silencing the demon voice

I recently plowed through Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Yes, Please, something that I’m almost embarrassed to admit considering the book has been sitting on my bedside table for about a year and I only JUST got around to reading it now. Chalk it up to the fact that my year of reading in 2015 was pitifully pathetic and just…not productive in any way, shape or form. Anyway, it’s not that I wasn’t interested — I mean, I ADORE Amy Poehler. She’s one of my favorite people, and Parks & Recreation is one of my favorite shows ever. Plus, hell yes to being neighbors by default! (She grew up in the next town over, which made reading her book super fun, because she not only worked at restaurants I frequented as a kid but there were also a lot of in jokes I was able to appreciate. Ah, Lexington.)

Among the cheeky references and amusing anecdotes, there was a chapter early on where she talked about dealing with her “demon voice” — you know, the degrading, nagging thing that comes along somewhere in your teens and then stays with you for most of your life. It goes away after a bit, after you’ve gotten through the high school adolescence period of, “I’m not popular enough” and “I’m not pretty enough,” and it sits in the closet or gets put on a shelf and gathers dust. You kind of forget it’s there when things start to straighten out and when you get more confidence. But it never really goes away. It always comes back, reminding you that you’re not successful enough, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not worthy enough, that you’re not smart enough. The list goes on.

I’m dealing with a lot of different things right now that my “demon voice” is currently having a blast with. (No, really. I’m pretty sure it’s having a full-on party, complete with the kegs and the raves.) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with my job. (“Go back to your safe, nice field! Even though that’s not really what you wanted to do and you had no promotion opportunities!”) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with choosing my boyfriend. (“Maybe when you went with first instincts, you should have worried more about his job and his motivation!”) My demon voice is telling me if I hadn’t fucked up my priorities 6-7 years ago, I wouldn’t be having these problems to begin with. (“Look at all that money you wasted! Look at all those decisions you made because you let other people influence you! You’re responsible for all your depression now when you wish you had things you don’t anymore!”)

According to Amy Poehler, you’re supposed to tell your demon voice things like HEY. DON’T SAY THAT TO ME. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? You’re supposed to push back at it and let it not control you. I wish I could do that because the problem that I have, and the problem that I’ve always had, is that once I get pulled into the spiral of self-doubt and depression, I find it very easy to let the demon voice stomp all over me. I can’t feel optimistic and I can’t push back, because all I can do is focus on the shitty things that I’m being told, and then I start to look at everything in my life through that lens. It leads to anxiety and even more depression. It’s kind of like yelling EXPECTO PATRONUM! at a Dementor, when you WANT to yell but all you do instead of freeze up and let it suck the life out of you.

It’s really, really annoying.

My therapist and I have spent a good amount of time talking out my regrets and worries, and each conversation is a small step towards making me more accepting of the good things I have in my life. One of the biggest things we’ve talked about has been trying to pinpoint what the cause of my demon voice is. Get to the heart of the matter, that’s how you kill it, right? (Hey, it works for vampires.) And it makes me think, because I really don’t know where my demon voice came from in particular. I’d always been an introverted, shy child, but where did this absolute “you are worthless” sense and lack of confidence come from? When did I get to the point where I can’t even enjoy the things that make me happy because there’s a constant comparison of how I’m just not worth anything? I didn’t have a terrible childhood, by any means. I grew up in a supportive privileged household with strong family values. I attended a high school that was competitive and focused on academic success, and although I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I did more than okay. With a few exceptions, I was never really bullied. My mom pushed me hard, and sometimes too much, but never with any negative connotations. I was always told I had talent — in writing, in ice skating, in theater — although I didn’t always get everything I wanted or win every award, I was never told that I was terrible at anything.

