Let It Go or Why I’ve Quit Musical Theatre (For Now, Anyway)

I love musical theatre.  When I was a kid, I used to relish dressing up and singing at the top of my lungs to Gypsy or Sound of Music around my house.  I was obsessed with the ’96 revival of Chicago with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking, listening to it over and over again.  Fosse was like a god to me; Sondheim even more so.  While I originally wanted to be a ballerina, by the age of twelve, it became pretty apparent I was destined for a career as an actor, specifically one in musical theatre as I not only would get to sing and act but also dance too.  I used to check out tons of old movie musicals from my library and video store like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (that barn dance still gets me every time) or Streisand’s version of Hello Dolly!  The first show I saw on Broadway was the revival of 42nd Street, and when the curtain lifted at the beginning of the show only revealing a line of tap dancing feet, I started to cry.  Meeting Angela Lansbury once outside a theatre is still one of the great highlights of my life.

I worked hard in college as a musical theatre major at a school with a very good reputation in the industry.  It was competitive to be sure, but that competition fueled my own efforts to grow, learn, and further my own individual talents.  I studied voice with a wonderful teacher, performed in several musicals including the lead my senior year in The Light in the Piazza, and while I didn’t make our school’s agent showcase, I graduated feeling pretty confident about my own skills as a performer and ready to at last move to the Big Apple to begin my career as an actor.

I did not move expecting to land a Broadway show right off the bat or my Actors Equity Card.  I have always assumed I would have to work hard and pay my dues.  I have never done summer stock though I have auditioned many times.  I have barely performed much at all since moving here nearly two and a half years ago.  While it can be hard and you feel as though you’re behind everyone else (especially when one of your classmates is doing her third Broadway show, your best friend has been on a national tour for the last two years, and far more are leaving to do regional work all the time), it’s important to remember that, as cliché as it sounds, everyone has their own artistic journey to make and perhaps mine is going to be far, far different from my peers.  I don’t worry too much anymore about how often I am or am not getting cast because I know it’s not reflective of who I am or the value of my artistic talents.  I’ve always kind of done my own thing anyway.

For a while after I first moved, I was going to lots of musical auditions: cattle calls, EPAs, ECCs, tours, etc.  Any young woman currently in the industry will tell you we have always had it much rougher than the men, but with economic setbacks, it’s even worse these days.  400 women will show up to audition for about 8-10 roles whereas 180 men will show up for about 10-15 roles.  You do the math; it’s bleak.  I could get into a whole discussion about the lack of equal representation for women in the entertainment industry, but that is a much lengthier topic that deserves its own time.  ANYWAY, the thing about auditioning with 399 other women on a regular basis is having to squeeze into a holding room for hours on end while we’re all waiting to audition and listen to them all try to one up each other about their resume credits, the famous people they’ve worked with/know, etc.  I’m sure this happens at the male audition calls too.  I’m not one for audition chitchat, personally.  I like to come in, do my thing, and get out and on with my day, so I got used to bringing my iPod or a book to drown everyone else out, but it’s hard.  And it’s not everyone doing it, but you can feel the negative animosity buzzing around you, and it was starting to make me dread going to musical auditions.  In fact, the more musical auditions I went to, the more miserable I felt.

To clarify, I could give two shits about what’s on your resume (because if I wanted to know, I’d just read it) or who you know/worked with, because on the day of the audition it only matters what you can do NOW, but the negativity being thrown around is unsettling.  Everyone around town uses a website called Audition Update to check the progress of various auditions throughout the day, whether callbacks are being given out, etc.  It’s a great resource.  But I’m dismayed by one particular aspect of the website called the Bitching Post where you can literally bitch via web comments about how auditions are run, various theatres, even people you may have worked with.  After reading through diatribe after diatribe each more hateful and venomous than the last, I realized this was the same crap I was hearing at auditions, and not only was it hurtful to those on the receiving end of these comments, but totally unprofessional conduct from people I consider colleagues.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Too often over the course of my 2+ years in this city, I have been at gatherings with musical theatre industry people and when the topic is turned to a fellow artist’s singing performance on a national or international stage, that artist is completely ripped to shreds with no redeeming qualities mentioned whatsoever (a lot of it online, which is the breeding ground for a lot of bad juju).  Apparently, according to some, this is acceptable simply because we all have fancy advanced degrees in singing so we have more knowledge and it’s “constructive criticism.”  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe saying someone sounds like they’re dying and should stop singing forever or just “raped my ears” is “constructive.”  It’s actually just vitriolic, petty, and mean.  I find myself wincing at the words coming from some of my colleagues’ mouths or computer keyboards every time someone sings on national television or a YouTube clip or even just a cast recording.  I understand we’re all educated, trained artists with differing opinions, but when you’re watching the Oscars or the Sound of Music Live Broadcast JUST HOPING to see Idina or Carrie crash and burn vocally instead of in support of fellow artists doing something exciting and challenging, it says a lot more about what kind of artist and person YOU are than what kind of artist and person these women are.  Remember when your mother said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  Well, I do, and this whole mentality that it’s okay to rip a person (and one you don’t even know personally) apart simply because you’re “educated,” actually doesn’t make you look educated at all.  It doesn’t take an education to spew icky words.  There is a big difference between being passionate and being poisonous and too many, I fear, are confusing one for the other and veering more into the latter category where this industry is concerned.  It’s becoming an epidemic, unfortunately, and not just in musical theatre.  It’s everywhere: just look at Twitter. Look at comment boards.

