What Running a Marathon Taught Me About Coping

Yesterday I had a panic attack. My heart raced. I broke into a sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The attack hit me out of nowhere. Pretty sure I actually muttered to myself “Oh my, what’s this? What’s happening to me?”

It’s not that I’ve never had a panic attack before. I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon. It’s just that for me they are almost always preceded by some direct and identifiable psychological turmoil, but lately I’ve been y’know, happy. I suppose I could connect the dots. Stressful week at work? An unfamiliar feeling of optimistic ambition relating to my writing career? (I’ve never been so pro-active about a personal goal and while it’s all very exciting, there’s a scared little girl inside me no doubt trying to shake me up out of fear of failure.) Ongoing family crisis? (Which is currently a sleeping dragon but I’m waiting for it to wake up again.) Maybe I just let my blood sugar get too low. There are truly any number of things that could trigger an anxiety attack but none of them have been front line lately so it surprised me to experience a physical manifestation of the fears. Whatever the reason, panic took hold.

I’ve never been great about dealing with these pesky attacks. I suppose that by definition they encroach your senses beyond reason, so an inability to deal sensibly is kind of the point. This has always been inconvenient as it’s forced me to rely on the support of others to get by. I’d call my mom or my step-dad and they’d talk me off the edge. These days my husband fills the role nicely, holding me and loving me until even the panic feels cozy and at home. While it’s crucial  to have people in your life who can save you in a crisis, self-reliance is something for which I always strive.

And that’s where the marathon enters the picture.

Running the Walt Disney World Marathon left me with innumerable life lessons, but perhaps the lesson that surprised me the most was a deepening of the phrase “it gets better.” Sometime around mile 14 things got really hard, and I thought to myself “Oh crap, if it’s this hard now how am I going to survive 12 more miles?” The logic being that an increase in distance should correlate to an increase in fatigue and thus difficulty. Logically speaking running a marathon would look something like this:

Marathon HillIt makes sense right? The longer you run the harder it gets? See, though, here’s the thing about endurance running. It doesn’t really make sense. Does it make sense to train for four straight months at the expense of a clean house, social life, and free time? Not really. Does it make sense to pay $200 to do something you could theoretically do on your own for free? Not really. Does it make sense to voluntarily put yourself in pain or at the very least extreme discomfort for 4-6 hours straight? Definitely not. Nothing about marathon running makes sense, including the experience of running it.

So there I am at mile 14, incredibly concerned that if it’s this hard now I simply won’t be able to finish. A funny thing happened. I just kept running, and it got better. It gets better.

Then it got hard again, and better, and really hard, then easy, then impossible, then doable, then great, then transcendent, then I finished. So running a marathon actually looks more like this:

Marathon realnessHow can mile 20 be easier than mile 14? And what kind of sense does it make for mile 5 to be harder than mile 25? No sense at all. That’s long-distance running for you. Reason #673 why running is a giant metaphor for life. It does get better. But then it gets hard again.

The It Gets Better campaign is beautiful, and important. In the darkest hour we all need someone to look in our eyes and promise that it DOES get better. It does. But let’s talk realness for a sec. It will probably get hard again. Really hard. And then it will get better. Undoubtedly. Life is not a long walk up hill. It’s a marathon. It’s the high school mile being harder than the college mile. It’s the quarter-life mile being harder than the thirty-something mile. It’s the family mile being easier than the work mile and oh, wait a minute, now the family mile is the hardest yet. Each challenge paid off with a nice stretch of joy. The joy inevitably followed by a new challenge. Somewhere there is a finish line that makes it all worth it.

Even once we’ve finished the marathon, we’ll probably do another one. We’ll get right back on the course of ups and downs. Extreme highs and lows. We’ll cope. Because it doesn’t make sense, a marathon or life. The one thing you can count on is that it will change, and for better or worse you’ll be wiser once you’ve endured.

I highly recommend running a marathon to exercise this radical unpredictability of life. It’s cathartic. Years of emotional ups and downs will be condensed for you into a 5 hour physical metaphor that you can take with you into the big, bad, beautiful, chaotic world. You will know in your muscles and bones what it feels like to cope, to endure, and to be rewarded with a strange sort of peace. (Which you will forever project onto the medal they hand you at the finish line. You will cherish that cheaply made trinket endlessly. God help the poor soul who ever tries to take my bling away!)

