Saturday, November 19, 2011

speeding up while slowing down (or vice versa)

Clocking in at about two and a half months after my most recent post, and everything has changed (while staying, so it feels, almost exactly the same).

What I left out of that recent post:  I wrote it after a serious mental breakdown in a cafe parking lot.  Following an absurdly disturbing interview at Barney's, NY, where I was deemed unworthy to work 'real' retail, I returned to my post at a local cafe to plunge ahead with several internship applications in the hope of finding something in the city worth my time and energy - something that would lift me out of uncertainty and give my life some kind of purpose.  As I compiled my application, reading through the various attachments required for my submittal, I read a letter of recommendation from my adviser at the Parkside Tutoring Center.  She spoke with genuine reverence about my abilities, noting not only my qualities as a tutor, but as a human being.  I sat back and took in what she said about me, what she implied about my future endeavors and the great tasks I was meant to accomplish... and in the midst of all that, I was faced with the reality of living on a couch in Chicago, working part-time at Old Navy and having (within the last three hours) been told by a highly plasticized HR Representative from a high-end retail store that I was not a qualified candidate for the position they hoped to fill. And for some reason, I felt like I had betrayed everything I was supposed to be.

I walked out of the cafe, called my mom, and the instant I heard her voice I began to cry.  I cried because I felt terrified that no one would ever want to give me a job that could help me afford to pursue my dreams and also give me some sort of personal satisfaction.  I cried because I felt like I was freeloading on my friends in Chicago, taking advantage of their hospitality and unending kindness for the sake of furthering my own aimless goals.  I cried because every passing minute reminded me how "important" money is, and also that I had very little of it. I cried because I didn't understand why someone from a place of higher learning could say such wonderfully genuine things about my professional and personal qualities, while some faceless HR rep. from a stupid high-end retail store could be so cold and indifferent to my talents.  I cried because I wanted to be an actor, but was so focused on my own financial instability that pursuing theatre with a stable mind was not an option at that time.  I cried because I wanted to be in love, but instead I was feeling more alone than ever.  I cried because I felt like I wasted my education.  I cried because I was crying.

And later that night, I wrote that post; I refused to acknowledge anything less than inspiring about my day, because I couldn't face the reality of living a less than inspiring - and positive - life.

Jump ahead to the present: Right now I'm at the Java House in Iowa City, visiting a place that has left one of the warmest hand prints I have ever known upon my heart.  It's strange to be here in the fall; the faces are, for the most part, unfamiliar.  There are no leaves on the trees, the fountains have dried and there are no pianos in the streets.  I am staying with the Burfords, who are (thankfully) unchanged, and it brings me such a wonderful sense of peace to be in their house.

I am here because it was time to get out of the city.  In contrast to my lifestyle in my most recent post - as well as in any post that preceded it between the months of July and August - I've become quite busy.  I live in my own apartment now, with two dear friends, just as we had planned to do.  I've got a real job working as a business development assistant for an engineering firm (which happens to be fascinating and a constant learning experience, to say the least), and on top of all of that, I had a successful month of auditions in October, receiving several call backs for various shows.  I worked my way through a quirky two weeks of workshopping for a screenplay reading and am now preparing for a two-month contract with Pegasus Players for their annual Young Playwrights Festival in January.  I recently completed my second call back for a lead role with a company I'd love to work with, and there are many more opportunities on the horizon.

The past two and a half months of really working in the city have had a profound effect on my view of the world.  My initial thoughts on moving to a bustling city like Chicago had me convinced that I was going to instantly become one of the high-stressed, impatient movers and shakers in the city, constantly pushing my way through to get from point A to point B while agonizing over the most insignificant setbacks.

Essentially, this would just be an opportunity for my type-A personality to flourish and take over my way of life to an insane degree.

BUT -- it hasn't worked that way, at least not yet.  On the contrary, I've found a wholly new sense of peace within myself and within the city, itself.  Chicago is a constant reminder of the size of the world - there is a vastness to this place that incessantly reminds me that the options at my disposal (for anything) are as varied as these skyscrapers are tall.  I listen to the relentless honking of impatient drivers, see the flustered reactions of business men at my office who are dismayed by the line at Starbucks every day at 7:52am, and I realize - every day - that I am now a cog in this machine.  I ride the train, stand on the escalators and j-walk through the busy streets with these crazed city-slickers who have no worries outside of what something may cost and how long it might take.  I feared that this sort of lifestyle would also consume me.  I worried that by taking this 'corporate' job in the city I'd leave behind personal pursuits for the demands of working full-time, but, it just doesn't feel like it will happen.

