Meet Stevie

Upon my birthday on March 6th there was an immediate shift of energy in my life as the universe began pour buckets of sunlight and rainbows onto my path, temporarily stunning me with abundance. It’s not that I hadn’t asked, or more appropriately, gotten on my knees and begged for one sign that I’m still on the proper journey. Because when you’re insanely confused with the direction of your life you become only more confused by the false hope that a “proper” journey awaits you.

 

Some of the majesties bestowed upon me are so personal and deeply moving that I become mute when even trying to articulate their impact. I received the kind of encouragement and love from an artist that is a legend to me, encouraging me to continue to create and answer the call of an artist. These words, so delicately issued with kindness, were beyond the nurturing I could give to myself on my best day. And with that came the beginning of a very adventurous few weeks. Suddenly my phone was active from months of hibernation as friends and families and people I haven’t heard from in a long time began to reach out and mention they saw me in a Bud Light ad. It was an unexpected surprise, having never thought I would make the final cut and be recognizable, and more importantly an answer to something I’d been trying to manifest for the past three years: a national commercial. And as if all this wasn’t enough, a wonderful little show called “Sweet Retreats” offered a spot on their travel show for me and my best friend from the “Bette or Bust” days. I spent five glorious days in the warm and hospitable climate of Asheville, North Carolina, meeting artists (www.rachelclearfield.com) and finding a home away from home among the creative, healthy, eco-friendly spirits of this hidden bohemian gem of a city. Such an unexpected trip was a grand awakening to my life, collaborating with streams of loveliness and blessings. I was accompanied to a home in Asheville that was storybook come to life, leaving me a heightened desire to create beauty and art.

                               

 

I’ve been back in New York for a bit over a week, trying my best to maintain the energy that has allowed such great things this year. My relationship has been challenged by the highs and lows of Apple shares as my boyfriend has invested throughout the roller coaster ride of a trading day. My sense of security has been impaled by news updates and current events. But in a deeper place, there is a calm. 

This afternoon, escaping the swirling chaos of my apartment after being brought to feelings of unhappiness from external influences, I decided to take a walk to Petco with my dog. It is a highlight for him on overcast days, when the skies are too threatening for me to venture to Riverside Park. I just say the word “Petco” and he leads me down five flights of stairs and two blocks to the store’s entrance. I often spend a lot of time in the aquatic section, imagining the day I can have room for my own aquarium. But today, looking at the beautiful array of crimson and emerald and turquoise bettas I made the impulsive decision to take one home. It was something I have wanted, so easily within my grasp, and yet I denied it. Just a brilliant little purple and burgundy betta with his colorful fantail, as ostentatious as the fantail sported by my long-haired chihuahua, Jack. I toyed with naming my new friend Hope, but settled on “Stevie.” Because I feel it’s time to meet Stevie (Nicks), which is a dream I hope to manifest in the coming future to share my own personal tribute to her work (www.crystalrevisions.com). I also impulsively purchased a discount ticket to see Fleetwood Mac tomorrow in Newark.

I brought Stevie home, deciding that there are all but two or three places where my vibrant new friend could happily reside. I located an old glass bowl for his new home, washing it with care and setting it onto the table where my boyfriend had been slicing and dicing vegetables for a stir fry. As I attempted to pour Stevie and his water into the bowl, with fear and vigor, the fish jumped out of the water and landed on the table. He successfully leaped from my hands twice, chaotically jumping towards the shiny knife across the table, within millimeters from his own execution. In terror, I grabbed the knife away and tried three more times to scoop up my new friend and place him in the bowl. It was a harrowing experience. It was a near dream-killer. Not to mention the larger metaphor his death would impose on my future. Not to mention how quickly my boyfriend would launch into a tirade if he had seen this fish jumping around his precious cooking utensils, potentially contaminating them. Luckily he was so distracted with stock news that he didn’t even notice the swimming friend until hours later when I pointed him out. 

But this poor fish, well he has become my focal point for thoughts of tranquility and focusing on my desires in this world. I’ve realized that if I don’t nurture my dreams, no one will. And only I can be responsible for the inner hope that grows and attracts such wonderful blessings as this year has brought me. 

 

I’ve Been Afraid of Changing

Anxiety has become an unwelcome chore on my heart’s to-do list. On the cusp of potential change, possibly change for the better, I find myself holding onto what I know until my knuckles are clenched white and nails have left a scarlet trail of indentations in my palms. Each morning, a new day, I awaken having forgotten the worry that plagues my nights, keeping me up like an undesired visitor. My dog barks and I jump out of my skin. My cat scatters across the floor, chasing her own shadow, and I react as though surviving the bombing of London during WWII. And as I vow to write away this plague of fear, I get distracted by my lack of distractions from my one constant fear: a future of uncertainty.

For whatever reason, perhaps a cocoon of safety, my teens and early twenties were full of adventure and constantly unpredictable. I went with my heart, not anchored by terror but soaring from a seductive mix of restlessness and excitement. I chose the path of dreams, instilled in me when I was eight or nine and looking to the night skies and waiting for a star to fall so I could wish on it for a better life; for something that called me away from all that was familiar. But with an adult life full of uncertainties of the next gig or opportunity or disappointment, I firmly invested my gratitude in what little I had. I spent ten years in tiny dwellings, filled with my energy and secret hopes and dreams, allowing me to feel safely contained and able to nurture myself. It never took much for the candle to stay aglow. I cried over lost lovers and friends, I wrote my musical babies looking out onto the courtyard from the corner of my tiny room and processed life.

