personal

High Hopes For Living

 
Embracing my freedom and trying to forget my problems roughly one year ago.

Embracing my freedom and trying to forget my problems roughly one year ago.

 

On this exact day last year, I was dog-sitting for a friend of mine and admiring her amazing eye for interior design. I had a running list in my head of all the little touches she had around her home that made it so inviting - plants, vintage furniture, artwork on the walls - and was dreaming up ways to add them to my own apartment once I got home. Her space was so inviting and had such good energy, whereas mine had been feeling a little dull and depressing lately. I thought if I could bring some of that to my place, some of the fog I'd been feeling caught in would lift.

Two nights later, my relationship ended, and my entire life was uprooted. Forget a new design aesthetic, I needed a new apartment! I needed a new job! I needed a new life! 

 
Remember this Anna? She was having a rough time of it.

Remember this Anna? She was having a rough time of it.

 

I haven't been particularly good at keeping up with writing over the past year - not on my blog, in my personal journal, or on any of my creative projects. It's the one thing I've really been beating myself up for, but as I keep having to remind myself, I've accomplished a lot in other areas of my life. It's understandable that creative pursuits get put on hold when you're trying to figure out how to completely rebuild yourself and the life you want to be living, no matter how much you want to be able to do everything all at once. 

And that's really what this last year has been for me - a chance to rebuild. A journey to rediscover who I am, to heal from wounds both recent and buried deep in my past, an opportunity to become the person I'm meant to be instead of the person I fell into becoming. It's been equal parts terrifying, disheartening, exhilarating, joyous, and heartbreaking, but overall it has been incredibly rewarding in ways I couldn't have begun to imagine when I first started out.

A huge part of that is due to going back to therapy. About 3 weeks into my newfound singledom, I had a pretty huge breakdown. The breakup was lacking so much of the respect I'd thought our relationship was built on, and I realized this wasn't something I could process myself. I didn't feel like the person I was during our relationship, someone I couldn't quite comprehend I'd become in the first place, but I didn't feel like the person I was before either. I felt like a shell of a human being and didn't know how to move past that, so at the urging of my mom and several of my friends I tracked down a therapist who seemed like she would be a good fit. This was probably one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

A message from the city and a lesson I worked hard to learn this year.

A message from the city and a lesson I worked hard to learn this year.

In addition to helping me work through my recent relationship and coming to the realization of how unhappy I'd been during it, my therapist helped me trace a path back from the present to my childhood trauma, which has cast an ever-present shadow over my life and informed how I connect with others. Together we sorted through the confusing jumble of my memories, disentangled my automatic responses to others' actions, and rewired my self-image. It was often subtle, and sometimes I wondered if any of it was truly helping, but eventually I was able to not only find some closure from my recent heartache but also finally speak my truth and close the book on an extremely toxic relationship that has held me in sway for as long as I can remember. It was invigorating, empowering, and a little bittersweet because I knew it meant losing my connection to people who felt caught in the middle and may decide to take sides. More than anything, it was liberating.

I walked into my therapist's office the week after I'd spoken up and severed ties with the people who had caused me so much pain, and she immediately knew something had changed. I was lighter, happier, and far more assertive. I felt like I was glowing, like the clouds had finally parted, and I could be fully and completely me. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I had to prove my worth to people who had no interest in seeing my value. 

Throughout all of this deep emotional exploration, I was also making changes in my physical life. I needed a new job, and so I'd taken a part-time position at a non-profit that I thought would be a good temporary landing pad until I figured out what I truly wanted to do. I was completely shocked to discover that I loved it there and didn't want to leave anytime soon. I was making new friends, contributing to a cause that felt fulfilling, spending time around other artists, getting recognition for the hard work I was putting in every day, and still finding time to go home and work on my own personal responsibilities (and walk my favorite pups). 

You can't beat a welcoming sanctuary!

You can't beat a welcoming sanctuary!

I'd also moved into a new apartment with my sister, our (then) three cats, and a fantastic new roommate. Somehow we'd lucked out and gotten a dream apartment - huge, affordable, perfect location with a view of the park, and (most importantly to me) with a ton of natural light for growing plants. It was a blank canvas, something we could put our stamp on and turn into a beautiful home. Instead of retooling my old space into something more personal and inviting, I got to build my aesthetic from the ground up. It was slow going, and my impatient nature didn't make it any easier, but I finally have a bedroom that reflects me and all the plants my little heart could desire (that's a lie...you can never have enough plants).

In the last year I've traveled across the country (and to Canada!) to attend weddings for people near and dear to my heart, gone apple picking and hiking with friends from work, met Mr. Clause at Macy's Santa Land, stayed out at decadent parties until 4 am, said goodbye to my beloved Esme, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, done magic, read tarot cards, enjoyed a lot of puppy time, spent two weeks exploring both NYC and my hometown of Madison, WI with my parents, gone to concerts, discovered new music, spent time with my best friend and her adorable daughter, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and remembered what it's like to feel alive. 

A collection of happy memories from the past year.

A collection of happy memories from the past year.

I've never loved the 4th of July, as much as I enjoy fireworks, because the overwhelming nationalism of the holiday has always left a bad taste in my mouth. But in a way it's fitting that this year it's my own personal Independence Day, a chance to celebrate one full year of liberation and all the incredible experiences that year has brought me. I still have my ups and downs, but who doesn't? And most days I feel an overwhelming sense of hope and possibility (existential and political terror notwithstanding). I'm not where I want to be yet, I may not always know where that even is, but I'm a hell of a lot closer than I've ever been and that feels pretty fucking fantastic. 

One year(ish) later. Stay up on that rise and never come down!

One year(ish) later. Stay up on that rise and never come down!

For Esmerelda Weatherwax – Mind How You Go

 
She's beauty, she's grace...

She's beauty, she's grace...

 

I've fallen horribly behind on writing here; my last post was six months ago, so when the new year rolled around I (again) set my intentions to write a new piece for this blog at least once a month. This wasn't the piece I intended to write, but it's the one that now needs to be written.

I first laid eyes on my dear, sweet Esme in July of 2009. I'd been living in an apartment that didn't allow cats but had signed a lease on a new place with my then-boyfriend for the following month (a terrible mistake, but one that many great things came out of), and after a year of living cat-free I was determined to rent somewhere that would allow me to get a furry companion of my own. Weeks before we'd moved and were able to actually bring a cat home, I was already scouring Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet for our new charge, clicking through listing after listing in search of the right critter. As any pet owner will tell you, you'll see plenty of adorable animals that you would be more than happy to own, but there's a difference between "cat I'd probably grow to love" and "cat I know is mine."

After a week or two of obsessively checking the kittens and young cats categories (although I fully see the merit of adopting an older cat, for my first cat I wanted to raise them from kittenhood), I stumbled upon a photo that my eyes couldn't make sense of. In the small frame of the thumbnail, the unusual markings and features of this animal swam together, making it unidentifiable. As soon as I clicked into the posting to investigate further, I knew I had found my cat. She was the most unique and beautiful creature I'd ever seen, and I desperately emailed the shelter, offering to pay her room and board for the next few weeks if they would only hold onto her until I had moved into my new place. They kindly assured me that wasn't necessary, and I put in my application immediately.

 
Kitten model

Kitten model

 

We moved all of our belongings and were in the new apartment for a mere day or two before I showed up to bring my kitten home. She'd been given the name Mischa, but after debating several names from my favorite books with friends I'd settled on the name Esme, after the imposing witch Esmerelda "Granny" Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. When I showed up at the shelter and they brought her into the room with me, I was afraid I'd made a terrible mistake. This kitten wasn't particularly shy, but she had no interest in playing or saying hello. Had I inadvertently picked an antisocial cat by choosing one based on appearance alone? I didn't think I'd be happy if my cat was an unaffectionate one. 

I needn't have worried; as soon as we brought her home, it took all of 10 minutes for Esme to warm up to us and begin an intrepid exploration of the apartment. Within days, she was playing, snuggling, and letting my then-boyfriend toss her into the air and catch her like an excited toddler. Antisocial she certainly was not – if the cable guy showed up, Esme was at the door begging to be petted. I'd never known a cat to be so fearless and so desperate for attention. 

 
Strange sleeper

Strange sleeper

 

Truthfully, I could not have asked for a more loving cat. When my ex and I split up and a new roommate moved into our apartment, Esme adjusted to the newcomer with ease. When my roommate and I stood in the living room or kitchen and chatted, she would flop down on the floor between us and roll back and forth to entice us both to pet her (because how dare we be in the same room as her and not be touching her?). When my best friend spent the night, Esme would follow her around and beg to be lifted up to chase bugs on the ceiling. 

One week, my new long-distance boyfriend came to stay for several days. We were sitting on the couch together, when Esme hopped up into his lap and climbed onto his chest. "She wants you to kiss her," I told him.

"Really, Anna?" He said. "I think you want me to kiss her and are just projecting onto her." At that moment, he was cut off by Esme shoving her nose into his mouth, tired of him ignoring her wishes. I smirked an I told you so. My cat knew what she wanted and wasn't shy about making it known.

Despite her affectionate nature, though, Esme could still be a diva and even a bit of a monster. She shredded the boxspring on my mattress when she felt ignored (and sleeping counted as ignoring her). If I was reading or watching TV and she got into a foul mood, she would latch onto my hand with her teeth and claws and rabbit-kick it like an unfortunate prey whose neck she wanted to break until I managed to shake her off. She pushed my roommate's water glasses off the table just to watch them break and even climbed up on top of the cabinets to smash a glass vase I'd stored up there. When she got exceptionally hyper, she would cling to the bottom of the armchair in my bedroom with her claws and scuttle around upside-down like a deranged Spider-Man. One day, I left my journal open on my bed when I went to work and came home to find several pages shredded and chewed into pieces. When I went to Ireland for 10 days and left her in the care of my sister, I came home to find my bed covered in food that she'd carried from her bowl in the kitchen, chewed up, and then spit out on my sheets. 

 
A tale of voluntary bath time, tarot cards, and shoulder rides.

A tale of voluntary bath time, tarot cards, and shoulder rides.

 

Though she had her quirks, I couldn't imagine myself with any other feline companion. By this point, I had been through two breakups since adopting her, and each time she was my rock and my comfort. When I decided it was time to leave my hometown for good, I agonized over how I would be able to manage it as a responsible cat owner. Giving her up was out of the question, but so was moving with a cat and no job or apartment lined up in the city. Couch-surfing is significantly more difficult with an animal in tow (and far too stressful for the animal). Thankfully, my grandma came to the rescue, offering me a place to stay in the months between the end of my lease and my official move date as well as a home for Esme until I could settle into NYC and bring her out to join me. Leaving her behind was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make, and she tried to stow away in my suitcase on more than one occasion while I packed.

Living a cat-less life was something of a relief at first, but it was also gut-wrenching. I missed my girl terribly and didn't have the money to visit while I settled in and looked for a permanent apartment, so it was almost a year before I saw her again. I was certain she would forget who I was, and when I walked into my grandma's condo for the first time after returning home, Esme hid under the bed. But as soon as she heard my voice, she came running and flung herself into my lap. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

 
Reunited at last...

Reunited at last...

 

The flight to New York was less pleasant - she yowled the entire drive to the airport and throughout lunch with my family, tried to scramble out of my arms while going through security, and glared at me in a tranquilizer-induced haze, drooling slightly while we waited to board the plane. Still, we made it, and I couldn't have been happier to have her back with me. Finally, Brooklyn truly felt like home. 

We had ten precious months together before Faithful showed up in our lives. I had never planned to get a second cat, but after moving in with my new boyfriend, this scrawny black cat had shown up on my way to the subway one night and demanded that I take him home. Esme was not pleased with the arrangement and was even less thrilled to discover that her new brother was semi-feral and considered pinning her down and biting her to be a sign of affection. I felt horribly guilty for bringing him into the apartment, despite my love for him, and was constantly worried about Esme's health and safety until I began to notice her provoking him to attack. Faithful would be sleeping peacefully on the couch when Esme would make a beeline for him, stomping across his prone form until he woke up and bit her leg in annoyance. Or I'd witness her smack in him in the face or sneak up on him and pounce before running away, crying to me over how mean he was being to her. A total drama queen. 

