Sunday, September 18, 2011

If you laugh when you drop it...

My friend Rif has this phrase I really like: "If you laugh when you drop it, you can rock it in the process." I've used it twice in the past two days. I quoted it in an interview for my roommate's upcoming webisode. And tonight, it came up again.

I'm going to take a moment to talk about said webisode. My amazing roommate, Larry Leong, is a martial artist/stuntman/general workout maniac. He is currently creating a show called "Move Damn You!"-- a motivational web series that is by, for, and about people who love to move. (And even if you don't like to move, you probably will by the end of each episode.) It's been very exciting watching Larry dream the whole thing up and put it into action. Seeing him take all of the things he believes in so strongly, apply them creatively, and share them with the world with his own personal pizazz has shown me a whole new side of him. Not that I didn't know this side of him existed. It's the same Larry I see every day at the breakfast table, but he is really coming into his element. I am infinitely glad that through this webisode more people will get to witness and be inspired by his quirky sense of humor, his passion for working out, and his beautiful heart which is almost as big as his biceps. Also, there will be hot, shirtless guys doing ab exercises and flips, but I digress...

Being his roommate, as well as a mover, I get to be a part of the show. I have my own segment where I do interviews and rants, as well as perform movement in the background of Larry's rants. Yesterday, I filmed my very first rant. It was a really interesting experience for me because it brought me out of my comfort zone and made me (glaringly) aware of my own hangups and habits. Despite getting along famously as roommates and friends, Larry and I have extremely different ways of working -- at least in terms of this webisode. I am a perfectionist and I tend to do things over and over again, even if I probably got it close if not exactly right on the very first try (though you could never get me to admit that I got it right on the first try, being as I'm a perfectionist). From the get-go, Larry told me that for the most part, he wanted to do all of his stuff in one take. I was open to the idea. In theory.

I planned my rant, wrote it, rehearsed it, and spun for a while to get in my "happy space". In other words, I did everything I could to get it perfect the first take. But for me, it always takes a few tries. Even if I am technically on the mark, I need a little time to get the jitters out and settle into myself. The first take was pretty good, in that I got through the whole thing and didn't massively mess up, but I felt I could do it better. A lot better. Watching the playback, I looked ungrounded; over-animated; "excessively actory" as Larry put it. I knew I only had a limited amount of time to do it again, since Larry was doing some crazy gymnastics that took a lot of physical exertion. Everytime I tried, I kept screwing up. And by the time I felt I was getting close, he could no longer keep up the moves. We turn the off camera, and he gave me the spiel about not thinking too much; not feeling like I had to "be perfect"; just hammering it out and being cool with whatever comes. The whole idea completely freaked me out. I'd love to be able to do it, but how could I, especially on camera, immortalized forever for the whole world to see???

Today, we shot several of his rants. This shoot mostly involved spinning poi in the background while Larry did his thing. Spinning was a lot less nerve-racking for me -- not only because I was no longer the main event, but also because flow arts lend themselves to a more fluid, laid back frame of mind. The first three rants were accompanied by me spinning my glow poi, which is what we had agreed on. But doing more than three seemed redundant. I thought I could spin my water balloon poi with more, but no matter how much fill light we added, they just didn't pop on camera (no pun intended) so we nixed that idea. I said, "I could break out my juggling clubs," which Larry took a liking to.

Something you should know about me: I do NOT claim to be a juggler. I know how to juggle, but it is by no means my specialty. I juggle adequately. I know couple of tricks, but nothing too fancy. And of course, being a perfectionist, I generally err on the side of "If you think you might not got it, don't flaunt it." This is something I'm working through because I know first-hand that once you take ownership of what you have, what you have -- however small it was to begin with -- grows and strengthens and causes you to do the same. So I said "What the freaking hey?" And out came the clubs.

