Someone was unkind to me today.
It happens. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, a family member, a friend… people are sometimes not very nice to one another. A bad day may make one irritable, insecurity can serve as the root for the criticism of others. Instead of letting this moment roll right off my shoulders, I allowed the energy to penetrate my calm exterior shell and burrow its way down into my chest, my stomach, my inner chakras in all their radiating colors. I couldn’t wait to get home and meditate the negativity away with “The Honest Guys” and Tension Tamer Tea (or “30 Rock” reruns… also very good for the soul). But as it goes in NY sometimes, the cherry on the cake of a rough moment was that trains were a mess, and I probably could have made it back to my Borough faster by camel.
I found a seat after my 14th train switch next to an elderly couple who didn’t speak a word of English. It wasn’t until after I sat down that I noticed the woman seemed a little agitated; her husband quiet, just along for the ride. Actually, she irritated me slightly when I got on the car because she was using the space next to her as a seat for her purse. (#BadNewYorker) But she moved it quickly when I asked politely to sit down. Eventually she began asking me frantic questions in whatever language was theirs about ‘Avenue N! Avenue N!’ Avenue N, I thought. Where the hell is that? So I got out my HopStop app and realized that not only were they on the completely wrong train, but getting them headed in the right direction involved several steps and more English than they seemed capable of.
I decided to write out the directions on a sheet of paper and attempted to indicate on a transit map what it all meant. The woman pretended (badly) to understand. I thought Well, if they get confused on one of the platforms they can just show the sheet to someone else and that person can direct them where they need to go. One of their transitions was coming up, which also meant that I was a mere 2 stops away from my tea and relief. I went to take one final look at this tiny woman as she gripped tightly to the paper I’d given her – white hair, furrowed brow, a husband who spoke less English than she did – and I suddenly found myself spying back on my negative experience from earlier that afternoon. In an instant, the idea of leaving them broke my heart. Yes, I was exhausted, yes I’d had to pee since Midtown, YES I had just been treated like shiitake by someone… But I just couldn’t leave them. How could I bank on another stranger to willingly direct this poor, elderly couple in a foreign land where they needed to go when my day had just reminded me that even someone you know will sometimes just as soon pee on you as look at you. The train they needed happened to be a train that I sometimes take to get home, so when the car doors opened, I ushered them to follow me and we all got out together. In the hustle and bustle of this busy terminal, the poor woman was trying to extract any last bits of information she might try to decipher from me, as if some new inflection of the word “R Train” might make us suddenly fluent in each other’s language. Finally, I pointed to me, then I pointed to her, then I put my hand on her shoulder, and making the walking gesture with my two fingers told her, ‘It’s ok, we’ll go together.’ And the sigh of relief and the look of gratitude that came over this woman’s being was enough to melt my heart in the maddening crowd.
During our train hopping and platform switching, I managed to figure out through our great language barrier that they were from Poland visiting family (Bialystok, to be specific… I pulled up a map on my phone once we were above ground). After some successful and failed attempts at small talk, we were finally on the right train, and the faces of both husband and wife lit up when they saw ‘Avenue N’ glowing in tiny red lights on the subway marquee. She asked for my phone number and I gave her my card. Later that evening, her brother called me. “Miss Kelli. Tank you so so very much. The people you helped today are ok. They are with me now.” I expressed how grateful I was that he called and that I felt so much better knowing they found him and had arrived safe and sound.
It can be easy to dismiss people when you're feeling down. Hey, let it be someone else’s problem, someone less tired and over it. And I must confess, for a split second I was headed down that path. Then I thought of the continuing domino effect of unkindness and became more sad at the thought of letting it continue instead of decreeing that the energy would stop with me. At the end of “Philomena”, Judi Dench’s character forgives someone who’s wronged her for several years and her friend says “What, just like that?” And her response is a shocked “No! Not ‘just like that.’ That was really hard. But I can’t go on being angry and bitter. Like you.” I guess I got a little Ricky Gervais in “Derek” today also… “I just know that when I’m good, I feel good. Kindness is magic.” It’s a seemingly simple idea, and yet if it were simple, more people would do it I suppose. Maybe the need to help these people came from the desire to prove that No, people are still good by nature. There is still kindness and it can be dominant when we choose it to be and by the power of Gray Skull, I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!!! It wasn’t the cure for cancer, but it felt like a small victory. Perhaps one can view the effort of turning negative energy into kindness the same way as starting a work-out routine; it’s really difficult at first, but once you get into the habit, it gets much easier and you don’t feel right or you miss it if you skip a day. Little dominoes first, I guess. But what I can see is that the light at the end of this tunnel appears much brighter than the one before I switched trains.
Daniela: What would you say to Shakespeare for our next poetry series?
Kelli: <<popping the cork>> Um… sure. But can we try to make it risky and interesting on my end, besides making it clear to the public why someone who’s sounded 40 since she was 16 never got hired to play Juliet?
Daniela: <<smiling but shaking her head>> What did you have in mind?
Kelli: Well <<pouring>>, what would you say to some of my favorite male speeches that I might otherwise never get the chance to explore?
Daniela: Hmmm….. <<sips, and then…>> Send me some examples.
