Every Day, a Little Gratitude

I am working. Not only that, but I am working at one of the top theatres in the country, making LORT B (second only to LORT A when it comes to regional theatre) pay, and playing two leading roles. It’s a three month contract which means I will get another six months of health insurance. I am housed. I have a car I share with two other actors. This is the DREAM.

Which means I want to remember this feeling when I go back to NYC. I’m already dreading it… that discomfort of not working, that pain of not auditioning, that hurt of wanting so hard you think you might break.

But right now?

This.

My Year in Numbers

1     friend I lost

1     job I lost

2     jobs I got

3    plays I did

6    friends of mine who got engaged

10     places I visited

Idaho, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Waynesboro, PA, London, Scotland, Amsterdam, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine

25    days it took to find an apartment in NYC

26    plays I saw (in NYC and London only)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Mothers and Sons, Richard III, Big Fish, Murder for Two, The Oldest Boy, Our Lady of Kibeho, A Delicate Balance, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Sex with Strangers, The Village Bike, Hand to God, Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra, The Happiest Song Plays Last, Under My Skin, Sweeney Todd (NY Philharmonic), Fast Company, The Substance of Fire, The Killer, Cinderella, Mala Hierba, American Hero, Hotel, Bring up the Bodies, Showboat (NY Philharmonic), You Got Older

34    blogs I posted

Better than I thought, actually.

73    books I read

My favorites: The Invisible Front, The Circle, NOS4A2, A Tale for the Time Being, Into the Darkest Corner, Dept of Speculation, Tenth of December

365   days I got up in the morning and went to bed and night and existed on this earth.

Awful, awful, awful.

I’m sure you’ve all heard now about the tragic shootings in Santa Barbara. 7 people dead, shot by a young man who shot himself in the seconds before the police got to his car.

It’s terrible. Truly awful.

What is really different about this case is the fact that this young man, Elliot Rodger, left behind a deep, horrifying blueprint all over the internet. Comments on forums, an enormous (over 100,000 word) manifesto of his “retribution,” and YouTube videos that outline his disturbing views on, in particular, women. One video is titled “Why do girls hate me so much?”

I’m not sure what my feeling about the whole thing is, beyond the most basic sadness and horror and disturbance.

But watching his videos, in particular the one he posted hours before the attack (now taken off YouTube, but of course accessible elsewhere), makes me feel such incredible sadness. Not for him– although it’s hard for me to not feel sad because he was so lost– but because I am honestly unsure what could have prevented this.

People did call the police on him. He was questioned. They didn’t find the gun in his bedroom.
His parents were clearly not the best parents (not that I blame them) but they also made an effort, at least when he was a kid, and he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He was incredibly wealthy– mental health care was accessible to him.
Gun control would have helped. Perhaps if he hadn’t been able to buy a semi-automatic weapon.

There will be the assholes who blame women (like he did) for not giving him a chance. “That was all he wanted!” they’ll say, “He’s not unattractive, why won’t you feminists just fuck him?”

And of course, that’s one of the real tragic parts of the whole thing, and what disturbs me so much. We always search for reasons for acts like this– Elliot Rodger gives us one. “If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.” Obviously there are societal issues in place that allow this opinion (and those who defend it) to profligate. Again, you can’t hang his actions on society. But I think this brings up an important conversation.

I’m not sure I’ve ever written about my one experience of harrassment (mild, but it happened). This is also brought to the fore in my mind because I’m working on a short film about relational abuse. I spent a summer at a theatre festival, which has a program that admits two apprentices per summer that have some kind of special need (things like blindness, asperger’s, amputees, etc). There was one young man who had Asperger’s. I was kind and friendly, of course, as always, and we ended up in a lot of the same groups. Fairly quickly I realized that he was attracted to me. This happens, and I gave off the signals that normally do the trick. That didn’t work here, which makes sense, considering his diagnosis. So I became more clear. But he continued to approach me, to touch me, to engage me, and also to hug me– hugs which went too long, and, more than once, devolved into his thrusting his pelvis on me. I was incredibly uncomfortable with this, but didn’t know what more I could do beyond what I’d already done. I had told him to leave me be, that I wasn’t interested in him like that. So eventually I approached the program director and asked if we could possibly stop being put in groups together, or at least LESS (it was every day now) and explained how I felt very uncomfortable. In no uncertain terms, I was told to “get over it” and just be nice to him. “He just wants to be your friend,” and “You have to be clear with him.” Completely unhelpful. Eventually, the flirtation took a turn, and he started making comments about how “nobody likes him” and “girls never want to date me because they have something against people with asperger’s.” It was a very sophisticated guilt trip and made me feel terrible. That little voice was always saying “there’s something wrong with YOU that this is happening, YOU must be a bad person, YOU must be doing somehting wrong, YOU are hurting this person.”