With the possibility of leaving this little apartment that has ushered me through my early adulthood, I feel like I’m not just leaving a little attic-sized apartment; an almost afterthought atop a spacious townhouse. I feel as though I’m abandoning my precious vessel that has navigated me through each day of gratitude for it’s protection. Expansion, no matter how healthy, and abundance, no matter how wonderful, is frightening to the core. I attended the “You Can Do It Ignite” conference in New York a few weeks ago, hosted by Hayhouse and Wayne Dyer. The conference covered two entire days, with one unique speaker after another talking about abundance and manifesting your dreams and the often hard paths in life that school us and force us to grow. The overwhelming consensus was in order to live your fullest life, you must make strides towards whatever you desire and fear the most. And one of the speakers, Mastin Kipp, spoke of how his greatest growth in life occurred when he was bunkered down in a tiny guesthouse, where his bed nearly touched the four walls, and he reconstructed his life. 

Tonight, past midnight, on my dark, almost silent street, I looked across Broadway and watched the moon glow brightly in a clear sky while I walked my dog. As we approached a neighboring building to mine, two men in suits were carrying a stretcher and crossed our path. We waited for them before we could continue and I noticed an inconspicuous hearse, this  black, boxy SUV, only identifiable as such from the placard in the window that read “Emergency Funeral Services.” I rounded the block and found myself returning to the hearse, for some un-Godly reason, compelled to watch the body be ushered away. I peered into lobby of the building, where a cluster of family members had gathered and were waiting just the same. I wondered about my own mortality and the day when I too will be ushered away. And this thought of me perishing, if only for an instant, was a stopper on the overflowing bottle of fear that I have become. Much like Laura Nyro at 19, hammering away at the piano with fiery passion, I do not fear my own death. Yet I have not found the remedy for a fear of life’s tide of change and growth. And only with the scribbling of words, the creative explosion of lyrics, and blogs such as these, am I reminded that I have the blessing of writing as the best coping mechanism this life has to offer me.

2012: A Year In Review

Suffice to say, this has been a year of many firsts. It’s been a year of many challenges, a few accomplishments, and a bit of passion deflation. Never before did I look to a new year with such a simple hope: to find passion and some semblance of clarity for what path I should steer towards. But that said, here’s a list of the highlights of 2012.

1. Pilates. Not to sound like a new-agey soccer mom from an elite suburb in Orange County or a trendster-in-training, Pilates has been the greatest highlight of my year. This is the first year of my life that I have been completely dedicated to my physical health, and in addition to the cardio-machine workout that lulled me into boredom, I began practicing Pilates. It has improved my singing, my posture, eliminated stress and has given me the strongest body I have ever had. It also prompted family members, who have for years said I’d fall into the family trend of fatness the moment I hit 30, to finally say, “Michelle, I think you will always be thin.” It’s nice to not have the unhealthy energy of projected obesity during family visits, but even more importantly it’s helped me find peace, excitement, and a growth of passion where such stirrings may have dwindled this year in other facets of my prior inspirations. Pilates is an immediate sanctuary I can go to, as opposed to years past when I would dream of finding such solace and peace fantasizing about an escape to a desolate island and come up short (or on an impromptu, expensive brief reprieve). Most of all, it reminds me that I’m still breathing. And we all need to remember that from time to time.

 

2. Night of a Thousand Stevies: What a blessing. Scott and I released Crystal Revisions at the beginning of this year. It was a work of love and praise for the woman who has most inspired me as a songwriter and artist. To be invited to perform before a sold-out crowd of Stevie-lovers at the Highline Ballroom was truly an honour, as it was to be a part of the NOTS community. If you haven’t yet, please download it for free and share it with your friends. 

3. Relationship growth. Oh yeah.  Challenges were ever present in year three. Lay-offs, small spaces, economical damage. Yes, this is the real life I remember observing my parents endure as a child. Thank God, this year is over and we move forward to a new start. But in spite of this, we still manage to laugh and crack up uncontrollably a few times a day. Typically after one of my screaming fests. Which gets me back to Pilates. And more breathing.

 

4. Money. Yes, I live below my means as much as humanly possible. I carry the fear of leaving an unforgivable carbon footprint. I am frugal and resourceful, but this year on my modest artist income, I managed to have three of the most profitable days of my entire life. One included a 23-hour day doing extra work on a high profile film on Long Island  while recovering from the worst case of the flu I’ve had in years, but that one day more than paid for a month of expenses. And because of this year, I am close to completely paying off my student loans. I never thought the day would come, or that I could etch away such a debt, often envying all my friends who escaped debt thanks to the help from their parents. For the first time in my entire adult life, I can experience a life without a concrete burden of debt hanging over me. Sadly, I don’t feel as different as I thought I would. But in 2013, I’m sure that will change when I’m able to spend a thousand dollars on a trip to some exotic locale, in lieu of writing one more pithy note attached to a check made out to my lenders.

5. New songs! Yes, I got to work with the awesome Giuseppe D. on a new song, “Yesterdreams.” It was so much fun as an artist to work with someone who I’ve been friends with for years and create a new sound. And to write again… after having such a long hiatus from songwriting. I’m convinced I will write more this year. Or maybe I won’t. But regardless, there is something nice about not being in pain all the time- which tends to be a great partner in writing.

 

 

6. A milestone. Bye-bye 20’s. I hated you with all of your pressure to succeed and maintain a facade that everything was somehow figured out. Truly, I felt that I had more figured out at 17. But I remember 20, the first time I felt inclined to lie about my age, not yet ready to enter a new decade. This time I was ready. And on a fun off-season adventure in Atlantic City with family and friends, I got to turn another page. And thankfully that new page has a lot less debt, only one random gray hair, and a healthier life.

 

 

7. Music. Concerts. Musicals. Book of Mormon. Anything Goes. Chaplin. Feist. Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Stevie Nicks at Jones Beach one more time before Sandy came and destroyed my temple. Not only did I see great music, I often went for free or with a wonderful discount (often thanks to www.scorebig.com you must check out that site if you love to take in sports and the arts). I’ll even add Katy Perry, who I was paid to dress up like and watch as she entertained a few thousand hot boys in uniform for Fleet Week. 

