2018; A Map

2018 rang in for me last year on a large stage in front of 100,000+ patrons, surrounded by performers from around the world. I was working, I was sober, I was happier and felt more settled in who I was becoming than I had in a long time.

I was in a relationship with a sweet boy in NYC, I was fully confident I would return to this stage for the next year, I saw much of my anxiety, self-doubt, and depression melting away, I was growing in the person I had planned to be, I saw the linear path in front of me and I was confident in where it would lead.

Less than a week from 2019 and not one of these things are true anymore.

A month later I would find myself fighting with the sweet boy in NYC, avoiding the truth that I no longer loved him, that our lives did not fit, maybe never fit the way we thought they did. I have not returned to the stage, I’m managing a new circus team for the same company but nothing to do with that giant stage this year. I unexpectedly fell in love with a Bollywood dancer. He was like no one and nothing I had ever experienced. We still referred to each other as soul mates in our recent goodbyes, despite his impending marriage to an Indian Muslim girl of his parents’ choosing this spring.

My path is no longer so linear. The destination has veered left. The confidence with it.

My city, my home the last five years no longer feels like a comforting base, but a safety net, a golden cage or security blanket I need to pry out of my fingers. The reasons I have to stay are mostly people, but people who I won’t lose even if I leave, my travels have already proven this. So maybe it’s fear.

But if not there, where?

And my anxiety is back. And depression. Not as strong as they have been, but they come to rear their ugly heads off and on since June. There’s nothing so paralytic as that combination. You’re too anxious to start any project or work or job or productive thing you know you need to and then crippled with the doubt that it will be any good, that anyone will care, that it will make a difference, that you won’t completely screw up your attempts, that anyone will want to work with you a second time, that you won’t live up to that interview/first job, and the list goes on…

So among other bits and pieces, I have a half begun training course for the fully planned and prepped business I have designs, URLs, Social handles, and business cards for at the ready. I even have people ready to write testimonials when I get my act together. But staring at the blank pages in front of me has proven to be too much and I find myself unable to push through the wall telling me ‘why bother’. I’ll fall behind or fail in the work once I launch anyway. Haven’t I already shown that I can’t be trusted to follow through? I’m too full of self-doubt to keep up a regular creative blog, do I really think I can keep up my own business when I’m the only one depending on me?

I hate letting down anyone else, I will lose sleep, stay in bad relationships, ignore my boundaries, and work too hard to avoid letting anyone down, and beat myself up when there’s even an inkling of a hint that I failed in being there to support someone.

But when it’s just me? Suddenly it doesn’t matter so much.

And that’s what is going to change in 2019.

I recently entertained a boy after a few bad dates because he needed someone to be there. I finally snapped after the 5th blatant act of disrespect (I’m a terrible feminist when it’s me in the relationship) and now he still tries to message me to ruin what small happy choices I make for myself.

Today I blocked him. Because the only reason I hadn’t was my consideration of his feelings.

I changed my profile picture on WhatsApp as well today. To not include my ex. Which I hadn’t done for 2 months because I was worried about what he would feel in Mumbai when he saw I had changed it. I didn’t want him to be hurting more. When it was him who told me we needed to forget each other. That we had no future. I still hesitate to do what would be better for me, because of what he needs.

Hands up if we see the destructive pattern here.

And what about what I need?

I realized recently I don’t actually know anymore.

I am not the same person I was last year, nevermind the person I was before I started dating anyone.

So I’ve started to make lists.

I need alone time, I need tea, I need yoga, and I need my books.

I need shared meals, someone to hold once in a while, someone who can let me be both the boss and a woman, and let me, help me, keep those identities separate. Someone who keeps me learning, and wanting to learn new things.

I need to grow. I need to keep reaching towards whatever destination I’m heading towards, I need to figure out what that looks like, and someone willing to call me on my own bullshit and give me the kick in the ass I need to stare down my paralyzing fear and say “Yes. Yes I can do this”

I don’t want someone to tell me I can do this, I just need them to remind me that I already know.

But I need to find most of this outside of someone else.

I need the discipline to find it in myself and cultivate it. And not lose it when I find someone I do decide is worthy to share my life again.

And I need to decide that I am worthy of this life that I want. For all my mistakes, fears, missed deadlines, lost opportunities, cheat weeks, procrastination, and half-started dreams, I am still worthy of the life that I want. Even if I don’t fully know or understand what that is yet.

Because I am. I just need to remember to believe it.