 
Esme with Faithful and my sister's cat, Ripley

Esme with Faithful and my sister's cat, Ripley

 

Over the years together, it became clear that they had a grudging affection for one another. Faithful would still chase her and pin her down more frequently than I liked, but for the most part they co-existed peacefully, or at the very least tolerated one another. Esme focused most of her attention on her humans, forcing herself between us when we lay in bed, sneezing in our faces, drooling whenever we scratched her head, and always managing to step in the most awkward and painful places possible whenever she walked across our bodies. She rarely got from point A to point B without managing to stomp on your groin, stomach, nipple and throat. Eating dinner usually involved fending off her determined advances while she sharpened her claws on your shoulders to get your attention, hooked her paw around your fork and tried to steer it towards her mouth instead of yours, and even attempted to steal food directly out of your mouth. And when she went through a period of peeing on any clothes left on the floor and had to be locked out of the bedroom overnight, she would greet us every morning by dashing into the room, yowling at the top of her lungs, as soon as the door was opened and launching herself into bed to flop on top of whichever one of us was still asleep. 

In the winter of 2015, I began noticing that she was losing weight. She had stopped eating her dry food and only picked at the various cans of wet food we offered her. We took her to numerous vet appointments and paid for test after test, but they all came up negative. This wasn't surprising; it seemed like every time I'd ever rushed her to the vet, afraid she'd contracted some kind of infection or illness, there was no medical reason for it. But it was horribly stressful to watch her weight drop to dangerously low levels without any way of fixing it. Finally we were left with two options - perform a biopsy to test for cancer, which we would then have to decide whether or not to treat, or try one more dietary change. We opted for the latter, switching her to a prescription food made out of rabbit meat. Miraculously, that worked, and she devoured three cans of food a day, much to our delight (but to the dismay of our wallets - the food cost $75 a case, and she was going through a case a week). She quickly packed on the pounds, and it seemed as though whatever it was that was making her sick was no longer an issue.

Looking back, it's likely that if we had done a biopsy, we would have found cancer. A year and a half later, her appetite and weight began to decline once again, and this time a dietary change didn't help. In the meantime, though, I was gifted with almost two more years of affection and attitude from her. When I went through yet another breakup, Esme was by my side, showering me with love and demanding to be cuddled. When I moved to a new apartment, she began sleeping under the covers with me every night. I'd fall asleep with her tucked against my chest and wake up every morning to find her at the end of the bed or curled up against my legs. She was still losing weight, but her appetite seemed to be increasing and she would frequently wake me up at 5 am by shredding my guitar case until I caved and dragged my exhausted body out of bed to fill her bowl for the sixth time in the last 24 hours. When she followed me around the apartment loudly demanding food and scarfed down a extra large can and a half of food every day, I was hopeful that things were on the upswing.

 
Partners in crime

Partners in crime

 

Her health took a sudden turn for the worse in the middle of the night on January 4th when she began having seizures due to dangerously low blood sugar. Her body had stopped processing nutrients, and what little weight she appeared to have gained disappeared seemingly overnight. True to form, this was the night of the bomb cyclone, so I was forced to rush her to the vet through the remains of a blizzard in wind so strong and cold it felt as though it would rip right through me. It took two tries to even find a clinic that was open, because the first supposedly-24 hour vet that Google directed us to actually closed at 7 pm, and my sister and I were forced to shiver on the corner at 1 am, stripping down to wrap our scarves around the cat carrier in a vain attempt to shield Esme from the wind while we waited for our cab driver to double back and pick us up. Esme was nothing if not dramatic, all the way to the end. 

The vets placed her on a catheter and gave her medication to bring her blood sugar back up to normal levels. We agreed that I would pick her up the next day and that we would discuss diagnostic options once I had figured out what money I could scrape together to cover treatment. When I left, she seemed more like her old self, perking up and rubbing on me and attempting to break out of her cage. The vet and vet techs couldn't get enough of her. Unfortunately, her blood sugar dropped again before I took her home. She was discharged anyway, and I was given instructions for how to keep her blood sugar up to prevent more seizures, but once we were home she had little appetite and only wanted to sleep. I force-fed her with a syringe and rubbed maple syrup on her gums to keep her blood sugar levels from dipping too low, but it didn't look good. We got to spend a lovely day together, curled up under my covers with a hot water bottle nestled against her, before she crashed again and began having seizures at 5 am. It was clear recovery didn't seem like a viable option for her. 

I rushed her back to the emergency vet, devastated but certain that I had to make the tough call. My mom calls it the covenant we make when we take an animal into our home - that we will love them and care for them while they're healthy but also agree to ease their passing when the time comes. After discussing Esme's condition with the vet, we both agreed that with no guarantee that the diagnostic procedures would find anything or that what we would find would be treatable, the most loving and humane decision I could make would be to euthanize her. I was given the bittersweet gift of a chance to hold her in my arms while she purred and tell her how much I loved her in her final moments. It was heartwrenchingly painful, but an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. 

 
Our last loving moments

Our last loving moments

 

The past few days have been touch and go for me. I am fairly skilled at maneuvering my way through the grieving process, but for whatever reason it's harder with her than it has been with anyone else, even members of my own family. I can handle the knowledge that she's not around right now, but the realization that I will never see or hold her ever again is like a knife to the heart each time it hits. I found her collar on my nightstand, removed a month or two ago when it got too loose and began rubbing the fur off her neck, and have been wearing it as a bracelet. I feel like a freak, but I can't bear to let her go. Not yet. 

For all the pain, though, I am eternally grateful for the past eight and a half years that I was privileged to spend with her. Esmerelda was the most bratty, spoiled, darling, wonderful, beautiful cat I could possibly have found, and I have so many fond memories that I will treasure forever. She was truly something special, and no creature can fill the hole she's left in my heart. In the words of Terry Pratchett, who first dreamt up the iconic character whose name I borrowed for this remarkable animal, I can see the balance, and you have left the world much better than you found it. And if you ask me, nobody could do better than that.

 
The inscription from "The Shepherd's Crown", Terry Pratchett's final book

The inscription from "The Shepherd's Crown", Terry Pratchett's final book

 

Running in the Shadow

It was one week ago yesterday that my life was turned upside down and shaken until all the loose change of experience, feelings, and memories rattled out of its pockets. I came home from work, following a long weekend of dogsitting, following a long week of work, and so on and so on, and, exhausted, fell asleep for several hours, fully clothed on top of my blankets. When I woke up, I felt as if I'd drifted into a nightmare as my partner of 5 years told me our relationship was over.

Most people soften the blow of their breakups, solicitously remarking that it was mutual, no hard feelings when pressed. This was not mutual. It was not even expected. There may not be hard feelings, but nor are they soft ones. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. The rug had been well and fully ripped out from under my feet. The friends and family I told would remark, "But you two seemed so happy!" and I would reply, "I know, I thought so, too." It seems there was a lot about my relationship I didn't know, a lot of fears and doubts and anger that had been kept from me. I had thought we shared everything with one another, but so much had been bottled up that it was now impossible to breach the chasm that had suddenly opened up between us. Truthfully, that stung more than the separation itself. 

Many of my friends have never known me outside of this relationship. I've been involved with this man for the majority of my time in New York, so when they find out what has happened they look at me with worried eyes and ask if I'm going to be alright. The truth is, grief and loss is an old friend to me. Death, and the literal and figurative change it represents, is one of my birth cards in tarot, and I am no stranger to putting together the shattered pieces of the life I knew following a death or separation. I often joke that I have grieving down to an art form - cry for one to three days, spending less time in tears each day; accept the new reality; figure out what needs to be done to move forward; give myself space to cry once more when it hits me out of the blue in a week or six months or a year, then dust myself off and carry on. It would not be inaccurate to say that I'm more comfortable with pushing myself after catastrophe than I am with doing so when life is going well.

I've spent the last week sorting through my life, uncovering the causes of this sudden shift, and sheltering my battered and bruised heart from the storm raging within and around me. I've made and discarded plans, figured out temporary solutions to the tangled mess that is cohabitation following a breakup, and, above all else, thrown myself into the challenge of moving my life forward. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's taking all the energy that is now swirling aimlessly around with no relationship left to maintain and funneling it into every other aspect of my life. I've submitted to acting roles, attended auditions, booked a job interview, landed a likely permanent tarot reading gig, researched apartments in my neighborhood to get an idea of where I can move and how much it will cost, and spent a great deal of time on Pinterest and AptDeco as I mentally plan the new space I will inhabit (subject to change when I actually FIND a space). I've finally found the time/energy to write the blog post I've been promising myself I'd write for months (though the topic is different than initially anticipated...). 

I have also been fortunate to discover what an incredible support system I have in place. I've always been blessed in the friends and family department, but to see them spring into action has been awe-inspiring and humbling. From that first night, when my little sister stepped up and called me a cab to spirit me over to her apartment and we spent hours sitting on her kitchen floor, fantasizing about all the possibilities before me and laughing at her kitten's insistence at drinking out of my glass (and sometimes just sitting in shocked silence), I have been surrounded by love. Friends have taken me out for walks in the park or cheese plates at their apartment. Pictures of adorable puppies and kittens have been sent to cheer me up. My mom has checked in with me every morning. Friends of the family have checked to see if there's anything I need. Beds have been shared with me, couches have been offered. The hiring of hitmen has been threatened on more than one occasion. Every single witch in my friendship circle has offered up curses or performed spells for my own healing and happiness. Arrangements have been made to ensure I can roadtrip with friends up to Canada for a mutual friend's wedding in October, regardless of where I am financially at the time. And over and over again, I have been assured that I am strong, incredible, able to survive anything. 

And strong is something I know I am. I've been here before. I have never, nor will I ever, let the dissolution of a relationship break me. Right now I feel as if I'm waking up from a dream, coming out of a haze, remembering who I was, fully and completely, before I was half of a matched set. I look at the last five years and I'm not sure I recognize the person I was then, even just two weeks ago. I feel bolder, fiercer, more energized now. More ready to fight for what I want. I'm sure this feeling will subside a little, but I had forgotten what it was like to just be me. In the end, I know this will be a good thing even if I'm hurt and angry in the moment.

The hardest part now is the waiting to fully move on, being stuck in relationship purgatory until I can fully separate my life from his. I have plans to move in with my sister and a friend at the end of the summer, but that leaves me a month and a half of shuttling between my own apartment and those of friends', of feeling adrift and without a true home. A month and a half of seeing my cats in snatches of borrowed time. A month and a half of feeling caught between the person I was and the person I'm trying to become. The waiting game is always the worst, and while September will come sooner than expected the last week has already felt like a year. I miss curling up with my kitties at night, I miss feeling fully comfortable in my space, I miss feeling secure in my own life. When I'm done with something, I want to be DONE, gone, out of there, and it's always hard when circumstances dictate otherwise.

But liminal spaces and time are good things, whatever my impatient nature may prefer. They offer space for grieving, for processing, for healing. For finding a new source of income, for finding the perfect new apartment instead of jumping at the first opportunity that comes my way (a decision that would surely leave me miserable). For engaging with my shadow side and making sure I've left no painful demons lurking under rocks, waiting to leap out and surprise me at inopportune moments. And, at the very least, I've got a bright horizon ahead of me, something to look forward to and guide me as I push off into this next phase of my life. 

 

 
Just me and my very happy cat.

Just me and my very happy cat.

 

You Want It Darker - An Ode to 2016

 
Ringing in the new year in my "Fuck 2016" glasses.

Ringing in the new year in my "Fuck 2016" glasses.

 

In many ways, 2016 was a year of grieving. While there was much to be thankful for over the course of the year, it often felt overshadowed by an ever-present sense of loss. From the moment David Bowie's death was announced on January 10, it was clear that this was a year when things were going to change, perhaps not for the better. Coupled with an exhausting, endless election cycle, we knew we were in for a long ride.

For me, the most personal losses came towards the end of the year. While I was certainly saddened by the passing of so many icons and visionaries and constantly depressed by the global tragedies that played out in the news, the deepest cut was a double blow that fateful first week in November - the election of Donald Trump followed immediately by the death of Leonard Cohen. Cohen, whose work I had always been peripherally aware of (at the very least, every person who grew up watching Shrek is familiar with John Cale's cover of "Hallelujah"), officially landed on my radar in my freshman year of college, when a musician I admired published a blog post listing his most influential songwriters and three Leonard Cohen songs made the list. And so began a years-long love affair with the raspy voice and hauntingly poetic lyrics that made Leonard Cohen's music so iconic, his words and melodies adding meaning to my life and helping me navigate the highs and lows of every year, every dream, every relationship's beginning and end. While I had been steeling myself for his death for a while, to have it come mere days after watching our country elect a dangerous bigot as president felt like an especially cruel twist of fate. After all, if there was ever a time when Leonard's wisdom and dark humor would be needed, surely it would be during a Trump administration. I listened to "Democracy" on repeat for days and tried to convince myself to believe in the good that he had seen in America, but it was hard to find. 