 

8. The beach. The glorious beach. Nearly every month of this year I was able to set my bare feet in soft sand and run with my dog along the beaches of the Northeastern seaboard. To the end of the Cape to Fire Island and the Jersey Shore, I was so blessed to heal my heart and remember the childlike joy that the surf brings when it crashes along the shore.

 

 

9. Commercials. I worked on more than in any year past and am so incredibly grateful. I enjoy a commercial set more than I’ve ever enjoyed the long, dreary days that can be found on a movie set. Everyone is in it for a short haul on a commercial, simplifying a story to a 30-second arc, and making lots of money to have fun doing it. I got to see young legends rock out, dance like a hippy to maniacal music, bring out the very best of my hipster wardrobe, and have made and solidified some great friendships. As I look to 2013, I really hope to book some amazing commercials.

10. Summer 2012 in New York. Cut-off jeans, early morning walks with an iced coffee to the dog park, impromptu trips to beaches, out of the blue job bookings, and new friendships. I returned to volunteering with seniors on a regular basis. Photo below is not with a senior. Or from a day volunteering. That non-senior is my mom giving her best attempt to follow her daughter’s glamorous pose.

 

 

 

11. Pat Conroy made my year once again. “My Reading Life” was a book that tore apart the barnacles that had gathered around my spirit, his words like a warm light piercing to the center of my heart and breaking it open with the potential to dream again. Yes, this year, Pat Conroy was my pacemaker. I walk through life with profound gratitude for all he has shared and written.

12. I became a domestic goddess. And I don’t mean cleaning (although with a man and two fur babies, it is inevitable). I stopped buying crap and started making it. Actually, what I’ve learned to make is far from crap. I’ve made all my bread from scratch, tired of buying bread stuffed with preservatives and chemical fiber enhancements. I learned how to make my starter grow. I taught myself how to infuse vodka with original flavours since my sugary Pinnacle was not offered at an of the closet-sized liquor stores in my neighborhood (Peach Ginger and Toasted Coconut are some of my favourites). I learned how to make my own syrups and sodas (thanks to a Sodastream now in my life) and am priming 2013 to be the year I can enter the world of mixology. Not to mention my quests with some Indian-Chinese fusion. Anywhere in the country it may seem ridiculous to make this a highlight of the year, but when your kitchen is 10-square-feet, it certainly feels worthy of celebration. 

 

13. My teeth gave me a fucking break by not breaking. For the first year in a stream of many dreadful, expensive years, my insurance premium was used only to cover x-rays and two cleanings. Because you know what? I didn’t need any work done. Which means those thousands of dollars could go towards my student loans, and if I’m tooth-lucky this year, to some exotic trips. 

14. My best friend got married. And what’s a big wedding without a big misunderstanding. But after a decade and a half of being best friends, it was all figured out and I’m so happy for her and for having such an enduring friendship. I also appreciate her having a big wedding we could party at so should I get married, I can still follow through with a low-key destination elopement as planned.

15. Social networking may have found it’s expiration date for me. I realized my days were becoming a series of soundbytes of witty comments, humblebrags (and some not-so-humble brags), and concerns about what some jack ass I knew in 12th grade was thinking of my latest sassy comment or mundane update. My boyfriend, God love him, is way more of an introvert than I ever will be, but his dismissal of social media is something I aspire to. I don’t need to see an hour-by-hour Instagram update of what the fuck someone is eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every snack in between, or a Tweet about how many push-ups and miles were burned by that person, how my first-grade crush stubbed his little toe and feels the need to whine about it into the dawn hours, and I certainly don’t need someone tracking my own foibles and observations that much. So I’ve resorted back to this blog; my safe haven with just a few readers, which have dwindled since that one time I was mentioned in Gawker and had to swat away all the boys. I’m okay with that because in 2013 I aim to be less noisy and dim down the barrage of online social racket. It’s making us all too mindful, needy, and insecure. Or at least appearing that way to 90-percent of an audience that we wouldn’t even talk to face-to-face if given the opportunity. So only because I can be verbose, treat this as my own protected diary that only subjects those crazy enough to find it, and carry on in a tradition that pre-dates Facebook and Twitter by a decade, will I resort to some of the aforementioned naughty and annoying behavior on Xanga.

So that’s my 2012. What started as a dismal year that grew bleaker has at least afforded me and my loved ones good health, new memories, and appreciation for the simple things. It was challenging, but I’m ready to re-focus and remember the muses that feed my need to create and be true to my life’s path.

It’s Time To Be Thankful, Folks!

Superstorm Sandy was a bitch. Lucky for me and my furry animals and boyfriend, we are highly elevated and suffered minor inconveniences throughout the storm. Unfortunately, my boyfriend’s family inhabits a home on Fire Island, where the storm was not as kind to the narrow strip of Northeastern paradise. Given that the boyfriend and I hunkered down in our teeny dwelling for days without reprieve, and my dubious thoughts about the safety and resources available on the island, this year I decided to take my own adventure. Rather than accompany the boyfriend and pup to Fire Island, I thought it would be a good time to go upstate and surprise my folks on Thanksgiving. The beauty in surprises is that there are zero expectations set forth from the intended surprise victims, meaning you can basically show up whenever the hell you feel like it.

I coordinated with my best friend, who lives halfway between home base and my upstate hometown. Like me, she has felt a bit aware of the economical waste involved in driving a car and told me that after teaching her class on Thanksgiving Eve she would hop on a bus that went from White Plains to Nyack and somewhere along the route, I could hop on the same bus. The unfortunate side was that I had to wait forty-five minutes for the connection between my train and this bus. Since I was man-less and dog-less, I somehow thought it was wise to carry my Christmas presents on this trip so that I’d have less to maneuver when traveling with the “kids.” So there I waited, shivering for forty-five minutes, with a twenty pound bag of infused vodkas and various other gifts. Just minutes before the bus arrived, my friend texted me: “I am afraid the bus that just drove by without stopping was mine.” Crap. To me this was the type of thing that one calls someone for, so I instantly dialed my friend and with her suggestion, I boarded the bus and headed to the Palisades Mall, where I could at least take refuge from the cold for the hour it would take for the next bus to arrive. 

