re not-so-poor), but you’re entitled to give yourself a break without feeling guilty about it.  I used to feel guilty about going to the movies when I was poorer, but it was the one place that consistently brought me a sliver of joy, so I treated myself; usually, I went to a morning movie where it cost me a lot less, but I still treated myself.  It all goes back to taking care of yourself.  You need balance, which means that as great as it is to work hard and make money, you gotta know when to play a bit and spend even a teensy bit of what you’ve earned on yourself.  So if you need a day to marathon Doctor Who and eat Haagen-Dazs*, go for it.  You’ve earned it.

*I’m definitely NOT** speaking from experience.

**I’m TOTALLY speaking from experience.

Stop apologizing for being happy around others who aren’t, for your opinions if someone disagrees with them, for your successes, for liking things that other people don’t, for not doing things the same way everyone else does

Women especially have a really bad habit of apologizing all the time for everything; almost to the point of apologizing for just existing.  But all of us could use a reminder to stop apologizing for ourselves except in situations that actually warrant a legitimate apology.  First, it is not your job to make sure everyone else is happy 100% of the time, and you do not need to feel guilty if you are happy when someone else around you isn’t.  You can try to cheer them up, but never apologize if you’re a ray of sunshine, and they’d rather be a cloud.  Be happy if you feel happy.

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She probably learned this nugget of advice from a made-for-TV movie. #marykatherinegallagher

Second, you are entitled to your own opinion.  Someone may challenge you on it, but you are entitled to having your own, differing opinion.  We live in an age where it is easier than ever to have and share opinions, but most people do not understand that it is in disagreement where solutions often arise, because constructive conflict usually breeds new ideas and compromise.  Life is about balance, and it is good for us to hear different opinions from our own, so that we can be exposed to lots of ideas and learn new things.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt more confident in standing my ground on things where other people disagree, and while I don’t always change other people’s minds, I have stopped feeling guilty about my opinions.

Third, it’s okay to be successful and happy about it; just be careful that you are grateful as opposed to grandiose in your celebrating.  No matter what you do, some people will always look at your successes as their failures, but that is a problem with THEIR perspective not YOUR hard work.  You don’t have to apologize for the things you have achieved on your journey through life just because someone else is a little jealous.  Now, don’t be THAT person who is always #blessed, but it’s fine to give yourself a little pat on the back every now and then when you are crushing it at being an adult.

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Be as happy as Lucille Bluth when she’s surprised as Gene Parmesan if you want to

Last, you really don’t have to apologize for liking what you like or doing something different from the way everyone else does.  So you like pumpkin spice lattes and Beyonce?  Great!  You believe in conspiracy theories and watch Long Island Medium?  Cool.  Maybe you tie your shoelaces with one hand or cook breakfast food only at night.  Whatever you like, don’t let other people make you feel bad because you occasionally go against the grain.  Embrace the bizarre parts of you, because that’s what makes you interesting.  Stop apologizing for the things that make you YOU.

But be nice.

It IS important to be empathetic, compassionate, and kind to others.  There is a lot of hatred in our world right now, and we all need to pull together to be a light in the darkness.  Do things for others.  Care about the environment.  Throw someone a smile on the subway.  These little acts of kindness are just as important as the big things you’re doing or hope to do for yourself and the world.  But don’t be afraid of letting that “naughty” side out when you need to.  We all need a little kick in the tush sometimes even if it comes from ourself.

I just realized that I’ve been singing the lyrics to “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” wrong for years.  The lyric is supposed to go:

He’s makin’ a list

Checkin’ it twice

Gonna find out who’s naughty OR nice

I’ve always assumed it was “naughty AND nice.”  But maybe that’s because I’ve always been a little bit of both.  We’re all a little bit of both.  So tonight when you put out your cookies and milk for Old Saint Nick, don’t worry too much about naughty OR nice.  Just embrace it all.

