Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Culture of Numbness

I find myself frustrated by other people lately, which is not a place I like to reside. Might sound funny, coming from an introvert, but I find I need to have some faith in other people in order to get through the day. I am happiest when I can believe the best about people, and humanity in general.

So I've been thinking about what is causing my frustration, because I don't want to just write people off, either specific people or humanity in general. I feel like that is the easy way out of the situation, and then it hit me. That's the problem. Everyone wants the easy way out of the situation so that they don't have to deal with anything, and this is what is driving me nuts.

Humans are a funny lot. For the most part, we all want to be accepted, we all want to be loved, and we all want to be happy. The thing is, life is not made up of tulips and butterflies and unicorns all of the time. Shitty things happen. We get sad. We get depressed. We feel worthless. Other people are mean to us. We let other people take our personal power because we forget that we have any personal power. And no, those are not fun experiences - trust me, I say this from experience, it is not fun to be sad or depressed or worthless or powerless. I completely understand the desire to want to feel something other than any of those things. I've been guilty of trying to find the easy way out of those feelings myself. I eat for comfort. I close myself up in my room and wall myself off from the world. I disengage. And I call it "self-care," but really, they are palliative measures. They don't actually fix anything, but they allow me to feel better in the short term, when what I really need to be doing is focusing on the long term. Fixing the problems, not putting band-aids on top of band-aids.

This sort of came to a head for me this weekend, when someone else's ineptitude and lack of common sense messed up a project I have been working on for about a month, and I am the one tasked with straightening out the situation. I came to a couple of very important conclusions about myself, which are going to sound stupid because they are things we've all known all along, but I think they are worth reiterating:

1. I am ridiculously smart.
2. I am ridiculously capable.

I know that I would have reacted to the situation in question by putting into use my problem solving skills, asking questions, and using logic to draw conclusions. Whereas the person who was in the situation defaulted to today's oh so popular attitude of "I can't even" and disengaged.

I don't want to disengage anymore.

I like feeling things, even crappy things, because it is the length and breadth of my emotional depth that proves I am alive.

Not to mention, I'm an actor. I need to have huge emotional depth.

So the things is this. I understand that there are people out there who have actual physical, emotional, or spiritual conditions that make "I can't even" a legitimate reason for them to not do things. For someone who is visually impaired, "I can't even see what you're referencing" is a perfectly legitimate statement. I get that. I'm not taking issue with that. For me, though, since I do not have such impairments, I'm going to stop using "I can't even." Because I can even. And I do even. And I choose to even. And I am also choosing to hold those who are capable of doing things, but are choosing to not do those things because they require a bit more effort than what said person is accustomed to, responsible for their non-actions.

I'm tired of "I can't even" being the popular battle cry of our nation. I would say "I can't even with I can't even," but that's not a true statement. I can deal with it. I am going to deal with it by not participating in the rampant disengagement, by choosing to live a life full of emotion instead of seeking a constant comfortable state of numbness, and by encouraging those who I know are capable to stay engaged by creating a safe and supportive environment wherein they can feel the good, the bad, and the ugly without judgement.

I can even.

Let's do this.

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


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.