Five Tiny Things I Made (and Completed) Last Year

  1. Two hats and one cowl scarf for Charlotte to wear. She called the pompom hat her “ice cream” hat and wore it all winter. I briefly considered crocheting more cute hats and selling them in an Etsy shop, but my intentions fell through. Maybe next year.

2. One crocheted hat with fur pompom as birthday gift for my sister.

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3. I bought a lot of furniture and made our house cozy and comfortable. Good living space vibes are very important to me. There is still room for improvement – our current apartment is street-facing and on the shady side of the street, so it’s quite dim, slightly noisy, and lacks a view. I have tried to make it into a restful den with comfortable furnishings, cozy lighting, and lots of small areas for different activities.

4. Two small decorative corners and one framed painting. These small arrangements are some of the few superfluous decorations in the whole apartment. The stones were collected from the beach at Montauk. Two small pieces of sea glass and a cluster of seashells from Tybee Island. Fabric-wrapped shells from my high school cultural exchange in Japan. I painted a picture of a forest stream and a little girl poking at river rocks with a stick, and it feels like it was a sort of divination since I had a daughter a few years later. I framed it and hung it on the wall in her room.

5. Three proper little holidays with decorations. Halloween, Charlotte’s second birthday, Christmas. I find it enormously satisfying to be able to create a pretty little atmosphere. Holidays are strangely impractical times, so the intention to create a proper atmosphere must be set.

6. SO much cooking and baking, but as that is not such a struggle for me as creating tangible expressions of personal identity, I will not count it.

And 7. HAD ANOTHER BABY. Welcome Arthur Gaspar, my son.

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?