Although I'm busier than I've been in quite some time (work, along with my commute, takes up 50-60 hours of my week.  On a good week I've got 2-4 auditions on top of that), my mind has finally slowed down.  My free time is more easily given over to reading for pleasure - Uta Hagen is currently at the top of my list, followed by Marjorie Garber and more more MORE Jonathan Safran Foer - and very seriously working on audition pieces and other artistic endeavors.  Settling into this job and moving into my own place has put a lot of aspects of my life into perspective that had recently been up for debate.  I had feared that the security of this job would give me permission to let myself slip out of the theatre world all-together; I spent most of my undergrad wondering if I was really as passionate or dedicated to theatre as a person needs to be in order to succeed.  I questioned my confidence in myself and in my abilities to adapt to the constant setbacks and rejection that are inherent in the profession.  If I settled into a full-time job at which I excelled, was mildly interested in and took up most of my days anyway, wouldn't it be easy enough to let theatre fall to the wayside?

Absolutely not.  Being stable is great -- I needed to be stable, I will never contest that.  And this job - my apartment - has afforded me that comfort.  But within days of finally achieving that level of stability, I was antsy again, ready for another challenge that would displace me from complacency and, so, my audition submissions began.  For an entire month I felt like I was running an audition marathon - at times it was great, at others it was awkward; but it was always fulfilling.  I am learning more now about myself as an actor - as a person - than I did when I was in school (is that good, or bad?  I really don't know).

And here's the other thing.  I really don't want to get all J.K. Rowling up this blog, but, friendship is probably the coolest and most powerful thing on this planet.  Every single fucking day I am reminded how lucky I am to be in this city and, in large part, that is due to the presence of the beautiful friends I live and play with.  The life I'm living today is the life I had imagined for myself several years down the road from graduation, not several months.  And yet, here I am doing it.  And I couldn't have done it without the support of several people: my parents, my sister; Amy, Dylan; Cathlyn; and so many others.  Their emotional, spiritual, and practical contributions to my search for a place in this city made so many things possible for me in such an insanely short amount of time.

I am still pushing ahead, paradoxically searching for opportunities to throw myself into challenging situations that constantly force me to re-evaluate myself and my abilities while embracing moments of stability and ease... but I'm doing it with the knowledge that I've got one of the most supportive networks of friends and family I could ever have.  The days are flying faster than ever before, but each day that passes provides more reasons for slowing down and cherishing every second and acknowledging the people and events that make my progress possible.

Every day I walk down my street and I say to myself: I can't believe I live here.  When I leave auditions, I'm always elated - regardless of how I think the audition went - because I'm out here doing what so many people hope to do but don't.  And when I leave my office, even after a boring day of work that leaves me antsy for a challenge, I look down Michigan Avenue at the beautiful high rises and remind myself that I have been so lucky, every step of the way.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday:  Here's to being thankful for what we have, and for being able to acknowledge the priorities in our lives that bring us unrelenting joy.  To the pursuit of passion and art and the stability of friendship.  To my family, who I love more than anything, and to my friends, who are no different than family in their closeness to me.  I am thankful to be able to slow things down and see each moment for what it is.  I am thankful that I cried in that parking lot on September 2, because it fueled me with the knowledge that I will not give up until I've conquered every obstacle I choose to face.  

That feels really, really good.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Perspectives - or - "Life and Love are Everywhere"

So, I guess I'm checking in just under a month after my most recent post.  Not the greatest discipline I've ever subjected myself to; there were plenty of August afternoons during which I felt the itch to write about recent happenings in my life: new developments in my job hunt, beautiful sunsets beyond the city skyline and reverential moons floating above Lake Michigan, blissful nights with irreplaceable friends - all these singular moments that make up the bulk of unique experiences that provide daily reminders whispering reassuringly, "this is where you're supposed to be."

However, it wasn't until yesterday that I had an experience which really threw me out of my day-to-day funk and into serious contemplation about life's obstacles and how I ( how you /how we ) endeavor to overcome them.

My day was a mish-mash of work, internship applications, a job interview, and several trips back and forth on the Red Line.  So, basically, an ordinary day in my "exciting" life.


