It was a dark and (not) stormy night in a gated SoCal community in Rancho Palos Verdes. Rolling hills, beautiful mansions, endless seascapes, and an eery quiet which hung on the neighborhood like a shroud. A young maid (like … Continue reading
Hello friends back Stateside and elsewhere, As promised, here is an extended account of my amazing Land of Oz Roadtrip in photographic form!
I am now on my third week of real post-grad-school life. Just kidding. It’s more like Here is the highlights reel of Dani’s life post-graduation. I was going to do a graduation post but the sweetest best friend a girl … Continue reading
THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
WITH HER MASTERS OF FINE ARTS DEGREE
As if that wasn’t enough to impress you, Dani was also chosen to be the class speaker,
in which she delivered a soul-igniting speech to a packed Bing Theatre,
And even though the wizard hood took a couple of tries, and required a of couple gentleman (of the finest quality), Dani remained regal, majestic, and wizardly. And although the choice of celebratory alcohol thrust D into making a gut-wrenchinly difficult decision under a lot of pressure, she made an informed life choice and STUCK WITH IT (like a ADULT).
And even when some random street urchin crashed Dani’s nice graduation family brunch,
She did not turn the urchin away, NAY, she took said street urchin out of the harsh, harsh LA cold and to a very fancy commencement celebration in which Street Urchin forgot to wear nice clothes. And Dani and her sweet Gentleman loved Vagabond Street Youth anyway.
Ah, yes, The Big Three:
1.) Staying regal, majestic and wizardly in times of struggle.
2.) Making an informed adult decision and following through with that decision.
3.) Taking in street urchins out of the cold and not shaming them for their choice of beany and Grand Prix checkered outfit (The “You made it to the finish line!” grad theme did not quite work in hindsight…).
THIS is what a beautiful, talented, well – equipped, successful artist, human, and scholar looks like. And I am so, so proud. I remember the day Dani told me she was going to start applying to MFA programs and I remember the night in our Logus Apartment in Portland, OR when Dani made the decision to say yes to USC. This decision changed the course of both of our lives forever.
Dani, you are the reason I am physically in LA. You gave me the courage to to do this: to move here and to call this crazy place home. I learn from you everyday, am inspired by you everyday, and am constantly anchored by your strength and friendship. I am so, so proud of you. My dear North Star, you have helped me make incredible life discoveries by trusting your gut and believing in mine. I am so honored to call you my best friend. I cannot wait to (continue to) see what badass shit you create in this world.
And now, I will leave with a final little nugget of crazy, a “slice of life”, if you will:
“An MFA Prepares (at 3am the night / morning of her party hardy grad party):
That’s muh girl.
Congratulations, my Dani. I love you sweet sister. All my love,
I started writing this post back in November about how I had totally let myself go. Okay not physically. I’m still fly as fuck, obviously. But damn did I let myself go mentally. After I got back from my solo backpacking trip in August, I jumped directly into rehearsals for our thesis project, which is known at USC as the “Three Play Rep.” Fall semester of our last year of grad school, we rehearse three plays. January of our spring semester, we rehearse the shows in the theater, and February-March of our spring semester, we perform all three in tandem. Sounds cool, right?
Except as soon as I got back to civilization and was faced with acting again I got SO HORRIBLY DEPRESSED. I was like: this is all meaningless, art is a waste of time, my life is a pit of despair, WHY AM I DOING THIS?
And I could barely drag myself into putting in the effort of rehearsing these plays which were supposed to be the culmination of my Master’s degree. I just couldn’t figure out what the point of it was. Why bother? Was it going to do something for humanity? For me? Was it any more real than just sitting under a fucking tree and staring at a lake? So something started happening to me that often happens to people when they are bummed out. My hygiene started to slip. Only it wasn’t my physical hygiene, it was my talent hygiene. Andrei Belgrader, one of my film professors last semester, AKA this cool cat… Said to us, “You have to maintain the hygiene and sanity of your talent.” (Go back and read that again in the voice of a 65-year-old Transylvanian chain smoker. Good. Now you’ve got it. )
Whatever “talent” is, for the sake of argument, let’s talk about talent as just a certain level of openness. Some people, like Marlon Brando for instance, were just seemingly born in this state of total openness. You might call it “presence” or “being present” which is really just having all of your senses open and receptive, like a dog. Marlon Brando’s senses were wide open. (Go down an internet hole sometime and watch him. He’s like a fuckin’ animal with super complex thoughts, which is really what we all are except he just lets himself be. He lets the camera see him.)
Some people, like me for instance, jut turn into an awkward monster when there is a camera pointed at them.
DANI, WHY WOULD YOU BECOME AN ACTOR?? I’m not one of those people who seems to naturally thrive in the spotlight and enjoy being seen. It takes work for me to do what I need to do to be open and available in the way that so many talented actors are. Being seen is scary, and it’s an act of courage for me every time. If I don’t believe in what I’m doing, it’s almost impossible to muster up that courage, and my “talent” suffers. I close off.
