Why Working Out to P!nk is F*ckin’ Perfect

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Screw Britney. Screw Rihanna, and Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, and (gasp) Beyoncé. When it comes to female pop workout music, P!nk rules.* No matter what mood you’re in, the petite acrobatic vocalist will get you moving.

I was reminded of this yesterday at my Peloton cycling class in Chelsea. Before I even hopped on my bike, I was in a funk. And not the groovy kind, the smelly kind.

You see, I’d found myself stuck recently, afraid to wipe off the dust on my keyboard and commit words to Word. What if my blog post sucks? What if it’s boring and unfunny and pointless? What if it’s not book worthy? I hadn’t posted in months, and now I was terrified to do so.

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, I just finished writing a book for a publisher based on my other blog, 40 Dates & 40 Nights. Shouldn’t I feel like a major f*cking badass, ready to take on the Internet by storm? I mean, c’mon, I’d finally achieved that holy grail every actor dreams of: VALIDATION!

And yet, every time I sat down with my laptop, I couldn’t bring myself to type a single sentence. I’d click on Firefox, and pretty soon I’d be down a rabbit hole, reading short stories by Clarice Lispector, researching apocalyptic earthquakes, trying to understand why people are religious. Suddenly three hours would pass and it’d be time for my barre class and then I’d be out in Manhattan and how could I possibly think about silly meaningless blog posts with all this crazy life swirling around me? (And cocktails swirling in me.)

But every morning I woke up with the same nagging feeling: WRITE. (also: hangover.) Once again, I’d pull out my lap top, crack my knuckles over it,* and not get to work. Let the cycle of self-admonishment begin.

My spin class rolled around yesterday with yet another blank document on my desktop. As I adjusted the seat in the dark room, a weariness overtook me. Why am I here? Do I even enjoy this anymore? Throughout my unstructured life as an artist, exercise has been pretty much my only constant, an almost sacred space of meditation, discipline, and endrophin-induced joy encouraging creative flow. But lately my workouts had felt more like doing laundry or washing dishes than a blessed communion of mind, body, and spirit.

The lights dimmed and the instructor hopped on her bike enthusiastically.

“In case you guys didn’t know, this is a P!nk ride, so yeah,” she announced unapologetically, then turned on the music.

A pink ride? Does this mean it’ll be supporting breast cancer? Or only include songs that have to do with every five-year-old girl’s favorite color? I wondered. Perhaps it was being sponsored by Vicki’s Secret and we’d all get matching thongs at the end. That would be fun!

I began pedaling to the beat, humming along to the song. Who is this? The vocals weren’t gravelly enough to be Amy Winehouse, and were much too pop-y to be Mary J. Blige, although the lyrics were dealing with family drama. Can we work it out? Can we be a family? I knew the voice, but I didn’t.

Until I did. Within three notes of the second song it hit me — Ohhhhh, it’s P!nk!! (Duh.) I smiled at my obvious oversight, then picked up the speed of my legs. This should be.. cool I guess? I was still in my funk.

My initial thoughts on the ride echoed my early feelings on P!nk’s music – meh. Back when she’d first debuted on the radio waves, I’d been somewhere between milquetoast and irritated by her party anthems.*** When I moved to LA in 2004 she was one of my first Hollywood encounters at a sushi restaurant, and as we threw back sake bombs I remember wishing she was Christina Aguilera.

However, over the past decade I had grown to respect P!nk and her vocal and physical acrobatics, even kinda sorta love her. And with each song of the ride I understood why. On one sprint I’d be ready to kick someone’s a$$ because so what, I’m still a rockstar, and the next I’d be nodding my head on a climb, knowing I needed to keep going. You gotta get up and try

By the time we’d finished arms, I felt like myself again – back in my body, excited to get to work. The honesty in P!nk’s lyrics moved me. Raw, simple, real, unafraid. Was her music poetry on the level of Leonard Cohen? Did it possess the originality of a Dylan, or the depth of a Joni Mitchell? No. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t good, or relatable, or inspiring.

The second to the last song came on: pretty pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel, like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect I started to cry, realizing that that’s what had been keeping me from blogging these past couple of months: fear of not being perfect. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Perfectionism. It was the cause of my eating disorder, my anxiety, my writer’s block. Why do we do that? Why do I do that?

As I pedaled through the finish line, I decided right then that I would start posting on my blog again the next day, no excuses. It didn’t matter if what I wrote sucked or was boring or pointless, because at the end of the day, that’s not what it’s about. Every song isn’t going platinum. Every blog isn’t getting turned into a book.

But it is about living fearlessly. About owning your truth, and honing your craft, and taking risks, and being willing to fail. So what if you make a wrong turn or a bad decision, release an annoying song about partying or write a dumb essay about a spin class? Get up and try again. And again and again. It obviously worked for P!nk. It can work for the rest of us.

Damn, it feels good to be back! 🙂

*Okay, fine, all of these awesome ladies kick my ass on the treadmill.

** I didn’t actually do this, but I’ve seen it in so many movies I thought I should add it.

*** 2000, WTF?! We’re getting so old.

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Stolen Goods

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I recently got out of an intense relationship. One of those whirlwind, sweep-you-off-your-feet, what-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-insane type of relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Where suddenly your world is their world and their world is your world and maybe there is no other world but our world and wait, hold on, what?? This isn’t the right time for the two of us??? But I was just—and you were just—and we just met two months ago but I feel like I’ve known you forever and now it’s over. You know, like that.