In the early afternoon, I boarded the train to head back toward the loop for an interview at Barneys New York when I witnessed something so simply profound that it filled me with supreme joy.  At the Berwyn stop - which is just south of my current stomping grounds on West Thorndale Avenue - a blind woman boarded the train, her trusty guide dog in-tow.  The day was hot and this dog looked exhausted, but, he guided his master onto the train and directly to an open seat across from me.  He watched her with diligent concentration as she made sure her bag would fit between herself and the seat next to her; she folded up her cane, sat down on the seat, and began thumbing through the contents of her bag in pursuit of a massive book.

I've never actually seen a book printed (written? published? I'm aware that these are all synonyms...) in Braille before.  The bulk of it covered her entire lap; it looked about two inches thick at the very least, and, as she flipped it over in her hands, I saw in bold black lettering across the front: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.  She opened it up to her bookmarked page, and began running her fingers gingerly across the bleached-white pages, all blank save for the slight texture created by the raised lettering running over the sheets.

I watched this woman reading National Geographic for about 25 minutes, and even now I'm still unsure as to why this moment was so awe-inspiring to me.  I wanted to hug her, I wanted to touch the pages and experience National Geographic - a magazine that I have seen, whose pictures I have gushed over - the way that she does: through her sense of touch and pure imagination.  What must it be like to read a magazine that is so heavily visual when you cannot see it with your eyes?  This moment - this woman, her magazine - said very plainly to me:

When an obstacle is  in your path, adjust your perspective and find a way to see around it.
It's as simple as that.  

And that, I think, is just really damn cool.  There's not much else to say about it.  I'm still basking in the glow of that experience; it was so refreshing.  I was so grateful to have witnessed such a simple act performed in a way entirely different from anything I've ever had to do.   


On an unrelated-yet-related note, I also had this experience on the train:  While reading 'Broadway Bound,' the third installment in Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy, I stumbled upon this dialogue which immediately struck my heart and made it smile:

Eugene: I just want to say one thing, Ma - 
Kate: Don't say anything.  You know me.  I don't deal with these things too good.
Eugene: It's not that horrible.  And it's quick: I love you.  Okay?  That wasn't so bad, was it?

Upon finishing this play, I moved on to the forward from my collection of Chekhov plays, which included some biographical information about Anton Chekhov and his wife, which read: They fell in love and quietly married in 1901, but were mostly kept apart by Chekhov's doctors' insistence that, for his health, he must live in Yalta, which he bitterly called his 'warm Siberia.'  He wanted Olga to continue her career, though she was more than prepared to abandon it, to help nurse him or simply be with him.  They built their relationship through occasional meetings, but even more, perhaps, through their many letters, filled with vivid expressions of love, longing, sorrow, frustration, a saving humour, and some equally saving, not wholly serious, quarreling.  

Isn't love the coolest thing on this planet? There's a lot I want to say about love as of late, but, since I've already rambled enough today, I'll simply say this:  This most recent chapter of my life has reacquainted me with love - with my ability to love - in unexpected ways.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.  For so long, I took my capacity for intimacy for granted, even to the point of throwing it to the wayside to be ignored and forgotten.  But I am back in the swing of life and I see love everywhere.  It intoxicates me day in and day out, and it has awakened a new clarity within me that, while I'm still attempting to trust and understand, is really helping me settle into myself.  Life and love are everywhere.  People are living and loving - both fictional and real, past and present, and they are overcoming personal obstacles every day, in ways big and small, and I am happy to say I am one of them.  

I love - both people and life itself - hard.  I forgot that about myself, for a very long time.  
And it's good to be reminded.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

watching the world go by

How long has it been since my last post? 11 years?

Maybe just short of 9. As of late, it feels as if my life has been thrown into a strange time vortex; the days pass by incredibly slowly - I am aware of every second that ticks by, each one marking another moment in time when I'm still feeling lost and unfocused - yet the weeks, as a whole, keep flying.

It is almost mid-August. (what the Hell?) I suppose that doesn't mean 'anything', in the grand scheme of things. I have personal deadlines, but they're all adjustable. I keep forgetting that the beginning of September no longer holds any major sway over my life - no more school, no more relocating, and no more homework. I think that's the strangest thing to get used to: When I have downtime, it is actually real downtime. Of course, I keep trying to fill it with runs on the beach, fruitless job searches and the occasional train-ride-to-nowhere ... but at the end of the day, the wasted time adds up to just that: time I wasted, or, I guess what most people would call "leisure time."

I don't like leisure time. It makes me anxious.

But at any rate, I'm back in Chicago again! Days after my return to Wisconsin, I got the chance to go back to the city for an interview with Old Navy. I'm sure you've heard of it. Long story short: I'm now a member of the Old Navy Logistics Team; I take in new inventory, restock shelves, and basically run around making things look nice, all before any normal person would even THINK about being out of bed! Isn't that great?


