Tomorrow I turn 25.

1. What was your favorite birthday and why? Who was there? Did you have a party? What presents did you get? Be very specific about what made it so special.

I was lucky in that I always had really successful birthday parties. They were almost always themed, based on my interests (Italy-themed party, animal party, mystery party, etc). Probably my favorite birthday, and certainly one of the most memorable, was my 18th birthday. I turned 18 on the day of my senior prom in high school, which is kind of insane. I was in boarding school, and spent the night with my best friends downstairs. That morning, when I woke up, my friends rolled down a blanket over the bottom bunk, where they tucked me in with headphones and some episodes of Sex and the City while they made secret things happen. After a little over an hour, they rolled up the blanket and I was treated to an incredible sight– a dorm room covered in balloons and signs colored in marker with various memories and statistics (the average girl loses her virginity at 17– me too!). Also there were boxes of sugary cereal and treats– donuts, Lucky Charms, Fruit by the Foot, Gushers. I wasn’t allowed to have these things when I was a kid, which my friends knew. The best surprise, though, was that somehow they got approval to have my boyfriend join us. I don’t know how they did it, but it was magical and glorious and gave me such joy.

2. What was your worst birthday and why? Be extremely detailed about what made it such an awful memory. As always, you can make it into a character’s story and exaggerate all the details to an extreme degree.

My best birthday was 18, but it wasn’t perfect. I’ve never been a huge fan of dances, and I was shy all night. And THEN I lost one earring (beautiful earrings my boyfriend had given me). I found it, but there were tears.

Also tough was my 21st birthday. All my friends were in a play that I wasn’t in– and this was also a time of very tenuous recovery from my ED. I ended up finding something wonderful to do– my parents paid for a nice dinner with one of my dear friends from high school (who was a part of that 18th birthday), but I still felt slightly abandoned.

3. How do you feel as though you will change with your upcoming birthday? Will your responsibilities change? Will your clock start ticking a little faster to do something that you’ve been meaning to do? Be specific and detailed.

25 is a big year. I won’t lie. And yet, even today, when i was freaking out about my life and my career, I never once thought “I’m 25, and now I’m old.” 25 is still so incredibly young. All that will change, I think, is that I will continue to grow and change. I will ride all these waves of feelings, and hopefully will continue to grow and change and have to redefine myself at every turn. Not that I enjoy that at all. It would be preferable to understand everything all the time. 😉

4. What is the best present that you’ve ever gotten for your birthday? Not necessarily the most expensive, but the one that was the most important to you. Talk about it and try to remember where that present is today. 

So many good presents. So, a list.

This year, a trip to the UK with my folks.
Luggage. Well-, well-used.
Those earring from my high school boyfriend.
Every piece of art my sister has ever given me.
American Girl dolls. I loved them ALL.

5. You have been given a five million dollar budget for your birthday party (from an anonymous donor). You can only use this money if you spend every penny. What do you do with this fantastic party budget?

Oh man. I would rent a large space. Perhaps somewhere outside. I would hire caterers. I would invite every single one of my friends to come and eat and drink and play with me. Or I would schedule a whole week where every single one of my friends came over to my place and dinner was provided and we just gossiped and loved. Or maybe a totally all-expense-paid vacation somewhere warm with A (and all my friends maybe!!) Haha, this is like the 25 million dollar party.

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.

 

I have an idea.

I have an idea.

Let’s get a credit card. Doesn’t really matter what since someone else is gonna pay it off.

Let’s board a plane and fly somewhere beautiful.

Like the British Virgin Islands, perhaps.

Here:
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We’d be sure to pick up enough food to keep us going for a week. Fresh island foods. Fish to grill.

We’d wake up in the morning to the sun rising over the bay. Breakfast on the veranda– coffee, and fruit, and eggs.

We’d while away the mornings reading by the pool. When the sun is too hot, we’d drop ourselves into the pool and lap about, splashing.

Lunch is eaten half wrapped in towels. We probably have hot, damp sex that smells like tanned skin.

In the afternoon we walk the beach. We stop to admire the way the sand sparkles in the sun. Our feet skim the shallows.

Hunger, and the taste of crisp white wine, drives our wander home. The sun is setting over the bay as the smoke from the grill drifts into the air.

The bed waits.

We don’t close any doors.

We never worry about how to pay.

Never feel guilty for what we’re “missing” in our lives “back home.”

Sound good?

High school is where the heart is.

Where I went to school, everyone knew who they were. We were the best, and that was proven because we were there.

We had yet to feel the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I see the faces now that were my family in those days, and I feel this thin, clear string, like a fishing line, that links me to them.

We are different now– a little longer, a little stiller, little duller in tone– but with something inside that can only come from being trusted with a future from the age of 16.

I touch these waists, these shoulders, and I feel how we’ve grown thicker, tougher. Real life has no mercy for the special. We have experienced love now, loss, disappointment and frustration. We are thicker because we’ve blistered, then calloused.

And yet we are here. We touch, we whisper, we giggle. My hand around her waist, her squeeze, her voice, is the same as it ever was. The gasps over kisses shared, the bluntness of our expressions of love, the easy comfort of each other’s company.

