Archive for March, 2011

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The best version

March 11, 2011

On my way out of the choir rehearsal I accompanied today, I got a cancellation call from the mom of the student I was supposed to be tutoring in math. Instead of spending 90 minutes drilling a fourth-grader in fractions and multiplication, I would have an extra couple hours of daylight to myself. I could go read magazines at the library, look at clothes in Marshall’s that I shouldn’t buy until next week’s paycheck, or… right. Go hiking, like I should’ve done this damp, gloomy morning, if I’d managed to kick myself out of bed sooner. I knew I needed the exercise, and I’ve had some of my best hiking experiences in similarly forbidding weather.

I’ve been feeling sort of down on myself lately, physically speaking, and it’s not really because of the wobble in my upper arms or the 10 pounds I’ve been meaning to lose forever. It’s because of my lack of determination to overcome bad weather, inertia, or whatever, and go exercise anyway. Worse, I’ve been comparing myself unfavorably to other people, some of whom I don’t even really know, who seem to have things going for them that I don’t — motivation, a more active lifestyle, stunning good looks. This is not only useless but irrelevant, because I am not those people. I don’t have their gifts, resources, or goals, I have my own. I know this. But sometimes it’s easier to sit on the couch and wallow than to get up and do something that makes me feel better about myself — me, a uniquely created person, and not a failed imitation of someone else.

Which is why I’ve decided to give up feeling sorry for myself for Lent. Good luck, right? I expect to slip up in small ways on a daily basis, but the idea is to catch myself, figure out what’s really bothering me, and do something to counteract it. I’m sleeping in too late? Move the alarm out of arm’s reach, and actually stay out of bed once I’ve gotten up to silence it. I haven’t accomplished my goals for the day? Stop reading things online and get on it. I’m sluggish and out of shape? Easy. Get out of the house and get moving.

This is how I found myself fighting my way up a rocky hill, pushing farther and faster, wanting to feel the heat in my legs and chest, the effort of breathing. Wanting to know I was doing something hard and a little unpleasant, teaching my body to be stronger and tougher. Until I couldn’t any more, and stood still, heart racing, turned my face to the flat gray sky, and prayed: God, help me to be the person You saw when You designed me, the person You still see in me. Not someone else, just the best version of me. Help me to accept who and what I am and to believe that others will accept me, even love me, too.

I kept climbing then, but more slowly, without the same urgency. I thought about how strange it is for someone like me, who’s always considered herself sort of average-looking, to be so frequently surrounded by actors, people whose job requires them to be attractive. Naturally, I feel prettier some days than others, and more so since I’ve had a couple of boyfriends to say nice things about me. And I’ll never forget my grandfather telling me I had such beautiful eyes. But on the whole: average. Then I thought of Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom one astute blogger has compared to celery root, scruffy-looking but versatile. (Though I think Hoffman is much more interesting.) Most people wouldn’t call him particularly handsome, but he’s widely regarded as a fine actor, and with good reason.

One of my favorite films of his — OK, one of my favorite movies, period — is State and Main.  The story follows a gaggle of Hollywood personnel — actors, director, cinematographer, designers, etc. — who descend on a small Vermont town to shoot a film. Hoffman plays the tortured, idealistic screenwriter torn between pleasing the director, who insists he rewrite a pivotal scene to eliminate a problematic set piece, and remaining true to his script’s noble intentions. He’s befriended by a local bookseller and community theater maven (Rebecca Pidgeon) who shows him what’s really important, which he actually knew all along: truth, and standing up for what you know is right.

I realized today that the friendship and eventual romance that develops between these two characters is probably my favorite aspect of the film. The gentle, perceptive way she’s able to lead him to the right answer, while still giving him room to figure it out for himself, is something I’d like to emulate in my own relationships. I think I’d like someone to do that for me, too, but that’s probably a tangent for another day.

I’d like to add that State and Main is also terribly funny, especially to anyone accustomed to the clash between ambitious, high-energy artist types and small-town New England culture. I think I may have to watch it again soon, at the expense of finally watching Inception so I can mail it in and cancel my seldom-used Netflix subscription once and for all.