New Yorkers like myself are used to public transportation. In fact, we relish in the convenience in getting from point A to point B at times when we are scarcely conscious or sober. But boarding a bus anywhere outside of the five boroughs can be quite terrifying. Particularly at 11 o’clock at night, driving through dark streets and highways, and with a chatty bus driver who tends to skip stops even when there are only five stops on his ten-mile route! Thankfully, the mall is like a bright shiny object in an otherwise dark town, and I exited outside the Macy’s and following my friend’s suggestion, I went to the fourth floor of the mall, where the promise of partying suburbanites awaited me. The only spot that seemed to be fully functioning was the TGIF’s. I took a seat at the bar and asked for a food menu.

“Yeah, so the kitchen’s closed. Sorry, miss,” the young bartender responded. I gave him points for calling me “miss” in lieu of “ma’am” but I was absolutely famished and those points quickly disappeared with the lack of food service.

“What time do you close?” I asked.

“Midnight,” he replied.

“But it’s only eleven.”

“Right, but the kitchen closes early. It’s happy hour now. All drinks are discounted,” he explained with a smile. I smiled back and ordered a Purple Haze. It would take one 3-dollar draft to get me completely relaxed and incoherent on an empty, grumbling stomach but at least I was indoors. I drank half the pint, hoping my best friend would not be dismissed by the last bus of the night, and that we would somehow meet up. The temptation to drunkenly ramble on Facebook was replaced with a concern that my folks would see where I was located and wonder what the hell I was doing in Nyack. Twenty minutes of dwindling sobriety passed when the bartender reappeared, looking apologetic.

“So the kitchen is open actually. But you have five minutes to order.”

“Thanks! I’m starving and came up from the city but I’m stranded here for a little while.”

“Don’t tell me you came here to party. Because this isn’t the place. But when I’m done, my friends and I are going out in downtown Nyack. Come with us if you get stuck,” he responded. It was a nice offer, but the offer for food was even more enticing. I placed an order and began to wonder if I made the wrong choice, sitting at a random bar by myself when I could be looking out on the ocean while lounging in a hot tub on Fire Island. Until I got the update from my boyfriend. The Fire Island house had no running water and they were filling buckets from a dwindling reserve of pool water in order to flush toilets and wash dishes. The worst part being that the boyfriend had no option of returning to first world living until the day after of Thanksgiving because of limited ferry service. I felt better with my choice. Especially when the text came that my best friend had arrived just in time. At least before I was kicked out of the TGIF’s with the rest of the insanely inebriated patrons. 

This excursion offered some nice bonding time with my best friend and an added buffer when I walked into the front door of my parents house, praying that my mother would not be so overcome with emotion that she cried. I was happy to be spared the tears, as my friend’s yellow lab mix ran up the stairs followed by the two of us. My dad acted as if I still lived at home, not missing a beat.

“You know how I can get the HBOGo to stream on the living room TV?” my dad greeted me. I was thankful entertainment options trumped politics in our initial encounter. My mother acted as though she wasn’t particularly surprised and took out a 32-ounce of International Delight Pumpkin Spice Creamer from the fridge.

“See, I must’ve been psychic,” she explained. “I bought this for you for Christmas but it keeps so long that you can use it now!” I smiled. Being greeted with coffee creamer is always better than over-the-top emotions. I noted how funny family dynamics are. Weathered and aged, some are never outgrown. 

Our Thanksgiving together was small, quiet, and low key. The way a holiday based around consumption should be. But what my family had not anticipated was for their surprise guest to morph into a taskmaster. My parents are like so many people I’ve come to know. They buy their first home and at first can barely furnish the residence, even with the possessions that come along with their three small children. And over the years, the children grow up and leave home, often leaving boxes (or in my family’s case piles) of neglected belongings and junk just as the parents acquire more crap and take up their own special hobby collections. Out of four bedrooms in the house, only one bedroom was inhabitable and claimed by my parents. The rest had become the equivalent of Manhattan Mini Storages. Concerned I would be deprived a clean room, I spent most of the pre-dinner time with nine garbage bags, threatening to throw out or donate any belongings that my kid brother and sister had left behind without regard. Before the turkey was done, my brother and I had successfully reclaimed two bedrooms in the house as welcoming guest rooms. 

I stayed much longer than anticipated, namely to enjoy having a queen bed to myself in a freshly cleaned room. I intended to return to an empty Manhattan apartment before my boyfriend, but the lack of clean water on Fire Island, shortened his trip and lengthened mine. The unfortunate part is that my mother had planned to have the carpets shampooed and the dog euthanized during her holiday weekend.

“Mom, why do you even have carpets? Who has carpets now?” I demanded to know.

“Your father likes them. He doesn’t like his feet to get cold in the winter on a wood floor.”

“Right, but he also walks around in swim trunks and a t-shirt all winter. It’d cost only a few hundred more dollars to eliminate the carpet and then you’d never have to shampoo the floor again.”

“No. That’s not going to happen.”

“He’s just a product of the 60’s. It’s a trend that’s passed. Carpets are nasty and harbor allergens and dander,” I retorted. My mother has asthma and severe allergies and the carpet was often occupied by three cats and an elderly dog. An elderly dog with no bladder control and a sense of smell as the only functioning sense that remained. 

The carpet’s beautician arrived, scarcely making it past the cluttered junk and the over-sized living room furniture that was miraculously wedged throughout corners of the dining room and kitchen. I don’t know who decides to schedule an early morning carpet shampoo the day after Thanksgiving, but my mom said my “surprise” visit was the real interference and that it would otherwise be completely normal to do. She tried to appease me.