 
A more innocent era: "Beautiful Losers" is the title of a Leonard Cohen novel, and 20 year old Anna had just seen him in concert for the first time. 

A more innocent era: "Beautiful Losers" is the title of a Leonard Cohen novel, and 20 year old Anna had just seen him in concert for the first time. 

 

After that, I was certain that 2016 had done its worst, but the hits kept on coming, and when the unexpected death of beloved Space Princess, fearsome general, and all-around badass Carrie Fisher was announced, I was sent reeling once again. Here was a woman who had been a role model for so many, both for her on-screen bravery and her real-life refusal to bow to the taboos surrounding addiction and mental illness. For me, as for so many other young girls, Princess Leia was the first woman I saw in film who stood up for herself and fought back, who was shamelessly witty and sarcastic, and who was allowed to be both beautiful and tough. I loved her from the minute I first encountered her. As I grew older and faced down my own struggles with my mental health, learning that the woman behind the iconic princess spoke openly about her experiences living with bipolar disorder only made me love her more. The day she died, I lay on the floor of my bedroom and cried until I had no more tears left to shed. 

Looking back, much of this year was about exposing the flaws in our worldview. Our idols were revealed to be mere mortals (and some of them less than wonderful human beings); our country, despite our hopes for the contrary, is still full of racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes, transphobes, and other bigots; even our own selves were stripped bare. This year taught me how much further I have to go to achieve half of what I set out to do and how easily I can give into bad habits and let things slide - posting blog posts, attending auditions, promoting my business, engaging in healthy self-care rather than losing myself in mind-numbing distractions... I accomplished a great deal, but there were plenty of things I wish I had done more of. 

Still, being flawed is part of human nature, and if there's anything I've learned from Carrie and Leonard (and Prince and Bowie and Zsa Zsa and Ali and George), it's that some of those perceived flaws can be turned into strengths, or at the very least will make you stand out from the crowd. It's not easy, but it's necessary, and I'm working on figuring out which aspects of myself I can be more accepting of and pour into my work rather than fight against. The flaws in our society? Well, those I'm still committed to changing. That's a lesson they taught me too.

 
Tchau, 2016. I guess you weren't all bad.

Tchau, 2016. I guess you weren't all bad.

 

All of this is to say, I'm still processing the year past. I truly don't know what 2017 will bring; there's a lot about it that scares me and a lot that excites me. I'm doing my best to recommit to my goals and refocus my scattered thoughts, and thinking a lot about how I can use the inspiration my dearly departed heroes imparted to the world before they left. I don't do resolutions so much as I set intentions - the things I would like to bring more of into the world. In my case, I'm aiming for more acting, more writing, more tarot, and more resistance. We've got a tough fight ahead of us in so many aspects of the world, and I'm preparing myself to step up to the plate. Oh, and I'll try to write here a little bit more, too. 

Wishing you all a smooth transition into the year ahead and good fortune as you progress through it. Happy New Year!

Life Updates & November Tarotscopes

Hello, readers, it's been a while. Usually I try to write at least one blog post a month in addition to my tarotscopes, but the past two months have been rather hectic. I even took photos for October's Tarotscopes and then never had a chance to finish writing them up! I'm not complaining. Being busy isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in my case life filled up with some exciting and wonderful experiences that just didn't leave much time for writing (or, when I did have time, my brain was fried and I just wanted to zone out to Netflix instead). 

Over the last two months, I went home to Wisconsin to visit my family, help my sister pack for her move to New York, and meet my best friend's adorable baby. It was as relaxing as a trip home can ever be - I tried to take my time in the mornings, drinking tea on the back porch and drawing tarot cards while my mom's chickens wandered around the yard and our adorable corgi lay nearby, but by evening things were pretty packed, and I didn't see nearly as many people or do nearly as many things as I would have liked. Upon my return, I landed a role in a short film and finished filming on Tamburlaine the Great. I attended a dear friend's wedding and my boyfriend's high school reunion, partied it up for Halloween as Ash from The Fantastic Mr. Fox and told ghost stories at an open mic. I put my sister up on my couch for 3 weeks while she looked for an apartment then helped her paint, buy furniture, and move in. I read tarot at an awesome Tarot Techno dance party at Lot 54 in Bushwick and again at a friend's Halloween party, in addition to my usual Friday nights at Precious Metal and the readings that people booked online. And, of course, I walked a lot of adorable, rambunctious dogs. Life was good, if exhausting, but I'm happy it's settling down a bit now, and even more happy that I can attempt to get back to my schedule of writing entries here.

November has snuck up on me, but I didn't want to miss more than a month of Tarotscopes. This month's readings were done with the Heart of Stars Tarot, my newest deck that was gifted to me by my amazing and generous sister. It's a gorgeous pop culture-heavy deck that adds a little fun and modernity to the traditional tarot structure. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 
 

Scorpio - Six of Wands

Happy birthday, dearest Scorpios! This month, you are being urged to take some time to celebrate all that you have accomplished so far. The Six of Wands represents victory in the midst of great efforts and being on-track to achieve your goals. Just as blowing up the (first) Death Star and the celebration that followed did not signify the end of the Rebellion's fight against the Empire, your work is far from over, but that doesn't mean your achievements are trivial. Far from it, in fact. If anything, the successes that you are currently enjoying are indicative of the fact that you are more than capable of overcoming the odds and reaching your ultimate goals. And this is why it is so important that you seize this opportunity to pat yourself on the back and take a victory lap. It is much too easy to see only how far you have left to go and categorize yourself as a failure for not being closer to your final destination, and nothing takes the wind out of your sails like the feeling that the obstacles before you are insurmountable. By giving yourself a break and celebrating all that you have done, you are able to measure your progress from the beginning and to gain perspective on your true abilities. You can regain your energy and stoke yourself up for the battles that lie before you instead of pushing and pushing until you have burned yourself out. So take a night off. Commemorate your wins. Boost your ego. You have worked hard for this moment, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

 
 

Sagittarius - Three of Pentacles

Sagittarius, this month's message is to slow down and focus on making a plan and building a strong foundation for your future quests before you attempt them. The Three of Pentacles is a powerful reminder that without extensive preparation and anticipation of potential pitfalls, your work will crumble around your ears the minute you reach your first major obstacle. Though the planning stages may be frustrating at times, they are also invaluable. They give you a chance to fully visualize the path ahead of you, to prepare for what lies ahead, to seek the council and opinions of others and perhaps even gather a team of co-conspirators to help you in your endeavors. After all, without the knowledge and advice of Elrond Halfelven, Thorin and Company would never have learned of the Moon Runes or how to open the doors to the Lonely Mountain, and their quest would have been for naught. So, while it may be tempting to skip this stage and rush forward to the more exciting parts, you do so at your peril. Luck and passion can only get you so far, and when you do eventually hit a wall you want to be sure that you have everything in your arsenal prepped and ready to come to your aid. Look at this as an opportunity to ensure the odds of success are in your favor. The work you do now will pay off tenfold in the future. 

 

 
 

Capricorn - Seven of Pentacles

Diligent Capricorns, this month you are being called upon to pause and honestly ask yourself if your labor is paying off as richly as you'd hoped. There comes a time in every project or quest when you must take a step back and critically evaluate the work you've done so far. As much as we'd like to believe that we can get things right from the start and that all the effort we put into things will yield impressive results, the fact of the matter is that we are constantly trying, failing, and learning how to improve our chances of success. Sometimes, this requires abandoning the methods that you hold dear in favor of something more effective. Examine the evidence of your accomplishemnts through a practical lens, without your emotional attachments clouding your judgement, and ask yourself where you have been truly successful and where another approach may be warranted. Then, once you have identified the changes you must make, commit to them wholeheartedly and do not look back. As Yoda famously said, "Do or do not. There is no try." While your intentions may be admirable, at the end of the day it comes down to the ultimate question of whether they are yielding results. If the answer is no, then no amount of good intentions will salvage them. Be ruthless in your assessment of your position. It may be frustrating now, but it will help you to learn, grow, and prosper in the long run.

 

 
 

Aquarius - Eight of Wands

Ah, my innovative Aquarians, this month is all about inspiration for you. The Eight of Wands speaks of the breakthroughs that happen in the midst of a journey or effort, the moments of clarity that help you determine where and how to direct your passions and energy. You have been working toward your goals for quite some time now, and it may feel as though all of your efforts have been for nothing or that you've finally hit a roadblock that is insurmountable. It's natural to feel beaten down and exhausted when you have been pushing forward for some time, but good news and fresh options are on the horizon. Keep your eyes open for reinforcements and fresh opportunities. This isn't a call to start over but rather a continuation of everything that you have been fighting for so far and an affirmation that you are on the right path. It may take the form of aid from an external source, or you may just wake up with an "aha!" moment that changes everything, but regardless be prepared for a fresh burst of energy and renewed clarity as to where to turn next. Believe it or not, you've got this whole "life" thing under control and great things are in store for you, so get out there and be the superhero that we all know you to be!

 

 
 

Pisces - Seven of Swords

My fellow sensitive Pisceans, this month you are being called to examine the masks you wear and how they are serving you and your attempts to interact with the world around you. Are they necessary for your protection or are they blockades that prevent you from making authentic connections? The Seven of Swords is the card of deceit, but deception isn't always malicious. Sometimes it's the only thing that keeps us safe in a world full of danger. However, sometimes even deception born out of necessity can cause damage, especially as you try to navigate the world and forge deep bonds with the people you meet. Your mission this month is to ground yourself in your intuition so you can discern when it is safe for you to unmask. If you find yourself feeling on edge and vulnerable, ask yourself whether this sensation is a natural reaction to taking risks and allowing others to see you for who you truly are or whether it's the result of your gut instincts trying to warn you of danger. As the appearance of Jordan Belfort indicates, not everyone has good intentions, and if all your senses are shouting at you that someone is not above board, it is wise to take precautions to protect yourself. But be careful not to retreat so deeply into your armor that you forget how to remove it and be wholly and truly yourself, for without authenticity you will find your life lacking in meaning. Trust your instincts and choose accordingly. They will not steer you wrong.

 

 
 

Aries - The Chariot

Bold and boisterous Aries, The Chariot speaks of taking control of your own destiny. This month you are being pushed to decide for yourself the direction in which you want to take your life and then go out and make it happen. True, there are plenty of risks that accompany this sort of decisive action, but if you sit around and wait for someone else to hand your dreams to you, you will be waiting for a very long time. Sometimes the only way to find a path to your goals is to go out and forge it yourself, come what may. You may earn some bumps and bruises as you push forward, but the satisfaction of victory will more than make up for them. And even if your plans go awry and you go down in flames, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that at least you tried rather than letting fear get the better of you. Achilles may have died in the Battle of Troy, but his efforts were immortalized in tales and legends. You know you won't be content with a quiet, uneventful life, and while your own adventures may not involve blood and war (and thank goodness for that), they are no less impressive. Gather your courage and strike out after your dreams. At the very least, it will make for a good story.

 

 
 

Taurus - Seven of Wands

Reliable Taurus, this month your message is to keep sight of your goals and push forward regardless of the obstacles you may face. The Seven of Wands represents singleminded dedication to the pursuit of your passions, fighting for your dreams with the cunning and determination represented in this card by the Red Viper himself, Oberyn Martell. It stands as a reminder that success requires defying the odds, and sometimes defying the odds means ignoring their very existence. If you give yourself the chance to pause and think of all the ways you might fail, you will falter and lose your nerve. So lock your eyes on the horizon, and do not look down. When you encounter challenges, face them head on and dismantle them quickly and efficiently. You are resourceful, clever, and capable of handling whatever life throws your way, but it's far too easy to let doubt creep in and trip you up. So don't give it the opportunity. Trust in your ability to achieve everything you set your mind to, then fight like hell to do so. You'll have all the time in the world to sit back and marvel at the impressive feats you've pulled off once you've reached the finish line. Until then, stay focused. You've got this.

