Thursday, October 27, 2011

Forks in the Road and Alternate Lives

Last week, in a quiet and unscheduled moment, I logged into facebook and spied on my friends' lives.  Don't know how this goes for you, but generally for me this is a pleasant time.  You know?  I mean, I browse some music or comedy videos, see what my San Francisco people are doing, notice whether someone has a purple cow in some weird farm thing people seem to like...all in good fun and suspended internet reality.

Well normally it's all fun and games, but once in a while I'll see something on facebook that grabs me in the gut and lurches me out of my virtual opiate.  Something personal.  Something real.  Recently, that thing was a good high school friend's album of engagement photos.

I am of the age where close friends of mine are now settling down, buying houses, making families, planting roots - but I am still at the starving artist stage where I'm living paycheck to paycheck, sharing a bunkbed, and mucking up the romantic waters like it's my job.  Actually, if that is a job and you know of someone who would pay me for that and let it be my job, that would be great...

This particular friend and her fiance have stuck through high school, college, and adulthood together.  They've put each other through various vocational training programs and personal milestones, and been too stubborn to leave each other alone for roughly 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week.  How do I know this stalker-ish piece of information, you might ask?  I know because they got together about the same time my ex and I got together.

Our anniversaries were the same month, same year.  We went to the same proms together as couples (seperate make-out cars though, of course).  We worked at the same swimming pool, all of us.  We took classes at the same community college.  The boys were surfing buddies.  We even played apples and oranges together in the same college dorm when I was visiting over my spring break.

Subconsciously over time my relationship kind of tracked itself in tandem with theirs - even when I moved to New York.  When they moved in together, my ex started talking about moving in together, and I started to realize that I didn't much care for the idea.  Then when my relationship exploded in flames before folding itself to a heavy, tiny, universe-swallowing silence that I carry in my heart at all times, I watched in a daze as they sidestepped calamity and kept being together.  They just didn't stop being together!  Why not?!?!  I mean, we stopped being together.  Didn't that mean that the rest of the world had to derail too?  Didn't that mean that everything had to crash and burn? 

Often, I am ashamed to admit, I felt bitterly jealous of them throughout my post-breakup depression.  Why did they make it?  Why were they still together when we clearly loved each other more than they did?  (I mean, who thinks something like that?)  Why did they get a lifetime when I got only 5 years?  Why did they get to win?  (As if this was a competition!!)  Little twisted, right?  Probably a definite sign that I needed to be taken out of the "race"...goodness gracious. 

This is all somewhat funny to me today, as I click through their beautiful engagement photos and smile to myself at the computer (a non-creepy, non-stalker smile, by the way).  I smile seeing the contentment and comfort in their faces, and I smile recognizing the familiar natural backdrops of my hometown's gorgous outdoors in their photoshoot.  They are together and in love in the same redwoods and beaches that were there for me 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago.  They are hand in hand, looking forward at life from a shared vantage point.  I smile, seeing the life that I decided against.  I smile, knowing I could never do what they are doing.  I smile, wishing them all the best.

Yet, my emotions can't help reacting and noticing that I am not where my friends are.  In fact, my emotions are throwing a very unladylike hissy fit.  I've even been walking through the rain today humming U2's "With or Without You" to myself angstily.  "Look what could have been," my feelings say.  "I want that!!  Look what you gave up, you big dope."  (Feelings can be kinda rude.  I always hesitate to invite them to dinner parties.)

So, ok, yeah Feelings, whatever.  You have a point, I lost that - maybe.  Assuming we could have made a happy couple.  Which is doubtful.  Sometimes two plus two just equals orange.  And the TRUTH is, I lost that life because I chose a different life.  I chose to say goodbye, and walked away.  If my heart clenches a little bit and my eyes sting, and if a part of my brain is wishing uselessly for impossible things, what can be done?  Feelings, feelings, feelings... 