I have to say, this turned into some of the most liberating and enjoyable research I’ve ever experienced when it came to selecting material. Here’s a tough kicker in Shakespeare reality… there is one female role to every four male roles in the canon. More good news.... Harriet Walter wrote an amazing article for The Guardian last year expanding on this harsh truth with the observation that “The purpose of a woman’s presence in the plot [of a Shakespeare play] is almost always in relation to a man – ie they are someone’s daughter, girlfriend, wife or widow. Their speeches are almost always about their men in some way. Men are their world, while for men the whole wide world is their sphere, and their speeches can range across the great political and philosophical questions that concern us all.” So in the end, we chose to not arrange a handful of pieces musing on the different facets of men. We went with the world.
In total, I think I sent Daniela 10-11 excerpts, steering away from the likes of “To be or not to be” and “Is this a dagger which I see before me.” The words we’ve chosen for this series are beautiful. They are conflicting, painful, poignant, sometimes threatening, and I will most likely never be hired to say them. But I wanted to say them. And when you produce your own work, you call the shots.
The point of this series is not to convince directors of the world that they should give a young adorable redhead as much of a shot at Shylock as an actual older Jewish male. Nor is it to manipulate my vocal skills in order to fool our listeners that they are hearing as such. The point of our Shakespeare series, simply put, is joy. Free, unassuming joy. Daniela’s glorious, improvised score set to whatever delicious words in the canon I fancied to say. And with that said, ladies and gentlemen, it is with giddy hearts that we present the first piece in our Shakespeare series… Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus…
I’ve been reflecting as of late how lucky I am to have some amazing people in my life here in New York; amazing artists, colleagues, friends. Some I would go so far as to say they feel like a second family. Recently, one of these people very dear to me went through a couple of disappointing experiences back to back. Since we’ve met, I have been in awe of her ability to create her own work. She is so incredibly talented at what she does, and she manifests how busy she is by cultivating her own projects. This year, she placed herself in a couple of audition situations which, for the purpose of anonymity, will remain undisclosed. The point is that it was, and is, uncommon for the next phase of her “busy-ness” to rest with outside sources. I too cultivate my own projects, but in my line of work auditions are a way of life so I have more experience coping with "no" or "not right now." Low and behold, the people in question chose to pass on my friend, and both instances happened in relatively close succession.
Her and I are part of this quartet of friends who somehow, despite being from different parts of the globe and artists in different genres of performance, magically came together and have not been far from one another’s hearts or minds since. When I received the initial text of her recent devastation, I was taken aback because discouragement is not a color she wears. So we scheduled face to face support in less than 24 hours. As the day rolled on, one by one like a slow domino effect, she confirmed that the rest of our foursome would all be in attendance. In a city where so often it’s hard to schedule coffee next month, the S.O.S. was sent, our covert crisis operation got the greenlight, and the troops rallied, fast and furious, to take the stones out of our friend’s pockets and usher her away from the water. The four of us are quite a color palate as far as personality and backgrounds go. So eventually, what my friend had flying at her from 3 corners of the table were empathy, reassurance, sass, hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, humor, admiration, the bigger picture, faith, and love. Once the moment of despair appeared to have moderately subsided, we switched the conversation to random, carefree topics, ultimately landing on upcoming Oscar Sunday. Our friend JF, who tends to barrel through life sometimes like a muppet with a rapid thought process, began spouting intense matter-of-fact opinions over the nominated films she’d looked up on her iPhone, NONE of which she had actually seen. This capped our impromptu support meeting with 3 minutes of ferocious laughter that left us all with belly aches and tears. Well, all of us save JF, who fretted through her laughter over how she could possibly do the Oscar ballot with all she hadn’t seen, which only added to the hysterics. I had a quiet moment sitting at that table where I found myself quite proud of us; how quickly and instinctively we had gathered when one of us was in distress… like a herd surviving in the wild. Four women, no ego, all love. #boom
Looking at their faces that day, and pretty much everyday that I see them, I cannot imagine my life in New York without these women. And I’m lucky that there are a handful of other people in this city, or just outside of it, that I am equally as grateful for. A professor introduced me to the Emily Dickinson quote years ago, “The soul selects her own society.” I loved that quote’s idea at the time, but I’ve come to understand it and appreciate it more fully as I’ve gotten older. As we all pursue our own endeavors, it’s common to face disappointment, discouragement, and temporarily lose sight of what’s marvelous about ourselves that others see all too clearly. A good society will reflect those things back to you until you believe in them again. And if you’re especially lucky, and have selected your society carefully, they’ll even make you laugh sometimes until you think you might go pee.
As someone who’s a huge fan of parallels and metaphors, I have found significant irony in the journey of my Zebra plant “Maggie” these last few months. Named after the great Dame Maggie Smith, she reached her full growth capacity this past summer. At least that’s what all of the plant forums told me after I expressed concern that she had started to resemble an odd miniature palm tree. Apparently Zebra plants, by nature, are not intended to grow past a certain height, but trimmed and harvested in order to branch out and create many more little green-leafed zebras. In other words, Maggie had reached the point where she was now supposed to become a garden.
So, how to harvest Maggie? Thank God for YouTube. I clipped a couple of stems and placed them in a jar of water so that they could grow news roots before replanting. I then cut the mother plant down to its main stem to re-bloom in its own time. I watched the cuttings like a hawk for days. But after almost a week, there were no signs of new roots. I went back to Google. Has anyone ever heard of “Root Hormone”? The idea sounded absurd. But we’ve been through a lot, Maggie and I. So to save her life and invest in her future, I shelled out the $10 and tried root hormone. But all that this not-so-magical dip did was speed up the withering process. The leaves of the cuttings went limp and brown. And if that wasn’t bad enough, back at home in the pot of what two weeks before had been “Maggie: my tall and beautiful Zebra plant” now sat “Maggie: my poor brown stump.”
