liveyourlife

Preach Thoreau, Preach.

There is a distinct vocal expression that black church ladies make when the truth has been spoken, exactly when it needed to be heard. It’s a deep, chesty, “Mm”, usually accompanied by a slow shaking of the head and a “tell the truth, pastor!” This week, Thoreau has me “mm”-ing about every other paragraph or so, as I read his collection of essays, Walden, and I’m only three chapters in. In October, I will be involved in a small reading of a musical loosely based on Walden, so I figured I should acquaint myself. The essays, which detail his two-year long social experiment of removing himself from civilization and relocating to the woods, are tough reads. They are jam-packed with long-winded paragraphs, exhausting metaphorical questions, and endless unexplained references to forgotten figures and writings from ancient history. It definitely takes fierce effort to get through, but, as often as he quotes some antiquated Hindu mythological text of wisdom, he himself imparts countless quotes of wisdom, with directness and clarity. Truths, as I like to call it, which have come exactly when I needed to hear them.

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.

I love that he uses the word tyrant. I find that it is very easy to be controlled by public opinion, giving it way too much attention. In my past, seeking positive opinion, and desperately trying to steer clear of any negative, have left me inactive and at a loss of trust for my own opinions. But, as Thoreau says, what others think of you, is no match to what you think of yourself, and you can literally change your life based on your own private thoughts.

“No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What every body echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.”

Complacency: avoid it. Somewhere along the line, I decided that life would be easier if I didn’t make waves. I achieved that by quieting my own thoughts and opinions until they were barely audible, practically muting the person I am. I’m just now, trying to turn up the volume and to think and question. Because Thoreau can wrap this up much better than I ever could, “I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.”

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.”

This is a good one is for us ambitious, neurotic New York-types. We have goals, and whether it’s to catch that E train before the doors close, or to make a name for yourself in whatever profession you’ve chosen, if things start to get off track in the slightest, we curse and we cry and we complain. Thoreau thinks we all need to take a chill pill, and go through life like nature, where every event that occurs, is bound to happen, and it happens for a reason.

Mm.

6am and four-letter words

I wake up every morning at six, toss the sheets aside, stumble to the bathroom to tinkle, find my laptop, and begin to write. Well, before I begin to write, there is a whole lot of me staring at the empty screen, waiting for some sort of brilliant-6am-pre-coffee inspiration, that will lead to a perfect post. Nothing comes. Okay, well, they say the best way to conquer the blank page, is to just write anything down. Free write. Let all thoughts and ideas come rushing out, hopefully, with the effect of breaking down the initial wall of stuck. Great, that’s what I’ll do. It is not even two lines into whatever nonsense I’ve managed to scribble down, when I begin to think to myself, wow, this is horrible. Awful. Teju Cole makes it looks so easy. I need coffee. Why can’t I write like Teju Cole? I wish I was Teju Cole. I kinda look like Teju Cole. Ugh, I can’t even look at this crap. Delete. So then, I start Googling, because that’s what I do when I’m desperate and distracted. How to write, How to free write, Writing at 6am, resulting in all of the non-helpful wikiHow articles and Yahoo Answers an insecure novice writer could ever dream of, wasting about 25 minutes, sifting through all of it, and getting nowhere. And then by this time, it’s time for me to get ready to go to work, without having written a single thing down. Guilt begins to hover over my head, and it is there until I have actually written something worth a dime. Who knows when that’ll be. Tomorrow at 6am, hopefully.

So, what do we have here? A whole lot of frustration, fear, self-judgement, comparison to others, guilt, insecurity, all before 7 in the morning. This can’t be good when you’re trying to create, right?

If I were some sort of psychologist, or someone who had any clue about feelings and controlling them, this is the point where I would share the knowledge on purging these feelings and freeing yourself up to create, but the fact is, I don’t know the first thing about it. To be honest, I really don’t think those feelings ever really go away for an artist a living human being, and even further, is it so wrong to have these feelings? These are not unnatural feelings, and it is when the conglomeration of them all reaches its apex, and I’m staring at the screen, three cups of coffee deep, when I finally say to myself, fuck it. And then, the words begin to flow. It is then, when inspiration smacks me in the face and shakes me hard, forcing me to let go of that impossible task of trying to write the perfect post. The work often turns out to be very different than whatever I imagined.

To The Early Morning Commuters of Aspen

In the modest courtyard of the cottage,

on the corner of Main and 3rd,

you can hear the ocean.

This is where I choose to sip the western coffee.

At this time of morning,

the waves are perpetual, but slow,

coming in at about every twelve seconds, or so.

Seeing the mountains and hearing the ocean.

This is the way I like to sip the western coffee,

knowing there is earth, 14,000 up,

and 14,000 below.

 

It is an expansive region, your Aspen.

The vastness allows my mind to take in so much, just by

standing and looking,

sitting and listening.

You see, back in New York,

cars just sound like, well, cars.

Here,

in the modest courtyard of the cottage,

on Main and 3rd,

sitting, sipping, looking at the mountains,

and listening,

you’ve created yet, another element here in Aspen.

So, thank you, Aspen commuters.

Go to work, as I sit and listen and sip your western coffee.