Well, it's something. It will feed me. It will ... 'keep me busy.' This morning was my first shift post-orientation. My alarm went off at 4:10, and during a surprisingly easy 20 minute time frame I got dressed, had some yogurt, managed a few sets of push-ups, stocked my backpack with books to read, my iPod, and a handful of Clif Bars and, by 4:50, I was standing on the Red Line platform at Thorndale Avenue, watching the city skyline slumber beneath the deepest shade of royal blue I've ever seen. The train ride into the city was fast; the trains move much more quickly when there's no one at the stations to clamor aboard at every stop. When I emerged from the Lake Street Red Line stop and came up onto State Street, just a block away from Macy's and a stone's throw from Millenium Park, the sky had lightened just a bit.

Actually, let me rephrase that: the sky was positively glowing.

The horizon line reflected an unseen rising sun somewhere west of Lake Michigan; the blue was absolutely electric and the tall skyscrapers with their shorter, stone and mortar counterparts still laid dormant, black and brown beneath a rapidly brightening canopy of indigos and royal blues. In those few short minutes walking past the doors of Macy's and the silhouette of the Festival Stage in Millennium Park, I had the whole of Chicago's heart within my grasp, and it was beating solely for me. It's 11am now; the sun is shining, there are people everywhere, and the sounds of taxis honking, sirens blaring, and trains flying by on the elevated tracks over Wabash Avenue are incessant. It's a rapid pulse of surging energy from every direction. But for a few brief moments, only hours ago, the streets were empty and these few city blocks belonged to me.

So, this early morning stocking position has got that going for it, at least.

Each time I passed the windows with my rolling rack of fashion-savvy polos and T's, the streets had brightened just a bit, the taxis became more frequent and, at last (!) the sun was up and so were the city's nine-to-fivers and the myriad street people who frequent the corners with bibles to give away, cups to fill with cash, and sad stories to share with anyone willing to spare a few minutes (and, of course, a quarter or two). It's a strange city, Chicago; at times I feel very happy here - I feel busy and elated, full of possibility. At others, I look around at the strangers on the train and think to myself "I am alone here and I'm not quite sure I know what I'm doing." I miss my family and my friends, I miss the certainty of September and the comfort of the many places I've called 'home' over the last few years. I know I'm on my way to building a new home in the city, but taking stock of what I need to build that home is a daunting task.

That being said, the past week has been filled with emotional ups and downs - some caused by the angst of the ongoing search for employment, others by the heart pangs of longing for a hand to hold while I wade through all this lonely muck we all get stuck in day after day. But when I sit down, like I am right now, and watch the world go by, it all seems a bit easier. I am so full of love for many things and people that my heart sometimes feel like it could burst from my chest. The quiet moments on the streets in the early morning, running out on the beach and watching the waves crash against the sand, or simply being with old friends (Amy and Dylan, I simply couldn't be doing this without you. I don't know how I'll ever repay you for your kindness, for the shelter of your hearts and home): these moments remind me that all is not lost and that, actually, everything's pretty damn peachy when I remember to sit back and take a look at things through the right perspective.

So I'll go back to watching the world drive, walk, fly - go - by my shady perch at the corner of Wabash and Washington. I've got the whole day ahead of me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bring on the Blog

[taken in on a side street filled with flowers, downtown Iowa City]

For weeks now, I've been contemplating my inevitable return to my blog. Maybe inevitable isn't the right word; 'inevitable,' to me, summons up a great sense of foreboding. Let's go with .... highly anticipated? 'Highly anticipated.'

That's better.

The final days of my second summer with the Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival left a lump in my throat and unstoppable lightness in my heart. Though my first few days of post-grad life and my return to the glorious Iowa City filled me with trepidation - "what the hell am I doing? did I really just graduate? why would anyone give ME a diploma, and what am I supposed to do with that now?" - the summer proved to be a time of openness and of growth, of sharing and trusting. Those eight weeks played out in outstanding contrast to the muddied and exhausting months that passed during my last year of college; it's a time about which, even now, I can't remember much specifically unless I really sit and think about it. And even when I do remember, my memories of 'then' are filtered by the overwhelming influence of 'now'. Once again, I failed to keep track; once again, I find myself on a new precipice attempting to write, to remember, and to reflect.

