Sunday, June 18, 2017

40 Before 40

We spend a lot of time making lists of things we still want to do with our lives. You can find I don't even know how many articles about 30 Things to do Before You Turn 30, or 30 Books to Read Before you Turn 30, or 30 Countries to Visit Before you Turn 30 or whatever. You name it, there is a listicle telling what you need to do before that magical day when you turn 30.

Well, I'm about to leave my thirties for the next rather arbitrary adventure, and I'll be honest here, I've been having a bit of a rough go of it lately. Things were looking a bit grim and scary, and it was looking like I was going to kick off my fourth decade with nary a penny to my name, in desperate need of both a vacation and some new underwear. Thankfully, a lot of the things that were scary and grim sorted themselves out so I am okay for the time being (though always looking for opportunities for improvement). But I haven't quite gotten out of the funk of it. When I look at those lists of things I was supposed to have done by now, there is a lot I still have left to do.

So I think I need to look at it another way. Here is a list of 40 things I did before I turned 40, in no particular order, so I have it. So I know my life has not been wasted or misspent. So I know I have good stories to tell.


  1. I played Hamlet.
  2. I played King Lear.
  3. I was in a play for two years straight (Floss!).
  4. I starred in more than one movie.
  5. I saw the Cubs win the World Series.
  6. I caught Sam Mendes' attention with my very odd laugh.
  7. I traveled to Australia by myself.
  8. I traveled through Europe by myself.
  9. I traveled through Europe with friends.
  10. I saw the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore.
  11. I fell in love.
  12. I rode a camel.
  13. I was sold for 80 camels while in Morocco.
  14. I headlined the Elbo Room in Chicago playing songs I wrote with a band I put together.
  15. I took second place in the Cabaret Division at the American Lindy Hop Championships with the Chicago Shag Team.
  16. I got arrested for underage dancing.
  17. I played my violin from memory in church when my pages were out of order.
  18. I got cast in three plays within a month of moving to New York.
  19. I moved to New York.
  20. I made life-long friends.
  21. I gave an epic best man speech at my best friend's wedding.
  22. I met Frank Turner.
  23. I spent a summer in Los Angeles.
  24. I went to Comic Con. Twice.
  25. I bought a car by myself.
  26. I raised the sweetest of all possible sweet cats.
  27. I built hats.
  28. I got my first Shakespearean tattoo done by a lovely Polish man in Dublin, Ireland.
  29. I made a dress out of paper clips and ribbon, and one out of playing cards.
  30. I saw David Tennant play Richard II, saw David Bowie play Fashion, saw Moby, saw Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (together and individually), saw Oingo Boingo, saw Tim Curry in Spamalot, saw Once in London.
  31. I played all of the women in As You Like It (except Rosalind) at the same time.
  32. I turned my year-long experiment with veganism into a 15-year (and counting) lifestyle change.
  33. I broke someone's heart.
  34. I got my heart broken.
  35. I went into the ring at a capea. 
  36. I voted for the first African American president of the United States. Twice.
  37. I wrote and directed a musical for children.
  38. I did a touring puppet show.
  39. I faced my fears of speaking in public and singing in public and interacting with other humans so that I could become and actor and a musician whose videos and music have been seen and heard around the world.
  40. I made people laugh.
Most of this stuff is not the kind of stuff that anyone else would look at and think anything of. It's not a resume that will land me in a hall of fame or win me awards. But I have done a lot with my life - this is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm not done with it, but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing. And considering that I started my life so scared of everything and so painfully shy, the fact that I am who I am now is pretty remarkable.

I'm not going to make a list of the next forty things I have to do before I turn 80. I'm going to see where my life takes me and hope for the best.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

As a Woman...

Happy International Women's Day!

To be honest, being a woman sucks.