Despite Larry choosing the shortest rant for the club sequence, club-juggling minutes are sort of like dog years. One minute of catching clubs is equivalent to at least seven minutes of pretty much anything else. He told me from the get go that it was okay if I couldn't juggle them the whole way through; to consider this more of a "Karuna practicing in her living room" than a performance. Here was the moment when I got to put Rif's words of wisdom to the test. I dropped them pretty quickly the first time around, simultaneously stopping the roll. We tried it a couple of more times with more or less the same result. (If and when Larry does a blooper reel, there is some decently hilarious footage of me stopping and starting, stopping and starting, doing my crazy breathing/juggling/Chi-channeling techniques, then stopping and starting again.) And then I said to myself, "Do I really want this to go on all night?" My roommate would be pissed off at me, I'd be pissed off at myself, and most importantly I would not be my word. If you laugh when you drop it, you can rock it in the process. I had said these very words in answer to Larry's question, "What's the best advice anyone's ever given you (when it comes to to physical activity)?"

Club-juggling Roommate Rant Take 3. I threw my first club in the air. The sound of me catching it was Larry's cue to begin. Larry started on his monologue. I continued to juggle. I kept them in the air for a decent amount of time. Inevitably I dropped them, but I picked them back up and started juggling again. The timing of where I stopped and restarted actually synced up nicely with Larry's lines. I juggled for a little longer before dropping them again. As I recall, the second time it happened I actually let them drop rather than scrambling to catch them when they were too far out of my reach. I started to juggle one-- throwing it casually in my hand, tossing it under my leg, and spinning it around in my fingers before adding the other two back in. At the end of his rant, I deliberately let go of one of the clubs, then did some kind of improvised flourish with one club in each hand. I did it! I got through the take. And not because I did it pitch perfect, but because I messed up; I rolled with it; I rocked it.

I find this ending to the story far more rewarding than if I had gotten it spot on. Being perfect is tiring! It's also "easy" in the sense that it's a quick and comfortable default mode because you are giving the world what you think it wants to see. Being able to drop the ball -- literally or figuratively -- in front of everyone can be scary and sometimes painful, but ultimately it's a lot less effort. You don't have to hit pause-rewind-erase-rerecord. You can keep the tape rolling and just be you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freedom on the Fourth

I ended my Fourth of July with a few distant bangs perched atop this tree. I NEVER climb trees. Okay, let me rephrase that. I can’t remember the last time I climbed a tree. Here’s the story of how I got there.

It was a pretty crazy marvelous day filled with outside adventures and inner journeys. I woke up at 6 AM to watch my friend Brian run a 10K race out in San Ramon. The early wake-up was a bit painful, but the picturesque drive over; the lively festivities; the poi spinning on the grassy knoll; and ESPECIALLY watching Brian win the race made it all worthwhile. After catching a snooze at home and preparing exactly 39 mushrooms – marinated in garlic, olive oil, and herbs, then roasted, stuffed with cheesy quinoa, and garnished with green olives (they turned out delicious!) – I headed over to the annual Fourth of July party held at a family friend’s lovely North Berkeley abode. My brother calls this the “rich old people’s party”, which is pretty much accurate. Not that there aren’t meaty things on the grill or young people in the mix, but it definitely has an adult vibe. The scenery is gorgeous, the conversations are sober and mature, and the food is certainly more sophisticated than the stuff you’d find at your average Fourth of July barbecue.

Aside from the good food and pleasant atmosphere, I honestly wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy being there, since most of my life and friends are down in LA. Toward the end of the party, I actually ended up having some amazing interactions, including with an old Buddhist teacher of mine – James Baraz—who had led a meditation group I was in when I was 15. That whole conversation is an entry in itself. For now, I’ll just say he imparted some wisdom that shed a whole new light on the way I see myself and aspire to live my life.

That said, I returned from the party at 8 PM in a rather contemplative mood. I didn’t want to stay home all evening, since contemplation can easily turn into workaholism in my world and it was, after all, the Fourth of July. At the same time, I didn’t exactly feel like braving the masses to watch the fireworks. This was a point of inner conflict. I love the ritual of fireworks. I love the spectacle of fireworks. And unless I’m invited to some kick ass party by a friend I really like, I always watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. Up close. In the thick of it. Where you can see every sparkle and hear every bang. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around everyday so when it does, I like to seize it. But lately, I’ve been feeling a little more mellow; more introspective; less gung ho about doing all the things that I usually want to do because I can’t get past the idea of wanting to do them.

Ideas are really strong creatures. Really strong. When they’re not yours, they seem rather silly. Think about it. Whenever you hear someone say, “I really like the IDEA of doing this thing, being with this person, etc.,” you think to yourself, “That person probably (by which I mean definitely) needs to ditch that idea.” But when it’s your idea, the feeling is totally different. It grabs you; it possesses you; it puts a filter on the lens through which you see everything. That’s how I feel about fireworks.