And maybe that’s it. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I always have been, no matter what the situation is. Maybe I was just always close to being “perfect” but the fact that I could never quite get there built up over time, and gave that demon voice a bigger presence. It’s something that’s inherent in all of us, unless you’re just really good at pushing your feelings aside — you have a good job, but someone your age has something better. You have a good relationship, but someone out there is in a relationship that has something a little more perfect than you, that you can’t quite achieve. You have a good life, but there are things about it that aren’t quite perfect. You have a good piece of writing, but there’s someone out there that gets better reception.

I’m not writing this blog post to say that I found a way to cure myself of this demon voice. Or that by just realizing what it is and what it maybe comes from has solved everything. Or that it goes away and never comes back if you just wait long enough. Or that I used to be more affected by it, but now I’m totally fine. (As evidenced by last night’s breakdown. Yes, demon voices can make you cry, too.) But I’m working on it. And whether it’s by talking to friends, or taking meds, or writing it out, or talking to my therapist, I like to think there’s hope it’ll get better. As my favorite FBI agent likes to say, I want to believe.

how do you measure a year in the life?

I am very, very lucky to not only have a job that I love, but a job that allows me to have some SUPER cool opportunities. I truly don’t take for granted the things I’ve been able to do and experience and the “perks” that come from being in this industry, from interviews to meet & greets to parties to anything in between. But sometimes, there are things that happen that rank higher than the rest for specific reasons, and not even because they’re the culmination of professional lofty goals (you know, like the “dream big” goals I have of one day interviewing my favorite A-listers and Avengers. Or sitting in Scarlett Johansson’s trailer. One day.)

Last Friday, I spent the day covering the first ever BroadwayCon with my co-worker. Our main assignments were to cover the Hamilton panel (which was amazing) and the 20th anniversary Rent panel, which included about half of the original cast members as well as the original choreographer, Jon Larson’s sister, and some of the original creative team. About halfway through the Rent panel, I received an email from the PR person I was working with saying they had a request that someone at our company wanted to interview the cast, and they could definitely make it happen, and were we interested?

Full disclosure: this moment almost didn’t happen. I had been out all day writing and reporting, and these cons, even when you’re not working them, take a lot out of you. So when you’re actually working, and putting all that excitement and mental energy towards making sure that you’re not screwing up hastily written quotes while being under pressure and taking pictures and live-tweeting…it’s a lot. By the time I got the email, at 8:30 at night, I had been around and working since early morning. And honestly, my brain was already in the mindset of craving relaxation, so all I wanted to do was go home and sit on Tumblr and de-stress — not stay around until 10pm for what might be five minutes of face time. (To be fair, this was also when I thought I was coming back the next day, which didn’t end up happening because of the blizzard.) I know it sounds superficial and first world problem-ish, but it’s the nature of a job that seems so perfect on the outside. For every awesome magazine cover story and video and set visit that someone sees, there’s tons and tons of personal time that goes into putting it out there, especially when you’re trying to balance all your other job responsibilities and things like transcribing, writing, researching. And since all of it is time sensitive, and it’s very easy to get caught up and just feel like you want a break, and lose sight of what’s considered “cool” and what’s considered overextending yourself. So you understand why I was a little “eh” despite the situation.

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I am so, so glad I decided to go for it.

Let’s back up a second, because I need to at least attempt to accurately describe what Rent means to me, the effect it had on me, the influence it had on me, the path of my life that it helped shape. Beyond my 100+ show count over 6-7 years (yes, my anal retentive self kept spreadsheets of all the casts that I saw and the dates, so I do know how many times I’ve seen it), Rent provided me with most of my best friends, some of whom I’ve now known for over 10 years (and who I’ve attended or been in weddings of, and gone to babies’ first birthdays of.) It was because of Rent I visited New York in the first place, falling in love with the city after I realized I could travel on my own freshman year of college without telling my parents. I was always afraid to be more independent — I acted out in quieter ways — and Rent helped me become independent and self-sufficient at the right time. Rent gave me an opening on my resume, thanks to the cast member I befriended who became a close friend, who in turn let me start a website for her that included self-teaching my brain HTML. While most people discovered their early twenties through college parties and by doing things that really, really shouldn’t be disclosed here, I discovered that all of that stuff through traveling to NYC once or twice a month, by going to birthday parties and gigs of cast members where, hey, no one cared that you were underage! (Or, uh, that you were being given drugs afterwards.) Going to see Rent, then going out with the friends I had made through that show to bars that no longer exist, and sometimes making bad decisions but ultimately living and having fun.