It appeared that all of her beautiful green and her tremendous height were gone forever. I was devastated, I mourned, I couldn’t fathom it. I thought I had done everything right. I heeded advice from experts and watched the appropriate videos educating myself. I gave her light, put her near music speakers, watered her and placed her in the window for fresh air. I even invested in Root Hormone for God’s sake. What was the point? I asked my disappointing little stump. Over the last two and a half years, there had been moments when I looked at Maggie and felt so proud… but what did I have to show for it now?
The idea of just throwing her away was so painful. But looking at what was left, what else was there to do? And then, I remembered something… it was a song lyric I heard years ago talking about growth and green. It’s a song called “Wick” from The Secret Garden, and it says that just because a plant is brown and leafless on the outside and seems that it’s no longer going to grow doesn’t mean it’s at the end of the line… but merely going through a temporary phase. There’s still green inside, and “hiding down below, a spark’s asleep inside it/ waiting for the right time to be seen” again. So with love and hope, I gave Maggie the benefit of the doubt and continued to care for her as I’d done before. I gave my little stump water and light and played Pandora and did every other little thing I usually did for her so that if she did decide to bloom again, she’d have all of the elements helping her along. And then, after a while, this…
And just a few short months later, this….
Maggie continues to thrive (albeit in a new way), and I find myself taking note of the fact that putting so much faith and trust in outside sources only got me so far. What mattered in the end were my own perseverance, hope and patience, showing tender love and care, and the magic inspired by a song. I am sure that one day, Maggie will eventually become the garden that she’s meant to be. But for the moment, I’m just grateful that she’s got her color back. And now that she’s been through the ringer a little bit, even before her next achievement, I’ve started to recognize that she’s actually quite lovely in any phase. And in the New Year, I intend to find some reason, big or small, to be proud of her every day.
Wishing you and yours a very wonderful and happy New Year,
Michael McCarty, ladies and gentlemen, was finally intending to get a Smart Phone.
And I think maybe God just wasn't having that.
You see, because Michael's phone still flipped open, he did not have constant access to social media at his fingertips, nor could he send or receive 250 text messages per day. This meant that when he wanted to initiate communication with someone, he would email OR.... dare I say... call them. What an outrageous, old fashioned idea! He was the last of a dying breed.
I met Michael on a production of Ten Chimneys at the Cleveland Playhouse. He was the legendary Sidney Greenstreet, I was a young Uta Hagen. He was a veteran of stage and screen with a career that spanned decades, I was a wide-eyed fetus in comparison. But before long, the reality of the play was the reality of life, and like Uta, I looked at that white mustache, those warm yet piercing eyes, those cheeky little dimples and felt instantly loved and rooted for. As an actor, he showed up and just did it. As a colleague, he had somehow mastered a way of telling stories about working with Broadway mavericks in a way that was entertaining, not egotistical or namedropping. As a friend, he made me feel like I was worth making time for. “Pencilled in”, as they say. Literally... because he didn't have an app for that.
With Michael, I was given an education and a backstory about showbiz without making me feel inferior. (Not even when we lunched at New Leaf right after my callback for a show that he had been in the original Broadway production of. Good....... Lord.) I loved seeing everything be old hat for him, and I think perhaps he enjoyed seeing many things be new for me; “doing the dance he danced so long ago,” as it were. I can't help but wonder now if that made him think about time. On this planet, our paths crossed when one of us was closer to the beginning, and one of us was closer to the end. But one unspoken thing we shared in the middle, I think, was loneliness. Because let's face it, no matter how many shows you do, no matter how many faces you see, once in a while it is the hardest part about this business. The last time we spoke, it was a Saturday evening, less than a month before he died. I was home in my PJ's, eating Rosemary chicken, and watching Errol Flynn's “Robin Hood”; like many friends, lacking the energy or the money to go out for a night on the town, as is often the case towards “the beginning.” Not long after I'd settled into the sofa, my phone rang. It was Michael. “Hey kiddo!” “Hey, McC, what's going on?” “Oh, nuthin'. I just missed your voice and wanted to see what you were up to.” Suddenly, the image was clear... Me: broke as a joke watching a DVD, Him: bored with binge-watching in the Valley. Two cases of loneliness solved with one phone call. We gabbed for over an hour.
Oh, you schmuck, what am I supposed to do without those phone calls? Without that belly laugh that shook your whole being? Without movie dates and lunches all over town that included advice like “Oh don't be intimidated by so-and-so. Get a load of THIS story....”? Although it's funny... I could be wrong here but, now that you're “gone,” I can almost sense you closer in a way. You may not be tangible anymore, but I swear I can still feel safe and under your guidance and care somehow. So to compensate for you leaving a little too soon, my friend, I will make you a deal: You promise to hang out up there and watch out for me, maybe even do your best to steer some of the cosmos in my favor once in a while. And in between charming the mavericks and taking Broadway bows myself, I will always save you a seat at the movies.
