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

5 Lessons From 5 Years in New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An open letter to Seth MacFarlane

Dear Seth MacFarlane,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live long and prosper,

Emmy

14

I nearly moved to New York City four years ago on September 11, 2011: the 10th anniversary of the most horrific day I’ve ever lived through. I had been looking at flights for mid-September during that summer after I graduated college, and not even registering the date, I almost booked my one-way flight on that day. I was wondering why flights were so much cheaper and then it dawned on me that no one wanted to be on a plane that day.  I quickly booked my one-way flight for two days later, September 13, 2011 instead.

I have never been a very superstitious person.  I’m not given to throwing salt over my shoulder or carrying garlic around.  I have no Egyptian ankh necklace to ward off evil spirits.  I don’t cross my fingers when I drive past cemeteries or avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk lest I “break my mother’s back.”  While I believe in ghosts, I take a skeptical view of Ouija boards, which are more about the power of suggestion than the power of spirits.  And while I’m a religious person, I don’t see images of Jesus or Mary in my toast.  I’d consider myself an imaginative, open person, but a level-headed one; I’m more Scully than I am Mulder on most days.

But September 11 is not “most days,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to set foot on a plane on that day.  I haven’t in fourteen years, and I imagine I, like so many other people, will never be able to fly on any September 11 ever again.  Rationally, I know the likelihood of another such event happening on the same date is statistically low, but fear isn’t rational.  Anguish isn’t rational.  I can never un-see the things I saw that day; they’ll be with me for the rest of my life, shaping me in ways that I do not always understand or even recognize.  Everything and everyone changed, so I think I’m allowed one superstition; one belief in something born out of a fear. black ribbon

Maybe there is a parallel universe out there somewhere where September 11 never happened and all of us had very different lives.  Wars didn’t start.  People didn’t lose loved ones.  The Towers still stand.  In that world, you don’t have to remove your shoes when you go through airport security.  No one worries about receiving an envelope of a white powdery substance that could be Anthrax.  There’s not a cloud of fear and paranoia hanging over everyone’s heads.  I probably watch too many science fiction television shows and movies, but I’d like to believe that such a place exists even if we can’t see it.  I don’t understand enough about advanced quantum theory to explain it, but maybe it’s possible.  It sounds like something Mulder would say.

When we fly now, we all have to pay something called a “September 11th Fee,” which gives a couple extra dollars to the TSA for the numerous baggage and security screenings we all have to go through.  Flying used to be glamourous once.  Back in the 1960s, it was the height of sophistication; you know, the Jet Set and all that.  People got dressed up, were excited to “pack up and fly away” like Sinatra’s song goes.   Gone are those days.  No longer can you see your loved ones all the way to their gate, watch their plane taxi down the runway while they wave at you from their round, plane window.  Airport travel today means arriving early enough to wait in long lines to have a security guard search your shoes for bombs or pat your body down.  There’s nothing glamourous about knowing security guards are looking for anything that could cause an entire plane of people to crash.  Maybe there is an alternate reality where that doesn’t happen, but this is OUR reality, and we have to live in it.

When I arrived in New York on September 13, 2011, I was hopeful about the future, and I could feel that same hope hanging in the air of the City.  I gratefully stepped off my plane into a New York that was very different from the one it had been ten years previously.  Four years later, the City is still hopeful, growing and changing and adapting as it always has.  People from back home in Missouri often ask me if I am ever scared to live here, and I know what they mean.  The truth is we’re all a little scared, but the hope outweighs the fear.  The perseverance outweighs the fear.  The love outweighs the fear.  If I walked around every day throwing salt over my shoulder, I’d never get anything else done.  Am I afraid sometimes?  Yes.  But even though none of us got a choice in September 11, we all have a choice in how we live the rest of our lives, and I choose to live with hope.  I choose that, and that choice is what gives me strength, even on days like today where it is harder to do that.

So no, I’m not going to start throwing salt over my shoulder.  After all, when salt enters an open wound, it burns.

Three is a Magic Number

Someone, and I can’t remember who right now, once said to me they thought it takes about three years to settle into living somewhere.  Three years to work out some of the kinks, establish some favorite haunts, orient oneself with its landscape and features, make new friends, and ultimately, become acclimated enough to start calling it “home.”

One of many gorgeous sunsets over my city

One of many gorgeous sunsets over New York City

Now, college doesn’t quite follow the same rules.  I went school out of state in Oklahoma City, and by the end of my sophomore year, OKC already felt like my second home.  I had put down enough “roots” to feel about as comfortable there as I did in my Missouri hometown.  And if I went back to OKC now, I would probably settle right back in fairly easily even though it is a rapidly changing and growing city, which thrills me; though I DO wish some of that growth had happened during the four years I spent there.