So, about the last few weeks; about happiness:

The last four weeks have been, for many reasons, an incredible release of old demons that really, truly needed to take their cue and get the Hell out of my life. And now they have. Sometimes all it takes is someone from the outside looking in to remind you of what you've got going on inside of you. Perspective is a strange and complicated beast. I spent the last two years readjusting my perspective in an attempt to move forward and improve myself, to pull myself up off the floor and just 'be a better person' because I had been made to believe that I was falling short of basic satisfactory human standards. This very blog, in fact, marks the beginning of that journey for me. Just a few weeks ago I read my entire blog through from beginning to end. It's a pretty subtle (perhaps even uneventful) journey, but, man oh MAN can I see exactly what was going on.

Summer 2009 was when I started this venture in self-reflection. The posts are lengthy and complicated, often times trying so hard to be intelligent and make a point. When I read it now, I can recall that maybe I didn't realize at the time that I was pushing so intensely. But I remember what I was after during that first summer: I was trying to reinvent myself. In the wake of personal disaster, I was absolutely drowning in the unknown, feeling too insignificant to save myself and too stupid to think it was worth it. And so the blog became a place to explore my intellect and prove to someone that I was just a really insightful, profound person of worth, DAMN IT. I took up writing plays and short stories because 'I was inspired,' but really I was just sad and needed a way to deal with that. The plays weren't any good, and the short stories never amounted to anything more than a few lengthy descriptions of particular moments in my past life that I clung to in that new and lonely summer.

Still, I was making myself happy. It may have been forced, but I had to try out new perspectives and be something that wasn't quite 'me' (yet, or ever, or ... yeah). It moved me out of who I was and toward what I am right now, though, so it wasn't all bad.

When school started up again, the blog quickly dropped out, save for an entry or two about stress and self-doubt, the ambiguity of education and my inability to believe in myself (strangely enough, the SAME thing happened this past school year, too).

Summer 2010 was my first trip to Riverside. It was a time of breaking down personal boundaries and exploring as an artist again - and in many ways, for the first time - and finally feeling separated from everything I tried to run away from the summer before when I'd escaped to American Players Theatre to play in the woods. From start to finish, I was beyond happy to be a part of the Riverside Theatre family and feel comfortable in exploring creatively and fearlessly. My blog, then, became a place to ponder the insights I had gained. It was a place of saturation for new ideas. The blog was empowering. That summer was empowering; it was a period of professional and artistic growth, and I entered the following school year (my last, in fact) feeling more capable and aware.

The school year was another series of 'rinse and repeat' fears and trepidations (what a great word) that stood in my way as a student and artist. That, in addition to mounting graduation pressures and the anticlimactic end to my undergraduate career, brought me BACK to Iowa City in a strange haze. I'd lost a part of myself that I'd spent the last two years constructing; I would later discover that the part of myself I'd lost was something I'd forgotten had ever even existed. It's truly remarkable, the influence another human mind and heart can have on your own. That's a lesson I am so very thankful to have relearned, and am still basking in today. It's part of what made me want to come back to the blog and get my thoughts back on track.

I returned home at the end of my summer gig to find I had a potential job opportunity in Chicago, the very place I want to move to! I felt as if things really were too good to be true. There was a lot of happy going on in this young man's life. Oh, those ancient days of my youth... So, I went to Chicago to interview, I stayed with my dear friends Amy and Dylan, very quickly drawing up the plans in my head for what my life in Chicago would be like - runs along the beach, trips to the grocery store, and even the excitement of commuting on the train included - and all the while I'm thinking "It's time to get back to my blog and start writing again. I'm in a great place, I'm having a wonderful time, and life is changing so fast right now, I want to remember this exactly as it was."

And then I didn't get the job. It totally sucked. And every happy thought I had about a triumphant return to my blog, complete with news of my first job in Chicago and the beginning of my real 'adult' life, was tossed into Lake Michigan. Boo.

So here's the lesson: don't procrastinate, not even about stupid things like a blog update. My LAST entry was months ago, and it reflects a time of insecurity and doubt. And because of that, I think, I was unable to continue writing. As a dear friend has told me many times: You cannot grow from negativity. And that's why this blog update (which should have happened weeks ago) was so important to me. It was a chance to reflect on positivity in my life and nurture that energy in order to continue forward. My blog has been, almost entirely, a positive resource for me. Even the entries that tread that line of 'emo Livejournal rant' are fighting to find a silver lining, to glean something from the wreckage of whatever mundane BS is blocking my way. But now, here I am, compelled to write because of stress and doubt; because something went wrong and I'm feeling worse off for it.

