Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Autumn in New York

As a small departure from my usual topic of showbiz life, I'd like to dedicate this entry to the one who makes my showbiz life possible - and impossible.  The one who drew me out of the Redwoods and into the thick of the jungle.  The one who always bites me back, chews me up, spits me out and keeps me coming back for more.  The one who I go home to every night, and wake up with every morning.  The one who I can't seem to live without, with whom I've had some of my highest highs and lowest lows and made secrets and made love.  The one who I love even when she doesn't love me. 

Yup - I am talking about NEW YORK CITY, people.  Bright lights, dark depths, infamy and independence, this one is for you.  New York and I have been together for 7 years.  We've just had our anniversary, and I'm celebrating by enjoying the beauty of this place during my favorite time of year.

Ah, the glory of a New York City September; the cooling air delivers sweeter smells including rain and coffee, and pumpkin-flavored everything appears on menus from starbucks to fancy french bistros with baskets hanging from the ceiling.  It's the perfect time of year for a sunset stroll on the Highline, an al fresco bottle of wine on a broad avenue near Washington Square, or a hot toddy party on the rooftop.

If you're like me and on a shoestring budget, it can start to feel like many of the pleasure of living in a place like New York are out of reach.  But that doesn't have to be true!  In honor of this, the most glamorous and crisp and romantic season in the city I love to call my home, I've compiled an ode in list form of some of my favorite Autumn in New York things.  Most are friendly to my shoestring budget, and a good example of how my concrete mistress spoils me even when I have nothing in my pocket:

Taxi Rides in the Rain - I know I might be alone on this one.  Blame it on my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, where the rain was a constant companion and friend, and where long car rides to the other end of California taught me to make myself comfy in cars no matter what.  But really, what's cozier than leaning back, listening to the windshield washers, and watching the city get washed before your eyes?  I love taxi rides.  At this point in my life in New York, it's a rare treat.  And with the autumn chill creeping in, there's an added layer of comfort to having the bubble of the taxi around you as you dodge through and observe the city.
Soup: make it, buy it, cup it, bowl it, drink it, slurp it, spill it.  Soup weather makes me so happy!  Try one of my new favorite recipes for yourself and I bet it will make you happy too.  Or, do my real favorite autumn soup thing and go to any of the ramen houses in the east village.  A ginormous bowl costs only around $6!

Boots: No need to buy new ones!  I don't care if they're from last season or five years ago, boots are the most fun footwear that exists offering both tremendous grounding and kick-ass awesomeness.  (That may be a hyperbole, but it is the truth of how I feel in this moment as I'm about to dust off my ol' Fryes and stomp around in rugged style.  Whenever I'm feeling greedy, I like to visit the Frye Company's website and drool over the sheer timeless perfection of their designs).  Whether going for classy or superhero, boots run the gamut of emotional and fashionable usefulness.  Getting to wear them again makes me want to pose for any camera that will click for me as I stomp by. 

Bryant Park Fall Festival:  It's free and happening right now!  Yesterday on my lunch break I caught the tail end of an act of Figaro performed by Operamission.  Mink and diamonds optional.

San Genarro Festival: Ok, so, I don't know if I can actually go to this ever again, but the last few years have been pretty spectacular if only for the spectacle of squeezing through a mishmash of New Yorkers, tourists, carnies, and Italian restauranteurs packing themselves into a tiny corner of Little Italy and eating everything in sight.  This is where I learned about the existence of fried oreos (thanks Ashley Love) and also where I created this life rule for myself: I will never get a tattoo on my thigh and wear a mini skirt when I am 60 pounds overweight.  Actually I take that back.  I will go back this year.  I need to buy one of those diamond-encrusted t-shirts that says "Italian Stallion," and maybe one of those sweatpant suits with diamond-encrusted letters spelling "Mafia" on the butt.

As those changing winds blow through town and stir up the metaphorphosis of fall, hope you enjoy New York as much as I do!  She's not always affectionate, but she's easy to love.  Who knows if I'll get another autumn here - those winds of change can be unpredictable.  But I'm gonna enjoy the socks off of this one!