Last night I’m lying in bed, my husband sleeping peacefully next to me. I’m fitful, fighting the remains of this pesky panic attack. My insides feel dark blue, my thoughts are glum, my breath is shallow. I read. I watch TV. I try to breathe in calm and exhale chaos. It’s not really working. I’m in it, a tough mile. But I think back to the marathon. I think about how mile 25 was easier than mile 5. Suddenly I feel, not calm, but confident. It will get better. I will also have another panic attack someday. I will cope.

Now it’s tomorrow. You know what? This mile feels great. It’s a beautiful day with no panic in sight. It got better. For now. And that’s enough to keep me running.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Mile 25. On top of the world.

Patience, not-so-young Grasshopper

I’m too impatient to think of a clever way to begin this post. Gah! So impatient! The cat is out of the bag. I’m impatient. It’s a toxic state of mind. The overwhelming desire to have something extraordinary happen overnight often thwarts the possibility of that extraordinary something happening over time. This is why it’s essential to enjoy and take meaning from the journey. Not because it’s so wise, because it’s 95% of the process. You may as well enjoy it. You can’t drive from California to New York overnight, so if you don’t find pleasure in staring out your window at the Oklahoma prairie or Missouri’s rolling hills, it’s going to be a long and painful drive. Learn to savor the journey; something I’m discovering about my endeavors as a children’s book author.

Earlier this year I actually, truly, really, actively, once-and-for-all began taking steps toward becoming a published children’s picture book author. I’d dreamed of such a thing since I was 6 years old, but other than a library of ideas messily cataloged in my brain I’d never pursued it. All that changed with the new year. Knowing NOTHING about the publishing industry I began with as rudimentary a step as possible. I bought Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Hello, dummy. *Proudly points to self*

Not even knowing how to format a manuscript properly, I needed the basics. It’s actually quite a good book. I recommend it for publishing preschoolers like me.

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I read this book. I joined Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I launched a personal website. I finished my first manuscript. I researched publishing houses accepting unsolicited material. I wrote a cover letter. I signed up for my first conference. I’m ready now! Do you hear me universe! I’m ready, so can this happen now? Oh universe, I know YOU waited patiently for 30 years for me to accept this as my life’s calling, but now that I’m ready let’s do this thing.

I don’t know if writing for children has led me to think like a child, but I am impatient with a capital I. Impatient. IMpatient.

So what has led to this impatience? Well I’ll tell you. Obstacles. There are numerous itchy realities that have put a little bee in my bonnet since I started actively writing. Here are the discouraging things I’ve learned since I’ve gotten myself in the game.

On average it takes 3-6 months for a publisher to respond to your manuscript submission. Most responses will be a rejection.

Many publishers require an exclusive submission so while you’re waiting SIX MONTHS for them to read your three page manuscript you can’t really even submit it to anyone else. This isn’t always the case but SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES!

If and when a publisher wants to buy your manuscript, which you can almost guarantee won’t happen with the first submission, it will then take 18+ months (at least) for your book to be paired with an illustrator, art directed, produced, and published. It can and does take years.

Once your beautiful book baby is born and there you are on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, unless you’re among the incredibly rare breed of New York Times bestselling picture book authors, your book will probably go out of print in 2 years and you’ll net maybe $5,000 of royalties once you make back your advance. It will most likely be 10-15 years before you’ve published enough books to quit your day job and write full time.

So here I am, eager as a little beaver for my life to begin, and all I see are obstacles and “Turn Back Now” signs. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. I’m considering children in a few years. I’d like to start saving for a home, and for kid’s education, and for retirement. I want my life to begin NOW. Now, do you hear me universe? I’m ready! Do I really have to wait years for my three-page manuscript to make it to bookshelves, if it ever makes it at all? There are no guarantees. This could all be for naught. I could be a hack. I could be delusional. I can’t wait years to find that out.

I’m realizing I’m at this point in the story:

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There are many things I don’t know but I’m fairly certain of one thing. For the first time in my life I feel that I’m on the right path. I’ve started my journey down that path feeling prepared and enthused, only to now come across a chasm of unknowns, of long periods of waiting, of inconveniences and obstacles. There are signs that say “Wait here for 6 months, then proceed… maybe,” and others that read “Please pay $500 to advance,” while still others read “Congrats, you’ve earned $5,000! Now make that last for three years!”