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a different ex before we’d officially become a couple. He told me he hated getting into relationships because he dreaded that sensation after breaking up of having the world as you know it ripped away from you. For weeks or months or years you spend every day with this person, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. It’s like a death. Of them, of you, of “us.” I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. It was hard to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d been holding on to so many T-shirts and sweatshirts for all of these years.

* * * * *

I stole my first one in high school from my best friend Alex Frost. It was thin, grey, worn, with three navy stripes on each arm. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport- a label I would never associate with him. Not that I would ever associate any label with Alex. He’s never been the guy who cared about names, unless it was Cronenberg, Palahniuk, Fincher, Anderson.* But this was his favorite hoodie, and I stole it. And his was just the beginning.

I suppose if I’m really analyzing it, I can go even further back, and start with my dad’s pocket T-shirts. His multi-colored Hanes were my signature style in my Holy Cross days. Most of the Catholic school year, we sported crisp white button downs and navy blue slacks, but on those rare “free dress days” like Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s, you could find me swimming in a red or green cotton T, proudly rocking a pocket over my underdeveloped chest.

Technically though, my dad’s shirts get placed in the “borrowed” category. I wore them, mom washed them, and then they ended back up in dad’s dresser. While Alex’s hoodie may have begun as “borrowed,” it eventually turned into “stolen,” because I had no intention of ever giving it back. I just loved it too much. Not because it flattered my figure (quite the opposite) or provided exceptional warmth or comfort (see above description: thin, worn), but because it reminded me of him in such an intimate way. Like sharing a toothbrush or a burned Dashboard Confessional CD. I mean, I was inside his favorite hoodie. That’s major.

After Alex, I started collecting clothing items from other people I was close to- mostly boyfriends, but also a couple of girl friends. There was the Nike zip-up from Dan, the tear-away Adidas pants from Zack, the AEPi sweatshirt from Mike, the Kix t-shirt from Greg, the cashmere sweater from Ben, the cashmere pants from Justin, the grey sweatpants from Hannah. They were like my Dexter slides – little tokens I’d taken to remind me of my past relationships. I knew I should return them to their rightful owners, but they felt so good every time I slipped them on. They made me feel… less alone. And so I’ve kept them. All of them.

* * * * *

This time I have a zip-up and a pair of Ray-Bans. Both are too large, although I really like rocking the Ray-Bans, even if they’re scuffed and slide down my nose. They make me think of him and his laugh. I miss him in those moments. But in a pleasant way. Not a lonely way.

We texted briefly a couple of weeks ago. It was cordial, even sweet. I asked him if he could find my favorite pair of jeans. I’d left them in his hamper. He said he’d looked for them. I told him we could do an exchange. After all, I still had his stuff, too. And I wanted to return it. If only to prove to myself that I’m fine the way I am. Which I am. Single, but not alone. And even if the world we had created no longer exists, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold a part of it. Because I do. But it’s not in a sweatshirt or a scarf or a pair of boxers. It’s in my heart, where it rightfully belongs.

P.S. Alex, I still have that hoodie if you want it back. I know it’s been 13 years, but better late than never, right? Love you!!

*P.T. and Wes

And the Oscar Goes to…

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

Like every girl who moves to Los Angeles to be an actress, I always had dreams of winning an Oscar. The glitz, the glamour, the perfectly manicured nails captured on the manicam – it was a fairy tale, and I longed to be the princess. I imagined the dress I would wear, the speech I would give, the boy on my arm (Josh Hartnett? Leonardo DiCaprio?) But unlike Anne Hathaway, my dream has yet to come true. And that’s just fine by me.

Over the years, my attitude and feelings towards the Academy Awards have continually evolved, as with so many things in my life. For instance, brussel sprouts. I once hated them, now I cook them four times a week (minimum). Or roller coasters- they used to be the best thing ever, now they make me feel like I’ve just downed a bottle of gin. And the Oscars? Well, it’s complicated.

As a child, the Oscars seemed like heaven. Literally, if you had asked 8 year old Amy what Heaven looked like, I would have told you a massive stage with large statues of gold men and emaciated actresses looking perfect in vintage Dior. (Okay, I probably wouldn’t have used the word emaciated or known what a vintage Dior was, but definitely “actresses in princess dresses.”) The crowning moment in my childhood Oscar memories was Gwyneth Paltrow accepting her statuette for Shakespeare in Love in that pretty pink Ralph Lauren number. Move over, Mary, there’s a new queen of the clouds.

From the couch of my parent’s living room in North Portland (and a hotel room one year in Thailand), the award show just never quite felt real. It was like it was taking place on another planet, Planet Hollywood, where celebrities resided with all of their designer clothes and trophies and drug problems. Perhaps that was why I viewed the Oscars as Heaven in my adolescence. Or maybe it was just because I was a kid.

Whatever the reason, by the time I moved to Los Angeles, the sacred sheen had worn off. That’s not to say that I didn’t still want to win an Oscar – I wanted to even more at 18, 19, 20 – but rather, they had become more tangible. Here I was, living in Los Angeles, less than a mile from the Kodak theater, with the choppers circling like vultures and the limos creating traffic jams for miles. For days, weeks, leading up to the big event, there were parties and chatter and excitement building. Suddenly it felt attainable – I was here! I had made it!! I had an agent and I waited on Al Pacino and I could do this!!!

Except I couldn’t. As the years wore on, it became more and more apparent to me that my dreams were hopeless. “If you haven’t made it by 21, you’ll never make it,” a manager told me, pointing out dozens of examples of famous starlets. I watched as the calendar pages flipped, the years rolled by. 21, 22, 23. I had small victories here and there – a co-star on Veronica Mars, a featured part in Walk Hard, several game show appearances – but nothing even remotely close to the roles I’d been admiring for so many years. The Erin Brakovichs and Edith Piafs. The Virginia Woolfs and Viola de Lesseps. I grew weary of auditioning for drunken sorority girls and one-line waitresses. With each failed commercial audition, my dream died a small death. And then one day, it no longer existed at all.