Ah well.  C’est la vie.  Oh, and THUNDER UP.

ANYWAY, the point is this past Saturday, the 13th, marked my three year anniversary of moving to New York.  Usually, my yearly moving anniversaries have been plagued by tumult in some way, always spurring changes in my life.  Last year around this time, I had just been slapped by a dramatic confrontation with my previous roommates and the nightmare of having to find a new apartment in an incredibly brief amount of time.  It set me off on a collision course with other problems both financial (Hello overdrawn bank account, we meet again!) and personal (Goodbye boyfriend who won’t commit!) over the next several months, which were tough to shake off, leaving me depressed in all senses of the word (monetary and emotionally) well into 2014.  My third year in the Big Apple, which should have signaled my “settling,” was, well, rather unsettling on the whole.

Elliott on the Hudson River, looking down at NYC from Palisades Park, NJ

Elliott on the Hudson River, looking down at NYC from Palisades Park, NJ

BUT, when my third year here was good, it was REALLY good.  Like getting to go to an opening night party for a Broadway show and getting to work that same show’s TONY Awards party.  Or joining a new church and making some of the best friends I’ve had.  And I would be remiss without mentioning my many, many bike rides around the five boroughs, which has kept me saner than almost anything other than writing.  Sometime a little more than midway through my third year, the “settling” actually began to happen.  Money worked itself out.  A lot of the personal hurt vanished.  It felt as though a giant weight had lifted.  Suddenly, I was very much enjoying this City instead of feeling as though I was being hurtled around inside of it.

My third anniversary this past Saturday was decidedly unceremonious.  I spent the morning riding my bicycle, Elliott, over the Queensboro Bridge (which is a bitch of a steady incline, though it’s getting easier the more often I do it), down Second Avenue, across SoHo and the West Village, and then back up Eighth Avenue to Times Square.  Then I went home, showered, went grocery shopping, made my first pumpkin-flavored dessert of the season, watched Doctor Who, and went to bed.  So, all in all, it was a fairly ordinary Saturday, not unlike most of my Saturdays in recent months.

Solid life advice from the Twelfth Doctor

Solid life advice from the Twelfth Doctor

Ordinary.  Standard.  Settled.

Some people want to start things with a bang.  In this case, I’m perfectly fine with a whimper as I glide into my fourth year in New York City.  I don’t know if ALL the kinks have been worked out, but this place really IS starting to feel something like “home.”  I have an ever-growing list of favorite haunts, I know how to get basically anywhere within the five boroughs without much consultation of my MTA maps, and I’ve certainly accumulated an abundance of great friends old and new.  I don’t expect everything to be smooth sailing, because this place always catches you off guard, but I DO expect SMOOTHER sailing henceforth.  I have most definitely earned it.

Blue Skies

After returning a few books to one of my favorite libraries in the city (Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue; it has these beautiful stained glass windows, and a turret!), I decided to go for a walk downtown towards the Village and Tribeca. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and as of that moment, I had no real plans to do anything or go anywhere. It had just stopped raining, and the sun was beginning to peak through the clouds. I started heading south on Sixth Avenue not sure of my destination, but rather in want of a nice journey in getting there.

I came to where Sixth intersects Carmine Street and stopped. In front of me was the most charming little square of a park with a fountain and trees. In the background, the tall steeple of a church was visible over the treeline, and for half a second, I was able to convince myself I was in Italy rather than New York. I had been to this park once before, but had nearly forgotten it as I’m never in this part of the city very frequently.

Father Demo Square: a piazza in the midst of the West Village.

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

The last time I had been here, it had been a chilly, grey day in the winter. All the trees were barren, the fountain empty. Snow dotted the tops of the benches and the iron railings surrounding the park. The only constant between that winter’s day and this decidedly summer-like one was the endless bicycles locked to the railings on all the sides of the park.

With the fountain bubbling and gurgling on this warmer day towards the end of May, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy its relaxing sounds. I chose a bench on the Carmine Street side of the square, under the canopy of leafy, green trees. I closed my eyes for a second, still trying to convince myself I was in Europe instead, and that’s when I heard him. A voice nimbly accompanying the strums of an acoustic guitar.

I quickly opened my eyes and glanced over to my right. There, with just a long, empty wooden bench in between us, was the most beautiful (and I choose that word instead of handsome, because his features were more delicate than jarring) twentysomething boy with a beanie on his head and a guitar in his long-fingered hands. He radiated Greenwich Village stereotypes, and yet he was unique somehow. We made eye contact for a second, and then both looked away as if we realized we were invading each other’s privacy in a very public space.

