A New Day (#241)

The thought of daring to write here again almost paralyzes me, as I stare myself down on this hot, late-summer evening. Will I find my voice now, more than eight years after starting this project of regularly embracing my fears? What if it’s not perfect right from the restart?

This is exactly why I’ve returned – not just to encourage myself to step out of my comfort zone regularly, but also to process and share the enormous freedom of choosing change. For anyone who hasn’t read from day one of Skydiving for Pearls, I began this journey in 2010 as a way to overcome the anxiety I experienced as a freelance artist in New York City, often not knowing from where my next paycheck or gig would come. Deciding to make a regular habit out of change, I sought to do something every day, five days per week for six months, that frightened me, led me to a place of discomfort, or intrigued me in an unusual way. Even when I eased up on writing, that evolution continued, and I stopped making excuses, growing into a life of exploration that gave me joy and purpose.

Fast forward to 2015. Three years ago, while singing in a rehearsal, I suffered a terrible injury while onset, resulting in a lot of physical and emotional damage, extended and regular sharp pain, years of physical therapy, and a complicated and difficult surgery. While singing for the pope, I remember feeling as if I were being stabbed in the groin repeatedly. Walking through the city terrified me at every step, as I rightfully feared who might collide into me next, desperately trying to maintain my hard-fought health and somehow improve. So very much anxiety lingered over me like an invisible poison.

Thanks to time and some incredible support from my loved ones and practitioners, I did heal and, in some ways, continue to do so. Although unable to pin down any other reason why, aside from facing my fears again, this year has reawakened me in the most beautiful way imaginable. I’ve finally returned to that place of self-exploration, after a long time of anxiety and self-protection. Despite having some real peace and love within that painful time of healing, I can’t adequately express the absolute ecstasy of rediscovering myself now and traveling down this path to continue my evolution, to see where an unencumbered life might lead.

So, as one of my life heroes, actor and coach Josh Pais might say, “I’m back.” Encountering surprises, challenges, and epiphanies on a regular basis, I need ways to stop and process all of the incredible things happening around and to me. I also fully believe that living a present life of exploration beyond excuses tops all possible paths, no matter your physical location or status. It is the best way I know to live, hands down. I long to share that approach as often, in as many ways, and with as many people as I can. Today, I feared writing this post. I’m so glad I did.

From a Marathoner with Love

Closed Central Park

Dear Friends, Fans, and Family,

To those of you who’ve supported me by donating funds to Team for Kids, running with me, or cheering me along my training, thank you. I couldn’t have come this far without you.

As you know, this part of the world has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, and I have no words to express my sadness and heartbreak for the victims of this storm. That it has begun to polarize our community about such a life-affirming event as a marathon further breaks my heart. So many of us have spent months training for a challenge designed to makes us stronger and raised donations for very worthy causes, and I believe in this marathon and that it should continue on Sunday. I believe we each should run with our heads held high, celebrating 26.2 miles of this amazing city and the inhabitants who now fight daily to keep it running in every way.

Although I think it practical and important to keep the marathon’s spirit, income and revenue rolling despite this difficult time, my heart does truly goes out to my friends especially in Staten Island, Long Island, lower Manhattan, and NJ, as well as those affected in other localities. Throughout the days leading up to the race and on Sunday, volunteers are encouraging runners to donate to help victims of the disaster. As participants, may we use this moment as a call to volunteer our time or donate as we can and not turn away from those who need our help. As spectators, please meet us with a cheer rather than a protest for our months of hard work.

Let’s not turn our backs on each other in this time of need. If you need disaster relief or volunteers elsewhere, please post where we can help in the comments. If you have a donation to give, please begin with the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief here: http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy. If you’d rather give to another similar organization, this Huffington Post article provides some good tips for giving well to the disaster relief efforts.

If you’re interested in giving also to Team for Kids, please send your donations in the way of my friend Kristen Kasarjian’s page. She’s running for the same charity I am and still needs to reach her goal. We all have goals, after all… Some of us want to finish a race, some want to replenish our incomes so we can pay our bills, some of us want heat, water and electricity, some of us need a new home. It’s the energy and beautiful stubbornness behind people like marathoners that make this city great. Please don’t hide behind the glow of your television, computer, and smartphone while criticizing people bringing revenues and hope to a city we love. If you want to help, unplug along with those who have no choice and look for an opportunity. I promise you, there are plenty… and if I can help, please tell me how.