I have left musical theatre (for the time being though I occasionally go to an audition or two for something I’m really interested in) in part because I do not wish to have this kind of negativity in my life.  I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t want to be part of a group of people who so eagerly (and at times, gleefully) turn their back on one of their own just for cracking on a note or having an off night instead of tightening ranks around that person, giving them the encouragement to shake it off and hit the stage or audition room the next day or offering REAL constructive feedback to help them improve.  It’s a hard thing to choose to be an artist in an increasingly money-obsessed world, but I can’t help thinking that it’s that much harder when you don’t even have your own artistic community really supporting you the way they should.  I’m a tough girl, always have been, and a little criticism never bothered me, but when it’s so inhumane and malicious, I have to take action.  I have always been one to look for the best in others and especially in art, and I am so disheartened by what I have experienced firsthand and read online.  What I loved about musical theatre is that it always felt like a little happy community, but it doesn’t feel very much that way to me lately, and so I made a decision a little over a year ago to walk away for awhile; to focus my time and talents on other artistic ventures.  And guess what?  I’m a lot happier.  I’ve found people who are genuinely supportive and encouraging, and with more positivity in my life, I feel my own talents have started blossoming in ways they never would have.  I have turned my eyes to writing, to acting, to producing, and discovered that I am equally as passionate about these things and the film and television industry.  It’s amazing what positive energy can do.

I ask that we all look at ourselves as artists and human beings and really evaluate why we are saying these things.  Is it because we are envious of those who have found success in our field?  Is it because we are not secure enough in our own gifts we must attack those of another?  Our first job as artists is to be good human beings and show the world what humanity can be, and it is an ongoing, challenging process; believe me.  The work is never done.  And we all have lots of work to do because no one is perfect, but what a beautiful thing that is.

One of my very favorite recordings of my hero Judy Garland is a number from her Carnegie Hall Concert.  During “You Go to My Head” she completely flubs a lyric.  At Carnegie Hall.  During the biggest concert of her career.  And she’s literally singing nonsense lyrics on the album but she laughs, keeps going, and gets back on track.  That a performer so polished, so revered as Judy, made a mistake we’ve all made a million times is a reminder that she was human just like all of us.  Flaws are reminders of humanity.  I’m glad to know Judy isn’t perfect, because it gives me hope I can someday be as inspirational to someone as she has been to me even with my own flaws.

And since I really DO look for the best in others, I want everyone to prove me wrong.  I hope that if I decide to fully return sometime in the future to musical theatre, I will find a loving, supportive community like the one I first fell in love with.  The one full of awkward kids belting show tunes in their mother’s old clothing because they just love the lights and the music and the magic of theatre.  My mother also used to say, “Play nice,” and I ask that we all try to do that from now on.  Please?

*For an addendum to this essay, please see this.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

You know how celebrities/famous people always seem to die in threes?  And some murders inspire subsequent copycat murders?  That whole “when it rains, it pours” thing?  What I’m trying to say is misfortune often breeds misfortune.

And I should know.  The last three months have probably been the worst of my entire life.  I know that’s a bold statement to make, but in thinking about the last twenty-five years, I cannot remember another time in my life when so much shit was flung my way in such a brief space of time.  Blow after blow after blow.  Three months of near-ceaseless gut punches.  My life literally imploded in my face.  BOOM!  There it goes in a mushroom cloud and rubble like a scene out of a doomsday movie.

There goes my life

There goes my life

(Maybe I’m being a TAD dramatic, but you get the point.)

I had a great summer, one of my very best, truly.  Lots of travel and fun times with friends and family.  After a year and a half, my best guy friend finally asked me out, and we started dating.  As my second year in New York came to its close, I finally felt settled; everything was in a good place.  I felt prosperous in nearly every area of my life from my bank account to my relationships.  I bicycled through the streets in a haze of contentment, peace, joy, and love.  I reveled in it all.  I felt seriously happy for the first time in a very long time, and even though not everything was perfect, I felt like I was FINALLY on track.  My life was slowly but surely piecing itself together.

And let me tell you, after a boyfriend drought of about six years (we’re talking committed relationship here, not random dating, which I HAVE done on and off since 2007), having one again was awesome (let alone this guy who is funny and smart and respectful).  Not that I was ever miserable because I DIDN’T have a boyfriend for a long time, it’s just you forget how great it can be.  And being in a relationship and/or love in New York City is especially great.  And since I’ve grown up by leaps and bounds since my last real relationship (considering I’m 25 now and was just 18 back then…eek), this one was VASTLY different.  It felt real and adult.

Maybe if I had invested in better floaties and a baby modeling career, I wouldn't be sinking...

Maybe if I had invested in better floaties and a baby modeling career, I wouldn’t be sinking…

So things were going swimmingly until the beginning of September when my floating turned to sinking.  It felt like someone pushed my head underwater all of a sudden.  My roommates wanted to have a conversation about apartment business, and what I thought was going to be a routine discussion of what we could all do to keep improving the place turned into them accusing me of basically being the worst roommate on the planet (which, having asked my other former roommates to confirm this, all answered with a resounding, “WHAT?!  You’re probably the BEST roommate in the world!”).  I couldn’t speak because I had no idea anyone felt this way.  Now, I’m a highly intuitive person, but I’m not a mind-reader, so if you don’t expressly tell me something is bothering you, I might not be able to pick up on it.  My roommates both avoid confrontation whereas I like to deal with things head on in a civil way, so a personality conflict was bound to arise.  All this came completely out of the blue, but here I was being asked to move out.  Two against one.  They’d discussed the whole thing behind my back and already decided the best solution was to force me out without any input from me or even attempting to fix the situation.  So here I was, a relatively impoverished twenty-something in one of the most expensive cities in the world and had about a MONTH to not only find an apartment I could afford but also move into it.

