Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful

Don’t tell me I’m beautiful

I don’t care.

Tell me I’m brilliant,

Tell me I frighten you,

Tell me something about my

eyes that isn’t lovely.

Or better yet,

Don’t.

Tell me how you notice that I notice

everything.

Tell me you love watching me work,

watching my mind untangle the knots

and people I wrangle daily.

Don’t tell me I’m sexy in cargo shorts,

That my headset hair is hot.

Haven’t you noticed?

I don’t care.

I don’t want to be beautiful.

I don’t care about pretty.

Anyone can be pretty.

Beauty is not a thing to achieve,

is not what I have worked so hard for,

it is not what I want.

And the more you tell me I’m

beautiful,

before you tell me I’m

brave,

The less I want it.

The less I want you.

Working for the Weekend

If there is one thing from my early start in theatre that I am grateful for now, it’s the lack of weekends and limited time off.

(Now, this sounds like the start of a post glorifying burn-out culture. Stay with me, it’s not. I promise.)

Because since I was a 16, I’ve had work on weekends. If I wasn’t rehearsing a show, I was rehearsing a dance routine with my partner. I looked forward to the weekends only because it meant I go to focus on work that I wanted to do, instead of calculus or bio.

College was the same, tech majors had weekend lab classes, rehearsals, and technical assignments. Then my post-grad internship in Art Administration was the same, as was my apprenticeship, my first “real” job gave me weekends back but after working 50-75 hours a week at a university desk, I was desperate for a creative outlet and I started producing theatre on the side and gave up the weekends in exchange for my soul.

Relaxing is clearly something I have never been particularly good at doing.

I finally hit my breaking point of long hours at office jobs and came back to Queens last year. And started to do this freelance thing for real while finishing grad school.

The thing about freelancing and holding down multiple contracts is that you don’t follow a regular schedule, there is never a set “weekend” or “day off” that I’m holding out for, I’m not working for the weekend, I’m working to get the job done.

There was a moment when I was working abroad. My final paper for the term was done and submitted, no meetings or writings to finish, I had the entire morning off before work. I had hours to do anything I wanted. I wasn’t used to this. But I didn’t want those precious hours to be wasted in my apartment.

I packed a book and went to the infinity pool upstairs that I hadn’t seen yet. The next time this happened, I packed a lunch and went to a beach across the city, then to one of the markets, later it was on a yacht ride through the marina, or a last minute charter bus out of town arriving back in time for my 3pm bus to work.

I stopped waiting for the time I was told was my “time off”, I stopped hanging on for my one day off a week to be the day I could actually enjoy my life. TGIF was always laughable to me in the past, now it made me a bit sad.

Why would I ever want to wait until Friday night to do what I wanted to do?

If I can get there and get my work done, who says I have to wait for the weekend or the day off to have an adventure? Who made weekends sacred? Who said I can’t have a lovely adventure on a Monday morning?

I was lucky that my workaholic nature and industry never let me take time for granted. I was never able to sit still for two days, I always wanted to be doing or experiencing something. I’ve been so blessed that because of this urge I have gotten to experience so much in my 27 years, more than many people experience in their lives.

I’m off today and most of this week. My savings from abroad means that I can afford to experience life a bit more slowly than I’m used to these days, at least for a while. While I’m enjoying the time to ease back into life in NYC, I’m already looking for the next thing to try.

Today is indie bookstore day, I’m planning a walk through Queens to hit up a few of my favorite spots and find new places to read my finds. I have new museums on my list, I have things to see, I am so lucky to live in a city where it is inexpensive to explore and see and try new things.

I’m not working for the weekend. I’m not waiting for Friday, for the New Year, the new job, the new reason to start over or try something new. Or try something I’ve always wanted.

I have no excuse to not start right now.

So what are you waiting on? What’s your excuse for not starting today?

 

Musings on Effort & Fear of Failure

I had a strange recollection today. In the middle of the mundane task of doing my nails,  I remembered something from Jr. High School.

I was in a carpool to rehearsal with a group of girls we would call the “In Crowd” (of which I was not a part). Our mothers were all friends so by default we were all forced to tolerate each other regularly. One of them grabbed my hand to look at my nails, I had recently cut and buffed them myself. “Oh my god your nails! Look at the shape! It’s so pretty! Do they grow that way or do you have to cut them?” I was startled by the question. I said I had cut them but immediately felt her disapproval and covered saying I trimmed them along how they grew naturally. She made a noncommittal noise and we went back to riding in silence. I remember being humiliated that my nails didn’t naturally grow perfectly and that I had not lived up to expectations of this high ranking social crowd.

Remembering it now, it sparks different thoughts. Imagine, being shamed because something doesn’t come naturally. Work or any effort in doing my nails was being shamed because my body didn’t naturally fit the shape it was supposed to.