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Merry Christmas you filthy animals,

Emmy

An open letter to Seth MacFarlane

Dear Seth MacFarlane,

I’m sure you get lots of mail: some from dudes who love Family Guy, some from people who hated Ted 2, some from ladies who thought your boob song at the Oscars was in poor taste (for the record: I’m neutral…even as a feminist), some from ladies who are only interested in your immense wealth.  Maybe some from dudes hoping you’ll put them in touch both literally (gross) and telephonically with Mila Kunis, Amanda Seyfried, and/or Charlize Theron.

seth-macfarlane-tuxI’m writing to you about exactly none of the above things (although I wouldn’t mind talking to Charlize about being a 5’11” kickass woman who manages to look good with any hairstyle), because what I care about is your voice.  No, not the Stewie or Peter one from which you have made millions.  I mean that velvety, unabashedly old-fashioned crooner voice of yours singing along with Joel McNeely’s amazing orchestrations.  The one that conjures up images of velvet suit jackets, smoky lounges, and stiff drinks.  The one that has graced the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall.  The one that recorded three albums.  I realize you probably get mail about this too, but because I’ve watched Sleepless in Seattle too many times, I have developed this idea that like Meg Ryan’s character, my letter to you will somehow be more important than all the other letters you and your adorable-if-precocious son have received from women all over the country.

Wait.  Sorry.  You don’t have a son.  At least, that is what my current Google Search results tell me.  They also tell me that prolonged cell phone use may cause an increase in back and neck pain and brought up the Wikipedia page for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  So I have a very exciting life as you can probably tell.

Anyway, I think you should know that one night I stayed up until the wee small hours of the morning (Haha get it?  Because you idolize Frank Sinatra and he recorded an album with this title and this joke is so funny you should hire me immediately to write for one of your shows hahaha) watching you sing “Joey Joey Joey” from Most Happy Fella at the BBC Proms on YouTube.  I’m kind of a sucker for that song anyway, because I happen to think Loesser is one of our most underappreciated musical theatre composers (did I mention I have a degree in musical theatre and an old-fashioned belt like Judy Garland?), but something about the way you sang it in your beautifully spun vibrato just knocked me out.  And despite years of watching Family Guy in living rooms around the Midwest (Where I grew up; I’m dropping these details just in case you want to keep falling in love with me.), this is when I fell in love with you: at 2 am in a tiny NYC bedroom with just the glow of my Macbook screen slicing through the dark and your voice ringing from the speakers.

I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman (or even the second or third) to tell you she’s in love with you, because you are, after all, a good-looking, successful adult male who is well-rounded and charming and has had his fair share of romantic relationships (and probable imagined relationships in the brains of too-enthusiastic, moony-eyed fans of both sexes).  And I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman to tell you she likes your singing voice, because you have a mother, and mothers will always tell you they like your singing voice even if it is terrible (unless your mother is Rose from Gypsy, because she will definitely ruthlessly tell you you’re not cut out to be in the biz if you’re terrible).  But I might be the only natural blonde woman (Are you in love with me yet?  I’m 27, so I’m definitely within your suitable dating age range) to tell you both of these things and also say that I think it’s time for you to change careers.

I know, right?!  Who the hell am I to give you career advice?  I’m not Oprah or one of those super attractive “career consultant” type ladies in Manolos The Today Show brings on for a segment that Matt Lauer has to pretend to care about when he’d rather be talking about ISIS, but because I’m a fellow Scorpio like you (See? We are perfect for each other), who has killer intuition and x-ray vision for bullshit, I have always sort of felt like Family Guy was a way of giving you the so-called freedom to do what you REALLY wanted to do: make pseudo-Sinatra albums and give into your more Capra-esque cinematic leanings.  Basically, all that long-windedness above summed up: please just go make Technicolor movie musicals or a Frank Capra-style screwball comedy or earnest drama.  Ted 2 was basically a Capra courtroom drama masquerading as a frat boy comedy.  A Million Ways to Die in the West wanted to be a musical.  Your albums are oozing with charisma and sentimentality.  140529100659-05-seth-macfarlane-0529-horizontal-large-galleryThis is not to say that Family Guy doesn’t have its merits as a consistently funny show and that your voice and animation work are not also important facets of your multifaceted talents; I merely am saying that I feel you are sometimes afraid of being earnest, sentimental, and—dare I say—sweet outside of your recordings and concert appearances, and frankly, those qualities are more attractive to me as an artist and woman than someone who always goes straight for the joke every time (and I would know as someone who regularly is afraid of being honest and sentimental and covers everything up with a well-timed witticism or joke).

