Stripping the comfort zone away

Subtitle: That Time I Took an On-Camera Acting Class

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My comfort zone is Sunday mornings at the park in beautiful weather with a latte and a croissant in the spring and the summer. It’s Sunday afternoons in a shady apartment with the AC blasting and a cup of hot, milky, sweet black tea and an episode of Rosemary & Thyme or Wallander or Midsomer Murders or Qui Sera Le Prochain Grand Pâtissiere or The Great British Bakeoff, luxuriating in feeling cozy. It’s baking pies and trying to crochet something cute on a crisp day in the fall. It’s making huge pots of vegetable stew and cuddling on the couch in the winter. I love being at home, in my neighborhood, with my family.

I also constantly feel a need to challenge myself, to put myself in uncomfortable situations so I can continue to grow. I crave the hit of adrenaline I get by putting myself at risk. I don’t chase physical danger or drug-induced highs so much as I look for ways to push my internal development in ways that make my stomach churn.

The list of things I’ve done in pursuit of this feeling of targeted loss of control is long and maybe unimpressive to most people. I’d prefer to keep the contents of that list a secret anyway. I’m always, have always been, looking for hidden paths down the rabbit hole. A sense of vertiginous thrill in the midst of daily life. Ways to challenge my perceptions and become stronger. And ways to return safely again.

I dread public speaking. The mere thought of being the center of attention in front of a crowd makes my palms sweat. So earlier this year, I decided to sign up for the On-Camera TV and Film Acting Intensive at a nearby film academy, for no other reason than to scare the hell out of myself for five weeks straight.

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I sweated. I churned. I squirmed. I occasionally shone. The discomfort was extreme but satisfying, and I relished in it. At first I was intimidated by the other students in the class, since all were either professional actors or serious acting students. Their lives revolved around acting. But they sweated and squirmed and toughed it out too. Watching their process of relinquishing inhibitions and relaxing into the role helped me relax. The instructor coached us to react in ways that were true to our actual selves, which challenged the way I thought of acting – as putting on an act – when really a good actor is just being. Being felt good. That old stick of advice just be yourself isn’t completely unhelpful. Watching someone relax and open themselves to you is a beautiful thing.

I made people laugh a few times, and knowing that I could do that made me more sure of myself. I can be witty. But I found it extremely difficult to unfold myself in front of strangers. I discovered walls of emotion that I did not want to penetrate in public, and that surprised me. I’ve always thought of myself as an approachable, but I think I’m quite closed-off and guarded. I was better at sarcastic and comedic roles, which make use of the barrier between yourself and the audience, and much worse at dramatic acting.

When it was my turn in front of the camera, I really tried. And in trying, succeeded some of the time. I feel a little more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a little bit stronger and a little more confident. I know myself a little more. And in a backwards way, I know how to guard myself even more, too.

It’s been a few months since that class ended, and the urge to do something new and scary is pushing at my chest again. I have a phone interview for the Madrid job. And I’m thinking about painting a heap of paintings, enough for a little stand at a street fair, too?

 

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On Doing

If there is a choice between doing or thinking, I do. It’s not always the right decision but it’s the one I make almost every time.

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I’ve written here about moving to Spain as a fantasy. It’s something I think about a lot. Last week, I found an opening for my exact job title at the same company, in the Madrid office. Readers, I applied. Everyone is being very supportive at work, and since it’s technically a transfer, it’s a bit less complicated than applying for a job at a new company. I am not sure that I’ll get the job – and if not, it’s fine – but now I know it’s a real option. I have a target that I’ll continue to aim for until we make it.

I’m not sure if that’s the right decision, by the standard measure. After thinking about career decisions for a long time, something unnatural to me but which I have been pushed to do by my supervisors, I’ve come to the conclusion that my true goals are not to become rich and powerful. I crave adventure and exploration and time with the people who love me. These are the things I will shape my life around. It’s strange because I always thought I was more ambitious. I am, but not for career progression, competition, and the admiration of my superiors. I want projects that speak to my soul, I want to nourish my family with beautiful memories, and I need the satisfaction of having tried, even if the experiment is a failure. I need to reach until I hit my limits, in every facet of my life.

I created this blog to record my experiments with acting on crazy things I conjure up. For the past few years, I’ve been focused on exploring a different career path and raising my child. I’m beginning to understand things, what I want, don’t want, what I need. I’m making more money. I’m designing the best version of our lives for my child’s sake. It’s all a mess, but a lovely one, if I find ways to step back and contemplate it. And there are no limits. I guess this is my statement of intent.

Live like a rich person without being rich

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Living in NYC compresses everything. Not only is your personal space compressed, living over and under and moving among the seething, teeming hordes of city-livers, but less tangible things are also compressed – the speed of your career trajectory, or the length of time it takes you to develop social survival skills.

