Turning 30


When I first began studying acting at The Imagined Life studio three years ago, I regretted that I hadn’t found Diana Castle earlier. With her vast wealth of wisdom and uncanny intuition, I could tell she held the keys to the Creative Kingdom I’d been trying to break into for over a decade. Listening to her lectures, I couldn’t help but think of all the time I’d wasted in my early 20s. If only I’d known about her when I moved to LA, if only I’d had that sort of guidance, if only…

The irony is, of course, that I left the studio after two years. Though I never stopped believing in what Diana was teaching, I couldn’t seem to apply it to my own work. Frustrated, lost, angry, I bowed out, deciding I wasn’t really an actor. That I’d been a fraud, that I didn’t have what it takes, that it was too late. Anyway, I was starting to gain some traction with my writing. Maybe that had been the whole raison d’etre I’d been drawn to The Imagined Life, so it could point me True North towards my real calling as a writer.

It made sense to me at the time.

* * * * *

This Sunday I’m turning 30. I’ve been telling myself for months now that I’m not going to make a big deal of it, that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a number – who cares? But over the past week or so I’ve realized that that attitude was cheating me of doing some honest self-reflection. Of taking stock of my life thus far, the ups, the downs, the beautiful, the ugly, the choices I’ve made for better or worse. These things do mean something. These things do matter.

As I began to reflect in my morning pages on how I’d spent my 30 years on this planet, two emotions jumped out at me: shame and fear. Sure, there are things that I am proud of – graduating from UCLA, writing a book, surviving on my own – but a huge part of me felt like I’d wasted more than a decade living mindlessly. I’d been given these incredible gifts, this blessed life, and what had I done? Spent absurd amounts of time obsessing about my appearance, chasing after boys blatantly and foolishly, drinking myself to oblivion on way too many occasions, drifting through my days, never truly smelling any flowers. How had I let this happen?

In August on my flight home from Hungary I sat next to a boy named Anthony. At 12 years old, he spoke more eloquently than most of my peers in their 20s and 30s, and possessed an authenticity and clarity I’d only recently discovered in my own life. My cheeks hurt after two hours of nonstop grinning while conversing with him. But when we parted ways, I felt gripped by an intense desire to protect him. Fear washed over me as I imagined him entering high school and losing all of his vitality and presence and eagerness for learning in the face of popularity and sex and parties. After all, he did resemble Justin Bieber, his looks alone could lead him down that path.

Back in Brooklyn, I realized that fear was a response based entirely on my own experience. Young Amy had been very similar to Young Anthony – reading everything in sight, creating ideas and art projects left and right, absorbing the world like a sponge. I’d tested in the 99th percentile, I’d memorized chapters of books just because I could, I’d instilled excitement in the hearts of teachers and adults. But then the tornado of puberty hit, and my teenage years sucked me into a storm of insecurity, attention-seeking, and desperate need for validation. I’ve been battling to get back to the ground ever since.

At certain times, I’ve succeeded. I’ve found myself in the eye, calm, lucid, able to see my own truth. Like junior year of high school, when I recognized how much my life mirrored Ivan Ilych’s. Or during my many opportunities to travel abroad, when the world expanded so far beyond my own self-absorbed universe I couldn’t not pay attention. Or moments in great films, or great books, or great classes like Diana’s or Teshome Gabriel’s or Paul Von Blum’s, which momentarily quelled the tempest.

But inevitably I’d get sucked back in. I’d glimpse the truth, but it was too much to handle, so I’d run right back to where I felt comfortable. Measuring success by dollar signs, Instagram likes, the power of my lovers, the brand of the champagne. A boozy, self-serving haze, interrupted by a creative manic streak from time to time.

In August, though, things began to shift. Dramatically. After meeting Anthony, I could no longer hide the regrets I held over the choices I’d made in my life. I couldn’t keep running from the truth, ignoring my shame and fear. I had to start caring for myself the way I longed to care for this boy. For months, years even, I’d been desperately wanting to change my life, but it was Anthony who gave me that boost I needed to finally do it.