Things quieted down a bit in October, though I was furiously on the hunt for an apartment.  I lucked into one almost immediately and began planning out my moving strategy.  If you’ve never lived in New York, I can tell you that moving here is a major, MAJOR pain in the ass.  Worse than anywhere else because like no one has cars.  ANYWAY, I made it through October relatively unscathed and managed to get all my possessions schlepped from one neighborhood in Queens to another adjacent one thanks to a dear friend of mine and his sturdy little car (Tim, you are an angel!).  I let myself think the worst was over and breathed a sigh of relief that the apartment scenario from hell had been vanquished.  New apartment, new roommates, fresh start.

But the worst was not over.  Five days into November (and a little under a week to go to my 25th birthday), my boyfriend and I broke up.  Even HE admitted the timing was horrible considering everything I had just been through (because in spite of everything, he’s a really good guy).  The breakup is both sharp and blurred: parts I remember so clearly and others I can only remember the feel of them.  When you love a person, that doesn’t just go away overnight.  Love never really dies; it just transforms itself over time into different kinds of love.  What makes this particular breakup hard is that it’s not because there isn’t great care, affection, and love there for each other; it’s timing.  It’s emotional preparedness.  It’s other things that are between us right now.  And these are things people have to work out for themselves.  I’m not putting it all on him either, because I have my own set of issues to work through.  My intuition tells me that he and I have more to our story, but we both have some life to live on our own first, and for whatever reason, we can’t do it together right now. 

So I was awaiting the third event (because like celebrity deaths, these things always happen in threes), and finally it came on Sunday.  My dear friend was in town for a few days and invited me to the Brooklyn Museum to look at the Jean Paul Gaultier Retrospective (which, for the record, is amazing).  On the way to the admission desk, I slipped in some water and tumbled to the floor only to be followed by my bankcard being declined.  Overdrawn.  AGAIN.  Trying not to panic and maintain some semblance of composure (despite having just fallen to the floor like an idiot), I pulled out my bankcard from home, paid, and entered the exhibit where I put the best smile I could for my friend.

As I made my way to my church afterwards for that evening’s Vespers concert/service, hot tears crept into my eyes, thinking about having to make yet ANOTHER phone call to my parents asking for help.  I’m 25 years old and can’t seem to get it together despite numerous attempts.  While church was reliably soothing for an hour or two, once I left, the hot tears came again.  On the walk home from the train, I lost it.  Angry sobs.  I called my mother from my bed, curled up in the fetal position.  Ever the voice of love and understanding, she eased my fears, but couldn’t quash my anger at myself for yet another financial failure or at the universe taking another massive dump on me.  “WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?!?!” I yelled into my phone in anguish, my mother silent on the other side.  And it’s a question that is yet to be answered and may not be anytime soon.

I'd give anything to get lost in Middle Earth right now...or just maybe New Zealand

I’d give anything to get lost in Middle Earth right now…or just maybe New Zealand

To combat my heartbreak, anger, and sadness, I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries and my church looking for answers, peace, distractions, etc.  I’ve planned out trips to places halfway across the world to try to escape my life here.  I’ve gone on two-hour bike rides.  My friends have done their best to keep me busy.  And sometimes, I can manage to forget all that has befallen me these last few months for a little bit.  I can even almost muster some real happiness if only for a minute or two, but somehow or other, it all comes back.  There is no magic salve to cure me of it all, no quick-fix.  I am, quite simply, a broken down human being desperate for a break, some goodness, some light.  A reprieve.

BUT I haven’t lost all hope.  I have to believe on the other side of this destruction and desolation there is something big and great waiting for me if I have the courage to push through all rubble.  Yes, I am angry, vehement even, but what good does it accomplish?  It’s obvious everything is out of my control right now, so being angry isn’t going to change that, but maybe channeling that energy into something else will.  Maybe forcing myself to work harder and create will produce something good.  Maybe I was too much like Icarus, arrogantly flying too close to the sun just because I could only to have my wings catch fire and plummet to the ground.  I don’t know.  At this point, I feel like I can go nowhere but up…even if it means crawling.jk rowling

lowercase love

Happy Valentine’s Day/Galentine’s Day/Singles Awareness Day/Couples Awareness Day/Whatever Day!

I’m pretty sure this is the one day of the entire year about which EVERYONE has very strong feelings.

The hills are alive with the sound of wretching (over how much some people love V-Day)

The hills are alive with the sound of wretching (over how much some people love V-Day)

I’m not sure there are enough emoji and internet memes to even begin to cover all the highs and lows people feel on this one day every year.  You have everything from Claire-Danes-intense-chin-quiver criers to Julie-Andrews-in-Sound-of-Music-spinning-on-top-of-the-Austrian-mountains rejoicers to Captain-Kirk-furiously-yelling-KHAAAAAAAAN haters.

KHAAAAAN't you understand how much I hate Valentine's Day?!?!

KHAAAAAN’t you understand how much I hate Valentine’s Day?!?!

Valentine’s Day really brings out the crazy in us all, kids.