“Michelle, honey, you can make some waffles. I have the mix downstairs,” she replied. I dug through the freezer to find jumbo sized bags of frozen fruit. 

“No, I think I want something healthy,” I answered. Like a smoothie.

“Healthy?!” Paul Bunyon, the carpet shampoo-master declared. 

“Well, I ate enough crap on Thanksgiving,” I answered, now justifying my food choices to a complete stranger.

“It’s her job, really. She has to watch her diet for work,” my mom offered. Because clearly I would gorge myself to the point of obesity if I had chosen any other profession in my life.

“No, actually, it’s lifestyle. That’s it.” My snippy response silenced them both. But as always, family history trumps logic. My mother skeptically glanced at carpet man.

With the carpets shampooed and wet, the poor 16-year-old family dog kept blindly retreating to the damp carpet, unaware that he was getting soaked each time. Upon choosing to go upstate, I had not realized my mother had scheduled the dog to be put to sleep while I would be there. The poor little toy poodle mix was not only blind and deaf, but he also had a ping-pong ball-sized tumor on his skull, a flea infestation that no amount of treatments or cleaning could ameliorate, smelled like he was rotting from the inside, and would startle when touched by anything because he had no sense of his surroundings. What’s more, he was so afraid of falling down the stairs that he would instead jump from the landing, foregoing the three steps. It was a total leap of faith. We all looked at him with sadness and empathy.

I was still sleeping the next day when my parents took our family dog to the vet. They returned with a small box that carried his remains and I watched as my father dug his grave within the pet cemetery of our backyard. I went outside to assist, noting that the grave was not as deep as I would’ve imagined.

“Dad, you need to dig deeper,” I told him.

“No, this is deep enough. It’s not easy to dig through this clay.” The box would be barely four inches below the surface if he stopped. It made me question all our other long-lost pets and how deep the alleged four-feet graves he dug for them really were. I took the shovel and began to dig. And as I did, a 35-MPH wind gust swept by and it began to snow. There I was, bonding with my dad over the family dog’s grave, in the middle of a white mini-blizzard on a holiday weekend typically celebrated with gluttony and sales on electronics. I never thought my decision to surprise the family on Turkey Day would amount to this. I continued to carve away the side walls of clay; the same clay that humiliated me when we first moved to that house as I would run through the muck and find myself stuck in the middle of the yard en route to the waiting school bus. More often than not I would lose a boot entirely and have to run back with a muddy foot and tug my boot out of the earth.

“This mud here is pretty heavy. It sticks,” my dad reasoned.

“Yeah, I recall,” I mumbled apathetically. I thought of the day I would have to deal with my current beloved pets and their mortality. It freaked me out. But luckily my fellow gravedigger offered the same coping mechanism as his daughter. Sarcasm and pithy comments would always trump tears and sadness when it was time to say goodbye. 

We ended the rather eventful day by attending a local parade, where people adorned their tractors and pickups and fire trucks with Christmas lights, tinsel, and wagons carrying costumed adults. My sister and her boyfriend joined me and my parents as we avoided getting pelted with candy canes and bubble gum thrown from the parade leaders. After the festive soiree we returned to my parents house and had a gingerbread house decorating competition. Both my sister and parents stole my candies, or attempted to make unfair trades, but I had a secret arsenal of ruby red glitter in my purse to make up for the sugary losses. 

I returned to the city the next morning, catching a bus before the sun rose so I could beat traffic and this time surprise my boyfriend. I learned it may be best to not surprise people inhabiting your own home if you wish to return to a clean place. My sweet chihuahua and cat were vocal and energetic in welcoming me home. So thankful was I that Thanksgiving came early this year, granting more recovery time before the next big holiday comes around. 

 

Performance Art and Artless Performances

I have avoided this blog with all intense conviction, terrified by the potential grammatical errors and ceaseless bemoaning in my last post. Only now that I have a highly valued personal life do the desperately exaggerated tirades on this blog, often spun by a whim of alcoholic consumption or lack of sleep, come back to bite me with venomous embarrassment for being so needlessly chatty. Given my neuroses confessed in my last blog, leave it to me to push myself further into addressing my fear of heights, standing still, and having a room full of people stare. I casually responded to a casting for human statues for a recent event. Details were sparse, but I had agreed to having my body painted with some amount of clothing covering the delicate areas. I arrived on location, after two weeks spent dreading the thought that I could actually be booked, and then realized upon signing the contract that only an idiot would turn down the sum of money I was getting paid to basically stand still and do nothing. Just the same as not even an idiot would sign up for such a project that did nothing but draw attention to her embedded phobias.

I arrived at the location, telling myself with each minute that I could walk out at any minute and had limited consequences. I did not care if I was made the fool. I would leave at any point my mental and physical health were at risk. It started off with the worst possible scenario with my wardrobe. Being naturally well-endowed, there is nothing more alarming than being handed a flimsy piece of lingerie that barely covers your nipples, has as much support as a paperclip could provide, and being told that you should feel comfortable in it. I barely slipped into the simultaneously too wide and too tiny apparatus and showed my cascading cleavage to the costumer in despair. Since I arrived earlier than the other models, I was given the opportunity to change into a more traditional corset. It had support and could be tightened to my liking (or physical discomfort) and keep the bosom under wraps. Unfortunately, the lack of a traditional hook and eye meant that with the incorrect positioning, I could essentially snap myself out of the device, breasts flopping forward. And never does one see a stone statue with flapping tits. 

Once I was adequately snapped and tied into place, an assistant came with a “standard” agreement that insisted I accepted responsibility for my own potential death and injury during the performance and could not sue or blame the production. I asked what the hell any of these stipulations meant and inquired what I would be doing. 

“Oh, nothing. We’ll give you more details, but you’ll just be standing around the room like a statue,” the assistant responded.

