Gratitude for 2017

Last year around this time, I fell a bit short with the annual blog giving thanks for the previous year. It’s sad that I broke a decade-long habit but I had the sense that over-sharing on all social media made it completely unnecessary to document anything further. Also, January of 2017 hit like a sandbag of melancholy for me given the political happenings and overall morale of myself and those around me. But this set the groundwork for me to change my pace and appreciate the fragility of life and the shrinking availability of time I have on this planet to do all I would like to do. While 2017 was hard for many, I count myself incredibly blessed even as the year ended with a near daily phone call of the “Call me back immediately…. this is an emergency” theme.

Even through all these emergencies, my boyfriend will tease me almost daily as I go on my recount of why I am so lucky. “Oh no. Is this that part of the day when you tell me again how great your life is?” he will whine. Sure, it is. Because I’ve found life gets better and feels better the more that you count all the wonderful things you have. So here I am, currently safe and sound and slowly defrosting as I count the blessings of 2017.

Here we go…

1. The Women’s March- January 2017

Call it a late onset fear of crowds, but enough time in New York and a few too many New Year’s Eves spent in Times Square and on delayed subways during rush hour has caused me to avoid crowds as much as possible in my free time. But this was to be the biggest march in history and I had a lot to get out of my system with like-minded individuals who felt the need to be heard. I ended up marching solo but with an amazing crowd of hopeful, kind, diverse folks that made unity feel a bit more possible. Not a stranger to Trump and his flippant and lecherous treatment of women in the NYC social scene, I was concerned even more so that as a woman in 2017, I am even more of a walking target for aggression and lewdness. And in the entertainment industry, maybe enough was enough. This march was the beginning of me defining what I needed to get done in 2017 as a woman and as an American.

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2. Vietnam – February 2017

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My obsession with Vietnam began where most of my obsessions began thanks to Dixie Leonard and “For the Boys” and a few too many viewings of the flick as a 10-year-old. The history, the people, the food, the landscape, Halong Bay, the great Mekong, and the beaches on the Vietnam Sea had been in my travel dreams for years. I was terrified of getting sick. I almost always get sick traveling abroad and imagined floating down the brown waters of the Mekong Delta and praying for my own demise as I regurgitated every noodle ever consumed. But here’s the thing about fear- 2017 was my year to do everything that countered or made me come face-to-face with it.  And what better year to get a more global perspective of how we, as Americans, are viewed? I live to tell that indeed I was not sick once and dared to eat the herbs and raw vegetables on my Banh Mi even though I was teased by a young Aussie girl who felt Americans use too much discernment with what we eat and drink abroad. It should be noted, this gal has never visited Mexico.

Vietnam was as captivating as I had hoped. The people and my interactions with them are forever with me as at least a few thoughts a day drift back to them. The magic of Halong Bay at night, the foggy mist floating around the limestone formations as the iridescent flickers of squid swam across the water brought me a moment of stillness I can conjure and relive during the most hectic of days. The canals of Hoi An and silk lanterns at night after eating in the home of a local who offered the best Banh Mi with a side offer for a tailored suit are with me often. Going to Vietnam was the first best decision I made in 2017.

 

 

 

 

3. Cheesemaking and Teaching

Every now and then (or in my case, every six months or so) I find a hobby and passion will lead me to a new job. Being on set as an attractive prop and auditioning for projects where I am yet again a victim or an objectified woman just stopped feeling good a long time ago. And something clicked in me after the women’s march that I just could NOT do this anymore. I sought refuge in yoga, meditation, travel and food. Lucky for me, this included volunteering regularly for cheese classes. The methodical tranquility of setting up for an event, cutting (or pulling) cheese, delving into the art of pairing, exploring my own palette, learning the history of great food and spirits began filling all my free time. And after two and a half years, I transitioned to teaching classes and finding that much like entertainment and performing it’s an option to give people an escape from their daily stresses, learn something new, and have a positive experience and memory that they can carry with them. Because if I have to work, I want it to be fun. Life is too short otherwise. Or too long…

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4. Machu Picchu- June 2017

 

My next great mission of 2017 was to hike Machu Mountain and address my fear of heights. I had yearned to meditate with the great energy of the lost civilization and explore the ruins. Thanks to the abundance of credit card reward hoarding and stacking, this was my second big trip in the first half of 2017 and cost me no more than two hundred bucks. I would take one more big trip in 2017 and the total for all this travel was under $1k. This facilitated my travel motto of “No more excuses.” Although Peru revealed itself to be much less safe than I imagined and Machu Picchu did in many ways feel like the “Disneyland of South America,” I am so glad I went. Making it early enough (hello, 4AM!) for the sunrise was something I will always remember. The food was amazing, the views were life-altering, and I once again proved I can take adventures and not get sick (a word of advice- get to the Sacred Valley immediately after landing in Cusco to avoid any issues with altitude sickness). Whenever I find myself in a situation where my fear of heights is triggered (like the new 7-train escalators at Hudson Yards!) I think back to the white-knuckled hike down Machu Mountain, with a terrifying drop off a cliff and have this assurance that surviving (and even enjoying) that experience means I can absolutely overcome these triggers. Because, nevertheless she persisted.

