Relax, Reflect, Rejuvenate

I’m trying to remember the last time, prior to this weekend, that I spent an entire weekend relaxing and not worrying about work or chores or errands. I’m trying to remember the last time I left my phone, on purpose, in another room for nine hours and didn’t wonder if I had any new text messages. I’m trying to remember these things, because to be honest, they happen much too infrequently. But this weekend I got to do all of the above, with eight other lovelies that I’ve known for seven years.

After college, the people you have called your second family for four years usually scatter and go about their own businesses in different cities/states/countries. This did happen with my particular group of friends — a lot of us are still in Pennsylvania but many are still a good drive apart — but we have somehow managed to stay close, routinely setting time aside to get together and catch up. Not everyone can just jump right back into a group and feel as if not a day has passed since they last saw each other; there’s a little thing called life that likes to change people’s perspectives and experiences and ruin that for them. Call it luck, or call it earnesty, but we’ve always been able to jump back in.

I am very appreciative of my college friends. They are some of the most genuine, open, weird individuals.

This weekend, we went to the Poconos and holed ourselves up in a rented house, playing games and enjoying each other’s company. At the end of our last night, we organically decided that we would go around the room and tell each person what we liked about them. It took maybe 2 hours to get through 9 people.

It was incredible to be able to look at the group collectively and then pick out what each individual brought to it, to strengthen it and support it. There has been a lot of growth in this friend group over the past seven years, each person on their own journey but still somehow coinciding with our each other.

As we went around the circle, I began to realize a lot of things that maybe I had known, but never thoroughly understood, about my friends — and about myself. It’s so weird to hear who you are as perceived by others, because most of the time you only hear your side of the story.

It sounds a little self-indulging for a group of people to sit in a circle and compliment each other, but sometimes it’s greatly needed. Reflection can be a really rejuvenating activity, because it shakes you out of your routine and forces you to really focus on what’s in front of you.

If you’ve never told your friends just what exactly you love about them, I recommend giving it a try. It’s refreshing.

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Jumbled Thoughts on Memory and Recognition

One of the things I like most about reading is that books often present you with ideas that are so common and so obvious, but still have never crossed your mind. It’s usually a line or a snippet of dialogue — something so casual that the author may not have even been thinking too much about it when they included it in the book. But because the author’s perspective is different from the reader’s perspective, it becomes revolutionary to the reader.

I’ve just started reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s a long time coming… I’ve always loved the story, I’ve just never been very good with reading older English (I know, what an excuse, right?). But I’m currently going through the (embarrassingly long) list of classic books that I haven’t read. And I quickly had one of those revolutionary moments, fairly early on in the book as Victor speaks of the passing of his mother:

“It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard.”

I had never thought about the fact that when someone dies, I may never hear their voice again. Sure, if we happened to capture a moment on video, we’ll have the digital interpretation of someone’s voice, but it’s never quite the same.

It made me think about how our minds summarize the people around us. When I look back on memories of people who have passed or who I may never see again, I see a picture of them in my mind’s eye, unchanged in all the years since I last saw them. It’s like my mind pulls out a photo album and starts flipping through various images. It may not even be specific, factual images — but my mind knows the person’s face, and all its expressions. Sight is at the forefront of our attention (which is ironic since it’s at the back of our brains), and so is the first sense that we use to make connections.

But it is rare that I reminisce about someone and try to hear their voice in my head. When it occurs to me, I can usually remember what they sounded like, but it’s not my first instinct to connect their person with their voice. Why is that? If we experience a person with all five senses, why do we so often limit our memory of them to just one? And why is it that the sense that we have more access to (sight) gets more precedence over a sense that is harder to contain? I mean, a person’s voice is a huge part of who they are, but it always seems to come secondary to their appearance.

Well, not always. I remember watching the Anne of Green Gables miniseries as a kid, and when I watched the later bits, when Anne had grown up, I remember thinking how much her voice had changed. It didn’t sound like Anne any more. Now, obviously, a person’s voice naturally changes as they age, so it’s not that it wasn’t forseeable… but as a kid, I could ‘t wrap my brain around the idea that it was the same person. It didn’t matter that she looked the same — I remember actually wondering if they had found a new actor (as if they could replace Megan Follows).