 

 
 

Gemini - The Hanged Man

My lively Geminis, this month your message is to take advantage of the new perspectives life is granting you. The Hanged Man shows up when life has turned you upside down and you are faced with the choice of fighting to get back to familiar ground or seeing what opportunities this new angle is offering you. Like Luke discovered in the Wampa's cave, this experience isn't always a pleasant one; in fact, it may be just the opposite. But when your position is out of your control, you can either expend a lot of energy trying to right yourself or you can try to find another way out of it. The message of the Hanged Man is that often going with the flow and utilizing the current situation's options is far more productive than wishing things were different, and you may be surprised the clarity that is brought to you when you allow yourself to see things from a new angle. You just may find the solution to a problem that was troubling you or discover a completely different direction in which to take your life, one which could be far more lucrative than whatever you were initially planning. So while this experience can be unsettling, embrace the discomfort, breathe through it, and then try to use it to your advantage. You never know what will come out of it.

 

 
 

Cancer - Judgement

Intuitive Cancers, at first glance this month's message may seem far outside your comfort zone - after all, Judgement represents leaving the familiar behind, taking a leap of faith and trusting that you will fly rather than fall. But the message of Judgement isn't one of impulsive change, but rather the final step in a long journey, one that you have been preparing for a while. You are being called upon to connect with your instincts, to center yourself in the deep-seated knowledge that this is the right decision for you and take action based on your convictions. True, there is no guarantee that things will turn out the way you are hoping, but try to see this as comforting rather than threatening. While it's possible you may find the reality does not meet your expectations, it is equally possible that it will far exceed them. The fact of the matter is that if you want to move forward, this requires change, and change requires taking risks, in this case carefully calculated risks. But all the calculations in the world can only prepare you so much, and if you're not willing to finally step up to the edge and take the plunge, you will go nowhere. This month you are being offered the opportunity to evolve and take your life to the next level, and as terrifying as that is, the results will be well worth it. Trust that you know what's best for you even if it doesn't always make sense to others and hold onto that knowledge as you step forward into the unknown. Great things are waiting, you just need to step out and meet them halfway. 

 

 
 

Leo - Wheel of Fortune

Dramatic Leos, who knows better than you that life is full of twists of fate? You fluctuate between feeling like everything is coming up Leo and like the whole world is against you on a regular basis. The Wheel of Fortune is a powerful reminder that so much of our life is out of our control and the best thing we can do is spin the wheel, hope for the best, and then make the most of whatever we're handed. After all, just because we can't dictate every event that comes our way doesn't mean we should just give up and succumb to the whims of external forces. If you find yourself feeling like luck is on your side, take advantage of that. Throw your energy into using this good fortune to improve your life and move yourself forward while you have the chance. Eventually the Wheel will spin again, and there will come a time when it does not land in your favor. Similarly, if you are feeling like nothing you do is having a positive effect, take heart. Luck will come around again, it's just a matter of waiting it out. In the meantime, you are still largely responsible for your own health and happiness, so do what you can to work with and mediate the effects of fate, coincidence, divine intervention, or whatever you want to call it. The more you learn to work with the flow of the Universe, the happier you will be. 

 

 
IMG_2861.jpg
 

Virgo - The World

Good news, Virgos! This month your hard work has paid off and you're seeing the returns on your efforts in a big way. The World encourages you to celebrate your accomplishments and appreciate the present moment, without worrying about what comes next. There's a time and place for planning ahead, but you deserve a break and a chance to just enjoy everything that you've created. This doesn't mean there aren't other goals you're still trying to reach or that everything in your life is going perfectly, but there will always be more you want to achieve. Instead of comparing your progress to a future goal, take a deep breath and appreciate the present moment. Chances are there are several ways in which you are succeeding, all you have to do is look for them. To our knowledge, we only have the one life, so do your best to enjoy it. Aspirations are great motivators, but when you reach a milestone be sure to mark it and give yourself a chance to recharge and just be happy (and exhausted and sad and anything else the completion of this cycle makes you feel). Take a night off from doing to just be. Not only is it good for your mood, but it will make you far more effective in your future pursuits when the time comes to tackle them. You have worked hard for this, Virgo, so celebrate yourself. 

 

 
 

Libra - The Sun

Fairest Libras, this month your message is to tend to your confidence and faith in yourself. The Sun is about being fully, and authentically you and trusting that the people who will appreciate that will find their way to you. Too often in our pursuit of balance and success we try to tone ourselves down, make ourselves smaller or different, and attempt to change in order to fit others' ideas of who we should be (or what we assume they are, at least). But when we dim our lights, we reduce our power and effectiveness and put ourselves into positions where we are not operating to the best of our abilities. It's true that being honest about who you are and showing up as your raw, unfiltered self can be intimidating, maybe even off-putting, to some, but look at this as a test of who you want to invest your time and energy into. Do you really want to forge relationships with people or organizations where you constantly have to mask parts of yourself? Besides, the more you fill your life with people who don't truly understand you and take opportunities that don't utilize your full potential, the less space you leave for those that do match you and the more likely you are to miss out on something incredible. You are an amazing, vibrant, talented person, and you deserve to surround yourself with people and places that validate that about you. Don't dim your light to satisfy someone else. Shine out brighter so that those who are also fumbling in the darkness will have a bright star to navigate by. 

 

As always, if you enjoyed your tarotscope and would like a more personalized reading, head on over to the Tarot Readings tab to book yours or check out my Etsy shop, Lady Lionheart Tarot. And if you're in the mood for more daily nuggets of wisdom, be sure to follow me on Instagram! I'll try to post another blog between now and next month, but at the very least I will see you in December for next month's readings. 

Falling With Style

 
The Tower as portrayed in the Morgan Greer Tarot. 

The Tower as portrayed in the Morgan Greer Tarot. 

 

When I drew The Tower for Pisces in the August Tarotscopes earlier this month, I knew things were about to get interesting, and probably not in the way I hoped. To those who are familiar with the tarot, this is one of the most dreaded cards in the deck. While Death sounds scary but actually represents natural changes and transitions, The Tower represents violent and sudden change and the shattering of illusions. Even those who are not wise to the tarot's ways may find themselves alarmed by the dark and disturbing artwork that bedecks The Tower in most decks. (Many tarot readers who grew up reading Harry Potter also call this The Lightning Struck Tower, in reference to that particularly shocking chapter in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince").  However comfortable you are with the meanings of the various cards, it's clear that this one does not foretell sunshine and rainbows. 

 
The Tower in the Thoth Deck has a particularly malevolant and Sauron-esque appearance, despite being painted more than a decade before Lord of the Rings was published.

The Tower in the Thoth Deck has a particularly malevolant and Sauron-esque appearance, despite being painted more than a decade before Lord of the Rings was published.

 

So it came as no surprise to me when things started falling apart. First, a nine-day dog-sitting gig that was going to bring in a decent chunk of change before my trip home to Wisconsin was cancelled. Then a week's worth of walks. Then one client ended a contract completely. All at once, my steady (if not grand) source of income seemed to be disappearing before my eyes. It's been more than a little stressful, to say the least. I like change but prefer to make it on my own terms, so unexpected shifts often take a little time for me to adjust to. 

The important thing to remember about The Tower, though, is that it represents the shattering of illusions. This isn't to say that it wasn't real, but often those things were not built to last. Whenever something falls apart in spectacular fashion, it's never completely out of nowhere; whatever area of life you find crumbling around your ears has probably been imperfect for some time, whether you allowed yourself to realize that or not. In my case, dog walking has never been the end goal, and taking on permanent schedules was supposed to be a temporary situation that I would re-evaluate after my initial three-month commitment was up (so...now). In the meantime, I have learned that having such a permanent schedule is more of a hindrance to me than a help. While it's reassuring to know that I'll at least have a certain amount of money coming in per week and can book more or less walks on top of that accordingly, depending on what I need and what my schedule looks like, it has also prevented me from pursuing the very thing I quit my job to do - acting and writing. I've passed up on countless auditions because I either couldn't attend them or couldn't commit to a full day (or several days) of filming due to pre-booked walks. I've also had to pass up on day-of walks with other dogs whose owners request me at a time that conflicts with my schedule, dogs I can walk again now that I have more flexibility. 

 
Because the cards have a sense of humor, The Tower appeared in my Advice position in last week's spread as well, this time in reverse.

Because the cards have a sense of humor, The Tower appeared in my Advice position in last week's spread as well, this time in reverse.

 

In short, as stressful as these setbacks are, they're something of a blessing in disguise, and they reveal the areas of your life that are worth sinking your attention into. When The Tower has finished falling and the dust settles, you can look around the debris and see what remains, which foundations were strong enough to survive the upheaval and what can be used to build something bigger and better than before. In many ways, it's a fresh start, albeit not one that began in the most pleasant of fashions. In fact, all my best life changes followed the destruction of something I thought I wanted that I had been clinging to for dear life. Leaving school meant finding a job that wound up bringing me some of my dearest friends. Breaking up with the person I thought I was meant to be with motivated me to leave Wisconsin and move to New York. Some of the biggest growth I've ever experienced and most drastic leaps forward have occurred because I fought my way through times of hardship, and that is the inherent lesson in The Tower: this change may be miserable, it may be painful, but it is also 100% necessary. 

There are plenty of silver linings in this particular situation - my schedule has been freed up so I can attend an EPA with my best friend tomorrow that I thought I was going to have to miss; I've been motivated to push tarot readings harder in order to try and make up some of the financial difference and, with the help of some promotion from friends, I booked nine email readings and sent out two handwritten one-card readings in the last two weeks; I was able to walk one of my absolute favorite dogs three times last week, which brought me both money and a ridiculous amount of joy (I am mildly obsessed with this particular pup...). As hard as it may be to face uncertainty once again, I know it will ultimately serve me better.

 Like anyone faced with The Tower's shocking message, I can either choose to sink my energy into fighting the inevitable change and exhaust myself in the process, or I can take a deep breath and leap on my own terms, doing my best to weather the metaphorical fall with grace. I know which one I'll choose - once the initial shock wore off, I was more than ready for the change. Bring on the plunge, I'll embrace it with open arms. I may not be flying, but in the words of a pair of beloved animated toys, I am falling with style. 

Story of my life. 

Story of my life. 

If you would like to help me survive this transition with more ease, you can do so by purchasing a tarot reading through the "Tarot Readings" menu at the top of the page. Thank you! 

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.

The Anxious, The Dreamers, and Me

This is a post I started a few weeks ago and edited into a performance piece for a show called "Order in the Disorder - A Variety Show About Anxiety". I performed it on April 30, 2016 at The Tank in NYC. Regular blog posts should resume tomorrow with May's Tarotscopes, but in the meantime here is my piece for all who couldn't make the performance. I hope you enjoy it!

 

As evidenced by the cover of my most recent journal, dreaming big is rather an important theme in my life. Collage by me.

As evidenced by the cover of my most recent journal, dreaming big is rather an important theme in my life. Collage by me.

I often feel like I have two warring personalities. There's the ambitious, outgoing visionary,  the woman who left everything she knew back in Wisconsin to move to New York and follow her dreams five years ago, and more recently quit a steady job in order to make more time for her goals. This is the side of myself that relishes risk and adventure, that craves a life path that breaks the norm and lights up my soul. We'll call that one Ambitious Anna. Then there's the other side of me - cautious, introverted, anxious, someone who would rather curl up under the blankets, watch Netflix, safe from all the dangers of the world. That's Anxious Anna. My therapist once told me that if I didn't have an anxiety disorder, she thought I would be Ambitious Anna all the time, but the fact of the matter is, I am rarely one or the other alone - Ambitious Anna and Anxious Anna exist side by side, vying for dominance throughout the course of each day, gaining ground here, losing ground there, occasionally almost drowning one another out completely...almost, but not quite. 

One place in the Venn Diagram of my personality where Anxious Anna and Ambitious Anna intersect is the world of inspirational blogging, webinars, life coaches, etc. Ambitious Anna likes stories of how other people have chased their dreams because it makes me feel more fired up, and Anxious Anna appreciates having a roadmap that makes the risks I take feel a little more calculated and well-informed. While I wouldn't call myself a self-help junkie (I'm more of a self-help dabbler, if you will), I have always enjoyed the pursuit of self-development, and like any pursuit, an effective approach requires research and the learning of new skill sets.

