Dreaming in the Trenches

Chasing your dreams can be difficult. When I quit my job to pursue my passions, I was under no illusions about this. I knew the upcoming year would be one of the hardest years of my life. That being said, there's a difference between intellectually preparing yourself for difficulty and the feeling of actually being in the thick of it. And, let's be honest for a second - sometimes being in the thick of it sucks. You work and you work, you try and fail, you push forward blindly without any guarantee that things will work out even remotely the way you hope, and most of the work you do isn't the part of the dream that you love. Regardless of what your passion is, you wind up spending more of your waking hours on administrative details - cold emails, resumes, figuring out finances and taxes, figuring out how to promote yourself on social media, applying for auditions or jobs, and the list goes on - than you do on the exhilarating parts - acting or reading tarot in my case. That's the nature of the beast, and when you love something you take all parts of it, even the frustratingly mundane ones, but it can still be disheartening at times. 

In dream chasing, like in anything else, you will have good weeks and bad weeks. Last week was great - I had an amazingly productive meeting with my writer's group that allowed me to get helpful feedback on my screenplay and move forward into the next portion that I'm writing as well as help my fellow writers with their own projects; I applied to a ton of film and theater projects and even got called in for an audition for one of them; I was contacted out of the blue by a friend of a friend and asked to read tarot at the closing party for her art show, which was a huge success for both her and me; I had successful nights of tarot reading for tips at the bar; I made new friends; I found a new monologue to work on; I walked only the dogs that I love walking and still earned a decently sized paycheck. The weeks leading up to that? Less great - I handled a stressful situation poorly and upset a dear friend; I completely blew an audition by forgetting a monologue that I knew backwards and forwards so thoroughly that I couldn't even fake it and move on; I had a few weeks of not getting many tips at either of my main jobs; my cat was continuing to lose weight for no discernible reason as we continued to pour money into vet visits to try and help her; and to top it all of, I was in such a well of self-pity that I wasn't even reading tarot for myself, despite the fact that I know full well I feel better when I do. 

When I finally sat down and did a reading for myself, it basically told me to get my shit together. Whoops.

When I finally sat down and did a reading for myself, it basically told me to get my shit together. Whoops.


In the meantime, I was watching my friends knock their goals out of the park. I am fortunate to know so many incredibly talented and creative people, folks who inspire me and push me to want to be better because they are such badasses themselves. Of course, when you're wallowing in that ditch of self-pity and despair, it's easy to feel like they are talented and you are not, like they are breezing through life while you try and fail to gain even one inch. This is not at all true, by the way. I know for a fact all my friends fight and claw their way to any successes that they have gained, that they have failed as much as they have succeeded, and that often they find themselves wallowing in that very same pool of despair that I had found myself in. Still, despite my pride at all that they were accomplishing (and it is truly incredible and well-deserved), it was difficult to ignore that little sting of jealousy and the knowledge that part of the reason I was not right there with them was that my time was being taken up by frustration and distraction rather than motivation. Yes, I was doing a lot to take care of myself and the realities of life, but sometimes it just felt like I was making excuses.

My biggest fear is not that I will fail, but that I will fail because I did not try hard enough. It's a thought that has plagued my brain for years while I worked myself to exhaustion at day job after day job in order to make ends meet and put my dreams on the back burner. It's on my mind every day as I muddle through my new schedule and try to balance a dog walking schedule that will cover (most of) my bills with scheduling auditions and building a client base for tarot readings. It's the fear that I beat myself up with every time I think about how much more I have to do, how much more I could be fitting into each and every day if I just committed to working harder, and everything that I have been putting off - redesigning my website, applying to more auditions, promoting my Etsy shop more vigorously, reaching out to venues and party planners so I can make more money as a tarot reader, even writing this blog post which has been kicking around in some form or another for the better part of three weeks. 

The thing I keep coming back to is that we all have our own journeys and that each of our journeys is valid. I can never change the fact that I struggled in school, that I come from a family without much money, that I have spent the last eight years working to support myself, that it took me years to learn how to manage my finances even somewhat responsibly, that I took time off from my dreams, that I dropped out of college... And the thing is, I'm not sure I would want to. They made me who I am and brought me immeasurable joy, connections, and experience. As my remarkably wise friend Carlotta said on Facebook recently, "Know that those years aren't wasted...they were years of finding yourself and progression in your art. Everyone is always saying that time can be wasted but I am not so sure [...] I really believe that each step is there to bring us closer to the things that we want and serve us lessons in life. It's how you behave now, not what you did in the past (though we can learn from the past) that matter." 