Yes, there are perks - we are allowed to have emotions, we are capable of creating life (a lot of us, anyway), we can multi-task, we get to wear bright colors. But in general, being a woman sucks. As a woman, I have been told to smile more, but not too much or it will be taken as suggestive, and not at the wrong people or it is an invitation for them to do whatever they want to me. I have been told that I'm too pretty to be considered average, but not pretty enough to be allowed to do a lot of the work as an actor I would love to do (i.e. I'm not lead actor material; I can only ever be the fat sidekick or the mom). I have been told that having an education and being intelligent is the key to opening whatever door I want, but when actually applying to jobs in the workplace, I should not include the fact that I am a member of Mensa on my resume because my particular intelligence is too intimidating. I have been told that my happiness is important to others, but when I express any sort of displeasure, I'm told to take the emotion out of it, get over it, and look at things logically. I can use logic and reason to explain why I am perfect for any number of roles, jobs, relationships, opportunities, but am consistently passed over because someone else isn't feeling it, or thinks I don't look right, or feels that someone else deserves the opportunity more than I. I have been told by many men that I am a dear, close, valued friend, as they covertly take in my physique, seeing me for my shape, recognizing how I make them feel, not listening to what I have to say, or aware of how they make me feel. In short, I am too pretty and not pretty enough; too smart and not smart enough; too qualified and not qualified enough; too logical and not logical enough; too empathetic and not empathetic enough; too old and not old enough; too helpful and not helpful enough; I fit perfectly but not well enough.

With all of these messages coming at me from friends, employers, the media, fellow artists, I am left with the question of what the fuck do you want? Who the hell am I supposed to be?

Because I can tell you who I am. I am a musician who has written songs that have helped people across the country (and even in other countries) through tough times in their lives. I am an artist who can make people laugh and cry and think. I am an actor who will fight like hell to be given the opportunity to play the roles I am most suited for regardless of whether or not that character was originally imagined with boobs. I am a friend who listens and supports and empathizes. I am a stage mom with more stage children than I can count, though I don't have any biological children of my own and likely never will. I am a woman who has traveled three continents on her own. I am the person people turn to when they need to get stuff done. I am the person people reach out to when they need a sympathetic or empathetic ear.  I am a loving companion human to the most adorable cat in the world. I am an introvert who has learned how to put on an extrovert mask so I can function in your world so you don't have to try to understand mine. I am the person who will find passion for the things I need to do, even if they are not the things I want to do, so that I can support myself without inconveniencing others. I am the woman who persists. Because as women, that is what we do. We persist.

Being a woman is hard. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, a lot of energy, and a lot of resolve. In return, around the world, women are blamed for and held responsible for the sexual urges of men; women are persecuted and sold into slavery; women are treated as lesser, told that they are lesser; women are marginalized and paid less than men for the doing same jobs; and women continue to have to fight for basic rights like access to healthcare and the right to make their own choices - rights nobody would even consider revoking for men. And when we stand up for ourselves, we are told that we are ugly, unwanted, unloveable, threatening, pushy, bitchy, crazy, and whiny. But at least we can buy pink phones.

To all of the brave, beautiful, brilliant people in my life who identify as women (even just some of the time), I love you and I have your back. I stayed home and wore red today in the hopes that doing so will have some small impact, will make someone think about what their life would be if I was not in it. For some, there will likely be no change. Hopefully a few noticed and would prefer a world with me in it. Hopefully a lot noticed a lack of women today, and would prefer a world with women in it and will work a little bit harder to make being a woman not suck so much.

Happy International Women's Day.

Let's shoot for International Women's Year.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Courage

I've been thinking about courage a lot lately, because I know a lot of people who have been talking about it - doing courageous things, sharing times when they were courageous, honoring others who have been courageous, thanking those who gave them courage. And the thought that keeps going through my head in response to all of this is that it takes an incredible amount of courage to be me.

Now, before anybody jumps down my throat, I think it takes a lot of courage to be a lot of people, especially in today's political climate. I'm not just talking about the protestors, either, the people out in the streets standing up for what they believe is right. I think it must take an extraordinary amount of courage for Betsy DaVos to get out of bed in the morning and go in to do a job an entire country knows she is not qualified to do. I'm not saying she gets bonus points for doing it, as I am part of that country full of people who knows she is not qualified for the position she was given; I'm saying it takes courage for her to show up and try and fail so consistently. So I'm not trying to toot my own horn by saying I'm courageous. I know a lot of other people are, too, and probably in bigger ways than I am. But it still takes a lot of courage to be me.

