Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Beauty Is...

Hi friends! It's been a while since I've updated this lovely blog here, and truthfully it's because I don't like to force creativity. As graduation approaches in May, I get less and less enthused by anything that resembles work and recently, for some reason, writing anything has felt like work. Chalk it up to exhaustive amounts of journalism I don't want to do or writing about things I'm sick of learning, but I've avoided blogging and I'm not ashamed of that fact. Something tells me I may be close to outgrowing this particular blog and once I graduate I may have to start something new. If or when that happens, I will release WMWC out into the ether, a perfect time capsule of a few years of my life as a college student. If you can't tell, I'm working very hard to accept change...

Excitingly enough, there's also something else I'm working very hard on: a show.

Nice segue, huh? Many of you already know this because, let's face it, you actually know me. And if you know me, you know that I'm probably talking nonstop about this show, humming the songs, and generally living in Florence in my head while the rehearsal process chugs along. So if you're sick of it, you have my full permission to quit reading right now. I won't be offended. But for whomever is along for the ride, I want -- no, need -- to write about this show, this process, and the general way it's changing my life for the time being.

First thing's first, I am playing Clara in The Light in the Piazza by Adam Guettel. It is fully acceptable if that name does not ring a bell. Every family member I tell does the polite little nod, Oh yes maybe I've heard of that?, and then asks how they can get tickets. I will spare you all the specifics of it, but it is simply the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I played Eva Peron in my sophomore year of high school, where I had about six hundred costume changes and died of cancer on stage a full act after screaming DESCAMISADOS from an infamous balcony in four-inch heels. Clara is harder. That's partially because this isn't high school, and singing on pitch is no longer the number one reason why you get cast in a role. It's also harder because I know how to do this now -- I've spent three and a half years preparing for this process and it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to finally put it to good use. To do something appropriate for me, a show I love -- the closest part I've ever had to a dream role. Scratch that: This IS my first dream role.

So immediately I have to admit that there is enormous pressure when playing this part. Clara has the emotional and mental capacity of a 12-year-old, due to an unfortunate miniature equine accident in her youth. (Side Note: When I saw this show on Broadway and Clara's mother, Margaret uttered the words "...And the pony kicked her..." I busted out laughing. There, it's off my chest. Judge as you will.) But you can't play Clara "dumb." Nor can you play her innocent, naive, excited, or any of the other things one might associate with the overall framework of the character. Beyond that, the program I am part of breeds wonderfully talented singers and musicians. Almost every girl I know could sing this part, and 3/4 of them could sing the shit out of it. It isn't enough to make it sound pretty -- it's a dream role for any young, bright-eyed soprano who thinks Adam Guettel is a genius. One can't help but hear the Are you good enough? voice on a daily basis when you know there are dozens of Claras waiting in the wings. What makes me good enough? Sometimes it's deafening.

And really, that's the first thing I'm learning about myself doing this show -- what makes ME good enough. First off, I'm a hard worker. I take this more seriously than anything in the world, I put professionalism above any other quality I want to be known for. When someone speaks about me, I want the first words out of their mouth to be, "She's so wonderful to work with." What else qualifies me for Clara? Essentially, I'm finding that we are eerily similar. We are both absorbed and overtaken by love and romance in a similar way. We are quick to find joy in simple pleasures, in the sunshine, in the feeling of just living and being. And I find that in playing Clara I don't have to mask my own awkward naivete on stage. She, too, is afraid and unsure when it comes to romance. I may have more experience than Clara, but to me love has never lost its ability to terrify and thrill simultaneously.

Of course, I haven't even touched on the music yet. The score of Piazza is the dictionary definition of "lush." When we add an orchestra into the mix, I know I will cry -- it is only a matter of how often and how much it will impede my singing. The music fits my voice and my range like a glove and there are moments when I am singing and I think that I might float -- just look down and see myself hovering. As if Mr. Guettel's score could work actual magic and defy gravity. There is a feeling in the room when the cast sings together that is of mutual respect, admiration, and general awe, not at our own ability to handle the music, but a sense of "I couldn't have said it better myself." Sometimes, I think that if I were to be in a particularly excited state in my own life and I were to break out into song, Adam Guettel's words and music would slip out of me naturally. He makes musical theatre make sense, makes it feel more real and raw than anything that could happen offstage.

Which is just one of many reasons why this show is a blessing in my life. For the first time since doing shows in high school, for the first time since I can really remember, I am blissful in my everyday life on a consistent basis. My life is speeding towards a goal, towards something utterly spectacular. My brain is on overdrive trying to work through the puzzle of Clara, of her life and her relationships, and sometimes I feel as if I'm coming down from a high (call it the post-rehearsal-hangover, if you will) when the pressure is off and I'm just me again, headed back to my messy little apartment where I find I couldn't be farther from the Duomo. Sometimes when I'm walking to the subway at night after rehearsal, smiling and enjoying the feeling of the wind whipping around the beautiful buildings, I wonder how I ever lived without these feelings. It's like being in a relationship with someone and finding yourself unable to picture the demise of your love -- it's so enjoyable now, how could it ever end?