And guess what? You are too.

xoxo

Inter-; Between, Amongst, Together

Between continents and countries,

Amongst friends, artists, skeptics, obstacles, and politics,

Together only in moments, whispers, texts, and video calls,

International, Intercultural, Interracial

A barrier of water, history, language, and color between us.

Daily we stop to question our sanity.

Of the choices we have, we chose the most difficult.

So many questions, so many obstacles.

But never each other.

Learning

A memory crossed my mind earlier today.

Over a year ago, I was at Syracuse University for my final immersion seminar towards my master’s degree in digital communication. We were broken into teams for a debate that would take place in front of the entire seminar based on our learning on AI and legal applications. The opposing sides were allowed to meet to discuss information before the debate would occur in front of several hundred students and faculty.

In my cohort, I am affectionately called the Luddite of the class. I had the least amount of background in anything digital or technical and was often asking for assistance or recommendations of YouTube tutorials. This is a common joke and point, if I can handle/understand a new tech trick, anyone can.

So we met with our opposing teams and began hashing out the pros and cons of a new theoretical AI software. The advantages of it for disaster relief are immense, however, the potential abuses could be catastrophic. We are arguing the abuse potential. Merely spoofing the IP address of a post would be enough to confuse the system, get bots to spoof IP addresses by the thousands and suddenly the system can be causing massive amounts of damage or putting troops in danger. I point out that even I know how to spoof an IP address, it’s not terribly hard. My classmates all look at me and ask, where on earth did you learn how to do that??

I explained I had briefly dated a (legitimate) computer hacker who had shown me. My close friend in class looked at me strangely. “That’s an odd place to learn something.”

I remember very little about the rest of the debate, but that moment stuck with me. We spoke later over beers at happy hour about his comment. He looked at me like I was a bit crazy when I asked him about it. He’s been with his wife over a decade and he knows “jack shit” about her industry and knows for a fact she knows very little about his. Why would they? Their jobs are not what they have in common, it’s not what they talk about, it’s not something they share.

And while in theory, I respect the idea of work and romantic relationships being kept separate, I know in this current day and age, it’s not so easy. Our careers, our jobs are not 9-5 cubicles we can leave behind anymore. We are freelancing, side hustling, holding multiple jobs, keeping ourselves afloat in the gig industry, and also trying to keep passions alive. Some of us are lucky enough to find that in our work. Work is then not only our income but part of us, part of what is important. And we want to share important things with the people we love. We want to understand their passions and have them understand ours, even if they will never share them.

Every single significant ex-something of mine has taught me something. I learned about craft beer, I understand the physics of sound design, I’ve learned about architecture, psychology, art history, music industry, and hockey, and so much more. There are habits I still catch myself doing as learned behavior from exes (such as eating fries first because “you can excuse taking home a leftover burger, but no one wants to be the asshole taking home the cold fries”.)

And more recently, I’ve learned about other cultures and religions. Dating a man who was raised halfway around the world in a different faith has taught me so much about the world, faith, love, and myself. I do not feel as able to settle back into my ordinary life after being exposed to him and the rest of his world. Our story will end due to some of these differences and family disagreements, but I still would not change it. I have learned so much, continue to learn so much.

This I think is the ultimate respect. To value someone so much in your life, that you want to understand their life, their passions, to allow yourself to be taught by someone.

It’s a strange thing as an adult, outside of an educational environment, to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to say, I don’t know this, can you teach me? And then allowing yourself to be taught, to learn, trusting your partner not to judge you or your failed attempts, but to help you learn and push you to grow and broaden your experiences.

Which is really, the ultimate goal of a life partner, someone to love and grow with as you both support each other to broaden your minds and life.

Instead of Tinder, of meeting people in bars, maybe a new strategy to try, walking up to a stranger and saying, that’s really cool what you are doing, can you teach me?

Xoxo

My Fragile Heart

In my not-so-tiny city, I have been so blessed to build a not-so-tiny chosen family. I have scores of older brothers I never wanted, big sisters to swap closets with, little brothers who show up on my door and leave with packed healthy lunches for the week to prove to their real mothers that they are actually eating green things, and the older artists in my life that have become almost “on-site” parents, aunts, or uncles when my real parents are scattered across the country .

I had tea with two the other day. I had met her briefly working on a show and when they were in a pinch several months later she hired me to stage manage for her husband. We laugh still about how she hadn’t really known me before that project and had unwittingly unleashed me on him. He wasn’t expecting someone who could out sarcasm him in the rehearsal hall. Now I’m the first stage manager he calls and we’ve all become close friends.

Like the good aunties they are, the conversation turns to my love life and any boys that may need a good scaring. (If I’m lacking, they always know a few good boys…)

I explain my current long distance intercultural situation.