One of the common themes I've noticed is how to deal with fear. Most bloggers and coaches acknowledge that fear arises whenever you're taking a risk or going out after something you badly want, and they have all sorts of different suggestions for how to recognize whether that fear is serving a positive purpose - alerting you to the fact that maybe the thing you're about to do isn't really right for you after all - or holding you back from something you really want, perhaps even need, to be doing. They say things like, “Pay attention to your body's reactions to the thing that’s causing your fear. Do you feel like you're collapsing in on yourself, or do you feel expansive and light?" This may not be bad advice; it may even be helpful to many people. But, in my personal experience, living with anxiety means that all garden variety fear feels largely the same. Unless something is setting off the flashing red lights of my gut instincts that tells me something is truly dangerous, I don't really have a rubric for differentiating between "fear that tells me this isn’t right for me" and "fear that naturally arises from taking a calculated risk." It all just feels like anxiety to me.

 
In tarot, the Nine of Swords is often considered the card that represents anxiety & depression.

In tarot, the Nine of Swords is often considered the card that represents anxiety & depression.

 

Take auditioning, for example. I know without a doubt that I want to be acting, but having an audition on the schedule looms over me, gives me a sick knot in my stomach and makes my heart pound until I begin to wonder if I should even go at all. Sometimes it manifests in strange ways - one night I had a stress dream in which I was auditioning for a Taylor Swift-produced musical version of Grey's Anatomy directed by Anjelica Huston, and I forgot all the lines to my monologue and tripped all over myself while Anjelica gave me her trademark, haughty stare-down.  Bizarre and hilarious, yes, but it highlighted how difficult it can be for my brain to reconcile how anxious I get over fairly routine parts of my day. Even the banal task of sorting through casting calls and applying to various listings can give me a panicky feeling as my mind cycles through every reason I shouldn't even be thinking of submitting. Does it matter that the worst thing that will likely happen is someone looking at my headshot and resume and thinking, "not this one"? Not to my brain. There's a reason I never ask myself things like, "What's the worst that could happen?" I know I am perfectly capable of coming up with scenarios that are far worse than reality.

These are the moments where Ambitious Anna has to claw her way to the surface and fight to drown out the "what ifs" and fears that Anxious Anna is lobbing at me. It's easier if I'm working on someone else's schedule because the fear of being thought badly of for canceling or being a no-show can often motivate Anxious Anna to get with the program, at least temporarily. It's a bit more difficult when my time, energy and success is the only thing at stake. If you don't try, you can't really fail, right? Your dreams remain plausible and safely tucked away in the corner of your mind, waiting for someday when you're really totally ready to go after them full force. 

So what’s a big-dreaming, anxious girl to do? I don’t really have an answer for that. I have an arsenal of coping mechanisms that I’ve built over the years, but there’s no way to erase anxiety entirely. The best I can do is acknowledge that the anticipation of a thing is probably going to be worse than the thing itself and try to push myself to do it anyway. It’s not easy. Some days I fail. Some days the outcome of pushing myself is not what I want it to be (an “it’s not right for me” moment, after the fact). But it’s either that or keep treading water and maintaining the status quo. And that is something I absolutely cannot do. So here’s to my fellow anxious dreamers and the never-ending battle between anxiety and ambition! Each step may be a struggle but, hey, it’s better than being feeling panicked that you’ll never make something out of your life, right? 

 

Sophie Olivia

 
The tattoo I got for Sophie on her fifteenth birthday.

The tattoo I got for Sophie on her fifteenth birthday.

 

"Who is Sophie?" is a question I get a lot. It's natural for people to be curious about the name I have tattooed on my arm, to wonder who was so important that I had a reminder of them permanently inked on my skin. The following conversation is always a little bit awkward, as I quickly say something along the lines of, "She's my baby sister. She died. But don't worry, it doesn't upset me, it's just part of my life." I rush to get that last sentence out before embarrassment sets in, just as anxious to let them know that they haven't overstepped as they are at the thought of bringing up potentially painful memories. I don't mind these questions; if I did, I wouldn't have my tattoo placed in such an obvious place, a visible reminder of her presence in my life to me and the world at large. And although her loss has left an aching hole in my heart that will never be filled again, what I tell the askers is true. I don't want them to worry. She is a part of my life. And their bringing her up doesn't upset me. I welcome it. Not a day goes by that I don't think about my sister, with or without the reminder from curious parties. It's as natural to me as breathing.

 
Sophie, characteristically missing one of her socks.

Sophie, characteristically missing one of her socks.

 

Sophie Olivia was born on March 21, 1994, just two days after my fifth birthday. I was so excited to be a big sister that I was hoping she would be born on my birthday, the perfect birthday present (had that come to pass, I may have regretted it later regardless of whether she lived or died. Sibling rivalry can be hard enough without sharing birthday celebrations). She was born at home, which my mom says was a blessing. It meant we had more than a week to enjoy her presence in a more natural setting, without the doctors and the needles and all the commotion of a hospital. We got to experience the new baby excitement before the anxiety about her condition set in. 

I remember pieces of Sophie's first week in great detail. My grandma showed up at my preschool in the middle of the day to pick me up and take me home. I knew as soon as I saw her that my mom must be in labor, and I was uncontrollably excited. We sat downstairs at the dining room table and drew pictures for my parents and my new sibling while my mom was in labor upstairs. I remember bringing the pictures upstairs and hanging them on the wall above my parents' bed (you can see them in the photos of our family from Sophie's birth). Shortly after she was born, I changed into my favorite outfit to celebrate the occasion - a blue velour dress, white tights studded with pink hearts, frilly white socks, and my "ruby slippers" (a pair of red, glittery Mary Janes, the height of fashion to a five year old) - and there are numerous photos of me dressed to the nines, beaming down at my new baby sister. I remember reading pictures books to Sophie, sometimes making up stories for the ones that had no words, and drawing more pictures for her while she sat in her blue baby chair. I remember going to the doctor's office (probably when we first discovered her heart murmur, though I didn't realize it at the time) and how Sophie managed to lose one of her socks along the way, a recurring habit of hers.

Family portrait. Note the drawings on the wall. I'm sure you can tell which one was mine. 

Family portrait. Note the drawings on the wall. I'm sure you can tell which one was mine. 

Now for some (oversimplified) medical jargon. Sophie was born with a heart defect called aortic stenosis, meaning the valve that carried the blood from her heart into her aorta wasn't fully opened. Once it was diagnosed, she was scheduled for a balloon valvuloplasty, a procedure in which a balloon is inserted into her heart and inflated to open the valve. It's the recommended procedure for infants, as it's less invasive than surgery and has a high survival rate. However, during Sophie's operation the pin that was holding the balloon slipped and punctured her heart, and, despite the doctors' best efforts and an emergency open heart surgery, she died on the operating table on March 31, 1994. 

I don't remember most of that. All my knowledge of the medical details was picked up in bits and pieces as I got older. What little I remember of the last few days of Sophie's life is fragmented. I have vague recollections of visiting her and my mom in the hospital the day before her surgery. I wasn't really sure what to think, as I'd never been to a hospital before. It seemed scary but everyone assured me that things would be okay, so I kissed them both goodbye and accompanied my dad home. The next day, I was taken to my grandparents' house so my dad could join my mom at the hospital. This part I remember vividly. We sat around watching movies, and the tension in the room was palpable. Even if I wasn't nervous, I could tell that the adults were. I was watching Fantasia when my parents returned from the hospital. It was the scene with the dinosaurs, which always terrified me, but I was determined to watch it because on some level I thought it would prove my bravery and that would somehow make the surgery go alright. My parents asked me to come into the other room to talk to them, and I threw a tantrum because I wanted to keep watching the movie. They took me aside anyway, and I suddenly noticed that someone was missing. Everything went into slow motion as, in my grandparents' family room, they told me my sister had died, and my tears transformed from angry-bratty-child tears into heartbroken sobs. 

Images from the program for Sophie's memorial service. The bunny I drew also graced her birth announcement, her square on a memorial quilt, and is now permanently tattooed onto my dad's arm.

Images from the program for Sophie's memorial service. The bunny I drew also graced her birth announcement, her square on a memorial quilt, and is now permanently tattooed onto my dad's arm.

This wasn't my first encounter with death, so I understood what was happening right away, at least as much as a five year old can understand something like that. A few years earlier, we had put our old dog to sleep, so I knew that when my parents told me Sophie had died that it meant she wasn't coming back. What I didn't know was how profoundly the experience would shape my life. Emotionally, I felt like I moved on fairly quickly. After all, just because I understood what death meant doesn't mean I understood how it affected me. I remember crying at her memorial service and again when we got her ashes back and placed them in the beautiful urn decorated with crocuses that my parents had gotten made for her, but apart from that I moved on to whatever issues typically occupy a five year old's mind. Still, I missed my sister, and she was always present in the back of my mind. I imagined playing with her, and when I woke up in the middle of the night after a bad nightmare, I told myself she was there, watching over me. 

Whether these were the figments of a grieving child's imagination or something more mysterious is a matter of personal opinion and something each person must decide for themselves based on their own beliefs about these sorts of things. What I can tell you is that this was far from the first or last time that people felt Sophie's presence around them or sensed something a bit otherworldly about her. My mom details the strange occurrences that happened during Sophie's ten days of life in a piece she wrote and performed for a production called Listen to Your Mother in 2011 - errant thoughts about Sophie's impending death that seemed to come out of nowhere, Sophie's lack of a "new baby smell", a time when she did the physically impossible and lifted her head to kiss my dad on the lips while he and my mom watched in shock. I, too, remember Sophie having distinctly non-infant-like qualities, such as an intense focus on the world around her, to the point where she would stare transfixed while I read to her and drew pictures for her and would begin to scream if I stopped. I also recall a story about my cousin having a dream that she died and rushing to the hospital so he could meet her before her operation, and my mom has spoken about dreaming of "old souls" welcoming Sophie back into their circle while waiting outside the operating room during her surgery. It has long been the opinion of my family that these were messages from Sophie that she was not long for this world and that her time with us was meant to be short.

Left: a purple heart I found at Fort Tryon Park with my mom. Right: a silver heart I found in Jerusalem.

Left: a purple heart I found at Fort Tryon Park with my mom. Right: a silver heart I found in Jerusalem.

We continued to receive messages like these following her death. Soon after she had died, a close friend of my mom's was writing a piece about Sophie, and when she ran it through spell check the only suggestion for Sophie's name that came up was "safe", a phenomena that has never happened again to our knowledge. Our family also began finding small hearts in odd places, starting with metallic heart-shaped confetti that somehow found its way into our house now and again despite the fact that none of us had come into contact with it or had a stash of it in our art supplies or anything of that nature. It was not uncommon to find a small pink or red heart glinting up at you from the floor with no indication as to where it had come from. Soon it expanded beyond confetti, as we began noticing puddles, stones, and knots in tree trunks shaped like hearts wherever we went. Just last year, my mom was visiting me and as we were walking through Fort Tryon Park I found a purple plastic heart-shaped jewel, the kind you'd find in a child's princess kit, sitting directly in our path, and this January I found a large silver heart on the ground in front of me as I exited the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It wasn't just hearts, either. Throughout my childhood I would often feel a light touch on my shoulder while I was alone, and recent conversations with my younger sister have revealed that she, too, has often felt like someone is watching over her as well. Some days the presence is stronger than others. On Sophie's birthday a few years back the shower curtain kept billowing in and wrapping itself around me while I was trying to take a shower despite the fact that both the window and door were closed. It wasn't until I murmured, "Hi, Sophie," that it fell still and I was able to finish bathing. That same day, my mom posted a photo of a rainbow from a suncatcher in our living room positioned directly above the shelf where we keep Sophie's ashes, photos, and other mementos of her. 

 
My sister Grace and I at Sophie's memorial in Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI. 

My sister Grace and I at Sophie's memorial in Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI. 

 



Many people may call these coincidences or wishful thinking. That's fine, we are all entitled to our beliefs and interpretations of the world. But to me, these have always been signs that Sophie is still with us, checking in with us and letting us know that she is alright and she loves us. At this point, her spiritual presence has been with me far, far longer than her physical form, and most days I am content with the knowledge that my middle sister is, for lack of a better word, my guardian angel. But some days - her birthday, the anniversary of her death, the rare occasions I get to visit her memorial, or random moments when her loss hits me out of nowhere - it doesn't feel like enough, and my chest aches with the fierceness of how much I miss my baby sister. And always, always I spend the ten days from March 21 to March 31 observing her presence in the world, her life and death, and the mark she left on me. 