I was listening to some people talk about courageous moments in their life not too long ago, so of course I started thinking about courageous moments in mine. One woman talked about growing up with a name that everyone made fun of. I can absolutely relate to that. As she was talking, I started to think about what I would talk about had I been asked to talk about courage, and I found myself stuck with too many options.
  • My first date, I asked him out.
  • I asked out my date to prom.
  • The first time I went to a movie by myself was on homecoming night of my senior year of high school.
  • I stepped into the ring at a capea and got run over by the bull.
  • I asked my mom to teach me how to play the guitar because singing in front of people terrifies me.
  • I have said "I love you" to two men who did not say it back.
  • I traveled Europe on my own.
  • I traveled Australia on my own.
  • I moved 800 miles away from my friends and family to pursue the impossible dream.
  • I wake up every morning knowing that my pursuit of that dream has made me a failure and a disappointment in the eyes of some of my family members.
  • I am an actor who has been turned down by so many productions, I can't even count them anymore.
  • I took myself to the emergency room after I fainted (a couple of days later, but still) to get myself checked out.
  • I learned how to roller skate in my mid-thirties to be in a play, and ultimately broke my ankle on stage during said play, but finished the performances anyway, as best I could.
  • I opened King Lear on the night my uncle died, grieving him on stage because that was the only place I could grieve him.
  • I fought to play King Lear. I fought to play Hamlet. I continue to fight to play the roles I am meant to play, regardless of the gender for which they were written.
  • I shaved my head for a storefront theatre production that got the worst review of any show I have ever been in.
  • I entered into one of the most fulfilling friendships of my life with a woman I had never met in person, but talked to on fan message boards for a musician we both like.
  • I played the entire middle section of a choral piece on the violin from memory because my pages were out of order.
  • I bought a car by myself.
  • I wake up most mornings feeling physically repulsive and like most people would prefer that I wasn't there.
I don't get bonus points for any of this, and I don't deserve bonus points for any of it. I know a lot of people have been through much, much worse. But I can tell you that all of these little, daily acts of courage (like me going to the park today to play music outside) are exhausting. And I'm tired.

At the moment, on top of everything else, I am experiencing the death of a dream. A dream that should be so simple, a dream that so many people have and so many people achieve. A dream that everyone in my family has achieved, but I know I never will. In saying that, I know the response is that I am still young, that there is still time, that I could still achieve it. But I know, in my heart of hearts that I won't. I have tried. I have pursued it since I was about four years old from every angle I could think of. It fueled so much of my youth, so many conversations, so much drama, so many friendships. I know now, though, that it wasn't the right dream for me. Logically, I know that. But it hurts when a dream dies. No matter how much you know you need to let it go, it hurts when a dream dies.

So at the moment, it is taking even more courage than usual to be me. And it is making me very tired. I am trying to distract myself with the things that I love - theatre, music, my cat, Doctor Who, baseball. But at the end of the day, I'm in mourning, and probably will be for a little while longer.

So here is one more act of courage. My brilliant and talented friend took some amazing photos of me about a month ago. We spent an afternoon shuffling through jewelry and lighting and make up and accessories, and the work she did is truly gorgeous. She took a few pictures of my newest tattoo (one that I got with a friend waiting in the wings, but no hand to squeeze). They are gorgeous, but I know that this one in particular might be a bit shocking for some people to see because they've not seen that much of me before. I think it is important to share it, in part to share her beautiful work. But also to show that beauty does not have to be an 18-year-old who is a size two. And also to remind myself that my existence is still valid, knowing that this dream will not come true. I'm still worth something, because I can help create art. I can spread a body-positive message. I can be the voice that someone else needs to hear.

It takes a lot of courage to be me, to live every day in my skin. But you know what? I'm not dead yet.


Thursday, November 03, 2016

Someday

I don't remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the Cubs. The same way a person doesn't remember learning to love their parents or learning to chew solid food. I know that logically, there must have been a time in my life when I didn't know what the Cubs were, but I don't remember that time at all. I only ever remember being a Cubs fan.

I remember the little white transistor radio my mom had that only got AM stations, that she would use to listen to Cubs games. I remember Harry Caray and Steve Stone calling the games, and I remember being sad when Harry died, but relieved that he would never have to try to pronounce "Grudzielanek" or "Samardzija" backwards.

I remember going to my first Cubs game with my grandmother, my mom, and my brother, and letting the magic of Wrigley Field wash over me. That magic still exists there, every day, every time I walk into the stands. That first view of the field sets everything right with the world. Time stops. We are all made equal. We are all there to enjoy our time watching baseball, eating snacks we otherwise wouldn't allow ourselves, and cheering for our boys in pinstripes.

I remember my first Cubs crush on Shawon Dunston, soon to be followed by Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa, and after a year of not allowing myself to like him because he had been with the Marlins who beat us the year before, Derrick Lee. I remember feeling a special bond with Keith Moreland because of the similarity of our last names, even though we've never met.

I remember getting excited in 1984, in 2003, in 2008, and in 2015, when it looked like we might finally win it all. I remember thinking that we were the best, no matter how many errors we made, how few runs we scored, or how the stats stacked up against us. I remember being devastated each time when what looked so easy for everyone else turned out to be so hard for us.