So reading about Elliot Rodger, I think I become extra uncomfortable because I’ve heard that rhetoric before about “girls don’t like me” because “girls are bad.” Obviously there was other stuff going on, both in my personal experience and with Rodger, but the repetition of it strikes me as problematic. No one “deserves” a woman’s body. No woman is “required” to date or sleep with a man just because he’s attractive.

Anyway. Long story short… This is a sad day, and I don’t recommend the internet wormhole I just fell into.

All she has to do is exist.

“‘You have the luxury of time. You’re young. Young people are doing something even when they’re doing nothing. A young woman is conduit. All she has to do is exist.’ You have time. Meaning don’t use it, but pass through time in patience, waiting for something to come. Prepare for its arrival. Don’t rush to meet it. Be a conduit. I believed him. I felt this to be true. Some people might consider that passivity but I did not. I considered it living.”
The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

One of the strangest things about day-to-day life is how mundane it seems. I get up. I go to the gym. I go to work. I go home. I make soup. I watch bad TV. I try and get auditions. I go to bed. Ostensibly, “nothing” is going on in my life.

I never really listen to music, except when I’m doing something else, like playing a game on my iPad or cooking, and it’s even more rare that I listen to music while walking down the street. But the other night, I did. I was on the train, and an Iron & Wine song came on shuffle. Now, there are LOTS of songs that bring up memories for me. But all of a sudden, this song jerked me into taking a step back and actually looking at what this “nothing” really is. And I’m shocked to discover that these days– morning to night– that feel so devoid, so par for the course, are the building blocks for an amazing life.

Sometimes I feel that way in New York. This place is idealized by so many people (I, for one, never really did– I guess I just always assumed I’d be here, and didn’t fantasize about it at all), and this is where my “nothing” life takes place. The capital of the WORLD. I have to stop myself, often, and marvel at this city. I literally stop in the street sometimes, and look up at the skyscrapers, like a nerd, and think to myself, “I am living a life that others dream of. No matter what else I’m doing, being here is a success.” Because it is. Because New York is fucking hard.

Also, because I am someone who comes from a state with two professional theatres (yes, I said “state” and “two”), I can’t forget my artistic life here. I don’t know how many Broadway and off-Broadway shows I’ve seen for free. This year alone, examples include but are not limited to: Hands on a Hardbody, Romeo and Juliet, The Nance, The Testament of Mary, Little Miss Sunshine, Golden Boy, Picnic… I have seen Julie Andrews in a bathroom, given Liam Neeson back the hat he forgot in a theatre (he was so sweet about it), and seen Patti LuPone, Phylicia Rashad, James Earle Jones, Dianne Wiest, Ellen Burstyn, Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Christopher Lloyd, Fiona Shaw, Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths, Zosia Mamet, and ENDLESS MORE live onstage, often from a few rows back. How cool is that? And I’ve met some of them too. I did a reading with Anthony Rapp. I did a reading directed by Shirley Knight. Stephen Sondheim saw me act. (sorry, Braggy McGhee just got excited).

L received news that she will receive her last chemo treatment on December 17. That’s literally two years and ten days after her initial diagnosis. She texted me and asked me to be there. I will. And I’m can’t believe it. Walking with L down this path has been so strange and awful and important and… it’s hard to talk about. When I talk about it too much, I feel like I’m being a “poor me” jerk who thinks she was more important than she actually was. But I have to be honest– I was there for a LOT of it. Probably more than anyone else besides her parents. That’s not nothing. And cancer, like all diseases, is powerful. It is a nuclear bomb, and anyone who is nearby when it explodes is infected with radiation. And those of us who bear it, and live with it, uncomfortable though it is, emerge with superpowers. Like Spiderman. (someone shut me up)

Then “Now We Can See” by the Thermals came on as I was trudging up the subway stairs. The last song in the first show “my” company ever produced. 2010. We were very young, kinda dumb, but with enthusiasm and self-confidence, poured to overflowing into this strange group of young people. What a strange, wonderful first New York theatrical experience. We won awards and got raves, yes, which was amazing and thrilling and great, but even more special was the feeling that washed over all of us as we sang this song, stomping, clutching the mikes, shaking our styled hair, in one of the most historic theatres in New York. What was that feeling? A strange mix of confidence, hope, and more than anything, joy. We overflowed. Regardless of what would happen next, those moments in the Ellen Stewart Theatre were unforgettable.