My mother's neighbor refers to Spirit Airlines as the Cartagena Express. Spirit has a reputation for luring you in with inexpensive airfare, and then charging for every added convenience save boarding the plane on your own two legs. Print your boarding pass at home or it's $10 to check in at the airport. $30 at least to take luggage with you. Crash landing in the sea? $50/minute to use the flotation device. But back in May, round trip airfare on Spirit to Myrtle Beach (where my mom lives) was more than $100 cheaper than any other airline. So I bit the bullet, made the purchase, and proceeded to agonize over how to keep it from turning into a $500 flying experience.
And then.... I decided to stop agonizing. Well, maybe not decided. I surrendered to the fact that I could agonize no longer.
This was a much needed trip after closing my first Off-Broadway play, Bill W and Dr Bob, in which I enjoyed a lovely 3 month run. It was a wonderful time with wonderful people. And while not exhausting in and of itself, during this time, I not only kept my day job, but I continued to teach and build my side business as well (ESL and Accent reduction; see “Dialect Coaching” page). The average day began at 6:30 in the morning and did not end until my arrival home at about 11:30 at night. On the odd night or afternoon when I was free, it was a struggle to be charming and amusing with friends and family, and I'm nothing if not known for my charm and amusing-ness. So in search of the positive, I decided to use the Cartagena Express as a test; if I'm only allowed 1 personal item on board that has a limited amount of room to fit things, what were the bare essentials that I needed in order to have a pleasant vacation?
The answer wound up being “not a lot.” My mother lives not far from the beach, and I intended to go there every day and stay for as long as my Anglo-saxon skin could stand. This led me to conclude that besides my bathing suit and beach sundress, not much else was essential. So the night before my departure on a 5 day vacation, in a large blue tote purse I placed 3 pairs of underwear, PJ's, 1 pair of shorts, 2 tank tops, a bathing suit and sundress, a small pouch of toiletries, a MINIMAL amount of make-up, and my wallet.
I say with pride that I did not use a new pair of underwear until my final morning in Myrtle Beach, nor did I wear any of the clothes I brought along because my wardrobe changes consisted of putting on my swimsuit and sundress in the morning, coming home and popping into PJ's after my shower, and waking up in the morning to do the exact same thing. I went with the intention to relax, and relax is exactly what I did.
Here's another decision that led to bliss.... At the beach, my mother and I played Yahtzee. I took dips in the 82 degree water every 30 minutes or so to cool my slowly browning skin from the sun that beat down from a cloudless sky. I read several pages of Love in the Time of Cholera glancing up every so often to exchange smiles with the boys on break from Columbia. I collected seashells, ate salami sandwiches with mustard on white... yeah, that's right... WHITE bread.... I taught my mom how to stand sideways to avoid being toppled over by breaking waves so that we could make it past the breaks and swim in calmer waters. And, not to be too cool for school, I got.... a henna tattoo. Guys, I was seriously afraid that they wouldn't let me onto the beach the last couple of days because my new found relaxed coolness brought on by the henna might intimidate the other swimmers and sunbathers. But they did, thank God. AND, here's the kicker.... I do not have any photographic proof of a single one of these beach bum activities. And that is because, as to the afore mentioned decision...
I left. My iPhone. At the house.
That's right!!! I said it. I decided that I did not want to be reached by the non-Myrtle-Beach-World under any circumstances. I didn't want to be called or have email at the tip of my fingers. I didn't want to be tempted by buzzfeed bullsh** or pictures of someone's dinner. I didn't want my head buried in crushing candies when I could have been reading about the continuing saga of Fermina and Florentio. And I did not want to interrupt the experience of any of these perfect moments with “Hang on, let me get a picture for FB. And don't worry, I'll instragram it first.” So, instead of pictures, all I have are these.....
I look at them now, as I type this, back in place on my window sill. I pick them up and feel the delicate, ceramic like structures, so thin I wonder how they ever served as protective homes. I stroke the intricate lines that fan out from the center point across the surfaces, and gently raise my hand up and down measuring the weightlessness of them all. I do all of this from the tiny, cramped cube of my Park Slope bedroom; the fan is blowing, the Rosé adds a cool sweet calm, the smoke from my neighbor's grill momentarily makes me think the building is on fire.... But I hold these little found shells in my hand, and I swear... almost with tears in my eyes... I can hear the waves. I can smell the seawater and feel the sand clinging to my hot, sun-screened calves just before a refreshing dip. I taste the saltwater on my lips and the salami on my tongue. I hear my mother's voice saying “Oh, sh**. Well, I'm scratching my Yahtzee!” I recall our friend John's dismay at forgetting his radio so he had no country music, and my mother and I recreating the songs A Capella so that he didn't feel so sad..... “My caaaaaar woooon't staaaarrrrt annnnnnd,/ M'girrrrrlfrieeeeeend left meeeeee/....” I see the reddened, freckled shoulders of college boys and remember how once in a while we sweetly exchanged smiles as they leisurely tossed their footballs nearby. Peace. That's what I remember.... peace.