Needless to say, we all feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

I actually feel like the Switzerland in it all: I’m not really for or against it.  I just basically try to stay out of it.  I’m neutral in the war of lovers/haters of V-Day.  I’m all quiet on the western front.

Growing up, Valentine’s Day always meant receiving chocolate and books or movies from my parents, picking out the coolest cards to give to my friends at school, and cutting out pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio and taping them to the cover of my trapper keeper.

Leo DiCaprio: my birthday buddy, trapper keeper cover, and lifetime crush.  My heart will go on for you...FOREVER.

Leo DiCaprio: my birthday buddy, trapper keeper cover, and lifetime crush. My heart will go on for you…FOREVER.

Sure, I noticed the floral bouquets arriving around me, the giant stuffed animals from boyfriends with probable Napoleonic complexes (why ELSE would you feel compelled to buy a panda the size of Mama Cass to prove your “love” to your significant other?), the bedazzled cards with declarations of adoration on the front.  But I never felt resentful of other people having significant others to shower them with these items of l’amour.  It was just a fun little holiday, and the next day, everything returned to normal, and I never thought about it until the next year.I can see why some people hate this day.  They think the commercialization of one of our most deeply (if not THE most deeply) felt emotions is sick and twisted and cruel.  The singletons think it’s yet another dig at their uncoupled status worse than any offhand comment from a know-it-all Aunt named Mildred or Ethel who always asks, “Married yet? Tsk tsk.”  Restaurants, theatres, massage parlors all give great discounts on February 14, but only for couples.  I can understand being upset at not getting half off a deep-tissue massage and facial just because you don’t have some guy to go with you who really doesn’t care about it anyway (and if he DOES care about a massage and facial, he’s either Ryan Seacrest or possibly gay; though some straight men DO enjoy good skincare).  It’s a little tyrannical, because single people like discounts too, ya know?  Those that hate this day usually make exclamations about loving yourself first and asking why we don’t celebrate love the OTHER 364 days of the year.  It’s the same thing year after year until they eventually find their prince charmings and finally get their damn couples discounts and wilting floral bouquets.  Then the haters become the people they hated, posting photo after photo of their special day and gifts on Facebook so the world (and their Aunt Mildreds/Ethels) can see how much they’re loved.

See what I mean about feeling all the feelings?  Valentine’s Day is the day everyone brings out their crazy.  I bet therapists get more new patients this time of year than any other (someone check into that for me).

As the V-Day Switzerland, I admit it’s hard NOT to notice all this ranting for/against love.  Everything about Valentine’s Day is meant to draw your attention to LOVE, the bold, capitalized version of it.  LOVE is what the day is all about.  Do you know how much I LOVE you?  Can you feel the LOVE tonight?

The only acceptable kind of furry love you should get on V-Day

The only acceptable kind of furry love you should get on V-Day

(Which is still one of the greatest love ballads to come from a Disney movie EVER.  Thanks, Elton John!)

But really, so much emphasis is put on LOVE today – whether that be a giant stuffed animal or box of chocolates or Hallmark card – that I think everyone, and I mean EVERYONE (haters/lovers alike) forget this day was intended to actually be about celebrating love.  The lowercase version.

The lowercase version of love is not boastful or Napoleonic.  It’s when a young man gives up his seat on the subway for an elderly lady with groceries.  It’s when your best friend drops by with a cup of soup when you’re lying sick on your couch.  It’s when you forgive someone for making a mistake.  It’s when you play catch with your kid in the park or help them with their science project.  It’s a hug or a high-five.  It’s a phone call from your mom.  Lowercase love is quiet and unpretentious.  It’s simple and unconditional; always accepting of flaws.  My guess is those who complain loudest about LOVE don’t realize how much actual love is already in their lives; they’re searching for some grand gesture (which, admittedly, can be nice once in awhile) instead of the feeling behind it.  Basically, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places (i.e. hearts, flowers, candy, teddy bears, lingerie teddys, etc).

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”1st Corinthians 13:4-7

The verse seems like a cliché by now after being used at so many weddings, but if you really read it and take its message to heart, it’s a good reminder of what love SHOULD be.  LOVE should not be mistaken for being love.  Nor should we think that all LOVE doesn’t have some love behind it.

What is love to me?  I think the best, most recent example is one from my mother.  This past week has been a tough one for me financially; work has been slow and expenditures a little too high.  I got myself into some trouble with my bank account and didn’t want to ask my parents for help yet again.  My mother, without accusations or anger, called me to say she had taken care of it.  She sincerely asked what was wrong, and I began to sob as I explained over the phone.  “It’s my fault,” I cried, “and I didn’t want to ask for help again, because you and Dad have done enough for me already.  I’m so sorry.  I was going to take care of it somehow.”  She shushed me and said she understood and just quietly took care of it.  “Your dad and I know what it’s like to be young and struggling too, and we haven’t worked so hard all these years to not be able to help you and your brother once in awhile.  We can’t take care of everything, but you shouldn’t feel like you can’t tell us when something is wrong.  You’re our beautiful daughter and we will never give up on you.”  And despite the fact my parents had already sent me a little box of chocolate and a book for Valentine’s Day a few days before, my mother’s words and selfless act made me feel more loved than that box of stuff.

I can only hope to be as loving a person as my mom (and my dad too!)

I can only hope to be as loving a person as my mom (and my dad too!)