BUT IT WILL NOT CONQUER ME, DAMN IT! Ha. Which is WHY I've returned now. I figure it's now or never and, quite frankly, the last few days of uncertainty have been so stressful that writing about it seems like the only thing I can do to keep myself from falling into a a paranoid daze and giving myself 12 ulcers and a heart attack. In real life, in the moment, uncertainty terrifies me -- but when I can reflect on it, I can see it for its actual size and get a grip on myself and the situation... and that, my friends, is a way out of negative energy and into something positive.


So, let's take a look at what's happening: Money's running dry. No job possibilities on the horizon (save for the 12 or so applications I've completed in the last 48 hours following my Chicago job interview), and I have a goal of moving into my own apartment in Chicago on November 1.

There it is. My problems can be summed up in three lines of text. That's it. Just three. And the goal?: To be ready to move in November, to be prepared for hardship (because none of this has really been hard yet), and to never lose sight of what I'm going after. If anything, my three day trip to Chicago reminded me of how important this move is to me. It means artistic opportunity, personal challenge, and, obviously, a great, big, new adventure. Those are all really cool things and, by achieving them, I'll become a cooler person. At least to myself... and that will be awesome!

So, no more procrastinating. Not with job opportunities, not with risk taking, and not even with this silly blog. Ted told me this summer that it was time for me to redefine progress in my life. I couldn't agree more.

Bring on the part-time job apps. Bring on the challenge. Bring on the Blog.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I know it ain't easy giving up your heart.

If there was a time to write, tonight would be the time.

I cannot, cannot, CANNOT ever update this thing when I'm in school. If I attempted to count up the number of unfinished draft posts I've accumulated on this account this semester alone, I'd run out of fingers to do so with.

Each time, I sit down to write. Each time, I get a start; I see some sort of 'goal;' I feel some kind of emotion that begs to be tackled.

Each time, I give up. And why?: Because I tell myself it doesn't matter. The words don't come to me and I say to myself "It's all good. Just go to sleep instead. Just do your homework instead. Just stare at the wall instead. It's just your blog. It doesn't matter." Well, as I'm sure all we 'educated' folk know, NOTHING really "matters" at all - it's all about personal perspective. And that, my friends, is just relative anyway. Personal importance is relative. Personal significance is relative.

Personal progress is relative.

And mine, at some level, has been brought to a dead halt. I don't know what it is about being in school that just lays on the stress to a debilitating degree, but my ability to process stimulants in a productive manner goes out the window. What does this mean in relation to my little blog, here? Well, each time I've sat down, I do so with a certain topic or theme in mind; something's been on my mind for the day, or that week, or a matter of seconds - whatever - and I need to work it out. But as soon as I start, I get to root of the problem: frustration. Ultimately, I find myself in some predicament of frustration or depression about some aspect of my life that's going down the hole and I cannot bring myself to take it on.


This blog has been, ultimately, positive. When I was in Iowa City, my posts were expository reflections of my personal growth as an artist. When I was at American Players Theatre, my posts were about the joys of new surroundings and people. When I was home, my posts were about reconnecting with a part of myself that had been lost and, in doing so, finding my way back to my family.

The last few years have been a period of personal hardship, gratification, discovery, and risk-taking. I am trying to find a way into myself. I am trying to find a consistent sense of ownership in my work and in my thoughts as a human being. Writing about positive experiences in my life has helped me work toward that. Or, at least, I had thought it was. But now, at school, in an environment which has become in some ways monotonous - while in others still quite challenging - I am lost in critical introspection that I cannot seem to touch.

What I realized today while I was driving in circles by the lake after sunset was that its about time I began taking on that darker stuff. Yes, I must own my artistry - it is a positive part of myself. It is, perhaps, one of the most valued facets of myself (for me personally), and it is also what I am most afraid of. Ergo, I've attempted to stay positive and avoid dipping into the rants and self-destruction; the unabated insecurities that actually follow me every day, no matter where I go.

But this avoidance has done me a great disservice. Here I am, preparing to graduate, and what I've done for myself this year is build a protective barrier that's only paper thin - yes, I've encircled myself with a wall of meticulously crafted (and unbelievably fragile) self-worth, but, I'm still stuck in the middle of it with all this shit that bogs me down and stops me from actually, truly, really putting one foot in front of the other and saying goodbye to the crap and hello to something better.

If I expect to own anything about myself - my creativity, my compassion, humility, intellect, drive, WHATEVER - then I have to own the bad stuff, too. I have to acknowledge it. I cannot let 'frustration' turn me down side roads that only keep me from reaching the finish line.