When I was flying back into New York, there was an immense cloud cover that was making the city below quite dank and dreary after the preceding day's rain. But above the clouds, outside my window I saw this calm, blanket of white, this bright, beautiful blue. As the plane growled into our descent and lowered into white haze, I took a deep breath and professed my gratitude to the cosmos for the gift of the last 5 days, and just for the moment and for being alive. And perhaps when the city starts moving too fast again, or I'm stressed about money, or if people here seem a little colder than usual, or if I just miss my family, I will grasp these cool, lovely shells, taste the sea, find that peace, and remember just how few things were (and are) needed to make a happy moment.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Maggie:
I took this picture of Maggie shortly after she came to live
with me following her brief stay at a C-Town Grocery store. She arrived with no
name. How sad! SO, I decided to call her after the one and only Dame Maggie
Smith. Like me, she seems to enjoy filtered water as opposed to tap, sunshine
in moderate doses, and a Classical Lounge Pandora station (when I’m not humming
along to show tunes). Throughout my daily routines, my mini-adventures, my
short term goals, long terms goals, highs and lows, I’ve continued to nurture
and care for Maggie as best I could. There were days she was thriving, perked
up, glowing with green. And of course there were days when her leaves were a
little more limp and yellow than I would have liked. Then, roughly 3 or 4
months ago, something started to go slightly amiss with Maggie. Some of her
leaves began to fall, the ends of a couple of them turned a little black, and
her height appeared to have become stunted. I wondered, could it be growing
pains? And I suddenly realized that throughout all of her many phases
throughout the year, I had hardly noticed how… tall she’d gotten! How many more
stems and leaves had formed since her first arrival all those moons ago! I
decided to give baby girl a bigger pot and some fresh soil so that her roots
had more room to breathe and stretch.
Here is Maggie today…
If you haven’t been beaten over the head too hard with the above analogy, I
would like to assure you that I have no intention of going through the multitude
of events and stories that made 2013 what it was for me. It would take too much
time and energy away from what I have already started to put into 2014. But as
it was a year of tremendous growth, I feel that some attention must be paid to
the lessons that I learned and the people that came into my life, because they
were simply marvelous.
* As long as you keep trying, you haven’t failed.
On January 10th, 2014, I will celebrate my 1 year anniversary of no smoking. It was a long haul, lots of slips, lots of Skittles. But once I switched chiding myself into positive thinking, and grasped the idea that getting back up after each slip was a victory in and of
itself, I found the power and the strength to not give up. Go. Me.
* The universe gives you what you put into it.
This concept has to do with energy; mental, physical, spiritual. What am I
putting out there? What am I giving? And whatever it is, it usually coincides
with what I get in return. Any time I was negative or cynical this year, I felt
as if I were in danger of becoming one of those old women on the subway covered
head to toe in yarn garments they made themselves shoeing children out of the
way with their copies of The New Yorker (women who are probably only
about 40 except that bitterness has aged them overnight like a pear). AND, I
remained stagnant and unfulfilled for however long or short that period of time
lasted. If I was (AM) positive and kind, if I sought out or manifested my own
opportunities, if I took the time to smell the roses and sing and Skype more
often with friends and family and obey a newly established rule of not doing
anything work related while I enjoyed a hot meal, then… then what? Well, then I
was calm. I was warm. I was grateful. AND… I was busy; either with work that
I genuinely enjoyed doing and was proud of, or with spending time exploring and
sharing time with people that I loved. ‘Well how in the hell were you able to
be more positive and kind?’ you may now be asking yourself. ‘Was it random?
Was it vodka? Was it medication?’ Which brings me to the greatest lesson I
learned in 2013.…
*Surround yourself with what will help you grow.
This includes, but is not limited to…
People: 1) Those in your field who know more than you do, who can help you
get what you want through their own lessons and advice, who are generous and
kind and inspire you to be better at what you do. 2) Friends whom you have
enjoyed cheering for, who love cheering for you back; who will talk you down
from the ledge with a hug or a heartfelt laugh or LOVINGLY shake their head at
you when you respond to their question of “What specifically concerns you about
this, why are you worried?” with a frantic and defeated “Because…. because…
because that’s what I do!” (I’m looking at YOU, Candillari)
Health: Some days, it's all you've "still got." Eating well and a few power walks go a
Inspiration: Different people will find this in different things. I myself have enjoyed
things like going to more theatre, reading, cooking new things, meditating, exploring, and
studying French on the subway.
I attended a holiday party this year hosted by a dear dear friend of mine,
and I met this lovely horn player who arrived late because he had just finished
subbing for a performance of Phantom of the Opera. We got onto the subject of
the music biz versus the acting biz, and eventually day jobs. He recalled with a
charming roll of the eyes his 3 year stint at a retail store. These days, he seems to
be busy as a bee musically speaking, but his years on the loading dock were still fresh
in his memory. To no one in particular, he mused “You have to be at your
best all of the time, you have to be persistent, and you have to be kind. If you
consistently try to be all of those 3 things, doors can’t help but begin opening
up.” We were talking about careers, but I think that idea applies to life too.
Thank you to everyone who made 2013 a very special, productive, and eye-opening
year. Perhaps next year Maggie will once again need a larger pot in which to
When I was in graduate school, I once attended a dance recital that was being
held on campus. The performers were undergraduates of all ages who
had been choreographed by the dance M.F.A. candidates. The skill level of these
performing non-majors varied across the board. But I very distinctly recall one
dancer in particular… She was sixty if she was a day, silver wavy hair pulled up
in a half ponytail. Her overall coordination was, to be polite, limited. And
for each number she appeared in, she was pretty consistently a beat behind the
music, once even forgetting to exit the stage with the rest of her ensemble and
running quickly to catch up with them. But every single solitary moment
that this woman was onstage, she wore a smile and a bliss that just seemed to
set her whole presence aglow. No one on this earth, before or since, has
experienced the kind of joy that this woman was having that night twirling
around, shaking her jazz hands, sometimes with the beat… sometimes ahead of or behind it. Not only were we incapable of taking our eyes off of her, but it was impossible to
not be infected and feel the joy right along with her. Of all of the theatre
that I’ve seen in my life, this performance went down in the books as one that I
will never forget for as long as I live.