If all of this has gotten you in the mood for lovin' on autumn in NYC, press play and enjoy! Cheers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Fashion is the Fashion

Models cluttering the executive floor reception area.  Phones ringing off the hooks.  Dressers bags, ink cartridges, TONS of catered food, broken air conditioners, rapidly setup work stations, Mexican Japanese Italian French visiting CEOs, designers, coordinators, facilities departments, IT crashes, burnt out lightbulbs, celebrity guests, and booties to cover your street shoes. 

Don't think they have it in my size
These are just a few of the things I experienced last week behind the scenes at Calvin Klein's Spring 2012 Collection Show in New York City's Fashion Week.  I was delighted to find myself in the midst of the Fashion World's peak seasonal event - it's a world in which I am a stranger and sojourner, an outsider treated to a rare insider glimpse.  My mission was to gain some insights into a different kind of artform while doing a good job and not knocking over any celebrities on my way. I was moderately successful ;)

The show itself was an elegant a masterclass in production, with each detail carefully thought through with precision and cohesiveness.  The carpets, benches, walls, and seat cushions were white, the ambient music sounded white - all carefully and painstakingly crafted to transport the attendees into an alternate, perfect universe.  A universe of white.  A universe of clean.  A universe of perfect taste.  And a universe that lasted a whopping 9 minutes and struck me as being totally bizarre and a bit unwelcoming.

I was amazed at the brevity and simplicity of an event that has consumed an entire corporation for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of preparation, work, and design. Reviews have hailed this latest collection as one of Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa's most feminine and balanced.  Some of the fabrics cost $700 a yard, and flow with an ease that rivals nudity.  Watching the parade, I noticed fellow viewers furiously notating their blackberries with reviews and judgments.  I tried to focus on the clothes.  I mean, that is why we were all there.  But as a total High Fashion World greenhorn, I was helplessly distracted by the ambiance and the models as they zombied across the runway with blank faces, jutting hips, and motionless arms.  When the models turned the corner on the square catwalk, I almost laughed out loud: they practically disappear from the side and can no doubt dodge the raindrops.

There have been so many conversations about body image that it gets exhausting to participate, and I acknowledge that there are women who are naturally tall and thin and modelesque without starving themselves.  My mother is one - as a teenager I'd borrow her clothes and feel obese for being a good 7 inches shorter and still wearing the same pantsize.  And I was heartened to see the models backstage eating sushi and fruit in between the two shows.  So I don't mean to go down that rabbit hole.  What struck me about my high fashion experience was not just the extreme thinness and alternative reality aspects, but rather the effect it had on me.  It was hard to picture myself in the fantasy they created.  These clothes aren't designed for me.  It didn't attract me in person, this hard white world. I felt like I had stepped into an alternative universe alright - but one a little more like the Twilight Zone than heaven.

Maybe I am a bit jealous, like the kid sister who can't play with the big kids.  Sure, I always wanted to be 7 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.  Don't ask me why.  It makes no sense.  And I bet I'm not alone.  Yet I found myself wondering, where does this strange buried fantasy of mine come from?  Do I want to look like that just because it's so foreign and alternative to what I actually look like?  Is it JUST about escape?  That is, after all, one of the main (and most enjoyable) aspects of theater as well as fashion shows - to step into another world, another life, another character...someone else's shoes...someone else's body...someone else's dream...

And so I will leave you all with this thought from one of my favorite stylish ladies, Sophia Loren: "Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You're Worth It: Thoughts on Professionalism

Dilemmas can be opportunities.
Conversations about worth, value, and dilemmas have been popping up all over the place in my life lately - from acting to family to church stuff. A good friend of mine had a particularly blistering example. Let's call her Amelia. Amelia was offered a job with a Shakespearean educational touring company doing Midsummer Night's Dream, one of her favorite plays. The contract was 4 months long, which meant four months of travel in her homestate near her family and 4 months of full-time theater work - two HUGE forces of attraction that any homesick, starving New York City artist is almost powerless to resist. However, Amelia's decision was clouded by a con list. The problem was that Amelia had worked for this touring company twice before on two seperate tours and was a model employee each time - obviously, since they wanted her back for a third round even without auditioning her. And therein lay the dilemma, which poured some gall down Amelia's throat: this company was not only refusing to give her a raise, but in fact had cut her pay down to $100 less per week than her previous years' rate.

