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.


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?



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.


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.

What you do, what you’re supposed to do


I went to Florida for my grandmother’s funeral.

I went to my cousin’s baby’s first birthday party.

I smoothed things out between A and his family.

I took on extra assignments at work and my director talked to me about next steps (time to move on).

I celebrated my sister in-law’s birthday.

I am flying my sister up to visit me for a week this summer.

I still haven’t called the insurance company.

Things I am supposed to do: take a career development class, begin a job search for a position in the field I’ve worked myself into, save money, get the grocery budget under control, invest, play the game, become classier and classier, take night classes to get a master’s degree, make more money, arrange tasteful visits to far-flung family, send my mom a Mother’s Day gift, get married, join the Catholic church, take a small beach vacation, make friends, call the insurance company.

Things I am doing: being passively abrasive and making people feel awkward at work since I took on assignments far outside of my job description, avoiding signing up for a class, thinking about moving to Seattle, thinking about moving to Spain, thinking about the best way to move to another country, lots of thinking and not-thinking, saving a little but not a lot, being indecisive about what matters the most, feeling overwhelmed at the rapid passage of time, wanting to decorate, to create art, to make something physical and beautiful, and never finding the time or the energy, watching a little one grow, making love, being friends, not calling the insurance company.

Escapist Finance: Spanish Countryside Farmhouse Living

The Backstory

Ever since I can remember, I have been an escapist. In middle school, whenever life got a little too monotonous, predictable, stifling, claustrophobic — I’d run away mentally, immersing myself in books or spending hours gazing out my bedroom window and imagining what I’d do when I got older. I drew elaborate pictures detailing my dreams and searched for talismans of a glamorous future at yard sales, thrift stores, pretty boutiques. I collected tiny jeweled boxes and bangles and beautifully saturated fabrics, wishing they would magically grow bigger and whisk me away. Whenever I was unhappy I imagined running away to somewhere exotic and fulfilling, my future, my adulthood. I was certain that place existed and that I could and would get there. Maybe after high school. Maybe after college.

I’m definitely an adult now. I’m done with high school and college. I’ve even moved to a big, glamorous city and had lots of little adventures before and since. But to my surprise, the deep-seated desire to escape has never left me, not even a little bit.

I still crave that nebulous sense of Total Satisfaction and Complete Belonging, which is hard to pin down. I attach it to physical things, like beautiful objects and places in the world, like I have always done. I realize a lot of it is within myself, and I’m not sure how to unlock that, but something I can do, now that I am a big grown adult lady with an income, is figure out ways of making my fantasies come true — and in the process, hopefully figuring out why, and if I really do, want it to happen.

The Fantasy

I buy an ancient, gorgeous cottage in the Spanish countryside that needs a little fixing up. I move there with A and our baby/future children and we take our time renovating the house, tending to the surrounding acre or two of olive groves, almond trees, and peach orchards. I harvest treats from our rich vegetable garden and collect fresh eggs from chickens every morning. The kids get dressed in their uniforms and go to the school in the local town. A and I get to know all the neighbors and butchers, bakers, and shop owners in the town and slowly but surely establish a rapport, trading tidbits of information and goods. We get to know other families in the area and meet them for a glass of wine and some tapas in town on weeknights, or invite them over for a farm-fresh outdoor feast every once in a while. We sell our produce to local shops and at weekend markets. We build room for a studio and I begin creating beautiful, delicate yet earthy ceramics and huge paintings. A begins to write in earnest, forging a strong book, and then another. We support ourselves in this way, and our children grow up with a love for art, nature, family, and friends. We take trips every few months to other beautiful places in Europe, and when the time comes, our children set off on their own adventures, to college (affordable!), to travel, and to live.

Fuel for the Fire

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1. “Situated in a forest valley, and almost unseen from surrounding roads, the hamlet is only about 6 or 7 kilometres from the facilities of A Pontenova.” – Country house for sale – A Pontenova – $47,000

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2. “This very large village farmhouse has no end of possibilities. Standing on a total of 1100 m2 it could be renovated into a huge family home, or hotel or apartments.” – Aliaga Village House for sale – $96,000

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3. “The views across to the Els Ports national Park are breathtaking, and although these photos were taken very early on a misty morning in February, I think you can get the general idea.” – Lledo Finca for sale – $62,000

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4. “The climate in this area is a pleasant microclimate with mild temperatures, ideal for growing quality vines, citrus trees and many other different type of fruit trees.” – O Savinao Country house for sale – $16,000

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5. “If you are looking for a quiet, peaceful hideaway, but not too far from a village, here it is!
Just over 1 hectare of cultivated land stretching down to the river. There is an olive grove, and a large vegetable garden, and views across the countryside is beautiful.” – Finca in Rafales – For Sale – $74,000

The Reality

Choosing the Right Place — Looking at Google street view, watching YouTube videos, and reading Wikipedia entries only gets me so far. I’d have to visit the place, as well as local villages and towns first before deciding to buy property in the area. A and I have discussed becoming teaching assistants in Spain through a government-run program, which may be the most cost-effective way of staying in Spain and exploring various regions.

Buying the Property — First, we would have to save up enough money for a down payment, or for the cheaper properties, possibly enough to pay in full. Currently, A and I are only able to save tiny, tiny amounts of money. Maybe if I get promoted, we can start shoveling funds away, but that’s a very tenuous maybe.

Navigating the Intricacies of the Spanish Market — Could be time-consuming and complex. A and I both speak Spanish so we have some advantage, but it would probably be a nightmarish web of legalities and regulations unless we have tons of money to throw at a lawyer to line things up on our behalf.

Learning How to Farm — Maybe a finca is not the ideal purchase for us, unless we are willing to invest in farm equipment, learning the ins and outs of fertilizing, pest control, and selling product on the market. Maybe if we limit it to a few hectares, it will be doable, although properties of up to ~20 hectares are available for extremely reasonable prices with already established orchards/groves.

We Seem to Enjoy City Living — That is, I have never actually tried country-living, farming, or even intensive gardening. Maybe doing a longterm rental would allow us to experience the lifestyle before getting committed to it. Or maybe we would rather live in a city but have a cheap, fixer-upper country house to escape to on weekends/vacations.

Renovating: Money Pit, Smart Investment Idea, or Labor of Love? — Not sure we would even enjoy spending money on fixing up a country house. Maybe we’d prefer to spend money doing other things instead. If it’s an investment, the end result of more money could offset the temporary less money. If it’s a labor of love, it’s for good – it would be our house, our little hideaway in the world. But although that sounds romantic, I’m not sure if I’d regret it in the end.

Why Spain? — I am not really sure. I like Spanish food and culture, and have enjoyed traveling there in the past. I am especially attracted to medieval architecture, roman influences, and way Spaniards eat. Food is important to both me and A. I am also attracted to the fact that it is a non-English-speaking country, but that I still speak the language. I like that Spain is connected to the rest of Europe. I like that Spain doesn’t really have it together – although I would probably not like this if I worked there professionally. Working for myself in the midst of beautiful surroundings, eating well, traveling a lot, having access to a higher standard of living (in terms of healthcare and education) – these are things I am attracted to.

Coming up next: How much would we have to earn to live in Spain comfortably? What would our income, working for ourselves, look like? How much would we have to earn now to be able to save up for down payment and renovations? Hard numbers coming soon!