“Okay, but we aren’t going to be elevated or in some precarious position? I mean, I’m terrified of heights and we’re wearing flimsy Fredericks of Hollywood heels,” I stuttered.

“No, nothing like that. This is all just standard.”

“You’re sure? I mean, before I get slathered with paint, I want to be sure I’m not going to waste anyone’s time because I can’t do heights.”

Standard or not, that piece of unsigned paper found a comfortable home at the bottom of my purse. And I continued through the hours of paint slathering, tucking, prodding, pinning, and primping that the gig required. Not a minute after the underside of my wrists became painted did I start to feel a terribly itchy, burning sensation. The rest of my body was immune but the “suicide zone” of my forearm veins and arteries were raging. I told the makeup artist immediately as a crew member overheard and essentially told the makeup artist that I was imagining burning because the paint was just drying. I was imagining nothing. Thankfully, my makeup artist was divinely kind and washed the paint off my irritated, red wrist skin and said the gloves would cover my skin anyway, so she would leave them bare.

Close to the event time, a team of photographers and a camera crew accompanied me and my fellow artistes to our stage. After a scant moment in the room I noticed two elevated planters, at least three feet high and arranged on a two foot high stage. Our newly appointed contact person instructed us to take turns standing on the planters, which I approached and noticed how feeble they were as they wobbled when the weight of my hand was placed upon them.

“Um, we’re supposed to stand on these?!” I inquired, with my heart pounding and rising well above my corseted-bosom. 

“Yes, and you can take turns. Ideally you should just hold a pose for ten minutes and then change to another pose,” she retorted.

“No, absolutely not. I can’t stand on that thing. It’s not even sturdy!” 

“Well, that’s why you have to shift your weight and balance,” she responded. Right. Stupid me.

I took what would’ve been a deep breath, had my ribs not been cinched, and slowly exhaled before responding, “Look. I was told I would be on the floor. I’m terrified of heights and there is no way I can go up there.”

She nodded and pointed to another stage across the room and said I could stand on the stage and pose and would not have to worry about the planters. Thank God. Now the easy part: standing in place for four hours without passing out, freaking out, or spasming out of control from the 18-inch high wig and headpiece that rested on my compressed skull. I assumed my position, avoided eye contact with the hundreds of ogling attendees, and thanks to the skills acquired in Pilates and yoga, I eventually managed to find a comfortable pose and zone out. Admittedly, I had to counted to at least a thousand before I felt comfortable doing absolutely nothing while simultaneously balancing on fluffy heels with a body of paint and bizarre attire. A few times I zoned out so successfully that when I returned to awareness I feared I had gone partially blind before reminding myself that all my peripheral vision was sacrificed for the masquerade mask I was also wearing. Occasionally women would try to reach out and touch me, and men would come and scream something in my ear in effort to make me break character, but the trance music was so painfully loud and the room so dark, that it was very easy to block them out. Eventually my fluffball heels got to take a walk without me and I could be painlessly barefoot like the lucky dudes who also booked the job.

The experience, though dreaded before and throughout, turned out to be a rather good experience for me as a person and a performer. The easiest way to kill stage fright may very well be to stand on a stage for four hours, and though my fear of heights has maintained its clutch on me, I have at least proven that I can stay calm and control anxieties that seem at times incurable. And perhaps the expectations on myself are higher than most people. My boyfriend teased me about being so hard on myself, expressing that very few people would find such an engagement to be normal or comfortable. So I made it through. Normal or not.

And on another artless note, I found that I made the final cut of “The Dictator.” It was an experience of an entirely different variety. But seeing the film somehow felt more innocuous than living the scene. Or maybe time has desensitized me. Still, although my “roles” most often involve being a prostitute, whore, or sexy victim, at least this one had a retro look. It’s always easier to be a prostitute from another era. Even when your john is a five-year-old boy (I believe I’m at the 0:35 mark or so). 

The Rather Unglamourous Days of Glamour

“Doesn’t it bother your ego to see other people get more camera time? Don’t you want to be where they are right now?” a young, tall black chap with hipster flair inquired on a recent shoot.

“No. My ego is completely dormant,” I replied, politely meeting his disbelieving gaze.

“But seriously, you have to be bothered by this. Not even a little bit?” he pushes incredulously.

“Not in the slightest,” I reply apathetically. I’m not lying. Neither is my ego. Perhaps it’s an overall disenchantment with the process. Perhaps it’s the sage acceptance that comes with going with the flow, staying present, and being thankful for what I have. While the country struggles with unemployed and/or underpaid professionals, we were being paid hundreds, potentially over a thousand dollars, to look pretty, smile, and have fun on a set. I was not scandalously costumed, alternately, I was not scandalously costumed for a summer shoot being shot in the middle of an arctic freeze in January, my shoes were flat, and nobody was bumping or grinding against me. I considered it an award-worthy, save for the nasty garbage-recycling facility just below the artistic loft space production had reserve and the swarms of desperate flies that would occasionally swarm us as though we too had been discarded as refuse.

I’ve discovered, as my male counterpart for the day has yet to experience, that being booked as the hero character is not necessarily the most glamorous of days. As an actor-model-talented-to-talentless-artiste, the vast majority of control, creatively and technically, is left in the hands of others. All the possible power and fulfillment that one imagines at a certain professional point just do not exist. Like a solid piece of clay, gradually scraped, adorned, and fired in a kiln to last beyond the life expectancy in original form, “talent” is at the mercy of everyone. And this realization personally to me has become a source of trauma; an unsettling anxiety that begins a few blocks before whatever booking awaits me on any given day. I can never know what dark crevice will contain a folding chair, housing me for hours or just long enough to throw my belongings aside to be scurried through the assembly line of hair, makeup, wardrobe, blocking, and repetitive rehearsals and takes that may never be seen past the eyes of production. How many hours I must have spent on these cold, dusty studio stages haunted by years of busy bodies creating art or creatively slicing together commerce as art for no sake other than collecting a paycheck and hoping that something will come and arrest me from the mundane hours of waiting. To then hurry and wait some more.

