I don’t know about you but my 2016 started on a high.
I was literally skipping down the street on New Years Day, grinning like an idiot. I was still riding my post-retirement high and was living the dream, going up to NYC for acting classes and networking events for screen writers.
I had nothing but high hopes. I was feeling extra inspired and excited. I made a short list of goals and intentions for the year. At the top of that list was to dance everyday for the first 100 days of the year.
Things we’re looking good.
I had my very first audition. It was for a small, independent film shooting in Philly. And call it beginners luck, but I got the part. It was for a sarcastic, tough talking private eye (I know, a real stretch). Then I signed up with Central Casting and was cast in an episode of the Blacklist as fancy party guest. I was on a roll.
For a hot minute, at least.
But then the dancing came to an abrupt and unceremonious end. I was playing around in the empty yoga studio one morning before class. I was dancing around, practicing turns and jumps like I was the second coming of Misty Copeland.
Only, I’m not Misty Copeland. I’m me. And I’m clumsy. So I managed to stub the shit out of my toe while landing a jump.
Despite the mangled middle toe, I powered through the class (because I have something to prove, apparently). I proceeded to reward myself with the gift of laziness. I stopped dancing and practicing yoga so that my toe could heal. I stopped meditating as well. Not that you need can’t meditate on a broken toe. But if you’re going to be lazy, why not go all in?
Eventually, my acting class came to its end. On the last day of class, I performed the hell out of my assigned scene. After class, I proceeded to walk down the street to Penn Station, where I got on a train up to Rochester for my grandma’s funeral. Because that happened.
I’ll tell you what: I used to judge people who carried a flask. I get it now. Because there’s nothing like a family gathering to make a girl wish she had a bottle of whiskey in her purse.
It was around this time that I started eating my body weight in donuts and candy. In the words of George Michael Bluthe, “It’s the form my grief has taken.” I joked that it was in honor of Muffy, a woman who would drive to the gas station in her nightgown to get a Snickers bar before bed.
As summer approached, the money I’d set aside for such fun yet frivolous things like acting classes and weekly trips to NYC was drying up. Here’s something no one tells you: chasing your dreams can get expensive. Things like taking acting classes in NYC would have to take a backseat to actually making some money.
So for the first time since my retirement from Corporate America, I was going to have to get a job.
I had the bright idea of going back to nannying and high-end hostessing at an expensive steakhouse. My thinking was that it would be a combination flexible enough to accommodate my trips back and forth to New York City. But as per usual, I didn’t really think it through. Because even when I had the time to go up to New York, I didn’t have the money to pay for anymore classes.
I decided inlue of actual acting classes, I’d just binge watch shows and movies with great acting. So that meant I obsessively watched The Walking Dead (I LOVE THAT SHOW SO MUCH) and all things Claire Danes. Say what you will about her as a person, as an actress? She kills it. Every time. My So-Called Life, Homeland, Temple Grand. Amazing. I studied her and her performances, trying to figure out how she does it.
Claire Danes was one of the few people I saw on a regular basis. I was working six days a week and making just enough money to keep the lights on. I didn’t see a whole lot of my friends. I definitely didn’t make it to the beach or camping. I spent just about all of my waking hours caring for other people’s children by day, being treating poorly by America’s 1% by night, and cramming in freelance writing where I could.
I was stressed out, feeling like I never had enough time or money. So in the interest of saving time and money, I continued to not go to any yoga or dance classes. In fact, I pretty much stopped practicing yoga all together.
I wasn’t sleeping well (probably because my body was churning with caffeine and sugar). I would routinely wake up in the middle of the night questioning all of my life decisions, worrying that maybe I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, and that I may have just ruined my own life.
Tired and anxious, I started having mini meltdowns. Nothing catastrophic, mind you; just a tightness in my chest, a barely controllable urge to burst into tears, and an omnipresent fear that I was maybe failing at life.
Meanwhile, one of my new actor friends was having his NYC stage debut. Between my four jobs, the only chance I was going to have to go up to see it was on the last Sunday of the show’s two-week run. So what if it was my one day off that week. What, was I not going to go see him? That’s crazy talk. Of course I was. I’m that kind of friend. So I rolled some change and bought myself a bus ticket and a pass for the play.
I worked late at the restaurant that Saturday night and knowing I had to catch the bus in the morning, I tried to put myself to bed shortly after getting home. But falling asleep has never been my strong suit. I laid awake a while, counting the hours of sleep I’d be getting, before finally passing out from sheer exhaustion.
At 4:19am, my eyes sprung open. My mind almost immediately started rapid-firing the usual line of questioning:
What are you doing?
What if you were wrong?
What if you made the biggest mistake of your life?
What if you can’t do this?