Feelings are only one part of me.  It's true that sometimes they seem to overwhelm and take over every other part, but that's a perception and not reality.  I can acknowledge feelings, note them, feel them: but I don't have to be their slave.  I can look around at my current vantage point, my current life, and give thanks.  Here's what I see; no redwoods, but the Chrysler building is to my left and the statue of Liberty at my feet.  No rugged beaches and salt stinging sunsets, but I'm surfing a new matrix of experiences and opportunities and living the dream as an actress in New York City.  No high school sweetheart, but I do have the love of my life (Jesus) and my home is filled with lovely people who build beauty and truth into my world.  My family is behind me and offering their love and support, enjoying the fact that one of their own gets to pursue her dreams.  City lights mesmerize me at night, and the grace of God spreads itself like a safety net under my harrowing existence.  
I have a lot to be thankful for.  And if my life is not what I imagined 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago, that's probably because life is a surprise.  My imagination is still growing.  My heart is still growing. 

When we say goodbye to someone or something we love, it's easy to see only the overwhelming "ouch," and we survive that ouch only to have to feel it time and again as we move on and stumble over little reminders of what we left behind.  When I look over the last 3 years since my life took this unexpected turn, sure, I see some pain and loss that I didn't want.  But there is a lot of good stuff that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.  I had to learn to live with myself and my choices, and figure out how to still be a person after the "impossible" happened.  I had to learn to let go and forgive - and also to forgive myself for doing things I never thought I would do.  And now there are film festivals, faith builders, MFA degrees, plays, travels, new loves, and a hard-earned but precious new honesty about myself.  There are late nights in jazz clubs, holidays in Texas, agents and new business bank accounts for a theater piece that I am co-creating and co-producing.  

I see these things as a direct result of the Unexpected, the Unwelcomed change in my life plan.  These things are all core curriculum requirements of learning compassion.  And these things, weighed on the scales, balance to a positive gain.  So I say once again, because every time I think of it I probably need to do it again; goodbye, alternative life.  Goodbye.  I love you...but, the road and I are going this way...

It's the gypsy life for me.  As the chihuahua says in Oliver and Company, "If this is torture, chain me to the wall!!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

"The Body Stories"

Today I am honored to tell you about my upcoming theater project The Body Stories - an original production I am creating together with fellow Actors Studio Drama School MFA alum and fearless truth-teller Larissa Dzegar.  While together at school, Larissa, myself, and a gaggle of bold performing artists discovered a uniting passion for physical storytelling that has developed into this collaboration.  We're taking our secret obsession public in a performance on January 22, 2012 in New York City and we couldn't be more excited to share our work with you! 

We all have complicated relationships with our bodies - I myself am no exception, and that is my inspiration for creating The Body Stories.  Here's a bit of my story: bodies always confused me.  Puberty hit me way too early.  I was wearing a D-cup bra by age 10 and routinely experiencing the humiliation of sexual harassment.  Much of my time was spent being embarrassed and uncomfortable and ashamed of my body.  My habits, posture, and clothes were designed to hide my body.  I didn't know how to handle the attention I was getting, or how to connect my body with my personality and the world around me.  It all got even more complicated when I couldn't figure out how to reconcile my religious culture with the realities of my physical life and desires.  I wore an abstinence pledge ring but spent the night at my boyfriend's house.  I advocated healthiness but starved myself down 30 pounds.  My body often felt like the enemy.  Why was it was so hard to live in my body?  What did my body wanted from me, or I from it?   These questions haunted me throughout my teens and early twenties.  My person was torn in two, afraid to let one part of me know what another part was doing. 

It's only over my years working as a professional artist in New York City that I've re-thought my body and yearned to explore these questions about bodies as a theater piece.  I am emboldened by the discovery that I am not alone in my struggles.  My body's journey is culminating in this project, where my body - along with the bodies of a team of incredibly brave and talented performers - gets a taste of freedom, connection, and liberation.  My body, finally, gets to tell its side of the story!