So Andrei was right, there is a ruthless adherence to “hygiene” that is necessary to keep moving forward. Like how you have to clip your toenails or they get long and gross and scary.
For me, that hygiene involves having some sort of belief in what I’m doing. And right around November 1st, 2014 I woke up and realized I’d wasted two important months of my life not believing in anything. My voice teacher finally said to me, “You know, you can’t just sort of phone it in anymore,” and I was reminded that none of us are ever invisible, no matter what we are going through or how well we think we hide it.
You might say it is necessary to have those times of closing off or shutting down in order to gather strength for tougher days ahead. You might say that way of thinking is purely self-destructive. I don’t know which of those I buy more, especially now that I am looking at my final semester of grad school and wishing that the quality of my preparation had been better.
But I’m playing Nina in “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, and I have a line that has been stuck in my head since November 1st, 2014:
“And now I know, Kostya, I understand, finally, that in our business–acting, writing, it makes no difference–the main thing isn’t being famous, it’s not the sound of applause, it’s not what I dreamed it was. All it is is the strength to keep going, no matter what happens. You have to keep on believing. I believe and it helps. And now when I think about my vocation, I’m not afraid of life.”
And that, to me, is what it takes to maintain the hygiene of my talent. Don’t lose faith in the journey when it gets hard.
S0 in the wise words of…. Someone-from-the-Interwebs:
There is SO MUCH to celebrate!!!
I kind of can’t contain myself. Let’s just try to count the things.
1. I have returned to blog-land!
Oh man, I’ve missed you guys. This week marks the completion of my 3rd semester of grad school, and I’m pretty sure that they were actively trying to kill us this time. It has been an incredible 16 weeks, but I am so thankful I get to come up for air for a month before diving back into the deep end again. So now I just get to enjoy…
2. Christmas time!
Even though it is a “frigid” 50 degrees and sunny here in Los Angeles, it still feels like Christmas for some reason. I don’t know if it’s my newfound Christmas Break freedom or what, but I literally want to kiss everyone I see and sing love into their hearts. Wait a second, I know where this “joie de vivre” is coming from…
For the past two months, I have had 70-hour weeks at USC. And for the past two months, all I’ve wanted to have is 70-hour weeks in Britt‘s arms.
MY BESTIE IS IN LA, Y’ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t even handle it.
We were too busy hugging each other in our rare spare time to write any blogs together, but we’ve got something in the works, never fear. But one thing that is so exciting to me now that I have a moment to catch my breath is how fuckin’ PROUD I am of my girl. Britt is KILLIN’ it, y’all. She would be the last person to say that probably, as she is keenly aware of her own struggles and challenges, as are we all, but seriously, she is DOIN’ it. Moving to LA is hard. I don’t think I felt at home in LA until… right now. Or at least not until the last couple of months. It wasn’t until I had struggled to adjust for 9 months, spent 2 months in India, and then all my best friends moved here. So really, I just got lucky because I got to go to India and then move in with my best friends. LA is a whole can o’ worms… Oh! But this leads me to…
4. The house!
Oh. My. God. We have a home. I believe Britt has introduced you all to our roommates: Suzzane, Dean, and last but not least, Napoleon. You know.
Just kidding. Napoleon is a dog. He IS ACTUALLY a stud though. If anyone wants their dog to be mounted by a purebred Pomeranian, go ahead and contact us through our blog. Seriously, Dean could use the money. We’re ready to start whoring out the dog.
As exhausted as I am, it has been a hell of a semester. My ensemble, the Class of 2015, The Ten Commandments, The Ten Fingers, The Bad News Bears, whatever the hell you want to call us, put up it’s very first full production. The ten of us tackled William Saroyan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 script The Time of Your Life. Our ensemble of 10 took on a cast of 25 characters who float in and out of Nick’s Pacific Street Restaurant, Saloon, and Entertainment palace. We cut a few characters, but long story short, I got to play a boy…
AND a girl….
…within one two-hour play. My Mom touched my hair wistfully after the show and said, “It was interesting to see what you would’ve looked like if you were a boy…” Aw comeon, Mom, didn’t you like having a daughter? Just kidding, I know that you don’t secretly wish I was a boy. …Right? But I also had one gay dude and two straight girls say that I was hot as a boy. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. And I tricked my Grandmom completely–my Mom had to tell her who I was.
