taking the bumpy ride

After living in New York for a few years, I was making a summer trip down to visit my family, and as it turned out, had chosen the absolute wrong day to do this. If we had stayed on course, we would have flown straight into a hurricane. Instead, we stopped in Memphis, and were given the option to stall and wait it out (“It could be days,” we were told) or we could take a detour to Mississippi. It was the last flight going out, and was sure to be bumpy.

I took it.

When I arrived in Biloxi, I called my dad, and he drove the five hours to pick me up. We drove back through the hurricane, and by the time we arrived home, the skies were the clearest blue that you could ever imagine. The air was calm, peaceful, and serene. It was as if none of the last 5 hours had ever happened.

They say that being in the midst of great turmoil can be one of the biggest gifts in life. Out of pain, sadness, confusion, there is great possibility. That is, of course, if you allow yourself to fully experience the whirling winds inside.

Typically it is my nature to stall. To prop things up when they start leaning. To patch up the cracks that start forming. It is hard for me to just let things fall apart, with the intention of building something new. But, the thing is, if something is meant to fall apart, it eventually will. 

If you step back without holding on so tightly trying to “fix” it, it will either be fine on its own, or it won’t.

I was in a relationship that just wasn’t working. Intuitively I knew it would fall apart. It was just a matter of when. I could keep propping and patching, or I could just take a step back, let go, and breathe. I chose the latter. It wasn’t easy for me. I was afraid of the unknown. I had no plan or vision on how to rebuild. And, yet, rather than try to put everything back together, I simply and slowly walked away and just started noticing.

After all that, I felt calm.

I rebuilt slowly. I asked myself, “what do I really really like?” I started to enjoy and play.

And when I was ready, I met Dave.

Being with Dave has opened up my capacity to dream. If I had not let things fall apart, if I had not been open and vulnerable, I’m not sure if that would have happened. I write this not just as a story about how I met my boyfriend, but, more so, that being able to let go and take the bumpy ride in any part of your life (ahem, my career, just as an example!), even when it may be scary, holds great potential on the other side.

simple joys: a smile on the subway

One of the things I value highly is being in the moment. I’m not saying that I’m very good at it, but it’s certainly something I aspire to.

One day this week on my way to work, I noticed a guy sitting down listening to his head phones. He had a huge grin on his face. Occasionally he would try to fight back the laughter, his lips fighting to stay together. It was pure joy. Just watching him, I felt my heart open up. I didn’t need to know what he was listening to, his energy alone put a smile on my face, and I felt so present and in the moment… a simple joy to take me out of my head for a bit.

I’ve been hearing a lot of recommendations for Tina Fey’s Bossypants since it came out. A colleague at work said since I’m into improv, I should definitely buy it.

“Don’t even try to stifle your laughter on the subway,” she said. “It won’t work.”

And, so, magically, my boyfriend surprised me and ordered it. I can’t wait to have my own infectious grin in the midst of a crowded subway car.

the vocabulary to dream

I recently wrote my Mondo Beyondo list. This list is supposed to be made up of all your dreams and wishes in life, no matter how big or small. Some items on the list could be construed as goals, but the idea is to be fanciful. Allow your imagination to play without the inner critic getting in the way. Allow your soul to express its deepest desires. Allow yourself to dig into possibility.

And, yet, at first I found it so difficult to just let go and dream.

My own cottage in the south of France. Um, who are we kidding? That’s not going to happen!

I also found that many of my dreams were fuzzy and enigmatic. Have a colorful life. Hmmm…and how am I supposed to know when that dream has come true?

As I was dreaming up my list, I remembered that I had written something similar a few years ago when I took a class at Capes Coaching. It was called the Desire Rant. We spent 20 minutes, non-stop writing all of our desires. I wondered if my desires had changed since then. Or maybe I had forgotten some really important ones for my Mondo Beyondo list. So, I pulled out my old notebook, and a quietly funny thing happened.

As I was reading my Desire Rant, I realized that many of my dreams had already come true without me even being aware of it. These were the hazy, unshaped dreams that didn’t have a concrete “how.”

  • Genuinely laugh a lot
  • Make other people laugh
  • Find a community to belong to

It hit me so hard when I came to realize that these dreams were happening now without me even actively pursuing them. While working towards a very concrete goal: go out on 30 auditions in 3 months, I met a casting director who told me to take an improv class and “get back to her.” Improv was no where near any of my desires and dreams–in fact, in all of my years of acting, I purposely avoided it at all costs. After I got over my initial fear, I signed up for Level 0 (yes, as in zero) improv. I figured that another one of my goals was bound to happen once I took this class: I would get back to that casting director, who would be so impressed that I took an improv class, that she would then cast me in an indie film.

Well, that never happened.

Instead, I ended up falling head over heels for improv. I spent hours a week laughing out loud. I made other people laugh. I found a community of friends. And now I am a member of an amazing all-female improv group, Goldie & the Hawns.