It started with quitting alcohol and sugar. Since the age of 18, these two substances have ruled so much of my life. Way more than I’ve ever been willing to admit. From counting calories to staring at my stomach in the mirror for hours to sticking fingers down my throat. From throwing back shots of tequila to numb the pain, or make the guy I was with tolerable, or to try and forget the bag of M&Ms I’d eaten. From intense blood sugar spikes and crashes to intolerable hangovers and memory lapses to depression and self-hatred. To outsiders, even my family and closest friends, I’ve always looked functioning, but my interior world tells a different story.

That first week was hell. I could barely get out of bed. My body felt like I was moving through quicksand. You know those dreams where you’re trying to run from a bad guy but the sandman has poured glue between your legs and you can’t even walk? That’s how dependent my body was on sugar. I suffered daily migraines, made all the worse knowing I could cure it with just a bar of chocolate or bowl of pasta.

After the physical struggle subsided, the real challenges set in. I had to learn how to deal with my insecurities and anxieties without reaching towards the cupboard or ordering a glass of wine or four. In confronting these feelings, I was forced to look at other tendencies that had kept me in the storm, especially my dependency on my emotions. One night in particular stands out: I was having a panic attack over an argument I was having with my boyfriend, and I couldn’t get a hold of any of my friends. I called one of them three times and texted her to call me immediately. She responded that her sister was in intensive care. My panic attack instantly stopped. There were more important things in the world than this moment in my relationship.

As I began to equalize after subtracting these toxins from my life, I added in some new habits: meditation, daily affirmations, structure, regular sleep cycles (work permitting). Through the help of the Artist’s Way, I set goals for myself, some large, some small, but all achieved through the same process: one step at a time. For example, French. After years of studying the language of love, I’m still not fluent, but reading Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers half an hour a day has shown me that it’s not impossible. I understand a little more each week. It’s still very much a work in progress, but so am I.

Which leads me back to turning 30. In the same way I wished I’d found Diana when I first moved to LA, I wish I’d found this new, sober, more focused and contemplative lifestyle in my early 20s. Why did it take so long for me to find authenticity and presence and mission? Why did I waste all of that precious time not living every day fully and creatively? For the same reason I dropped out of studio a year ago: I wasn’t ready.

And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Because even though I can sit and lament and feel shame over all of those hours I spent stumbling through nightclubs and sleeping with the wrong guys and shoving brownies guiltily into my mouth, I can also learn from them. I can use those experiences to tell stories and to maybe help a Young Anthony make different choices than mine. And even if Young Anthony does make some unskillful decisions (to borrow the Buddhist choice of words over “bad”), that’s still okay, because it’s his journey, and he’ll learn it at his own pace.

The point is, I’m here now, about to turn 30, and happier and more attentive and more open to the world than I’ve ever been. I’m not perfect, I never will be, I’ll continue to stumble and fall, but I know I’m headed in the right direction, following my True North.

I start class again on November 30th.

(BTW, if you were hoping to buy me a drink for my 30th, here’s an even better option — for the same price as a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, you can pre-order my book on Amazon!  Win win!! ❤ DO IT HERE!!!)


Sick Day


As a child, getting sick was something of a treat. Sure, the actual illness itself was a drag – the stuffy nose, the throat that refused to swallow, the body that’s been hit by a truck and can’t move – but its other implications were decidedly positive. No school! T.V. till my eyes were crossed! Whatever food I felt like eating! Never mind that I loved learning, got bored laying on a couch, and had almost no appetite, there was something exotic in the change of pace, something comforting about my body screaming at me “Stop everything! Do nothing!” I had been given permission to be a lazy blob, and I enjoyed it. Not only that, I never felt so cared for, with people literally at my beck and call like I was a member of the French royal court under Louis Qatorze (thank you, Mom). In a twisted way, I used to sort of look forward to my perennial battle with bacterial invaders.