When you are sixteen and the best, you are untouchable.
And yet, everything touches you.

Every face is burned into your memory, every nice thing ever said, every hurtful moment. The wind on the lake. The smell of her room. The slippery concrete, iced over, between the cafeteria and your 8am class.

We grew up together. We formed a world in which only we existed.

College was wonderful. I made important, remarkable friends in college.

But to be sixteen and on our own, hemmed between two lakes, yet without the bind of the “real world” telling us who to be, we were special. Our parents let us go so we could become who we are.

There is nothing like that place, and those years, in the entire world. We built it, and it’s stronger than that land, those buildings, or any one of us. If we went back it wouldn’t be there.

Where it is now is at a bar on Orchard Street, with arms wrapped around each other, easy laughter and genuine interest in each other’s minutiae. It is in a rehearsal room on 29th street, where suddenly you are not alone; the you of those moments when things started to become clear, are known by someone. It is in a Facebook message, where the years are no deterrent to the pull of that thin fishing line.

I am lucky. Not because I got to go to Interlochen, not that I was deemed “special,” not that I had good friends there. I am special because I was allowed the space to discover what was special about me. I never worried about “what I wanted,” because I had it. All that was left to me was creating the community I wanted to be with me for life. All I had to do was find my family.

And I did. I found Nora, Rebeca, Will, Drew, Auden, Holly, Warren, Tor. Even the ones who scared me– Loralee, Caroline, Chase– they are my family. We shared the moments in our lives when we began to realize who we were. We were there for the surprises, the meltdowns, the times when we suddenly realized what success, what struggle, what love WAS.

That can’t be replicated. I will never, never, have anything like what Interlochen was again. I had those years, and they live in me now. They will, forever.

I was sixteen and the best, and now I am 24 and ostensibly just like everyone else. And yet, I feel that fishing line, tugging, tight and secure, that binds me to the people and the moments when I realized who I was becoming.

These are my people. This is my universe.

Opening Night!

Complete, unbridled, nerve-tingling joy. That’s what I feel when I walk onstage.

I think a lot about what made me start doing theatre. It’s a common question. “When did you know you wanted to be an actor?”

What is hardest for me to parse is the kind of certainty I have about this career. For someone who has trouble deciding what brand of razor blade to buy, who vacillates about how fat I am on a daily basis, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I want to do. And the proof is in the pudding– I left home at 16 to study theatre, moved to NYC to study in college, and against all homebody, nature-loving odds, make my life in the big city.

I hate this business sometimes, I doubt my strength when the going is tough, but I honestly CANNOT imagine my life any way but this. I can’t even fantasize it.

Acting, I guess, is a way of disappearing as much as it is a way to have lots of people see you.

As a kid, I was often sequestered in my room, either by choice or by being sent there for being bad. Around 11 or so, I had access to my dad’s big dell laptop, and I discovered that many screenplays were available, for free, in big databases online. I embarked upon a major project– using imdb and google, I made a long list of movie roles I could potentially play in films that had already been made. From that list, I’d work to find the screenplay online. Once I found it, Id sit in my room and read it, all the way through, reading out loud (acting) the character I imagined playing.

My favorite role, for a lot of reasons (not the least of which was because I loved Renee zellweger), was Alison lohman’s part in WHITE OLEANDER. Despite endless searching, I couldn’t locate the screenplay online. So I did what any slightly obsessive, wholly dedicated twelve year old would do– I watched the movie and literally transcribed the screenplay, word for word. As I recall, it took a number of hours.

So… I don’t really know. It’s a long answer.

I can tell you that I started as a dancer, and while I was incredibly flexible and pretty talented, what I liked the most about dancing, really, was the acting. And that’s, I think, what made me a good dancer-at least the kind of dancer people noticed. Dancing was more accessible to me than, say, acting classes, and required less time-wasting with other kids. In ballet class, everyone was quiet and I felt like I was moving forward. Acting class was frustrating for me, as I was surrounded by a bunch of distractable kids who wanted attention. I did great at boarding school. 🙂

So tonight, in the final dress rehearsal for the show I’m doing for the next three weeks, as I shifted my weight into contortions, leapt and fell to the floor with control, and swept around the small stage in well-practiced patterns, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Using my body in my acting (in this play, to do clowning and commedia) feels RIGHT.

And those raw moments of the play, where the only thing that exists is the look in Reed’s eyes-the kiss or kill- or the way Angie skips onstage after a betrayal, like nothing has happened, or the genuine nerves and laughter of the epilogue– I am so much myself. I get to experience worlds different from my own, physical contortions, and heartache and lust and love, it really just boils down to ME, really looking, really hearing, really standing there and taking it, and letting myself feel every bit. No hiding.

It’s not really disappearing, I guess. It’s allowing honest feeling to seep out and be seen. I am actually standing there, actually slapping his face, actually kissing his lips, actually blocking her way.

And unlike life, much of the time, I get to experience it fully. That’s what I share with the audience.

And that is joy. That is release. That is certainty.

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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