Something else that I’ve noticed is that the distance between rich and poor is extraordinarily compressed compared to other cities. Not in terms of income gaps, which are wider than anywhere else in the US, with the wealthiest of the wealthy living a dream existence, and the poorest of the poor rotting and reeking on the streets – but in terms of exposure and some level of understanding.

The distance between me and homelessness isn’t as far as I once imagined. It happens to many people, those without connections, family, a stroke of bad luck, bad health, a creeping addiction, a tinge of mental illness.

Similarly, the distance between me and the uber-wealthy isn’t as far as I once imagined. As my income has tripled since I moved here (though I am extraordinarily far from wealthy), I am beginning to understand the preferences of the rich, the choices that rich people make. From working hard in a hot, stinking city, I understand the need for a house in the Hamptons. From seeing other people in beautifully cut, crisp clothing, I understand the need for a luxurious wardrobe. From moving from a flimsy one-bedroom to a slightly more solid one-bedroom to a decent two-bedroom, each apartment a bit better than the last, I understand the need for centrally-located, luxurious accommodations.

I am sure I’ll never be disgustingly, excessively wealthy, but I do believe my income and place in life will continue to improve. It will require hard work and sacrifice of my personal time, and perhaps some portion of my happiness, but it is doable.

Selling your time and your body to the capitalist system is very odd to consider from a distance. The truly wealthy live off the production of the rest. The trust funders, the investors, the financiers – they are all in close proximity in NYC. Even if not directly, we work to support them daily.

I understand and accept the way things work here, however begrudgingly, though finding a loophole in the system to a life either filled with interesting and exciting work, artistic passion, a life of my own in some way, a life where I feel like I’m on the winning end, is my ultimate dream.

I don’t think it’s an impossible dream. Finding a way to create that amenable balance of things, or create a pleasant and enjoyable quality of life (I hesitate to use “lifestyle”), must be something I can accomplish. It absolutely must be.

So, as a starting point, I think I will find out what things would improve my quality of life, how much they cost, a budgeted aping of rich-people luxuries, but must be executed in a thoughtful and feeling-rich way – quality, not quantity.


A quick list of things I want to investigate in future posts in this series:

  • A second/vacation home (and necessarily, a way to spend long amounts of time there. I’m willing to compromise and work from home for some of it)
  • Vacations
    • Long weekends
    • Two weeks+
  • Culture: theater, arts, ballet, live music
  • Beautiful personal objects
  • Delicious food
  • Creating art
  • Part-time work or part-time work from home work at least
  • Independence
  • Society
  • More, as I think of them!

Springtime love and unease

Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mother. It was a beautiful day. We ate breakfast out. We walked to the garden shop and I bought plants for my little window garden. Charlotte finally took a nap, and I quietly enjoyed a beer, watching the sunshine filtering through the tree and my lazily blowing curtains, and my baby asleep, and listening to the sounds on my street, and enjoying the soft warmth of the new season.

This year, I am growing geraniums, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes, and I’m attempting to sprout some mizuna, arugula, and radishes from seed in another box.

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Sometimes I want to quit my job and become a secretary for a finance firm. My job would be to look very pretty and make tea and go for coffee runs. I would be able to write and create and get up to no good during the rest of the time.

If I had a good enough idea (I don’t), I would try to start my own business and be accountable only to me and my family.

But I am here at this job, and I’m actually trying, and it’s actually working, and I will have more money and more options and more responsibility soon, if I continue to play my cards right. And oh, is there a lot of card-playing to be had. So much. It is stressful and makes me feel far too vulnerable. It’s scary and I have to impress people without seeming to try too hard, affect a nonchalant and confident attitude while grabbing onto as much as I can get away with a little bit desperately.

I feel like I COULD do big things. I feel like I’m full of potential. I feel like I am really, really dumb and want to hide forever.

Instead I will plant vegetables and look at the sunshine, and think about the stock options, and stick with it. Darn start-ups.

How to Be Good at Start-Ups

  1. Capitalism: Walk the Walk
    1. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, back up your sardonic grin with brutal, backstabbing savagery.
    2. How much can YOU get away with?
  2. Egos
    1. Cultivate your ego. Now swing that thing around!
  3. HOT GRIME
    1. Look anywhere between 18-24 hours unshowered for that perfect grimy look
    2. Freshly showered, dressed for business? Are you the CEO? No? Don’t make me laugh!
  4. Work frenemies
    1. Paranoia is your best work friend.
    2. There are only two kinds of people in a start-up: LEADERS and FOLLOWERS. Which one are you???
  5. YOUTH
    1. Old people are sad.
    2. We run on the stench of last night’s party clinging to your young, sweaty jacket. Mmm.
    3. Work-life balance? You mean WORK HARD, PLAY HARD? Beers at 6!!!!
  6. Emulation
    1. For the weaker-egoed and quaint older folks only.
    2. Pick: Gates, Jobs, or your boss’s boss.
  7. What even are women????
    1. Mostly good for HR and Customer Service.
    2. Also ruining things.
  8. YOU DESERVE THIS
    1. You are a genius.