“The Oscars are lame, just a tired exercise in self-congratulation by a bunch of rich, entitled pricks,” I began telling myself, and whoever else I was doing background work with. “It’s all politics anyway, they hardly ever get it right. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow winning for Shakespeare in Love? Ludicrous. Who’s next? Keanu Reeves for The Lake House Part 2?

The Academy Awards had gradually slid from Heaven into Hell, just like Satan himself. February would roll around, and I would find myself dreading Oscar weekend. On the outside I pretended I didn’t care (even though I’d seen every nominated film and read every Entertainment Weekly prediction and Carpetbagger article), but somewhere deep down inside I could feel a knife being wedged when Jennifer Lawrence stepped on stage for Winter’s Bone. It wasn’t that I didn’t love JLaw – I did and do, I thought she was fantastic in that film, and pretty much everything she’s done since. But I was consumed with jealousy. That was the career I had so desperately longed for as a girl back in Portland. That was a part I could have played, would have loved to have played, still wanted to play. The dream wasn’t actually dead, it was just buried under layers and layers of jaded exterior.

And that was how it remained until two and a half years ago when I started taking classes at The Imagined Life. I hadn’t quit acting (although I had taken a break to get my degree from UCLA in Art History), but I’d stopped really loving it and believing in myself. But Diana changed all that. She helped me see where I’d gone wrong – in making it about the product instead of the story. After all, for all of the hoopla around the nominees and the award circuit, at the end of the day what really matters are the films themselves. Which was why I’d been drawn to acting in the first place. Yes, I may have wanted the Oscar fairy tale at 8, but it was really the excitement of playing Betty in The Crucible or Juliet in Romeo & Juliet that made me want to be an actor. It was being moved to laughter and tears over and over again by Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet that made me want to be like them. Sure, the award shows were great fun and ridiculously glamorous, but that had nothing to do with why I actually chose this career. And somewhere along the line, while becoming an adult, I’d forgotten that. Down they forgot as up they grew.

I’m happy to say that this year I will be watching the Oscars and loving it. I’ll feel nothing but proud for the winners as they take the stage, because they deserve it for telling the stories they’ve told. Whether it’s Michael Keaton or Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore or Julianne Moore, I will feel nothing but genuine love and support for them on their journeys. And after the last award is given, I’ll go back to focusing on my new dream: winning an Oscar for best screenplay.

Just kidding. My new dream is the same as my old: to tell stories. Good luck to all the nominees!!

Why I Dance

Pole dancing has changed my life. From the outside, this may sound like an exaggerated claim, or a preposterous one, or a shallow one. But it is anything but. From my very first intro class at S Factor to the dance I did on Valentine’s Day to Damien Rice’s “Delicate,” my journey with pole dancing has been one of letting go, opening up, expressing myself, and love. And it continues to evolve, even since the last time I wrote about it, which, not coincidentally, was my very first blog entry.

As I talked about in my previous post, my initial encounter with pole allowed me to explore and appreciate my sexuality and sensuality as a woman in a way I never had before. It felt like I was shedding my dry, scaly, battered skin, and emerging as a soft, strong, beautiful, feminine creature. My old belief system had constantly been focused on what was wrong with my body- the missing gap between my thighs, my too small breasts, my shapeless hips. But through S Factor I began to see what was right. Which was, quite simply, me. I was already enough as I was.

As soon as I became comfortable enough in my own skin to look out across the dark room and see the other women owning themselves, I experienced another wave of shock. One that literally sent chills through my entire body. My long held belief that only women who looked like Giselle and Miranda Kerr and Megan Fox were sexy evaporated before my eyes. Here were  women of all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds, from ivory skin to ebony, whose beauty literally made me cry. I wanted to hug and praise each and every one of them for just being who they were and sharing their most intimate selves with me week after week. It was a feeling I couldn’t quite put into words, although I tried: on this blog, to the guys I was dating, to my mom, to my friends. But I never quite succeeded. Talking about it, writing about it – it couldn’t capture it.

Which was why I made a film about it. Or more accurately, why we made a film about it. Because it was truly the work of an entire community. From the amazing director, to my fellow producers, to the incredible, courageous dancers, to the crew and the supporters of our kickstarter, to the viewers.

My original idea for the film was one I had been kicking around in my head for several months. Not long after I started anactressmuses.com, I approached Sascha Alexander (she was one of the reasons I’d come to S Factor in the first place) with the concept: What if we made a short film intercutting different women all doing the same dance? The message I wanted to convey was so basic: how beautiful every woman is, and how interconnected we all are. I envisioned us shooting it in an afternoon, perhaps needing a budget of no more than $500- for some basic craft services, a light kit, and a location cost.

So much for that. Sascha responded with her usual incredible enthusiasm, telling me she had actually been talking to her friend Melanie Zoey about doing a similar thing. We all got together one afternoon at Sascha’s place, with fresh blueberries and chips and salsa, and began discussing our vision. What we wanted to say, how we wanted to say it, why we wanted to say it. I left that first meeting feeling like I had just dropped three tabs of molly. This was going to be awesome.

We met up a couple of more times before I left for Europe for a month, and when I came back, the girls had elevated the project to a new level. Suddenly I felt like I was being swept up by some massive wave, and all I could do was improvise knowing how to surf.