I feel as though this mentality carried over to other parts of my younger life. What hobbies or new things have I given up on because I wasn’t immediately or naturally talented? What else have I convinced myself that I just wasn’t built for?

How many other girls and women have grown up with this thought that work or developed skill isn’t as valuable as being naturally talented or beautiful?

In what world do women have nails that grow in perfect half moons, already shiny, with hair that never knots, muscles that appear in all the right places, and skills that just magically arrive when we hit certain ages?

I know a girl recently out of university who has never cooked before in her life and was confused as to why, when she tried to cook for the first time, she failed spectacularly. Like sauce on the ceiling spectacularly. She was distraught and didn’t understand. She was now an adult woman, she was supposed to be good at this stuff. Why was she, who had never chopped an onion in her life, not able to cook a basic meal the first time she turned on a stove by herself?

I hear similar stories like this all the time. Even from a few men embarrassed that they know nothing about cars, that I had to show them how to light a grill, that they haven’t magically developed “manly” talents.

How did we get to this point? Where did this world come from where we all expect ourselves to magically turn into our best selves, to pop into adulthood with all the necessary skills and appearances?

It starts young. These lessons we see as children never leave us. We feel the pressure to be so innately perfect that we fear trying, we fear failing, we fear never being good enough, so we don’t even try. Or worse, we expect the skills to just arrive without warning and beat ourselves up so thoroughly when they don’t that we spiral into further self-doubt.

We need to stop this cycle. With ourselves and with the future generations. Failing is learning, natural talent or beauty doesn’t trump hard work and effort in our appearance.

Easier said than done certainly, and I know I still beat myself up when I don’t pick up something new as quickly as others. But I still push myself to keep trying instead. So when I tried to learn poi for the first time and whacked myself in the face, I got some ice, sat for a minute, and then tried again. And learned to dodge faster.

It’s a process. It’s always a process.

I gave advice to an intern of mine several years back, I try to remember it for myself as well.

Does it get easier as we get older? No. But I can promise you, it gets more worth it.

xoxo

 

 

Changes

Life changes quite rapidly, have you noticed?

When I last posted, I had made decisions about the next six months of my life. I everything planned out and had a future in mind. The only variables were the boy I had just met and grad school looming in the future. It was going to be a wonderful and structured summer. I knew where my life was going and what was happening.

Then on a whim I rented a car and drove up to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to see a new musical I had been involved in years ago. I told none of my friends or former colleagues I was coming. It was just a spur of the moment trip. I also thought it would be fun to surprise them if things looked quiet in the office.

I stop to pick up flowers as I cross into town and finally check my phone that had been on silent the last three hours. Something close to 16 missed messages. 5 from my former boss/mentor and the rest from my good friend, and his current assistant. They had seen my name on the house report, was I really coming to see the show? Where was I? Was I here yet?

Then the two that would change everything.

“Do you want my job?” (This is an old joke as her former intern. I laughed to myself and didn’t respond)

“No, I’m serious this time. I just gave notice…”

I walk into the office and am promptly picked up and deposited in her chair. “See ?”she says, “I fixed the problem!” After more chaos and hellos from old friends and colleagues, I sit down with my mentor. I ask if he’s serious about this all. And while he’s still wrapping his mind around her departure, he’s serious. If I want the job, it’s mine. He’ll be putting out a search in the coming weeks, I should expect a call.

“Weeks” becomes one, we have an informal chat about what this would mean and the actual duties of the job. He’s interviewing two others, I’m still first choice if I want it. I won’t hear from him for about a week or so.

It’s less than 24 hours when he calls back with an offer. What’s my decision?

I remember being in my office in New York, between Madison and 5th avenues. I’m doing well, by all definitions I’m successful. But this job isn’t the one I want. It’s barely in the field I want to be in. I look around at my framed pictures and bulletin boards and folders of materials for the incoming students and suddenly feel trapped and stifled. The chains of academia suddenly are a crushing weight on my aspirations.

So before I barely think the words. Yes. Yes, I’ll take it. Send me a contract and we’ll begin negotiations for my arrival in Massachusetts.

My boss arrives several hours later. I give notice at the end of the day. I have done many scary and crazy things. Giving notice at Syracuse University still may be one of the scariest things I’ve done so far.

And somehow, I float on my way to dinner with an old friend. Who nearly drops his laptop in his shock at the sudden turnabout.

The weight was gone. And I had two weeks to pack up my life and try starting a new one.

So here we are in the Berkshires, helping run a theater company. My mentor/boss and I share looks and laughter over our desks of how utterly insane we are to be here and the utter insanity we deal with on a regular basis. But every night, the show goes on, the beautiful moments happen, and we make some art and make some difference.

And it makes all the difference.

 

A Goodbye

Have you ever noticed how crying, the real heavy sit down and bawl crying, sounds like laughter? My neighbor in the hall asked what was so funny. Before he noticed my eyes were red.