He is drumming his fingers on the table by the time I finish. I don’t even bother to ask, I raise an eyebrow instead.

He tells me to be careful. He doesn’t like the sound of where this might lead, not because of the cross-cultural part, but because without full support from both families, we don’t have an end date to the distance, there isn’t a happy ending in sight for us, not yet. Though we’re working on it. I am reminded that my heart is fragile, more fragile than I know. Just because I have survived heartbreak in the past, doesn’t mean I should be okay with the potential or likelihood of experiencing it again. I should never have to go through that pain again and again – like he did. It almost ruined him. His wife agrees. She watched heartbreak almost kill him. They tell me to be careful.

If I can see the brick wall ahead, why am I driving 90 miles an hour straight into it?

Heartbreak and the shattering grief will change you. He says. Love isn’t always worth it.

Which while I understand the sentiment, I know he comes from a place of love and care, and I recognize what he is saying,

I completely disagree.

Maybe he’s right, that this relationship I have will end in heartbreak because of the challenges we face. Maybe a broken heart is the ending I have to look forward to in all of this.

But the world has never been a worse place for love put into it.

And a broken heart heals with time and love. They are proof of the love I am surrounded by, if I am broken I will heal.

If I am changed, it will be for the better. I will be stronger.

My heart has been broken before. In the gasping sobs, breakdowns out of the blue, can barely eat for days, years worth of scars and healing, kind of broken. It took two years and contractually obligated communication before we could be in the same room together peaceably, kind of broken.

But I wouldn’t change a thing. The bad days do not negate the good. I would not give up the mountaintop picnics and smuggled wine to be spared the tears and anguish later.

I will not step back and deny my heart the joy it has found in this person, in order to protect it from what may come.

The odds are stacked against us, it is likely that this ends with my heart in pieces again.

But I would not lose a moment of this love just to be spared the pain later on.

Suffering is a part of life, aren’t we so lucky when we find something worth suffering for?

xoxo

Respect

This piece was originally written for and published by TheCnnekt. You can see the original post here.

“We need to talk about how she disrespected me.”

The large man who does social media at my company has run over and cut off the productive discussion between myself, the marketing director, company manager, and the entertainment director, my boss.

“You need to learn respect.”

I have been living and working in Dubai for nearly a month. In a country ranked by the UN in the bottom 5 as “not free”, I am a young, foreign, female stage manager leading a team of male technicians, surrounded by men on all sides. The only American in a sea of expats from the UK and the Middle East.

Despite a bit of boundary testing my first few days, I have yet to experience any blatant sexism from my crew or superiors. We are a team and they trust my judgment. It is the most supportive work environment I have found in a long time. If it weren’t for the desert sand coating my stage, I’d forget I was in the Middle East, I’d forget there’s a reason I cover my shoulders and knees when I leave my apartment, I’d forget that my sex matters at all.

Until this man arrives.

He’s done this before. Come on stage without warning and demanded on photos and access. He was denied, I kicked him offstage for his attitude problem. He tried a bit harder to follow my rules this time. He stayed offstage, but was insistent and pulled me away from my work, messed up my schedule, and cornered my cast because his deadline was immediate. I owed him my full attention now, my own responsibilities would have to wait.

When my cast consented to work with him, I let them go. I ran back onstage to catch up my schedule and shouted back to him to please stay after. We need to talk about this. It cannot happen again.

This is my mistake. This is my disrespect. I raised my voice at him as I ran back.

My boss has gotten wind of this. In the time it takes me to launch my next show, there’s a group of my superiors waiting in the common area. We’re having an easy, productive conversation. Let’s figure out what was missed this time and how to fix it. That’s when this man bursts into our conversation, cuts me off, and demands that I be reprimanded and taught respect.

I know this fight very well and I know I’m alone in it. I am not a stranger to these comments. Nor am I a stranger to watching every man in the room look away with their mouths shut tight as I get reprimanded for the grave error of being female.

But I will not be quiet and I will not take it, not now and not ever again.

He starts to talk again, wagging a finger in my face. I take a breath and prepare to rip him apart when my boss puts a hand out forcing the finger-wagger backward.

“Whoa whoa whoa, mate. Stop. Do you know who you are talking to? You do know who she is, right? That here, where we stand, we all answer to her, right?”

I don’t know who is more stunned. Me, or the man who thought he had every man in the room on his side.

This is the first time in my decade in this field that I have not gone to bat alone.