As a nerd, I can instantly recognize other nerds, and you are a big one.  I’ve heard you give interviews, talking, in detail, about Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins (who is totally underappreciated) or film scores with an enthusiasm normal people reserve for like, Beyoncé or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.  I once wrote a 25-page paper in college comparing John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Wagner’s use of leitmotif in his operas.  This is not what normal people do, Seth, and you and I are not normal no matter how hard we both try.  I have made peace with this as I have aged and realized the right people will think I am cool, and I think you’re still working on that, which is totally fine.  Being comfortable with your nerdiness actually makes you cooler, I think (I’m still waiting for the popular girls from my high school to confirm this on Facebook, so I’ll get back to you).  I’m not saying you aren’t comfortable with your nerdiness, but because most people know you for being the cool guy of Family Guy or making dirty jokes at the Oscars, it’s almost like your nerdy jazz career is a super-secret alter-ego you only reveal to those you can trust, which is apparently mostly musical theatre/jazz aficionados, the BBC, and old people who miss the Big Band era, which are three very trustworthy, awesome, reliable groups, honestly.  Kudos.  But no great thing ever came from not taking risks, and I think you’re on the precipice (I am always looking for an opportunity to use that word, which I learned from Old Rose in Titanic back in 1997) of something great if you have the courage to just go for it.

I’m sorry for sounding like one of those motivational posters teachers hang in their classrooms that have trippy photos of nature, but I really think it’s time for you to boldly go where you’ve never gone before (Star Trek is still on the brain, clearly).  It’s your earnestness that I responded to when I watched “Joey Joey Joey” at 2am on Youtube, because you didn’t do anything for a laugh or to coast by on charm: you just sang the damn song from your heart.  I think there’s a big ole warm, gooey heart inside of you, MacFarlane, and I want to see it, because it’s way more interesting than everything else.  It’s real…you know what I mean?  And unlike Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire, I want real, not magic.

Okay, I sometimes want magic too (and especially during the holidays), but real is the substance of life, and I want that.  I think you want that too.  I need to take my own advice, as per usual, but this isn’t really about me.  Actually, I guess it IS sort of also about me too since I’m the one being all righteous and trying to tell you what to do with your life while ignoring my own.  So for the record, I get scared too.  Being funny always feels better because people don’t have time to judge the real parts of you when they’re laughing at something you say instead.  But being funny isn’t all that I am, and I could do a better job of letting myself be honest too.  I guess we both have homework to do, Seth, and if you’re anything like me, you probably enjoyed doing most of your homework (except math because you don’t need that to sing Sinatra or Garland songs).

I’m gonna wrap this shit up here, because I’m worried you’ve already stopped reading and/or are considering getting a restraining order against me, and I really only wanted to write to tell you I’m your fan and really rooting for you in whatever the next phase of your multiple careers is.  I think you’re probably the coolest nerdy dude in Hollywood, and I’m hoping NBC casts you as Harold Hill whenever they decide to do Music Man Live.  You’d crush it during “You’ve Got Trouble.”  I know that because I also watched you do it at the BBC Proms on Youtube in my bedroom (I should probably get a social life).

And if you feel like meeting me at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, I will be the blithely-cool, semi-neurotic, blonde Meg Ryan type (but taller) waiting for you.

Think about what I said.  And think about my Valentine’s Day offer.

Live long and prosper,

Emmy