“Always.”

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

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

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

rickman 5

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Alan.

rickman 6

1946-2016.

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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.”

An Addendum to My Last Post

First off, thank you to all of you who have responded so enthusiastically to the essay I wrote today.  It’s been a little overwhelming, but touching nonetheless, to see it shared so many times.  That being said, I want to clarify a few things:

1) I really DO love musical theatre.  I will always love musical theatre. I still want to do musical theatre when it’s right for me.  So I am certainly not condemning the genre or the people who work within it, but I think all of us can use a refresher course in constructive criticism in this internet age where everyone and anyone can be a critic.  I believe criticism is a necessary tool to help an artist grow when it is offered in a way that is constructive and provides positive feedback and tips on how to improve on “problem areas.”  Positive energy is far, FAR more powerful than negative energy.  Always.

2) I have other personal reasons beyond the one mentioned for pursuing other artistic goals outside of musical theatre.  We’re all more than one thing, and I am more than just someone who does musical theatre, so I’m taking time to pursue those things because I feel it’s time to do that right now.  I didn’t leave only because of what’s in my essay and some awful things people I don’t even know said or wrote on the internet.  As an artist, we frequently go where the wind takes us.  My wind is taking me elsewhere for right now.

3) Lots of wonderful, terrifically nice and supportive people DO work in musical theatre from the top down, and having met mostly those kinds of people, I can say they are the ones who keep my love for musical theatre alive.  It is overall a fabulous industry in which to work, and I still see it that way despite some of the behavior that has been displayed.  I am so proud of all of those I know who are treading the boards of the Great White Way and beyond and doing it with humility, grace, and a great respect for the art.

Again, thank you for all the discussion, enthusiasm, and appropriately enough, constructive criticism of what I wrote.  Keep spreading the love and joy to those around you, because we need more of that in the world!  🙂

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.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I have a confession: I am another young woman with body image issues.  There are parts of me of which I am pretty self-conscious.  I think my face looks weird in profile.  When I wear my hair up, I have a Widow’s Peak that, to me, looks like Eddie Munster’s hairline.  Some days, I hate how round my face looks in pictures because of my German ancestry.  At auditions, I always hate feeling like the lone Amazonian woman, believing that I can will my 5’10” frame into a 5’5” one.  My feet look a bit worse for wear from years of being put through dance classes (including pointe for a few years).  And don’t even get me started on my midsection.  Actually, don’t get ANY woman started on her midsection, because you will never, and I mean NEVER, hear the end of it.

But guess what?  The only person who sees these flaws is me.  And the only person who sees your flaws is you.  You may think society is telling you that you need flatter abs to attract a Bradley Cooper-esque man in your life, but it’s really just a bunch of magazines that are given money to help promote a bunch of people and products, which in turn, help them stay in publication and in your supermarket aisles.  Basically, these magazines have to keep telling you that you aren’t perfect so you’ll keep buying them for their tips and tricks.  That’s how they stay in business: by putting you, their consumers, down (albeit in a roundabout way like, “This diet is SO easy!  Lose those 5 extra pounds fast and look pretty for summer!”) so they can build you back up again.  It’s a never-ending cycle of self-loathing and self-love, and frankly, it has to stop.

Now you can pair Jen Aniston's abs with her "Rachel" haircut!

Now you can pair Jen Aniston’s abs with her “Rachel” haircut!

Once, I mentioned to my best friend, Hassan, that I hated my profile.  He just laughed and said, “What?  You’re crazy.  You have this cute, little button nose that makes people just want to touch it!”  And then he did.  “I love your little button nose!”  Another time, I bemoaned what size I had to wear at a certain store and how fat that made me feel, and a girlfriend of mine gave me a pointed look and said, “Are you kidding me?  When you turn to the side, you’re skinnier than me.  I don’t believe that for a second.  You’re ridiculous.”  While best friends are always supposed to make you feel good about yourself, I also trust these people to be honest with me.  When they look at me, they aren’t seeing what I’m seeing.  They’re seeing the bigger picture; the sum of all parts.

I will admit that I am a perfectionist.  I like things a certain way and can always find things which need improvement; I am never satisfied with the end result.  But in this age of self-improvement and health, have we become too focused on the NEED for self-improvement instead of the acceptance of our flaws?  Why do we let our minds have this power over us to tell us that we have to look or act a certain way in order to be accepted by the world?  To look for acceptance in superficial things promises to be a fruitless search.  By placing our happiness in our skewed perceptions of what others think about us, we are producing generation after generation of women (and men too) who are destined for lives of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and general misery.