But in all seriousness it was actually a really incredible experience. Willie Faroughli spends almost the entire play onstage playing a pinball game, and Elsie Mandelspiegel has one love scene right in the middle of the play. So I got to go from this young, driven, focused, ambitious, determined guy with nothing better to do in Depression America than conquer a marble game, to this extremely sensitive, feminine, nurturing, compassionate young woman who sees the tragedy of the Depression. The experience of going from this incredibly masculine, prideful outlook on life to an incredibly feminine, gentle outlook on life and then back again was actually kind of life-changing. It was an incredible reminder of why I love acting so much. The opportunity to explore all these parts of yourself and all these viewpoints on the world. The opportunity to be explore the masculine and the feminine. The opportunity to breath life into a character and allow their story to live. The opportunity to enter a state of communion with the audience and with the other actors. The opportunity to channel your own ego through the ego of another. It’s so fucking fun. By the time we were done with the show I felt like I was ready to do a six month run of it. But, as my Britt has said, these things are transient, which is part of what makes them beautiful.
There are other worlds that I am bidding farewell to now that the semester is winding down. I’m saying Goodbye to the life of a desperate housewife in Depression America in our black-box studio work on Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty. I’m saying farewell to Hedda Gabler, Pussy Riot, a Bakersfield Bimbo, and other characters from our work in movement class. I’m saying See You Later to Chekhov, until tackling that son-of-a-bitch again next semester. I’m going to miss our film class with the inimitable John Rubinstein,
I live in Los Angeles, I’m a Master’s Acting student, and I know next to nothing about film. But I’m working on it! Stage and Screen are two different mediums for the same kind of transformative acting that I’m interested in doing, and the differences between the two are just technical things. The art form is different, and I’m developing a real itch for it. My body understands live storytelling, and I want to understanding storytelling through film in the same way. We are taking two more film classes next semester, so the exploration will continue!
Speaking of transformative, I think the most transformative acting experience of this semester was actually the doing my Solo Performance piece. Despite the number of roles I’ve explored in the last few months, the experience of going deeper into myself, finding my own story, determining the story that I needed to tell… That experience was life-changing. And despite it being a “solo performance” experience, it bound together my ensemble irrevocably. We shared pieces of our souls and helped each other shape them into pieces of art, and we culminated in a 90-minute performance during which each of us shared a piece of our solo work.
But enough about art! I am on VACATION. (Which apparently means drinking a lot of booze and thinking about the art that I want to be making.) In the meantime I am going to figure out how to make gluten-free baked goods, enjoy sweating like a construction worker in December, and kick it with these crazies.
So in honor of being HALFWAY DONE with my MFA in Acting, here is this guy, who was my Muse this semester. This is what commitment looks like.
OHHHHH WE’RE HALFWAY THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’ve been in this fair City of Angels now for two whole weeks.
…How do I feel, you ask?
Okay, well actually I can get on a plane and fly away, Ms. Poehler, but THAT IS BESIDE THE POINT.
The point is … I am overwhelmed in many ways, but… I love it here. I am learning so much about myself and this city, and about myself IN this city, everyday. It’s magical.
SO! In light of my new-found Los Angelinan WISDOM, let me share with you some of the things I’ve learned about LA so far (you know, ’cause I’m totally a local now):
Here are the things I have learned about LA:
-One should have at least $20 worth of quarters in the glovebox or drink-holder at all times. Those good old-fashioned parking meters still exist. Y’know.. .the ones that only take quarters? The ones located by the beach you happened to go to and therefore are your only option? Yeah, those.
-Trader Joes is a way of life. If you don’t have a TJ’s in your neighborhood, there is pretty much no reason to live there.
-Everyone is beautiful here. Sometimes I just stare.
-The “Waze “app is a god-send.
-You must plan your life around street cleaning. If you happen to live in a structureless vortex like I do at this time, you’ll at least know what day of the week it is because of your street cleaning parking violation paranioa.
-People are reeeally into juice here. $12-kale-coconut-elixir-of-life juice. I’m not against it. It’s just… give me twelve dollars please. So I can consume it.
-LA Parking signs make the SAT feel like cake.
-People wear long-sleeves/pants/winter-wear when it is 75 degrees outside. I was really proud of myself when I wore my denim jacket over a tank-top in 73 degree weather the other day. (…See?! I’m a LOCAL.)
-There are more parking patrol cops here than there are purse dogs. I know this is hard to believe.
-Every coffeeshop in Los Angeles has a group of actors sitting next to you bitching about their auditions and agents and acting classes. Or bitching about their lack of these things. -I am pleasantly surprised at how walk-able certain neighborhoods are.
-More often than not, traffic is traffic for no reason. Was there an accident? No. Was there a stalled-car on the highway? Nope. It’s just right-of-passage to spend an hour on the onramp to the 110. “That’s the only way it’s fair to everyone,” says the Universe.
-In the desk-job hunt, telling a potential employer that you’re an actor is not too far away from telling her that you’re a leper-werewolf-umemployable crazy person. Perhaps you should work at In-N-Out instead.
-I don’t get how everyone has so much money… and I have none. It simply makes no sense. -I found these fun things on the Interwebs that tell me all about the Best Restaurants in LA, LA Neighborhood Stereotypes, and Things People Say About LA (my favorite: “Los Angeles is like San Diego’s older, uglier sister that has herpes.”), so now I feel like I know everything.