A famous actor can indeed make millions. As can a famous author. However the majority of actors are not famous. They work. They struggle. They hustle to make $2,000 for one week on a show they don’t even really like that much and pray they’ll make enough money in their careers for health insurance and maybe a pension. It’s hard. For most, it’s very hard, so if you don’t love it, if Jiminy Cricket isn’t whispering in your ear, “Yes, this is right,” then maybe don’t do it.

Who knew writing would be just as challenging? Well, probably everyone who ever tried to be a writer, but hey I’m new at this. The difference now is Jiminy Cricket is talking to me. I’m starting to sound a little crazy but you know what I mean. It’s there! Some sort of warm omniscient speaking heart telling me that it will all be worth it somehow. This is my story. This is my path.

Okay. I accept. I will wait. I will make the leap. I will stay on the path no matter how hairy it gets. I will employ patience by enjoying the view from the window of this moving train. And while I wait, I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what I see out the window and it will inspire me and I’ll write it down. Even if I’m never published and they line my coffin with rejection letters from Random House, someone will one day clean out my desk and they’ll find what I wrote and they’ll say “Hey, look what she did.”

Hey, look what I did. Look what I’m doing. All you need is patience, young grasshopper.

Or should I say… cricket.

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Marriage… House… Kids

As a mildly angst-riddled teenager I loved movies like American Beauty and Ordinary People that deconstructed the so-called American Dream and exposed it for what it really is, which I believed to be a false security blanket we hide under to escape our failures in achieving our true bohemian passions and desires. I can’t be the only teenage artiste who felt destined to transcend society’s expectations. Following the blueprint of marriage > house > kids seemed like a cop-out. Sentiments spoken like a true angst-riddled teenager.

This weird thing happens as you get older, which my mother of course told me would happen as I’d get older but I didn’t believe her. Your perspective changes. I would crow to her that I’m too different, too unique, to do something as prosaic as have children by the time I’m 33. No no no. I’m an artiste. I have dreams first. Then suddenly you turn 30 and you really do care less about being the world’s most fabulous actress, not because you doubt yourself any more or less. It just doesn’t seem to matter as much any more. Other things start to matter. Things like marriage > house > kids.

Whoa whoa whoa. What’s happening to me? I denounced that path at 16! Am I really going to deviate from my iconoclastic destiny by being… predictable? Suddenly I’m looking at listings on Zillow and taking school districts into consideration. Am I allowing myself to be sucked into the smokescreen of the “American Dream?” Or is this just, y’know, growing up? And how do I tell the difference?

I do what’s worked for me before. I stop. I breathe. I think. I deconstruct my preconceptions and try to see my situation from the outside. Maybe I should distance myself from conclusions I made about life as a teenager and allow room to grow? Just a thought.

*CUE angry teenager voice*

No! You weren’t wrong! You’re getting sucked in just like they want you to. “They.” “The man.” The daily grind. You’re better than that. You’re SPECIAL! Being responsible is code for being AVERAGE! It’s a trap! IT’S A TRAP!

Pause. Thank you self-aggrandizing teenage Becky. Noted. Now let’s get back to our present situation.

Teenage years, for better or worse, can be defined by one word: ego. It’s an important time in life. No longer children, our egos are finally sprouting legs to walk around as the person we’ll continue to become the rest of our lives. Puberty takes a grip, our hormones rage, and our egos blast off at full speed with an impenetrability and entitlement needed for things like surviving high school and leaving the nest. These broad strokes of “becoming” during our teenage years shape our goals and set our sails on a path to achieve them. Looking back I’m realizing that my teenage self was very important to me, it doesn’t mean my teenage self was right. Shifting my perspective now at age 30 doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

I’m stubborn. It’s hard for me to admit I may have been wrong, even if I’m referring to lofty ideas of self that I had at 16. A stubborn patch of coarse soil will never leave room for new flowers to grow, so let me take a look at this situation again.

Marriage > House > Kids.

I’m going to solve this problem very quickly because the light bulbs went off in my head very quickly once I stopped, breathed, and meditated a bit on the subject.

What is a marriage. Marriage is many things but the heart of it is love.

Love.

What is a house? We can easily get tangled up in the trappings and materialism of home-ownership but at its core a house is safe shelter.