“If we’re going to talk about disrespect, let’s talk about your disrespect for this stage, the cast, the schedule, and protocol. Let’s talk about your blatant disregard for the people managing this space. You’re done here. Get the photos you need and go.”

And that ends the conversation. My boss changes the subject while the finger-wagger slinks away. Not once does he try again to get backstage for the remaining 5 months of the season.

It’s four months later when I find myself talking to the marketing director over coffee. He spent the weeks following the incident with his photographer tiptoeing around me and driving me crazy with his trepidation.  It’s as much a surprise to us as to our colleagues that despite our rocky start, we have become friends. When my mother visited, he complimented her on “raising a lovely daughter, but she’s a beast. Lovely. But really. A beast.” He also informed my boyfriend that he was brave for sleeping next to a terror.

But here we are drinking coffee on a Sunday afternoon talking about culture and our lives. We have discovered more similarities than differences which shocks us both.

He interrupts a comfortable silence to tell me “I wouldn’t have been able to do it. What you did.”

“I know what the west thinks of the Middle East, especially Americans. The stereotypes, the rumors, and the expectations. You’re a tiny, American woman used to a different environment. You knew absolutely no one, had no idea what to expect from us or from this job, and had no escape hatch if things went south. And I bet people were telling you all sorts of terrible things to expect here too. And still, you left New York City to live here in the Middle East for 6 months.

“And I admit, I go back and forth on thinking whether you are incredibly brave or absolutely insane.”

I think about our first confrontations, the challenges, the hard work, the growth, and learning we’ve all done these last 5 months and grin at him over my coffee.

“Most definitely both.”

American Food

I’ve been thinking about food and culture a lot. Specifically trying to decide what exactly is American Culture.

My friend Kritika was shocked that I knew about Indian spices and cooked a decent chicken curry for lunch one day. Not quite spicy enough to be truly Indian, but close.

Other recipes I learned from my parents or friends include cacio e pepe and several other Italian pasta dishes, Spanish frittata, Mexican inspired tacos and enchiladas, Polish ricotta pancakes, Danish cookies, and Scottish shortbread. The list goes on.

The only foods I could think of that were explicitly American were scrambled eggs, mac & cheese, and anything involving hot dogs or BBQ.

You know, generally bland, unhealthy, and/or processed.

So following that, what is American culture? What is explicitly ours?

Country music was my first knee-jerk answer, and I blasted it often to remind me of home when I was gone, but so many Americans reject it as an acceptable musical genre.

Overseas we have a reputation for being very friendly very quickly. As in, makes friends with drywall when left alone, friendly. I did not help this reputation when working overseas.

But I think about the neo-nazis, our congress and administration, and the hate-filled hearts dominating our news stories these days and I wonder again.

Violent is a stereotype I hear. My sound guy told someone who was giving me trouble to “just do what she says, she’s American. She doesn’t need the knife on her belt, she’s got a pen in her hand”, and it worked.

But I hate guns and the damage they can do so quickly. I’m 100% for gun control and think the AK-15’s and AK-47’s need to be illegal for civilian use. Try being the only American in a room after the Parkland shooting and having to explain the gun argument to people from 4 different countries who have strict gun laws. We look insane to the rest of the world, in case you’re wondering.

What is our culture? The stubbornness? The Insanity? Our great desire to argue constantly about our rights and culture? Our size?

What makes us uniquely American is our constant ability to have this discussion and argue over what our rights are, this doesn’t happen anywhere else, not the way we do it.

So there it is. American Culture is the right to disagree. To speak out. To be aggressive in standing up for what we believe are our rights and culture.

Bunch of loud, stubborn bastards, aren’t we?

Faith

I was spoken for,

I told you no.

As the hope drained out of your eyes,

I felt regret tinge in my heart.

I wondered if you saw it.

 

Then I was just me.

You knew but didn’t say.

You stayed my friend,

my support,

my rock.

Because you knew.

Your faith was stronger than my doubts,

Stronger than my indecision,

Stronger than me.

You had faith in me and my heart.

You had given me yours, without asking for more.

You had faith I would realize,

I would hand you my heart in time.

You were right.

And I envied your faith.

Your faith in me

Your faith in God

Your faith in love

Your faith in miracles.

A faith I had never had,

But I started to learn it from you.

For it took faith to hand you my heart,

before you left me for good.

To trust that even over 8,000 miles,

you were keeping it close, keeping it safe.

And to have faith

that despite the obstacles,

I would see you again.

The days are long.

The distance is hard.

The space between us sometimes seems

insurmountable.

But you taught me faith.

And it is your heart that beats in my chest

to remind me,

that sometimes you just have to close your eyes

and jump.