Lifetime Investments

Child's Play

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how life has changed since childhood. We spend many of our days indoors, and most of us wouldn’t dream of recessing ourselves outside for any length of time in the winter, unless skiing or absolutely necessary. Most of us have our times at the gym or elsewhere to keep in shape, but the days of monkey bars and dangling by our knees feel like a lifetime ago (unless of course, you perform in Cirque du Soleil or hang out with the folks at the Circus Warehouse). Why?

Yesterday, I remeber waxing poetic about my fitness and flexibility as a child, receiving physical education and recess every single day, in addition to the time spent on the playground alone or with friends. Then, I decided to run over the Queensboro Bridge. I would, after all, have to run there during the marathon one month from now. As I ascended, I felt a sense of accomplishment and enjoyed the day, despite the overcast and drizzly weather and the somewhat inconvenient construction which had stripped away all of the pavement on the pedestrian/bicycle path.

Bam! As I flew through the air and promptly landed on my hands and knees, I tore the new capris intended for the marathon, bruised and cut my legs, and ripped open my right hand in a rather unattractive way. Looking up, I saw a concerned cyclist and the raised patch of metal that had caused my tumble and felt childishly offended, as though the universe had cruelly inured poor little me. Somehow, this felt oddly familiar.

Ah yes, it felt like childhood! Running another three miles after briefly cleaning up and begging for bandages at the nearest Starbucks, I pondered my silly though painful fall from grace. My ego cried a little about my mean and unfair boo-boos, and upon arrival at home, I had to take myself to the pharmacy for supplies, clean out my own wounds, dry my own tears, and wash the dirt and blood out of my own tattered clothes. After a few hours, I learned the lesson a teacher or parent no longer needed to instruct.

Kids run and play. They also bring home grass stains and broken limbs. With increased activity comes increased risk and investment. Take, for example, the ridiculous disclaimer I had to sign before skydiving. That said, while wounds may take longer to heal as adults, the lessons sink in faster, and the rewards are honestly priceless. As I sit today outside Lincoln Center, I know I will have many trials in life, more skinned knees, and likely bruised egos. Some years bring more challenges than others, and all of them bring opportunities for growth, investments, and action.

Here’s to the eight-year-olds on the playground and the octogenarian skydivers and triathletes – those who live all of their lives fully without excuses or fear of falling, or in spite of any such fear. Yes, I ran twenty miles in one day this week but a year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of it. I’m so glad I took the risk to run this amazing race of life. Yesterday, I fell flat on my face. Today, I took my bruised knees and bandaged hands to the Metropolitan Opera, put on a wig and a dress, and performed on one of the greatest stages on earth. Sometimes the greatest investment we can make in life is to get up, try again, and hang from the jungle gym.

Otello at the Metropolitan Opera

Gratefully Yours

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” To those of you who have helped me raise over $3000 for Team for Kids for this year’s ING New York City Marathon, you have made possible one of the major experiences of my life and the motivation and encouragement of countless children who will benefit from your donation. Thank you! One of the many beneficiaries of your kindness left me a voicemail the other day… this is who you have helped.

Still haven’t had a chance to contribute? Meet Kristen Kasarjian, an amazing friend of mine running the race for the same amazing charity. Please help her reach her goal, since I’ve already reached mine! Anyone who donates at least $100 to her campaign can still sponsor a mile in mine (I’ll think of you during the marathon in the mile of your choice)… Just let me know when you do. In the meantime for me, lots of training continues, as I keep running to prepare for the 26.2 mile course I get to complete on November 4. Today, I ran 16 miles, and I get to train in some of the most beautiful areas. Here’s your bird’s eye view into some of my favorite runs so far. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making it all worthwhile. I can’t wait!

An Early Run at Bard
An Early Run near Bard College
Run in Palisades Park
Run in Palisades Park
Sunlight in Palisades
Sunlight in Palisades
Back in the city
Back in the city

Run with Me

On Skydiving for Pearls, you can pretty much count on the fact that I love to seek out peak experiences. Bucket list items, challenges, excursions from the realm of safety and predictability. Why? Because when I push my boundaries now in the relatively secure confines of experimentation, then the real, unavoidable trials will later meet a stronger and more stubborn foe. As a bonus, I’ve discovered priceless joy and peace in activities I once feared or disdained.