Now, he really started to play and sing, his voice confident but not imposing. It took me a second to realize what song he had chosen, because he was playing it as if he were Django Reinhardt, all French-style jazz guitar. Was I in Italy or France now? (No, I was still in New York, but this City can change its skin faster than Mystique in X-Men.) Cole Porter. “Blue Skies.” It totally surprised and delighted me that this beautiful boy would choose the Great American Songbook rather than Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel, which would have been more obvious were we basing our decision on appearance.

And there was something about the way he was making this old song his own that delighted me too; it felt new. The casualness of it all, the way his voice scatted around the notes was downright sexy; it was like he wasn’t even trying. I looked over at him and realized there was no tip jar out, no expectation of getting money for his troubadour-ing. This was purely for pleasure, whose I’m not sure, but I certainly shared in the sensation. I realized too I was harmonizing along with him, not loud enough for him to really hear, but I’d like to think he did, because we locked eyes again for a second. I felt like he was playing just for himself and me in a way. In my head, we were entangled in a duet, and only we knew it.

I turned back toward the fountain, and a small smile crept over my lips. I was having one of those classic “I love New York” moments, but it was more than that. How could I have forgotten that art is chiefly about passion and pleasure? I’ve been spending so much time in my almost three years in New York trying to figure out how to make money from my art that most of the pleasure has been sucked right out of the whole process. This beautiful hipster boy with his guitar felt so good to my ears and my heart and my soul. I know it sounds like one cliché after another, but sharing in his apparent pleasure stemming from his art made me happier than I’ve been in quite a long time. He was having a journey that day too, albeit an artistic one, without the need for knowing the destination or even having one. Art for art’s sake. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake. I needed to find those things again for myself.

He switched gears into something mellower, more soulful. He would stop every so often, fiddling with a different chord until he found one he liked, and would continue on. I pulled out my journal and began writing, hoping to remember some of this moment for later, and I felt him glance over at me ever so briefly as my head was engrossed in my scribbling. I wanted to say “hello” but I felt like it would break the magical spell, and I wanted that spell to last for as long as possible. Music is one of the few real magical things in this world, and I wasn’t about to ruin such a delicate thing as this. I was trying to savor it, not knowing if I would ever see this soulful troubadour again (but secretly hoping I would).

A minute or two later, a man came and sat on the empty bench in between us, and the illusion was shattered. Beautiful Guitar Boy noodled around a minute or two more before packing up his instrument and silencing his voice. I felt desperate all of a sudden. Don’t go, don’t go, please don’t go, I thought to myself as he stood up from his bench, lit a cigarette, and took a long drag, surveying the park. I had had a taste of his music, his pleasure, and I wanted more. I kept my eyes down on my journal, but I longed for his voice in my ears so much I glanced back over at him just in time to see him flick his cigarette to the ground and carefully sling his guitar case over his back.

He started walking in my direction, and I got excited for a half second thinking he was coming over to say hello and ask me to run away with him to Paris where we’d sing on cobblestone street corners and live on baguettes and red wine and cigarettes just like something out of a Truffaut or Goddard film.  But he passed me by, his cool, lanky figure leaving the park and walking up Sixth Avenue to some unknown destination and possibly chic, artsy girlfriend (or boyfriend…who knows anymore?), and I felt sad to be losing him and his music. For a brief interlude, they both had brought me such happiness, such sheer delight in art and music and life, and now I would probably never see him again. But I had felt something stir in me that I thought I had been dulled by too many hard things in life, and it gave me hope.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

And so I too decided I needed to move on, and casting an affectionate glance at the bench my beautiful, mystery troubadour had just occupied, I thoughtfully strolled out of the park and in the direction of the sun, hoping its illumination might also enlighten my mind and heart.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers…”

New Yorkers do not have the luxury of privacy.  Frankly, it’s a choice, because if we wanted privacy, we would not have moved to the most populated city in the United States where everyone is crammed on top of one another.  That’s why people live in the suburbs and Los Angeles (among other things like having a pool and needing to be more orange than a Dorito.  But I still like you and your city a lot, Angelenos).  Or the Midwest.  Or anywhere else, really.  You don’t move to New York for solitude, you move because it’s a hub of activity.  You move to New York because you crave excitement and opportunities.  The cost of that choice is a loss of privacy.  Thin apartment walls, crowded subway trains, the sound of cab horns honking at all hours.  If you’re lucky, you can find a quiet, deserted spot in Central Park, but I guarantee that someone will inevitably find your spot ten minutes later and camp down only a few feet from your little oasis (I would tell you my favorite quiet spot in CP, but I don’t want anyone bothering me, sorry.).  Privacy is a rare, precious gift in this city.