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I think this is one of the first photos I took of the theater? Early 2002 for sure

That green theatre, on that block that was dumpy and barely built up before it became the glitzy stretch of 41st Street it is today, became my home in so many ways. The lottery boys became some of my good friends who I would see outside of the show; more importantly, they were guys that beyond their tough Bronx exterior would have been there to take care of me if I ever needed help. The house staff became familiar and, sure, you can sneak in during the second act to see a swing’s Maureen, we won’t tell. There was a reason why, when I lucked out enough to attend the final Broadway performance with literally every friend I had made over the years, I cried my eyes out — because I wasn’t just losing a show that had helped me find myself. I was losing a second home. (Literally. That theatre would never be the same.)

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Somewhere, my signature is in there…like, a lot

 

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Final performance bows in 2008

Given all that, you can imagine how surreal it felt when I arrived at the autograph room where I was to be conducting my interview, where I was then instructed to essentially sit in front of an entire panel of people who were responsible for being a part something that changed my life. I was then told I had at least ten minutes to talk to them. Just me, and only me. I’m kind of glad I was too overtired and exhausted to really let myself realize what this opportunity was, because if I had prepared for it more, I probably would’ve psyched myself out completely.

To say that those ten minutes were some of the most insane moments of my life would be an understatement. I thought it would be more overwhelming, but it was one of the easiest interview experiences ever. And when I was listening to the recording so I could transcribe it for my story, I was taken aback at how genuine each response was, how emotionally charged each story was, how amazingly grateful these people felt about their experience. It seems silly sometimes, to say that a show or a musical or an actor changed your life. But when you see things like this, from the other side of the spectrum, you realize that you’re not alone (ha — see what I did there?) You see that sometimes, people who create the art that means so much to you are just as grateful and blown away by what it’s brought them in life, the same way that you are. I think I babbled (correction: I know I babbled) about what it meant for me to sit in front of all of them and talk to them about this, but every word of it was true. I wouldn’t be here today in my profession, let alone in New York, if it wasn’t for Rent.

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It was 11pm at night and I’m in my Hamilton shirt. Oh, and my boots had broken. And I don’t care because I’m happy. (Can you tell by my face?)

It’s funny to me sometimes that most of the perks I’ve gotten through this job are things I never would have thought I’d get, given the industry. I’ve had more opportunities in theatre than in any other medium that I cover — I went to an opening night AND an afterparty, I covered the Tony Awards, I interviewed decently well known theatre people. All the thing that Young!Me would’ve absolutely DREAMED of doing one day, but it wasn’t anything I ever expected to do, not in the same way I would hope, “well, maybe I’ll go on a TV/movie set visit, maybe I’ll interview [insert actor’s name here], maybe I’ll go a screening or a premiere.” Maybe that’s the point — maybe if you just take life as it comes at you and try not to expect everything, you get handed your dreams in the most surreal way.

If someone had told 18-year-old Andrea, who at that time was sitting in a college dorm room with her roommate watching bootleg video tapes of Rent performances from 1996 and 1997, that, “hey, maybe in another 15 years or so, you’re going to have a chance to meet these people who you’re currently wishing you had a chance to see,” she would have laughed. But life comes full circle in the most insane ways, and sometimes you just have to take a step back and think about where you are, and where you started. And forget regret.

that would be enough

Along with a number of other resolutions (some of which I didn’t include in my recent posts), one thing I made a promise to do in 2016 is to blog more — at least once a week, if not twice. I didn’t have specific things in mind that I wanted to write about other than a few entries pegged to certain events or end-of-the-month reflections, but the point was, I wanted to make an effort to write something somewhat regularly.