Shelter.

What are kids? Well, I really have no idea what it’s like to actually have kids but I remember being a kid and I like kids. What are kids? Kids are family.

Family.

So what is this Marriage > House > Kids pathway? Let me translate.

Love > Shelter > Family

Is there anything more important to our survival than that? Anything more fundamental? More pure?

Love. Shelter. Family.

Teenage Becky was too embroiled in the development of her ego to do that nifty bit of translation of the American Dream. Adult Becky may be a bit wiser.

Love. Shelter. Family.

Yep. Those are definitely things that I want. Got the first one. Best decision I ever made. Got the second one except I’m spending every month paying off someone else’s mortgage so I’m understanding the allure of ownership.

Family. Well that’s a topic for another day.

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This is pretty darn close to what my family currently looks like. And I love it with all of my heart. Click on the image for more illustrations of the little things that make love grand.

Walt Disney World Marathon Review, as told by Piglet and Eeyore.

Walt Disney World Marathon 2016 registration goes on sale next week. While I would absolutely love to go the distance at the World again I’m afraid my pocketbook does not allow. The trek to this event will have to remain a rare occurrence until I’m stinking rich, or some other stroke of fate lands me in Florida in early January. In honor of this fantastic marathon it’s time to share our official yet incredibly casual review of the 2015 race.

Brad interviewed Neiman and I the day after the race to capture our thoughts, good and not-so-good. I got super smiley sitting here at my desk re-watching this video. That day in Epcot, the day after the race, had to be one of my favorite days I’ve ever had on this earth. Fresh off the victory of finishing my first marathon, glowing with accomplishment, and spending the entire day in Walt Disney World with two of my favorite people. That was a good day.

Without further ado, here is our review!

What Running to Tahiti Taught Me About Money

I’m not bad with money, per se. Not horrible. I pay my bills on time, always, and keep a very organized record of my accounts. My problem is that I have bills in the first place. My problem is that I enjoy spending money and usually on things. I love things. Aren’t things awesome? I love shoe things and clothes things and book things. Yay things! Then I run to Tahiti, and I realize that things are not actually purchased with money. They are purchased with units of my life. Yikes. My life is made up of a lot of running shoes.

Money is just an invention, right? It’s a placeholder, but for what? For time. So when I spend $80 on a pair of discount Asics that I don’t reeeeally need I’m not giving away $80. I’m giving away approximately 4 hours of my life. You may be willing to trade cold heartless cash for cool stuff, but are you willing to trade your time?

Five days a week I trade in my time, eight hours a day, for money. Why? The marketing machine that is commercial capitalism wants you to believe that you trade your time in for money so that you can go out and buy things. Things will give you meaning (false). Things will fulfill you (false.) Things will make you happy (ok SOMEtimes). Then the rush of those things wears off and you have to go out and buy more things to feel that false sense of fulfillment. You have to work harder to get more money to buy more things, but you’re working so hard to buy those things you barely have time to enjoy them so their meaning diminishes even more but the quest for happiness does not and so you do it. You work harder, you take on another job, you trade in more of your lifetime, (Think about that word. Life. Time.) to acquire more things that continue to fail to give your life meaning. You’ve given away the precious time of your life for the acquisition of ultimately meaningless things.

Is that what I want my life to be? Running shoes and book bags? (Dammit if I don’t LOVE a good book bag). Not if I don’t have time to go running or to read the books I’ve put in my bag. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country and a time that afford me the ability to work for a decent income; one that gives me a roof over my head, a steady stream of food on the table, a car to get around, cat food for the furry babies, and a little extra for a new hat. Good lord I’m practically royalty. Grateful grateful, I’m very grateful. I have just what I need to be comfortable, and then some. The trick is to not spend the “then some” but earmark it for an investment in a meaningful life.

This all seems rather logical but we’re brainwashed in the western world from such an early age to value things. Toys, video games, treats, presents. These are the epicenters of many an American child’s world. I don’t necessarily believe in complete deprivation of material goods to combat this. I truly loved my Teddy Ruxpin doll and Little Mermaid sleeping bag. At some point it’s an important lesson to learn however that these things did not make me who I am. What made me who I am are the friendships I cultivated at the slumber parties where I used my Little Mermaid sleeping bag, and the imagination sparked in my mind by talking to a teddy bear who could talk back. Friendship, imagination, kindness, play. These are the elements of my childhood that made me who I am, despite the fact that Disney and Toys R Us would have me believe it was the things themselves.

