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The Heartbreak of Dreaming

Sunset in the Golan Heights, Israel

Sunset in the Golan Heights, Israel

This post was inspired by a long series of nights spent dreaming I was in Israel and waking up to find that's not the case. It's tough to spend a long and beautiful time in one place and wake up to a different reality.

Artists are storytellers, we are dreamers. By nature we see things for more than they are, deeper than their surface value.  We spend time thinking, wondering, pondering, creating alternate realities. By vocation we live alternate realities all the time. I mean that in the sense of imagining ways things could be, but also nobody read me a story as a kid (nor did I read one as a teenager or young adult) about a person who grew up, went to school, and then spent years working multiple jobs at once to be able to spend a little time on the side pursuing her dream. This life I lead, while not unheard of, is far from common or traditional. But the unpredictability, the flexibility, the constant variables that make up the schedule of a freelancer, paints the world with a different brush. The brush of a dreamer.

Dreamers see possibilities where others don't. They imagine things never created before and, if they're a magic combination of hardworking and lucky, they make those imaginings a reality. Right now, as American politics faces options it never believed possible before, dreamers all over the country are forging new realities for our nation. That's happening through a lot of hard work, and a lot of determination in the face of being told our ideals are impossible.

Some may equate dreamers with optimists, but that's not me. I think of myself as a realist in many ways, making the practical decisions that must be made to make impractical decisions possible. When I was in high school, I made the extremely impractical decision of applying to only one college, a college that happened to be the number one "dream school" in the country. I had no backups. I had a fake list of four other schools I could list off when people asked me where I was applying, so that they wouldn't look at me like I was crazy, but to this day I couldn't really tell you anything about the drama programs at Brown, Carnegie-Mellon, Columba, and Northwestern that you don't already know. I did zero research. I focused 100% on making my NYU dream a reality. I did all the practical work, got all the good grades, did all the extra-curriculars and volunteer work needed to make my impractical decision a practical result.

As graduation loomed ever closer, I realized a dream was coming to an end. Don't get me wrong, theatre school was hard, it is still the hardest thing I have ever done, and I was grateful in many ways to have survived it and to see the light at the end of the windowless theatre tunnel. But the end of that tunnel was also the end of my known future. From age fourteen I had seen myself going to NYU and living in New York, and that's what I did. Yet with that cap and gown staring me in the face, I was completely unsure what to do next. I had been very good at achieving my dreams to that point. But I didn't know what the next dream was.

Most days I still don't know what the new dream is, and I graduated almost four years ago now. I dream of creating new theatre, and telling stories, and changing the world through art. I dream of creating political pieces that start a movement. But I also dream of moving to Berlin, or to Tel Aviv, of becoming a citizen of the world, a nomad whose home is nowhere and everywhere. 

The danger of being a dreamer is that there is a great risk of disappointment. Far too often, reality does not line up with the possibilities we see. Every audition that doesn't yield a role or each play submission that is rejected is a small (or not-so-small) heartbreak. Being a dreamer is full of extreme highs and consequently extreme lows. Dreamers can imagine incredible successes, bright, perfect outcomes - and when life falls short of what our minds create, it can be a devastating letdown. Some days, it can be easy to shake off a loss, but other days, the death of what could have been roots itself in our hearts and makes everything a bit darker.

I was hoping as I wrote this piece it would come to some sort of inspiring conclusion. But the fact of the matter is I'm at a loss. Sometimes things are just hard. They warn you, when you're a kid, that theatre is a hard business, not for the faint of heart. That if you can think of anything else you'd like to do, do that, because it will surely be easier. And by easier what they mean is that it won't break your heart so much when it's hard. Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything practical that I love as much as theatre or rock music. I'm doomed to be a dreamer forever. And I guess that means a lot more heartbreaks along the way. Good thing my phoenix heart is strong. (There it is. There's the inspiring ending I was trying to find.)

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Not What You Signed Up For

A series of related things happened recently:

 

  1. I went to Israel
  2. David Bowie died.
  3. I got my second tattoo.

While the second two may be clearly related to each other, on the surface they seem to have nothing to do with going to Israel, and all together they still wouldn't appear to have anything to do with making choices about my acting career. And yet, going to Israel helped me become the woman in the picture below, which in turn helped me realize the kind of artist I want to be.