A few weeks ago I went to Kaufman Astoria studios for an audition and was cast. The following week I arrived for the shoot, spending twenty minutes with the wardrobe department and another five with props, as they took my photo for an identification badge for my character. I spent another thirty in a swirling chair while my hair was straightened and critiqued.

“Girl, I see some damage here. What you do to get those frayed ends?” my hair stylist with the namesake of a bubbly cocktail inquired.

“It was bitch-teased for a week on some 80’s film,” I replied. I did not need to hear the assessment of every individual strand of hair on my head.

“Well, girl, this is hiiiiiigh definition and I need to hide them fly-aways. This is not good.” He spent the next five minutes spraying my perfectly straightened hair with more cheap hairspray than the Long Island Medium uses in a day. 

From the dark caverns of the hair chair I was then ushered beneath the hot vanity light bulbs of the makeup room, struggling to see past the black patches interrupting my vision. I have never mastered the homeostasis to afford me the transition from shivering cold to roasting under the lights without feeling an anxious duress. I once was a stand-in on a high end beauty commercial that required only my right eye to be lit by a keno that was as bright as staring into the noon-day sun. After an hour of setting up the shot, as my right retina was being burnt like a vulnerable earthworm beneath a scorching magnifying glass on a summer day, I was relieved by the “real” talent for the shoot and she had to merely stare into the light a few minutes for the actual take. I, on the other hand, spent the remainder of the morning like Jekyll and Hyde as a I carefully walked through the shadows of the set, feeling as though the right side of my face had completely shutdown in response to the light trauma replaced by immediate darkness. 

But back to the makeup chair at my ill-fated shoot at Kaufman Astoria. The past year or two has brought me this unexplained trepidation and anxiety that I never had when I first started in this industry. The triggers are many and diverse. Standing for long periods of time in one set place can cause my head to spin as I imagine myself fainting with all the crew watching me collapse on the sound stage. Other times the feeling of entrapment, of never knowing when I will be set free from a shoot that can last as short as twenty minutes or run as long as 23 hours (thank you, Scorsese). But lately, even in the makeup chair, I can feel the desire to bolt for the door, find the nearest subway station, and never return. This day was no exception and I had to force deep breathing with control so my anxiety-control didn’t interrupt the newly sharpened eye pencil that poked and lined my eyes, which began to tear as soon as the heavy concealer was brushed beneath my lower lids. It took all my might to sit still and not panic, as every flaw in my skin was detected and I began to stress the assessment of my pores, fine lines, and under-eye circles. Thankfully, the makeup artist granted me more mercy than bubbles.

The following six hours I spent in an air-conditioned theatre, blasting enough cold air to maintain a balmy 52 degrees, waiting for my call to set. When it came I was briefly shown the sides for my scene, told I would be instructed further on the set and that everything would be set on a green screen. A green screen? Actors who deal with green screens amaze me. The stilted feel, the intense lights, and the complete lack of spacial relations is as challenging to me as walking across a tight rope after a flask of bourbon (enter two more anxiety triggers: green screens and heights). I spent a sold five minutes being shuffled about while lights were adjusted and cameras were placed and the other actor was primped while studying lines and I was instructed that I should smile. And without pause the first assistant director stormed the set, put the other actor in her spot and instructed me to go to lunch. I wandered through the sterile halls to the basement where catering was set up, eating little of the over-seasoned and over-cooked food, an absolute must on a set which I learned the hard way after getting violently ill on a commercial shoot last year. It’s better to nosh on safe foods than risk the wrath of a tormented digestive track. Throw in the unusual hours and long days and it can be impossible to stay out of the water closet. And on some sets, you’re lucky to have more than two johns for the cast and crew in excess of fifty people. 

I finished lunch and returned to the ice-chest of a holding area, where I would sit with perfect hair and in costume for another five hours, anxiously staying alert for the moment when I would be rushed to perform. Anticipation mounted with the frigid climate and I didn’t know if the inner unsettling and trembling came from the cold, nerves, or lunch. I began to pray; to imagine all the way I could handle being in front of the dreaded green screen, conjuring the spirit of Honey Boo Boo Child and her fieriness, hoping to be as “sassified” as the little pageant queen when my time came. But my time did not come and after nearly eleven hours of preparation and waiting, I was told there wasn’t enough time for my scene and I would have to come back another day. It’s hard to not be neurotic in these moments, wondering if the director or creator had second thoughts, that some how the split ends and superficial caused this change of heart from production, or if there was something I should have done differently. But this neurosis was quickly replaced with complete and total relief. I could go home, I could bundle up in a blanket with my furry chihuahua and snuggle after a long day of being paid to do absolutely nothing. 

Perhaps my ego is not as silent as I thought. It surges in battle when I leave a set, wondering why I ever wanted to be in this industry to begin with, only to be followed with a willing commitment to improve and overcome the insane thoughts that plague an overactive mind left with to much idle time to activate. And without resolution, and without much direction, comes the waves of gratitude for time. Because in spite of the worries of aging and grappling with the burning ambition to be further ahead, I’m instead left with the gratitude to continue on this path as long as I desire, but the option to transition into something else is always there for the taking. And as much as I eschew these days, the familiar faces of crews, the constant spontaneity, and the excitement are what I know. 

“Girl” Is Not a Dirty Word

When I was a teen, I remember my idol at the time, Bette Midler, describing “All Girl Productions,” her production company that was named in a tongue-in-cheek style to own the word “girl.” As if the term “girl,” was somehow derogatory and demeaning. I never felt that way, but I was a teen at the time, and figured that since youth reigns in our society, being a girl was less of a curse than being a woman. All Girl Productions served as a long-distance dream for me; a model for the success I could someday achieve. So today, I found myself walking through the halls of Kaufman Astoria studios, past the office of a well-known female executive producer. It reminded me of that hidden gem of a dream.