An affirming message that I found on a street light in Brooklyn at a time when I really needed to hear it.

An affirming message that I found on a street light in Brooklyn at a time when I really needed to hear it.


So I'm thinking a lot about what I'm doing now, about when to push myself and when to ease up, and in particular about taking care of yourself versus making excuses. It's a fine line between self-care and excuse, so fine I'm not sure you can ever find yourself firmly on one side or another. Take this week, for example. I've been incapacitated by a cold that just won't quit, the kind where your head feels like it's full of cotton and you feel like you're tearing your lungs out every time you cough, and it's taken all I have to drag myself out of bed to walk a dog or two and make sure my cats are fed. I had to make the decision not to audition for the production I had submitted to because I couldn't get through an entire sentence without dissolving into a coughing fit. Even my Instagram posts, a fairly low-effort endeavor, have fallen by the wayside as I've stared at that blank box, unable to formulate even the simplest of captions for my daily tarot draws. A lot of this week has been dedicated to self-care, but it's also been an excuse not to think about my to-do list, and there are certainly low-impact projects I could have been crossing off while I lay in bed chugging tea and blowing through an entire box of tissues (gross runny-nose pun intended). 

At the end of the day, being in the trenches with your dreams is as much a balancing act as it is a slog - attempting to push yourself just a little bit further than you think you can go while still learning to come to terms with how far you have come regardless of whether it's as far as you think you should be. Acknowledging your accomplishments and setting your sights on a farther horizon. Gaining inspiration and motivation from the success of those around you while striving not to compare yourself to them. And pushing, ever pushing, forward. All you can do is show up and try in some form, big or small, and trust that it will be enough for one more day. Do the work that needs to be done at whatever pace you can, even when you're feeling low, and give yourself a break now and again. The fact that you're even fighting for your dreams at all is a success in and of itself. Don't rest on your laurels, especially when there is so much more that you want to accomplish, but pause now and again to appreciate how far you've come and let it fuel your constant progress onwards and upwards. I'm no expert at this. I wouldn't even say I'm doing well at it. But I'm trying, and that's what counts. I'll never stop trying, and on the days when I'm so blinded by my frustrations that I can't see my success, I'm lucky enough to have a chorus of amazing, talented, loving people who will remind me of how far I've come and then kick my butt back into gear.

Today's card from the "1 a Day for 78 Challenge" on Instagram. A fitting reminder.

Today's card from the "1 a Day for 78 Challenge" on Instagram. A fitting reminder.

I certainly don't regret making the choice to pursue my dreams. It may be difficult, disheartening, and misery-inducing at times, but I am still happier than I have been in years. Even when I'm stressed out and feel like I'm failing, I would take this life over sticking it out in a job I don't love every time. I get to fill my weeks with auditions, memorizing monologues, writing a script that means the world to me, throwing tarot cards, and walking through the park with adorable dogs. When I step back and really look at where I am now, I have to say it's a pretty great life even if it doesn't always feel like it day to day. I may not be as far along as I wish I were, but I'm much farther than I was a year or even six months ago, and that's something.

So if you find yourself stuck in the miserable parts of dream chasing, just know that you're not alone. If you need someone to remind you of all the ways in which you're kicking ass, I humbly offer up my services. After all, you've probably done the same for me at some point in time. And whatever your journey is or has been, know that it has value even if it looks nothing like that of those around you. Keep fighting, my friends. We'll get there eventually.

Hey, Soul Sister

On Thursday night, I sat in a magic-filled basement room surrounded by powerful and beautiful women as words flowed freely out of the tip of my pen, scrawling across the pages of my journal as if my hand were being controlled by some otherworldly force. Candles flickered on the table before me, the brick walls were positively covered with lanterns, and I had just been asked a strange yet important question: "What is something you have done for thousands of years?"

This activity is a part of an incredible class called The Underground taught by burlesque star and all-around-goddess Veronica Varlow, and its intent was to help us identify our life's purpose, the foundation on which all of our dreams are built. I have done similar meditative journeys and guided journaling sessions with Veronica before, but never has an answer come so quickly and clearly to me as it did that night. 