I think I need to be a little more intentional in using all my senses — not just visual and auditory — to remember the people I interact with. There was a woman I knew growing up whose husband would often go away on business trips. He smoked a pipe, and when he was away, she, who was not a smoker herself, would smoke the pipe just so she could have his smell. I always thought that was so endearing.

Though it is the more ephemeral attributes that attach us to an individual, it is the physical attributes that allow us to piece them together in our mind. So why not see them as a whole, instead of a snapshot of who they are? Instead of just defaulting to visual recognition, let’s try to pay attention to every aspect of our surroundings.

Just some thoughts. Not remotely scientifically accurate, I’m sure, but I thought I’d share what I’ve uncovered so far. And to think it all came from one tiny snippet in a book.

Pride Rocks

It’s not every week that I can say that I am a proud person — in fact, most of the time I feel like I’m cowering behind some sort of self-doubt or wishing that circumstances could have happened slightly more in my favor. But this week, there has been an accumulation of things that have left me brimming with pride.

PRIDE POINT #1: Midtown Cinema is finally putting out its very first extensive newsletter, the “Reily Rag”.

My coworker, Alex Holland, and I have made a little monthly booklet that announces upcoming events for the Reily Center (Midtown Cinema, Urban Churn, and Zeroday Brewing Company combined). We have slaved away at it (actually, since Alex did the graphic design, he did much more of the slaving — sorry, Alex), and it looks GREAT. The Cinema has been trying to figure out how in the world to incorporate all the various happenings of the Reily Center into one unified unit, and a monthly newsletter just seemed right.

Here is the front cover of what I have been calling (under my breath) our “baby”:

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PRIDE POINT #2: The HIT celebrates its one-year anniversary.

In the spring of 2013, two of my housemates at the time decided they were going to take a long-form improv class, taught by Paul Barker, and asked me to join them. My knowledge of improvisation was limited, but there had been one long-form show that I had seen about a year prior in LA that had blown my mind; that show, coupled with a desire to bond with my housemates, made me jump heartily onto that bandwagon. Paul, whose qualifications honestly meant absolutely nothing to me at the time (UCB, Magnet Theater, etc.) was a fantastic teacher, and my curiosity quickly turned into excitement for an art that I wish I had discovered earlier.

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There was a gap between that first class and my continuation with improv; but then Paul teamed up with Jake and Somers Compton to start Harrisburg Improv Theatre, and the rest was history. In a frenzy of new classes and house team performances, the HIT solidified my love of improv, and thrust me into a sea of new friends and acquaintances who shared the same passion.

And now, the one-year anniversary of the theatre is creeping up, and I’m so stoked. I know I can’t claim ownership of the accomplishment of this place, but I can claim pride in watching it grow — I’m like that annoying aunt that suddenly is super available to hang out when the baby is born, and isn’t very good with babies but makes faces at it and loves it and starts to tear up when old photos are brought out.

PRIDE POINT #3: My sister, Becky, has finally spoken with a deaf person in Romania.

Becky moved to Romania a few weeks ago to work with an organization that is working to translate the Bible into — not Romanian — Romanian sign language.

I know.

This is already a pretty crazy concept, made even crazier by the fact that she is not yet fluent in either Romanian or Romanian sign. Of course, she is well on her way to change that; even before she moved, she was taking Romanian language courses. But the thing is,  she can’t really start speaking in sign until she has a better handle on the spoken language — otherwise when she doesn’t know a word in sign, the deaf people she’s talking with may try to spell it out… in Romanian.  See the problem?

So I guess it makes sense  to learn the spoken language first… but it’s frustrating. She moved halfway around the world because of a passion for communication with the deaf. But she has to wait.

Then, this morning I saw that she had posted this on Facebook:

To me, this was a hell-yeah moment: it didn’t matter that Becky lacked the skills to speak to this woman in her native tongue (hand?) — when the opportunity arose, she was able to surpass the language barrier and communicate with a person who she had literally circled the globe to communicate with. Talk about fate.

See how much I have to be proud of?

