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

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?

My Inheritance

Spread before me,

What I stand to gain.

Passed down by blood and through death

from the family line.

The pearls glow grey

amidst the WASP-ish silence

my grandmother raised us in. And her mother before

and my father after.

Fix your hair, wear your pearls, line your lips,

and keep them closed.

The diamonds sparkle in the light,

the price of a blind eye, of forgiveness,

Without apology. Forgiveness where none is due.

For peace and reputation worth more than

The studded earrings he brought you when you found

Her.

And the ruby solitaire.

The ring that popped the question and

sealed the deal. Sealed her fate.

And mine.

It glows large and red. A promise of security,

wealth, a future.

At the cost of a temper to match

that flares red hot to burn. To strike.

Wounds open and hearts are broken,

Stitched up in the quiet of the kitchen.

The gems sparkle against the document

that calls them mine. The final will and testament.

It lists the jewels and their value,

but not the cost.

Not the inheritance that blood has already

promised me.

Do they seal my fate or merely reflect what

I have no power to refuse?

My family made their choices, caused and took

their pain, broke hearts and lives around them.

Generations later,

I am gifted with the gems the outside saw,

but am I also cursed with the pain they hid?

Tony Season

I have a confession to make. As a theatre artist in NYC, who’s been involved in theatre for most of my life, it’s rather shameful.

I have not intentionally watched the Tony Awards since 2012. I have not even been tempted.

In all honesty, when the Tony’s come around, I feel a mild sense of burn out and guilt that I’m not more excited.

Not to say that I am not over the moon for the familiar faces and names. I scour the nomination list in the NY Times, and I look up the winners the next day. I squeal to see colleagues, friends, mentors, even the kid I babysat have their names up in lights.

A Juilliard grad I worked with won a few years back. I caught that clip when the bar I was in changed the channel on the screen. I screamed to see him accept the award and laugh myself to tears remembering how I had creatively threatened him into being on time for rehearsals (with only moderate success).

But I have no interest in watching the awards show. I avoid social media the day of and after because the hype around it always annoys me, it gets under my skin in a way that I have never been able to name.

It’s not jealousy, I know envy and how it tightens my shoulders and sends a lead weight straight to my intestines.

This is itchy. It’s an irritant, like a wool sweater that doesn’t fit.

This year, the kid I babysat, (who is now 19 and no longer a kid), was part of the cast that won Best Play. His posts and photos show a glowing face and the awe of someone who is young and achieving their dreams. He’s in shock. Another winner worked at my company when he became Equity. I filled out the paperwork and contracts to make him a union actor. Now he’s a Tony winner in a show that he tells us changed his life and helped him celebrate his identity. His smile might break his face in two.

And suddenly I realized why it is I have such a physical and visceral reaction to the Tony’s.

This isn’t my dream. It never has been.

As a theatre artist, a stage manager, and a producer, this is supposed to be the goal. The award and party you are always working towards in everything that you do. And I’ve discovered that I genuinely do not care if I never get to see a Tony Award up close. It is not my dream. I would not have the same glow as those people I care about and celebrate.

So what does that look like? Is this the post where I publicly denounce my undergrad degree and walk away from the industry that I’ve been connected to my entire life?

Of course not.

But as I’ve come to terms with my life patterns shifting, I do know one thing. I have gotten involved in theatre and the arts, not for awards or glory, but for the people. The best people I have known are people I have met through art and theatre. The people who inspire me, who taught me to hustle, who give me such amazing stories to tell, are artists, are people who have dedicated their craft to the theatre in all its forms, including the Tony’s.

But it is time to change direction. If Broadway has never held much appeal to me, why I am so dedicated to living in New York? If I don’t care about the Tony’s, what do I care about?

I care about people. I care about making people smile, changing lives, changing perspectives, I care about taking care of people, about learning new things, about being challenged, about problem-solving, and about having fun in my work.

I care far less about a statue and national recognition than I do about the about the ice cream cake, bad jokes, and homecooked meal my company put together for my birthday this year. There are photos of me nearly in tears surrounded by these once-strangers from all over the world who went out of their way to spoil me (before once again driving me crazy about 10 minutes later).

And I’m sorry, but pretending to my south Indian crew that Tres Leches is an American cake (they were so proud of themselves for finding an American sweet for my birthday!) will always rank high on my happiest and proudest moments.

So while I love New York, and recognize it will always be home, I don’t think I love New York theatre. And that’s okay.

So one step at a time, to a new path, a new adjustment, and another global experience. Or at least defining what that looks like.

In the meantime, to all the Tony winners, nominees, and dreamers; Congratulations on achieving and being one step closer to your dreams. I am always so proud to share a city with you dreamers.

 

Xx

Gratitude and Blessings

I did something strange today.

It wasn’t a plan, wasn’t a decision, or really thought about in any way.

I make time every day now to meditate and pray before bed. To both listen and talk to God/The Universe, whichever title sits right in my mouth at that moment.