In the words of one of my favorite musicians, Johnny Clegg, "It's funny how those once so close and now gone still so affect our lives." Sophie gave me the gift of becoming a big sister, a role I am grateful to have been able to continue fulfilling for our younger sister Grace, and there will never be a time when she is not a part of me. Gaining and losing a sister left me irreparably changed in ways that are still beyond my understanding, but as strange as it sounds I wouldn't have it any other way. And when strangers ask who Sophie is, I smile, because each time they speak her name it's proof that she is still a part of this world and still a part of me.

Love, love, love.

Love, love, love.

Birthday Presence

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The weather is starting to get warmer, spring is just around the corner, and most importantly (to me, of course), my birthday is mere days away. I have always loved celebrating my birthday. When I was younger, it was all about the parties and the presents and the cake. I was fortunate enough to have a nice celebration every year, sometimes more than one. Birthdays always meant dinner with the extended family at a restaurant of my choosing followed by mom's homemade birthday cake at home, and there was often a more kid-friendly party with my friends and classmates in the days following. I enjoyed having a day when all the attention was focused on me, and to my young mind there was nothing more magical than the excitement of being handed a wrapped present and unwrapping it to discover what goodies were waiting inside, just for me. 

 
Spot, one of my most anticipated childhood presents.

Spot, one of my most anticipated childhood presents.

 

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have been able to have parties and gifts and other celebrations on my birthday, however. March has also been a month of my life that has seen more than its fair share of heartbreak and tragedy, and each year I am reminded again of just how fortunate I am. It started when I was five, and what I wanted more than presents, more than anything else in the world, was a sister. I got my wish just two days after my birthday, but ten days later I got a crash course on the concept of death when my baby sister went into the hospital for a heart surgery and never came back (the story of her life and death deserves a post of its own, something I will most likely be writing more about next week). My life was forever changed, although my parents doubled down on making sure my day was extra special in an attempt to make up for the weeks of heartache each year that inevitably followed. Tragedy struck again when my great-grandmother and namesake became gravely ill just days before I turned 18. She lived just long enough to see me, her oldest great-grandchild, reach adulthood before passing away the next day. This was followed by my grandfather's death several weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday, causing me to fly home for his memorial service immediately after my celebrations had finished, and last year the week and a half preceding my birthday saw both the unexpected death of one of my childhood friends and the less unexpected (but still heartwrenching) death of my favorite author. And these were just my personal losses. My fourteenth and twenty-second birthdays, respectively, saw the beginning of the Iraq War and the bombing of Libya, and last year my hometown was rocked by the March 6th police killing of Tony Robinson. As my mom posted on Facebook at the beginning of this month, "March. It's complicated."

 
Holding my newborn sister, Sophie, two days after my 5th birthday. 

Holding my newborn sister, Sophie, two days after my 5th birthday. 

 

I don't mention all of this to start a pity party or to wallow in sadness, nor do I intend to claim any of the pain and sorrow of events not directly related to me as my own. But all of these events affected me deeply on a variety of levels, and they remind me of why it's important to take a day (or several) to celebrate being alive, and what better day than the day on which you were born? Besides, birthdays are a threshold, a crossing over from one year to the next, and dates like that seem to hold a special kind of magic. They're a day when anything seems possible. 

Now that I'm all grown up and have passed every milestone deemed exciting by society, my celebrations are less about parties and presents and more about experiences and making my presence known. For one thing, I don't really like getting stuff for stuff's sake (my apartment is cluttered enough already, thank you very much), and for another, I believe that adulthood means getting the opportunity to decide what exactly you want your birthday to look like without anyone else's opinions getting in the way. Over the past few years, my celebrations have taken the form of trips to the zoo, hopping between my favorite NYC bars, New Moon rituals with my witchier friends, concerts and, yes, parties. What can I say? Sometimes it's fun to get a bunch of people together to drink and eat and play games, and I have incredible friends who have been kind enough to offer up their apartment as a venue. I flew to DC to visit my best friend one year (and proudly donned a pair of plush panda ears after our trip to the National Smithsonian Zoo) and, after discovering his birthday was only five days before mine, talked my boyfriend into a vacation in California to celebrate our special days the first year we were dating. But whether I have the energy (and money) to spend a whole week traveling or simply spend the day doing things around town, I always make an attempt to do something that fulfills me and makes me happy.

Me and my boyfriend on our birthday trip to California.

Me and my boyfriend on our birthday trip to California.

This year, I just want to take it easy and get out into nature. I've picked a state park, doublechecked the driving distance with my boyfriend (it's doable), and intend to spend the day hiking and enjoying the (probably chilly) fresh air, giving my energy a much needed recharging. It's a lower-key celebration than I've had in a few years, but it's exactly what I need right now. And as far as I'm concerned, that's what a birthday should be about. Not parties or presents or fretting over getting one year older, but taking a day for yourself, a day to focus on what YOU need and want, a day for you to feel special, whatever that may mean for you. It could be a gigantic party with all your friends or a visit to your favorite museum or even a day to work on your passion projects uninterrupted. But whatever it is, I think it should be something special to you. 

So happy birthday to me! As in years past I will continue to hold all the losses this month contains in my heart and celebrate one more year of this incredible, complicated, heartbreaking, exhilarating adventure we call life. And whether you have something to celebrate this week or not, give yourself permission to put your needs and desires first once in a while. Believe me, you've earned it. 

 
Make your presence known. Birthday Anna and Kyle the Birthday Panda command you!

Make your presence known. Birthday Anna and Kyle the Birthday Panda command you!

 

How to Tame Lions

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about strength and what it means to be strong. This post was originally percolating in my head late last summer, after a long talk over coffee with one of my dear friends about the dating scene and the personas that people (especially men) are taught to project in order to woo a potential mate. We agreed that what was often presented as strength (machismo! Lack of emotion! Bulging muscles!) were rather unappealing to us and that what we perceived as the characteristics associated with true strength often fell more along the lines of confidence, authenticity, and vulnerability. This conversation lodged itself in my brain and continued to niggle at me, eventually making its way into a half-written blog post that I never got around to finishing and has long since been deleted. But as I consider my life path and the obstacles that face me, I find that the concept of strength is, once again, occupying my thoughts. 

 
In costume for a musical-themed party. No one perpetuates outdated and stereotypical concepts of strength like Gaston...

In costume for a musical-themed party. No one perpetuates outdated and stereotypical concepts of strength like Gaston...

 

Sometimes I feel like my entire life has been spent in pursuit of this elusive virtue, a journey made only more difficult by the fact that my definition of what makes a person "strong" is constantly changing. When I was younger, strength meant one of two things: the ability to lift heavy objects and not letting your emotions show, neither of which I was particularly capable of. Physically, I was tiny, nonathletic, and prone to getting hurt with even the slightest amount of physical exertion; I was the person who managed to break my finger on the first day of our basketball unit in gym class and had to sit on the bleachers and read for two months while I healed. (As far as I was concerned, it was the best two months of P.E. ever...) Emotionally, what I can now identify as anxiety manifested as extreme sensitivity, giving me an almost paralyzing fear of anything that contained what could even remotely be considered scary content and a tendency to cry whenever I felt the least bit hurt or overwhelmed. As you might imagine, this made me something of an easy target for my peers. Lord of the Flies does not exaggerate in its portrayal of the viciousness of children unless otherwise curbed by an adult's influence, and I was often subjected to a variety of teasing and bullying. In those moments, there was nothing I wanted more than to be able to shrug off the barbs and taunts of my companions, to watch their words glance off my impenetrable armor while inside my feelings remained protected and unscathed. As I got older, I learned to hide my true feelings when they landed a blow, to smile and project the image of indifference, feigning strength even when I didn't feel it. It felt like a victory, but the previous years had already left their mark.

Eventually, my lack of reaction combined the natural maturation that comes with age put an end to those attacks, but the walls had been built; vulnerability was no longer an option. However, growing up also taught me that strength was far more complex than I'd thought as a child, and as I found myself in the world of adult interactions and relationships, I discovered that emotional walls often did more harm than good. It's difficult to connect with someone on an authentic level when you're constantly holding part of yourself back, and it's exhausting to constantly keep up a front that doesn't reflect what you're truly feeling. True strength, it began to seem, was allowing yourself to be vulnerable without giving others the power to destroy you. So I was forced to begin the arduous journey of dismantling the walls I'd built, opening up, and learning to trust people again, even if that meant giving them the power to hurt me. It took many years (and a lot of therapy), but little by little I was able to let my guard down and stop hiding parts of myself around my nearest and dearest, whether that meant openly geeking out about the new Hobbit movie when it first came out (to the point where I was taking photos of/with every advertisement for it that I saw) or allowing myself to break down in front of my boyfriend when I learned of my grandfather's death without worrying what he would think of me. Things that should have come easily but, at the time, felt monumental to me.

These days, I feel fairly comfortable being myself around people, although I still have trouble crying in front of people outside of my family/partnership (old habits die hard...). Most of my friends will tell you I'm a ridiculous, overly-enthusiastic nerd whose passion makes me equally excitable and easy to anger. I still wear my heart on my sleeve, although I've gotten a lot better at taking the hits without breaking. But now I find my strength is being tested in new ways, as I throw myself fully into the uncertain waters of both acting and self-driven employment, both of which involve a lot of rejection or, more often than not, no word at all. I never expected this to be an easy road to walk, but some days the responsibility and doubt gets to be so overwhelming that I feel certain it will push me down, down until I am crushed under its weight, unable to get back on my feet and dust myself off. In these moments I wonder what on earth I was thinking, starting not just one but two new careers all at once. I'm not complaining, and I certainly don't regret my decision - even in my darkest moments I am sure that leaving my traditional job to create a more flexible life for myself was the right thing to do - but it can be daunting, especially when so much of the my daily tasks consists of paperwork (applications, resumes, emails, cover letters, advertisements, etc.) rather than the work I truly love to do. Such is the reality of the world, but it can still be a bummer.

 
Two of my favorite depictions of the Strength card in my tarot decks... (Left: The Raven's Prophecy Tarot, Right: The Prisma Visions Tarot)

Two of my favorite depictions of the Strength card in my tarot decks... (Left: The Raven's Prophecy Tarot, Right: The Prisma Visions Tarot)

 

It should surprise no one that in those moments I turn to my tarot cards (I feel like my catchphrase should be "there's a card for that"). The archetypes depicted can provide an image or a mantra of sorts for me to hold onto, a reminder that everything is cyclical, that I have gotten through difficulties before and will do so again. In tarot, the Strength card represents patience, conviction, and control, and  it's often portrayed as a figure taming a lion (it should also surprise no one that this imagery appeals to me greatly). I use this as a reminder that self-confidence doesn't mean I have to march around waving a banner as I trumpet how great I am or even that I have to feel awesome about myself 100% of the time. Sometimes it just means knowing that I can handle the bumps that I'm currently experiencing in the road for one more day. When I think of strength in these terms, it no longer feels like a virtue I must pursue but rather a promise of a quality that I already possess: the ability to tame my fears and push forward, inch by inch. 

So this is me being strong. My life isn't all sunshine and daisies, and sometimes I seriously question what I kind of mess I've gotten myself into, but at the end of the day I'm still standing, secure in my convictions that I'm doing what's best for myself. This week I've had three friends tell me that my pursuit of my dreams inspires them and makes me brave. Truthfully, I don't often feel that way myself (if anything, I wonder if it makes me foolish), but it's reassuring to hear that they think so. And sometimes, the bravest, strongest thing I can do is admit to myself and to the rest of the world that this is hard, it's overwhelming, and it's scary as hell. But I'm not going to let that stop me, and I hope that you find the strength to keep standing in the face of your obstacles, too. After all, I'm not the only one with the ability to tame lions. 

Jew(ish): Traveling Through Israel By Foot, Friendship, & Feline

Crossing the Ein Avdat Oasis in the Negev Desert, Israel. 

Crossing the Ein Avdat Oasis in the Negev Desert, Israel. 

"It has been almost a month and I'm still processing it all. This trip still kind of feels like it was all a dream. Anyone else feel that way too?"