Certainly as an actor, I have even more pressure placed on my shoulders to look a specific way, and you’d be surprised how easy it becomes to rationalize not eating this or that or eating at all, working out to extremes, living on solely coffee, smoking cigarettes to curb your appetite, saving your calories for just a night of drinking all for the sake of “your art.”  “Oh I’m going in for this role,” someone will say, “so I won’t be eating for the next 3 days!”  Recently, I was at a friend’s apartment for a gathering, and someone joked that all they were eating was chips and salsa and drinking whiskey to stay skinny, but I knew it wasn’t a joke. I myself am guilty of making such jokes, when in fact, there’s always a kernel of truth in there.  And when we laugh at such statements, we’re actually encouraging this warped kind of thinking; we’re encouraging each other’s body self-loathing.

The new "it" diet of poor actors: chips and salsa

The new “it” diet of poor actors: chips and salsa

I’d like to tell you actors spend more time discussing Shakespeare than protein shakes, Wasserstein than weigh-ins at the doctor, Ibsen instead of inches, but these days, I feel like all I hear is complaints about how our bodies are not good enough for our profession, how no one will hire us because we have a few extra pounds around our midsection or god forbid our inner thighs touch.  We are obsessed with being “jacked” or “snatched” or having this “Broadway body” instead of being obsessed with text and subtext, story and character, truth, objectives, bringing a story to life.  That’s why I got into acting, and yeah, I guess I’m supposed to subscribe to some antiquated standards of what actors “should look like,” but I’d like to believe that my skills and work ethic are what will ultimately keep me working rather than whether or not I let myself eat carbs or do a juice cleanse for two weeks (maybe that sounds naïve, but that’s how I feel).

This is the part where I say something about how inner-beauty is more important and that you need to love yourself and all your flaws.  And yes, I believe all those things, but believing them and living them are two different things.  I thought I loved myself, but truthfully, I didn’t for a very long time.  At age 24 (25 in a just under three months), I am finally starting to accept my body, and that’s only because I’ve finally started to accept all the parts of myself and let go of a lot of the icky things I’ve held onto.  It’s an ongoing mental and physical process every day, and some days it’s easier than others, but I can honestly say that I am happier now than I have ever been.  I journal, I ride my bike, I take dance classes, I spend time with friends.  These are things that keep my body and mind healthy, and I do them because they make me feel good about myself not because they might help me have a Scarlett O’Hara 17-inch waist.  I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know myself the last couple of years, and it’s been hard and scary but also amazing and beautiful.  I’ve cleaned out a lot of cobwebs and really started liking this adult I’m growing into, and when you start taking care of yourself, you start to see incredible changes in your life.  I wasn’t happy – like real, abundant happiness – for a long time, but then I started letting go of doubt and fear and instead started to just trust and have patience.  As those things grew, so has my happiness.  Yes, I will always want to change something about my body, but I don’t let those thoughts have power anymore because I know how much better it feels to let go and be happy; to be loved for my mind and heart and even my Widow’s Peak.  You’re crazy if you think most people care whether or not your inner thighs touch, and if they actually do care, they’re not people worth having in your life.   Trust me.

A 17-inch waist even Kate Moss would clamor for.  As unattainable as a unicorn.

Scarlett O’Hara’s 17-inch waist is as unattainable as a unicorn.

Yes, I’m asking you to love yourself, but not in the clichéd, hollow way so many of those magazines we buy ask you to.  What I’m asking is that we all stop obsessing over things that add no real value to who we are: how much we weigh, whether or not we have six-pack abs, if our clavicle bones stick out enough.  The minute we give these obsessions brain space is the minute they take over everything; they’re Dementors, sucking the joy out of the act of living our lives and doing the things we love.  When ideas take root in the mind, they manifest themselves in our actions whether we realize it or not.  And we let all these warped perceptions of our bodies influence us, we wind up in that endless cycle of self-loathing and self-love I mentioned earlier.  Aren’t you tired of feeling like you’re not good enough for the world just because you don’t look like some Photoshopped magazine cover?  Aren’t you tired of feeling like some slave to your bathroom scale, nerves always frayed because you’re wondering if the number that appears is the one you so desperately desire?  There is always a choice, and you can choose to let yourself be crushed day after day by the weight of these impossible standards of perfection or you can choose to let go.  You can choose to take the power back and put all your energy into your work and friends and family and life.  On your tombstone, after all, the only numbers that are displayed are the years you lived, not the ones that clung to your body.

I know what it’s like to not be happy in your skin.  I know how it feels to stress about whether or not you can fit into single-digit clothing.  I understand looking in the mirror and only seeing what’s wrong and flawed.  I have struggled (and sometimes still do) with whether or not it’s okay to eat certain things.  But I also know that when someone puts their arm around me, they’re not checking my BMI (body mass index), they just want to show affection.  I know that all the times I have laughed the hardest or loved the most, I wasn’t worrying about how I looked and neither was anyone else; what mattered was how I felt.  That sheer, unbridled joy means more to me than any pants size ever could, and I don’t know about you, but I want more joy in my life…my closet is full enough.

I am another young woman with body image issues, but now my issues are with our images of our own bodies.  Yes, you have flaws and so do I, but I want you to know that I don’t see them any more than you see mine.  Start telling yourself “I love you,” and the rest of the world (including your mirror) will follow for love always begets love.

“Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,
troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me.
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,
farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,
suffering, dying.
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.”

—Excerpt from “To You” by Walt Whitman

Back in the Saddle Again

I realize that it has been quite some time since I last wrote.  I’ve actually been pretty busy as of late, so writing took a back seat to everything else.  I love writing, but unfortunately, I need quiet time to concentrate my thoughts into words, and I seem to have been lacking in that area.  The good news is that a LOT of stuff has happened, which means I have plenty of material for new blog posts!

The major time-sucker of my life since around the end of May until now has been a benefit cabaret I’m helping to produce for the victims of the devastating tornadoes down in Oklahoma.  As many of you know, I went to college in Oklahoma City, so it was very difficult to see the images of destruction and heartbreak coming from a place I know to be filled with such wonderful, giving people.  My university has a large alumni network here in New York, so we decided to do something to raise money, and we decided upon a cabaret since we’re all (mostly) performers.

Somehow or other, I got put in charge of this whole thing, and I’ve never produced anything in my life.  Thankfully, I have a great producing team with lots of contacts who have been helping with everything from venue to talent to advertising.  The event is this Sunday, June 23 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on 42nd St (at 9th ave) and features alumni from Oklahoma City University (my alma mater), the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Broadway special guests.  All the proceeds we raise are going to the United Way of Central Oklahoma tornado relief fund.  I’m so proud of the work we’ve done.  For more information, you can visit our Facebook event here (and see the poster below):

https://www.facebook.com/events/210054119143058/212055372276266/?notif_t=like

Oklahoma Rising

In addition to that, I’ve also been in rehearsal for a reading of a new musical entitled Walk that’s written by a classmate of mine named Ben Harrell.  And of course the staged reading would be just a few short days (June 27 at 8 pm at the Green Space in Long Island City) after the benefit we’ve all been working so diligently on.  As you can see, I’ve been having a busy month.

I’ve also been traveling a lot lately.  In mid-May, I finally went out to Los Angeles to visit my older brother and a bunch of my college classmates.  I’ll detail that experience in an upcoming blog.  And this month, I took a little weekend trip down to Washington D.C. to visit my oldest best friend for a fun-filled and educational vacation.

And let’s not forget that in the short time I’ve been away, Kim and Kanye had their baby, Amanda Bynes went crazy, and Girl Meets World officially got picked up for 2014 (as if it wouldn’t).

I’m back, kids, and I’m gonna do my best to become a little more regular…on the writing front that is, so you and your Activia can go home Jamie Lee Curtis.

I'm trying to become regular again...just like Jamie Lee. Regular at WRITING.

I’m trying to become regular again…just like Jamie Lee. Regular at WRITING.

Just Kidding Around

I love Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan so much I could cry...IF there was crying in baseball.

I love Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan so much I could cry…IF there was crying in baseball.

I started training for a new job recently.  In a bout of financial exasperation a little while ago, I combed through the job pages on Craigslist, and on a whim, applied for a job assisting with youth baseball classes on the Upper East Side.  The ad said they were looking for twenty and thirty-something actors who loved baseball and liked kids and wanted some extra money.  I haven’t played baseball in a team setting since about second grade, but I’ve always loved watching the game; not to mention A League of Their Own is one of my favorite movies of all time (For the record, I still get mad that Geena Davis’ Dottie Henson chooses to drop the ball so her sister can win at the end).  For two months, I’ll be helping kids aged 3-6 learn how to play baseball in the sunshine and urban oasis of Central Park.  It’ll be a nice break from office buildings and audition rooms; a return to the simpler days of recess and moms telling their kids to “go outside and play.”

In starting to interact with these kids during my training sessions, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about barriers and inhibitions; the process of covering up our true identities in order to be more socially accepted or “cool.”  We care so much about it that from our teen years on, we never stop trying to be part of the “in crowd” or at least get their nod of approval.  Music, fashion, technology, movies; these things are all built around the here and now, the new, the “it factor.”  They are, as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous would say, an “industry of cool.”

"...an industry of cool." Philip Seymour Hoffman doling out sage advice in Almost Famous

“…an industry of cool.” Philip Seymour Hoffman doling out sage advice in Almost Famous

The kids I’ve been working with fall anywhere from three to six, and most of them are boys.  When they come in to class, they all want to tell you about their pets or the crazy thing they did at recess.  Several of them do very impressive (and accurate) impersonations of Spongebob Squarepants and Phineas & Ferb.  They’re willing to try anything and everything you suggest (for the most part), laughing when you make a silly face or do a weird accent.  They have vibrant, vast imaginations.  These kids run on raw instinct, energy, and emotion; every action or feeling is big and bold, no hesitations.  For them, “cool” doesn’t exist yet nor do these layers and masks we pile on as adults to keep people from seeing our weird, wonderful inner-selves.  Kids are beautifully unfiltered creatures, feeling and exploring every nook and cranny of the world without fear or rules.  It’s all play and no work.

What happens to us?  What is the trigger for this gradual switch from uninhibited and thoughtless expression to secrets and suppressed instincts and feelings?  Somewhere in our formation as human beings, we forget how to do things because we want to or express our thoughts because we must.  We become self-conscious about every word, every outfit, and every action because we’re looking to be accepted by everyone else instead of accepting ourselves first.  Kids don’t understand that, but somewhere, somehow they learn this behavior.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is Mad Men.  The very core of the show is about Don Draper struggling between who he was and who he’s become.  Much of Don’s struggle with identity stems from his childhood; in many ways, it’s always the thing against which he battles the most.  He is a self-made man, crafting a new, slick identity to cover up his past as an unhappy nobody.  But the kicker is that the more Don tries to convince himself that is happy with his “new” life – whether that be landing a huge ad account, wedding a young secretary, or ordering around his creative team – the unhappier he ultimately becomes, because he’s spent most of his life pretending to be something and somebody he’s really not.

Who IS Don Draper?

Who IS Don Draper?  I wish I could say an Emmy winner (at least for Jon Hamm).

Don Draper is an enigma; he’s a master of disguise.  He’s the perfect example of the suppression of desires, because he proves the more you squash those instincts, the unhappier and more unfulfilled you become.  As a result, when he DOES give in to his raw instincts, the outcomes are often explosive.  That’s part of what makes Mad Men such a delight to watch (other than the fact the acting and writing are superb; SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE JON HAMM AN EMMY ALREADY).

I took my very first meditation class yesterday, and at risk of sounding like a total cliché, it was a fairly eye-opening experience.  My fabulous acting teacher, Robyn Lee, put together what she calls the “Color Spa,” which is an interactive meditation class using colored lights and principles of the light spectrum to re-calibrate the mind, body, and spirit (to find out more about this event or her upcoming NYC acting classes, hop on over to HERE).  It may sound New Age-y, but instead of judging how weird I may or may not have looked, I let myself succumb to the experience, using my imagination and body without limitations.  In allowing myself to act without restraints, I felt fresh and stripped bare of all the clutter I’ve accumulated for so long in my body and mind and even heart.  It was almost out-of-body; I felt like I was seeing myself in a different light (no pun intended).  I realized how much I personally judge and edit my words and actions before I put them out into the world.  Why do I spend so much time editing myself for the world?  What happened to really, truly being yourself?

I think most of us take that whole “look before you leap” thing too seriously: we spend so much time on the looking that we often don’t leap at all.  Kids, on the other hand, usually leap first and deal with the consequences later.  What we should strive for is something in between: being flexible enough to know when to just leap and have faith we’ll land on solid ground and when we should look first to see whether the leap will be worth it.  We can all learn something from these kids who so lovingly and willingly give themselves over to their rambunctious spirit.  We can all choose to let go and just be like kids do every day, taking the ins and outs of every day life with aplomb.

So I’m looking forward to returning to my youth as I work with these kids, running around and doing silly voices.  No judgments or editing.  No Don Draper emotional layering or looking before I leap.  After all, if you never leap, how can you know whether or not you can soar?

“From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,

Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,

Listening to others and considering well what they say,

Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,

Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.” – Walt Whitman