But the show will end. On the evening of April 4th, this will be over. I might never play Clara again and she may be reduced to twelve italicized words on my resume that are skimmed over, attached to the thought, "Oh okay, legit soprano" by callous casting directors and the like. But right now, finding her language and playing her truthfully is enriching my life. I can never thank the universe enough for these moments, I can only hope I'm blessed with more.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Love This Man

Okay, so, it's been a while. That's the first and last time I'm going to refer to my mysterious blogosphere disappearance (read: I've just been really busy.) But, lo and behold, I have been inspired! Instead of putting up some sort of lackluster paean to, I don't know, being stressed or hating the holidays (both of which I have recently experienced) I instead want to share with you a testament -- an ode -- to the manliest man of them all. The one who doesn't so much as set me ablaze but, instead, makes me feel safe. Protected. Well-prepared for whatever life might hand me.

This guy.

If you're a Discovery Channel watcher, or an excitable 8-year-old boy, or a survival enthusiast, you recognize that snake-chewer up there as Bear Grylls of the television show Man Vs. Wild. Here is the premise of the show: Drop Bear out of a plane. Watch him fall. Watch him rock climb, slide down trees, dive into icy cold water (more on that later!), kill little animals, make fire, and find civilization. He does it all. As a former member of the British Special Forces and a certified Bad Ass (seriously, he has a license), Bear Grylls is the only person in the whole world who can keep me interested in things like Nature and, yes, even rock climbing. (Sorry, Boyfriend. Your crimps and your jugs are tame compared to what Bear does on some of those slippery, crumbling rock faces. Don't worry though, I don't hold it against you.) Still, Bear Grylls is the fluffiest of the hardcore. His sweet British pronunciations -- "I made a raahhhft out of DEH-bris and sticks!" -- and his thoughtfulness -- "I think I'll save this snake head for my little boy" -- are utterly charming. He is the perfect dichotomy of sugar and spice, of naughty and nice. A man who can slay a pig on camera but who can still tell you the proper way to slide down a knobby tree is "like a koala bear." Awww.

You may be wondering why ON EARTH I have chosen Bear Grylls as the ultimate reason for my return to blogging. Don't worry, journalism students, I haven't forgotten my hook. Today was the first episode of the new series, and though I missed it, I did watch the two reruns that followed and was quickly reminded of what Bear Grylls does to me: he makes me sit, in rapt attention, cataloguing all of the information he rattles off. Yes, Bear, I do remember what I can use to soak that turban to prevent heat stroke (hint: urine!) I am currently dropping your "how to light a fire without a flint or a match" demonstration into the safety deposit box in my brain. Instinctually, I work hard to file away each and every useful scrap of survival technique, because who knows? Life is crazy, and though I don't currently have any trips to the Mojave desert planned, you never know.

My love for Bear Grylls was sparked one night a few years ago, while babysitting my niece and nephew. My nephew, who was probably seven or eight at the time, had two current obsessions: Man Vs. Wild and Deadliest Catch, both on Discovery Channel. In fact, he could actually recite Bear's opening monologue in Bear's accent, which was both entertaining and impressive. But long after the kids had gone to sleep, I found myself transfixed, tethered to their DVR. It had never occurred to me that I might need to know how to slay a snake (bash its head with one swift blow) or locate water in the sahara. Bear knew so much, and suddenly it was apparent to me that I knew so little. Teach me, Bear, I thought, as he climbed inside the Scottish mountain goat. Teach me.

The next day after babysitting, my mom and I took the two dogs for a walk in a woodsy Connecticut park. We followed signs but soon we were wandering in circles without any hint as to where the entrance to the park was or even where we could locate picket-fenced civilization. I wish I could say it was getting dark, or late, but all I can really gripe about was the fact that we were tired and lost and the dogs were giving us looks like "Okay, walking is great and everything, but we would like some water and our beds now." That's when it came to me.

"Mom," I started, and before I knew it I was recounting Bear Grylls' every word. "If we can find moss, we'll know where the water is!" (A moot point, since we were, in fact, watching a river rush by us.) "We can extract water from elephant dung if we find a good heap of it!" (Another useless fact, considering Connecticut is home to about as many wild elephants as leprechauns.) But still, I had these facts, these tidbits of life-saving info. Eventually, we followed the sound of lawnmowers to refuge, but nonetheless I was shocked. Since when did I remember anything worthwhile or nature-y? What about Bear Grylls had stoked such a fervor for survival?

Elephant dung cocktail, anyone?