Pride is a funny thing. By dictionary definition, it is simply a feeling based on achievements, qualities, or possessions. But upon closer look, it’s more than just that: pride is an innate reflection of who we are as human beings. I did a little research (okay, not really. I Wikipedia-ed “pride”), and came up with this description: 

With a negative connotation, pride refers to an inflated sense of one’s personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris. With a positive connotation, pride refers to a satisfied sense of attachment toward one’s own or another’s choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, or a fulfilled feeling of belonging.

I love, love, love the last bit. When speaking of the positive connotation, pride is a feeling that we have when we spend time with a person or a group of people that we love or feel comfortable with. I especially love the order of factors in the production of pride: 1) someone praises you for something, 2) you reflect on that praise and find it to be true, and 3) you feel content because that part of you has been recognized by someone whose opinion you value.

If anybody needed any further proof that human beings are social creatures, I have found it in a Wikipedia article.

Or, in cases which it isn’t you that is the source of your pride, but the group of people you are connected with, then it just skips straight to that feeling of belonging: someone you love has done something great, and then you can be the one who praises them.

The things I am proud of this week reflect this concept. I am proud to be a part of the Harrisburg improv community; I am proud to be a productive part of the Midtown Cinema community; and I am proud to be related to my sister, Becky. There. Nothing at this moment could make me more content.

“Type, Drunken Fingers!”

Last night, I went out with a mix of old friends and new, and I had a couple of drinks. It doesn’t take much for me to feel the effects of alcohol, so by the time I had gone home, my mind was tipsy and my fingers were drunk. I mention this fact about my fingers because I apparently decided this was the perfect time to write a blog post. Thank God I waited to post it until this morning, because now I can review (and laugh) at what I wrote. But you know what? I’m still going to post it for you beautiful folks. Because I have a policy on this blog about being transparent, and if drunk blogging isn’t transparent, then I don’t know what is.

Here are some notes on what I wrote: it’s very stream-of-consciousness. It’s still pretty readable, and not completely drunk sounding (like I said, my fingers were more drunk than my mind), but it was basically me saying, “Screw structure. I want to write.” I wish it was more silly than it was — that would be more entertaining — but alas, if you want silliness from me, all you need to do is listen to me speaking in person. My thoughts are a lot less put together then.

Other note: Hey, Mom! Hey, other family that reads this blog! Have fun with my experiences with alcohol. This one’s for you.

You know what frurstrates me? Trying to connect with people and then falling flat on my face

There was a acircumstance that I found myself in in which I met someone with a tattoo that I recognized from a book that I’d read way back in high school. I asked him about it, thinking, hey! ConnectioN! To which he responded at first in a confused way, and then in a “huh, cool, have you read anyo fh his other books?” way. I had only read the one bpok by that author. Apparently this deterred fhim from havin a fill connection with ne, because that was about all that we said to each other afetr that.

On the other hand, there was this girl who I had a conversation with at the same tiable that was very insistent on continuging the conversation, and she kept going on and on about being single and how frustrating that was and how people kept saying she intimidated them, and blach blah blah. I kept wanting to scream, “Maybe it’s because you’re so fixated on being single”. I so wanted to have other conversations, which made me want to cut the conversation shot, but I ddin’t, because at aosme point I realized that my own insecuiritoes about makeing a connection with someone else were the same insecurities she had about making a connection with anyone. I had opened a door in the conversation I had with her, and she saw me as a safe person to continue that conversation with, and latched onto it abd wanted to continue it. Therefore, who was I to take that away from her? Who was a I t ocdeniy that conversation, that connection that she had in a time and ponit where she neeeded it  ost? If she needed someone to hear her out, even if it was frustrating to me to hear someone obsess over something like that, then who was i to take away that necessity i her life/? Maybe, she needed someone to understand her just as much as I wanted the guy with the tattoo to understand me. Someone to talk to. To, for just a moment, say, “Here we are, relating to each other, and feeling like we are not a lone in this world.”