But mostly, I remember the love. I've been asked many times what the big deal is about the Cubs. They don't put on the offensive show that a lot of American League teams do, with fireworks going off for every home run. Wrigley is an old stadium, falling apart in places, that is missing the state of the art food courts and LED banners that tell us when to stand up and make noise. "It's just a baseball team." Except it's not. It is hope. It is a dream. It is a light that lets us know that no matter what happens today, there will be a tomorrow. There will be another chance. From Harry Caray to Pat Hughes, the fans are always brought into the games, welcomed as if each and every moment of each and every game could be the turning point that we've all been waiting for for 108 years. We lose, and we brush ourselves off and come back and play again. It has to take a lot of love for players like Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux to want nothing more than to come back to the Cubs to finish their careers, for men like Ernie Banks to dedicate themselves to the team and the organization long after retirement. It has to take a lot of heart to still show up to the ballpark and to still play as hard as you can every game for over a century without getting the one thing millions of people are hoping, dreaming, willing into existence - a World Series title. Because if we have the title, then maybe other people will finally listen when we say the Cubs are the best team in baseball. They always have been.

For my grandmother who lived her whole life without seeing the Cubs win it all.
For my mother who filled our house with baseball even before I knew what baseball was.
For Harry Caray who assured us that this day would come, as sure as God made little green apples, even though he's not here to see it.
For Ron Santo, who I'm sure would have had a heart attack in the booth if he had tried to call this series.
For Ernie Banks, who taught us all to be kind and gracious and to keep playing no matter what.
For Wood, Prior, DeRosa, Dawson, Lazzeri, Gossage, Sandberg, Maddux, Durham, Sutcliffe, Lee, Jenkins, Dunston, Dempster, Zambrano, Johnson, Barrett, Alou, Williams, Dean, Lindstrom, Zimmer, Wilson, Sutter, Boa, Smith, Moreland, Pappas, Brock, Ramirez, Kelly, Hornsby, Grace, Davis, Cey, and Brown who gave it their everything and never quite got there.
For Tinker.
For Evers.
For Chance.

This one is for you. This is your win. This is your year.

Thank you.

I don't remember the exact moment I fell in love with this team. I know I will never love another team in the same way. I will always be grateful that I got to see them make history, even from afar. Because if the Cubs can win the World Series, what else is possible?

Everything.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Seven Thirty

Two years ago today, I drive into Brooklyn with an address and a car full of crap to start my new adventure. One year ago today, I wrote a basic recap of how things went in the first year. In my second year in New York, 

• I got a promotion at work, went from supporting seven people to seven and a half to four to seven and will soon (hopefully) be just supporting three. 
• I did shows in rep for the first time, which wasn't as odd as one might think, since I had done different shows at the same time before. 
• I did my first Shakespearean history play, and was a guest on a YouTube show about Shakespeare.
• I went through another bout of depression that nearly kicked my ass. 
• I worked really hard, and continue to work hard, to climb out of that depression and I'm proud of the progress I've made. 
• I gave great auditions and was not cast; I gave great auditions and got cast; I got lambasted for being cast; I got praised for landing certain roles. 
• I sang at an audition. 
• I spent lots of time with friends and saw more of the city. I even saw more of New Jersey and Boston and Connecticut.

What I keep coming back to, though, is that in Chicago, I had a day job, did some theatre on nights and weekends, and hung out with my friends. In New York, I have a day job, I do some theatre on nights and weekends, and I hang out with friends. I am, essentially living the same life here that I did there, just with different people cast in the roles of boss, friend, and colleague. And my apartment in Chicago was much nicer (no offense to my current roommate - I love her to death - but my last place in Chicago had a dishwasher. We barely have kitchen counter space and don't have screens on the windows).

So what does this mean?

It means I'm a capable person. It means I'm a likable person. It means I know (at least to some extent) who I am. I have gotten more comfortable in my own skin out here. There's something about starting over with people who don't know your history and still being able to form connections, break down barriers, and build relationships, that gives a person a different kind of confidence. But I think it also means I need to up my game. If I'm living the same life in either place, why not live it closer to my family and closer to Wrigley Field? 

I need something big to happen; something big to change. I said I was going to give New York three years and I intend to do that. But without some big deciding factor keeping me here...

Things need to change. And I know I'm the only one who can make them change. 