Two musician dearhearts of mine recently had their own separate “gigs,” if you
will, that I was lucky enough to attend. On a Thursday evening, the gorgeous
soprano Jasmina Halimic was part of a recital of Slavic Opera at the
Bohemian National Hall. She was far and away the superior singer
(I am both biased AND correct), but overall I have to confess that I find people
capable of such technique and power to be of a separate and grander species from
the rest of us… AS, I realized that night, occasionally do they. Case in point…
there was a moment outside of the hall as I was getting ready to bid my
farewells when I found myself in an awkward moment of silence with one of the
tenors, who was looking at me in a very strange way. Not as though he was
mesmerized by the beauty of a movie star, as a parking attendant had shouted at
me on my walk towards the venue (I did, I looked really good). But more like a
bellhop who’s just schlepped your suitcase up four flights of stairs and is
waiting for a tip from you. So, to break the silence I said “You were really
wonderful tonight.” His response was a haughty laugh and a smirk that seemed to
say ‘Well, yes, I know. Aren’t you sweet, little grasshopper.’ with a slight
bow and tip of a cap that he was not, in fact, wearing at the time. It prompted
within me this urge to say ‘Well actually, I was being polite. The truth is
that next to someone like my friend, you sounded like you had tiny flesh colored
peas for testicles. How’s that? Is honesty more up your alley, Tophat?’ I did
not, in fact, say this. I looked far too elegant to whip out Midwest
bitch-slap. I merely noted his appreciation of the praise and not of the song,
kissed my gorgeous, talented friend, and headed home.
The following evening, my composer/conductor pal Daniela was playing for a
production at the Manhattan School of Music. The opera was L’incoronazione
di Poppea, and the singers in question were of the undergraduate age range.
So young, and obviously less skilled than the performers I’d seen the previous
night, yet still extremely gifted. As I sat there, watching their cherub faces,
I noticed what seemed to be a freedom about them as they moved and sang about
the stage; a lightness, a spring. It was a very gay and slightly caffeinated
energy. And suddenly, just like that happy dancer years before who missed her
exit cue, I found myself infected by their joy. Oh, how I wanted to jump up
there and play as well! I delighted in the almost clown-like nature of Fortuna
and Virtue, the geeky pig-tailed enamored Drusilla, a Poppea who walked like she
wore the most beautiful gown reserved for only the best divas of the department.
As I spied back on my own college theatre experiences when I was that age, it
occurred to me what I was seeing: These students were yet untouched by the
muddy, shark-invested, unfair, treacherous, foul-smelling, heart-breaking, manipulative, bowel-ridden waters that can sometimes be the business side of this profession. They were just using what skills and talents they possessed at the time, and having fun. And in watching them, I became acutely aware of something: Despite all of the boots I’ve worn out wading through the afore mentioned waters, my instinct and desire was to join them. It was like rediscovering that what I do as an artist is still joyous to me.
These undergraduates and non-majors are not meant to imply that pleasure and joy
are to be associated with less skill. There was an interview with Maggie Smith
that went viral several months ago. And it was during this interview that the grand
Dame was asked whether she was proud of the success of “Downton Abbey.” She
didn’t respond right away, and then apologized saying “Sorry, I just realized
that I’ve never actually seen it.” “Well, if you’ve never seen it,” the
civilian continued, “then what pleasure do you get out of doing it?”
Dumbfounded at the thought that the reason wasn’t obvious, she said, “Well, the
joy of acting!”
Oh, how I'd love to jump up and play with Maggie Smith as well :)
I don’t know where this need to put on someone else’s shoes and be their
advocate comes from, but, here it is! And it’s hard work; harder than
anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine. I’m also not so jaded that I don’t
recognize that people of all professions encounter disappointments and
roadblocks on the path to their dreams. Part of the work for all of us
sometimes has to be mustering the energy it takes to remain positive, not
concern ourselves with other people’s expectations, and have faith. There may
come a day when this work no longer brings me enough satisfaction and joy to
keep calm and carry on. But… it just so happens that today was not that day.
So, I’m going to go ahead and sign off now…. because I’m exhausted, and I just
got this new play that I’d like to read.
Pisticci ~ Italian on La Salle and Broadway. So delish!
“The Heat” ~ This movie was HIGH-larious! I almost peed!
“Unfinished Song” ~ This movie was so beautiful, real, and sad that I pretty
much wept through almost the entire film. Vanessa Redgrave and Terrence Stamp
I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 years old.
Now, one might associate the image of a 13 year old smoking as also wearing
far too much make-up, sporting a tank-top showing off barely-there breasts,
possessing bitterness and anger far beyond her years, maybe even a high school
boyfriend whom she made out with listening to Marilyn Manson or at least
Nirvana. NOPE! Not me. I was going to a Catholic School, playing soccer on
the weekends, piano on Thursdays, wearing braces on my teeth, and hoping that I
wasn’t lip-synching to my Bette Midler cassette too loudly to wake my parents.
I wasn’t considered cool (shocking, I know) or badass. And I honestly don’t
remember the exact moment when I took my first puff. But it happened, that’s
for sure. And what’s also certain is that it eventually, as it does for so
many, turned into one b!*(# of a habit.