Now, as I am sobering up and rereading all of the above, I realize that perhaps I shouldn’t leave myself to my drunken thoughts. On the other hand, perhaps drunken thoughts are the best, because they are truthful, and I’m not going to edit anything I just wrote. Because I am all about the truth. I don’t care if I look like an asshole, because if I’m being honest, sometimes I am an asshole. And as long as we’re all cool with being who we are, then maybe we can admit that sometimes who we are is an asshole. But that doesn’t mean that’s all of who we are. What we are is a bunch of pieces of thoughts and insecurities and feelings and ideas and memories and when it all boils down to it, who we are is not one easy, simplistic concept or thing. You can’t chalk up my personality with one experience or memory because if you could, then I would be a goddamn character. I wouldn’t be a reality, because I would be a two-dimensional construct that couldn’t change her mind or think contradicting things because of her own thought process and the experiences that make her ideas form and morph as time goes by. Who I am is constantly changing, and that’s okay. No one ever said I had to be this one thing forever. I ain’t straying off the path, because it’s my path, and I’m making it as I go along. I may be straying off YOUR path. But whatever, I like hiking.

To the girl who was mentioned in my drunken typing: if you are reading this, I’m sorry. We had a delightful conversation, and you are a delightful person. I don’t want you to think that we didn’t, and that you’re not. Like I said, I can be an asshole sometimes.

I think a lot of the time we worry about connections throughout life. Sure, we think, being yourself is a great concept, but when put into action, there’s the fear that people will reject you. So, do we choose to put up a front so that we become what we believe to be “likeable”? Or do we put it all out there, and risk loneliness? This is something I think about far too much. Because I genuinely like myself, but what if no one else does?
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But you know what? I would rather be the only one who likes me than be the only one who doesn’t. I’m going to take advice from Drunk Sam on this one: any given moment in your life, or any given attribute, does not encapsulate who you are. So, you’re single. You’re also a ton of other things. Those things may change, or maybe even being single may change. But there is always more to you than the thing you fixate on.

And the people you meet may only connect to one aspect of you; and yeah, maybe that means it won’t be a lasting connection. But if you’re so fixated on making and holding onto that connection, then by the time the disconnect happens, you will have missed enjoying that connection.

Privilege and Familiarity

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Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!

As some of you may know, this year the theme for International Women’s Day is “Make It Happen”. This is to promote the idea that awareness is not enough — we have to take action to bring about equality.

As some of you may know, I studied film in college. The dream (however far off it may have been) was to write and direct independent film. That was my passion. Still is, to some extent. Now that I’ve graduated and had a few years of reality in my back pocket, the dream has changed a bit, but the truth behind it still remains: I want to tell stories — whether in the format of film or book or improv, storytelling is in my blood. A lot of people have told me over the years that I have talent. Not to discredit those people, but unfortunately, in today’s industry, you need more than talent to get anywhere. You need privilege.

A lot of people got pretty upset about the fact that the Oscars’ nominee line-up was full of white people, and, in the case of the Directing, Screenwriting, and Cinematography categories, white males. I’ve talked about this with several of my coworkers, and the conversation has, every time, boiled down to this: the reason that there are so many stories focusing on white males is that that’s the majority of what Hollywood is made up of. People create things that are a reflection of what they know and care about, and the majority of the time, what they know and care about is people like them — that which is familiar.
 
It isn’t that only white males are interested in filmmaking — it’s that they are the ones pushed forward, given more opportunities to succeed. There are many talented filmmakers out there who don’t fit that demographic — but, just as we create the familiar, we also pay attention to the familiar. Predominantly white audiences are more apt to watch predominantly white films, because it’s what they know; in the same way, audiences who have become accustomed to the man as the hero and the woman as the supporting character will continue to seek out such stories because they’re used to it. And Hollywood acts accordingly. So yeah, there is a good measure of bias in what becomes popular and what gets funded.
 
This is not to say that we should just accept the standard. Hell, no. I’m saying we need to rebel against the standard. I don’t know if you’ve noticed from my previous posts, but the act of stretching yourself, becoming more receptive to new things and incorporating different things into your worldview, is a concept that I’ve been stuck on as of late. It’s a concept that I strive to apply to my life, though don’t always succeed. I wish that we, as a society, were more willing to stretch ourselves. Even in the simple act of choosing which film to spend two hours on, we fall into the same patterns, choosing the familiar and, consequentially, passing the opportunity to widen our worldview.