-LA is Serendipity. I have had many serendipitous encounters and experiences so far and it fuels my belief in this place. LA is a current. You can fight against it or you can go with it. And in my limited experience so far, “going with it” is really the only sustainable choice. And going with this current makes for a very exciting ride.
Here are the things I have learned about myself, in LA:
-I am very very white and one day I will be a different, tanner shade of white.
– I fucking love my neighborhood. Silverlake is DA BOMB. I claim it in the name of REAL (Portland) hipsters. (I will show them the way.) -Going on Facebook makes me feel incredibly homesick.
-I would die without a smartphone and GPS on said smartphone.
-I have been sneezing and breaking-out like a mofo since I got here. I’ve been told this is normal. I guess this poor little Northwesterner is having trouble adjusting to the air quality!
-I need to watch more TV. Seriously. It’s my job now.
-I don’t know how I went through this much life without a Bluetooth.
-Oddly enough, I’ve been doing more hiking here in LA than I did in the Pacific Northwest. I guess I took it all for granted…?
– I love the street art here. There is so much to look at, everywhere. From the most beautiful, intricate mural, to harsh graffiti, to a simple doodle of a robot on the sidewalk– there are so many stories being told. I want to document more of my discoveries as I find them.
-I need a separate allowance for coffee. And for gas. And for parking.
-Some nights I will experience an overwhelming low or anxiety, then experience a day-long high upon waking the next morning.
-I can roll with it.
-I have my team. It is so essential to know that people have your back. I am so lucky to have my team here. You know who you are. I am so incredibly grateful for you.
But mostly, I have learned that this whole adventure is about me finding myself here. Finding myself in Los Angeles, getting to know myself in a scary new place. Being calm and clear in the midst of all this crazy. Yes, I’ve had freak-outs and breakdowns and “WHAT AM I DOING”s. Yes, I will continue to. But more so, I have moments of extreme clarity and purpose and know that I am where I need to be. I am fortunate enough to live a life full of big, beautiful love, even in a brand-new place. And that is pretty awesome.
You know what else is awesome?! WHAT I DID THIS WEEK! 🙂
Much of this week was spent job hunting (and I got one! Thanks, Accountemps, Los Angeles!), reconnecting with friends in the area, and spending quality time with my TEAM (once again, you know who you are and I love you!). I am also constantly basking in the utter joy of knowing that I am living in the same city as Dani (come November 1st, Dani, Suzzane and I will have our own place TOGETHER!). Holy. Crap. So rad!!
I also got to visit my family! My mom, dad, and brother spent this past week in Palm Springs for vacation, which is only two hours away from where I live. I drove out last Wednesday and stayed for a day and a half for some for some good, quality FAM TIME.
This week also brought me some incredible beach time:
with THIS lady:
We “studied” and “did work” all day long in our sandy ocean front, beach-towel office:
…But mostly we just talked about kombucha and men. (Typical.) I could get used to days like this.
I have been in LA for two weeks now. I’m surviving. I’m having fun. I’m getting work done. I think I’ve earned the overpriced juice that I’m going buy myself after I finish this post.
I keep finding places here feel like home; pockets of the city that feel like mine. Sometimes it’s a new-to-me bar, a friend’s living room, or a familiar coffeeshop that I had visited before the move here.
One of these places is a coffeeshop Suzzane and I frequent called Mornings Nights in Silverlake.
When I was getting work done there yesterday, I noticed that I was sitting between an advertisement that says “you belong here” and a sign hanging above the door says “welcome home”. I took a big breath and exhaled. I felt really happy in that moment.
I can’t wait to see what the next two weeks here will bring.
All of my love to you, my friends, I so adore you.
Human beings are slippery little creatures. Do you have any idea how easy it is to hide from yourself?
I feel like as human beings we spend a lot of time skirting the issue, avoiding the confrontation, masking our feelings, and hiding from the things that are actually the most important to us–the things which are so important, in fact, that they are major motivators for us and dictate our behavior. But we are so clever at hiding from ourselves (and others), that we don’t even know that we are hiding! Humans are so smart!
Oh my God! In fact, the truth is that I’m actually avoiding the real point of this blog post by speaking in general terms and skirting the issue RIGHT NOW!
I have barely written a word since being back from India, either for my self or for this blog, and I’ve come up with excuse after excuse to avoid addressing it. To be honest, I’ve been deeply unhappy and confused for the past month or so. I’ve felt totally lost and fragmented. There were so many things that I unearthed in India–deep aspects of my personality and past that I discovered as things that are hidden motivators for my behavior. We all have them, and sometimes you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone in order to shed light on the things that usually lie in darkness as they dictate your behavior in your day-to-day life. My major discovery was that perhaps my biggest motivator–the dynamo that is the engine for every good thing I’ve accomplished in my adult life and for every bad thing that I’ve brought on myself as a form of self-sabotage–that motivator is a sense of self-hatred. I sense that I am not enough and so I have to do X, Y, and Z in order to prove my worth to myself and to the world.