I sat in child’s pose, my body didn’t feel like rising up after stretching today and I chose to listen to it. I slowly felt my body sinking into the pose, my hips and chest opening and my breathing slowing down. And I open my mind and my mouth to pray and offer gratitude as I usually do.

But what came out of my mouth wasn’t thanks for the blessings you would expect, that I had expected.

I started to thank the Universe for the blemishes and curses and struggles I was dealing with. For the lessons and consequences of my mistakes and bad choices. That all of them were curable or reparable or temporary. That God had given me the consequences I deserved for my actions, but also the chance to move on. None of them would follow me into the distant future.

I had to struggle, fight, be embarrassed, and broke now but it would end. As long I learned from my mistakes and choices now, I wouldn’t have to carry them the rest of my life.

It was a warning from a benevolent partner or parent. You screwed up, you nearly screwed up badly, but you didn’t this time. Here are the consequences, the struggles, and the tools to fix them yourself. Now go and do better.

The Universe/God and I are partners in this life. They want me to succeed. I have been blessed with the struggles and challenges and reminders of how I have veered off the path and blessed with the tools to get back on it.

So I stayed there on my knees offering thanks for every difficulty I had been handed, as a result of my actions or not, because I was in awe of every one of them is pushing me back in the direction I want to be, and into the person I hope to become.

At the end of the day, I am so very blessed. By both the gifts, opportunities, and privileges I have received in life and by the very things that I fight against every day.

Anxiety can make you braver, Depression can make you kinder, carrying both can make you stronger. Obstacles can make you more determined. Illness, death, and injury can remind you that you do not have time to waste.

These all have the potential to stop you. They also have the potential to empower you.

Your move.

 

 

Culture Shock; The Reverse

I’ve been back from my 6-month stint in the Middle East about a month.

I’ve noticed several changes in my body and temperament.

To put it mildly, I came back from Dubai an Emotional Wreck.

I got off the plane and wanted to cry. My initial thought upon entering JFK that morning was “I want to go home”

But I was home. I was coming home after being gone for so long.

The boy who had waited for me brought wine and cheese to my house, all waiting for me when I arrived. I wanted to cry again, for all the wrong reasons.

I have an event that day. I sit with my business partners and run our tech rehearsal. The performers were so good, again I was nearly in tears after our Hamlet spoke.

I went to dinner with these partners and friends I hadn’t seen in 6+ months and wanted to cry in relief at being with them again.

At the event I gave a speech and raised over $400 in donations for #TimesUp and felt so alive in my skin, skilled and connected, I was brimming with pride and love and ready to cry in sheer joy.

My best friend and roommate reunite again. It’s not instantly joyous and we slowly adapt to sharing our lives again. We get there, but it takes time. In that time every bump, every brush off, feels like a burn. I forget how to live here. I feel out of place in my own home, my own city.

This is all within 18 hours of my landing in the USA.

This does not go away.

A boy who is not the boy I am dating messages me. We met in Dubai and are now 8,000 miles apart.

We talk about life and love and our separate futures.

He tells me how he misses me. He describes a woman I do not recognize. But a woman I desperately want to be.

And I realize something. I realize why I am an emotional wreck.

Because in Dubai, amidst the stress, the chaos, overstimulation, and drama, I was happy. I had a purpose and a job I enjoyed. I was eating well and doing yoga daily, I had a supportive network and professional team and was surrounded by friends and some really good people.

Somehow, I had become a happy human being. And had not recognized it.

I had spent years in NYC struggling through my anxiety and depression, finding pools of sunlight in the murky dark of my mind for so long that I had confused contentedness for being happy.

But in New York, I had been merely surviving.

In Dubai, in this job, I had thrived.

And now, my entire physical being was fighting against going back to the familiar murky depths of my broken mind. Against going back to the patterns I’ve kept up for years because they were safe, small pockets of light that allowed me to ignore the dark,

I will not be put back into survival mode.

I will not let these small lights and glimmers of love distract me from the gloom trying to take me back.

I know better. I can be better.

I am better than my complacency and laziness. I am stronger than my darkness.

And I have a freaking awesome support network.

A week later, I end things with the boy in New York.

I admit to myself (and him) my feelings for this boy halfway around the globe in Mumbai.

We start talking about finding each other again.

I roll out my yoga mat and I attach a pen to my physical being at all times.

I start to rebuild my body and sharpen my mind.

I start to pray again.

I’m learning Hindi.

I’m writing every day.

I get a small contract to pay me for my writing and PR assistance. I’m learning how to sell my mind and get paid by the hour.

I surround myself with love. My friends, my roommate, my chosen family, my books, my stories,

And I celebrate them.

I am still far from free. But the happiness and hope I am cultivating and working on every day are real.

And they are still beating back the darkness.

I am still a weepy mess at happy news. because joy and hope in this world are so important. Sometimes the only way I can honor it is by blessing it in salt. ❤️