This was posted by one of my traveling companions from my Birthright Trip in the Facebook group for our bus (#243, represent!) last week. Everyone agreed, of course. It's hard to believe that exactly one month ago we were recovering from a flight back to New York after spending ten intensive days in a completely different part of the world. I've spent the last few weeks trying and failing to write a post about the experience (after all, I don't want to let it go undocumented) but it's been difficult to figure out what to say. The cliché, of course, is that taking an international trip changes your life permanently. There's an entire industry based on the idea of people finding themselves through travel, and I suppose it wouldn't be surprising if I'd come back from a tour created with the express purpose of connecting people with their heritage, the Jewish religion, and the country of Israel with some newfound connection to the religion or the land. But I don't feel much different. I'm still uninterested in engaging with organized religion. I still have very complicated feelings about Israel and its political situation. I have a bit more understanding of my heritage, but I'm not sure I gained a better understanding of myself. Perhaps it's because I went on this trip when I was 26 and had already spent many, many years refining my knowledge of myself, but I returned from my journey feeling like much the same person as I was when I left. This is by no means a unique perspective, but it does make it difficult to condense my experiences into an interesting blog post that might resonate with someone other than myself and my mother, who reads everything I post.

This is not to say the trip wasn't incredible or eye-opening. The land was beautiful, the history informative, the people incredible, and I loved every minute of the time I was there (except maybe when I had to pee in the desert. My friend Dina, who held the flashlight while I "nature-peed", can vouch for my vocal complaints during that particular experience. What can I say? Roughing it is not my forte). The very fact that I was standing on land that had been occupied by so many civilizations for thousands of years took my breath away at times. But processing that, condensing it all down to some satisfactory answer to the inevitable question people ask me - "So, how was Israel?" - has eluded me.

The Banias Falls, spices in the Tel Aviv Shuk, the Dead Sea, the view from Ben Gurion's Tomb, and looking out over Israel and Lebanon from the Golan Heights.

The Banias Falls, spices in the Tel Aviv Shuk, the Dead Sea, the view from Ben Gurion's Tomb, and looking out over Israel and Lebanon from the Golan Heights.

What I can say about this experience is that it challenged me. From the very moment I started the application process, I was a bit out of my depth. Let me tell you, for me personally there is nothing that smacks me in the face with an inferiority complex quite like applying for a program for Jewish people when I don't feel particularly Jewish myself. Though I can easily trace my Jewish heritage through my mother's mother back to Russia (or the Ukraine, depending on who you ask and which decade's borders we're going by), the practices have been all but lost in our family. We don't go to synagogue or regularly observe the high holidays. I never went to Hebrew school or had a Bat Mitzvah. My grandma's sole tradition that she passed onto us was having a family gathering on one night of Hanukah, during which she served latkes with sour cream and pork sausage on the same plate, if that tells you anything about how seriously she took her family's faith. So despite the fact that I had been assured by many of my friends who were Birthright alums that a lot of participants were in the same cultural boat as me and the fact that I was genuinely interested in learning more about my family's heritage and cultural history, it was still rather nervewracking to go through a process that appeared to measure my level of Jewishness, a religion and culture I had never had more than a passing connection to. Even when I was eventually approved and assigned a trip date, I'm not sure I truly believed I'd be allowed to go until our plane touched down at Ben Gurion Airport. (This belief was further exacerbated by an hour and a half long extended security screening by El Al airlines during which they confiscated, of all things, my hairbrush, my journal, my water bottle, and my travel pillow and moved them to my checked luggage before finally escorting me onto the plane mere minutes before we were supposed to take off. A very surreal experience, especially since Friends was playing on the TV in the background the entire time.) 

All my fears dissipated once the tour itself began, however. Truthfully, there just wasn't time to worry about anything other than where we were going next, if my water bottle was full and my camera was charged, and whether or not I was going to be able to focus on another half hour lecture on the history of Jerusalem when we'd been up til 3 am the night before. We were scheduled from 7 am to 10 pm most days, and I was lucky if I made it through the evening programming without dozing off at least once.  Everyone became masters at the art of bus-napping, catching a few extra minutes of sleep between stops as we criss-crossed the country. We had to get close with one another, fast. Nothing like snoring, open-mouthed and mere inches from one another, to remove all barriers. Luckily, we had an excellent group, one committed to bonding fully as a whole rather than fracturing off into separate cliques, so you knew you were bound to have a good time regardless of who you wound up seated beside. This was both a blessing and a curse for me. I have a tendency to feel a bit lost in the crowd, usually preferring to find one or two close friends so I always have someone to turn to, and the mass-friendship experience sometimes meant that I found myself walking alone and didn't know who to reach out to. The upside of this, however, was that within minutes somebody always caught up to me and struck up a new conversation, and it was never the same person. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to breathe and just BE in the moment and see what happened next rather than trying to regain control and seek out one particular person. The whole trip was an education in giving up control and seeing where events were going to take you, something I'd forgotten how to do in my seven years of living on my own and being the only one responsible for my life and well-being. So a challenge, yes, but not a bad one.

Hiking in the Negev Desert.

Hiking in the Negev Desert.

As for Israel itself, I don't even know where to begin. It's easy to see why the land has been fought over for millennia. It's a breathtaking place full of such variety of flora and fauna, not to mention the historical landmarks. We visited the ruins of a Roman Aqueduct in Caesaria and looked out over the B'hai Gardens in Haifa. We learned about the Mikvah and the history of Kabbalah in Tsfat and walked through twisting, ancient alleys filled with artists selling all sorts of beautiful work. We hiked up to the Banias Falls, saw the Temple of Pan, and stood on a ridge that gave us a view of both Lebanon and Israel. We visited a bird sanctuary in Jerusalem, walked through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and the Mount Herzel Military Cemetery. We sang songs around a desert campfire and slept under the stars while a nearly full moon shone down on us, a curious fox scouted out our campsite, and shooting stars flew past overhead. We climbed to the ruins of the fortress of Masada at dawn in the midst of a dust storm. We swam in the hot springs in Tiberius and floated in the Dead Sea. We did a guided meditation in the Nagev and visited two desert oases, Ein Gedi and Ein Avdat. We visited the Shuk in Tel Aviv and a state of the arts school for special needs students in Ra'anana. To cover everything we were lucky enough to experience would take several more blog posts at least twice as long as this one.

The Caesaria Aqueduct, the B'Hai Gardens in Haifa, the views from the rooftops of Tsfat and a windchime and bell shop in Tsfat.

The Caesaria Aqueduct, the B'Hai Gardens in Haifa, the views from the rooftops of Tsfat and a windchime and bell shop in Tsfat.

Out of the entire journey, though, three experiences stood out to me as being particularly meaningful. The first was at the Kotel, the Western Wall. I mentioned earlier that I am not particularly religious, but religious or no there is a powerful spiritual pull in that place. Maybe it's some mystical force, maybe it's just the concentrated energy of 2,000 years worth of prayer. But the minute I placed my hand on the cool stone wall, I felt instantly grounded and present in the moment in a way I've never experienced before. My mind is always going in a hundred different directions, so meditation has never been my jam, but in that moment I felt completely centered and at peace. Even the animals seem affected by the energy of the Wall. There are birds all over Jerusalem - pigeons, sparrows, crows, doves - but it's like they were drawn to that place, maybe due to the detritus from all the humans that pass through that spot, maybe by something more pure, more magical. It's hard to say. But one of the most beautiful shots I got from that day was of a pure white pigeon flying directly at the Wall, like the dove of peace. And when I finally left to rejoin the group, I found a silver heart-shaped confetti on the ground. It was most likely discarded by a passing Bar Mitzvah, but found hearts are something that have long been a symbol of my late sister's spiritual presence within my family, so finding one in that moment was incredibly powerful. 

Powerful moments at     the Western Wall.

Powerful moments at the Western Wall.

The second experience that moved me deeply was visiting Yad Vashem. I must admit, that was actually the part I looked forward to the least. I fully believe that the Holocaust is an important piece of history and one worth remembering, but I get a bit exhausted and desensitized by the image upon image of brutality that tends to fill these sorts of museums. Six million is such a large number that it's almost numbing to hear it repeated over and over again. What surprised me about Yad Vashem was the focus on individual stories and artifacts - the glasses of one person, the letter found in another's pocket, the suitcase packed by a family as they were forced to leave their home - as well as the underlying message of hope in dark times. I was indescribably moved by the sheer amount of artwork they had documented from that time, the hand-drawn birthday cards and homemade games created for children living in the ghettos, the artists who painted and sketched their daily reality no matter how bleak it became, the tales of theatrical productions staged in the ghettos and the camps. As an artist myself, it wrenched my heart and lifted my spirits to see the effort put into making sure beauty and creativity endured regardless of how  horrific reality became. The stories of how Jewish families lived in Europe before the Holocaust were powerful to me, too, as they made me feel a sense of connection to my own family, many of whom fled to North America during the pogroms were long gone by the time Hitler rose to power. The reports of brutality were there, too, of course, but like everything else in that museum, they were told through the eyes, notes, and narratives of individual people. It humanized this overwhelmingly terrible historical event, made it feel more raw, more accessible, and made it affect me far more deeply than I expected. I think most of us left the memorial feeling very contemplative, moreso than we had prepared for going in.

The view from outside Yad Vashem. Photos were prohibited inside the museum. 

The view from outside Yad Vashem. Photos were prohibited inside the museum. 

On a less emotional and spiritual note, but no less powerful for it, was the effect of the hike up Masada. We awoke at 4:30 in the morning (a late start if you want to reach the peak by sunrise), after tossing and turning all night on the freezing, rocky ground of what was effectively a gravel parking lot at the entrance to Masada National Park. We'd bundled up in layers and had been provided with sleeping bags, foam mats, and tents (though many of us chose to forgo the tents), but their thin protection had been little help against the chill and discomfort, and the most sleep any of us had gotten was about two hours, if we were lucky. We packed up our campsite, brushed our teeth, and ate breakfast in the dim, pre-dawn light and set off toward the foot of the mountain as fierce winds whipped dust around us and threatened to tip us over. Most groups climb up the Roman Ramp, which is the easier of the two trails, and only make their descent down the twisting Snake Path, but most groups don't camp the night before and our site was on the wrong side of the plateau for us to follow that route. So we took the Snake Path both going up and down. If you want to talk challenging, well, climbing up the Snake Path will make you realize just how out of shape you truly are. The cross-fit trainers in our group took off at a run and reached the top within a half an hour, but the rest of us made much slower progress, panting and wheezing and sweating as we forced our way up the twisting path and rows and rows of uneven stairs hewn into the rock, stopping often for water breaks and to catch our breath. Due to our late start, the sun rose while most of us were only halfway up the incline, but it was still a remarkable sight. I found three or four members of our group who had set the same pace as me, and together we rallied one another as we staggered toward the finish line. Our tour guide waited for us at the top, high fiving each of us in turn as we entered the ruins of the ancient fortress and looked out over one of the most incredible vistas I have ever seen in my life. The morning's dust storm had made everything a bit hazy, giving it an ethereal, otherworldly feel, and suddenly the climb felt more than worth it. The wind was more bitter on top of the plateau, and we quickly donned the layers we'd stripped off during our strenuous, sweaty climb and huddled together for warmth. We shared a snack of dates as we discussed the infamous history of Masada, and then our tour guide and staffers performed an informal Bar Mitzvah for several of the men on our trip who had opted to participate in a renewal of their faith. It was short, sweet, and to the point, and at the end one of our staffers broke out his guitar and we sang and danced to an acoustic rendition of Hava Nagila and introduced our Israeli peers to that classic American Bar Mitzvah experience, the Cha Cha Slide. By the time we finished and began our descent, I was thoroughly chilled to the bone and it was barely 8 am. It was probably the most productive morning I've ever had in my life, if I'm being honest. Despite the fact that halfway up I wasn't sure if my lungs and legs were going to hold out, I enjoyed the physical challenge. Let me tell you, if I lived near the Judean Desert I would cancel my gym membership and just hike the Snake Path once a week. I'd be in incredible shape in no time. 

Attempting to capture the breathtaking beauty of Masada and its view of the Judean Desert.

Attempting to capture the breathtaking beauty of Masada and its view of the Judean Desert.