Shhh...take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

Shhh…take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

And that is never truer than when you are overcome with emotions and need to just weep and cry and let everything out.  I’ve never really been much of a crier, but admittedly, I have become much more of one in the last two years; I’m not sure if that’s because of living here or just that I am less self-conscious about sharing my emotions with others.  It’s probably both.  And while there is a hilarious, semi-helpful Tumblr that lists great places for a cry in New York, it isn’t uncommon to see people having breakdowns in the middle of the street, on the subway, etc.  New Yorkers ignore anything that causes a scene, so you tend to be able to just cry if you need to and you’ll be given about as much attention as those annoying “showtime” kids on the subways aka zero.

I say that, and yet, every single time I’ve found myself losing it in a public space, I have had not one but multiple people ask me if I’m okay or if there’s anything they can do.  For as supposedly indifferent New Yorkers are, many actually have good hearts and even better intentions (oh sure, there are still plenty of creeps out there).  I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that most New Yorkers move from elsewhere.  We tend to view each other here as bodies that just exist in our own little world, but we fail to realize these are real people who feel things too, whose hearts break and dreams get crushed just like everyone else.  And so I don’t know why I’m so surprised when one of those bodies, those strangers suddenly becomes my Clarence, my guardian angel, when I’m feeling low.

Frank Capra's angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

Clarence: Frank Capra’s angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

Take, for example, one night last week.  I found myself quite audibly weeping outside a bar (could I be any more clichéd?) on 29th Street, having excused myself from a party by pretending to have gotten a phone call.  The truth was I could feel hot tears welling up in my eye sockets the longer I stood there in his presence, hearing him talk excitedly about the next few months of his new job and life that didn’t include me anymore (at least, not in the way it used to).  I had been doing so well; we’d had a few drinks and had some decent if slightly awkward conversation.  It was altogether a very different experience than the last time I saw him in person just over five months ago where we could barely speak to one another without all the hurt ramrodding its way into every word and look.  But memories often seep through no matter how deeply we bury them, and as I stood there taking him in and letting my mind wander to all those memories, I felt myself withdrawing, and my urge to cry rising.  I had to get out, so I pretended to get a phone call and quietly slipped outside where the geyser opened up.

As I stood against the cold, metal door of the wholesale fabric retailer next door and buried my face in my hands, a young-ish woman in glasses approached me and asked, “Is everything okay?”  I nodded because I was too upset to speak.  “Are you sure?  I’d be happy to stay if you need to talk to someone,” she offered warmly.  I managed to get out a polite thank you and a tear-strewn smile, “I’ll be okay, but thank you for your kindness.”  And she smiled and continued walking down the street.  I kept trying, to no avail, to choke back my sobs, when a silver fox of a man walked outside the bar, lit up a cigarette, and upon hearing me asked, “Are you alright, miss?  Do you want to talk about it?  If you need a cigarette, you can have one.”  I replied, “I’ll be better in a few minutes, I think, but thank you.”  He turned away from me and went about smoking his cigarette, but kept an eye on me anyway like a concerned parent.  Eventually, I regained my composure and went back inside, but I was grateful that even though I felt so alone in my grief, here were strangers willing to share it for a few minutes with no other motive than simply to offer kindness.

Things didn’t get any better on the subway (apparently one of my go-to places to cry) ride home.  He and I had said a complicated goodbye, you see, full of loaded silences and questionable body language and unresolved feelings.  And after we parted, I cried all the way home.  I was met with sympathetic looks and respectful nods (mainly from women in a “I feel you, girl” sort of way).  I recall another time I cried on the subway and a guy gave up his seat for me, “Please sit.  You need it more than I do right now,” he said with a little bow.  Another Clarence talking me back from my proverbial “ledge.”

...as long as that "kindness" doesn't mean shipping me off to an asylum, we're good.

…as long as that “kindness” doesn’t mean shipping me off to an asylum, we’re good.

These little acts of kindness from strangers can be easily overlooked when you’re going through a rough time in this City, but I think they’re reassurances from the universe or God that help will always be given to those who need it (like at Hogwarts).  So yeah, I moved here and lost my privacy, but what a blessing it is in my darkest moments to have others there to help so I’m NOT alone.  Blanche DuBois would say, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” and as long as I’m here in this place and my life is messy, I’ll keep depending on that kindness too.