Right? Something like that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Organized Chaos

[organized chaos. no particular method to the madness, but I know where everything is]
***note: THAT'S the desk I salvaged and refinished this past summer. Not too bad, if I say so myself :)

I've done a lot of documentation of my thoughts recently - completely in my head. Each time thinking to myself "Yeah, yeah, yeah, hold onto that thought; you'll write it down later."

Well, here we are.
And here I am.
...but where did those thoughts go?

And where have I gone/did I go/am I now? In a very literal sense, I am currently at my desk, in my room - at about 2am - attempting to process both the freshly-ended weekend and plan out the upcoming week. (Mental preparation is key.) We are THREE rehearsals away from the sitzprobe and proceeding tech weekend for Company, which means that we are 11 days away from opening, 14 days away from the first rehearsal for Hamlet, and 19 days away from Company's closing performance. There are 71 days until I turn 23, and 96 days until graduation.

But who's counting?

So far, I'm much more sane than I thought I would be at this point in the semester - we're three weeks in, but, it feels like it may as well have been three years. Or maybe three hours? I'm not sure. At any rate, being enrolled in two classes is definitely a major factor in my higher-than-average sanity level. But there are many other contributing factors as well:

1) Physical discipline (which was almost the title of this post, but felt too thematically constricting). A dancer, I am not. A sword fighter, I am not. And yet, this semester finds me attempting to do both of these things. The result?: soar ankles, tight thighs, and an overwhelming awareness of my own lack of coordination and physical prowess. There's clearly some sort of short circuit between my brain and my limbs; it's a bit embarrassing, but, I'm powering through AND I JUST DON'T CARE WHAT ANYONE THINKS SO THERE.

That being said, I'm a bit disappointed in my inability to execute synchronized kicks and pull off a casual-yet-sophisticated jazz square without nearly tripping on my own feet and impaling myself on my cane. Thanks, Company.

So what's the solution to all of this? Well, mostly it's all about really trying to focus (what a concept) during class/rehearsal and repeat repeat repeat repeat EVERYTHING until it feels "natural" - or at least not like an out of body experience. But really, what this run-in with my physical self has done for me is remind me that I really miss being physically active and, oh yeah, physical activity is GOOD FOR YOU. In response to this delightful realization, I'm working myself back into a nice work out routine and (!!!!) I'm running again. And it's been a long time since I've done that. AND... it feels great. I've only been running for about a week now, but, already I'm at a point where I look forward to going out and getting a run in before classes every day. The first day was more work than anything, but every day after that has been an incredible release of emotion. The days are more vibrant, I feel focused and energized, and everything just seems easier after a cathartic run (albeit under the dismal fluorescent glow of our gym's track lights). Aside from production work, this addition to my daily habits is the highlight of each day. I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to be challenging and taking care of my body this way, for the first time in so long.

2. Company has, so far, been an escape from stress, rather than a source of stress. Maybe I'll feel differently when rehearsals are ending and we're really getting to the wire, but, for now each rehearsal is a welcomed challenge. For that feeling, I owe the most thanks to our incredible music director. This man has given so much to the cast - so, so much. Everyday he reminds me what the term "artist" truly means; he carries more energy, vibrancy, and love within each of his strides than our cast could muster in an entire day. He doesn't take no, or, I'm afraid for an answer. And from that I have learned that there is truly no limit to what you can do when settling for less than your absolute best is completely ruled out as an option. The man is 66, and he leads our rehearsals like a freight train from beginning to end; how do you say thank you to someone who brings so much to the table in that way?

3. I love my friends. I'm not sure what else to say about that except that I am truly blessed to have each and every one of them. The trust and unending support we share is invaluable to me (and hopefully to them). Both new and old, I just cannot - say - enough - how - happy - I - am - to - know - these - people. To work, live, and play with them is what gets me up every day and keeps me pushing ahead through the snow, the work, and the angst of life's daily blizzards of catastrophe.

You may have heard that there was a blizzard last week (what?!). In those three days that Parkside's campus sat dormant in the drifts, I spent my time on campus with my friends; we cooked and cleaned together, dug cars out of snow banks, drank hot chocolate, cuddled during movies, and, sometimes, sat in complete silence, basking in the glow of 72 hours of absolute nothingness. As I was cleaning the stove the first night of the storm, watching some folks tidying up the kitchen as others simultaneously prepared food for the group, I thought about how wonderful it is to work with the people I love. Some of us spend nearly every waking hour together - we go to class together, have rehearsal, and go home to the same apartments, always together... and it just feels right. How often can someone say that their job is where their passion is? How often do coworkers and friends become family in the truest sense of the word? Maybe it's more often than I think, but, nonetheless I can't help feeling incredibly special when these days and nights arise when we become our own commune of escape from all the junk that's constantly knocking us down.