So feel all your feelings today.  Seriously.  It’s good to get that stuff out!  Rage against the heavens or swoon in a cloud of stardust.  But know that you are loved, lowercase loved, whether you get that couples discount or not.  It may not be some grand gesture of the furry or floral kind, but it lasts a lot longer.  If you do it right, it lasts forever.

“It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends…If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”Love Actually

“Walden” in the Era of the Smart Phone

Ah the “olden times” when people lived on acres of untarnished land with the sun sparkling on clear waters.  The song of birds could be heard for miles, and trees grew mighty and plentiful.  All the men had impressive facial hair, and the ladies wore more petticoats and layers than Helena Bonham Carter on a red carpet.  It was a simpler time (maybe not so much the ladies’ clothing) than anything we know today.

Walden Pond: the site that launched a thousand hipster rants

Walden Pond: the site that launched a thousand hipster dreams

But in those days, a man named Henry David Thoreau disagreed.  He felt the world had become corrupt with greed and progress, slovenly and materialistic.  Naturally, he did what any intellectual of the time would do: go off to live in the woods for two years without possessions and live very simply and quietly.  Today, we know this practice as what Daniel Day-Lewis does to prepare for a film role, but in Thoreau’s time, Method Actors didn’t exist yet.

Daniel Day-Lewis: willing to learn to use 19th century tools, live in isolation, or grow accurate facial hair for ANY role.  Or maybe he just enjoys it?

Daniel Day-Lewis: willing to learn to use 19th century tools, live in isolation, or grow accurate facial hair for ANY role. Or maybe he just enjoys it?

Thoreau kept careful records of his experiment in Walden, and when he returned, he published them.  The resulting tome, Walden (I mean, seriously, Thoreau? Couldn’t you be a teeny bit more creative with that title?), is chock full of lots of great advice about life, wealth, nature, etc.  It is a classic piece of literature (which I’m sure Daniel Day-Lewis has read several times over).

Now, I haven’t read Walden all the way through, and admittedly, some of its advice I culled from multiple viewings of Dead Poets Society, in which it is often quoted.  However, what I HAVE read of Walden is spectacular, thought-provoking stuff.  And it got me wondering:

In an era dominated by an incessant need for technology, to be, essentially, “plugged in” at all times, could any of us do what Thoreau did?  Could we fully detach ourselves from the world for a year or two and live without our smart phones, tablets, laptops, and iPods?  What would Thoreau think of all this connectivity?

I’m not so sure any of us (save for the Amish who already live in isolation and the aforementioned Mr. Day-Lewis) could actually do, in this smart phone era, what Thoreau did in his time.  First of all, you’d have to search fairly thoroughly to find a remote enough piece of land.  Perhaps in Greenland or Tibet (for seven years with Brad Pitt? Down!) or some place like that, a new “Walden”-like scenario would be possible, but getting to those places is not the easiest thing to do.  Also, should you go alone, the chances of a 127 Hours-cutting-your-arm-off-with-a-plastic-knife situation increases.

Now, Thoreau wrote to colleagues during his time in the woods, so it wasn’t as though he was completely cut off from the world.  He also had at least 25-30 visitors to his cabin including a French Canadian woodchopper and a runaway slave. But he cast off the idea of needing wealth to be happy, needing industry and competition.  He went back to the core of human struggles: man versus nature.  But really, Thoreau was seeking a way to reunite man WITH nature; to bring us back from our man-made world to the natural one with which we began our journey on this earth.

Henry David Thoreau: living deliberately...with AWESOME facial hair.

Henry David Thoreau: living deliberately…with AWESOME facial hair.

Our world is so interconnected that in a matter of seconds, one can text Russia or send an email to Patagonia with little difficulty whatsoever.  It’s both amazing and overwhelming at the same time.  We have an almost Pavlovian response to our cellphones; the minute we hear a ding indicating a new text or voice message, we instantly pick up our phones.  We are so afraid of missing out on some piece of information (however insipid or important), we cannot go for three seconds without gazing at its glowing screen.  We have to have reminders every time we go to the theatre or the movies to turn our phones off; to detach ourselves from the outside world.  We are incapable of doing it ourselves without someone else telling us.  Those afraid of the zombie apocalypse should note that we already live in a world full of zombies; one need only look at all the people walking down the street staring at their phones instead of where they’re going.  And let’s not even talk about how most people are so uncomfortable with being alone in a public place, they immediately pick up their phones to avoid making eye contact with someone or god forbid actually strike up a conversation with a stranger.  Solitude once was greatly valued, but now, it scares us, and our phones are the proof.

I’m as guilty as anyone of being too dependent on my phone and other pieces of technology.  I am uncomfortable, at times, with being alone in certain places.  Actually, it’s more that I think everyone is judging me for being alone, which is not only presumptuous but also narcissistic: to think everyone is focusing on me when they actually couldn’t care less.  I often get caught up too in assessing my wealth (or lack of it, more like), obsessing over it ad nauseum until I wear myself out.  And sometimes, I catch myself in the midst of all this stressing and obsessing and think about how pointless it all is; none of it matters or SHOULD matter.  It doesn’t make me happy, so why worry about it?

Living in New York City, the hive of human activity and industry, makes Walden’s naturalistic ideals ever more appealing.  Whenever I start to feel like I’m working myself into a snit or getting caught up in the stupidity of text messages and Facebook wallposts, I dream of getting out and disappearing.  My more bohemian, nomadic tendencies begin to manifest themselves inside my head.  Escape, they say.  Go backpacking through Europe or on a mountain trek.  See the redwood forests.  Leave all this behind; you don’t need it.  There is no escaping Thoreau’s logic:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.”