I still haven't found the answer to this riddle, to this unbridled attraction I have to Bear Grylls and his show. In truth, I don't even find him all that physically attractive. But somehow, when I watched him shed all of his clothes to wade across the icy river in Alabama, I was still interested. And then, when he came ashore, his "meat and two veg" blurred (his words, not mine), and started doing "200 press-ups" to warm his shivering body, I was in love. And not because he can do 200 press-ups, or even because he was man enough to wade across that frosty river. No. I was in love because he threw on his windbreaker and proceeded to do his press-ups pant-less, without blinking an eye, or even considering the fact that there was no need (none, whatsoever) to delay putting on his pants. It just wasn't really necessary, then and there, to wear pants. And a man who doesn't really see the value in pants... well, that's a man of my heart.

So here's to you, Bear Grylls. You swim in water with dead squirrels but you also probably drink tea and play fun games (like skin the snake!) with your little Bear cub. Because of you, I will know how to make that raft, or that grappling hook, or that animal trap when the time comes. And in my head, it will come. One day, when I am dropped out of a plane onto frozen tundra or left alone to scale mountains, I will hear you in my head, Bear, coaxing me, comforting me. "Come along, just like a koala bear," you'll say to me. Or, "Hold your kindling like a butterfly -- not too tight so you hurt it, but not too loose so that it flies away."

So profound, Bear, so profound. Not only are you a beast, but so, too, are you a poet.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Well, folks, here comes Thanksgiving. I know a lot of people who were excited about this holiday, including myself circa 2008. But, without going into too much detail, I'm a little nervous for today's festivities, not to mention less than enthused about driving to New Jersey and back in order to attend two separate feasts (I thought you weren't supposed to have to do that until you got married and fought over which family you were having Thanksgiving with. What gives?) However, in order to pull myself out of a gloomy funk that has been looming for weeks, I am going to make a list. Consider this list equivalent to the playlist I'll probably make for the drive to Jerz - it has pump-you-up capabilities. Sometimes, things like this day are self-fulfilling prophecies, and I believe that if I list all of the things I'm thankful for, maybe I'll be able to look past whatever today is going to bring (or kill inside of me) and think about the bigger picture, about all of the things I am lucky to have.

So here it is, Cupcake [and Turkey] Lovers (except Woo Me With Turkey sounds like something you'd find on Jerry Springer... "My Secret Sex Fantasy is to Eat a Whole Turkey Off a Woman." Nevermind.)

My THANKSGIVING THANKFUL list (in no particular order):

I am thankful for...

1) YOU. This blog is over a year old now (hooray!) and I sort of feel like all of you, my readers, have been right there with me through basically everything I've written about. I am so grateful for every person who comes up to me and says "I read your blog! Is that weird?" or "I read your blog! I like it!" I think that WMWC has certainly evolved in a year, as have I, but I thank you for sticking with it, even if it's just what you do late at night when you're trying not to do productive work. Have a wonderful thanksgiving, stuff your faces!

2) Singing. That's a general one, and a big one, but I think a lot of people I know who are singers go through periods of general disillusionment with the voice. It's such a heavily mental activity, and can be a frustrating one, until you remember that there was a time when you wanted to learn how to sing simply because you liked doing it. And I think I'm definitely in a place right now where I just like doing it... I just love to sing. I don't really know what I'd do if I couldn't. Yesterday, for an experiment in physics class (ew), my professor asked for a volunteer who had a good singing voice. Of course, I didn't volunteer, because I hate physics. BUT, it dawned on me that most of the people in the class probably weren't great singers, or at least confident singers, and it reminded me that singing is what makes me special (besides dashing good looks of course. Kidding!) and I will always have that, no matter where it takes me.

3) Friends who are friends no matter how long it's been. This is a specific one, mostly because I didn't want to be like all the third graders who were also making chicken scratch "I am thankful for..." lists and be like "My Friends" with a backwards E. Although this is something I've been thinking about recently. I have a few friends, many of them from childhood, who I think will always be my friends, regardless of how much time has passed. We have an ease and a rhythm we can slip back into, and not in a bad way so that we feel like we have to be our old high school selves. The friends I have who are like this probably know who they are, but I am grateful for the ability to go months without talking, just to meet up at a bar and remember exactly why we were friends in the first place within the first thirty seconds of chatter.

4) Change. I used to hate change. I think I still do. But you can't stop from changing, especially at this age. Just when I think I've solidified who I am, I change. I look different, or I sound different, or I think in a different way. Change is a necessary evil, an obstacle, something you have to embrace in order to move forward. I don't want to be stagnant - these are the years to let yourself be swept up and taken along for the ride. I am grateful for all of the change that has been forced upon me, as well as the change I have personally forced upon myself. Here's to more.

5) My Family. This is a surprisingly difficult one to write today, on a day that's all about family. Things haven't been particularly easy for my family this year, or in terms of my own role within it. But I love them all, no matter what, because that's what families do. I love my mom, who's downstairs brining the turkey and has already made all of her Thanksgiving desserts, because that's what she does. I love my brother, even though most of what I see from him is grumpy doorslams, because I know that he means well and he's going to experience a lot of exciting things in the next few years, things I just experienced. I love my dad and my stepmom because they've been so supportive of me and genuinely nice, and because they gave me my little brothers, who scream my name and wrap my legs in a big hug every time I come over. I love my grandparents, I love how much both sets of them care about me and shlep themselves out to the city to watch me perform, and I am so grateful they're all healthy and happy. Family definitely isn't perfect, but the beauty of a family is that even when you're slightly annoyed with half of them, you can still write a touching blog post about how much you love them.