Anton Chekhov said: Any idiot can face a crisis; it's this day to day living that wears you out.

The man knew what was up (duh). And I, for one, would like to say it is my friends (coworkers/family/commune) that get me through the day to day living. Each and every time.

Well, them... and the vodka. We're talking about Chekhov, after all.

[I love the way the paper from these sketches has aged over the past year. I also love the middle sketch's absolute refusal to sit parallel to the others. It's the little things, I guess.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The importance of breathing; or, moving on.

This may or may not have anything to do with the title.

[EDIT: okay, it does, but only subtextually. so, sorry about that.]

We've just returned from ACTF at Michigan State University. It was a whirlwind of a week; we had quite a few successful designers and actors which kept us all bouncing from presentation to presentation, squeezing in workshops, productions, and (sometimes) food whenever possible. It was my last ACTF, and only my second, but we've had a good run together - great people, great theatre, and great inspiration.

There's not much else to ask for, is there?

Dean joined us briefly during our time in Michigan because he was being honored with the KCACTF Gold Medallion Award for service to the program. I haven't seen Dean in so long; his stint as the interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UWP has shut him away from the theatre program pretty much entirely. But getting to hang out with him, see shows with him, and having him at my final design presentation for support was absolutely wonderful. That man inspires me like no one else and, as scary as it sometimes is to contemplate, I can see myself being very much like Dean when I'm a 'grown up.' I am forever indebted to him for accepting me into this program and challenging me on stage, in the classroom, and in life in general. People like Dean Yohnk come along only every once and a while, and I am forever grateful to him.

*abrupt shift*

"Company" begins in a week. That's 7 days. We're to arrive off book, music memorized, ready to hit the ground running (perhaps breaking the sound barrier?), and I have to say I haven't been this anxious about a rehearsal process before. It will be my first real musical experience, aside from understudying the illustrious Harold Hill in The Music Man, and I have to say I'm not sure what to expect quite yet. Except that I will have my butt kicked. At the same time, though, I feel ready for it... Or, at least braced for it. Is that the same thing? I know I'm going to have a handful of my own personal barriers to break down during this process, but, what better environment to do that in than one in which no other choice is really acceptable, right? Over the last few weeks I've been reading and rereading the notes I took this past summer during my classical acting classes with Ted Swetz. Over and over again, I return to the idea of greatness. Ted spoke to the interns extensively about the importance of abandoning the term 'perfection' and replacing it with 'greatness.' Theatre is not about being perfect. Theatre is about being great. It's about making exciting choices and taking risks and knowing that failure is inevitable in the face of exploration. Fear of failure only holds us back from finding the truth.

I have feared failure in nearly every area of life since the moment I appeared on Earth. I'm not sure what that's all about, but I've always felt that an inability to succeed or complete something 'perfectly' not only let myself down, but disappointed others around me, as well.

I know I've contemplated this idea too many times to count, so, I'll just move ahead: I am ready to kick my own ass and really rock it this semester, in every way possible. I've had almost an entire semester off from doing what challenges/scares/inspires me the most, and now I've got two amazing opportunities in front of me during my final semester in college to learn and do as much as possible before I'm catapulted into the big, scary, unforgiving world of professional theatre and part-time jobs. Yeesh.

As a capper to this emptying of my thoughts, I'd like to say that I'm feeling really happy right now. There are a lot of complex layers and facets that accompany this blanket emotion, but, on the surface of it all, I'm feeling refreshed and overjoyed at the prospects of the immediate future. I've finally really (like, as in, actually for real this time) let quite a few big chips fall off my shoulder and I feel, for the first time in a long time, alive. This past week was a big part of that - being somewhere new with lots of foreign stimuli is always good for getting oneself to shake off old junk and become more open to what else is out there - and the next week will be, too, as I very completely dive into preparing for "Company" and "Hamlet." I'm hoping to have some camera adventures this week, too, so I can start figuring out this fancy new lens I got for Christmas... photo adventures are always a good mood booster.

And finally, in the words of Neil Patrick Harris: When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. Seems like a good mantra for the semester.