The new vision for the film required a much heftier budget than $500, so we decided to launch a kickstarter campaign. This was my first real experience with crowd-funding (my previous effort on indiegogo for a short film I shot a few years ago was rather lackluster), and the results were overwhelming. We made a great video we all felt proud of, decided to set our ask at $3150, and within two days we had reached our goal. WHAT?!?! None of us had anticipated the amount of support that would flood our campaign, and by the end of the month we had raised over $5000. We were speechless and humbled.

But that was nothing compared to how I felt during the actual filming. Those two days in November were amongst the greatest I’ve ever had on a set. Or anywhere. The energy from the other women, the vulnerability and support and compassion – something special happened that weekend. Even if the actual video didn’t come together just as we wanted it, or if nobody watched it but us, or if it totally blew up in our faces, it was already a success.

Fortunately, the film did come together as we had envisioned, it’s received almost 50,000 views in four days, we threw a fantastic launch party, and the only thing that’s blown up is my level of gratitude. I just feel so blessed to have gotten to be a part of this project. I’m so proud of what we’ve done, women. It’s changed my life. THANK YOU.

Watch the film here!

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Home for the Holidays

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Growing up, the most sleepless night of the year was always Christmas Eve. The festivities would begin with Church at First Baptist in the afternoon, and even though I sang terribly, I would belt out the hymns like one of the Herald Angels. For weeks before I would play What Child is This and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear ad nauseum on the piano, but Silent Night was always my favorite during service. I loved turning the candles into miniature wax sculptures, taking the flame of my cousin Megan’s and softening my own, shaping it into a bracelet or a candy cane or dripping the melted wax onto my arm for that hurt-so-good sensation.

After celebrating the birth of Jesus in proper fashion, the gang would relocate to my family’s house. It included my brother, my grandparents, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pat, their children (usually all four of them, until life turned corners), and my Aunt Marty before she died. My dad always came to Church with us, but sometimes my mom would have to stay home and finish cooking. Dinner for 12 was no easy task, especially with rugrats zipping in and out of the kitchen sneaking morsels of food.

The menu was the same every year – coconut crusted chicken stuffed with cranberries, green beans, mashed potatoes, steamed cranberry pudding with butter rum sauce. And if it hadn’t been for the needling anticipation of opening presents immediately after, it would have beat out Thanksgiving as my favorite meal. But that itching desire to find out the contents of those carefully wrapped boxes proved too much to bear- I would wolf my food down in a minute flat.

For Christmas Eve, we only opened the gifts from the guests in attendance (excluding our own parents- those we saved until the big day.) But since my grandparents always spoiled us with wonderful gifts, the nightly unwrapping was usually just as good as the morning. We would open one at a time, starting with the youngest and moving to the oldest.*

Finally, when all of the wrapping paper had been piled high between the couches, we would head back into the dining room for games if time allowed. I liked Scattergories the most. The laughter over my grandfather’s challenges to my cousin Dan would fill the entire house with a warmth unmatched by any fireplace.

The evening should have exhausted me, and it did, but it was still not enough to overcome the excitement of the next morning. I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours, while visions of Skittles and My Little Ponies and American Girl doll clothes danced in my head. At some point I would drift off for a few hours, but the beckoning call of Santa’s stocking assured I would be up with the sunrise.

We had our tradition Christmas morning as well, just the four of us, opening stockings first, then once again going around carefully unwrapping and savoring one gift at a time. We would finish sometime around 10 or 11, and then head into the kitchen for waffles or pancakes or dutch babies, or some other carb-laden food slathered in sweet syrup. I loved this tradition. I still love this tradition. But things change. Nothing ever stays the same.

* * * * *

For the first time in my life, I did not sleep under the same roof as my parents over Christmas. I did not open any presents on Christmas Eve, nor go to Church with them.** We still opened presents together Christmas morning, and had our wonderful coconut crusted chicken dinner with 12 people that night featuring Scattergories and several bottles of wine (a new addition to the tradition for the kids). But I fell asleep and woke up next to a boy, in a house with his family.

While it felt strange to be splitting the time between families, especially since the relationship is in that remarkable stage of infancy, it also somehow felt right. I don’t mean that I want to buck the traditions of my own family, because like I said, I love them, and they will be in my life forever. But being with him, experiencing another family’s Christmas, I realized how ready I am to start creating my own traditions.

In a lot of ways, I still feel like a child, especially around the holidays, when remembrances of the past flood in and overwhelm the senses. But the truth is I’m 29 years old, and while I never want to stop being childlike, I’m very much an adult. I could feel it at Christmas Eve, when the boy’s best friend’s 18 month old son clung to my chest, attempting to feed me an apple, giggling at his own flirtatious ways, triumphantly sounding out my name. When we got back to the house, he was allowed to open a present, the only one to do so, and I wondered if I would be seeing his smiling face again next year. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Growing up can be painful, and the holidays can often exacerbate it. History and Hallmark create expectations. The coming of the New Year reminds us of all those that have past, of things that have changed, people we have lost. But it can also be beautiful. With each death a rebirth, with each cycle of life comes new meaning. I witnessed this over and over again this last year, and it’s continued to deepen my appreciation for this life. It’s all a process. Who knows what 2015 will bring, or what will happen with the boy, or where I’ll be next Christmas, but I’m ready to find out.

Happy New Year Everyone!

*I think this spotlight on each individual present may have turned me into the gift giver I am today. I love coming up with super specialized unique presents, ones from the heart.

**Even though I’ve been agnostic for a decade, I still enjoy Christmas services. A bittersweet nostalgia for beliefs lost and found.