All that to say I didn’t really have a precise topic to blog about today, and then I went to work and found out that the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list came out (obviously important because I had to write up all the Hollywood people on it. YAY DAISY RIDLEY AND JOHN BOYEGA.)

I hate that damn list. I really hate that damn list.

Look, it’s great that there are so many cool people who have done so many cool things at a young age. But when you’re constantly filled with anxiety like I am — and when your main instigator for said anxiety is centered on “I will never be good enough / there will always be someone more popular or better” in all aspects of your life (work, relationships, writing, whatever) — it’s literally the worst list you can look at. Because you’re basically looking something that’s saying, “hey! Here’s a great reminder of the fact you’re definitely not where you want to be, because you’re definitely over 30 and still struggling. But here are people who have made better choices in life or who have been luckier and are doing GREAT things, and everyone is probably so proud of them!”

(I know that is absolutely not what this list means, but that’s what my brain tells me.)

And that’s not really logical at all. These are a teeny, tiny handful of randomly chosen people in each field that have been spotlighted. There are people who are more successful. There are people who are less successful. There are people who are just in the middle and who are happy no matter what they do with their lives, or what they’ve accomplished. Not everyone’s boyfriend is a wealthy financial banker. Not everyone’s best friend is the CEO of their own company.

I’ve been struggling a lot with how to be happy by just being, which has never been easy for me. One of my goals in 2016 is to regret less and focus on my happiness rather than what the world thinks I need in order to be happy. Unfortunately, then you realize things like the simple fact that you NEED money to be well off and have any semblance of a good life, even if that doesn’t involve jetting overseas every year. (Hell, you need money just to have a child. Or a dog.) And having that knowledge makes it hard for me to convince myself that I can be satisfied with not being the best, the most successful, the most accomplished.

Going back to graduate school represented something huge for me. I knew journalism was the right thing for me to do, because I waffled for at least three years on filling out applications/pursuing options when I was looking at business or non profit administration programs. Journalism was what made me push myself to write essays, look at schools, take the GREs. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that by going back for my Master’s, I’ve accomplished a dream I’ve had for years because my job is working for a huge publication that I grew up idolizing. And I know I’m not where I need to be in the company, and that’s something I’m dealing with on my own — figuring out what my next steps are. Believing everything happens for a reason.

I’m happy with where I ended up, but I still find myself wondering what’s enough. I’m working at my dream job, but I’m not exactly where I want to be in the industry. I have a wonderful boyfriend who would give me the world, but he doesn’t have a graduate degree, or a job that will make a lot of money. I live in the greatest city in the world, the place I’ve wanted to live since college, but I’m still not financially stable enough to really live here without help. I have amazing and wonderfully supportive parents, but they’re not as understanding as I’d like them to be about some important things in my life. I’ve realized that so much of my life is, “I have this, but I don’t have THIS.” Whether that’s not having a published novel, enough hits on a piece of writing, a lawyer boyfriend, a house and a kid…it doesn’t matter. The thought is still something I deal with.

But I guess this is something everyone deals with, even the people who seem to have set lives and love what they do and seem happy. Am I enough? My goal for 2016 is to spend a lot of time asking myself this question — to myself, in therapy, with friends — and figuring out how to say yes.

yay, hamlet!

Yesterday, I was in “the room where it happened.”

I originally had plans to see Star Wars Thursday night with my friends (along with Friday, let’s be real. But if I was going to avoid spoilers, Thursday was the day to go. Even though I work in a job where it’s impossible to not be spoiled for big things.) Hamilton is probably the one thing in the world I would give up my Star Wars plans for, so when a good friend who was visiting New York for the week texted me and said she had an extra ticket, I have never responded so fast in my life.