These days, I like being sick about as much as I like the Koch brothers. Or Michael Bay movies. Or global warming. When I felt the first symptoms of impending doom the other morning – the throat tingle, the spike in blood temperature – I immediately went into D & D mode: Defense & Denial. I consumed buckets of fluids, gargled with warm salt water, drank tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, gagged on Wellness Formula pills (note: buy the capsules, the pills taste like some horrible flavor of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans). Then I went out into the world and continued my daily activities as if nothing was wrong, the subconscious mantra “I am not getting sick” reverberating through my system. If people can heal their spines through the law of attraction, I could certainly overcome a little ol’ rhinopharyngitis.

Wrong. In spite of my best combat efforts, I ended up succumbing to my enemy invaders, rolling over like the Broncos to the 49ers in that 1990 massacre. No amount of Emergen-C and health pep talks could prevent me from waking up at 6:30 this morning and feeling like absolute death. My throat was so inflamed that it had jostled me from a NyQuil induced coma, and as I stumbled in the dark towards my medicine closet, it took everything in me not to fall on my knees and cry “Why?!” heavenwards. I managed to locate some cough drops, poured myself a glass of water, and returned to my bed, which was beginning to look more and more like a coffin, probably thanks to the hallucinatory effects of the OTC meds. I glanced at the clock once more before returning to the uneasy dreams I’d been having, and it’s a testament to my enduring will (and exercise addiction) that the thought actually flashed in my mind that I might still be able to make my Soul Cycle class if I woke up feeling better in two hours.

Of course I woke up feeling worse in three hours and finally had to admit defeat: I was sick. I would not be going to Soul Cycle, I would not be having a lunch meeting, I would not even be leaving my house. I would be stopping everything and doing nothing. I wanted to cry or scream or rip out my engorged throat. Instead, I fell back asleep for another half hour.

When I woke up for the third time, I tried to put a positive spin on my situation. Yes, I was physically impaired for the moment, but no, I wasn’t mentally out of commission. Or at least, not completely. The NyQuil had made me pretty foggy headed, and the pounding in the temples didn’t exactly help, but I still felt together enough to make sense of some New Yorker articles or a few episodes of Downton Abbey. Heck, I might even have the wherewithal to write a blog entry! Just because I was under the weather didn’t mean I had to waste precious moments of my life not cultivating myself in some way, shape, or form. I made a half-caff cappuccino, grabbed a bottle of sparkling water from the fridge, and returned to the coffin, ready to start my sick day.

As I read through A.O. Scott’s NYTimes piece “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” I gradually felt worse and worse. It wasn’t that my cold symptoms were being further exacerbated – they remained at a fairly constant level of pain – no, it was my own sense of self that was slowly disintegrating. Much of what he was saying was familiar, and registered flashbacks to film and cultural studies papers I had written, and yet, somehow it all just seemed slightly out of reach. I read through a few of the comments, trying to collect my own thoughts on the topic and formulate an argument, perhaps one I could write an essay on, but all I could come up with was a sort of amorphous blob of disconnected concepts. Manish-boys – I mean, man-boys, eternal boyhood, Richard Linklater, wait no, more like Peter Pan, oh god, Robin Williams, noooo. Parkinson’s, my grandfather, he was a man, hold on, what was I thinking about?

I tossed my laptop aside, my head aching. Was I really going to have to embrace my childhood attitude towards sickness and resign myself to being useless today? To no school, TV for hours, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s? Yes, I decided, reaching for the remote control, ready to marathon all four Transformers movies. Oh but wait, I grabbed for my computer once again. First I have an idea.

American Girl



The other day while I was stopped at a light in Beverly Hills, a strange thing happened. As I was staring mindlessly across the way at the American Girl store, Tom Petty’s second ever single dedicated to the lonesome chick “raised on promises” came on the radio. While not as tongue-dropping of a coincidence as say, questioning a random girl on a Paris metro at midnight only to find out you went to the same middle school and made out with her brother in eighth grade, the perfect alignment of sight and sound in this particular moment was enough to give me pause. I hummed along, swept away by bittersweet feelings of what it meant – what it means – to be an American Girl.

American Girl the company was born in 1986. I, also an American girl, was born in 1985. As products of the 80s, so close in age, the two of us naturally hit it off like Ghostbusters (nee 1984). I can’t remember now which I fell in love with first, the stories of the four Original Girls or the dolls themselves, but regardless, I was immediately hooked. My single digit self ate up the lives of Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly like Frosted Flakes and Spaghetti O-s, and they easily became my four best time-traveling companions. They were as real to me as Mikie and Miranda and Amanda, my flesh and blood friends, and in some ways had even more to offer, introducing me to the joys of history, reading, and most importantly, imagination.

It’s incredible our capacity for make-believe as children. I remember moments with the girls as if they actually happened. My life on the plantation with Felicity, as Felicity – we were one and the same, she another version of me, centuries before. I didn’t need to understand mirror neurons to experience their transformative power, just jumping into the words of the books and daydreaming of the Old South produced the connection to the world. Kirsten’s pre-Civil War memories became mine, Sam’s Edwardian era New York my playground. I was a sponge dropped into an ocean, absorbing stories as effortlessly as language. It’s one of the things I regret most about growing up: in gaining a more solid sense of self and the material world, I’ve lost a good deal of the porousness of possibility. (Or, in other words, I have to work that much harder to learn French.)

While I loved all of the AGs and their spirited personalities, Molly McIntire was far and away my favorite. Maybe it was because she was the closest generationally to me, or possessed more of the characteristics I would use to describe myself (fanciful, dreamer, chatterbox, feisty), but she captured my heart. She was my first doll, and I cherished her the way only little girls can. Whereas I kept Kirsten- my second and only other doll- in immaculate condition, Molly sported the wears and tears of a child’s adoration. Her once glossy twin braids grew frizzy with continuously evolving hairstyles, and her skin acquired marks and scuffs, badges of Adventures in Playland. Every birthday and Christmas present I shared with her, asking my parents and grandparents only for new doll clothes and accessories. For a time, she was my everything.

Over the years, I spent less and less time with Molly and the girls, gradually shifting my attention to other interests- gymnastics, acting, boys. Like My Little Ponies and Cabbage Patch Kids that came before them, they ended up on shelves and in boxes, unused but not forgotten.* One Christmas season I even got asked to participate in an American Girl fashion show. I was Felicity, in beautiful blue flowing taffeta and red cape flowing, my childhood fantasies realized, if only in exquisite wardrobe. It was the first and last show of my runway career, but it was magical, and the perfect transition into the next incarnation of me, from child to teenager.

Just as I experienced changes in my life- some thrilling, some painful- so too did American Girl evolve. A fifth girl, the African American Addy, had joined the ranks of the AGs in 1993, during the peak of my interest in the dolls. As with the other four, I fell in love with her immediately. But over the next couple of years, as the company expanded into an empire, I gradually drifted away. More and more girls were added, and while positive in its diverse conception of what it means to be American, this somehow gave my adolescent self the feeling of over saturation and commercialism. The opening of stores with multiple levels and expensive tea times, the ability to design a doll in your own likeness- I rejected these changes, seeing them as a commodification of a brand, a cheapening of my five historical friends. In retrospect, this progression was only natural, and more reflective of my own expanding and contracting perceptions of the world than of the corruption of American Girl. Companies thrive on continuously turning out new products. In our fast-paced, technologically advanced culture, novelty sells. And anyway, who was I to judge as I fully embraced Abercrombie and MTV and Boy Bands. Things change. People change. American girls change. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

The light finally turned green and I continued on my way to my Soul Cycle class. I wondered where my dolls were now. I knew my mother had saved them, but I had no idea of their precise location. In my heart. I smiled at my sentimentality. In actuality, Molly and Kirsten were probably in my grandmother’s storage unit, waiting for their opportunity to befriend another American girl. My future American girl. The thought of one day sharing my childhood passion with a daughter of my own made my heart flutter and imagination take off. I knew I would never pass an American Girl store in the same way again.


*Perhaps this is one of the reasons I still cry like a baby watching Jessie’s song “When She Loved Me” in Toy Story 2. Or maybe it’s just because I’m super emotional. Probably the latter.