6) My Boyfriend. I know, weird, I said "My." That just seems blasphemous at this point. But I am thankful for THE Boyfriend, who was in last year's Thanksgiving post wearing converse and drinking wine with my family. This year, he'll be at his own house for dinner, not too far from me (though he'll have some turkey-shaped cookies to remember me by, at least as long as they haven't been eaten.) The one year anniversary of this blog makes me think about how much has happened since last Thanksgiving, especially concerning him, but it's all water under the bridge now. I don't exactly know what to thank him for, since he certainly has done a lot for me, but he makes me so happy, I simply can't NOT thank him. I am thankful for the days when I just lay around while he plays guitar, for when we watch Dexter together and he lets me grab his knee and make comments like "I HATE Lieutenant LaGuerta! She sets women back by decades!" while getting endlessly nervous that Dexter will finally be caught. He is both a 6-year-old boy and a 22-year-old man at the same time, serious when he needs to be and hysterically silly when he wants to be. He's kind of my best friend. But probably not anymore, because he doesn't like when I say nice things about him....

7) The Written Word. This is a weird thing to end this list with, especially because I'm not much of a therapeutic writer and I don't journal or anything. But I love words, I love to write, and I love the fact that I was feeling so down and worried about today until I told myself I should write about what this holiday is really about (besides pilgrims and stuff). Thanks words, for allowing me to express myself in intricate, subtle ways, and for playing a big part in the game Scrabble, because I love that game.

Speaking of Scrabble, I'm apparently supposed to go move the Scrabble set in the living room and help my mom clean the house for Thanksgiving Feast Number Two. Little does she know, all this time I've been sitting in my room writing nice things about her... how sneaky. Cupcake Lovers, I hope you all have beautiful Thanksgivings, that you eat a lot but not too much to make you sick, and that your return to the daily grind next week isn't too jarring or disappointing. Peace, love, and turkey.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Let-Down Generation

Note: I actually wrote this about a week ago, so the references to the Yankees game are obviously antiquated. But still, it deals with issues that aren't going to go away. Issues that you, WMWC readers, might also be working through.

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly grow up any more, I have. Without going into too many details, all three of my parents (that includes the regular kind and the step kind) are now out of work, the victims of layoffs and cutbacks and other frightening words that invoke strong feelings of being powerless at the chopping block. The Economy, which always seemed like a mythical beast I couldn't quite comprehend -- something out of a Madeleine L'Engle book, perhaps -- is now all too real, too tangible for my tastes.

Empty pockets. What now?

I got home from work last night smelling of buttercream, with bruise-like marks on my arm that were nothing more than smudges of blue frosting, and I collapsed on the couch to watch Game 6 of the Yankees-Phillies World Series. The Yankees were already up (by how many runs I can't remember now) and I stared at the screen in a shock-induced temporary coma as I grappled with the idea that now it was official. The layoffs at Time Inc. I had read about on New York Magazine's blog were not just another news story about the impending death of all print media. I had pictured faceless suits being handed pink slips. In fact, it was my dad. And he probably wasn't wearing a suit, though I'm sure he was more than likely wearing a silly hat.

Onscreen, Andy Pettitte left the game in a torrent of flashbulbs, tipping his cap to the crowds. Andy, with his grecian features and menacing stare, whom I have watched exhibit a killer pickoff move since I was a child. Later, Damaso Marte struck out Chase Utley in a grand display of dominance and soul-crushing (the good kind). And I just watched the spectacle, not even moving to take off my hat or my shoes, transfixed by the display on the screen and the pulsing heartbeat of the new stadium. If I didn't have anything in that moment, I did have this game and these players and the hope that they might win it for New York and, more importantly it seemed, for me.

I have always said that I want exactly two things out of life: I want to do what I love, and I want to be with people I love. I want love in my life -- the kind that is so powerful it makes you wonder what you would do without the object of your affection, how you would go on living and breathing. And by that, I don't just mean reliance on another person. I mean a passion, something you have found that you can't seem to replicate anywhere else in the world.

I don't need anything else if I can have those two things.

Sadly, they're being threatened. I'm about to graduate in May, which means I'm about to have (or, perhaps, am having) the usual "What Do I Do Now?" quarter-life crisis that every other person my age has. But I'm about to have that crisis amidst the worst job market the country has seen in my lifetime (I may be wrong... I'm not a history major, so don't quote me). I don't have any money saved and my lease on my apartment will be up May 1st. So, essentially, in April of 2009 I need to figure out where I want to go and what I want to do, knowing full well that my family probably can't provide a safety net or monetarily keep me afloat until I land on my feet. This is the first time in my entire life -- and this probably goes for the rest of my generation -- that I DON'T feel generally safe.

