It's 2015 Going On 2016, Baby, It's Time To Think...

...back on everything that's happened in the last year! As we near the end of the 2015, it seems like everyone and their mother is posting Facebook retrospectives and reflecting on the past year (quite literally, as there were a fair amount of mothers in my newsfeed sharing their own retrospectives). I must confess I, too, was curious to see what highlights Facebook had collected for me, but when I clicked the link and the algorithmically-generated memories popped up on my screen, I was underwhelmed, to say the last. One might even call the feeling I experienced "shame". While my friends' posts were collections of adventures, nights out, costumes, and other excitement, nearly all of mine were pictures of me at home, with my boyfriend or my cats. Wow, Anna. Way to live on the edge. 

 
   The most glamorous of lemurs...

The most glamorous of lemurs...

 

It's true that I've been a bit of a hermit this year, focused more on my own pursuits than on hitting the town, but surely 2015 wasn't THAT sad? I certainly remember having an adventure or two. They just didn't necessarily make it on to Facebook (and, for some reason, the ones that did weren't as popular as, say, a photo of me drinking beer in a lemur onesie. Though, to be fair, I make a damn good lemur). And while I'm (mostly) kidding about feeling ashamed that I didn't Social Media better this year, it did prompt me to put together my own retrospective of my personal highlights, adventures, and accomplishments over the past year. So, without further ado, here is Anna's Best of 2015:


1. Writing Eight Episodes' Worth of Screenplay

The first half of my year was spent working tirelessly on the first draft of a television adaptation of one of my favorite book series in every spare moment I could find, and while it remains to be seen whether this script will ever evolve beyond a rough draft on my computer, I'm immensely proud of the work I put into it and of everything I learned along the way. It would have been all too easy to talk myself out of trying before I even began, and the fact that I got as far as I did only inspires me to keep pushing further in all of my pursuits in the future. Here's to continuing that drive forward in 2016!


2. Enrolling in Veronica Varlow's The Underground

I have a bit of a complex about spending money on myself, so enrolling in a 4 week workshop focused entirely on building yourself up and surrounding yourself with other badass ladies was a bit daunting. It felt too self-indulgent, too impractical. Take the online version, I told myself. It's cheaper. It's more convenient. But something about the physical workshop was calling to me, so I heeded its siren song. What a fantastic choice that was. I found myself surrounded by a gang of the baddest, most magical babes the Universe had to offer. We pulled tarot cards; shared our dreams; carved candles; wrote love letters to ourselves that we then had to read aloud to a complete stranger (gulp!); set weekly goals; were led blindfolded down a New York City street with only our hands on the shoulders of the woman in front of us for guidance (the ultimate trust exercise. I'm sure bystanders have some interesting photos of that!); and lay in the middle of the floor in a dance studio, surrounded by candles and rose petals, while Veronica led us on a guided meditation. It was magical, life-changing adventure that engaged all my senses, and I forged lasting friendships that have only enhanced my life in the months since the workshop ended. I also learned a lot about trusting my intuition, enough so that when Veronica offered a weekend retreat up in the mountains later in the year, I declined to enroll despite the amazing time I knew I would have had there. While the Underground had screamed "YES" at me, my gut told me that my resources and time were needed for other ventures when the Mountain Retreat rolled around. Perhaps one day the time will be right for that as well.

   My journal, the tarot card Veronica drew for me at the start of The Underground, and the roses from our final adventure.

My journal, the tarot card Veronica drew for me at the start of The Underground, and the roses from our final adventure.

3. A Fourth of July Getaway in Salem, MA, With My Sweetie

I don't always enjoy kitschy tourist traps, but it should surprise no one to learn that when I do they're of the occult variety. While everyone else was high-tailing it toward the beach, we chose to spend our holiday weekend surrounded by witchcraft and ghost stories (a wise choice, it turns out, as Salem's busy season is, naturally, October so we managed to avoid holiday pricing on two counts). We went on ghost tours, bought crystals, got psychic readings, visited the Witchcraft Museum, perused an old-fashioned candy shop, and generally indulged ourselves. And, of course, there were fireworks. It was the Fourth of July, after all. I could not have asked for a better weekend away or a better person to share it with. 

   Swing sets, fireworks, and BeWitched. What could be more festive than that?

Swing sets, fireworks, and BeWitched. What could be more festive than that?