At the same time, I have been working on restructuring my thought patterns and routines. I’d also just been imparted some words of wisdom, which included listening to the voice inside myself that knows what I really need. So I said to myself, “Let’s try a little experiment. Let’s NOT do what we do every year come hell or high water, even if it may be super scary to break our routine. The Fourth of July will come again next year and the year after that and the year after that, and we can always do the usual thing next time around.” So I ditched Plan A for Plan Be Spontaneous and headed up into the Berkeley hills to watch the sparks fly from above. I had this idea that I would go to the Lawrence Hall of Science – this kids Museum that has a breathtaking view of pretty much the entire bay. It was the perfect spot in my mind, since it had not only the view of all the fireworks in the Bay Area, but also a decent amount of parking. On top of that, I liked the symbolism of viewing the spectacle from a higher, wider-angle perspective. Direct parallel to the way I was viewing my life. In short, my plan was perfect.

I took Dwight Way from my house up the hill, passing the race track that is a popular lookout point, thinking to myself, “Those people are all scrambling for parking, but I’m going to outsmart them all!” Around Prospect, past the Cal football stadium, ready to make the turn onto the road that would lead me to Lawrence, only to find cones and officers blocking the way. Plan Be Spontaneous: FAIL!!! On to Plan See What Happens Next.

This is where I start to freak out. It’s 9:30 and the fireworks are about to begin, if they haven’t started already. I'm too far to go down to the Marina, which I didn't want to do in the first place. I can't think of anywhere else that isn't going to be jam packed. And wherever I can go, provided I can think of a place in my frazzled state, I'll be lucky to find parking before the show is completely over. Fuck! I should've gone to San Francisco or the Marina and done what I always like to do because now I'm just driving around, missing out on all the fun like the biggest idiot loser I am.

Curtain down on the inner monologue. Long story short, I remembered a park not too far from where I was that had a good view of the bay and was probably not quite as overpopulated as the rest of the lookout points. I was lucky enough to find a parking place nearby and raced out to the park. But it being dark and my memory fuzzy, I'd forgotten that the park was perched on a hill. I passed the park and walked down another hill where a small group of spectators were watching. After a few minutes of partial pyrotechnics obscured by a large tree, I decided to leave. I followed the path up to the park I originally remembered, which has a gazebo that is perfect for viewing. Unfortunately, there were so many people gathered in said gazebo, I couldn't make out almost anything. There were, however, a couple of people perched on the roof. If only I could get up to that roof...

I asked a couple of people how to get on the roof, and they told me you do it by "climbing that tree"; the tree you see at the top of this entry. Despite the fact that I was wearing tractionless boots and hadn't climbed a tree for as long as I could remember, I made my way up before I could give it a second thought. Using my glow poi as a guide, my hands and feet found the proper places to take me to the top (at least enough of the top that I could get a piece of the action). I lingered at my perch for a few moments, reveling in the joy of finally getting to see the dazzling fireworks I'd been hoping to see. I tried finding the footholds that would take me to the rooftop where I could join the elite few with the clearest view, but it was dark, the branches seemed too small, and I didn't have too much faith in my intermediate tree-climbing skills. I've always been one to aim higher than the rest; to reach for the thing that is probably beyond my reach. But I also realize that there's something to be said for doing the careful thing, especially in situations of potential physical danger. (I was particularly wary of this, having known someone my age who recently died after falling from a great height.) So tonight, I said, "I'm happy exactly where I am." True, my view was blocked by a bundle of leaves here and a bundle of leaves there, but the obstructions were minor and they were all on my terms. And I had this cozy, special little solitary nook of my own discovering and my choosing. This is how I want to carve my career. This is how I want to live my life. This is how I want to end my Fourth of July.