I don’t think any of this would have happened if I had held onto these dreams so tightly, if I had tried to take “action steps” towards them, if I had fretted over them and gave them a deadline. It was in the act of dreaming them up, writing them down, and then forgetting them entirely, that they had a chance to grow and blossom in my life in a way that was natural without any pushing or pain.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re in NYC, come check out Goldie & the Hawns’ upcoming show Saturday, April 30, 2011, 10pm, at the People’s Improv Theatre.

don’t apologize for your art

I’m taking a graduate class in Educational Theatre (I’ll get to the steps that brought me there soon enough!). For me, when I envision a successful teaching artist, I think of someone who is pursuing their art (in this case, theatre), and someone who is able to translate that art as a teacher.

But I’ve been struggling with this idea of the “artist.” In order to teach theatre, shouldn’t I be pursuing it? Shouldn’t I be working on my craft? Shouldn’t I be creating or collaborating on theatre projects?

Last night my teacher said something that just hit me.

Don’t apologize for your art.

Just allow yourself to be an artist, whatever that means to you. It could be devoting a month to painting one picture. It could be taking voice lessons. It could be committing to trying out a new recipe once a week. Or it could be acting in a play.

I often question my creativity and wonder whether I’m a true artist. I think of the results. Am I producing for an audience?

And, yet, this idea of results and production goes against the very reason it is important for everyone to have arts in their life. Creating, whatever it may be, nourishes your soul, allows you to think about things in a different way, and facilitates connection with other people.

Improv class. Baking cookies. Drawing a mighty fine-looking boot.

It is all creative. It is all valid.

Rather than criticizing the worthiness of your art-making, just let it be. Let it inform your life and your soul.

following your intuition

A few years ago I was taking an acting workshop and I remember the teacher saying to me that I seemed like I was a very intuitive person. I wondered what led him to that conclusion. Inside I was thinking, “It is so hard for me to make decisions,” and “If I do have any real ‘gut feeling’ about something, it is very easy for me to talk myself out of it.”

Of course, one of my best impulses brought me straight to New York. I literally had $300 to my name when I moved here. I had no apartment, no job prospects, but I knew it was where I had to go. I wasn’t frightened at all. I wasn’t thinking, “what if this doesn’t work out, then what?” I was completely present, confident, and I just knew. But the thing about taking a risk like this, is that I also had support. I had specifically saved up that $300 for New York, I had a strong network of friends that I knew would be there for me if I needed them, and I had a lot of faith.

Sometimes I wonder, now over a decade after following my gut to New York, have I stopped trusting my intuition?

Maybe all the gut reactions, hunches, and “funny feelings” are still inside me. All I have to do is trust them again. Trust that they won’t lead me down the wrong road.

Many years ago I came across Andrea Scher’s Superhero blog. It resonated with me so deeply and is one of the only blogs I follow on a regular basis. With a friend, she created an online class called Mondo Beyondo. For years now, whenever she has written about it, I’ve thought, “that’s cool,” but considered nothing much beyond that. About a month ago when she posted about the spring session coming up, I was hit with that feeling. I MUST take this class. I didn’t know why. It had nothing to do with anything I was doing at the time, and I was insanely busy as it was–still am. How could I add something on top of that? How could I justify paying for something that seemed so frivolous? And, so, I stuffed the feeling down as I tend to do, but it kept popping up more and more fiercely. In a moment of complete giddiness, I signed up.

I’ll be writing more about Mondo Beyondo as the class unfolds. So far, I’m a huge fan. Turns out following my intuition on this one was SO right.

being vulnerable

I moved to New York to be an actress. Performing in front of an audience is exhiliarating. There is this feeling of flow, of letting go, that nothing else in the world matters except connection. And, yet, when someone asks me what I do (because inevitably they’re going to ask, especially when you live in New York), for a while now I’ve felt a sense of doubt saying that I’m an actress.

A voice inside has been saying, “I’m not sure this is what I want.”

On the outside I’ve acted as though I know exactly what I want. But on the inside I’ve been scared–scared to even admit this voice exists to myself. If I let go of “actress,” there is nothing there to take its place.

About a year ago I started sharing my doubts, open and honestly.

It wasn’t until I saw this TedTalk wth Brene Brown that I had a name for it: I was being vulnerable.

Vulnerability: a place I hadn’t let myself live, particularly when it came to my career. And there was power in this. A magical thing happened. Friends, strangers began opening up, too. One friend said she felt like we were living parallel lives, that everything I was saying was giving a name to her feelings, that perhaps we could support eachother in this journey. Another actress friend having been at the same day job for years started an impromptu job search after our talk. She said she wasn’t sure if she really considered herself an artist, that maybe she was really just a patron of the arts. These are friends I’ve known for years, and we had never discussed these feelings.

This is what prompted me to write. It wasn’t merely wanting to track my own exploration–I could do that in a private journal. But rather, by sharing my feelings open and honestly, by being vulnerable, that maybe others would open up to their own inner questions and share right along with me. This is permission for you to share doubts, uncertainties, fear (whatever they may be) with a friend, on your own blog, or even here in the comments.