I grew up in the suburbs, in Connecticut, where affluence was measured in "play rooms" and swimming pools and yards and labradors. But what we all mostly had in common, regardless of whether we were the wealthiest or the less-wealthy, was a feeling of security and reassurance. We hadn't seen anything really bad. We were going to go to high school, to college, and then things would work out. "You can be anything you want to be," they told me. And I never doubted for a second.

Well, world, I know what I want to be. I know what I want to do and exactly how I want to earn my money. And the only thing that makes me want to give up that dream is the idea that, through the ultimate sacrifice (no, not death...) I might find some sort of economic stability. I could possibly AFFORD an apartment, a haircut, a gym membership, and to shop at Whole Foods if only I abandoned my silly goals and accepted a life outside of this teeming, racing, beautiful city. If I moved back to the suburbs, if I based my life on a 9-5 job. Did people feel entitled to their crazy dreams during the Great Depression? No, they felt lucky if they could feed their family and avoid the breadlines.

Has it gotten to the point where I should no longer feel entitled to my crazy dreams?

It certainly seems that way. It's hard to sleep with the churning knot of fear in my stomach of what happens next? I knew I chose a difficult path when I chose it, but I couldn't have predicted just how much more difficult extenuating circumstances would have made it by the time I was on the brink of really going for it. All these years when I thought it was outrageous to work as an actor for a living, I didn't realize that people were doing it and being successful, just not quite as successful as, say, financiers. Now the financiers aren't making money... imagine how much less the actors must be making.

So I guess what the title of this post refers to is the Great Loss of Security. The economy and the country just don't keep chugging along regardless of what anyone does. The balance of the world is more fragile than I ever thought it was, and the scales could tip at any moment.

I'm not in dire straits -- not yet. The Boyfriend has assured me that he will never let me go homeless, that I can (metaphorically) stay on his couch if it gets to that point, which is a kind gesture. Plus, I don't think I'd look very good as a street urchin. I mean, my bangs are kinda shaggy right now, but if you dumped me on a street with a Dunkin' Donuts cup and told me to sing for my supper (literally) I think the bangs would become the least of my worries. Regardless, I'm at a crossroads with a big decision to make. Follow my practical, rational side and abandon the dreams? Or keep believing, like I always have, that I'll be the exception to the rule.

I'll keep you updated. I'm still working on it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worth My Weight In Buttercream

It's only Tuesday, but I'm already beat. Here I am, back in the world of the overworked.

It's a necessity, really. My mom is out of a job, the economy is dismal, and because I decided that I really do enjoy eating and being able to buy myself toothpaste, I got a job. Never mind that NYU offered me work-study money that I will never receive because they're in a hiring freeze. Never mind that I'm a double major with a schedule that reflects as much and a SENIOR RECITAL (in all caps, because that's how it exists in my brain) inching ever closer in my calendar. I had to find some sort of job, and find it fast.

Of course, I turned to cupcakes.

Or, really, cupcakes came to me. My mom, who graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education back when it was Peter Kump's (sorry to date you, Mom) received a job posting through ICE for a Sales Associate/Cupcake Froster and passed it along to me because, well, someone who has owned their own restaurant (her) is clearly overqualified for the job. But you know who's not? Me. The 21-year-old student and Cupcake Lover with a big, dimpled smile and a genuinely friendly demeanor.

So I applied. I interviewed. And I got the job on the spot. What can I say? Apparently working for Martha, The Queen of All Things Domestic pretty much qualifies you to hawk cookies and cupcakes behind a counter. Who knew? Although I am not, as it turns out, frosting cupcakes, I am SELLING the cupcakes, and that is fine by me. I also mop the floors when I stay till we close the store, and I almost always accidentally splash mop water on my face. Mmmm nice.

But I'm okay with a faceful of mop water... really. I grew up around this business. After my mom went to cooking school, the kitchen at home became a different sort of environment. We were taught to hold a knife vertically when we walked and to hand it, handle first, to whoever was requesting it. If I ever passed someone whose back was turned (and by someone, I mean my mother, my brother, or possibly the two unsuspecting dogs) I was to say "Behind you!" with enough gusto that they could hear it and know I was, in fact, behind them. We always had massive, industrial-size boxes of saran wrap that put limp, unsticky supermarket wrap to shame. We were told to wash our hands for 26 seconds as we said the alphabet, taught to turn the handles of the pots to the side so that they didn't stick out and endanger anyone, instructed to curl our fingers when chopping anything, so that if we were sliced we didn't lose a fingertip. And in the event that we did, we had finger cots in the medicine cabinet. Don't know what those are? Now you do.

Finger cots: for when you don't want blood to get in the food.