4.  Starting This Website

Yes, this one! The very site on which you are reading this list. The dirty truth about acting (and most self-driven careers) is that a lot of the work you must do to move your career forward has very little to do with your field at all. As an actor, you need to have a website, get headshots, keep your resume up to date, track your finances, manage your social media profiles, network, etc. etc. all on top of auditioning, learning lines, working on set, and everything else you'd expect to go along with a career in the performing arts. It can be more than a little overwhelming on the best of days, and on the worst of days it's enough to make you want to throw in the towel on the whole thing. You don't, of course, because this is your passion, but when you're facing down a blank template and watching your money slip away as you pay for domain names, hosting services, and other administrative fees, it's enough to induce anxiety in the most stolid of people, of which I am not. My website may still be a work in progress, but it's one that I am thrilled to be putting time and energy into. And it looks pretty damned good, if I do say so myself. It, like me, will continue to evolve over the course of the next year, but the fact that it exists in the first place is something I'm quite proud of.

5.  Adventures With the Fight Girls

Nobody knows how to have a better time than stage combatants. It's true. Last year my birthday involved drinking whiskey and fighting with neoprene knives until the neighbors came upstairs to ask us if we could please stop "wrestling" (we let them think it was just wrestling... we didn't want to scar them too much). But as much as I adore all my fellow fighters, the bond between lady fighters is something particularly special, and whenever I'm looking for co-conspirators to partake in an adventure, they are the first ones I call. Whether in a group or one-on-one, I know that with them by my side I will have nothing short of an excellent time. This year's shenanigans included expeditions to flea markets and metaphysical stores, thrift shopping, a plethora of brunches and brainstorming sessions, trekking out to New Jersey to see musical version of Ever After (complete with a picnic and the purchase of rhinestone tiaras), attending magical 1920s parties, painting and smoke-cleansing a new bedroom, taking photos of excellent graffiti, drinking altogether too much tea,  and, most recently, watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the swanky 84th St theater with reclining seats followed by smoothies, discussions of politics, and a trip to Midtown Comics. Nothing lifts my spirits, inspires me, and makes me feel like I can handle anything the way an afternoon with some of my fellow Fight Girls does. We're already discussing bigger and better adventures for next year. 

   Left: Living like royalty at Ever After: The Musical. Right: All dressed up for a 1920s swing dance party.

Left: Living like royalty at Ever After: The Musical. Right: All dressed up for a 1920s swing dance party.

6. Creating an Etsy Store For My Tarot Business

I've been reading tarot for other people for several years now, so I figured it was high time I set up something a little bit more official than "message me if you're interested in a reading!", something I could actually promote and put on a business card. And so Lady Lionheart Tarot was born. It's still a fledgeling shop, but it's there, it's real, and I've made a couple of sales. I can point to it and say, "I did that, that's mine." A new logo and more cohesive branding is on the way, and I'm very excited to see how else I can expand my passion for throwing cards in the coming year. 

7. Ending My Nail Biting Habit

Okay, this may not seem like a big deal to anybody else, but as someone who has chewed her nails to the quick for as long as I can remember, especially when I'm stressed out, this is a huge accomplishment! My nails are long! I can shape them and paint them! I can get manicures without feeling embarrassed! I even got compliments on my nails from a friend when I went home to Wisconsin last month. Every time I look at my hands, I feel awesome. Kicking a habit that's had a hold over me for the last 26 years? Hell yeah, that's something to celebrate.

8. Going On My Very First Roller Coaster Ride

This may surprise some people, but up til this fall I had never been on a real roller coaster in my life, thanks to a fear of heights combined with a lack of opportunity (my school trips were always to water parks). So when a coworker won free tickets to Six Flags Great Adventure, I knew it was time to change this. My friends decided to put my resolve to the test immediately by sending me up on the SkyScreamer. There's no drop, but spinning through the air 240 feet above the ground on what is effectively a children's swing set is not for the faint of heart, and I will admit my laughter was tinged with a fair amount of nervousness throughout the duration of my ride. Despite facing down that first milestone, I was still apprehensive of attempting an actual roller coaster, but I ignored my doubts and took the middle seat on Nitro between two of my friends. The first drop was absolutely terrifying. I tried to keep my eyes open at my friends' urging but couldn't do it. After the initial plunge, however, I found myself screaming with excitement as well as terror. I then ventured into the pitch black world of Skull Mountain, kicked ass at Bumper Cars, got some amazing pictures from the top of the SkyWay, and was rattled to bits on the Runaway Mine Train. By the time the group finally decided to wait in line for another big coaster, Bizarro, I was cold, tired, and getting a headache, so I had to opt out of my first upside-down coaster. I guess that's a milestone for another day. 

9. Spending Time With My Family

Living halfway across the country means I'm lucky if I see my entire family more than once a year. Between work schedules, finances, and other obligations, it's difficult for us all to wind up in the same place at the same time. Still, I've managed to squeeze a few individual visits as well as two trips home out of this year, and for that I am eternally grateful. From exploring Northampton, MA, with my sister during her brief residence there; trying out the plethora of new brew pubs in my parents' neighborhood; FINALLY taking my mom up to the Cloisters; hiking and wading at Bash Bish Falls on the New York/Massachusetts border with my mom, aunt, and cousin; and, my favorite, a bizarre, dream-like trek through The House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI, with my mom, dad, sister, boyfriend, and younger cousin, during which we laughed nervously at a lot of creepy mannequins, posed for lots of pictures, and danced like wind-up toys to the atonal, erratic melodies of Alex Johnson's automated music machines (it's clear where I get my goofy side from), my year was peppered with delightful doses of family time and lots of laughs and happy memories. I hope to continue this trend in the coming year.

