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

Most Likely

You should probably know that for whatever reason (possibly peer pressure and/or lack of any other logical choice for the title), my high school graduating class voted me “Most Likely to Be Famous.” When you open my senior yearbook, you’ll see a photo of my fellow title-holder/BFF Taylor and me posing as though we were signing autographs for our “adoring fans.” It’s a silly photo, but I remember feeling important having some tiny bit of recognition from my classmates. Which is also silly. Fact: high school, overall, is silly. Anyway, the point is that enough people knew about my dreams of chasing an acting career to give me an extra yearbook photo and a Senior “Most” Award, which as you know, is basically a precursor to winning a People’s Choice Award.

Duckie Dale: gay icon and hipster sartorial inspiration

Duckie Dale: gay icon and hipster sartorial inspiration

Back then, I thought I had gotten one of the best senior awards, and not just because it was the only one I got. Even now, I still think that. I mean, “Best Dressed” is already dated. I was never going to win “Cutest Couple” because the only guy I really dated in high school went to a different school and turned out to be gay, which I should have realized when he was too complimentary of my outfits and then started dressing like Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink with bolo ties (Love you, Matt. Seriously.). “Most Likely to Never Leave” is beyond sad. Looking at my frizzy, wild hair post-early morning marching band practice, no one would have voted me “Best Hair,” and I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway as I’m pretty sure that means you have to compete against Friends-era Jennifer Aniston and Nashville’s Connie Britton in some elitist hair pageant or something.

Getting my hair to look like this is akin to finding a unicorn.

This is just UNFAIR, ladies.

I suppose “Most Likely to Be President” would have been fine, except I was never in student council and had no political ambitions and would never have been as smooth as Bill Clinton at getting out of awkward situations.

So of all the choices, I got “Most Likely to Be Famous,” and along with it, a burden.

Why, you ask, is getting a silly senior class award a burden? Because you don’t actually realize it’s now the weird future point of judgment for everything you do after high school. My award is actually more like a goal, career results-based. Sure, you can win “Best Hair” in high school and still be trying to live up to it each year, but “Most Likely to Be Famous” carries with it this whole host of issues.

Now, don’t get me wrong: fame is fleeting and not the most fulfilling of life plans. Some people spend their whole lives chasing fame; the whole reality TV scene is based upon this principle. And if I wanted to try to get famous quickly, I’d submit my name for the Real World or Big Brother or something else involving too much making out in a probably highly unsanitary hot tub. If you pander to the cameras and play up your personality, you might just be America’s topic of conversation for a hot second or a few clever internet memes.

But the kind of notoriety I would want is the kind built around career achievements; my acting work and the roles I’ve played. This takes patience and hard work and with it the risk that I may never achieve Meryl Streep-esque notoriety. This kind of fame is the one I would prefer and the one I’d want to seek out. The kind where nobody is reading a blurb about you in Us Weekly wondering if you’re dating John Mayer. The kind where everyone is instead only reading about what new film or play you’re working on or just finished. When I received that “Most Likely To Be Famous” title, THIS is the kind of fame I’d pictured and knew would be a long road to REALLY earning the title I’d been bequeathed by my classmates.

Practically perfect in every way

Practically perfect in every way

Of course, does anyone take these senior awards seriously anyway once you’re out of high school? No. But looking back on that time in my life through the pages of that yearbook reminded me that once we all DID take it a little seriously. We measured our popularity, achievements, and visibility by the amount of page numbers listed by our names in the yearbook index: the more you had, the more remembered you’d be. We all wanted so desperately to be remembered a certain way: cool, involved, outstanding even. Our senior awards were the last crowning achievements we’d get before we became lowly freshman once again in college. To be a “Most Likely” was to be a star; the high school equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Every time anyone opens up that particular yearbook from 2007, they will see my toothy visage and name underneath my “Most Likely” award. I have been immortalized as someone who was known for something in high school.

The winners of Most Likely to Be Famous at high school graduation aka the day humidity frizzed out my hair...as USUAL

The winners of “Most Likely to Be Famous” at high school graduation aka the day humidity frizzed out my hair…as USUAL  NOT Connie Britton/Jennifer Aniston-worthy.

But what if I don’t live up to my Senior Most? What if I never achieve the fame for which I was supposedly destined, according to the Fulton High School Class of 2007? Why do I even care? I suppose that we all, in some ways, worry about our other people’s perceptions of us, and high school has always been a breeding ground for insecurities that can last well into adulthood. I myself was always an A-student, so to get anything less, to not be constantly the best has always been a personal battle; learning to let go of that perfectionism is something I work on every day. Would people think less of me if I didn’t achieve all the time (and specifically achieve this particular thing)? Honestly, no. And it’s hard for me to admit that, because I’m too wrapped up in my own neuroses, but it’s true. The minute you start letting your life be defined by what other people think of you is the minute it ceases being YOUR life.

AND no matter what group you belonged to in high school, I know now it was a weird time for everyone. Nobody actually feels cool in high school. It’s this secret no one tells you until you graduate and start getting older and forgetting about the bullshit of it all and really talking to one another. We make so many assumptions in high school about other people. It still cracks me up that some of my high school classmates get surprised when I tell them about some of my wilder nights in college and here in the City. “You drink?” they ask me astonished. Uh, yeah. I’m a normal twenty-five year old woman. Surprise! Tequila does just as much damage to my liver and memories and judgment as you.