When I was young, I made my mom a book of "Good Chef/Bad Chef" helpful hints. Good chef, of course, brought his meat to temperature and kept his raw chicken far from his mise en place and the other components of his dish. Bad chef didn't wash his hands or know how to keep his souffle from falling. In middle school, I could have told you the symptoms of E. coli and the various ways and reasons you might get it. Later, when I worked in my mom's bakery and after, her restaurant, I learned the ins and outs of counter service and small restaurant work. I am fluent in POS systems. I know just how many crumbs one croissant can make when handled by a small child (Hint: A Lot.) And I also know for a fact that the phrase "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" should not be taken lightly. It is hot and tough on the aptly-named hot line. If you can't take it, maybe you should be a pastry chef. (Ohhhhhh snap.)

Which brings me back to my cupcakes-and-mop-water duties. The place I work is not a bakery -- the baking is done off-premises. The cookies are tasty, but that's not why people spend $75 a pop on twelve -- YES you read that correctly -- twelve sugar cookies shaped like "Designer Handbags." This is more a novelty store than a restaurant. A place where adults' eyes widen just as much as the snot-covered children they bring with them. A place where a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream can look so enticing under the bright lights with the frosting dyed hot pink that a typical New Yorker will sit, munch, and lick their fingers after picking at the crumbs.

And my job is to sell the fantasy. Today, wearing my uniform (a HOT PINK T-shirt, of course) and pigtails under my little hat, I sold my own sugar-coated smile along with the iced cookies. Sure, it's disconcerting to know that one hour of my time is worth approximately three and a half squirrel-shaped cookies (with glittery tails, no less) but I'll take it. You do what you gotta do. And I don't mind it. I like being back in a place where the aprons come back from the laundry wrapped in plastic. I like the feel of bakery tissue between my fingers, the way it feels to wipe down a coffee station with a cloth towel. Sure, I'm tired after sweeping and mopping and generally being around the scent of sugar and butter (tonight I took off my shoes when I got home and found a green sprinkle between my toes) but it's a nice job and I will work hard. Because that's the number one thing I learned growing up around well-worn recipe books and mixers big enough to hold a small child... If it's your job, you do it, and you do it well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Back Around... To Canarsie

Cupcake Fans, this is one for the ages.

On this blog, I've written about a number of topics, ranging from spilled coffee and broken hearts to stripper poles and "rocking the log cabin." (No really, that's in a blog post. Check it out for yourselves.) I've also, it seems, focused on some "Only in New York" moments that I have encountered since being here, since I first arrived at my NYU dorm with a typical Target extra-long sheet set and a whole lot of incorrect assumptions about college, this city, and life after high school in general.

And now, for those of you who hold the assumption that good things never happen, that New Yorkers are heartless beasts who would never dream of giving up a subway seat to a pregnant lady or helping the elderly or even extending a tiny bit of kindness, bite your tongues. Every one of you. There is kindness seeping from every nook and cranny of this sensational city. And before you gripe about the one rude person who pushed past you this morning, listen to what I think is, quite honestly, an exhilarating "Only In New York Story." And it's one hundred percent true.

First off, I haven't been blogging recently because my computer has been in a very sad, pretentious place known as the "SoHo Apple Store" where so-called "geniuses" wear witty shirts and try to get you to trade in your perfectly reasonable little iPod for some new gadget that hasn't yet had a kink-free incarnation. But that's besides the point. On Monday, I gleefully stepped out of the store with my laptop in tow, knowing that NOW finally, after $300 worth of repairs, my laptop would once again function as a laptop. It would recognized my new battery. It was clean, shiny, new, beautiful, wonderful. And in seconds, it was gone.

Well, not seconds. Minutes, maybe. After a trip to Whole Foods to pick up salmon I was planning to lovingly glaze and cook for The Boyfriend and myself, I took the V train and, consequently, found myself walking through the annals of the the 6th Avenue L stop when I heard that familiar noise -- the steaming, stalling sound of the subway waiting at the platform. I walked briskly, thinking I might catch it. As I reached the closing doors, I swung my hand out in between them, a knee-jerk reaction that might stop an elevator. It was then I realized that the hand I had put out to stop the subway doors was tightly gripped around the handle of a laptop case. I pulled my hand back, trying to prevent damage to my laptop. The computer itself exited the doors, safe and sound. The shoulder strap attached to the case did not.

I realized right away that the shoulder strap was wedged between the doors and that they were firmly closed. To my right, people watched as I tugged at the laptop case, thinking the doors would reopen. They didn't. The train began to move and I moved with it, grabbing at the grey laptop case, screaming at the train conductor along with other cries from my fellow straphangers. He watched me as I stumbled, weighing the option of letting myself be dragged with the subway train before I finally let go, and then he drove away.

With my MacBook dangling from the outside of the train.

I watched it disappear into the tunnel, watched as the train conductor looked me dead in the eyes and kept moving. The image is blurred at the edges in my memory, mostly because it's the moment when hysteria kicked in.