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Toward what is ahead

March 3, 2011

I have never wanted spring to come so badly as I do this year.  I know it isn’t just me – the Boston Globe has taken to measuring our accumulated snowfall in Shaq-inches, and while we’re still 6 inches short of the new Celtic’s height, I have faith that we can close that gap soon.  But this year, there’s more riding on the change of season than sunny skies and not having to pry open my frozen car doors with a crowbar. (Don’t worry, Dad, I don’t actually have a crowbar.) My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Feehrer, always said there ought to be a fifth season between winter and spring, one called “Mud.”  I don’t see a lot of that around right now – I’m just grateful to have sidewalks again – but I think she was on to something. Spring can easily become a frantic, in-between season, the one where you tie up all your loose ends in preparation for the huge expectations of summer. But summer, for me, has usually meant another kind of limbo, a hiatus from regular life where I see the people I care most about and do the activities to which I’m accustomed. It means being too hot most of the time (and I’ve never been that great a swimmer, or that fond of lounging around in a bathing suit) and working jobs that aren’t necessarily relevant to what I really want to do, and generally feeling like I’m missing out on whatever magical experience I’m supposed to be having. This year things feel a little different, almost backwards. I know I’ve written before about my current summer job at the Weathervane Theatre, and one of the advantages of working a single, all-consuming job for a few months is that you’re not juggling a lot of different people’s expectations. Well, in my position I sort of still am, because I divide my time between mainstage and intern-company rehearsals, while also programming keyboards and writing and arranging a lot of the interns’ music, but even so: people basically understand what I’m up to, and basically want me to get enough sleep and not explode. This is wonderfully freeing, compared to “real life,” wherein I’m constantly balancing the expectations of my piano students’ parents, my bosses, the directors and actors of whatever show I’m working on (and probably whatever show I’m planning next), family and friends who’d like to spend time with me, and my own various goals and projects. Beyond that, it’s increasingly true that many of the friends I most want to spend time with are Weathervane people. So those 11 weeks in New Hampshire, stressful and activity-packed as they may be, are full of meaningful, rewarding work and people who understand and share my dreams. People with whom I can climb mountains and eat ice cream and sit around the bonfire at night, who can calm me down when I’m freaking out about some unimportant detail, who can show me what it means to put aside fear or doubt and do something with all your heart. Some of you noticed those two big steps I was contemplating at the end of my New Year’s post, and if I’ve been a little quiet over here recently, it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning and deciding about those things. One of them is that I’m thinking of moving to New York, to pursue theater work more seriously. This has been in the back of my mind for a while – there are infinitely more productions going on in different places and different levels than in Boston, and it seems silly not to be able to take advantage of all my theater connections there, or at very least to spend more time year-round with friends who are working towards the same things, and will push me to keep trying.

Frankly, New York scares me: it’s bigger, louder, dirtier, meaner, and more expensive than Boston (which – giant snowdrifts aside – has been doing its best to remind me how beautiful and charming it can be, as if it knew I was planning to leave). But it seems like something I should try at some point in my life, and better now when I’m younger, I think. Better now when I feel like I need to grow and stretch and change, and I know New York will challenge me to do that. How exactly, I don’t know. But I feel more ready now than I ever have before. And here’s the second big thing: though I have friends and hopefully lots of opportunities waiting for me, I’m moving alone. Without Jacob. When I move out of the apartment in June, it’s for good: I’m hoping to find a sublet for the fall, in JP or close by, then on to New York in January. I don’t want to say too much about my reasons here, because I could go on forever, and there are things I shouldn’t say in public until I’ve said them to the relevant people.

Instead I will share with you a salad I’ve been making recently. It started out as one of those throw-together-whatever’s-in-the-fridge kind of things, inspired partly by a sale on avocados and partly by a trip to Penzey’s. It’s a forward-thinking kind of salad, bright and vibrant but not getting too far ahead of itself, I hope.

End-of-Winter Salad with Ancho-Lime Vinaigrette

serves 2

1. Whisk together in a medium bowl: juice of 1 large lime, 1-2 Tbsp. canola oil, 1-2 tsp. ground ancho chile pepper, salt and garlic powder to taste.

2. Add to bowl: 2 large handfuls lettuce of choice (I used a butter lettuce/radicchio blend), 3 radishes thinly sliced, 1/2 cucumber sliced and halved, 1/2 ripe avocado roughly chopped, 1 scallion thinly sliced. Toss to coat.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14