This might seem like a heavy thing to share in a public forum, but I feel motivated at this moment to do so because I know for a fact that I am not the first person to feel that way. In many ways, it is a fundamental aspect of American consciousness, which is maybe why I needed to go to India and experience another way of being in the world in order to identify it as my personal truth. Being back in LA has been extremely difficult, and I think the major reason it has been difficult is carrying around this new self-knowledge in an old environment, and seeing my own insecurities so clearly reflected in the world around. For example, show me a twenty-something in LA who ISN’T insecure about her body and I’ll show you a thousand women crammed with false images from the media who hate their own skin. It’s not a comfortable fact, but it’s a true one.
I also feel that as a writer, as an actor, and as an artist I can’t move forward in my work until I acknowledge my personal truth. I felt artistically crippled. I couldn’t write in my journal, I couldn’t write this blog, I couldn’t be more than 90% present in my acting work because I quite simply did NOT want to know the truth about what was going on with me. I was hiding from myself.
So yeah, I guess that’s what I wanted to share with you all today. There is no point in hiding from yourself, in denying what it is that is really going on with you, because the things that you hide from the most are also the things that motivate you the most. Whatever inferiority complex I have, it has made me move to Portland by myself at the age of 17, it made me take a million credits per semester in college and get a super pimped out resume, it made me a major player in the foundation of a nonprofit opera company, it made me go to grad school and move to a city I never thought I would be ready for. It’s that inner dynamic that helps move me both towards and away from my dreams.
Even though this underlying dissatisfaction has been an omnipresent force for the last several weeks, here are some of the fun activities I’ve been doing to distract myself and lighten my spirits in the meantime! It’s been kind of a love affair with LA in a weird way, because despite the angst which has sprung out of transitioning back into my life here, I’ve been exploring all that this amazing city has to offer. And LA is actually really fucking rad, you guys.
Hiking adventures! We got a huge group together to go hiking/swimming/cliff jumping at Hermit Falls. This is Sean and Suzanna, who invited us to a huge warehouse party in downtown LA, successfully giving us the most “LA” day in the history of time.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery movie screenings! Cinespia hosts huge events over the summer in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Thousands of people turn out with blankets and picnics to watch their favorite movies projected on to the side of a mausoleum, and it is AWESOME. My favorite night was all-night movie night, which was a vampire-themed triple feature of The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Interview with a Vampire. At least, that’s only how long I was able to stay awake. Movie enthusiasts in LA will watch obscure French lesbian vampire porn until dawn. I am not that enthusiastic.
Beach trips! Most of the time my Silver Lake home is just too far from the ocean to see my Mama Pacific too often, but in the summer it is all palm trees and hot white sand. Bliss.
Visiting family! I am lucky enough to have a bunch of family about 4 hours north of LA in the scenic town of Guadalupe, California. Ahhhhh the smell of broccoli.
Reuniting with friends! That beautiful woman is one of the very very VERY best friends of Britt and I. She is now living in my house in LA, where Britt will soon join us, and she is a social activist and social worker and Master’s student at USC. We are in love. We are also both in love with Phil and Connor, two of my very best friends and two of the very best sexy man-actors in the history of the world. All of these people are part of the Portland takeover of LA. Watch out, world!
Bachelorette Party?! That beautiful woman in white is now a Mrs., and she came down to LA to celebrate her last weekend of bachelorette-dom in the sunshine with her ladies. In a stroke of madness, she left the bachelorette party planning to me and another LA-based ex-Portland artist-friend, and we had a magical weekend of beach-time and debauchery in Santa Monica. Needless to say, Batman was our designated driver that night.
School resumes! I just finished week 3 of year 2 of my MFA in acting, and I am pretty damn excited about all of the work we are getting to create for the next two years. How many actors in LA actually get to ACT for 13 hours a day for nine months? I am a lucky mofo. Lucky, lucky, lucky. This pic is of my ensemble playing with letter pillows in voice class. Life is good.
I met an Australian travel writer at Anand Prakash yoga ashram in Rishikesh who told me about a certain profession. In this profession, your job is to go to India and bring home young Westerners who went to India on vacation and never came back. Worried American mothers can hire this sort of bounty hunter to go track down their kid who went to India on some kind of spirit quest and ended up staying illegally as a Sadhu (often-stoned ascetic holy man) or otherwise finding an excuse never to leave this incredible country. Keep your eye out for Nina Karnikowski’s book on this subject sometime in the next couple of years. She kicks ass.