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

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We drove because he liked me. It wouldn’t have been a problem to fly – a little more expensive, a little less travel time, both essentially non-issues – but he insisted on a road trip. I didn’t argue. You learn a lot about a person when you’re trapped in a hunk of speeding metal with them for six hours. And I wanted to learn a lot about him.

The trip was impromptu- “This might be the last weekend I can really have fun for awhile. Want to go somewhere?” He texted me on Thursday. We’d only been dating for a month, but it seemed like a lot longer. It just felt right. Friday morning we hoisted our bags into the trunk of his car and took off up the I5, San Francisco bound.

It’d been over three years since I’d made the trek up to the Bay Area, and I’d forgotten just how much I love California. “There’s a reason we pay such high taxes here,” he said as we cut through snow-kissed mountain ranges, past geometrical rows of orange trees, through rolling hills as fluorescent as an exit sign. “People have figured out where they can finally have it all.”

Having it all. I thought about this as I stared at him, my fingers running through his hair, my nails dragging gently along his broad shoulders. He reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in this moment, his slight crooked smile, the way his Ray-Bans perched on his nose, the rust color of his close-cut beard. What did that even mean, to have it all?

“Oh my God, yessss!” I squealed as he put on Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon. I pulled out my phone and hit record, holding it close to Harry the Seal, a dash ornament he’d had since he was in high school. Behind Harry rays of amber  broke through huge thunder clouds, the remnants of the worst storm in years. “Could this be any more perfect?” I laughed at the sublime blend of beauty and the absurd.

* * * * * *

We checked in around 6:30 and got ready for the evening. “You can wear something more casual,” he informed me as I shifted through my embarrassingly large suitcase. I hadn’t travelled with more than a carry-on for years, but I hadn’t been sure what to pack. He’d made all of the plans, and I was delighted to have it be a surprise. I threw on a cotton dress, tights, heeled boots, and a leather jacket. With make up and hair it took 15 minutes. “That’s one thing you’ll like about me,” I smiled, “I never take long to get ready.”

Our first stop was Union Square. He held me close as we watched the ice skaters, my breath finally visible. I loved my solitary sports bra runs on Christmas day in Palm Springs where my parents live, but it felt good to be experiencing the season in Hallmark fashion: warmed up by a guy next to the brightly lit Macy’s tree. “Ohhh,” he cringed and laughed as a teen in a backwards cap and hoodie hit the ice. Hard. “Yeah, I’ve definitely been there,” I admitted. “Oh, I know,” he nodded, kissing me on the forehead. That was one of the things he liked best about me- my adorable clumsiness.

We stopped at a wine bar on our way to Chinatown, where we proceeded to fatten up on pork fried rice, Peking duck, lettuce cups, and a sort of tempura crab, one of his favorite dishes in the city. In fact, it was the whole reason we’d come to the hole in the wall, empty save two other tables. And I understood why. Salty fried goodness, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a wonderful guy – what more could a girl ask for?

Well, an awesome Saturday for one. After dinner Friday we had a night cap at a local pub, soaking in the festive pre-Santacon cheer, before retiring around midnight. Which meant that I got up early feeling rested and ready for a six mile run. “It’s the only thing I absolutely require when I’m traveling,” I’d told him before we left. “Whatever you need, babe, just as long as you do it in the morning.”

After my run to the wharf, we showered and headed to Haight-Ashbury for brunch at Zazie. We enjoyed boysenberry bellinis, crab benedicts, and cornmeal pancakes with lemon curd and strawberry that rivaled my dad’s best morning efforts. “You’re going to love that about him,” my girlfriend had told me before our first date, “he’s a huge foodie. He will totally wine and dine you.”

And he did. And I did love it. We rounded out our meals in San Fran with seafood and Bay Bridge views at Waterbar and some of the best dim sum I’ve had at Yank Sing. But what I loved even more was the Keith Haring exhibit he took me to Saturday afternoon. He knew how important art was to me, and so we strolled over to the De Young Museum after Zazie to soak in some culture. As we floated through rooms of luminous American art, I wished I could somehow squeeze him tighter than I already was. I mean, I knew he couldn’t tell the difference between a Martin Johnson Heade and a Winslow Homer, but did that really matter?

The short answer: no. Because that’s what I was learning the more time I spent with him. No, he hadn’t heard of Inherent Vice, the latest film from the director of his favorite movie of all time, Boogie Nights. No, he didn’t enjoy reading fiction for fun, although he loved obtaining knowledge. No, he wasn’t going to join me on my morning runs because his asthma wouldn’t let him. But so what? It’s not like I could name a single NHL player from the Kings game we’d gone to the week before, even though I’d had fun. Nor could I tell you anything about tort reform beyond what I saw in Hot Coffee (he’s a lawyer). Or even begin to comprehend how to put together a business proposal (he’s also an entrepreneur).

But what we can do is laugh for hours with each other. And talk freely about anything and everything, from politics to religion to family to Family Guy. And we can also get super competitive about bowling and Scrabble and a game of horse. You know, the things that matter. And we can show up for each other in pretty much any circumstance, whether it’s NFL Sundays or a three hour film about a 19th century artist, even if it may not be totally our thing. And finally, we can spend 12 full hours in a car together and one romantic weekend in San Francisco and still want to know more about each other. So much more. And you know what? I think that might just be what it means to have it all.

A Day of Gratitude

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A slightly misaligned hip joint. A date that showed up an hour late. An acting role that went to a blonde. A man that laid on his horn and swore in traffic. A few extra pounds from the summer that just won’t come off. These are the kinds of frustrations and disappointments that occur in my daily life. Small but real incidences that I react to, that I let get under my skin.