My hair was partially wet and my boots and jeans were saturated from the monsoon rains that accompanied my commute from Manhattan. Strangely, I can’t remember ever taking a trip to Kaufman on a dry day. I was pointed to a conference room to wait for an interview with the director of a new project and found myself surrounded by auditioning goons, Russian mobsters, models, and redheads. I was up for the model role.  Unpleasant thoughts began to enter my mind, thinking back on similar situations where a male director, occasionally escorted by his team of sycophantic assistants, gives a quick assessment on a superficial level and oftentimes asks a series of flirtatious or ridiculous round of questions to bring out the sexy sass. I was not feeling sexy or sassy. I was feeling sticky and uncomfortable. So imagine my relief when in entered a female director entered the room and began to interview us individually. It was a pleasant surprise, made even more so when I was selected and did not have to relive a story about my first makeout experience or to mention my bra size.

Lately, including my time spent waiting to be auditioned today, I have been obsessively pouring over female rock memoirs and biographies. From Girls Like Us”, which chronicles to lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, to “A Natural Woman”, Carole King’s memoir,  Cyndi Lauper’s memoir (a girl who just wanted to have fun) to Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann and Nancy Wilson. As a songwriter in today’s world, where I’ve done nothing but romanticize the lives of my female songwriting inspirations, I truly had no idea how much sexism, chauvinism, and assholism that these girls faced during their most successful and powerful years as artists. I had envisioned them as warriors and leaders, who plowed through the past few decades as the valued talents that they are. I was completely naive, as I considered myself to be in this rare loop of sexual discrimination and objectification that would suddenly disappear the moment I had made a name for myself. But it’s not as if I hadn’t heard firsthand about the challenges they each faced.

A few years ago I was in the Hamptons on a rather impromptu Memorial Day weekend trip inspired by a posting on Craigslist. My friend and I found ourselves at a BBQ at a beautiful house in East Hampton, hosted by an eccentric retired millionaire. Over dinner one night I confessed, while slightly inebriated, that I would love to sleep with Stevie Nicks. In present time. At whatever glorious age she was at the time (in her early fifties). Of course, the lesbian aspect of this (particularly since I’ve spent most of my life as a heterosexual), and the age-factor, and my insistence that this crush went well beyond some superficial sex appeal, made me a punchline of a few jokes and awed faces. But this comment also led to me being invited to meet Stevie Nicks a few weeks later by a series of fortuitous events at Jones Beach, the iconic amphitheater of my performance dreams, in her dressing room. Though barely a few words were uttered between us, as Stevie was still in curlers and rushing to get ready, and I was accompanied by an old friend of hers with many things to say, I politely smiled and returned backstage with a few select people. Interestingly enough, Mick Fleetwood, entered the backstage area with his manager at the time, someone I had also randomly met one summer who had been trying to lure me with the promise of meeting Stevie if I were to hook up with him (as if he could be a surrogate for my Stevie crush). It felt like a vindication to be there, in the company of Billy Joel and some of my rock musician idols, without the help of said manager. 

While waiting backstage, I was approached by a short, older fellow, with a rather friendly and shy misdemeanor. He asked about me and I spoke of my music and he asked who my influences were. I mentioned Carole King and he replied, “Carole? I know her very well. I worked with her on many of her albums.” 

“Which ones?” I asked.

“Oh, ‘Tapestry’ for one,” he answered. My jaw nearly hit the concrete floor. Clearly he wasn’t just humoring me. He asked for my number and when he wrote it on a piece of waxy paper, it quickly disappeared. He ended up lately inscribing it on some tattered thing, so cutely inquiring for it a second time. As we later spoke he told me of how much even Stevie had dealt with negativity from men all the time. How at one point, when “Dreams” was at the top of the charts, she was involved with a guy who constantly told her she was an inadequate songwriter but was merely jealous that his own tunes weren’t reaching such success. As I’ve been reading in some of these books, their accounts portray this guitarist as a true supporter of female artists and I consider myself lucky for having crossed paths with him.

It’s almost alarming to find myself with these thoughts, but I’m almost relieved reading about the gender issues, the sexism, and the constant battles that all of my idols have faced. Maybe there has been progress, but so much of what I’ve been up against as an artist has led me to feel like we’ve gone backwards. My idealized version of the days of bra-burning and feminism at its height doesn’t necessarily mean that the women at the forefront of these movements experienced a better proceeding experience as a woman because of it. And perhaps it is better in other industries, but I can’t say it feels that much different when I’m lined up against a row of gorgeous women and our fuck-ability factor is being assessed by a room full of men (and sometimes women). Of all the memoirs, Cyndi Lauper was truly the angriest and most outrageous in her protests of the battles she faced as a woman (followed quickly behind Ann and Nancy Wilson), and it was not purely male bashing because they faced just as much trauma in the hands of women. At one point Cyndi Lauper confessed she was raped by her band members with a dildo, but it was the girlfriend of the band member who helped it happen and rationalized doing it to make her boyfriend happy. 

I love being a girl. I embrace being a woman. And as much as I romanticize leaving the entertainment industry, and possibly one day leaving New York, I know that for now I am part of this system. And I only wish that as a girl, and as a woman, I can conduct myself in a way that changes the tide a little. That preserves and promotes more than female sexuality. I found myself in near tears recently when I watched an interview with Adele on “60 Minutes.” She revealed how she never wanted her music to be about anything but her words and her talent, and not about showing her tits and ass. And I wonder if some well-off pop singer-songwriters of today could’ve played the talent card but let their insecurities push the sex button. There’s a lot to be learned from those who came before us though, and I truly recommend all the books mentioned above should you have any interest in rock, music, artistry, and some of the great female voices.