We’re all seeking to be a “most” in something in our life, whether that be in our career or relationships or families. We want people to remember us for something unique to us, something that gave our lives some semblance of meaning. Life isn’t measured by yearbook mentions, it’s about what we do and who we are, the people whose lives we touch. You can’t measure those things or turn them into some “most” award, truthfully. Success is a personal thing, its definition changing person-to-person, life-to-life. What I want for MY life, what makes me a success, is no one else’s business but mine.

According to the lens flare on this photo, J.J. Abrams took it. (just kidding)

According to the lens flare on this photo, J.J. Abrams took it. (just kidding)

I may never become famous the way my high school yearbook predicted, and I’m okay with that. Seriously. My senior “most” award, like many of my (questionable) outfits from that part of my life, is just a relic of an era-gone-by. It belongs to a person I barely recognize anymore, a person who has grown so far beyond the one in that photo. It’s almost shocking to look at her and realize that was me a little less than a decade ago, that I was so thrilled about something so trivial. It’s then that I realize just how much I have changed, how much life I have lived since then for better or worse.

And to be honest, if I could give myself any award these days, it would be “Most Improved.”

There’s No WebMD Entry for Dealing with Symptoms of Viral Blog Posts

After my last post went unexpectedly viral, I was thrust into a wholly strange, new experience.  As I checked my blog statistics over the first 48 hours after posting it, my eyes grew wider and wider as the numbers climbed higher and higher.  By the end of the second day, more people had read my post than live in my hometown back in Missouri.

And I felt like I might throw up.

So I did what any twentysomething woman would do: check my symptoms on WebMD then call my mother to confirm that something was massively wrong with me and I should be admitted to New York Presbyterian Hospital immediately.

Why does the female drawing look like Tilda Swinton?  Why can't I find anything on viral blog posts?

Why does the female drawing look like Tilda Swinton? Why can’t I find anything on viral blog posts?

(I chose NY Presbyterian solely because of those charming/sad black and white ads they run before Masterpiece on PBS…because I feel like that’s all I watch on TV anymore: British people in period clothes getting into drama or Benedict Cumberbatch solving mysteries and further stealing my heart.)

Of course nothing was really wrong with me at all.  I explained to her that my blog post had been shared all over the internet, and I was getting tons of feedback, most of it good, but I felt all jittery and nervous.

“Why?  Don’t you write for the PURPOSE of having people read it?” she asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess, but now I’m worried that people are going to think it comes off differently than I intended and that I’m going to shoot myself in the foot, and blah blah blah…” I listed off a whole host of worries.

She calmly replied (as mothers often do), “It came off crystal clear.  Stop worrying about stuff that hasn’t even happened or might never happen.  You wrote it with good and loving intentions, so I believe the final outcome will be one of goodness and love.  You should be excited.”

“You HAVE to say that because you’re my mother.  But more people have read it than live in Fulton.  That’s INSANE.  I mean, it’s really cool so many people have connected to it, and I’m grateful, but…”

“You’re only reacting this way because you’ve never had this experience before.  Nothing is wrong with you…you’re just a name on everyone’s lips right now.  Go with it.”

She confirmed what I really suspected: I was having 15 minutes of niche internet fame and completely overwhelmed by it.  I’d never had that many people watch me onstage or hear me sing let alone read words I’d written.  In many ways, I feel more exposed as a writer than I do a performer.  When I’m performing, I get to be someone else, or at least, explore parts of myself through the words of somebody else.  But because writing has always been so personal to me, so sanctimonious, I have never had many people outside of my own circle read my words.  I do a lot of hand-written journaling, and the thought of anyone other than myself reading it makes me ill.

This, it turns out, was no different.  I wrote from the heart, and suddenly the eyes of the interwebz were upon me.  But as my mother and my acting teacher both reminded me, every time we open ourselves up to others with honesty, we run the risk of being embraced or dismissed.  This is out of our control.  You create something and let it go and be received (or not) by others.  I wrote “Let It Go…” and now I need to let it go.  And I need to let what others think about it go too, the good and bad.

When we create something and share it, it’s easy to go into panic mode (like I did).  In fact, I think it’s only natural, because at the end of the day, we’re all searching for acceptance of some kind in this world.  But as my conversation with my mother shifted from my neurotic ramblings to updates about my family and our friends, I realized that the people whose opinions matter most to me are the ones who really know me, the ones who love me.  They’re the people who keep me firmly grounded when I feel myself floating away.

I think the best thing that’s happened from all of this is getting text messages from friends around the country saying, “I’m doing a show in [state name here] and some of my cast members were discussing your blog without even knowing I know you and saying it really resonated with them and they are vowing to be more careful of what they say and how they say it.”  And it gave me pause, because you always hear that words are powerful, but here was proof.  My words are actually affecting others, and that’s unbelievably humbling.  I sent words of thanks back to those friends and wished them the best in their shows.

As expected, the fervor over my post has died down a bit, my 15 minutes waning.  But I am ever aware that we all wield more power in this world than we think, and our words are the proof.

So here I am, alive and mostly unscathed from my first brush with going viral, thankful for all who read my words and hoping many will continue to do so.  And REALLY thankful that during that phone conversation with my mother, she ordered me three boxes of Girl Scout cookies, which I am now sitting here consuming as I write this.

These things have to be laced with addictive substances.

These things have to be laced with addictive substances.

 Thank god no one is around to make GIFs of me eating them to put on Buzzfeed.  Going viral once in a great while is enough for me.  Haha.

And by the way, there’s no WebMD entry for dealing with Symptoms of Viral Blog Posts.  Just FYI.  I checked.

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.