I spent four years with my therapist, and now I’m phasing out. I think I have two more sessions. WHO KNEW I’d ever get to this point? I sure didn’t. I frankly didn’t know what I thought, but in the last four years, I’ve felt so far from “stable” that leaving wasn’t even a thought. But here I am. Moving forward, out of therapy, because I have done so much goddamn work. And that’s the most amazing thing– not, “oh my god, weirdo me is leaving therapy! Crazy!” but “Look at all this SHIT I had to fight through, tooth and nail, to get to this point. Look at how hard I worked. Look at all the time I spent fighting for the life I have now. I battled an eating disorder, crushing anxiety, self-hatred, depression, mania, self-injury in every way you can imagine, and I’ve come out the other side. And I have confidence that I can care for myself, for the first time in a long time. Isn’t THAT crazy?”

My life is nothing special to me, as I walk through it. And yet, I realize that I have walked through incredible forests, forded wild rivers. I am lucky to have it, and I am grateful. Overwhelmingly.

 

Seismic Shifts

I’ve been thinking about what to write for a few days now, and I’m just now sitting on the couch, hoping to scratch some of it down. It’s going to be jumbled, but sometimes there’s poetry in chaos. My dad always said to start with a free write.

The window behind me is open a crack. The air is wet and full, but the breeze has a chill. It’s been a rainy June, but we’ve had a couple of miracle days. Days of perfection– bright blue skies, calm air, just enough warmth to release the sounds and smells of spring, as if every piece of the city was perfectly placed on its coordinates, suddenly allowing things to flow just right.

I have moments in this city, like I did yesterday on the way home from working with my boss while he was in rehearsal at the Barishnikov Arts Center on 11th Ave, where the pieces feel like they fit just right. I can glance at the skyscrapers uptown and wonder at how a homebody from Idaho made a life here. I’m not hungry, but I’m not overfull. Breath flows, unobstructed. Heading home in time for dinner, the sun just starting its descent over the Hudson.

I’m alone, usually, when this happens. It’s like those toys we had when we were kids– the beak of an eagle perched on your finger balances the whole bird. Miraculous. Also, temporary, and also, solo. If a bee lighted on the back of the small plastic eagle, it would crash down, all memory of balance gone. So I relish those moments– solo, balanced, and necessarily brief.

I have found that I am still very young. This is not shocking. I mean, I’m not crazy– I’m 24 years old and I’ve known I’m young for about as long as I’ve been alive. But I don’t have a life pattern yet. I have little to base what’s next upon. I was in school for 22 years– day care and preschool, elementary school, high school, boarding school, college. And now I’m entering my second year of true "adulthood." That’s not a very long time to develop of sense of what "life" is.

So I falter. I compare. I long for last summer’s career arc, and I pine for my college friendships. I am a different person now than I was two years, four years, ten years ago. Which surprises me, in some ways.

Perhaps personality develops through a series of catalysts. Choices we make that echo long after they’re done. Battles we fight until we can finally emerge, bloody and mutilated, but victorious. Sometimes the mere shape of the world around us– a high school, for instance, or a mother-daughter relationship– catalyze what’s next. I wonder how long I will keep changing. Will who I am ever cement? Or with every shift of the seismic plates, every strong Noreaster, will my "self" be changed a little bit too?

 I come from a town that is bigger than a town but smaller than a city. There were cul-de-sac suburbs and junky trailers off the highway, but where I lived there was a front yard and a backyard, an elementary school in walking distance, piano lessons, ballet class, and gymnastics. I had a younger sister and two parents who worked. My dad, a PhD and a Rhodes scholar, professor of English and author of creative nonfiction, my mother a labor and delivery nurse who often worked odd shifts but could be counted on, when home, to prepare stir fry or pesto pasta and knew when we should finish our last snacks so we had room for dinner. I had some friends from school– Heather, Keako, Andrew, Evan. We went camping in the mountains during the summer, alternately covered in dust and damp with lake water.

This was the structure of my life from age 6 to age 15. And yet, the inside is so much more complex. I was a difficult little girl– tempermental, moody, destructive, obsessive. My parents fought often, and for some time, slept in separate bedrooms. My mother sent money, and then refused it, to my drug-addicted cousins (there’s more than one), and she learned that her sister was in prison. My father still struggled to come to terms with his childhood sexual abuse at summer camp. It shuttered him. I didn’t know my sister, despite the fact that her room was next to mine.

The facts of my life are these:
I live with my boyfriend. I’m a professional actor. I’m a resident of New York City. I graduated summa cum laude as the salutatorian from college. I take the subway every day and see a therapist every week. My eyes are blue, or green, or gray, or a mix; no one can decide. My hair is blonde, or dark blonde, or light brown, or honey-colored; no one can decide.

Underneath, the struggle:
I can no longer see food without considering whether or not I should eat it.
I know when I’m depressed when I can’t read.
I am terrified that I have alienated the dearest friends I have.
All I really want is for people to love me as much as I love them.
I feel trapped and terrified and lost nearly every day.
I fantasize about a childhood that I know didn’t exist.
Sometimes I go through days in New York where every single person I see, I resent.
I want to write powerful personal essays like my father, but I don’t know where to begin.