 Amelia was torn. Amelia was bound to the fiery torture device of Dilemma and could not break free. She had long conversations with her boyfriend, her actor friends, her relatives. Like most actors, Amelia's brain was wired to JUMP at the chance of any work - especially paid work - and be excited to have the chance to act...but there was something about this deal that screamed, "WARNING: SHORT END OF THE STICK!!! DO NOT BITE"

So where's the solution to Amelia's problem? Where can she go for help? The only answer is, inside. She can go inside herself and decide for herself what her value and worth are as an artist and as a professional.

Way back in my undergraduate days I took an economics class that taught me about opportunity cost, among other things. (We also learned a subcorollary to opportunity cost, the universal principle of TANSTAAFL: There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.) Opportunity cost does not just pertain to the dry world of spreadsheets and quarterly reports. Every decision we make in our lives has an opportunity cost. Which is to say, whenever we make a decision and choose an option, we are excluding other options. When you go out to dinner at a Thai restaurant and choose to have the Pad Thai, you are effectively choosing not to have the Lad Naar, Fried Rice, or Coconut Soup. When you buy a monthly metro pass for the subway, you are choosing not to take a taxi, bicycle, or limo. For my poor angsty friend Amelia to take this contract, she would be passing up the great gaping unknown potential that could come out of 4 months of auditions in New York. She'd be missing Equity (union) auditions. She'd be missing classes and better paying dayjobs. Not to mention, this job was not offering her any free lunches.

If we don't value ourselves, who will?

On top of opportunity cost, Amelia would be taking a definite hit in the solar plexus. She was hurt that her employers would offer her such a bad financial package after two successful seasons when them. This raised issues of company integrity, loyalty, satisfaction and respect. But let's not lay all the blame at the hands of The Man. Amelia, you and I all have the power of decision and an even greater power: the power of our own worth.

So my question for myself today is: what is the opportunity cost of setting our self-value too low? As a professional in any field in this economy, we know what it means to feel the pressure of desperation and need. "We want to just have an income. Any income. Income at all. Please!!!!" Even so, if we take last year's job at a paycut, does that help our pocketbooks, careers, or souls?

There comes a point in every career where a person decides it's time to move on. But how do you know when that time is right for you? This is particularly tricky as an actor, in a field where every person's career is so individually different. Another friend of mine just bought into the Unions even though he has no union credits - just because he is tired of doing non-union jobs and feels that this is the right time for him to move on. I, on the other hand, hesitate to pass up non-union work. It's such an individual journey.

But when I think of my friend Amelia, I feel a fire burning in my belly at the unfairness of her dilemma. The bottom line is, if we never stick up for ourselves we'll never get paid what we're worth. If we don't ask hard questions and make hard calls, we'll never step up that proverbial ladder of success to the next rung. A professor of mine in graduate school always used to say, "You are the one who has to to establish your worth." We all used to stare at her suspiciously, thinking, "Yeah right lady. Like I have that power. How do you establish your own worth in this business?"  Now, after pounding the pavement for a year and a half, I think I understand a little better what she was getting at.  There's a difference between being a diva and being a professional, just as there is a difference between being a greenhorn and knowing what you're worth.  Sticking up for yourself professionally doesn't make you a jerk, it makes you a professional. It can be a beautiful, classy move to make, a thing of integrity and steel.

Wouldn't it be nice to have cue cards for all decisions?
As an actor, that can be a scary gray area. Does it mean turning down a job that doesn't pay enough - even if your immediate alternative is no job? Does it mean saying no to doing nudity in a film or pilot that some part of you feels might be your big break? All of us have to face these questions individually and listen to our own gut reactions. My Dad always says that it takes 5 minutes to be honest with yourself. Lately, as I face dilemmas of wage and time commitments and professional recognition, I find myself listening to my gut more and more to guide me in the right direction. It's  worth it to recognize my own worth. Besides, if I am not willing to take the risk and value myself as a professional, how can I ask others to do so?

*images thanks to poundingheartbeat.com, photobucket.com, and allarminda.com