That said, some strange part of me wants to suffer through these adventures like the heroine of Hunger Games or some similarly daring and adventurous paragon of courage. In hindsight, I think that same odd spirit in me relished dreading skydiving, as the only one of my group of twelve friends who honestly never wanted to try it. Despite my initial fears, I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Although it may take some time to gather the motivation (and money) and feel the drive to try it again, if I had to choose one day of my life to keep and loose the memories of all the rest, I would save the day where I plummeted from that very tiny plane. Hands down.

Recently, I’ve chosen a new peak to pursue that I also kind of dreaded: running in the 2012 ING New York City Marathon. In some strange imaginative portion of my brain, I expect to hate it, push through it, and succeed. Running for an extremely worthy charity, I also have the fabulous temptation of fearing not only injury, dehydration, heart and cardio concerns, and nutrition but also raising the required amount of $100 for each of my 26.2 miles.

Somehow despite the obstacles, including some ridiculous runs on which I’ve strayed onto wooded paths and tiny, busy highways, I had fun today on my four mile run. Achieving something new always feels great, but after my five miler on Monday and standing all day at rehearsal yesterday, I did not expect the sense of relief and renewal I experienced at the end of a surprisingly peaceful time. The nourishment of my food afterwards felt real and incredible, and I appreciated the dining commons at my summer gig at Bard Summerscape with no palatable annoyance at the influx of kids at their sports camps or the increasing predictability of food offerings. No. Those black-eyed peas and local baby plums amused me to no end, and my body teems with a consistent life and vigor I haven’t felt in a few years.

Does this make me a runner? We shall see. In the meantime, lucky me who gets to enjoy pursuing what I know will be a hard-won goal this November. As for the charity, I’ve chosen to run for Team for Kids, an organization that provides coaching, motivation, and inspiration for children in New York City, across the United States, and in South Africa. Focusing on inner city (can you imagine running in the city without a coach as a child?) and/or low-income schools, they give kids an opportunity to stay active, prevent childhood obesity, qualify for scholarships, and feel the genuine rush of health and of achieving something real.

So it appears the silly, grinchy side of me who longs to suffer will at least have to wait while I enjoy living as an example for the children I hope to help with Team for Kids. For my friends with me upstate at Bard and in the city later this summer and fall, please join me in a run if you like and can suffer my still slow pace. For everyone else, please consider contributing to Team for Kids in support of my run. I have a birthday upcoming on August 3… Feel free to think of it as a gift. I know I do.

Donate to Team for Kids

An Autumn Awakening

This last day of Autumn, I find myself surrounded by the common theme of new dreams, uncharted challenges, and new adventures to discover. Last week, blessed by four completely different performances for which to prepare and perform, I had the opportunity to check in with my incredibly talented and diverse friends and colleagues. One friend had just produced her second one-woman show. Another contemplated her next steps to her rise to hopeful fame, while a third shared her desire to sing jazz despite not knowing quite where to start. Bold steps by brave people.

Taking me to a black belt Aikido test, another adventurous man opened my eyes to the calm intensity of a challenging practice that intrigues me, and I had the chance to watch even a handful of elderly participants test for their black belt after years of training and discipline. Finally, at a party hosted by some invaluable friends, a photographer friend Michael Chadwick convinced me to run a marathon with him. So, for next Autumn, I’ve decided to run the ING NYC Marathon to support Team for Kids, a non-profit organization working to keep children active and combat childhood obesity. I’ll have more information in future posts, hopefully including details about a team to join if you’d like to take up the challenge with me! In the meantime, please consider helping me get off to a running start with a donation of any amount.

In the similar rush of these changing seasons as Autumn comes to a close, New Year’s seems already upon us, and my friends and I contemplate actions of almost spring-like renewal. In celebration of the rebirth we each have when we wake to a new day and open ourselves to new possibilities, I leave you once again with my dear friend and hero, Kara Morgan. Her ability to create her dreams literally and figuratively, always with a dash of humor, inspires me regularly to take the leaps that scare me most. May we all have such courage to wake up to our dreams this holiday season.

My Greatest Gift So Far

As I sat in the doctor’s office on Friday morning, awaiting my final visit this month, I reflected on the past year of life and change. Two nights ago, I administered a shot that will send me into the hospital for surgery. Strangely, I can’t remember the last I felt so elated.