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And so no, I do not completely discredit the value of things. I am more likely to write a better story in a beautiful journal with a fancy pen than I am on a boring black and white composition notebook. I will walk with more confidence in an outfit that makes me feel beautiful than an ill-fitting dress I’ve had for 10 years. Just remember it’s the story that matters. It’s the confidence. The things are just tools.

A light bulb goes off as soon as we start planning our trip to Tahiti. This four-year endeavor has been its own form of internal currency trade, but I never realize the weight of that until I begin to think about giving the currency away. Each dollar we put into savings represents a hard-earned mile. So a couple of months ago as I research the cost of a diving expedition in Bora Bora, I feel this overwhelming resistance to lay down the $200 to pay for it because it’s not two hundred dollars I’m giving away. It’s two hundred miles! It takes us a lot of time, sweat, and energy to run two hundred miles and come time to give it away I have to make absolutely certain that it’s worth it. And that’s when it hits me. ALL of my money should be this precious. Why is it so easy to justify a quick afternoon blowing $50 on Zappos when it is so difficult to put down $200 for a once-in-a-lifetime experience we’ve been saving for years to have? Damn, my perspective is OFF. In that moment my paradigm did that shifting thing it sometimes does, and I no longer saw the numbers in my bank account as just numbers. I saw them as units of time; of my life. Very precious.

So what IS the point of money? Can’t we just get rid of it and all live in a utopia where money is obsolete and we help each other do what needs to get done? Then we don’t have to worry about all of this trading of time and money thing and we’ll just get straight to the happiness and meaning part. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not the way our world is set up and frankly I’m not interested in changing the structure of society. What I am interested in is a meaningful life. Stripping away things for only a moment brings quickly into focus what gives my life meaning: My family. My friends. Art. Connection. Travel. Animals. Books. Sunsets. Spirituality. Great stories. Adventures. My husband. My cats. Service. So what do I need money for? I need it for the security it affords me to spend time with my family. To see the rainforest before I die. To be with my community. To make art. To insure that the last 20 years of my life won’t be spent stressed out and panicked about debt but relaxed, and enjoying the people I love and cherish. Just the right amount of money can give me the security to infuse my life with an abundance of meaning. Too much (or too little) can make me mistake the money for meaning itself.

So thank you, whatever inspiration visited my brain and gave me the idea of Running to Tahiti. Not only has it been an incredibly fulfilling journey unto itself, it’s given me perhaps the most important life lesson I’ve encountered. Money can buy you happiness… if you spend it on a hard-earned plane ticket to Tahiti where you’re sure to have a truly meaningful adventure.

But only if you don’t blow it on running shoes first.

VIDEO: 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Race Recap

Brad just finished our recap video of the Walt Disney World Marathon! I know I say this every time he makes a new video but I really think this one is the best yet! Maybe that’s because he gets better and better at cutting these recaps, or maybe it’s because each race is more magical than the last. Either way, this one is GOOD! Really good. Check it out. If nothing else at least watch the first minute for Brad’s magic moment with Winnie the Pooh. This doesn’t happen every day.

What a great race. Still reeling from our accomplishment. Great video Brad! Everyone, let’s tell Brad how great he is. I tell him every day but he’s used to it from his wife. Share your comments below or on YouTube!

When did I become so afraid?

How many times have you heard a story begin “When I was in college…” among the thirty-something set? We seem to draw upon that just-out-of-reach chapter in our lives to desperately try to understand how we ended up in our current situation. What was it I wanted to be again? What was I passionate about? What did I do when I was fearless? Of course that’s not everyone’s recollection of their college years, but for me, I was fearless.

Recently I’ve been infiltrated by a foreign emotion when it comes to my ability as an artist, namely an actor. I could call it insecurity or self-consciousness. It started out as doubt. I’ve been insanely insecure about many other things throughout my life, but never my ability as an artist. I could boil the rest down to two fears. Being fat, and being a loner.