I wasn’t surprised to be lying wide awake in my bed, terrified that I’d made some pretty poor life decisions. But I was frustrated and exhausted. I didn’t want to do it anymore; I didn’t want to live another day or night in the kind of fear that wakes you up in the middle of the night.
So I started to pray.
It was more like begging, really. I pled with God, the Universe, Oprah, whoever was listening to my frantic pleas at 4:30 in the morning.
“Please help me. I can’t do this anymore. If I was wrong, if this was the worst idea I’ve ever had, tell me. Shut it down. Show me what else to do and I’ll do it. But if I’m right, if this really is what I’m supposed to be doing, please, throw me a bone. Give me a sign that I am on the right track, that I didn’t ruin my own life. Please. I can’t live like this anymore.”
I repeated that over and over again until I eventually managed to fall back asleep. Just in time for my alarm to go off. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my stuff, and rushed out the door. In danger of missing my bus (my favorite adrenaline rush), I was literally running to the subway through the thick, hot morning air.
By the time I got to my seat all the way in the back of the Bolt Bus, I was damp with my own sweat, a little grimy, and a lot out of breath. It was in that seat that out of hot, sweaty exhaustion that I started to cry. (Side note: Sometimes, you just have to cry it out. It’s just unfortunate that it usually happens while I’m on some form of public transportation.)
Once I cried it out, I do what I always do in that situation: I took a deep breath, shook it off, and got back to the business of writing a week’s worth of To Do lists.
When I arrived in New York, I decided to treat myself to an iced coffee and go sit in my happy place, Washington Square Park.
After paying for my coffee, I stopped in the rest room to see what kind of greasy mess of a face I was working with. While washing my hands and wiping sweat off of my forehead, I couldn’t help but noticing this darling little sticker next to the sink.
“Hey, The Walking Dead! I love that show. What a coincidence,” I thought and kept it moving.
I made myself at home in the park’s fountain with my coffee and my self-help book de jour. Still a little off kilter from my middle of the night panic attack and subsequent tear-filled bus ride, I decided to take a couple of minutes to close my eyes, take some deep breaths, and remind myself that it’s all going to be fine.
I tilted my head back and felt the sun on my face. When I opened my eyes, I felt marginally better. I convinced myself, if only temporarily, that everything was going to be a-okay. I looked around the park, taking in the rest of the people I was sharing the fountain with.
And then I saw her.
Sitting in the fountain a few feet from me, with her husband and young son, was Claire Danes.
Now, I’m sure someone could do some kind of math to show me how, statistically, this was just a coincidence. But I’m just saying: the morning after I beg the Universe for a sign, on my one day off and in a city I don’t live in, I end up sitting in a fountain only a few feet from the one actress I’ve been watching and studying obsessively?
I chose to take it as a sign. It was my a miraculous thumbs up from the Universe, letting me know that I am on the right track and that I just need to keep going.
I was pretty happy to see summer end. Partly because it hadn’t been the most fun I’d ever had. But mostly because a two-week long Icelandic/British adventure awaited me at the end of September.
After two awe-inspiring, incredible weeks traveling around Iceland and London (so much to tell you about), I was back in Philly and quickly reminded why I didn’t have any children of my own: I don’t want to aggravation. Turns out, some days I just don’t want to hold a crying baby (and by some days, I mean most days).
I dropped the nannying gigs and went full time (and then some) into the Philly restaurant scene, working at not one but two restaurants. I was the hostess with the mostess six days a week, not practicing yoga (or self-care of any kind), and keeping my fingers crossed that, somehow, things would just fall into place.
Until the morning I woke up and learned that Donald Trump had, in fact, become president.
When I saw the news, I cried. And then I cried some more. Then I got angry. Straight up filled with rage. And then, oddly enough, I got very inspired and wildly determined.
Because FUCK THIS.
Hey man, if this is what is means to be a woman in America, if a man who said and I quote, “You can do whatever you want” to a woman is allowed to be the leader of my country, then as a woman, I guess it’s going to be up to me to make things happen for myself.
So let’s do this.
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY
It’s tempting to look back at this year and sum it up as completely shitty, highlighting all of the failures, all of the times things didn’t go the way we’d hoped. It’s equally tempting to beat ourselves up for making mistakes, for not taking better care of ourselves, for wasting time, you name it.
But I choose to let myself off the hook for making mistakes and missteps. I will learn from what didn’t work, use those lessons to make better choices in the new year, and keep trudging forward. Because as the late, great Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
Later today, I will sit down and read my Rememberlutions, the notes I left for myself about all of the good times I had in 2016. Because while this year was hard on a lot of us, if you really look for it, you will find the good.
So here we are. At the end of beginning of another year, ready to do it all over again.
Here we go.