What This Ella Fitzgerald Video Taught Me About Acting (and life, really).

I came across it one night about six years ago, indulging in an epic, late-night YouTube binge, beginning with Meryl Streep clips, ending with instructional videos like, “How-To-Fold a Fitted Bed Sheet” (which I still can’t do). Somewhere in the middle of it all, I came across one of the most amazing performance clips I had ever seen on the internet: Ella Fitzgerald performing One Note Samba, Live at Montreux, 1969. At that point in my life, I don’t think I had ever seen footage of her singing or even owned any recordings of hers, but I was familiar with her voice, by way of my dentist’s waiting room, or Macy’s at Christmastime. There is a learning advantage to watching a singer, versus listening to a singer. Watching, you get a chance to see how it’s all being done, paying attention to technique, breathing, vowel modification, etc. But the funny thing about Ella is, you can’t see any of that stuff, that ridiculous stuff you shouldn’t be paying attention to anyway. All you can see is a performer who is wonderfully free. A performer who is stepping aside to let some sort of divine-creative-musical muse type thing take over.

Because I can sometimes be that actor, you know, the one that applies everything to the Craft (barf), I began to think how I can apply this performance to my acting. Watch:

1. Relax – It is clear that she is not in the least bit unnerved by the presence of an audience. And yes, she is performing for them, but it is not about them. It is about her and the music. When she shuts her eyes, tilts her head, and puts a hand to her ear, that is her tuning in to muse.

2. Let Go – This is what letting go looks like, folks. We actors can sometimes find ourselves controlling our performances, planning them even, causing anxiety when something doesn’t go exactly the way it should’ve gone, cutting ourselves off from whatever organic moment is trying to get through. Ella has a beginning, and an ending, that’s about it.

3. Fail – My favorite part of this video is between 2:27 and 2:40. She screws up. The musical phrase goes sour. You can even see her get slightly upset with herself and then look back at the pianist, but then, she’s back in zone. She wasn’t afraid of screwing up, and when she did, it didn’t unravel her.

4. Steal – She is giving you jazz, yes, but she was obviously inspired by, and stole from some other genres. Blues, rock-and-roll, classical, beat-boxing even (ahead of her time!). There is a moment where she flat-out sings a phrase of “Anything Goes”! Just, straight-up thievery.

5. Play  – I mean, doesn’t it look like she’s having a blast? Living.

stoopgifts

I was walking west on 54th amongst the brownstones yesterday, when a dark blue shows up in my lower-right peripheral. I look down and find a pair of vintage Adidas, with a manila store tag attached, neatly placed on the first and second steps of a Hell’s Kitchen stoop. Ooo, those are cute, I think to myself. I crouch down to read the manila tag, which is stamped with a quirky, hand-drawn drawing of a stoop, and reads: Stoop Gifts. Free for the Taking. I had no idea what a stoopgift was, but, a cute pair of shoes, perched up on a stoop, that says “free for the taking”. You better believe I was the taking. Well, not immediately. This situation needed to be assessed before I stuffed a free pair of kicks into my North Face and skipped away smiling. The shoes needed to be inspected and photographed. Sniffed and Instagramed. I took a quick, nervous whiff. No smell! On deciding they were coming home with me, I took an easy look around to see if I was being videotaped, to then later be humiliated on the Internet. Nope, just me and the brownstones. I took off my North Face, unzipped it, grabbed the shoes, and stuffed them in, pretty much all in one move. Oh, I should check the size, duh, I thought, right before I zipped up my bag. Size 9. Damn. I’m a 12.

You know, one of the things I love most about living in this ridiculous city of New York, is the occasional New York moment. I mean, honestly, only in New York City would someone ever throw a pair of used sneakers on their stoop, attach a hipster-y tag to it, and try to label it a “gift”. Please. You’re just trying to make space in your tiny-ass HK closet. However, I’d be lying if I said that the whole situation didn’t leave me laughing at myself, and with a smile on my face, and a skip in my step, like a good New York moment does.

Because I’m a little bit of a hoarder, I took the shoes anyway. Not with the intention of ever wearing them, but so that I could keep the tag. Here’s the thing, remember that mediocre movie with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, Pay It Forward? Yep, now I get to stoopgift something!  I’ll give someone some old sheet music, or a mop, or something. And if my gift turns out to be of no use to them, at least they’ll have received a New York moment.

Thanks Stoop Gifts.

photo

To Live

“Live your life.” This is my absolute favorite of the gay colloquialisms. Imagine your gay best friend, or gay Oprah (RuPaul) saying this to you. That is the intention I am going for. To “live your life” can mean a number of things, depending on the situation and its usage. Well…Let’s it break down for a sec. To “live” means to have your moment, and experience it to the fullest. You’re a performer and it’s opening night? Instead of the typical “break legs”, someone may simply say, “live”. The performance went well? “You were LIVING!” One can also “live” for something, something that has provided you with great pleasure. For example, I live for Meryl and Goldie in Death Becomes Her. I live for that last scene in the The Color Purple. I live for some crunchy Jif smeared on a banana. But, what I really love about “live your life”, is its direct wisdom. Using only three four-letter words, it’s a quick, powerful little reminder to simply, live.