I hate the word fat. Almost as much as I hate chubby, plus-size, and lately the patronizing overuse of the word curvy. The unfiltered kids who would tease me in grade school just went straight to fat. My trying-to-be-polite “friends” thought chubby would be less upsetting. I’ll never forget the girl who sat next to me in 4th grade calling me “pleasantly plump.” This is no doubt something she’d overheard at her mother’s weekly Weight Watchers meeting. The women’s clothing section at Macy’s obviously feels that plus-size is somehow comforting. And now the overdue positive body image movement has appropriated the word curvy to describe any woman larger than a size 12. To me they’re all touchy, but that’s largely my own madness. They all push the same button. The same weak spot on my soul that reduces me back to that 10 year old girl on the playground crying at the edge of the field where no one will see me because Thad just made fun of my fat stomach while playing foursquare. Yes I kind of want you to feel sorry for me. Whatever though. I’m over it. I really am. Over the past 10 years I’ve worked so hard to get over my body image issues and can proudly say that for the most part, I have. Not that I love myself all the time, I just don’t really care that much anymore. Yes I wear a size 10 and sometimes 12. Yes I’m too heavy for my husband to comfortably whisk me off my feet while we’re walking barefoot on the beach. Yes I have a huge butt. Whatever. Over it. The point is, these things do leave weak spots that become susceptible to other insecurities. I think that’s what’s happened.

Oh, I also said I was insecure about being a loner. Totally true. I possess this completely irreconcilable set of traits where I love spending time by myself and at the same time am totally pained to be without a set of friends. I enjoy being alone, but I don’t want to be a loner. I like being by myself, but I long to be part of a group. Classic Gemini. Someday I need to accept one or the other. I can’t have it both ways, and for now the struggle makes me feel sort of crazy and sad. But this topic is a post for another day. For right now I just have to put my finger on how my weak spots have been invaded by an insecurity of something totally foreign to me, my artistry.

Fat loneliness being the only thing that truly ever kept me up at night, I somehow always maintained a strong faith in my ability as an actor. I don’t know why. It’s an easy thing to be insecure about, but I was immune. I was never cocky. Humility is not the same thing as insecurity. I was humble, but confident. Ruminating on this for several weeks now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was because I was doing it all the time.

Last year was the first in 18 years that I did not do a play. Seriously. That dawned on me recently and I about died. How depressing, and weird. Save the two or three years that competitive baton twirling replaced theatre as my extracurricular activity, I’ve always been in plays, even as a kid. Plays at school, plays at River City Theatre Company (youth theatre), or plays in adult community theatres, I was always acting. A funny thing happens when you’re doing something all the time. You don’t have much time to doubt it. You can feel frustrated and shaky, maybe challenged and even overwhelmed, but not deep-seated insecurity. That is the kryptonite that prevents you from even being able to get on the stage.

So flash forward now to 2014 and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and for the first time in forever I do not get cast in anything. Whoa. Unlike before, I am not asking you to feel sorry for me about this one. When I made this observation to a friend of mine his response was, that’s amazing. Not the response I was expecting because I saw it as a negative. He reminded me that I could just as easily see it as a positive that I had been fortunate enough to ALWAYS be practicing my craft and playing from the time I was 11. So yeah, that turned me on my feet real quick. I’m grateful. I’ve lived a charmed actor life.

But gratitude doesn’t dismiss the detriment NOT acting is having on my spirit. To use the phrase I began this article with, when I was in college, I was acting every day all day. I was fortunate enough to go to an amazing acting conservatory program at an amazing university (BU pride forever baby!), where literally everyday from 9:00 am in the morning to 9:00 pm at night I was stretching my creative muscle. I was moving around like an earthworm in movement class. I was playing status exercises in scene class. I was thrown into an existential crisis discussing Plato’s takedown of the arts. Is he right? Oh my God. Is art too far removed from the truth? I was learning about what my body could do for itself in Alexander technique. I was getting to know my voice. I was discovering my knack for German, Scottish, English dialects. I was in London! Acting! I was living my absolute dream studying theatre in my favorite city in the entire world. Who has time for doubt when DOING all the time? Not me.