Anyway the point is: Mom, I’m not saying you need to hire a bounty hunter quite yet, but I really fucking love it here. In my mind I was going to be blogging about India as I went, but I’ve been too lost in the experience of experiencing it to blog a whole lot. But I promise I will do a lot more when time allows! I think what I’ll do is a trip-in-a-nutshell thing right now, and get deeper once I’m back in August. It’s hard to want to spend a bunch of time tracking down an internet cafe and staying inside when there’s so much to see!
So here is one of the main things that I’ve learned so far:
People are people.
We arrived yesterday in Leh, Ladakh and were picked up at the airport by Kunzom and Chauldin, our hosts for the next month. Kunzom is the sister of Khen Rinpoche, the founder of the Siddhartha School who invited Tarah to come to India in the first place, and who subsequently invited me to come to India. Kunzom is a woman-about-town in her village of Stok and in the nearby countryside, doing treasury work for the government, helping villagers settle the distribution of land, taking classes from a nearby lama, and hosting guests for her brother Rinpoche as he goes around the world making friends on behalf of the Dalai Lama and his beloved school.
For people this amazing, it’s hard to imagine them being… normal. But as we hung out in the family room last night, the sixteen-year-old daughter Chustik and the father Chauldin bickered over whether to watch the juicy drama or the cricket game on TV, and the mother Kunzom subtly moved closer to the TV whenever the Bollywood soap opera prevailed. Dinner got started late, and although Tarah and I didn’t care and were enjoying th process of making vegetable “momos” by hand, the hostess was embarrassed and the host’s impish Ladakhi jokes made everyone giggle and kept the mood light, despite language barriers.
As another example, the young yoga teacher at our ashram in Rishikesh was quite imposing with his uncompromising expertise, strict classes, and deep baritone voice. Then I found out that he had gotten his undergraduate degree in Acting at SUNY Purchase with Michael, who is now one of my classmates at USC. I was going to include some sweet media here, but I’m at an internet cafe in Ladakh and nothing is working now, hopefully I can still post this blog. Imagine a hilarious picture of a Chinese-American yoga teacher/actor right here.
Kids are kids. Before the flooding in Uttarakhand that decimated the banks of the Ganga and washed away the Shiva statue in Rishikesh, Tarah and I liked to go down to the river to play with Sanjee, my “little monster.” He was pretty much the funnest. It made me excited to come up here to Ladakh and spend more time with the kiddos.
The most sobering part of knowing Sanjee, though, was knowing how unlikely it is that he will make it to adulthood. He had a deep cough and lived along the river, and I don’t know what happened to him during the floods. The water rose over the course of a few days, so I’m assuming his family was savvy enough to move uphill, but I don’t really know.
Death is death. In my opinion, Indians have a much healthier relationship with life and death than Americans. Tarah and I were on a camel ride in Pushkar, and we saw a dog eating the entrails of a dead cow through his…well…you know. Our camel guides, who happened to be 20-year-old boys dressed like hipsters straight out of Silver Lake, shrugged and kept moving. We did the same.
But it wasn’t upsetting. Life and death coexist here very honestly. It causes pain, of course. We made a friend who was telling us that he won’t go swimming because his friend unexpectedly drowned on a swimming outing, and the memory still causes him immense pain. But death is part of life, and like life it has something to teach us. I don’t sense this sort of desperate need to cling to this life and make something of it hat I sense is fundamental to American culture. My running joke here is “YOLO… No wait… You Only Live Infinite Times Until You Reach Moksha.”
Prayer is prayer, and Love is love. We met a group of young American women in the Delhi airport traveling with Youth With a Mission, a Christian organization doing volunteer work abroad. We had a really inspiring conversation with them about the bottomless nature of God’s love, and I thought about touching silence and bliss during Osho meditation in Rishikesh. I thought about talking to an astrologer in Rishikesh about Jesus and Buddha and their lessons on love. I thought about crying at the end of yoga class as something holy pulsed through my veins. I thought about dancing with the kids at the Hare Krishna temple and sitting up late smoking cigarettes under the light of the full supermoon in Udaipur. I thought about taking off my shoes and feeling the intricate marble work at a Jain temple that took 69 years and hundreds of lifetimes to build. As my mind flashed back to the present moment the Christian girls in the airport were asking Tarah and I if they could pray with us. Why not, I thought. Prayer is prayer.
Anyway, like I said I was going to include a lot of sweet media in this post, but technology has thwarted me, so I’m going to stop here. Tarah and I start teaching regularly at the Siddartha School tomorrow morning, and we’ll be working with the kids for a couple of weeks, until the school hosts a big celebration for it’s 20th anniversary and then the kids go on summer break for a couple of weeks. Not sure what we’ll do after that, but that’s okay! Who knows?? More news to come!
Lots of love and light and joy and stuff,
My life is crazy. Seriously crazy. In the past week and a half, I confronted my fears about cancer, took a road trip from Twin Falls, Idaho to Los Angeles, California, and went to a theatre-nerd prom. Simply existing has been a thrilling yet frightening rollercoaster with all of the best payoffs (although I think I may be getting a little motion sick from it all).