I decided to run to 8th Avenue. I'm not sure why. The train wasn't headed in that direction, and I could have just as quickly taken an L train. Either way, I got confused in my hysterics (sobbing while running down the street, saying "F*ck!" a lot, to the chagrin of fellow pedestrians) and somehow managed to make my way back into the same damned 6th Avenue station after much running, sweating, and panting. It was then I decided to take the subway to 8th Avenue and talk to someone -- my rational side and my optimistic side were conveniently remembering an article I read once about the subway Lost and Found, where items such as expensive technology and prosthetic limbs are dropped off and never recovered by their owners, simply because they don't think anyone could possibly have been so nice. I wondered, perhaps, if my laptop (had it not been crushed by the train and mistaken for cheese by the third-rail-dwelling rats) would find its way there too. Either way, I had to try.

I was guided by an orange-vested MTA worker to a secret door at the end of the platform and, had I not been completely and utterly dismayed at my loss, I probably would have found the whole thing bizarre. If I wasn't choking back heavy sobs, I might have likened the room behind the door to a glimpse into Santa's workshop or a peek behind the wizard's curtain -- except dirty, foul-smelling, and not particularly exciting at all. Inside, a woman with very long fingernails and a half-knitted pink scarf gave me the number for the lost and found. An MTA employee, also in the office, said he would "Check the tracks" on his way to Canarsie. He then asked me if the laptop was expensive... to which I responded with a tearful "It's--" sniffle "--the only laptop I have!"

After riding to Union Square, speaking to a police officer who told me "Things like that don't really turn up again" (gee, thanks), and checking the platform for a stray laptop, I momentarily gave up. There was nothing I could do but take the subway home and glaze my stupid salmon... salted, of course, by the bitter tears of despair.

Walking in the door of my apartment, I tried to regain composure but the sniffles and gasps betrayed me almost immediately. The Boyfriend, on the phone with his sister when I threw down my things and covered my face, hung up and grabbed me, pulling me into a bear hug. I explained what happened while being somewhat distracted by the odd fear that a rogue drip of snot would sneak out of my nose and he would finally see me at my worst, my ugliest, and my most downtrodden. I sat down, my head in my hands, when my phone started to buzz.

Thinking it was Mr. I'll Check The Tracks For Ya', I ran to answer it.

"Yes" I said, when he asked if it was me.
The gruff voice on the other line continued: "This is dispatch in Canarsie for the L train. We have your laptop, somebody dropped it off."

Someone, some WONDERFUL soul, had delivered my laptop to the depths of Brooklyn. Delirious with hunger, The Boyfriend and I hopped onto the next L we could grab, while I made sounds that straddled the line between heaving sobs and hearty guffaws. On the train, I crossed my fingers that this wasn't all a joke, that my laptop wasn't somehow in multiple pieces with cartoonish subway tracks running across the shards of hard drive.

It wasn't. It was working, good as new, and even the case was unscathed, about as dirty as it had been before. Before the train had even left Canarsie, I opened the computer and held my breath as I pushed the power button. As the screen lit-up, the famous MacIntosh reboot noise sounded like heavenly angels singing a hallelujah chorus.

I doubt that my own personal angel will read this blog. But I can only hope that this piece of good fortune is in response to something that I did sometime... that a piece of kindness I gave to someone once came back to be my saving grace. The Boyfriend seems to think that "this would only happen to someone as nice" as me. I personally think that this would only happen to someone as clumsy as I am. But no matter -- somewhere, there is a New Yorker who looked out for me. It's a tough, gritty city, I'll admit, but the symphony of kindness somehow rose above the everyday din of apathy. Thank you, NYC.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Slim is Slim? And Other Questions

How slim is slim?

This is the question I've been asking myself for the past week. I'm in a class this semester called Audition Skills, in which we learn Skills for Auditioning (surprise surprise). The point of the class is to start translating all of the actor/singer vocabulary we've learned into showbiz vocab. Example: I'm using nasal resonance and bringing my chest voice up while still allowing a little head voice to influence the sound.

In showbiz terms, I'm "belting my face off."

Our most recent homework assignment was to prepare for a season of shows at a regional theatre slash summer stock type thing. The shows were varied on purpose, so that we would have to deal with the pressures of preparing two short pieces in order to show contrast of both the voice and the acting abilities. We were also given what are called the breakdowns for each of the shows and which roles they were looking to cast. One caught my eye immediately, and it was from a show most, if not all of you, are probably familiar with: Grease. Keep in mind that my professors took some of these breakdowns straight out of Backstage magazine, so these are things people really ask for in a job posting.

It read as follows:

Sandy: female, looks 18, the classic all-American, girl-next-door beauty, naive and thinks the best of everyone she meets, capable of turning into a hot rock 'n' roll babe at the end, lyric soprano with a high belt, should be under 5'7", slim and very pretty.