I worry about the cost of a night guard for my teeth ($500), and how much I should spend on new headshots ($400? $700? $1000?). I struggle with the hangover from hell welcoming me into my 29th year, and bemoan the fact that I still have acne. I kick myself for opening up to a guy too fast, and then scaring him away. I cry in bed for several hours at least once a month, unable to control my feminine hormones. I think about death – my own, my parents, my friends, strangers I’ve never met – but it’s still mostly a hypothetical. I’ve never watched anyone die.

For all of these things, I am grateful.

* * * * *

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting a lot with three different stories. The first is that of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal with the best sniper record in US military history. He was killed by a fellow veteran in 2013. I saw Clint Eastwood’s film version of the book written by Kyle and two others, American Sniper, at a screening by myself. I’ve never been good with war films, but I found this one particularly difficult. The seemingly senseless nature of the war in Iraq, the effects of PTSD on ordinary living, Kyle’s inability to connect with his wife and enjoy simple moments with his children. I thought of that oft said quote, “war changes men.” And then after a hard fought struggle to overcome the traumas of war, the tragic ending. I’m still grappling with it.

The second story also deals with war and its ramifications, this time from the perspective of an Australian doctor working on the Thai-Burma Death Railway during World War II. Although a fictional account, Richard Flanagan tackles a very real piece of history in his Booker prize winning “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” A history I’d never even heard of. I’ve been reading it slowly, in small increments. Partly because the writing deserves to be fully taken in, fully absorbed, partly because I find the circumstances of the prisoners almost impossible to deal with. Theirs was a life so cruel, so incredibly inhumane and punishing, that just the words on the page have given me nightmares.

Finally, the third story is that of Lydia, a beautiful Latin American girl in her early 30s who got married last summer. Upon returning to Los Angeles from her magical wedding in her hometown of Santiago de Cuba, she learned that cancer had spread from her uterus to her spine and up to her brain. Some doctors gave her three weeks, others three months. But she’s determined to beat it. And if anyone can, it’s Lydia. I got the honor of celebrating her father’s birthday with her and her family. He had never even been on a plane before coming to Los Angeles.

* * * * *

As I get ready to celebrate another Thanksgiving with my happy, healthy family, in a comfortable Southern California home filled with love and laughter and all of the comforts of a middle class American lifestyle, there are no words for the gratitude I feel. For my mother. For my father. My friends. My lovers. My career. My two legs and ten fingers. The food in my fridge. The classes I have the privilege of attending: acting, improv, Soulcycle, SFactor. My ability to read and write and communicate what I feel. The sun that greets me every morning through my rust colored curtains. Or the clouds or the rain. Just the morning at all. I am a strong, 29 year-old white female living in Los Angeles in 2014. My life has been so blessed.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how fortunate I am. I wish I could say that I live every moment in a state of gratitude, but too often I find myself slipping into negative thought patterns. I get upset over a parking ticket, or a common cold, or a bitter email criticizing my work. But in moments like these, I just need to remember Chris Kyle and all those who’ve fought in war. The tens of thousands of men who died building a seldom talked about railway, and all of the others who live without freedom or rights. Lydia, and the millions who fight daily for their lives, against a sentence given much too soon.

In my acting class, we talk a lot about “last time-ness,” that somewhat morbid experience of seeing things for the final time. Like a convict on death row receiving his last meal. While it would be exhausting to always live in that space, really considering it can give profound meaning to the littlest things. The grass, the sky, that Starbucks coffee, the song on the radio, even the guy angrily honking his horn. Imagine for a second truly experiencing each of these things for the very last time. Powerful, right?

It’s easy to get annoyed with the holidays. The expensive flights home, the rocky familial relationships, the horrifying commercialization of practically every aspect, the mashed potatoes that have gone cold while waiting for all of the loud shrieking kids to get through the line first. But this Thanksgiving, I’m going to appreciate every moment like its my last. Because even if its (hopefully!) not, my life deserves to be treated with that level of gratitude.

Another Year Better

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For the last seven or eight years, I’ve always gone for a run on my birthday. And on these ritual runs, I’ve always had the same idea jump around, exciting the membranes, spurring my legs to go faster and faster: What if I moved to Paris right now?*

It sounds like a hypothetical, and I suppose it is, but it always gets posed as a serious question in my mind. What if I got home from my run, booked a ticket, packed my bags, and left for good? Because the thing is, I could. There’d be a few annoyances and some awkward phone calls, but technically I could do it. I could go live in my dream city.

A couple of the years I felt THISCLOSE to actually acting upon my flight of French fancy.** The Great Escape, I’d title the chapter in my memoir. Or maybe it would be the title of the memoir itself. It sounded positively romantic, the thing that grand adventure stories are made of: “Girl turns 25, leaves her entire life behind and starts afresh in the place she wishes she were born.” Sounds rather Joycian, no?

But I’ve never done it. I’ve always finished my run, sprinting the last two blocks to my house, and returned to the life I’ve been living. The one in Los Angeles, with my quaint little cottage, my comfortable job, my lovely friends, and the permanent sunshine. And the dreams of being a Parisian return to the nocturnal world of sleep.

Today I turned 29. And for the first time in many years, I did not go for a run on my birthday. Nor did I dream of running away. Because really, that’s what I was doing. I can sugar coat it all I want – “Paris is my favorite city! Only natural for me to want to move there!” or “It’s just the adventurer in me!” – but my fantasies weren’t about Paris. Not really. They were, as my memoir title nails so beautifully on the head, about escape.

But from what?