Then graduation comes and goes. You move on. The real world hits. Bills hit. College loans can’t be deferred any longer. Cars need to be bought. More loans. You decide between a soul-sucking restaurant job and a stable 9:00-5:00. You pick the 9:00-5:00 to spare your soul but consequently put a huge barrier in your way to auditioning. However you do leave the evenings open to continue to do theatre. You join a theatre company. Yay. You audition and get cast sometimes. Yay. You audition other times and don’t get cast. Poo. Then one year, 7 years later, you audition again and again and again and you don’t get cast in anything and you’ve been working your 9:00-5:00 job to pay off the college loans you took out to get a degree that you’re not using and you’re so tired by the time you get home that you veg out on the couch watching other people act on your TV instead of figuring out why you’re not. And you wake up one day and you’re 30 and you realize that although you’re happy and you actually like your 9:00-5:00 job and you’re married to a wonderful man and you love your apartment and your car that you’re still trying to pay off, and your priorities have changed a bit, you realize that despite all of that, you’re not acting. You really thought you’d be acting. You were fearless. And not acting has made you bad at acting. And you’ve never been worried about being bad at acting in your entire life. And so how do you reconcile the fact that you’re no longer afraid of being fat or being a loner but you are terrified of being a bad actor.

I’m pretty sure the answer is simple. Just start acting again, right? Easy. Except it’s kind of not. It feels like there are limited opportunities to act. The trick is to take what you can get and take it seriously. The other night a friend of mine was having a very informal reading in his apartment of a pilot he wrote. They needed readers. Normally I would say no, because I’d rather go home and veg out on the couch and watch other people act. But I thought about my struggle of late and said, you know, this is an opportunity to act. Even though it’s going to be very casual and you’ll be among friends, it’s an opportunity to read words that someone else wrote and try to bring them to life. So I said yes. And I had a great time. Yes we just sat casually in his living room drinking ginger tea while we read. Yes it was a room full of female actors even though most of the characters were men. Yes it was super casual. But it was fun and I acted. So there.

This is what I need to do. Not because I need a career as an actor. I’m not sure that’s my fate. A career is beside the point. What I do know is that I need to be acting. Because acting is what turned the fearless switch on when I was 11 years old.  Acting is what made my fear of being a fat loner tolerable. Acting is fun. Acting is the very core of my imagination. I have to be acting. To not have done a play in the past 12 months has felt like a part of me is trapped. My wings have been bound. I guess it’s sort of an addiction. I can’t shake it. No matter how much I turn to writing more seriously than acting. No matter how much I paint, or twirl baton, or practice the guitar, or run. All of those things are great, but nothing is as fulfilling to my very soul as playing make believe with someone else’s words. My acting fuels all other artistic pursuits. Like a shark that stops moving forward, if I stop acting my imagination dies and I can kiss goodbye to writing, painting, or whatever else.

It’s like those new Ben & Jerry’s Core ice cream flavors. Acting is my chocolate fudge core. (You can kinda see how I ended up a chubby kid, huh?)

Do any of you feel this way too? I know it’s hard to be working professionally all the time but we have to keep working out. We have to get to the creative gym. When I was in college (there’s that phrase again), we had this weekly event called Locals. It was a lifesaver. Freshmen at BU are not allowed to audition for any of the mainstage shows. It’s wise. You spend the first year getting acclimated to college, acclimated to the conservatory environment. You learn before you apply. But the professors acknowledged the importance of casual pressure-free application. So they started this thing called Locals. Every Monday afternoon the entire Freshmen class of theatre students, as well as some professors and upperclassmen, would gather in one of the larger classrooms and just do stuff. People would get up and perform whatever they’d been working on. Sometimes you’d get a scene partner and spend the week working on a scene you always wanted to do and then you’d perform it at Locals. Maybe you’d sing songs, dance, play an instrument, or tell a story. It was an exercise in fearlessness. No one was expected to be perfect; everyone was expected to be brave. It was fantastic. I miss Locals.

This got me thinking. I’m a part of this large community of artists at Theatre of NOTE not unlike my community of artists in college. All talented, supportive, top-notch types who don’t get to act often enough. Wouldn’t it be great to have Locals? I don’t think we could organize it every week, but what about once a month? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a safe space where you could just work on stuff?

A friend of mine, Bill, started something similar to this called The Creative Fete. It was very Locals-esque. From what I understand it has since been somewhat dissolved and that makes me sad.

I’m just putting it out there to gauge interest. What do you think LA theatre nerds? Do you want to play? Because the 11 year old I once knew is looking me in the face and asking with a snarky expression, “When did you become so afraid?”