First off, for those of you who are not actors or singers or performers, think about this for a second. Can you imagine a job posting that, instead of asking for "Experience with Microsoft Excel a plus," requires "girl-next-door beauty" and the capability to turn into a "hot rock 'n' roll babe." It's a strange, twisted, yet cool industry, I know. When I first read the description, my initial thoughts were, "Wow, those words describe me." I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but what I'm really referring to are the personality points. I am somewhat naive, very all-American, and almost always assume the best when I meet people. If I met Danny, I'd totally have fallen in love with him over the summer, expected him to be my buttoned-up boyfriend when school started, and would have been heartbroken and betrayed when he acted as though what we had under those docks wasn't anything special. Plus, I happen to think I have a little naughty glimmer in my eye that hints towards -- dare I say it? -- rock 'n' roll babe. I AM Sandy. Sandy is Me.

Except for one word, one four-letter, self-esteem killing, she-devil of a word. SLIM. Slim.

Slim. What IS slim? What constitutes this word, this quality? Sure, we can quantify the phrase under 5'7" but can we also quantify slim in a sort of body-height-to-weight-ratio? Is there a specific definition for the word, something along the lines of "Slim, adj., stick-like, pencil-thin, underfed, chest ribs must be visible"?

Or, more importantly, am I too fat to play Sandy Dumbrowski in Grease?

Don't answer that question, please. It's rhetorical. Trying to answer it also brings up all kinds of questions of social and historical context. Because as far as I know, the definition of "slim" in the era of Marilyn Monroe is quite different from the definition of the word in this, the era of Spanx and "Skinny Bitch." Does slim refer to a streamlined, muscular physique? I wouldn't think of Sandy as a toned, hard-bodied gym rat. Where do we draw the line between slim and just... well... normally fit?

The other day, I met with my journalism class to do an assignment that included "field work" on Park Avenue. One of the girls in the class joined us in our group, fresh off the subway, with a big smile on her face. "Guys!" she said, "That's Andy Samberg over there, on that corner!" We all looked and, lo and behold, it was he.

But he wasn't alone. The young, geekily handsome star of such Saturday Night sensations as "Dick in a Box" and "Jizz In My Pants" was cuddling a blonde with the physique of a 12-year-old ballerina. She had a long mane of blonde hair tied up at the top of her head, and it ran down her back like a straw-colored stream, coming to rest somewhere below her shoulder blades. It was windy, her skirt was short, and so I can honestly say to you that I've seen London, I've seen France, and I have seen Andy Samberg's girlfriend's underpants. (Truth be told, I've seen only the last of the three). But that's besides the point. What I was most interested in was the commentary...

"Ugh, she looks like she's 12, she's sooo skinny." (A variation of this was said by many of the girls in the group.)
"She's probably a model, or a ballerina, but she's not that tall. And her posture's kind of hunched."
"Anyone who's not Amish and has matured beyond the age of 11 should seriously not have hair that long." (Me.)
"Maybe she's his sister. Except he just kissed her on the lips. Ew."
"Of COURSE Andy Samberg would date a model. Of course."
"Isn't she cold? Her skirt is so short."
And so on...

The reason I bring this up is because every girl in the group was -- as I put it right then and there -- seriously hatin'. And I'm not trying to get up on my high horse here. I was, like, Queen of the Haters. I had nothing nice to say about her chest ribs, her ponytail, and the circles under her eyes we saw when she crossed the street and we actually realized she looked 35, not 12, but was even skinnier than we thought. Although, for the record, I did say I liked her purse AND her shoes. But no one could quite handle the fact that Andy, a semi-celeb with big teeth and floppy brown hair, seemed to be attracted to a twig who probably wouldn't know a muffin top if it plopped its way onto her (non-existent) breakfast plate or walked past her, spilling over a pair of too-tight jeans.

Oddly enough, this is neither a post about my desire to embrace my natural shape, or to dispel of it and lose ten pounds. This is more about my obsession with the look of other peoples' bodies. I am the first to admit that I study bodies, mostly female, and am fascinated by the shapes -- by the curves, the faint outlines of muscle beneath T-shirts, the slight crinkle of a patch of cellulite. Whether or not I'm weighing the shape of my own body against the one I'm studying, I'm still obsessed, still examining, still transfixed by shape.

I think that this curiosity about body shape and, especially, body image, really informs my idea of femininity. We are, as women, taught that shattering the glass ceiling is our daily struggle, our life's goal. We are also taught, of course, that raising children is just as much a priority as any of that. It is a blessing and a curse to "be able to do anything we want" because we are still expected to do what we used to have to do. We are defined by our constraints, how we flee them, and how we adhere to them. And I guess that's exactly what is in store for me in the industry I've chosen. I will submit myself to the panel behind the table who will judge whether or not I am "slim" enough for young, innocent Sandy. I will lose the ten pounds if I have to, tighten the biceps, dye the hair... all if it gets me work. If it facilitates doing what I love, I'll play the game and I will accept being defined by these constraints.

Femininity is, in my opinion, about embracing, escaping, breaking, and even building these walls, ceilings, and floors. There are sacrifices -- shatter the glass ceiling and perhaps you lose the picket fence. But I don't pretend I can have it all. These are my constraints -- these Backstage breakdowns -- and I'll embrace them if only until I can escape them.