This is actually one of the more tame and safe vantage points where it was safe enough for my travel partner to shoot.

 

5. The Loved Ones

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I am so blessed with friends and family who are loyal, funny, adventurous, kind, and who, of course celebrate my individualized sarcasm and charm. One of the best things about getting older is learning to filter out relationships that are unhealthy or not serving either person and taking that energy to really invest in the good ones. I have made a conscious effort to be as present in real time, in real life, with those I love and not letting social media act as my point of contact. And in this category of loved ones, my significant other has been such a great chap when it came to me wanting to take my big bucket list trips. Since there was no way in hell he wanted to venture around the world and hates flying, I was very grateful that he encouraged me to see what I needed to see while holding down the fort and doing all the dog walks while I was away in the dead of winter. For the first time ever, we hosted my family and his dads and his mom for Thanksgiving, getting all our parental figures together in our fabulous albeit small Manhattan apartment for the catering challenge of the year, which I was more than delighted to conquer.

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6. Croatia- October 

Santorini was the goal at first (see ya in 2018!) but with my last minute booking, flights were selling out and a friend suggested Croatia instead. It had been years since I had been to Europe and I wanted to round out the year with one last adventure. And Croatia didn’t disappoint. I will forever be enchanted by the local winemakers of Korcula, an island that served as the perfect stop between Split and Dubrovnik. The history of these places was enchanting. Google maps is especially fun to follow as the “roads” are simply paths within a palace and you may have to cross the occasional moat or footbridge or walk through a stone archway to get to an apartment rental. My biggest regret is not taking back a few cases of the aged Postup red wine I imbibed on and wrongly thought could be found in the states more readily.  Kayaking around Dubrovnik on the warm Adriatic contrasted kayaking the murky dragon-esque waters of Halong Bay and made for a great bookend to my travel adventures. Thanks, Colleen!

 

 

 

 

7. Michelle’s Sanctuary

Remember how I mentioned creating a new job for myself every six months or so? This work of love has grown exponentially in 2017 and continues to find an audience. I battled with insomnia and later with anxiety (thanks entertainment industry!) for years and got a handle on it when I discovered the abundance of meditation channels on YouTube. In time, I wanted to create my own little spot where I could help others and create videos that I wished were already on the market. In December alone, viewers listened to nearly 2 million minutes of my meditations! I am very proud to make a positive contribution as I can only imagine how great the world could be if everyone was spending this kind of time centering themselves and finding inner peace. My channel has also gone in a direction towards hypnotic stories that made me become aware that myself as well as thousands of others are just as much in need of a little magic and storytelling as adults as we were as children. I look forward in 2018 in seeing the channel grow and have plans to start another channel soon (either Screw Ageism or a food-travel show).

 

8. BYE BYE STUDENT LOANS- November 2017

I’m debt free and happy to sail through the rest of my life knowing not a single dollar is going back to my education or the unscrupulous Wells Fargo. Free-at-last! There’s a part of me that wants to use that money that once went towards my loans towards purchases of Mezcal and the most decadent of California Chardonnay but I’ll probably just stick it in savings and wait for a rainy day. I imagined this day for so long but once it arrived and I could finally take my decade-long spreadsheet full of payment records and enter a big fat ZERO it was impossible to not break out into spontaneous dancing.

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9. 2017 Was Wedding Free!

Sorry friends and family- seriously- I loved supporting you and your nuptials and dancing drunkenly with strangers at the receptions and traveling to places I would never otherwise see. But after the double whammy of my sister and brother getting married in 2016 and me serving as the wedding hair stylist, photographer, officiant, bridal shower caterer, witness, maid-of-honour, etc., for four different gatherings, I have to say I needed a break. Maybe this is another reason I skipped a gratitude list for 2016. I was too busy with everyone else’s lives! No weddings in 2017 meant I could finally take my own bucket list trips and be a little selfish (and that felt friggin’ great).

10. Yoga

Nothing was more exciting in my yoga exploits than taking my practice abroad and studying with new teachers. In Vietnam, my instructor at the most gorgeous resort, Intercontinental Da Nang, gave me solo instruction when I was the only reserved guest to wake up at sunrise for class. Accents make for fun instruction and I was convinced she was getting especially spiritual as she kept saying, “Lisss your tiiiiies.” I interpreted this to mean, “list your ties,” and that I should think of things I may feel emotionally and spiritually tethered to. With her increasing insistence, I began to realize she wasn’t happy with my efforts. So I closed my eyes and tried harder to think of all that I love and am thereby tied to. At this point, she bent over, grabbed my feet and told me again. What she actually had been saying was, “Lift your toes!” I’ve added “listing my ties” and “lifting my toes” to my practice back in the States.

And thanks to Colleen again for capturing this “Pigeon on a Beach: Dubrovnik Edition” shot that I hope to someday show the grandkids.

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11. The Fun Stuff- Getting Cultured

Thanks to the lovely apps and technology that keep track of these things. In 2017, I saw 4 Broadway Shows (and thanks to the beauty of Rush tickets, Masterpass, and luck, I paid under $100 TOTAL to see them all. Which includes bringing along the boyfriend to Hamilton and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Thanks to Vivino (shoutout for the great party they hosted and invited me to this year) I have logged and tried over 300 wines this year. And Good Reads says I got through 17 books (I’m making a goal to hit 24 this year).