I am not a pretty crier. I don’t glisten like the girls on tv who look ethereal and shimmering through their tears. I snot and wheeze and bawl every ounce of my being fighting the unfairness of the world that brought me here to tears.

I’m red and puffy and sniffling. It does no good. You’re still gone. Nothing has changed.

And the wheel keeps turning. It’s both beautiful and cruel how the world keeps moving. Time stops for no one.

When you leave for college your freshmen year, you expect your world to stay the same, much like your childhood bedroom you leave behind. It’s as though the past 18 years of your life are a painting, you simply step out of it leaving a white patch, when you return, you slip right back in. The kids you babysat remain kids, the puddle in your driveway remains unfilled, your siblings are still short pre-teens, your room remains brightly painted and filled with posters covering every inch of ceiling space your parents would allow you to pin into, time is supposed to halt without you to watch it.

You were supposed to be the same. We lost teeth together, in fact, you definitely punched out one of my baby teeth. We learned how to write in cursive together then we joined the same local Brownie troop, you teased me for not being a member of the Daisy troop the year before and then again when I continued to be a girl scout once you quit, and later a cadet.

We did Math Olympiads together, and some silly terrible youth cleverness team competition where we shocked the judges. Not because we did well, but because our team had been so damn terrible at our performance project we had spent months working on and yet came in first place by far in the team problem solving tests. I think our score wound up being somewhere in the middle when averaged out. We didn’t care though. We were all so excited to play on the really cool playground on the quad at GHAMAS. We played tagged and got covered in mud because it was still early spring. Your mother never forgave us for that.

We learned about death together. We were 13 when he had the accident and later she took her life. We knew death of course, but for grandparents, for reckless teenagers. But our friends? Their siblings? It was inconceivable. I was sitting between my parents in the catholic church when I saw you. I didn’t know what to do, so I waved. You’re not supposed to wave at a funeral apparently.

I wish I could go to yours. I’d wave at  you. One more time.

We drifted apart in high school, you were better at math and science, and couldn’t have cared less about grades. I loved languages, theatre, and psychology, and I wanted good grades to help me leave our hometown for good. We didn’t have a class together for years. Until photography, then other art classes, and you joined the ballroom team with Rachelle and laughed at me as I pretended to know what I was doing and teach the underclassmen. You loved to laugh at me, I was stubborn but I was also aware that I provided plenty of material. I would laugh along with you.

You watched me as I pretended to be an artist creating jewelry both beautiful and horrendous. You also pointed out the obvious, what kind of crazy high school teacher left me alone with a blow torch?? I had allowed myself to think I was special. I was a responsible adult-like student who could be trusted with an open flame. Looking back, you were totally right. She was nuts. Thank God the building is still standing.

Then we graduated. I don’t remember seeing you in a cap and gown. I don’t remember seeing you since. I can hear your laugh, see the chipped dark polish on your nails that you never really stopped biting. Did I see you when I taught at the Summer Arts Academy? Or are those halls just so full of our memories that I hear your laughter in them and insert you into the recent years?

Our friendship felt like my childhood bedroom, no matter many years, it would still be there, unchanged. I waited for the day we’d cross paths, maybe a quick coffee chat at the Avon Starbucks we used to think was so cool. We’d chat and promise to hang out again. Then years later, it would happen again. One day we’d see each other and vent about how our children are just like us, God knows how we survived to adulthood! We would maybe exchange christmas cards, in the way that old friends do. We would lead different lives but honor that history. We were each others “weird friend” who’d always been around. Who always would be, maybe on the periphery, but always there, a social media click away.

But that’s not how the world works, is it?

I came home after a year of college to find my childhood bedroom rearranged and repainted. White. From purple and green and eclectic to white. The posters were neatly wrapped and packed away for me. There was a sewing machine in it now. The kids I babysat were entering Jr. High, High school, driving even, my parents filled in my favorite puddle, and my baby sister became a tall, beautiful  cheerleader.

You died. And no one thought to tell me.

Time doesn’t stop moving just because we aren’t watching.

You had only started your quest to see the world. You’ve done amazing things in the 24 years you were given, but oh what could you have done, had you had one more chance?

I was waiting for our paths to cross again, because of course they always will.

My mother called to offer condolences today. I had no idea what she was talking about.

In what world could you have been gone four days, and I have not noticed?

The same way we barely noticed each other anymore.

The last time we spoke was a Facebook birthday wall post. That was the only communication we had for years. Facebook. Years of playing and teasing and being stupid kids then teenagers reduced to Facebook.

Of course no one thought to tell me you’d died. Facebook would do that for them.

 

You deserved better. From me, from the world, from the damn drugs, all of it should have been better. You deserved a bit longer.

I am sorry for what I could control. You deserve better. You deserve more.

May the angels protect you. May you give them hell.

With love, always.