Still as much as  the scenery and the experiences themselves affected me, the people who shared it with me were just as incredible. Between those who had traveled with me on the long flight from the US and the participants, guards, and guide who joined us once we reached Israel, they were the most amazing group of traveling companions I could ever have asked for. Together, we ate, napped, and hiked our way through each and every day. We engaged in thoughtful discussions about what it meant to be Jewish and heated discussions of how that affected our daily lives. We gathered at the hotel bar in the evenings, chatting and bonding, or out at designated bars on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, sharing tales of our lives and experiences over a beer or two. We posed for pictures and took ridiculous selfies. Those of us who were cat people quickly became known to one another, as we were the ones who stopped to pet and photograph every cat that crossed our paths (and there are A LOT of cats in Israel, let me tell you. I was even followed by cats as I moved between pools at the hot springs!), while the others looked on at our train of feline followers in amusement. One day, at a rest stop, we discovered a massive, magical playground that put every climbing structure I have seen in the States to shame, and we spent half an hour climbing up jungle gyms, jumping on trampolines, racing down thirty foot slides, chasing one another, and generally acting like excited children. When we asked our tour guide later if any group he'd been with had behaved as we did upon seeing such an incredible playground, he shook his head and said, "Not even close." We laughed, we hugged, we cried, we drank, we danced, we became close in a way that only exists in such an intensive, compact experience and rarely survives the outside world once the journey is over. 

Group photos, incredible playgrounds, and nights out in Tel Aviv. 

Group photos, incredible playgrounds, and nights out in Tel Aviv. 

And so, a month has now passed. Life has gone on and we have all settled back into our daily routines. Our Facebook group is still relatively active, and I talk to several friends from the trip on a regular basis, but apart from that not much feels different than it was before I left. I miss the people I met in Israel, both American and Israeli, and am planning a trip back to see everything I missed and the places I wished I could have spent more time in, but mostly it does feel like a distant dream. I am still fumbling through life, still trying to figure out how to get to the path I want to be on, as are most of my peers. For some of them, that path now includes an extended stay or possibly even a move to Israel, but for me it may include a visit or two, but nothing more. If I had to choose one thing I learned from the trip, however, it's to surrender myself to the challenges. I have chosen a difficult life for myself, just as I chose a trip that I knew would push me out of my comfort zone, but both have the potential to be incredibly rewarding when one simply embraces the experience and breathes through the discomfort when it arises. I said in my previous post that I am trying to be more like The Fool, and journeying through Israel embodied that commitment for me. Hopefully the rest of the year ahead of me will have just as many adventures as I found myself on in those ten days, albeit of a different sort. And as many cats. You can never have enough cats. 

So many cats....

So many cats....

Playing the Fool

Have you ever encountered something that everyone else really seems to love but you can't quite wrap your head around? It's not that you dislike it, per se, but you just don't understand the hype. "What's so great about this thing anyway?" you might wonder. "And what's wrong with me that I don't see it?"

This has been my experience with The Fool card in tarot. For those who are unfamiliar with the structure of a traditional tarot deck, The Fool is the first card in the deck, and it represents the beginning of the journey through the Major Arcana or Trump cards, the twenty-one cards that represent bigger events and forces in your life. It stands for qualities like naiveté, innocence, foolish bravery, and faith. The Fool is the person who rushes into a new venture without care or thought for what could go wrong, which is often either the best decision you could make or the worst.

 
The traditional Rider Waite Fool.

The traditional Rider Waite Fool.

 

Intellectually, I see the appeal of The Fool. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all. And I am quite partial to the idea of being bold, taking risks, and going off on adventures as the whim strikes. Yet, when the card pops up in a reading, my initial reaction is to recoil. Perhaps this is because I am turned off by the clown or jester-themed artwork found on many interpretations of the card. Perhaps it's because I spent a lot of my childhood feeling foolish and being teased for my innocence, sensitivity, and perceived lack of experience. Perhaps it's my anxiety rejecting the idea of taking risks without extensive (over)preparation or balking at the idea of doing something that might make others think less of me (at least according to my brain's convoluted logic). Realistically, it is probably a combination of the three with a dash of other factors thrown in for extra risk-averseness flavoring. Whatever the reason, while the Fool is not my least favorite card, it certainly isn't in my top five.

 
Depictions of The Fool in James R. Eads' "Light Visions" and "Prisma Visions" tarot decks. The booklet calls the wolf Foolish for swimming out too far, but I've always thought pelicans were pretty Foolish - they look awkward but fly far.

Depictions of The Fool in James R. Eads' "Light Visions" and "Prisma Visions" tarot decks. The booklet calls the wolf Foolish for swimming out too far, but I've always thought pelicans were pretty Foolish - they look awkward but fly far.

 


It is for that very reason that, when ruminating on which card's characteristics I wanted to try and bring into my life in 2016 (a practice that I commit to in lieu of a list of resolutions), The Fool immediately popped into my head. I suppose it makes sense; I already made the arguably Foolish decision to quit my day job in December to further pursue my acting career and attempt to support myself through my tarot practice, and tackling a card that makes me squirm seems like an appropriate challenge in what will undoubtedly be a year full of challenges of all shapes and sizes. It's not the first time I've done something that would be considered foolish by conventional standards either, so while a part of me balks at the idea of throwing myself headfirst into a life of risk and adventure, there is an equally large part of me that craves it. I am, I after all, the same person who packed up her entire life (and her cat) and moved halfway across the country with only an inkling of how I was going to find work and permanent lodging once I arrived. While I do like to be in control and have everything planned out whenever possible, once I get an idea into my head I tend to charge full-steam ahead with only a passing consideration for logistics. I've found that's the best way to drown out any anxieties and doubts: just jump in before I can reconsider. It's how I've wound up with multiple piercings, two tattoos, and a second cat (all of which were fantastic decisions, in my opinion).

Me emulating Maggie Stiefvater's image of The Fool on top of Masada in Israel.

Me emulating Maggie Stiefvater's image of The Fool on top of Masada in Israel.

So, I've decided to embody The Fool as best I can this year, wherever it winds up leading me. So far it's serving me well. In the first month of 2016 I have done tarot readings for money, flown to another continent, climbed a mountain before sunrise, eaten flaming brandy-soaked raisins at midnight on New Year's Eve while making a wish for my future, and done battle with the New York Health Exchange despite my extreme aversion to talking on the phone. I've made new friends, ridden camels, slept under the stars, floated in the Dead Sea, asked for something well above what I feel I've earned, tried, failed, and committed to trying again. I still have so many challenges before me and so many moments where I will have to commit myself over and over again to Foolishly striving for the impossible rather than giving into my doubts, but whenever I begin to question my choices I will look at the artwork of the Fool (perhaps in a deck with a less traditional depiction, like Maggie Stiefvater's Raven's Prophecy tarot), take a deep breath, quell my fears, and boldly strike out towards the next adventure. 



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.

On Low Self-Steam and Big Life Changes

Several months ago, I published my website for the world to see. In the Facebook post promoting it, I declared that it was my intention to publish at least one blog post a week. And then... I didn't. I had good reasons: crises at my day job resulting in 9-10 hour work days, collapsing with exhaustion when I arrive home, burning the candle at both ends as I tried to juggle work + passions + even a shred of a social life, etc. etc. Yet despite the validity of the obstacles that derailed me, I still spent much of that time beating myself up for my perceived lack of productivity. I started half a dozen posts that inevitably fizzled when I couldn't find the time to get back to them (or didn't have the energy to write paragraphs of text when I happened to have a spare hour). Even my morning routine, documented so lovingly in my last blog post from July, was suffering, as I was too exhausted to drag myself out of bed in the early mornings and always found myself rushing through my tea and tarot or spacing out in a drowsy haze when I wanted to be focused on the task at hand. I was stuck in an endless cycle of internally berating myself, telling myself there's always the time if you choose to use your resources wisely, sitting down to write or throw cards again for a few minutes before rushing off to my next obligation, then watching the half-baked post wither in my drafts folder as my inspiration slipped away and staring miserably at all the days devoid of readings in my tarot journal, before starting the whole thing over again, telling myself that THIS TIME it would be different. This time I would push through.

It's easy to fall into the mindset that what we are doing isn't enough (and, admittedly, this is sometimes the case). We live in the cult of self-sufficiency, raised on the legends of the ones who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, surviving on stale potato chips, impossible dreams, and belief in themselves until they finally hit it big. Even as children, we're fed this myth in the form of storybooks. One of my favorites growing up was "The Little Engine That Could", the tale of a small steam engine that crested the impossible mountain that had defeated so many of its larger and stronger counterparts, powered only by the strength of its self-confidence. The engine's rallying chant, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can", wormed its way into my young brain and lodged there, reminding me throughout the coming years of the importance of believing in yourself when all the odds are against you.

Illustration from  The Little Engine That Could  by Watty Piper

Illustration from The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

And certainly, this message can be an empowering one. It is nigh impossible to achieve a seemingly unattainable dream if your mind is occupied with doubts and insecurities, and belief in oneself is the defining factor in many a situation. But there is a darker side to this story as well, one that our shadow side is only too willing to jump on: if you are NOT succeeding, perhaps it is because you do not believe enough, do not care enough, are not working hard enough. You see, though success stories are meant to empower, there are so many factors left out of the final tale, things like health, economic standing, social privilege, additional obligations, etc., all of which have a dramatic effect on our ability to devote our energy, money, and attention to a single-minded goal. We may all have finite resources with which to work, but this does not mean the total sum for one of us is equal to the total sum for another. 

The idea that we are all trying to do our best within our individual means is not a new one, of course. The Spoon Theory, a term coined by Christine Miserandino, is a popular metaphor for the allocation of limited energy reserves when one is living with chronic illness, and the incomparable writer and artist Esme Wang writes extensively about the importance of establishing our own definitions of success and productivity according to our individual limits. In fact, though this post has been percolating in my head for many weeks now, it was her excellent post this week titled "You Are Not Lazy" that provided the final catalyst for getting this all down on (virtual) paper. 

As for me, I call the feeling of working with too-little energy "Low Self-Steam", a phrase borne of a magnificent typo made by one of my cousin's students that ties into the tale of our beloved little train exceptionally well. After all, if that steam engine had run out of fuel, it would have been an entirely different situation than the one portrayed in the story. As much as we may pretend otherwise, we cannot run on belief alone, and if our resources are depleted it becomes very difficult to power ourselves forward, with any attempts to push through the exhaustion and burnout only leading to us crashing even harder. Self-Steam is also inexorably linked with that student's intended target, self-esteem, for when our ability to propel ourselves forward is compromised, when we feel that we are not living up to our full potential or operating at our highest capacity, it can be detrimental to our mood and sense of self. And when our self-esteem is low, so, too, is our ability to motivate ourselves to push forward, and so the cycle continues. 

 
The very picture of Low Self-Steam. I call it "Exhausted With Cat". 

The very picture of Low Self-Steam. I call it "Exhausted With Cat". 

 

So what's a person to do? Honestly, the only answer is "the best we can under our current circumstances", and those circumstances will vary greatly from person to person and time to time. Sometimes our situation dictates that we must set aside some of our goals for a time in order to take care of ourselves mentally, physically, financially, or emotionally. Sometimes the best we can do is get ourselves out of bed in the morning. For many years of my life, it meant working full-time jobs to support myself while trying to fit a little bit of acting in on the side. It was frustrating and sometimes demoralizing, but I made the best of it and certainly don't regret doing it. However, thanks to a the hard work I've done building some stability over the years and the support of my incredible partner, I'm now able to start taking a different approach and divesting myself of the one thing that is sucking away so much of my time and energy: my job. It's a terrifying and heartbreaking prospect; I love the organization I work for and the people I work with, and I certainly love having a steady income. I've never been much enamored with the concept of the Starving Artist, preferring instead to be the Not Riddled With Anxiety Over Where My Next Meal Is Coming From Artist, but I am even less enamored with the concept of being The Artist Who Played It Safe And Never Pursued Her Dreams. And I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I have a strong support system, several offers of part-time work should I need them, and a fairly clear idea of where I want to be in life and what steps I'll take to get there.

So, as of December 18, I will no longer be gainfully employed in the non-profit world. Instead I'll be putting my newly-reclaimed stores of energy to use in my writing, auditions, and tarot readings (which you can purchase here if you're interested). And if or when I need to take on outside work to bring in more money, I will take a page out of my friend Nikki Dee's book and make sure that it's work that does not draw so heavily on my resources. After all, what is a steam engine without the steam to power it? So if you hear somebody quietly chanting, "I think I can, I think I can", it's just me, pushing myself ever forward and doing my best under the current circumstances.


Note: The Spoon Theory refers specifically to the experience of living with chronic illness and should not be appropriated to describe low-energy levels in general. Self-Steam is, as far as I am concerned, open for use in any and all situations. Thank you. 

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.