Thoreau sought to illustrate the necessity of LIFE, and the place it is most evident is in nature; a never-ending cycle of birth and death, changing seasons, etc.  In living in nature, Thoreau learned HOW to live, what made him happy, what kind of person he wanted to be.  He was connected to the world in a different way, one free of selfish desires and thoughts, and that made connecting with others more fulfilling.  We should all aspire to such things ourselves; I know I do.

Speaking of Patagonia...is this not more beautiful than any text message you could receive? (even if it were from Michael Fassbender)

Speaking of Patagonia…is this not more beautiful than any text message you could receive? (even if it were from Michael Fassbender)

As technology advances, it will become harder and harder to detach ourselves from the world around us, but ironically, we already have.  Actual human connection has been replaced with coaxial cables and wi-fi routers.  We live in a world of instant messages and tweets.  No face-to-face communication required.  The only way to live Thoreau’s way is to learn how to actually BE alone and to be okay with it.  To look up from our cold, hard, plastic phones and really SEE the world around us.  To listen to sounds other than the ones on our iPods.  Being alive means being PRESENT; living in the moment.  I, for one, don’t just want to look at pictures of places on Google images, I want to see them for myself.  I want to learn how to live deliberately and then actually LIVE deliberately; connecting with the world on MY terms…not just the way the smart phone companies tell us to.

These days, we have to work a little harder to embody all the things Thoreau wrote about in Walden, but I think it would be worth it in the end.  You won’t remember every text someone sent you, but you WILL remember how you felt the first time you saw the Canadian Rockies or the Yangtze River in China.  Experience and love and memories are things no amount of money can buy you and no web search can show you; they have to be felt and gained through the way you live your life.  Thoreau understood that, and so do I these days.

After all, Daniel Day-Lewis didn’t win two Oscars by playing Words With Friends all day long.

Father Christmas or In Defense of Dads Yelling at the Christmas Lights

One of the things I love most about the holiday season is tradition (Tradition!  Tra-di-tion!  Fiddler on the Roof, anyone?  ANYONE?!).  Every family has their own, unique traditions without which it would not feel like Christmas to them (remember the episode of Friends where everybody asks Monica to make a different kind of potato for Thanksgiving because that’s how THEIR mom made it?).

Good grief that's good jazz, Charlie Brown!

Good grief that’s good jazz, Charlie Brown!

My family always has summer sausage, cheese, crackers, and apple slices on Christmas Eve while we watch Home Alone or Muppet Christmas Carol.  The first Christmas album we listen to on Thanksgiving night is Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.  I have my traditions, you have yours.  Traditions turn into history, and I love hearing about all the different things families have been doing at Christmastime for fifty or even a hundred years.  It’s neat, right?  History, kids: get into it!     But there is ONE tradition, every family collectively shares: The Annual Yelling of the Dads at Christmas Lights.   I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, your dad also yells at your Christmas lights too.  He could be the sweetest, most genteel man in all the land, but when it comes to putting those babies on the Christmas tree or out on the roof, your dad goes from zero to Samuel L. Jackson in about 3.5 seconds:

"I have HAD it with these MOTHERF@$*ING LIGHTS ON THIS MOTHERF#$%ING TREE!!!!"

“I have HAD it with these MOTHERF#$%ING LIGHTS ON THIS MOTHERF#$%ING TREE!!!!”

People laugh at Clark Griswold’s meltdown at his outdoor Christmas lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but that’s because we’ve all been there.  We’ve all seen our fathers curse and rage at the heavens over their defunct holiday light displays.

The truth is EVERY dad is a Clark Griswold.

"I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas."

“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas.”

Every dad wants their lights to look perfect and work and be festive and when it just doesn’t happen, something inside them snaps.  There is yelling of expletives (in my father’s case, they are hybrids of nonsense and actual curse words like “PISS WISS.”) and slamming of tools and heavy sighing as he puts on his spectacles for the umpteenth time to inspect each and every bulb, which for some inexplicable reason, don’t work THIS year even though your dad purchased them brand new last year.  Then there is the inevitable leaving-in-a-huff to go get MORE new lights from the hardware store to replace the old “new ones” from last year.  It’s a never-ending cycle of misery; a Groundhog Day of tree lights working then not working then working again.

"I told you. I wake up every day...and the lights never work, and there's nothing I can do about it!"

“I told you. I wake up every day…and the lights never work, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

My Dad has a fairly long fuse (no pun intended) when it comes to his temper, but like clockwork on Thanksgiving night, we’ll hear a din from the dining room slowly growing louder and louder as he plugs in each successive strand of lights.  My mother, brother, and I try to conceal our laughter as we pull out the rest of the Christmas decorations and assemble our artificial trees, but we can’t help it.  My Dad is a good sport about the whole thing; he knows his frustrations have actually become a part of our traditions, so whenever he catches himself, he’ll try to over-exaggerate his yelling simply to make us laugh harder.

My dad battling with our tree lights

My dad battling with our tree lights.  “PISS WISS.”

I’m convinced the annual battle of the Christmas lights is actually the way in which men assert themselves.  I think this behavior is hardwired into their consciousness when they’re born, which is why all men act this way during the holidays.  If they can prove themselves masters of their holiday light displays, they are Christmas heroes; Fathers Christmas.  Or maybe this is a learned behavior: my father learned from his father who learned from HIS father and so on and so forth.  But that brings up a whole chicken-and-the-egg scenario to which we will probably never discover the answer.