I wish I could accurately describe all the emotions I felt over those 2+ hours, because Hamilton was a defining theatre experience.

That feels like a strange thing for me to say. Even though I didn’t get to a real show until I was 18, when I moved away to college and visited New York by myself for the first time, Broadway has been a part of my life for ages. And because of that, I’ve been to a lot of shows over the years, and have had a LOT of intense, insane, enlightening theatre moments. I mean, hell, I went to the last and final show of Rent on Broadway — a show that changed my life, that I saw over one hundred times and made lifelong friends through, a show that meant the world to me and helped me grow into an actual person. I’ve seen amazing plays and emotional performances that have left me gutted and thinking for days. The very last closing performance of Pirate Queen was a magical afternoon that I’ll never forget. Phantom of the Opera was the show that I first became obsessed with, the show that got me into Broadway in the first place, and when I finally saw it live, I cried from the balcony. Alan Cummings in Cabaret was something everyone should experience once in their life. I could go on and on and on.

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I know people (including a friend of the friend I went with) who didn’t want to listen to the music before they saw the show. I’m not one of those people, but even though I knew every note, every lyric, and everything that would happen, I didn’t actually KNOW the show. I didn’t know the staging, I didn’t listen to it thinking “this lines up with this,” etc. Seeing this show live was 100 times more powerful, and it was nothing like listening to the soundtrack, but in a good way. Certain songs like “The Room Where It Happened” and “Wait For It” and “What’d I Miss?” Those should only be experienced live. You think “Quiet Uptown” and “That Would Be Enough” are bad when you hear them on your iPod? Seeing it in front of your eyes is so much more of a gut punch. There’s a magic to live theatre being, well, live theatre. There’s an energy and the intensity that the audience is fed from the stage that you just can’t get anywhere else. That’s partially why I fell head over heels into Rent the first time I saw it live, after listening to it and watching bootlegs incessantly: no matter how much you hear something, seeing it is different. And Hamilton is probably the only other show aside from Rent (for me) that’s proof of something being that much more astounding on stage. Because you SEE things, like the choreography of “Yorktown”, and the staging of “A Winter’s Ball/Helpless/Satisfied.” Things like Jefferson’s LITERAL mic drop during the rap battle, Burr’s face when he realizes Alex chose to endorse Jefferson, Eliza’s emotion during “Burn”, ANYTHING that Groff did with King George, from facial expressions to small over-the-top movements. You HEAR things, like Eliza’s scream when her son is shot and the gasp at the end when she realizes, yes, she’s told Alex’s story and become the narrative.

My friends would constantly make cheeky jokes about A.Ham being the idiot who can’t shut up, and I got it, but after seeing Lin perform? Oh yeah, I GOT it. I had always loved Daveed Diggs and Jefferson (how can you not?) but I fell in love a thousand times more. Same with Leslie Odom Jr., who deserves every Tony Award. I always cry during certain songs, but I felt for Eliza and Angelica and freaking George Washington (god bless Chris Jackson) in a way I didn’t expect. I sat in rapt attention for the entire 2+ hours, completely blown away by everything I was seeing.

I would see this show a thousand times, if I could. It’s the type of show I’d never get sick of, because I would always find one thing that would affect me, or something different to notice. Hamilton is so far beyond simply being one of the best Broadway musicals in a long time. It’s an experience that everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of at some point in their lives, no matter what cast they see or how long it takes them to see it.

And I’m so glad I could be a part of that experience.

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books! books! books!

One of my goals of 2016 (I have no idea how it’s almost 2016) is to read more. A lot more. This feeds into my “lifestyle improvement” resolution that I need to write about at some point, but even moreso than just balancing my time better between the Internet and reading, I want to just READ, and get in the habit of reading again. I miss the days where I binged A Song of Ice and Fire over six months, where I would come home and do a few things online and then be in bed by 10:30 or 11 and allow myself at least an hour or so to read. No Tumblr (which wasn’t as prominent in my life then, anyway), no TV, no scrolling through Twitter or email on my iPhone. Just me and my book.