 

12. Lastly, My Animals

Their images dominate my social media feeds. Their hair dominates my “clean” wardrobe. Their demands bring me pleasure. And their furry warm bodies have kept me warm during the historic lows of the year. If I could have a whole farm, I would. But I cannot make it through a waking hour at home without mentioning how much I love my animals. And when it comes to being grateful, the boyfriend finds it hard not to express his own love for these little furballs.

 

The Light In The Closet

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He always leaves the light on in the closet.

When my boyfriend and I first moved from a barely livable studio apartment to a recently renovated one-bedroom in a prime Manhattan location, I was elated. I imagined a fresh start with less stress, more space, and a truly adult experience. Sometimes it’s hard to be an adult in a city so prohibitively expensive that you can be fifty-years-old without a penny in savings and a revolving door of college-aged roommates helping to make the rent on your barely-affordable-though-thankfully-still-rent-stabilized-apartment. As my friends across the country have invested in four-bedroom homes in small suburbs, gleeful as their equity increases, I will defensively argue it’s all about location and we are two blocks from Central Park. Even if our monthly rent could buy us a half-million dollar home elsewhere, we could never find an apartment to buy in this area for that price.

The initial excitement about our move was palpable and our plans embraced the smallest details of organization. I insisted he take the massive closet in the apartment, located in the hall. It’s huge for an NYC  apartment and could effectively house a twin bed. I remembered how his early morning schedule when he was working full time could be disruptive and this way he could get ready for work without interrupting my unpredictable sleep and work schedule. I also figured that it was a polite way of getting him to stow away a very masculine and somewhat hideous piece of furniture. I had never imagined that a temporary out-of-work situation would become so permanent that I would be the one making noise in the bedroom in preparation for early morning call times and late night returns while he slept.

Our new place began to feel tainted and no longer new. Bad habits on both our parts became a circuitous battle that we were too overwhelmed to address.  Instead of focusing on the little things that I loved most, our interactions became a series of anger-inducing episodes. He drank all my wine and I came home to an empty bottle. The peanut butter miraculously disappeared in a 24-hour timespan before I even tried it.  The dog still needed a walk. No cream left for my morning coffee. And the biggest insult of all — he kept forgetting to turn off the closet light.

At first I would say something upwards of five times a day.

“Dear, you left the light on again.”

“You keep forgetting to turn off the light!”

“Are we made of money? You’re running up the electric bill!” Surely that low-energy fluorescent light used in classrooms, prisons, and also his closet was costing a fortune. But when your loved one has been out of work so long and every penny feels like an ounce of gold, the stress becomes so much that you just explode:

“WHY THE FUCK IS THIS LIGHT STILL ON? I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES!”

I am now the irrational villain, the angry mom, the terrified girlfriend who has no idea how we are going to find our way out of this mess. The pressure of such an expensive apartment becoming my own… when he has to leave. Because we aren’t getting along and it feels any day we are going to shatter into a million pieces– pieces just waiting to be swept up into the drama and the misfortune that life has now become. The raging headlines about joblessness being low and the economy being  robust are adding to the torment when I lie awake next to a brilliant, hardworking, witty man with a law degree and a path of rejection becoming so long it feels like a road that never ends. I am used to the rejection given my chosen path in entertainment, rationalizing that a decade of life spent being often rejected and overlooked is just the way it is.

We come to the brink so often, as months of normalcy and mutual love are unbound by the next near-despair moment before another financial life preserver finds him. I think of the very early years in our relationship, when I would have a dry spell of bookings and he would have his reliable salary and schedule. I would stay in bed, wasting the morning in dread that I would not make something of my life. Drowning the hours in tabloid news and social media, I would take whatever distraction came along to keep me from further rejection. Yet now my empathy for his plight is clouded by sadness and anger and absolute terror. I cannot see through these smokestacks of rage.

Everyone is getting married around me, full of certainty or a self-fulfilling prophesy I have yet to master. Their relationships are new and they must not have experienced the lows yet, I keep hearing amidst my mind’s chatter. It will be better when we are out of this patch. It will feel like a beautiful inhalation after you have held your breath underwater for much longer than you should have. Scientifically it is just impossible for something to stay the same forever. It will not always be this hard.

And then one night he doesn’t come home on time. A message lost in the digital space causes me to panic. What if something happened in East Harlem, where he is doing a side gig to make money? My mind wanders to the very beginning, as it often does when I imagine a life without him. I think of how new and loving and supportive everything once was and how willing I was to take this chance with him. I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, noting that his closet light is off. I am struck still as I imagine that light were to never come on again.

He returns home but I have already felt the loss. We go about our routines that are going to have to change for us to survive. But some may just stay the same. He leaves for the gym as I am returning from yoga and I look to his closet to see the light is on. I silently turn it off this time, vowing to never mention it again. From now on I will flick the switch without complaint and use it as an opportunity to love and appreciate that we are still here.