The real question is: would those lights still look as stunning if your father HADN’T had a Hunger Games throw-down with them?  No.  That struggle is part of the process, part of the magic of Christmastime.  Seeing is believing in this case.  the hunger games

Your dad is the Katniss Everdeen of holiday lighting, and he will emerge the victor.  Girl on Fire?  Pfft.  Try DAD ON FIRE!

I mean this figuratively, of course.  I hope no one’s dad has ever caught on fire as a result of Christmas lighting.

Anyway, as I stare at the instagram photo of my Christmas tree on the background of my phone (since I’m currently in New York and therefore unable to look at my Christmas trees in Missouri), I see all my Dad’s majestic, magical, yuletide handiwork, and I recognize the hard work and hoarse voice that went into producing it.  And I know when all of you look at your respective trees, you feel the same.

So thanks, Dad.

Thanks to ALL dads for making our days merry and bright.

Clark W. Griswold would be proud.

The finished Potter Family Christmas tree.  See, Dad?  Looks perfect!

The finished Potter Family Christmas tree. See, Dad? Looks perfect!

The Perks of Being a NYC Temp Worker

I came to New York to be an actor.  I’d much rather be onstage or in front of a camera than behind a desk, but when you have rent to pay and no acting jobs currently coming in, temp-ing is necessary.  When you think about it, all acting jobs are temp jobs too, so I guess practice makes perfect.  Instead of lamenting my status as a “gypsy worker,” I decided to make a pros/cons list to temp-ing in NYC!

The Perks of Being an NYC Temp Worker While Trying to Be An Actress:

1. FREE office coffee.  It may not always be Starbucks (unless you’re temping for the Starbucks HQ or in my current case, a Starbucks-affiliated company, Barnes & Noble Corporate HQ), but it’s hot, freshly made, will keep you awake while you’re staring at a computer screen all day, and did I mention it’s FREE?  It’s okay to splurge once in awhile on your morning cup of joe for something like the Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte (my personal fave) or Peppermint Mocha, but like the McDonalds McRib and Monopoly season (I’ve come to the conclusion I will never get that damned Boardwalk piece to match my Park Place for the $1 million prize), all good corporate promotions/seasonal items must come to an end, so just bring a travel mug and stop shelling out for expensive coffee when the free stuff does the trick just as well.

2. Discovering new parts of New York City.  Unless you work with a shitty, backchannel temp agency (By that, I mean you work for the Mob, Mafia, or other underground organized crime ring, which I won’t judge you for because you’re probably making more money than I am, and your life has a better chance of becoming a gritty Martin Scorsese movie nominated for like, twelve Oscars), you probably won’t be venturing to some of the seedier parts of the City and its burroughs.  I’m currently working in the Union Square area.  Next week, I might be in Midtown, the Flatiron District, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, or the Financial District.  I get to explore all sorts of areas of the Big Apple without taking the Circle Line Bus and finding out where all the celebrities live (It’s called Google, people.).

3. No office drama.  Though sometimes you’ll receive longer gigs, most of your work will probably be no longer than a week or two at a lot of places, which means there’s not enough time to really get involved in any office fights or gossip unless you’re really trying or are filming a reality series for E!, MTV, VH1, or Bravo.  And let’s face it: you’re probably not going to be on one of those networks unless you happen to be something people in red states deem as “controversial.”  Anyway, being a temp means (most likely) never getting into table-flipping catfights.

4. Pretending to be on Mad Men.  If you are hip or care about high quality, niche dramatic television or possibly lived through the 1960s or just have a thing for skinny ties and sleek suits (or in my case, most of the above and I have an inappropriate crush on the dreamy Jon Hamm), you probably are a fan of Mad Men.  Every new office is a new chance to pretend I’m actually roaming the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Price where I’m bound to have a steamy, albeit Old-Fashioned induced tryst with Don Draper or greet representatives from Lucky Strike in a sexy Joan Holloway manner (though I will never have Christina Hendricks’ impressive, um, “accessories.”).  This can, of course, lead to problems if you have a long-term temp job and are constantly boozing, smoking, and seducing your way around the office, because not only will your work performance suffer, people might think you’re a drunken whore who sounds like Harvey Fierstein.

5. You get to work a variety of jobs.  Though I have a slew of secretarial/receptionist gigs lined up, most temp agencies have big projects come through they need people for such as the U.S. Open (Hellooooo Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer!), designer sample sales, trade shows, and holiday promotional gigs.  So even though this week I’m stuck behind a desk, next week I might be donning a Santa hat and selling specialty toys or wearing Ralph Lauren and helping people to their expensive seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium whilst ogling Nadal’s very fine derrière.  It’s a little bit of everything that will make for great anecdotes in magazine interviews profiling my (impending) rise to stardom.

6. Learning how different companies operate.  Actors are excellent observers, so I try to take the opportunity to learn as much as I can.  It never hurts to actually know what the company you’re working for really does just in case you actually want to work there someday if you get tired of waiting in lines for auditions at 6 am everyday.  Also, I’m just nosy.  That’s why I stare at people on the subway too.

7. Meeting lots of new people.  Goodbye EHarmony and Match.com!

…Just kidding.

(Only partially.)