I have a great life. A wonderful, blessed, privileged life. I know this. I’ve always known this. And I do not want to sound ungrateful. Because I am very grateful. I often break down in tears for no reason at all except an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience of this world. In fact, it happened several times today. Like while I’m typing this sentence.

So again, what was I trying to run away from?

Well, myself. That sounds really harsh and overblown, and it is, but it’s really the core of what was keeping me so unsettled, so ready to shed this skin and put on un autre. Because I was afraid.

I was afraid of embracing this self, this version of me that lives and loves and cries and drinks and stumbles my way through Los Angeles. Through Hollywood Blvd and along the coast and up Runyon Canyon and into casting offices and at home on my computer. The self that has wanted to tell stories since I learned how to speak, but has for so long feared that I had nothing to say. That felt I needed to do something crazy and rash and become someone else in order to earn that right.

And in a super ironic way, that’s exactly what I did that made me finally stop being afraid of myself. I made up a fake name, set a crazy 40 day goal, and then blogged about it. And while it was very much autobiographical and pretty much like an online literary version of The Bachelorette, it helped me recognize my own voice. And in doing that, I finally gave myself permission. Permission to create. Permission to write. Permission to imagine. Permission to live in Paris without having to move there. Or I could move there if I wanted, but not because this me wasn’t enough.

“Why are you sitting there when you can go anywhere?” my amazing friend and SoulCycle instructor Jenny said to the class during today’s ride.*** She was referring to a meme of a bird perched on a tree with the caption I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere.

In years past, this naturally would have ignited my French fantasy. But today I felt something different. It’s not about literally going somewhere (although you all know how much I LOVE to travel.) If it was about that, Jenny never would have said it to a bunch of people on stationary bikes. No, it’s about transcending that part of you that keeps you stuck. That part that’s afraid. That part that says “You can’t go there. You’re not an artist. You’re not a writer.” That part that holds you back and makes you want to become someone else.

I felt my legs go faster and faster, picking up speed with the rhythm of the music, the pulsing of room. I’m 29! I beamed, tears streaking my face alongside the sweat. This is my life! I’m breathing! I’m flying! And I was. I am.

*One year it was New York. And another it was Tuscany. But usually it’s Paris.

**I may have been a little less happy these years. Or perhaps the opposite.

***You didn’t think I wasn’t going to exercise at all today, did you?

A Million Digital Pieces: A Cell Phone Addict Speaks Out

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I recently came across a tweet from the Huffington Post that caught my attention: “Distracted Driving is Rampant across America.” I clicked on it because I am – sigh gasp blush – a part of this rampant craze sweeping the country. I’ll even go so far as to admit that I can’t even remember the last time I got behind the wheel without my iPhone within texting distance (e.g. in my hand). But that’s not even the worst of it. Because I am currently suffering from an even more all-encompassing condition: Distracted Living.

I’ve had an unhealthy attachment to my phone for many years now. Pretty much since I got my very first Samsung my junior year of high school in 2003. Back in those dinosaur ages, my phone was considered awesome because it was in color and I could download specialty ringtones. (Pretty groovy, huh?) It didn’t even have e-mail, let alone Facebook or Instagram. Just good ol’ fashioned phone calls and text messages. But even that was enough to get me hooked.

A decade later, I need my phone the way Snoop Dogg needs marijuana. Or A-Rod needs steroids. Or Grandma Myrtle needs her slot machines. And I don’t just mean that figuratively. Because according to David Greenfield, the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction,* cell phones actually create similar responses in the brain to drugs and gambling. Just thinking about receiving messages can raise dopamine levels, and actually hearing that “ping” or seeing that banner notification releases even more. That’s why most of us find it so difficult to put our phone in the trunk when we’re driving, even though we know we should. Heck, just typing that made my eye twitch.

While the dangers of Distracted Driving are pretty frickin’ obvious and difficult to argue – YOU COULD CRASH AND KILL PEOPLE – the ramifications of Distracted Living are somewhat less pronounced. But much more insidious. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Distracted Living is bad for your love life.

Ever go on a date and both of your cell phones are on the table? Or maybe you’re able to keep it in your purse, but some time around the middle of eating your filet mignon you absolutely must excuse yourself to the bathroom to check your Twitter feed in a stall? This has happened to me. A lot. And it keeps me from having a fully connected experience with my romantic interest. Perhaps one of the reasons I’m still single. Fail. (And don’t even get me started on phones and sexy time. I’ve definitely been making out with a guy and the second I hear my hear that buzzing all I can think is What if it’s my agent?! Mood. Killer.

  1. Distracted Living interrupts your sleep cycle.

I only recently began switching my phone to silent mode instead of vibrate when I turn off the light at night, but even this doesn’t prevent my cell phone from screwing up my REMs. My brain is so desperate for Instagram likes that I now find myself waking up every few hours like an infant in need of breast milk. Last night I reached for my phone not once, not twice, but three times. As if the activity on Snapchat at 3am is more important than my dream of marrying Josh Hartnett. NOPE!

  1. Distracted Living causes you to miss important moments.

The other day while one of the women in our short film was dancing, I was so busy looking for my phone to try and take a picture of it that I missed the moment entirely. Oh, the irony. And although it wasn’t the end of the world, (I watched the second take), imagine if this happened while my future daughter was taking her first steps. Or my grandmother was taking her last breath.** Even just missing little things like plot points in a movie because I’m checking a Facebook comment are unfortunate, and can make for a confusing / less meaningful evening.