Granted, I can’t blame everything on the Internet when it comes to being distracted from reading. There have been other factors over the years. I used to have a commute that was an hour on the subway each day (not to mention time in the middle of the day where I could take an actual lunch for an hour and sit and read) and then when I started working again, after I came back from school, I was living close enough to walk to work — ergo, no commute time. (Now that we’ve moved offices and I can no longer walk to work I have that time again, although the commute is currently not that long to begin with.) I tried to read in grad school, especially on the plane rides when I’d travel home, but I usually ended up on my computer doing schoolwork, reading comics, or writing fic, the latter of which is essentially how I stayed sane.

In order to put this somewhere (and because my planner isn’t here yet), I’m compiling a list of books I hope to read and make priorities this year. It’s literally all over the map right now in terms of genre, some of it is recs from online or friends. Obviously, it’s not comprehensive — I’m sure I’ll end up reading stuff that’s not on here — but hopefully it’ll give me a good base.

  • Princess Academy: Shannon Hale
  • An Ember in the Ashes: Sabaa Tahir
  • Fire Logic: Laurie Marks
  • Outlander: Diana Gabaldon (I promised beloved Katie I’d at least try)
  • The Warrior’s Path: Catherine M. Wilson
  • One Kick: Chelsea Cain
  • The Expanse: James S.A. Corey (SyFy gave us a collection of the books at their holiday party and, well, I can’t turn down free books)

new beginnings

So, let’s try this blogging thing. Again.

I’m a writer by nature, by trade, by profession. I write for a living, I write to make myself feel better when I’m going through a tough time (those fictional characters, they really get you). From homemade stories in elementary school to documents titled “novel1.doc” on my parents’ computer, to fifteen page papers (that were supposed to be, uh, seven pages), I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing.

The point is, I’ve been writing in some fashion, steadily, for a long time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that outlet in many different ways — short stories gave way to fanfiction, real journals gave way to LiveJournals, which eventually gave way to blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr. I started trying to blog regularly, out in the open (aka, not in a locked LiveJournal entry where it was safe for me to talk about issues with my friends, my life, my relationship) back in 2010/2011, when I was in the middle of trying to find myself for the 100th time and also in the middle of a relationship that turned out to be extremely toxic in an abusive way. I found some of those entries from that period the other day, entries about things I liked, travels I had taken. A lot of it felt familiar, especially when I wrote about experiences or interests (most of which haven’t changed at all in the past few years, except they’re not as prominent as they once were) but some of it also felt manufactured, as if I was trying to be something that I wasn’t.

I was still trying. I was still learning. I’m older, now, and I’m not sure how much more certain of myself I am, but I do know that at least one thing has changed: I know what I want.

2011 was a strange year of thinking I had myself, losing a lot of myself and not being sure who I was. 2012 was about making it better, figuring out what I wanted, what I liked, who I wanted in my life and what I wanted my life to be. 2013 was me finally making the decision to go back to graduate school and pursue the life I wanted for myself (journalism), picking myself up from a city I had made a home in for almost 10 years and living for a year by myself in the middle of Chicago, away from my family and friends. 2014 was returning to my city finding everything and also nothing had changed, spending six months in my dream job and then five months unemployed with the worst depression spiral I’ve ever experienced, before things finally straightened out.

2015 was about finding my way again, and I’m trying to continue that trend. Because, fuck, I’m older than thirty and I’ve already made mistakes I regret daily, and I don’t want to be that person I’m unhappy with anymore. I’m realizing that part of that will always be around, but I can take steps to put my life back in order in small ways. And a lot of those are becoming clear as I map out what I want to do in the coming next year: read more, write more, have a more regimented schedule, be better with money…the list goes on. I’ll write about this kind of stuff more in detail, eventually.

I’m slowly re-making myself (more on that in the next few entries) and this is a part of it.