By 18, I was “a smoker,” and was on average up to roughly half a pack a day
(usually more during certain tech weeks). How many times did I try to quit?
How many different reasons and opportunities did I give myself? Each one a
failure, followed by an overwhelming sense of defeat and shame. Something
always gave; stress, coffee, alcohol. Occasionally failure came with a defense:
“Well, such-and-such glamorous person smokes, maybe it’s not so ugly.” or
“Lots of relatives have smoked, maybe it’s just in my blood and I should accept
it.” But I always eventually wound up back at the same mental place: I don’t
want to be a smoker anymore.
I will quit for the New Year.
I’ll quit when the semester ends.
I’ll quit for my birthday.
I’ll quit after the holidays.
I’ll quit for the New Year.
I’ll quit for Lent.
I’ll definitely quit this birthday; I will not have a cigarette in my
I’ll quit once the show is over.
I’ll quit for the New Year.
And FINALLY, by the end of graduate school, I unexpectedly found myself… I
don’t know how to describe it except ‘some place new.’ I won’t go into details
about what the accumulated circumstances were or the soul-searching that had
taken place; let’s just chalk it up to one door of life closing and another one
opening. After so many unsuccessful attempts, whatever gave me the balls to try
to quit again during the final semester of a graduate program (when I was
finishing a thesis, getting ready for showcase, closing a show after doing 2
shows back to back, and moving to New York!!!), I can only assume was willful
determination. To start, here are a couple of aides I produced for myself:
1) A note on my iPhone entitled “Reasons Not to Smoke”, some of which were
‘You don’t realize how it makes you smell’, ‘Joy ~ studies indicate smoking
attributes to depression’, ‘Whiter teeth’, things like that.
2) I wrote a note to myself that I taped to the back of my bedroom door:
Choose Joy. Don’t smoke today. Be healthy, kind (to others & yourself),
I started out lasting about 3-4 days, then I’d cheat; one, maybe 2. That
went on for a couple of weeks, then I’d make it through a 10 day stretch. Then
I realized how strongly alcohol triggers a craving and weakens inhibitions…
Yowza… CHEAT. I completed my program and made the move to NY. Things went well
for about a week and a half, then OOPS. Dammit, I didn’t want to smoke within
this new beginning! I SUCK! Ok, well… I’ll just throw the pack away. That’ll
be my punishment.
Yeah, I thought the image of $13 going into the garbage along with 19
cigarettes would produce the desire to not “throw my money away.” 3-4 packs of
that later, I thought ‘Ok, well…. Maybe I’ll just keep a stash inside the
apartment. I won’t smoke in public, but if I’ve had a few drinks and I know
they’re there waiting for me at home, I won’t buy. Hence, I won’t constantly
throw money away.’ The problem with that? You guessed it… they were always
readily available at my fingertips when I was just hanging out in my room
completing submissions or watching Netflix. SO, I went back to the
The sense of failure and self-deprecation was taking its toll. Months and
months of attempt after attempt with no success. Something else needed to
happen or change in order for this to work. So I thought ‘What about instead of
punishment, I try something positive… Like forgiveness? What about accepting
the fact that old habits die hard? I’ve had this habit for a long time, and
it’s going to take some time to break. I’m human, slipping is natural, but as
long as I keep trying, I’ll get there, even if it’s slow going.’
The holidays were approaching, and I started setting weekly goals for myself
every Sunday. The goals I set cover all aspects of life, from career to
personal well-being to ways to help others. One of my goals from the start of
this practice was always, ‘Don’t smoke this week!’ One week, I made it to
Thursday. The following week, I made it to Friday. After that, Saturday.
Then… I made it! One week. A whole week and not a single puff!!! Holy cow, can
I make it to two weeks?
Nope… cheated that Wednesday. Damn Malbec!!!!!! Ok, alcohol
seems to be the main trigger, let’s take alcohol out of the equation as much as
I started keeping a bag of Skittles at home. One beer would bring on a
craving that would set my teeth vibrating to the point I wanted to lick the
nicotine from beneath a derelict’s finger nails. Day by day, moment by
moment, Ruttle, just get through this moment. You can do it, you can do
it!!!! I’d arrive home, chug water, chew ferociously on a small handful of
Skittles, and then right away brush my teeth and get into bed falling asleep to
Netflix as a distraction.
I think I had made it through ALMOST 2 weeks when on January 10th, some friends and I celebrated Pat Benatar’s birthday at our local watering hole. I cheated. The next day I said to my friend Leigh who had been in attendance, “Please, stop me next time!” She replied meekly, “But I’m afraid you’ll get mad at me.” “LET ME get mad,” I said emphatically.
“If I’m craving, it’s because I’ve had a few, so I won’t remember it anyway.
And if I DO, you score points for being a good friend.” BUT, in my own attempt
to be a good friend, I thought It would be nice if you never had to put her
in that position.
And so far, I haven’t.
Friday will mark a month and a half anniversary: Nil, nada within the last 6
weeks, completely puff free. After all of those attempts to quit, I honestly
can’t believe I’m here. Now, part of the Sunday goal is “CONTINUE not to
smoke.” It remains part of the weekly goal because I’m not foolish enough to
let my guard down and assume I’m in the clear. I’m still taking it day by day,
craving by craving. Who knows… perhaps January 10th of 2014, my friends and I will be celebrating Ms. Benatar AND the 1 year anniversary of my last cigarette. BUT, I’m not setting that goal. It’s too far away. Just like a scarf is crocheted stitch by
stitch, a career is carved audition by audition, I think this habit is only to
be beaten one day at a time.