When we began the exercise, I was sure I knew what the answer would be. Which is why I was completely thrown when the words that leaped out at me out of my subconscious were not "actor" or "writer" or "artist" or even "fortune teller", but rather "Big Sister." Big sister? Immediately that brought forth images of mentorship and service positions, of being a therapist or an advice columnist, doling out sage wisdom to the women of the world. As these visions of potential futures danced in my head, I felt my insides shrivel and my heart begin pounding against my ribcage, like a prisoner hurling themselves against the bars of a prison, crying out, "No, that is not my life! What about me? What about what I want?"

You see, I am far too self-centered to devote myself to a life of serving others. I have to be; it's a matter of self-preservation. I love helping people, especially young women, and guiding them through life's ups and downs...to an extent. I will offer my advice and my wisdom, but if it is ignored or the problem drags on with no progress, I find myself growing frustrated and weary of the situation. I don't have the patience to calmly talk someone through their fifteenth breakdown over the same subject, and I feel empty and lifeless when I do not spend liberal amounts of my time focusing on the things that feed my own soul. And what feeds my soul is creating art. So how was it that the purpose that spoke so strongly to me related to my relationship with others?

As I sat there, poking at the concept of Big Sister and trying to discern what it could possibly mean, I remembered a conversation I'd had with my own sister a few months back. We had been discussing our favorite books, and she said to me, "You know, East has always been one of my favorites because I remember you reading it to me when I was little. And that was just so special to me." I was floored. I have vague recollections of reading to her when she was young, but as far as I can remember it was a dictatorial storytime that involved me snapping at her to sit still while I force-fed her chapters of my favorite books, despite the fact that she was not old enough to understand many of them. I had no idea that it had had any affect on her, much less a positive one. 

My little sister sports a tattoo of the Mock Turtle from  Alice in Wonderland , another book she says I read to her as a child.

My little sister sports a tattoo of the Mock Turtle from Alice in Wonderland, another book she says I read to her as a child.

But in a strange way, it made sense. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, being a big sister often is not about delivering sage advice or putting your siblings' wellbeing above your own. A lot of the time it is about believing that you know best, vying for the spotlight, and leading by example, for good or for ill. And, yes, it is often about telling stories, whether it's reading aloud from a fantasy novel or talking about your own life. I shared the books I loved with my sister because I was determined that their magic should be a part of her life as soon as possible, just as I shared my stories of dealing with bullies in the hopes that she would learn to discount the opinions of others sooner than I did (okay, sometimes sage advice comes with the territory). I actively worked to shape her world, convinced that my way was the best way and that the sooner she learned that, the less likely she was to waste time muddling through life and making all those childish mistakes. That was, of course, entirely wrong, as life is far too messy and mistakes will be made whether or not we have an older sibling to look up to. But my sister is now a remarkable, confident, outspoken young woman who is far more savvy and self-assured than I was at her age, so perhaps my clumsy attempts at empowerment had some effect, however small. 

As all these thoughts raced through my head, my hand kept writing steadily, and I considered how this revelation shaped the way I approached the world. It's true that many of the projects I am working on or want to work on aim to shape the way my audience views the world. It is also true that much of my intended audience is young women, although I certainly hope my work will be accessible to a wide range of people. I care deeply about empowering people and counteracting the negative models that society gives us for how we should approach the various aspects of our life. Is that not born from a desire to treat every person who is fumbling through life as my younger sibling and guide them toward the happiness and peace that I envision for them?

In my journal, I wrote the words, "I am the Big Sister, reading bedtime stories to the world."

My baby sister, Sophie, was just days old when I subjected her to my stories.

My baby sister, Sophie, was just days old when I subjected her to my stories.

And that's really what it comes down to. Projects and people may come and go, life may throw some curveballs my way, but whenever I find myself questioning my purpose, I can return to that page in my journal and to that night, writing by the red glow of the lanterns, and ground myself in the knowledge that my deepest desire is to use the power of storytelling to share my experience and knowledge with those who are in need of guidance. I can approach the roles I play and the shows I write through that lens, carefully discerning what message I wish to put out into the world and what example I wish to set (or warn against). I cannot take on the problems of others, but I can share my words and hope they reach the people who need them.

This is the foundation upon which my dreams are built. This is my purpose. And, if you need me, I will happily be your big sister. I hope you like listening to stories, because I have plenty.