Everything changes. It would take years and years to trace each seismic shift from its starting place, to its catalyst, to its change. There are patterns, of course. My triggers are familiar. Many of my dreams are the same.

But the way I see myself, the way I see the world, has transformed, and on more than one occasion.

I’m okay with that.

As long as I still find those moments where all the pieces of my life, my desires, my city, can balance momentarily on a finger. As long as I feel those sharp flashes of knowing I’m exactly where and what and who I’m supposed to be. The inside transforms the outside, and the same is true the other way around.

And maybe that makes me hope that I’ll never stop changing, that with each turn of the season and spin of the axis, I’m finding my balance on the point that feels just right, at least for a moment. And then I’ll fall off, only to tip and spin and flounder until I’ve found my perfect, temporary fit again.

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Busy busy busy busy busy

My anxiety these days is subtle. It creeps in, undetected, until I can feel it roiling in my veins.

I sit at a table, waiting for rehearsal to begin, and very quickly, I feel desperate to disappear. To curl into a tiny ball and not be seen.

I don’t feel scared. I don’t feel sad. I just feel completely uncomfortable. Nerves exposed. Fragile. It’s almost the tenuous nervousness before speaking the first lines of a play, or waiting in the dark for the lights to come up. Except I don’t have a line. And the lights are already up.

Maybe it’s the Wellbutrin. I know that can cause anxiety. But it has been really wonderful to feel able to accomplish everything I want to do– the Wellbutrin is doing its job of activation very well. I’m reading up a storm, I am okay with leaving the house every morning and making my way around the city all day and stumbling home at night. I used to get headaches while drinking, but for some reason since the increase, it hasn’t been so bad. Maybe the difference is taking it in the morning. Ah, who really cares, as long as it’s working.

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been busy, and to be honest, sort of bored. Not genuinely bored, like “ugh, so much time to do nothing, I’m so bored,” but more like “I’m really busy for the most part, but not with much that’s exciting, and everything I do is all over the place and inconsistent and even when I’m home I’m not totally relaxed.” Although I guess that’s not “bored?” Is it? Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

Well, let’s see.

On Saturday, I got fitted for my bridesmaid dress for R’s wedding. Her family is very wealthy, so they’re generously buying all of us our dresses– which, just FYI, are DESIGNER and STUNNING. Here’s mine:

(except in Lavender) ml-monique-lhuillier-vanilla-oneshoulder-tulle-gown-product-1-8292021-001396589_large_flex

Yeah. I KNOW.

Then we got mani/pedis and went and got dinner and margaritas at one of R and our favorite places downtown. I had to leave early to meet A to see a show we had comps for, but all in all, a really nice day with a very complementary group of ladies. I have had struggles with each and every one, but today we celebrated R and each other, no strings attached.

Last night, I did a reading with a young theatre company I occasionally work with (they’re the folks who did the Sir Peter Shaffer event where I was in a reading of one of Sir Peter’s plays for an audience that included the man himself, Alec Baldwin, John Guare, Stephen Sondheim, and the woman who originated my role on Broadway, Juliet Mills.) It was a goofy play, and my part was supporting, but it was fun. And guess who it starred, theatre nerds?!

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Yep, that’s Anthony Rapp of RENT fame. I know him from other stuff, and I’ve met him a couple of times before, but it really impressed my mom. 🙂

What else?

I’m working less this week, since my boss is in tech. That’s a real pleasure. I basically just sit in the air conditioned office and half work, half goof off in the quiet. I love A, but it’s nice to have time where we can be separate and just work on our own things. He actually just got an email back from his agent, after waiting a while, and it turns out his agent wants him to do a serious overhaul on the book before he pitches it to the American markets. I know A is disappointed, and I do wish that he could just move forward towards the next project, towards making a deal, and be done with the editing, but of course, THIS is the work of being a writer. At some point soon, he’ll have to radically accept that. And it looks like his agents wants him to really dig in deep. So. I’m trying to figure out how to support him through that, when I know that’s not really what he wants to do. We both (or at least I) know it’s undoubtedly necessary, but I know the time and workload feels very overwhelming to him. He’ll do it… we’ll just see how it goes.

Tomorrow is exciting! A and I planned a “day of fun” where we took off work completely and didn’t worry about money and splurged on fun stuff. So, here’s the agenda:

Drunch at Big Daddy’s:

BigDaddys1

A matinee of our favorite show in town:

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Dinner somewhere followed by a performance of this fabulous play (I’ve seen it, he hasn’t):

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And finishing (if we can) with dessert and a bottle of wine at our “2nd date wine bar.”

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Annnnnddd…. maybe I should do some work now. 😉

What have you guys been up to this week?