So game on. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Seven Twenty Nine

Two years ago today, I said what was probably the hardest goodbye of my life as I packed my cat and the last of my things into my car and drove away from my heartbroken mother, sobbing my eyes out. My thought was that if I didn't give the whole "living in New York" thing a try at least once in my life, at least for a little while, I would regret it. So to leave a job that made me miserable, and to go in search of my dreams, I left my apartment that I loved, my family who I adore, and my friends who are dear to me as if they were family, and I set out for Brooklyn. 

Two years ago today, I think I stopped crying for real somewhere in Indiana, though I let the bouts of tears come as they needed to throughout the day. 

Two years ago, I stopped at a hotel in Pennsylvania to give myself and my terrified cat a bit of a rest. When I stepped out to get myself some dinner, he crept out of his cat carrier and hid behind the headboard so when I got back to the room, it looked like he was gone. I nearly lost it, and then apologized profusely for stuffing pillows behind the headboard, robbing him of his hiding spot, his safe space in his world that had completely turned upside down, so that I would know where he was. 

Two years ago today, I asked myself a millions times what the fuck I was doing. 

Today, I woke up to my cat and snuggled with him for a few minutes before getting out of bed. He followed me through my morning routine like he always does, and I kissed his head before I left the apartment, reminding him for the umpteenth time today that I love him. 

Today, I went to work at a job where the people value me and respect my opinion. I talked to colleagues about exciting things and challenges up ahead. I was tasked with another fun research project, and I helped welcome a new employee to the office. I didn't get everything done that needs to get done, but I did a lot. I was useful. I was helpful. I was kind and made others smile. 

Today, the cast for the show I am starring in this December was posted. I shared the news and pictures on Facebook to a slew of likes and loves from friends and family, both in New York and elsewhere.

Today, one of the dearest friends I have asked if she could borrow my car for a shopping trip to Long Island. Knowing it is good for my car to be driven more than I drive her these days, I said sure. 

Today, I am on the train back to Brooklyn after work to study Shakespeare and see if anyone wants to join me for dinner tomorrow night. 

Today, I have asked myself a million times what the fuck am I doing. 

My journey two years ago was split in two - one day leaving and one day arriving. For me, the anniversary of the journey should be split in two, as well. One day remembering everything it took to get me here, and one honoring what I've built. Tomorrow, I'll have more to say about where I am and where I'm going. But today, I'm missing my home and my friends and my family and the life I had in Chicago. Today, I'm thinking about what I gave up. Tomorrow, I'll be thinking about if it has been worth it. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

Semantics

I'm not sure when it became a "thing," but I'm noticing a trend where people who, I presume, are trying to be politically correct, refer to women as "females." Probably most notably in the Kimmy Schmidt open titles, "Females are strong as hell." What I'm not seeing is a corresponding switch from "men" to "males." This bothers me.

It's semantics, I know, but words have power and carry weight and bring certain connotations with them. I know there was a movement a while ago to get away from the word "woman" as it contains "man," and I get it. But by the same token, "movement" contains "men" and we didn't change that to "movemynt," because at a certain point it all gets silly. There are only 26 letters in the English language alphabet and to try to avoid any and all combinations of "m-e-n" and "m-a-n" gets ridiculous.

What bothers me about replacing "woman" with "female" is that is takes the humanity out of the equation. "Female" is a very scientific term, used to define the member of the species capable of producing eggs and bearing children. "Woman" is the word used to describe a human female. The same as adult male chickens are roosters and adult female chickens are hens, adult male humans are men, and adult female humans are women. To call women "females," to me, takes away the specificity of what species we are, which is, in my opinion, even more degrading that the fact that the letters "m-a-n" exist in the word "woman."

Biologically, yes, I am female. Transgender women identify as female as well. But I think all of us would like to think of ourselves as more than a set of sex organs, which is what the term "female" implies to me, and which is why I prefer the word woman. It gets even stickier when we note that men are not being called "males," implying that men are humans with complex lives and thoughts and fears and language abilities - all of the lovely things that make humans humans. We are, again, widening the gap between men and women, allowing one gender to be human and the other to be defined exclusively by its gender.

Granted, this also doesn't allow for agendered individuals, as much of the English language was developed at a time when we thought of gender as more of a binary system as opposed to the spectrum we now understand it to be. But perhaps, instead of allowing men to be human, women to be sex organs, and agendered individuals to feel completely out of place, we need to develop three new words - or six new words, or twelve new words or whatever - that better describe the variations of human existence, as opposed to further alienating more than half of the population.

Just a thought. From a woman.