After the show was over and I climbed back down the tree – which, before my muscle memory dug out the gymnastics techniques from my youth, resembled the kind of petrified, screeching cat fire fighters groan to fetch – I watched all the little side shows go off on various rooftops around the city. In my life, I'm finding that as dazzling and appealing as the main event might be, it's really all about the small, unexpected, forbidden moments along the way. Don't get me wrong; I'll be thrilled to walk the red carpet at the Oscars. But I treasure the crazy adventures in between -- watching Juliet Landau embody Blanche DuBois at a small theater off Santa Monica Blvd.; hearing my friend Taliesin Jaffee channel Tom Waits/the Cookie Monster in an epic karaoke version of "Roxanne"; making discovery after discovery in a simple Meisner repeat. Speaking of which, my acting teacher James Eckhouse pushes us to make the kind of art where “you don’t know what the fuck is going to happen next”. And being as how art imitates life, I know I have to live the way I want to create. The principle is profound, but here’s the challenge. In order to make those crazy discoveries, in order to get to something entirely unexpected, you have to go through the fear and the floundering; the stalling; the freaking; the teetering moment when you completely let go of the plan. Living in that space is the scary, but it can take you to some pretty trippy places. I never imagined I’d spend the last Fourth of July of my 20s in a tree, but there I was. And somehow, it was exactly where I needed to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's not a MONSTER, it's a MOMENT!

My friend the irReverend Alex Polinsky, said this to me once. I think of these words especially in the context of shame. I hate shame. I am ashamed of shame. I just want it to go away and be replaced by happy things; fuzzy things; deep things; sexy things; anything other than IT!!! But here's the flipside of shame. Shame is like oobleck. It's just another substance to stick your hands in and explore. And if the idea of how gross it might be or how horrible it might feel inside your fingernails doesn't send you twitching and squirming and running the other way, you might actually learn from it; shape it; own it; have FUN with it!

This is what I tell myself at the Westwood Coffee Bean were I'm winding down from this whole crazy experience that has left me reeling from wonder, excitement, and -- yes -- a good sprinkling of shame. My past self, not an hour before, is standing outside the Geffen Playhouse shivering 30% from the cold and 390% from the feeling that I have just done something terribly, horribly, unforgivably wrong. You see, my acting teacher James Eckhouse plays one of the characters in their current show, The Escort. Because I wanted to see him perform and because Geffen tickets are not cheap, I have arranged to volunteer as an usher, meaning I get to see the show for free. It's a lovely evening. Easy job, great show, many cool conversations with random theatergoers who happen to be sitting in the section where I am ticket taking. In the natural course of things, I hand a few of them my Buffy flyers. Not all of them, mind you; only about the four or five with whom I am actually carrying on a meaningful conversation. The show ends. I'm on that just-saw-good-theater high, compounded with the meeting-cool-people high, compounded with the about-to-congratulate-actors-I-know high when the Geffen concierge taps me on the shoulder.

"We saw you blatantly pushing your product, and that's not allowed when you're working for us, representing our theater." My face goes white. Breathing gets shallow. Heart stops. Blood drains. "I am so sorry. I had absolutely no idea. It was never my intention --" This is the beginning of me rattling off every possible version of apology, subordinance, and outright begging for mercy I can possibly think of. It's all I know how to do in the moment. And just as sure as I feel obligated to ooze apologies out of every pore, he is obligated to ask me to leave the theater. Literally step out of the building. Wow. I REALLY fucked it up this time. Unknowingly, of course, which in a way makes it worse. Stupid me for doing the thing, and even STUPIDER me for not knowing that this type of behavior is so totally against the rules that it wouldn't even occur to the Geffen staff to mention it as a no-no. I want to crawl in a hole and die. Or escape into an ice cream sundae. Or at least get the hell out of the vicinity of this godforsaken theater. And I would gladly do the last one, were it not for the fact that there are two people in the show with whom I need to connect.

So I'm waiting outside the theater. Waiting and waiting and stewing in my shame. It's a while before anyone I know walks out the door. I'm beginning to think I should just go home, but somehow I've resolved to accomplish my mission to say hello to the one person who's expecting me and the one person who isn't. Finally, I am greeted by James, who gives me a warm hug and a few kind words. On his way out, I ask him if Gabe, one of the other actors, is coming out. "Yeah," he says, "he's right behind me. You should go in and say hi." I tell him that, due to my earlier faux pas, I'm not allowed back in the theater so I have to wait outside. Dirty, muddy, ickalicious shame. I may have it stuck between my fingernails until the end of eternity. This crap is VICIOUS!