AND… I am also taking note of the fact (get ready for some life-encompassing
theory folks!!!) that my victory came after I changed my tactic from punishment
and self-deprecation to patience and forgiveness. Guh-guh-what?!?! It used to
be that a cheat was followed by ‘See, Failure-of-a-human-being? You’ll never conquer this.’ But once the post-cheat message became, ‘It’s ok, you’re human and you’ve been
smoking a long time. It’ll take some time to quit. Just try again.’, I reached
those two weeks. Then, all of a sudden, 3 weeks arrived. And so on and so
forth. The cravings, though not of much significance anymore, aren’t 100% gone.
But at least I can enjoy that Malbec by itself without my head spinning around
like Linda Blair. And Skittles are still atop the fridge… JUST in case.
The Kettle Black on 3rd Ave in Bay Ridge.
Brooklyn at its most Brooklyn. Awesome
atmosphere, and a vibe you won’t find
anywhere else except the Ridge.
Paul and Jimmy’s ~ Wonderful Italian on 18th
Street. Affordable, and wonderful ambiance.
Otto ~ Another Italian restaurant on 5th Ave
and 8th Street. Great prices, great portions…
I also happened to be in great company...
I was above ground on the F Train the other night attempting to FaceTime with
my mother when a horrible tragedy occurred… I saw my reflection in the camera of
the iPhone beneath overhead subway lighting. ‘Aw, man!’ I thought. ‘And just
after a Pretty Day, too.’ A Pretty Day, for those of you unfamiliar with the
term, is a random day in which for no reason whatsoever, you feel a little
prettier than usual. People are loving your hair, asking you what you did
differently with your make-up. And you haven’t done anything particularly
different. Perhaps you merely added a minute-and-a-half’s worth of extra effort
into your eye shadow application, shaved your legs, used actual lip liner
instead of prayer. And yet there I was suddenly struck with horror in my corner
seat on the subway. What was I looking at? When did my apricot skin go gray?
My eyes, they look so tired and old! Oh blech, my hair didn’t look like THAT
all day, did it? And jowls... Are those jowls??? I was mortified as the Crypt
Keeper seemed to be glaring back at me. But THEN, I remembered a trick I
learned while watching “The Golden Girls.” (Don’t judge me, just read.) I
tipped my head backwards and raised the iPhone above my face so that the light
hit everything at an even angle.
<<GASP>> “I’m a pretty girl, mama!” Yes, all of a sudden, skin
of porcelain and kewpie doll lips graced my facial terrain. Jowls and lines of
fatigue melted away, the faux fur collar of my jacket gently cradled tussles of
auburn curls, and my eyes of blue were poppin’ like the Dickens. ‘Oh, that’s
all it was.’ I thought. ‘I just need to look at myself in the right light.’
The rhythm of the train seemed to slow as my mind pondered this seemingly
magnificent idea further. Was this something that could be put into daily
practice? Sophia Loren was once quoted as saying “Nothing makes a woman more
beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful.” So where does the gnawing
fear that we’re not beautiful come from, ladies? Magazines? Hollywood?
Other people? The concept of what beauty is has changed drastically over the
course of the centuries, and even differs country by country around the world.
As an actress, I’m conscious of and confused by this varying notion daily as I’m
submitted for projects here in town and around the United States. Sometimes
I’ve been up for the ingénue or beautiful leading lady, and have both been
called back for and booked as such. AND sometimes a casting director
doesn’t want to see me for a role because they’re looking for
beautiful. And ain’t THAT a kick in the pants every time it happens. We cannot
control other people’s perception of “beauty,” nor the fact that it varies
person to person. But when it comes to the perception, can we possibly have
more control over our own?
I have been loosely experimenting with this idea for the last several days,
and there is one general reason behind the moments where I have found success.
In summation, it all boils down to looking at oneself in the right light. I am
not speaking of walking on airs, making out with the bathroom mirror, or playing
“I’m Sexy and I Know It” repeatedly on your iTunes. I am speaking of being
thankful for what I have, and not crucifying myself for things that I cannot
change. I am speaking of taking something you may not like and spinning it into
something you can appreciate. Example: My round cheeks. I would LOVE to have
Hepburn bone structure, and occasionally fear that my “fat face” (deemed “fat”
by myself, of course) swallows my would-be mouth. The SPIN: Said cheeks have
gone through life almost completely clear of acne, people often mistake me for
younger than I am (which will come in handy later on), and my dimples are kind
of adorable. AND, let’s be honest, they’re not the super-sized tomatoes that I
have built them up to be in my head.
See? Just tilt your head back.
That, and when friends or family tell you that you look beautiful, just
believe them. Don't argue, don't dismiss. Just shut up... and believe them.
And be thankful that you have people in your life that love you
enough to tell you so.
Frankie's 457 in Brooklyn, GREAT affordable Italian
HipTix through the Roundabout Theatre Company. If you're 35 or under, check it out!!!
US Airways. Traveling to my mom's for Thanksgiving, I experienced no delays AND.... dare I say... multiple efforts to deliver great customer service. Exsqueeze me??? Thank you for the temporarily restored faith in air travel, US Airways. Speaking of thanksgiving....
Love and warm wishes to you all as you prepare for this holiday season!!!!!!!