But good news!
I think I can say with moderate certainty, dear friends, that I am out of the woods with all the major life-threatening drama. I swear that sometimes it feels like Portland is trying to dispel all of the toxic shit floating around me before I move to Los Angeles. Fine, I’m down with that, Portland. Let’s do it all now. As long as the pendulum swings the other way in time to bring me a pleasant and successful transition into my new life. Got it? Good. Thanks, Portland.
But yes! Good news! Before I tell you the bottom-line of this saga, let me take you on a journey of my past week or so.
In my last post, I tried to address in a somewhat tactful way that I was going through a bit of a cancer scare and was pretty freaked out about it. It was a tough thing for me to write about. The whole experience and “waiting game” that came with it made for the longest few weeks of my life.
Last Tuesday, I got a biopsy on a class 4a solid cyst was found in my left breast (as I have learned, fluid cyst= good news, solid cyst=reason for concern). My mom drove down from Tacoma to take me to the procedure. I could not have been more thankful to have here there. Thanks, Mom.
I felt pretty strong while we were in the waiting room, but when I put on the patient dress thing and walked into the room where the procedure would be done, I started shaking. I assumed the position on the cold, reclined chair where they have you lie down really still while they poke needles in you and vacuum out of your insides. This is when I started to cry. I cried on that chair in my pathetic apron, feeling stupid and helpless and scared, while my mom held my hand and told me I was being brave. I felt like I was 7 years old. I felt embarrassed and I’m not really sure why.
I got most of my tears out before the radiologist and technician came in, thank goodness. The experts walked me through the procedure (I realize I had no idea what a biopsy entailed exactly, and I’m glad I didn’t know until then) and I nodded calmly in response and they asked me if I had any questions.
“Can I watch the screen while you do it?”
I can’t remember if I actually asked that question or if it remained within the walls of my skull because my voice-box stopped working. But either way, they did shift the screen on the monitor in a way that I could watch the procedure if I wanted to. And I did.
I looked down my apron as they stuck a huge-ass needle in my boob, I watched as they removed the needle that numbed the area, I observed intently down my chest as they inserted a vacuum to extract a biological sample of the cyst. I also watched the monitor.
At this point, I was genuinely academically intrigued. It was pretty incredible. I saw the different instruments puncture through my skin and penetrate the gumball-sized lump in my chest. I watched them poke and prod, I watched the mass change shape slightly in the monitor as in pulsated and moved around, reacting to the foreign attack.
The most unsettling thing about the procedure, however, was the way the vacuum felt as it sucked out parts of my body. I can’t really describe it, it just felt unnatural and horrible. But luckily I had other things to focus on while they were doing that. Like coughing.
Among other things on my mind that day, I was getting over a pretty gnarly cold on the day of the biopsy. I was in the part of the cold process where I would have extreme coughing fits at any time and would need to chug a glass of water to get it to stop. While the procedure was underway, I was concentrating so damn hard on not coughing while the needle was in my chest–such a delicate fucking thing– that I kind of forgot about everything else that was happening. It took every ounce of my concentration, breath control, and will-power to keep that cough at bay while the doctor was at work.
I never warned anyone in the room of this (which, in hindsight, was a mistake), but I told my mom about it afterwards. I think she was half impressed and half alarmed. But whatever, I did it. I am awesome.
The second most unsettling thing about the whole experience was when the doctor told me that he diagnosed a 21-year-old of breast cancer a month ago. I don’t remember why he felt the need to tell me this. I think his point was something along the lines of: “you never know”, and “it’s good to catch things early”. But still. Thanks, Doc. Minor heart-attack happening, here.
But yeah… eye on the prize, people. Eye on the prize! I got through the biopsy just fine. And now I have a rad battle scar (until the bruising fades, at least) and it is a fucking badge of honor. Black and blue and green and yellow and bandaged. This, my friends, I call ZOMBIE BOOB. And I am proud!!
Good job, boob! You did it!!!
And best news, my friends?!
…I got the results from the biopsy back last Thursday… and I am CANCER-FREE!!!!
I heard this news in Twin Falls, Idaho, where I flew out to road trip with my dear friend Suzzane to Los Angeles (she is starting her grad program in social work at USC– you go girl!). The doctor called me when Suz and I were watching episodes of Parks and Recreation on the couch at her mom’s place. My phone rang and I froze and didn’t answer. I hid in the bathroom for a while and had a minor panic attack. Then Suz held my hand and encouraged me to check the voicemail. Bless her heart.
And it was the best news I have ever received. I am so grateful. So happy.
..And to top it all off, we woke up at the ass-crack of dawn the next day to road-trip to our new home (well, my new home in a few months)! 14 hours in a car, 10 pee-breaks, 2 alien-themed jerky tourist-trap stops, and epic fun. It was one of the best days ever. EVER. My little heart was pounding the happiest of beats in my chest every mile of the way.