The Body Stories
is a blessing and a triumph for me, and I firmly believe that this project can inspire hope, acceptance, compassion, and healthy body awareness in others.  I have never felt this strongly about a theater piece before, and know that this will be a life-changing production for me - and not just for me.  We all have bodies.  That's why The Body Stories is truly for everyone.

Myself, Larissa, and our team are willing to work for no pay but I'm sure you can imagine that even an efficient production in New York City requires funds for rehearsal and performance space.   Our goal is to raise $1500 by November 1st, 2011.  We are now requesting the contribution of our friends and families in making this project possible. Your support will breathe life and possibility into our show, and any monetary amount that you can invest is a lifeline for us.

Please visit our indigogo fundraiser website to make a donation and learn more about The Body Stories. are our catalysts.  Any contribution you can give will fuel our endless gratitude and make possible the production of what is the most important show I have ever been a part of.  Your generous support makes our work possible.

To learn more about The Body Stories, or to find out other ways you can get involved, please contact us!  Your body also has a story...if you'd like to share it with us, don't hesitate to reach out!  We are open and curious to learn and grow, confident that this is simply one rendition of an ongoing project.  We welcome any of your questions or comments.

Thank you very much for your attention and consideration.  And thank you for being a part of our story.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mountains and Molehills

Happy October everyone!  Looking forward to a month of breakthroughs, wind-swept change, shifting colors and deeper textures. 

This post will be a bit more personal and, well, spiritual than my usual fare. Over lunch with my adopted life-sister and friend Lillivette this week, she posed a question that I have been somewhat afraid to ask myself: "Do you feel sometimes like you're two different people - the church you and the real-life you?  Depending on who you're with - church or non-church friends?"

Dammit, Lillivette!  This has literally been irking me for several years.  It's not that I feel like I'm living a double life, I'm just dreadfully inconsistent.  I don't like to bring up God and what he's done for me with people who don't share my experience because a) it probably would sound crazy to them, b) they probably don't give a flying rat's you know what and c) how do I know I'm not crazy anyway?

Sometimes I don't go to church for months at a time, substituting it with late Saturday night martinis and hangovers.  Sometimes I feel like my church-me is just some psychosematic astral projection that I made up in a fitful sleep because I was supposed to.  Sometimes I feel like my spiritual life must be a dirty secret, really, since I am so hesitant to talk about it.  Sometimes I feel like it's all made up anyway.  SHEESH.  As a hot mess myself, how can I dare to be my church self and non-church self at the same time? 

When I take a second to listen to this torrent of dizzy foggy thoughts, I see it for what it is: monkey-brain, that incoherent and useless ramble of prehistoric nonsense.  Of course I'm going to be imperfect, torn, scared, and sometimes downright cowardly about important things.  Especially about important things.  In choosing to align my life with a belief system not centered on myself and what I want at any given moment, of course I am setting myself up to fail in some ways.  The point is not to be an ideal representative of God, but to be truthful and human enough to try to share Him and love him back.

The real problem I face is not that I am two different people depending on who I am with; it's that I am the same person.  If with my church friends I struggle to join in belief, I am the one who has to live with that and deal with my character.  If with my non-church friends I struggle to remember and live up to my beliefs, I am the one who has to deal with my character.  And my character always will effect the other people in my life.  I always take myself with me, whatever the situation.  My Dad always says, "You are the common denominator."

Believing in God is hard for me sometimes.  I think about it a lot, and question it a lot, and need it a lot, and I'm always wondering what it means.  So, I share these thoughts with all of you simply because I think (and hope) that perhaps I am not the only one who struggles to be open or who struggles with forging a character in line with their values.  I share, too, because I think I am probably not the only one I know who believes in God but also struggles to believe.  I just think it's time to stop making it so complicated for myself, to simplify, to stand up, and share.  (Even as I write this I'm thinking, oh my god, am I really going to publish this?  Oh my god.) 

"God, I believe: help my unbelief."