It’s a cycle: attention affects creation, which affects attention. But it’s more than just that… discouragement comes into play as well. For every earnest, driven artist out there trying to get their work seen, there is an artist who looks at the content before them and says, “No one will care about what I put out there, because it’s not within their interests”. And they don’t even try to share their art with the world.
 
Women have a tough time in pop culture, because of a standard that has been supported for centuries. Even in films with a female protagonist, there is still a chance that said character will not be an archetype or under-developed. So, in accordance with this year’s theme, let’s change that standard. Let’s try to encourage, instead of discourage, that which is different (and sometimes this boils down to the difference between a well-made film and a film you enjoy — you can learn something from a film that has an uncomfortable message). Stretch yourself and become familiar with the unfamiliar. Let those who have a voice be heard, and those who feel looked over be visible. Make it happen.

My Cringeworthy Fling with Pejoratives

I kind of sort of did something I regret.

Remember when I said that I love stepping into character and seeing from someone else’s perspective? Well, sometimes it ends up being a situation in which I cringe at the uncertainty of what I’ve just done. Last night, Solo Sleepover took the stage at the Harrisburg Improv Theatre (on a side note, I’ve got to give a hearty welcome to Gramps, the new house team that also performed last night — you guys were great!). Now, as some of you may know, a house team at the HIT typically gives a half-hour performance off of a one-word suggestion. Last night, we got the word “immigration” (which already lends itself to some pretty sensitive material), and I made the issue even more sensitive by choosing to play a racist boss who called her employee a “Spic”.

Here’s the thing about improv: you can surprise even yourself when you’re on that stage. Up until this moment, I was trying to come up with a way to indicate how awful of a person my character was… the moment that word came out of my mouth, I experienced a kind of downward spiral of panic. I lost all confidence in my ability to continue the scene. I didn’t want to associate myself with a character like this… who did I think I was, calling someone such a name? From that moment on, I realized that for my own personal dignity, I needed to make this character the most despicable person I could, as a further reminder that that was exactly what it was: a character.

I still didn’t feel good about it afterwards. But I suppose if every character we played on the stage of the HIT was PC, then the shows would not be as exciting as they are.

And it really made me think about the meaning behind the words we use. History has provided an onslaught of pejoratives, some of which still, unfortunately, linger. Sometimes it is the original meaning of the words that make them so offensive: the word “faggot” refers to firewood, making a pretty inappropriate comparison to a human being; the term “mulatto” references a mule — the offspring of a horse and a donkey (real nice). When people call Native Americans “Indians”, they use the name provided by Columbus, the man known for their subjugation (that’s a slap in the face if I’ve ever seen one).

And it’s not just the linguistic meaning behind the word that makes it so offensive — name-calling is also an issue of categorization. By calling someone a pejorative name, you are essentially grouping everyone who fits that description into a category and making an assumption about them. Now, it may be an indirect, accidental assumption — maybe you, yourself, haven’t made it, but society has done the work for you. See, each pejorative already has a certain connotation, derived from the history of its use. So whether or not the actual meaning of the word is negative, people use language however the hell they want, and over time it can glean a negative association. This isn’t just an issue concerning racism: think about the connotation of words like hipster, nerd, feminist, hippy, etc.

A bigger example is found in religious institutions. Religions promote love and goodness and humility, and there are so many people who readily embody these attributes… but often we only see the people who deviate from religion’s original purpose: those who exhibit hatred, perversion, and hypocrisy. Terms like “Muslim” and “Christian” now have a stigma attached to them.

The scene of the crime: luckily my scene partner wasn’t actually Hispanic, otherwise I would have been even more mortified

It’s a selfish instinct, really: we don’t want to take the time to factor an individual person’s life into our own worldview, so we instead lump everyone in certain categories together — you know, to make it easier. Except that by doing so, we’re not really treating people like people, but like the category we’ve put them in.

I have just as much of a share in the blame when it comes to categorizing people, as much as I’d like to think otherwise. And maybe it is better to address these things, even if it is on the stage of an improv theater. At least that way we can be reminded that there are people out there who haven’t figured this out yet. And, even better, we can take a closer look at the individuals around us who we have yet to incorporate into our world.

I’d like to try to interact with whoever takes the time to read these posts, so… What are some experiences that you’ve had with uncomfortable categorization? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear!