The Thankful Challenge: Day 9

9

Taylor Hughes Smith.  I’m thankful for him, our friendship, and the fact he lives here in this crazy, huge, weird, yet wonderful city with me.  We’ve been friends since we were five, but really became closer than close in middle and high school.  He is one of my oldest, dearest, best friends, and I just can’t believe we wound up here together like we always said we would back in high school when real life seemed so far away.

Taylor and me

Taylor and I always knew we were two-of-a-kind; artsy yet focused free spirits in a conservative, small town.  When classmates around us talked about wanting to stay in Missouri for college, becoming a teacher or something “practical,” the two of us would just smile and nod, because we both had bigger plans.  I should note there’s nothing wrong with our classmates’ plans; plenty of people do exactly that and are very happy, and I wouldn’t deign to belittle their dreams simply because they are different from mine.  Teaching, banking, owning a business, being a doctor or lawyer are all noble professions, it’s just not what I ever wanted for myself.

I can remember so many times we’d sit together on the way to a band competition or in the choir room, making plans and dreaming about what we’d do when we graduated and left our hometown.  I’ve wanted to live in New York practically my whole life; I had this romantic vision of taxis and Broadway shows and grand apartments and picnics in Central Park.  After growing up in a town where I could go to Wal-Mart and see practically everyone I knew (especially when I was buying something embarrassing like lady-parts hygienic supplies), the idea of living in a city where nobody knew my name or reputation or what brand of lady-parts hygienic supplies I bought was completely welcomed and wholly appealing.  Not to mention the fact I needed to be in a place where I could embrace my art and more importantly, that place would embrace it.

Taylor felt the same way.  He was desperate to play in a symphony orchestra where all his hours of practicing the bassoon were not thought odd (his dream job is the NY Philharmonic).  Being one of the first and few openly gay students in my high school often put Taylor at odds with other students and teachers who couldn’t and wouldn’t understand why he was the way he was (well, is).  He faced a lot of bullying, hurtful comments, and downright discrimination on several occasions simply because he refused to hide who he was or change it to make himself less “controversial.”  Music was his escape.  And he was/is damn good at it.  New York, for both of us, meant escape.  Freedom.  Art.  Love.  It became a beacon of hope in a town occasionally stuck in the dark ages.

He went to school in Kansas, and I went to school in Oklahoma.  We often had phone dates to catch up on each other’s lives.  We were both happier being at schools where we could be free to be ourselves and pursue our passions.  Several spring breaks, we both wound up being in New York together at the same time, so it became like a preview of what life could be like: our dreams inching closer to reality.  When I finally moved here last year, it was without Taylor.  He still had a semester to finish his second degree at KU.  True, I had my other dear friends, and things were good, but it didn’t feel quite right being here without him too.  He would occasionally come to visit, auditioning for grad schools and catching up with friends like me who already had lives and jobs here.  Finally, he was admitted to Manhattan School of Music, and moved last winter.  The dream became real.

We don’t see each other as often as we’d like to now that he’s started grad school, and I’m busy working and auditioning (but we have lots of fun when we do, see here), but knowing we’re doing this crazy thing together like we always planned makes me feel wonderful anyway.  I’m not sure if I ever thought it would really pan out the way we wanted it to, but so far, so good.  Neither of us have our dream jobs yet, but living here together, working hard to get those dream jobs is a start.  And if we could accomplish the living here part, I have a feeling we’ll both eventually accomplish that whole dream job part too.

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The Thankful Challenge: Day 7 & 8

7

Gusty winds.  Freezing temperatures.  Heavy snowfall.  Work at Jacob Javits Center for eleven hours?  There’s no way I was going to walk five avenues in a nor’easter after work to catch my subway in Herald Square.  Outside, it looked like the beginning of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where claymation snowman Burl Ives is talking about that horrible blizzard that nearly cancelled Christmas.

When my life is made into a movie, I want Burl Ives’s claymation snowman to narrate

Okay, it wasn’t quite THAT bad; I’m exaggerating a bit, but it WAS frigid and the snow was blowing all around.

Luckily, the Javits Center runs free shuttle buses to several hotels for conference attendees.  I say “luckily,” but really those buses are necessary since Jacob Javits is located in the armpit of New York along 11th avenue, and no visitor in their right minds should be forced to walk from that wasteland of auto body shops, construction sites, and other general eyesores back to where civilization begins again on 9th avenue.  So to prevent a walk through a decidedly un-magical version of Narnia in the cold, which would have been miserable, I hopped aboard one of the free shuttle buses.

I’m definitely thankful for that free shuttle bus.  It was warm, Seinfeld was playing on the TV screens, and it wound up dropping me off right by the entrance to my subway at 47th/7th, shortening my commute considerably.  If only a happy snowman Burl Ives had been there to serenade me, it would have been the perfect way to finish up a very, very long day.

8

Despite my total and utter loathing of the Jacob Javits Center and all that working there every so often entails, I’m thankful for a lot of the people I’ve met who are working alongside me.  Normally when I temp, I work in office buildings and get to know some of the people there, but I’m basically left alone most of the day.  When I work events and trade shows, I get to work with lots of other temps my age (or even a little older) who are all usually actors or dancers or artsy types.  Because of that, I’ve gotten to know and actually become pretty good friends with a lot of those people.  I see them at auditions or we hang out.  They’re interesting and come from all over the world.  My work friends make being at Jacob Javits Center or the U.S. Open or whatever a little less awful.  It’s nice knowing I’ll see so many familiar faces every day when I walk through the door.  Events are not really my favorite thing in the world to work, but it’s consecutive days of a decent paycheck, so having good people around me to ease the pains of being a “temp slave” is most welcome.

Thankful Challenge: Day 5 & 6

5

First of all…

Happy 99th Birthday to my idol, the ravishing and luminous Vivien Leigh!  She’s probably my favorite fellow Scorpio and us sharing a zodiac sign oddly makes me feel like I have some deeper connection with her (even though she’s no longer with us).  I hope that deeper connection also includes some percentage of her acting talents.

Anyway.

I’m thankful for my Midwestern upbringing, which has made me be the friendly, accessible person I am today.  To quote Ms. Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  That is true, but a lot of times in New York, strangers have depended on the kindness of me.

Because of my friendliness (and probably the fact I don’t look like I’m going to pull out a switchblade on you if you disrupt my tweeting or iPod-listening like a lot of New Yorkers), I often get approached for subway directions or information.  Today after my audition and my usual post-audition ritual of grabbing a coffee at the Starbucks on 35th Street/8th Ave, I headed for the Herald Square N/Q/R station underneath Macy’s.  I made my way down the platform and a Q train pulled up.  As I made my way to get on, a clean-cut, middle-aged man approached me and asked, “Does this train stop near Bloomingdale’s, as in 59th Street?”

“Yes,” I replied with a smile, pulling out my iPod earbuds, “you’ll want to get off at 59th & Lexington.  There’s actually an entrance to one of the lower levels of Bloomingdale’s from the subway.”

He climbed aboard the train, “Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome.”  I said as I moved toward the center of the car away from the doors.  I was putting my earbuds back in when he came back over.

“Not to bother you,” he said, “but what do you do?  You’re not an actor, are you?”

I laughed, “Actually, I am an actor.”

He smiled, “I thought so.  You have great presence and an energy that is wholly unique.  Where did you train?”

I told him and he asked, “Do you do film or stage?”

I replied, “I’d like to do both.  I was mostly trained for stage, but most of what I’ve worked on here since I moved has been student film stuff.  I’m very interested in film.”

“Well, I think you’re going to make it,” he said, “and I’m not just saying that.  You don’t look cookie cutter, and you carry yourself differently.  I knew Brad Pitt when he was a bus boy, and there was something about his presence and demeanor that was just different from everybody else.  You could just tell.  You have that too.  I feel that same energy in you.”

At this point, I just kept saying “thank you” every five seconds.

“You and he have lots of energy, but you both learned how to contain it and know how to release it when you need to, whereas I was all over the place as a kid.  I think you will do film and really make it.”

“Thank you,” I blushed, “I’m just not one of those people who has a need to always be the center of attention.  When I was younger, I was always outgoing and a huge personality, but these days, I just do my own thing and am pretty low-key, albeit still outgoing.”

He nodded, “Your presence is just unmistakable though.  And you have a great speaking voice.”

(WHAT?!  I’m SO self-conscious about my speaking voice.)

Another “Thank you.”

He pulled out a business card and started scribbling on the back with a pen.

“I promise I’m not hitting on you,” he laughed, “I have a lovely girlfriend.  This is my personal email address.  I’m an author with Simon & Schuster and also run a media company in addition to my work in the alternative medicine field.  I go to the Tony Awards every year and lots of entertainment industry events.  Shoot me an email, and if I can invite you to some events, I certainly will.”

I took the card, “Oh okay!  Thanks so much!”

He started to make his way toward the subway doors, “Really, I think you’re going to make it.  I have a sense about these things.  Thanks for the directions and the conversation!”

And with that, he got off.

So does everything happen for a reason or was this all just random?  If everything happens for a reason, I wonder what this meeting brings to my life.  And do I take the chance and email him or not?

I don’t know, but that was one subway ride and conversation I’m not likely to forget.  I may even read the guy’s book…it’s self-help about unlocking your potential.  How’s THAT for coincidence?

Or maybe, just maybe it’s fate.

6

Election Day.  And yes, I’m thankful to be able to vote.  So many have fought and died to secure our freedoms such as the right to vote, and I’m grateful for them.

But as a woman, voting still feels a bit like a newly secured right.  We were granted the right to vote only 92 years ago.  92 years.  Voting rights for women aren’t even a hundred years old yet.  Men have been able to vote since the formation of the original Thirteen Colonies.  Think about how different things could have been had women been able to vote for as many years as men.

So I’m thankful to women like Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Julia Howe who marched and protested, were beaten and jailed, but refused to give up until women were granted the right to vote.  I’m thankful because I now have the ability to help shape the future by voicing my opinions through my vote.  These women and others like them have more than proved the power of women cannot be denied.

The Thankful Challenge: Day 3 & 4

3

It wasn’t my greatest Saturday by any means.  I spent most of the day deep cleaning my apartment: sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, etc.  I was on my hands and knees at one point, which to any discerning eye probably looked like I was a reprimanded Scientologist serving out a punishment on one of their Sea Org boats.  I had my New Order pandora station blaring on my computer.  It was a productive day.

Then I went to make lunch and dropped a bunch on my newly cleaned floor.  I ran into a door frame with my elbow.  The piéce de resistance, however, happened as I was cleaning my bathroom.  I was cleaning my tub and shower, so I turned on the water to rinse.  I tried adjusting the shower head, and it broke off, spraying water all over me and one of our bathmats.  I felt like I had just gotten off a log flume ride at an amusement park.  After making a trip into the City to Home Depot to purchase a new shower head, my day had gone from okay to Emmy and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

To de-stress from my day, I popped in Pride & Prejudice and let Elizabeth and Darcy wash away my bad day.  I’m thankful for movies and the escape they provide.  I’ve noticed that sometimes, music is what soothes me, and of course writing as well, but often I’m drawn to the darkness of a movie theatre where I can just be alone and engrossed in a story for a couple hours without distractions.  Music has healing powers, I believe that, but movies possess a different kind of magic, and I always emerge from their spell feeling altogether better somehow, even inspired.  It’s not something I can fully describe, but I know it when I feel it.

4

Like pretty much everyone else, I’m truly thankful for that extra hour we accrue towards the tail end of fall, which signals daylight savings time.  Not only do I immediately feel better rested, but also this time of year makes me feel more productive because I suddenly have an extra hour to get things accomplished.

This is especially necessary since I wound up getting a last-minute audition for Arizona Broadway Theatre’s summer season on the 5th and needed time to prep.  I submitted on a whim, because my dear friend Margaret (or Madge, as we all call her) worked for them last summer and suggested I throw my name into the ring because they’re doing Into the Woods, one of my favorite musicals and one I feel destined to perform.  So I emailed and mentioned I was close friends with Madge, and when I didn’t hear back, I assumed I hadn’t secured an audition.  But then I awoke several days later to an email giving me a Monday slot.

I haven’t been to a music theatre audition in nearly five months.  I decided a while back to take a break from it, because I just wasn’t happy for some reason.  I’m not sure if I got burnt out or frustrated or what, but something just didn’t feel right, and my heart wasn’t in it.  My self-imposed break from it has been pretty enlightening in a lot of ways that I won’t get into here (maybe at some later date), but returning to it today felt pretty good.  Singing into exhaustion felt good; a bit like being back in college when it was fun.  And isn’t that what it should be always…fun?

The Thankful Challenge: Day 1 & 2

Every November, I participate in something called the Thankful Challenge (#ThankfulChallenge on Twitter) where each day, I pick one thing for which I’m thankful and share it with others.  I do this to remind myself to be happy for the things I have and not stress about everything I don’t have.  It gives me perspective, which in harder times like these, is pretty important.  So without further ado…

1

As the month of November begins, and the East Coast continues recovery after Hurricane Sandy, I am ever thankful today for the men and women who have been working overtime to get New York City back up and running.  I am so amazed by how quickly the MTA was able to get even some limited subway service going just days after what was the worst disaster to ever hit the NYC metro system.

Growing up in the Midwest, things like this always happened miles upon miles away, so while it was sad to see devastation on TV and in newspapers, it never truly affected me.  Being here now in the midst of it (though my street only had one fallen tree), I see how much we take for granted little things like the subways or having electricity.  Once common conveniences have become luxuries to those without them.

The sun is peeking through the clouds today, which I can only take as a sign things are on their way to getting better.  New York may have its faults, but the resilience of its people is not one of them.  That resilience is not something that can be fully documented on the news; it’s a feeling.  It’s not that New Yorkers don’t feel sorrow or helplessness, it’s that we choose to feel it for a few brief moments and then set about getting back to our daily lives come hell or high water (literally).

2

I’m thankful for Astoria, Queens.  Not only was it mostly untouched by the destructive forces of Hurricane Sandy, but it’s also a wonderful little neighborhood.  Before I moved to New York last year, I had never even been to Queens (except for LaGuardia Airport).  I had lots of former classmates who lived in Astoria, but beyond that I knew next to nothing.

Now, I’ve really settled into this area, and it feels more and more home-y every day.  The little Chinese lady who owns the Chinese restaurant a block from my apartment knows my usual order.  She calls me “sweetheart” every time I come in and always makes sure to include extra duck sauce.  My bank tellers know me by name and ask how I am.  There are real grocery stores and trees.  TREES!  Plus the most authentic Greek food you’ll find short of boarding a plane to Athens, Greece.

(If I sound like I’m writing a blurb for a travel magazine, I apologize.)

The point is that I’m thankful to live in such a place that is just minutes from New York.  It’s quieter at night, and people are a little bit nicer.  Sure, I could pay a pretty penny for an apartment the size of a shoebox to live in Manhattan, but as a Midwestern girl, I’m just fine having a little peace and quiet in the sort-of ‘burbs.