8. Meeting lots of new people.  Temp-ing provides all the perks (making lots of fast connections) of a New York City swanky party minus all the actual perks (booze) of a New York City swanky party.  You never know who might be able to advance your career or just want to add you to their Facebook friends list so they can stalk all your photos and then awkwardly comment on them all.

9. Paychecks.  Sure, it’s not like you’re rolling in the Benjamins (like apparently a lot of rappers do…or at least, that’s my impression based on their lyrics and music videos), but at least it’s a decent paycheck to help pay the rent and the highway-but-actually-train robbery known as Unlimited Ride Metro Cards from the MTA.  As any actor will tell you, any paycheck is a welcome paycheck (a fact which Nicolas Cage’s more-recent film credits currently reflect.).

10. Different bosses/supervisors.  I’ve had my share of strict and not-so-strict bosses (luckily, most of them have been the latter).  If you can’t stand your boss because she’s an ice-maven a la Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada or he’s a “that’s what she said”-ing doofus a la Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin, thankfully your job will be a quickie rather than working under them for forever.  That’s what she said.

The Cons of Being an NYC Temp Worker While Trying to Be An Actress:

1. You’re not actually on Mad Men.  No Don Draper.  No quippy one-liners from Roger Sterling.  No drinking in the office.  No screwing in the office.  No Don Draper.  No cute 1960s outfits.  No awesome office presentations about Kodak Slide Projectors.  No Don Draper.  I could go on and on, but for those of you poor unfortunate souls who either don’t get AMC or just don’t watch the show, I won’t waste your time with lots of insider references.  But please, do yourself a favor and watch the damn show.  Did I mention Jon Hamm is in it?

2. Never staying in one place long enough.  You don’t always really get to know people and forge any lasting connections.  Oh dear me, how ever will I find a husband or a doubles tennis partner?  Oh right.  That’s what working the U.S. Open is for.  Or being on the Bachelorette.

3. No Facebook/Twitter at work.  Companies who want people to be more productive have such websites blocked, which means I can’t stalk the cute guy in the cubicle down the hall or let everyone know I support #SelenaandJustin4eva.  This means I have to stalk people the old-fashioned way: Google and a pair of binoculars.

4. Boring office tasks.  Without Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer or Jim from the Office to distract me from the mundane tasks of office work, how can I possibly keep from falling asleep?  Oh, and thanks JG-L for giving me completely unrealistic expectations about getting a hot makeout session every time I go into the copy room.  And also IKEA.

5. Always being “the new kid.”  Now I know how foreign exchange students feel (Sorry for making fun of your Hasselhoff obsession, random German kid in high school) and also animals at the zoo (no wonder the Bronx Zoo cobra escaped!).

Clearly, the perks of being a New York City temp worker outweigh the cons although, being a temp worker means I’m still not actually doing what I came to NYC to do…land a husband.

As if!  I’m only 23, and this is New York, not Kentucky!  (No offense, Kentuckians, just trying to make a veiled Clueless reference.)

One day, I will no longer be the resident Xerox-girl, but until I land my big break, I’ll just drown my boredom in free coffee and thoughts of Don Draper.

25: Just Call Me Cinderella

Monday, I had to work 4 pm to close.  It was just the shift manager and I, so two of us were covering both the inside and the outside of the winery.  It was never super busy even though we had a large group come in for a while, but the time went by fairly quickly, which was nice.

Working closing in a restaurant, as anyone will tell you, is both a blessing and a curse.  The nice thing is that you get your tips right away, and since there were only two of us working last night, I made a pretty hefty amount of money (Caitlin was right when she said working in a restaurant is better money than working in retail).  The not-so-nice part is having to perform all the closing duties like taking out the trash, wiping down tables, and mopping the floors.

Once the place started dying down, Karina and I got to work on closing duties.  Since she had to calculate the cash register drawer, I got assigned the job of mopping.  Though I kind of enjoy cleaning in general, mopping has never been one of my favorite janitorial tasks.

This reminded me of how often I got assigned to mop in stagecraft lab back at OCU.  For whatever reason, the scene shop teachers always seemed to give Sam and I the task of mopping, sweeping, and moving shit around.  I don’t know if it’s because we were good at it or if it’s because they wanted to keep us away from too difficult of building tasks.  Either way, I got sick of mopping that goddamn Kirkpatrick Stage and Blackbox Theatre.

As I mopped around the winery, occasionally sipping from my sangria slushie (Karina, a girl after my own heart, suggested we drink to increase productivity and lessen the boredom.  Hahaha), I thought of Sam and how he’d laugh seeing me actually put all those boring days of stagecraft janitorial work to use.  I thought about how I have a college degree (well, and so does Karina), and here I am, mopping a fucking restaurant floor instead of performing masterpieces of the theatre like Hedda Gabler or the Seagull.  I am a walking, talking, mopping theatre cliché: the actress who waits tables.  Or is it a waitress who acts occasionally?  I think this is one of those which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg paradoxical questions.  I am Cinderfuckinrella (to quote Pretty Woman): cleaning up for people and dreaming of a Prince Charming, except my Prince Charming is actually a New York apartment with a stable theatre/film career.  I don’t need a glass slipper, just an agent, an Equity/SAG card, and a stream of good roles.  Okay, but maybe I’d also take a pair of Louboutins too.

So thank you, OCU scene shop, for at least teaching me how to mop a floor.  I’d prefer to get asked to use a jigsaw or attach something with bolts or base coat a flat with white latex paint, but I suppose mopping is more useful in the real world…and maybe if I was Cinderella.