New Year’s Eve, 2010. Another exciting occasion for glasses to clink, the ball to drop, lovers to kiss. For many years I’ve known this holiday to carry significance, chances to change, mindsets to mend, and even some unexpectedly major events (not always positive, but definitely not subtle either). Somewhat quietly, I spent this year celebrating uncharacteristically at home with a dear friend from out of state who had come thousands of miles to celebrate with me in the city. To most, my new year continued a quest for adventure and new challenges and seemed similarly unusual, like the majority of my recent days.

Those who know me intimately may have seen me through a different lens and noticed the momentary spark that seems to have altered my perspective and motivation in a flash. Almost as if the early-thirties, adult version of me everyone said would arrive suddenly kicked in, I saw my mounting debts against my values and couldn’t quite reconcile the vast chasm between them. Overwhelmingly fortunate to have a great apartment to myself in one of my favorite cities in the world, doing what I love for a living, I yet had to decide how to survive all of my monthly expenses – ninety percent of which came from previous choices and purchases, none of which I imagined having to pay off while struggling to follow my dreams in the city.

My momentary short circuit arose when my reality failed to match what I had conceived of as a solid path. Brent Sooner’s character Data, the artificial lifeform on Star Trek: the Next Generation would have called this “a cascading failure in his neural net.” I was scared and determined to change this path that would otherwise lead me into certain financial suicide.

Looking into every possibility, I gave myself the time and space to seriously and without judgment consider my most extreme boundaries. How far could I go to rescue myself without sacrificing my values, psyche, or career? Yes, I perused Craigslist job and gig postings and even entertained the idea of taking jobs that would have officially devastated my mother, should I have actually decided to pursue them. Who knows the lasting affects such experiences on the fringes of my already fairly liberal sensibilities might have had on me, as well!

A couple of months ago, I wrote that hardship and loss incites me to respond by embracing, encouraging, and creating life whenever I can. And so I am. Beginning a thus far relatively silently journey in March that culminates tomorrow morning, I will donate some of my eggs and therefore my genes, and my energy, to help anonymous recipients fulfill their dreams of having children. I can’t wait.

Although I’ve experienced some discomfort and made several sacrifices in order to participate in what sometimes I consider the fertility Olympics, I so look forward to contributing to the universe in this way. Never knowing whether I might have children someday, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to afford to pass on my genetic code to future generations. Part of that feels so oddly like mythology, finding ways to achieve a legacy beyond death, and admittedly much of the experience resembles science fiction. Simply from the process of qualifying alone, I have pictures of my chromosomes, a new diet suited to my somewhat low blood sugar, and an official knowledge of my actual blood type.

Yes, aside from the idealistic altruism and happy opportunity to revel in my nerdy nature, I will receive excellent compensation for giving myself nightly injections, committing to five weeks of no exercise (among other less mentionable restraints), traveling quite far from home every morning at 6:30, and subjecting my body to minor surgery. In fact, as you read this, I likely have already spoken to the anesthesiologist and await the procedure about to begin. Before someone undoubtedly begins to equate this endeavor as my way of shallowly selling my body for money (and I know some will), know that I have come to this decision after ten years of its seed growing in my subconscious.

When my boss at a temp job told me a decade ago about her experiences in the process of donating eggs, I lost my hearing, my vision blurred, and my coworkers had to sit me down with water to keep me from fainting. Seriously. Nevertheless, when I auditioned for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire earlier this year, both interviewers asked, “What would you do if you won $100,000?” Truly examining my values against my finances, I realized I wanted two things: financial independence (not wondering how I might pay rent every month, at least!), and the freedom to contribute to humanity – such as to buy Marcos, the homeless man down the road, a yogurt sometimes when he mentions his hunger to me in conversation.

By undergoing this journey, I have the opportunity to contribute something uniquely precious and beautiful to the world and participate in the act of conception and creation. Although only a beginning, the compensation I receive will help me pay down a limited but helpful portion of my debt and give me a little more breathing room to continue pursuing my goals as an actor and singer. As hard as some may try to convince me of a downside, I feel honored and grateful to have the opportunity to both generously give and receive at once in this way.

Think of me fondly today and as I recover over the next several days. May Irene’s winds bring good change and minimal damage this weekend of weekends, as I rejoice in a year that has brought me so many challenges and joys. Of course should anyone have any questions, while this is an anonymous, out of state program, I would happily answer as much as I can for anyone interested… just message me from my website or leave your email in the comments below.