   Left: Mama and me at Bash Bish Falls. Right: Sister and I goofing around at House on the Rock.

Left: Mama and me at Bash Bish Falls. Right: Sister and I goofing around at House on the Rock.

10. Signing Up For a Trip to Israel

The trip itself won't be happening for a few more weeks, but I decided to it was high time I took advantage of my Jewish heritage and signed up for a Birthright trip to Israel with Israel Outdoors. I have a bit of a reputation among those who know me of being rather averse to outdoorsy activities - developed after hearing my rants about the rustic camping trips my family loves to take, no doubt - but the truth is I quite like hiking and camping, provided my basic hygienic needs are met (no more camping trips that require me to bathe in Lake Michigan!). So, after verifying that there would be showers readily available, I decided to challenge myself by signing up for a trip called Israel By Foot, which will involve not just hiking but a night spent in the desert under the stars. I am beyond excited, and a little bit nervous, but I know that this will be the adventure of a lifetime. 

11. Saying Goodbye to Mackenzie

This isn't a happy memory, but the ones that preceded it were, and our sweet, joyful, silly little rat deserves one last mention. We found Mackenzie at a PetSmart in Yonkers in October of 2012, and she immediately filled our lives with light. She had the silliest way of running that made her butt wiggle back and forth, and she would do ridiculous things like obsessively turn the pages of a book or repeatedly find a way to steal Pumpkin Reese's Cups from the bowl of Halloween candy, no matter where we hid it. In December 2014, we found a large tumor growing under her arm, which we decided to have removed and biopsied. The vet told us it was cancer and that she had 2-4 months left to live. Not only did she outlive his best prediction by about 4 months, but she lived to be more than 3 years old, an impressive age even for the healthiest of rats. And she probably would have kept chugging along had we not discovered another tumor and made the difficult but ultimately humane decision to have her put to sleep. She died on November 1, 2015, and we buried her in a beautiful clearing near Mohegan Lake, NY, surrounded by sunlight and falling leaves. I miss her every day but am thankful we had her for the time we did.

   Best rat ever.

Best rat ever.

12. Filming For Tamburlaine the Great

When I quit my job to pursue acting more seriously, I wasn't expecting a role to simply fall into my lap. Yet that's exactly what happened. Two days after I put in notice at my job, a friend contacted me to ask if I would fill in at a fight rehearsal for the pilot episode of her webseries the next week. I agreed, and 5 hours into rehearsal I was being fitted for a costume and offered a role for the day of the shoot. I couldn't have received a clearer message that I had made the right decision for my career if someone had shouted it in my ear. I took some vacation from work, dragged myself out of bed at 4 am, and trekked up to Fort Totten Park in Queens, where I spent two wet, cold, windy days freezing my limbs off in a halter top in the name of art. And it was worth every second of shivering, exhaustion, and sore, stiff muscles. It felt so good to be on set again, and the footage looks incredible. I don't expect my next project to come to me as easily as this one did, but it was an excellent spark to cement my commitment to pursuing my dreams. I can't wait to see the finished project, but in the meantime the stunning trailer can be found here, and they've already begun crowdfunding for episode two.

   Screenshot from "Tamburlaine the Great", courtesy of director Dominick Sivilli.

Screenshot from "Tamburlaine the Great", courtesy of director Dominick Sivilli.

13. Quitting My Job!!

I wrote about this in my previous post, but it has finally happened and it is finally real. The last big move I made in 2015 was leaving my day job of 4 years in order to give myself more time and energy to pursue the things I really love in life. My last day at work was December 18, and I haven't looked back. I spent the week leading up to Christmas relaxing and recuperating (and trying to heal from a nasty cold that laid me out flat once my body realized we'd finally stopped long enough to break down), and now I'm deep in the stages of planning my next steps for the coming year. It's a daunting prospect, but I feel up to the challenge. 

And, of course, I quite enjoyed evenings at home with my boyfriend and my cats. All in all, 2015 was a pretty great year, although I didn't make as many changes as I would have liked. So what does 2016 hold? Well, I'm not really one for sharing specific resolutions, but since you asked I plan to audition more, act more, write more, do more tarot readings, and challenge myself more than ever before. If life is a story, I plan to make this year a good one. 

Happy New Year, all! I'll see you in 2016.