James leaves, and I stick it out for Gabe, from whom I am not expecting quite as warm a welcome. You know how there are people who don't know you as well as you know them? For me, Gabe Sunday is one of those people. We were both counselors at Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp founded by the famous beatnik-activist-Ben & Jerry's-ice-cream-flavor Wavy Gravy. And although we shared two or three summers of living in a circle of tepees, eating in a close-quartered outdoor dining area, and cavorting/ performing on a small black stage decorated by a giant rainbow, I wouldn't be surprised if he had no recollection of who I was. Gabe has always been-- in my mind-- an ingenious, wacky, larger-than-life character. I, on the other hand, was (and feel like I still am) barely coming out of my shell. He is mentioned pretty frequently in the camp newsletter in the context of Disney movies he appears in, the documentary film he has made, and his self-written/co-produced/edited/starring feature film My Suicide winning 20 gazillion awards at every prestigious film festival imaginable. All of these accomplishments, of course, I find pretty amazing and exciting. At the same time, the fact that someone several years younger than myself can have so many bells and whistles, milestones, and IMDB credits is just a wee bit daunting. And after seeing his performance tonight, I realize in a visceral way they are all well-deserved.

In the play, Gabe plays two characters -- a 13-year-old boy and a 21-year-old male escort. They are pretty much polar opposites, and he fills each role to the brim with distinct vocal inflections, quirky physicality, and behavior that is spontaneous-feeling while at the same time completely specific to that particular character. By the end of the performance -- heck, from the moment he steps on stage -- I am thoroughly impressed, and I have to tell him so even if it means standing in the cold and bearing the shame of being passed by the very people who just booted me out of their esteemed theater venue; all in exchange for a possible "do I know you from somewhere?" look and off we go.

It isn't much longer until Gabe emerges. As expected, I do get the "do I know you from somewhere?" look, but after a quick reintroduction, the moments that unfold go completely beyond any expectation. We start chatting about camp; acting; filmmaking. He graciously offers to walk me to my car, which is a bit of a hike made even more scenic by the fact that I've forgotten exactly which street I parked on. During the course of our journey, we talk about practically everything under the sun. (Actually, it was probably just acting, filmmaking, and camp-- and, of course, Flow Temple -- which is everything under the sun that matters to me.) As we walk down the side street in Westwood, I feel all these disparate elements of my world collide: being a kid in Berkeley, being a camper and counselor in Mendocino, being a struggling artist in Los Angeles, and the memories and feelings all of those things entail. When we get to my car, I pop the trunk to stash my purse, and what is at the top of my messy heap of belongings but my juggling clubs, fire poi, and contact ball (a contact ball coincidentally given to me at Camp Winnarainbow by another counselor named Gabe)?! I couldn't have DREAMED this synchronicity; let alone planned it.

It is now almost 2 in the morning as I sit in my apartment, writing these thoughts down fiendishly before I forget. I'd like to say that my awesome conversation with Gabe, or the post-Gabe Coffee Bean stop where the barrista gave me a free cup of tea, or even these semi-eloquent blog thoughts are what's left at the end of the day. They are, after all, more positive,more life-affirming, and ultimately more pleasant to deal with. But the truth of the matter is, the shame remains. I revisited it as I wrote about the guy at the Geffen, and I'll probably revisit it again and again. There are multitudes of demons that take millions of forms and will latch onto any tiny incidence that might fuel their fire. And my immediate instinct is to splatter them far and wide, using the universe as my confession booth, or shove them under the closet door never to be seen again. It's the most difficult thing in the world to stare at the demons and sit with them -- calmly, openly, ready to listen to what they have to say. And yes, part of the impetus for this blog may have been to satisfy my urge to be overcompensatorily contrite. At the same time, placing the thing you fear most in front of you, feeling it under your fingernails, and squirming with it for a while is a really useful task. And for me, putting it in a piece of writing I share with the world is a major step in rewriting my own history.

Whew!!! That was hard. WAY more challenging than the entry I thought I was going to write on the same subject, except instead of me getting kicked out of a theater in Westwood it was my Pakistani rockstar friend with Mick Jagger in the red light district of Lahore. I needed to get through my own sludge tonight. But I promise you, that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something."

I saw this quote painted on a wall at the school where I was substitute teaching this morning. Don't you love it when random phrases completely synchronize with something you are so strongly thinking about and feeling?

This morning I was scheduled for a half day of substitute teaching art at a middle school downtown. As usual, the alarm went off at 5:30 AM and I made the commute down the 101. It was actually an extremely pretty drive. The sun rose as I passed through the neon lights of Universal Studios, the still-lit skyscrapers of downtown Hollywood, the everyday folk bustling about the Koreatown coffee shops, and into the heart of downtown LA. After arriving at the school, I checked in at the office, was led to the classroom where I would be teaching, and waited for the homeroom teacher to take roll. In a matter of minutes, for better or worse, the class would be mine. But something was a little off...

The office lady who had led me to the classroom mysteriously couldn't find lesson plans. This worried me a little, since, by the nature of substitute teaching, there is always some degree of lack of control. After all, you don't know the kids and they don't trust you, and even if the lesson plan is crystal clear, you receive it 10 minutes before gametime at most. The last time I came into this school to sub, the kids definitely gave me a run for my money. Today was only a four-hour day, but anything could happen during those four hours. A minute before class, said office lady returned to tell me of another twist in the plot -- the art teacher was actually there! Guess I wouldn't be subbing art after all. (Apparently they had mixed up the months and she was supposed to be gone in April, not March.) So they sent me over to the special ed class. Big unknown, but sometimes the prizes from the grab bag are the best...

It actually ended up being an amazingly wonderful workday. There were two teachers in the special ed room and only three students in the class at most at any one time, all of whom were either working on their own or closely with the teachers. "If there's anything you need from me, let me know," I said. They told me they could use some help rearranging the laptops, which needed to be charged inside a drawer. "INSIDE the drawer???" I wanted to make absolute sure I had heard correctly. Indeed, there were three surge protectors in the drawer, one of which had been plugged into an outlet in the wall. The second surge protector was plugged into the first, and the third was plugged into the second. After making sure I wasn't going to blow a fuse (we were never actually sure; they just shrugged and I guessed), I started on the job.

"This would drive us crazy," they told me. I wasn't surprised, given their stories of some of the things they had to deal with on a day-to-day basis. For me, the job was fun; a good challenge; I'd go so far as to say exhilarating. You see, I am rather OCD when it comes to spatial relations. Anybody who knows me well will know that I especially have a thing with containers. Whenever I pack food into the fridge, I have to find the exact right container in ratio to the amount of leftovers. It really bugs me when there is a small amount of food put into a large container for multiple reasons. First, it wastes valuable fridge space. Second, more surface area of the food is exposed, which keeps it from staying fresh. Third, it just looks and feels icky. Conversely, when food is packed into smaller containers and perfectly topped off, I get a bit of a thrill. And I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I eyeball some food in a pot or a wok and find the absolute perfect-sized container for it. My mother is especially skeptical of this. She says, "You'll NEVER be able to pack that amount of food into that size container." I say, "Just you wait and see!" And 9 times out of 10, I win.

So there I was with a stack of laptops, a pile of tangled chargers, and three surge protectors awkwardly arranged in a drawer. I put my spatial relations OCD to work. First, I untangled any chargers that were already plugged into the surge protectors. Must start with a clean slate. Then, I stacked a few laptops-- just a few -- some with the AC adapter outlets pointing one way, some pointing the opposite ways. I plugged the chargers in on both sides, then wound and Velcro-sealed the extra cord wherever I could find a bit of empty space. I wasn't completely sure if it would work, but I had a good feeling about my MO.

By the end, there was indeed enough space. The operation was a success! They looked at me and said, "We are so grateful you did this." I grinned big.

It was a really good moment for me. A breakthrough moment, in fact. When I'm doing my own work, I drive myself stark raving mad over my various daily activities. My brain is a tangle of wires, my to-do list feels like a stack of dead laptops, and somehow I have to unwind all of these knots and bring these tasks to life. And in the process of attempting to make the connections, I feel completely powerless. But that's not the only problem. On top of everything else, I criticize myself for being so OCD -- micromanaging every detail in order to make it all fit. I think of it as a bad thing because sometimes it drives me up the wall. I want to be "laid back"; "free"; to not give everything so much analytical thought. Furthermore, I worry like crazy that all of this self-labeled OCD is going to carry over into my interactions with other people and that they will end up feeling like food that I'm trying to stuff in a particular sized container. And maybe they wanted to be stuffed into a yogurt container instead of a half-pint plastic one because they want more breathing room, even if I want them to fit perfectly. Or maybe they're environmentalists who prefer glass. Or maybe they don't want to be stuffed in a container at all. And if that's the case, oh no! Better not let anyone know how crazy I really am...

These are the kinds of weird thought loops I get myself into when I'm working on my own. But once I took myself into a different environment, I realized that I could reframe my so-called neuroses as strengths. Furthermore, I could use these strengths to help others. Being a wildly ambitious person, I always try to "do everything", and in the process get so caught up in my hefty task lists and my unhealthy thought patterns that I end up feeling frustrated and confused at the end of the day, even (or perhaps especially) if I get it all done.

Not to say that I need to "stop doing" everything I normally do, especially the spatial stuff. (The picture you see up top is my newly acquired jewelry holder, on which I just rearranged my earrings this afternoon.) Ultimately, is a helpful thing-- for others, as well as myself. Sometimes, it just takes a couple of kind people, a random mural quote, and a drawer full of dead laptops to be able to see it that way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hotness with a Side of Empty Space, Sprinkled with Burning Dan

I have a thing for hotness. Literally. As I write this, I'm sitting with a cup of boiling hot tea next to my space heater, which is on full blast, despite it being a pleasantly warm day. When it comes to food, beverages, and the temperature of my surrounding space, I am like a moth to the flame. When I ordered tea at a café, I will be very upset if it isn't served scalding. And we're not just talking lukewarm. It may be the perfect temperature for drinking, but I have to have it so hot that the first sip would burn my tongue. (When I kindly I the counter worker to heat it up more, I quickly follow the request with "I promise I won't sue you!") I remember being at a sci-fi Friday where Jonathan was making grilled cheese sandwiches. Burning Dan was there (it was the only time I've ever seen him at a sci-fi Friday) and he had made this totally crazy grilled cheese sandwich with macaroni and cheese inside. Or maybe Thom Thumb was the one who actually made it (must give credit where credit is due). Apparently it was awesome enough for me to photograph so here it is, pictured at the top of this blog. In any case, I remember us all admiring the sandwich and Dan's saying, "We can't eat it yet. It's too hot." I thought to myself, "Is there really such a thing?"

My thing for hotness is INVERSELY proportionate to my feelings about empty space. It's not that I don't like it. In fact, when I actually allow myself to have it, it's the best thing in the world. But those times feel few and far between, at least compared to how often I cram as much as possible into the smallest window of time and space. Anybody who knows me will know that I am both an over achiever and a bit of a slob. I try to clean, I really do, but I have so many things going on all at once that the messes get made faster than they get straightened. The inside of my head, too, feels like a massive clutter. I have about a million creative projects going all at once, not to mention the whole Hollywood hustle on top of the search for actual paying work. And if that weren't enough, I've got this whole vision board thing, which feels kind of like my curse and my masterpiece all at the same time. It keeps getting things added on, and it is perpetually in a state of "almost complete". I have so many amazing things on there, as I have amazing things in my life, but I keep frantically putting more on, trying to fill the empty places with awesomeness to match the rest of the board. But now it is full. Very full. Not too full, but getting there. The empty space looks asymmetrical, out of place, but I know if I tried to fill it, it would just feel cluttered. Exactly like the rest of my room, exactly like my head in its less fine moments. So for now, I leave it be.

On the same token, I know that Dan had a thing for empty space. We never actually talked about it, but it was a tidbit I gleaned from the galaxy. Let me explain.

At the end of Flow Temple Parties, he would lead us in a "galaxy swirl", where we all gather in a tight circle with our bodies facing the same direction and one arm in the middle. It's sort of like a "Go Team" formation, except that we are pointed to one side instead of the center and palms are perpendicular to the ground, rather than facing downward. It would be easy to squish our fingers tight against each other, since we all love each other and touching is fun. But Dan would say, "Leave a circle inside for the energy." I really like that idea. Truthfully, it it's a bit more challenging, but it makes everyone aware of the surrounding space, which increases our mindfulness. Also, it leaves room for the spirits to plop some surprise down the middle, maybe even sneak in themselves. (Now, when we do our galaxy swirls without Dan's physical self, he probably takes the liberty of wriggling his way into that very space.)

That said, I am making a sincere effort to leave some space in my life "for the energy." The empty spot toward the bottom left side of my vision board -- it's gonna stay empty. Maybe it will stay empty forever, or maybe something will show up and say to me, "Put ME there -- I'm juuuuust right!" As for the space heater, I've turned it off. And the tea, which is three quarters consumed, is now lukewarm. Not to say that I don't mind a good dose of hotness, but sometimes it's good to let things cool.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ease off the Manifest!!!

This is one of the images that will be featured on my 2011 vision board. Lately, it's been more Carpe and less Awesome, but I'm changing that as we speak...

I haven't blogged in forever. I have a huge backlog of ideas, but none have felt inspired. Several Buffy songs are in the works; none of them complete. I have been working like a dog on remodeling my room. Some of it is cleaner and nicer; the rest messier than before. I have poured hours, dollars, and endless energy into my vision board, which is just now starting to look beautiful, but the intent with which I've pushed to get it done feels like it defeats the whole purpose of the thing. I'm out of money and need to look for a job, but I need to take care of the mess in my room before I can feel ready to crack open that can of worms. When my friend Jonathan asked me on New Year's Eve what knowledge or intentions I wanted to take into the new year, I honestly didn't know. And I still don't. I've come up with a lot of fables/phrases/lessons learned, but none of them really feel right. Everything feels disconnected. Sure, I've had wonderful moments of revelation, relaxation, and connection with friends, but I spend most hours of the day myopic, bleary-eyed, and tunnel-visioned all at the same time. Like the song says, something's gotta give.

Obviously, I don't feel this way right now. I wouldn't be blogging if I did. So what changed? For one thing, a lot of the projects I've been slaving away at are finally coming together. My new Buffy flyer, complete with swank logo, is almost finished. The last of my vision board photos -- including several spectacular ones by Carl Mahoney -- are ready to print. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, a vision board is a giant poster-like thing with pictures, quotes, and phrases that inspire you, along with images of you next to the people you want to work with. The idea is that if you imagine it, build it, and see it every day, it will come true. And it does.) Last night, after hours of fiddling around on Photoshop, I successfully crafted my own Hollywood star. And just before hitting the sack, I felt compelled to sit at my keyboard and chip away at the Anya song.

So yes, I accomplished a lot and that felt good. But I've been accomplishing stuff all along. We accomplish metric boatloads of stuff on a small-to-grand scale every day, and sometimes even the biggest stuff doesn't gratify us upon completion. Furthermore, the more contingent our happiness is on causes and conditions, the crappier we will feel on the whole, even if those causes and conditions are met. The accomplishment-high hit me at the end of the day and was the symptom, not the cause. Here's the story behind the REAL feel-good moment.

I was having a session with my amazing therapist, who I hadn't seen in a while and who always helps me make sense of things that seem like a jumble on my own. Usually, it's all figurative. This time, it was literal too. I described how I was feeling overwhelmed by everything I was trying to do; how it felt like a bunch of voices were screaming all at once and I couldn't keep my head on straight with all the noise, much less hear what any of them were trying to say. She handed me a pile of rocks and shells and said, "Let's do an exercise." We sat on the floor like little kids. "Pretend these rocks and shells are your obligations. Now, they're all in a huge clump. You need to figure out which one to choose first. Right?" I nodded. "So how do you do it?"

My hands instantly spread them out. My brain caught up a few seconds later. "Oh!" I exclaimed. It all made sense! Spread them out. Spread them out spread them out spread them out. These creatures I had created that felt like they were encroaching on me -- all they needed was room to breathe. (I guess you could say the same for me.)

So I took a little trip down to Hollywood. Window shopped. Randomly ran into my friend Adam Bronstein. Photographed some of the stars to collage into my own (in case you are curious, the little "camera" icon is Fred Astaire's). Drove back up to my neighborhood. Took a swim. Ate some food. Got back to work. And by the end of the day, I felt back on track.

So now I feel a little more ready to face the world, but I also know that I need to give it a rest, especially with the manifesting. Now that I've practiced my donuts, it's time to let the engine cool. Speaking of which, it's a beautiful day and I'm going to go out and enjoy it for a bit. Carpe carpe carpe. AWESOME!!!