  1. Distracted Living hinders you in your purpose.

Whether your purpose is to fight Ebola or raise a family or write a super cool blog of random essays, texting/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Vine/Gmail/Whatsapp/Snapchat/Any Other Social Media Platform will not help you with this. Sure, it can help spread awareness, but it will not actually lead you to a cure, or feed your children, or put words on the page (except in this case, since I’m writing about it. Oh man, too meta.) If you want to actually accomplish something beyond retweets and likes, it’s important to maintain focus and stay dialed out. I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet that Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t take breaks from his cello every five minutes to check his Galaxy S5.

Okay, so this all sounds pretty horrible, right? Well, it is. Take it from someone who just checked her phone no less than 15 times while writing this essay. It’s taking everything in me not to look at it right now. ARGGGGG.

But here’s the thing. And this is important. As debilitating as Distracted Living can become, it’s never too late to overcome it. If Robert Downey Jr. can go from drug addict to Iron Man, I can certainly go from iPhone abuser to person living in the present. In fact, I already do it naturally every time I go overseas.*** But I don’t want to have to cross an ocean every time I wish to experience Focused Living. Which is why I’m going to break my addiction.

From today onward, I’m committing myself to small steps to rewire my social media riddled brain. Starting with that most serious of offenses: Distracted Driving. My phone is going in my purse which I’m zipping up and putting in my backseat. It’s not like I don’t still have Bluetooth for all those “emergencies.” I’m also going to leave it behind when I’m working out. I don’t need an update from CNN touting the benefits of exercise while I’m in the middle of exercising. (Plus, the sweat makes it difficult to use the touchscreen.) And instead of having my phone next to me while I’m writing or working on sides for an audition, I’m turning it off and practicing Attentive Creating. That way I won’t-

Oh shoot, my mom’s calling. TTYL!

*I wonder if they offer outpatient services… I should probably go look it up on the Internet and then make a phone call.

**Capturing this would be super creepy. But you know what I mean.

***Something about the new surroundings. And the time off work. And the cost of an international data plan.

Home

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During the London Olympics of 2012, while other people were cheering on Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, my mother was busy discovering an American Idol winner – Phillip Phillips. His game changing song from that competition, “Home,” had been usurped by NBC as the official theme of the Games. The earthy tone of his voice, the heartfelt lyrics, my mom couldn’t help but be swept off her feet and over to her local library to borrow a copy of his CD. She uploaded the music onto her iPod, and began playing the summer anthem in a never-ending loop on her morning hike.

A year later, amidst the aftermath of a taxing break up, I received a phone call one day from my mom crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she’d been listening to “Home.” My initial instinct was to laugh – the thought of my 57 year old mother crying over an Idol was pretty priceless – but then she said she’d been envisioning me. She knew Aaron, my ex, hadn’t been the right guy for me, but she was desperately wanting me to find a loving, supportive partner. “I’ve been praying for your future husband,” she said, “for a man who will say those things to you.”

As sappy as this all might sound (especially to a non-believing feminist like myself), my mom’s words hit me hard. If I’m being completely honest, I had watched that season of American Idol with my ex and I had cried during Phillip’s win and preceding victory song. While the whole show is designed to bring the audience to tears (“My parents died and I became a prostitute to feed my 9 brothers and sisters”), it wasn’t the perfect camera angle on the singer’s tear-stricken face, nor the utter delight of his friends and family that had moved me on the couch that night. No, it was the song. The simple, haunting, beautiful “Home.”

When I think of the word home, the first image that pops in my mind is the house I grew up in. It was a beautiful two story craftsman overlooking the bluff in Portland, Oregon. My parents had bought it for dirt cheap (it was in a low-income neighborhood), and renovated it, restoring its 1930s charm. One of my earliest memories is of the day they got the keys to the house, and I ran up the stairs and into the master bedroom. The realtor had left a giant white teddy bear in it, and four year old me exclaimed loudly “My room!” And so it was.
We lived in that house on Willamette Blvd. until I turned 16. The housing market was booming, and my parents turned a large profit on the sale, buying another fixer in a much more desirable neighborhood. Two years later, they turned that home for a profit, and bought yet another, much larger fixer, and thus began their later in life careers as house flippers. They now live in Rancho Mirage in a chic single story mid-century with a sweeping view of the mountains. While they own several rental properties now in the desert, they intend on staying in this house for a long time. It’s become home.

When people ask me where I’m from, “where home is,” I find it difficult to answer. Even though my childhood house is the first thing I think of, Portland no longer feels quite like home. My parents have left, my brother’s in transition, my few high school friends I keep in contact with our dispersed across the globe. The only thing keeping me anchored in the Northwest are my grandmother and my memories. According to my cell phone, home is technically my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage. Every time they phone me from the landline there, it shows up on my caller ID as just that – “Home.” And in some ways, that’s correct. But, after living in my Los Angeles bungalow for over seven years now, my place in Hollywood certainly feels like home, too. Especially after a month or two of traveling abroad, which I’m prone to do annually, I usually can’t wait to get home to my charming one bedroom guest house. (Except for the summer I lived in Paris – for me, that city strangely feels like home as well).

The point is, while all of these ideas of home are tied to a place – the house in Portland, my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage, my Los Angeles abode – the actual concept of home is far more abstract. And that’s what Phillip Phillips song has captured so beautifully. The main verse, the one my mom wants a man to say to me, reads “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Although he uses the word place, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t matter where in the world he and his love are, it will be home. As that old adage beaten to death by kitschy wall ornaments and Christmas tunes goes, home is where the heart is.

As I write this, I am still single, and have yet to find a man singing Phillip Phillips songs to me. But unlike my mom, I’m not really worried about it. While I look forward to meeting that special someone and creating my own family someday, I take comfort knowing I’ve always had a place to call home.