What a journey.
Let me take you on a journey. A journey of epic shit I did this WEEK!
After the close of “Aloha Say the Pretty Girls” with Theatre Vertigo (my last show as a company member… sniff sniff, cry cry!) last week, I welcomed a much-needed “break” between projects of mine. Well…”break” is such a relative term. ‘Cause let’s be real. I never rest.
So! Last Monday was the annual Drammy Awards, which is the biggest cast party/awards ceremony/reason for theatre people to drink that Portland has to offer. It is the Tonys, Oscars, and nerd- prom all rolled into one. And this year, my amazing friend Nicole Gladwin MC’ed. She is the Baddest-Ass there ever was. And the best stage manager ever. And the best human ever. I love her.
So anyway. Each year the Drammy Committee books out the McMenamins Crystal Ballroom downtown and hundreds of theatre professionals get dressed up in their hottest suits and dresses to celebrate all things theatrical. Pretty rad, right?
I very was proud to sit at the Theatre Vertigo table this year with my company. Because we kiiiinda TOOK IT HOME. We won Best Sound Design (GO RICHARD MOORE!) for our winter show, The Velvet Sky (which I helped produce as Company Artistic Liaison to the director) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for our fall show, Mother Courage and Her Children (GO BROOKE CALCAGNO**!). Company Member Kerry Ryan also received the other Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her work in Post5 Theatre‘s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream (HELL YEAH!).
Brooke and I were joking that night about how our spring show, “Aloha Say the Pretty Girls” was a shoe-in for Best Production (the show was kind of a train-wreck), but HEY. Ya can’t win ’em all, right?
Oh, theatre. You slay me.
But anyway. For the most part, we were kind of a big deal that night.
**Also, for what it’s worth, I was wearing the now Drammy-Award-Winning Brooke Calcagno’s dress to the ceremony that night. So, obviously, that gave me hot and talented points.
In other news.
On Wednesday of last week, I had an audition for a theatre job I reeeally wanted to get at a company I reeeally admire, but alas. I dropped the ball on that one. That Wednesday I gave a vanilla, not-dailed-in, super-distracted audition. Sigh. It happens. I had to remind myself at least eight times to “let it go” as I walked back to my day job after the audition.
To be quite honest, I just couldn’t get my head in the game after the biopsy the day before. I was scared and shakey and was having trouble sitting up straight and moving my left arm without feeling pain or a weird weak sensation. But most of all, I was scared to death of finding out the biopsy results at any given minute.
But whatever. It’s about showing up and doing the work no matter what, and I showed up and did the work. It’s okay if it was not my best, I cannot always deliver my best. I am not a machine. I am HUMAN!
And, as you know, I found out the (terrific!) results that next day, on Thursday. So I was not in limbo for too long. 🙂
…Which is when I began my EPIC TRAVELING ADVENTURE with Miss Suzzane Cawthra to Los Angeles, from Portland, via Boise/Twin Falls Idaho (don’t try to understand it, just go with it). It was beautiful.
That Thursday through Monday was one of the most amazing stretch of days I’ve ever had. There was so much to be thankful for, to be happy about, and even more to look forward to. I feel like I have already received my prize.
You guys, I simply CANNOT WAIT to move down to LA. With each trip I make down there (and clearly, I cannot stay away) I feel more and more at home. During each trip, a couple more tiny pieces fall into place. And some of the most important people in my life, the ones that I have chosen to call family, are there. It feels right. I’m going with it.
I am wanting to talk more and more about this experience, but I will save it for next time. This post is already too long and even I’m starting to get bored reading it (Quick, Britt! Put in more GIFS!!).
But if there is one thing my life isn’t, though, it’s boring.
I am in a good place. I am so happy to be out of the woods after the BIG LIFE THREE (burnt-down house, hit-and-run on car, cancer scare). I am grateful to be back to the “normal life” stresses of trying to not-perform-shittily at auditions, paying-off massive credit card debt, double-booking myself and worrying about letting people down, breaking my own heart, and being deathly afraid of failure. No, that’s not melodrama people. That is my amazing life. Chock-full of challenges, ups-and-downs, and major successes and payoffs. I feel much stronger today than I did a month ago. And I have so many amazing forces in my life that have carried me through and leveled me up in life.
… Not the least of which were the three tubs of Salt and Straw ice cream (2 pear/blue cheese-my FAVE-, and one strawberry balsamic and pepper!) that found their way to me, like magic, after my biopsy.
And also, thank you, dear Dani, for your love from afar. Even though you are in India, I feel lucky to have little gems like these to get me through your two-month stateside absence (yup, you knew this was going to end up on our blog somehow… I LOVE YOU!):
(Ladies and gentlemen, that is my soul mate. So BACK OFF.)
love from the lucky girl born on Friday the 13th,