 

 

While I was on my birthright trip, I found myself saying to my new friends something I've said occasionally over the last several years - that if I weren't an actor, I would look like such a weirdo - covered in tattoos, with short hair constantly dyed some weird color (purple is first on the list). And I realized, during a conversation about tattoos with a few friends on the trip who had some, that I didn't want to continue pursuing a career where I didn't feel like myself.

David Bowie, my great artistic inspiration, the inspiration to freaks and weirdos and aspiring weirdos of generations, died on January 10, 2016. I found out early in the morning of the 11th, before 9 am Israel time, while America was sleeping. Our group was sitting in a national park while our guide told us about a former military outpost we could see on a mountain in the distance. He pulled out his phone to look up a specific detail, and, upon launching the internet, proclaimed "Oh fuck, David Bowie died." That was how I found out my hero, the Starman, the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, was gone from this planet. I suppose we were only borrowing him from somewhere else.

On the bus after our hike that morning I was allowed to take over the audio system for a while, and played all of his hits for the regular fans, and then played all of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust for my own sake. The whole group had seen me silently weeping throughout the morning, not having any way of knowing how much Bowie meant to me. And as much as I wished in the moment that I could have locked myself in my room to mourn alone, I'm so grateful now that I was able to process my grief the way that I did - with his music, surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of Israel.

That evening, we went to a hot spring located right along the Galilee, with incredible views of the sea and surrounding mountains. That was where I finally had a chance to relax, with my Squad, and chat about tattoos and mundane things. That was where I told more of my friends there was a freak trapped in this pretty normal-looking, albeit-red-headed, person. And that was when I decided I was going to let myself be me, and look how I want to look, and do what I want to do, and find or create the theatre projects that support that. 

We spent a lot of time on the bus the next day, driving from the Golan Heights to Haifa to Jerusalem. During one of the quieter stretches, an idea for a tattoo came to me - not any of the three I already wanted, a new one. As soon as the idea was fully formed in my mind, it felt weird that it wasn't already a part of my skin. The picture that came into my head on Tuesday ended up on my body on Friday, the day after I got back from Israel.

My second tattoo, inked boldly on my chest, is the signifier of my decision to be me, and do "the industry" my way. It may have been a decision that prevents me from getting cast in some roles, working on some projects. But that's okay. I have never felt more like myself than since getting this tattoo. The lightning bolt is of course the most iconic Bowie symbol (though it's always associated with Ziggy Stardust when in fact it's from the album art for Aladdin Sane and was never worn on the Ziggy tour). The black stars symbolize his last album, Blackstar, released on his birthday, two days before his death. And the Hebrew says "ho lo ahuva at lo l'vad," which translates to "Oh no love, you're not alone" - a lyric from Bowie's "Rock n Roll Suicide," my favorite song of his, and translated with the help of several people who have made me feel very "not alone" - Elaun, our tour guide who accidentally broke the news, Jack, our security guard and member of the Squad, and my friend Michael, who I met during the RENT party in 2008 and who has always held a special place in my heart for a number of reasons only he can understand.

Right over my heart, a big red lightning bolt is difficult to hide. I have no intention of hiding it anyway. I'm proud that it's a part of who I am. Deeply connected to Bowie, to Israel, to being a weirdo.

My only other tattoo has, for a year now, slightly more subtly proclaimed my self at its deepest level. The "Hope" tattoo, in the Harry Potter title font, was one I thought about for almost four years rather than four days. But proclaiming my lifelong literal middle name in the typeface of a sixteen-year love affair seemed like a good start to proclaiming who I am on my skin. (This photo happens to also feature a length of blue yarn tied around my wrist, still here two weeks after I left Israel, connecting me to the rest of Bus 486.)

 

I posted this last picture on facebook because I felt good about my hair the day I took it, but after looking at it more I realized it really summed up me at this moment in time. I subtitled it "Not the granddaughter my grandparents signed up for, but the only one they got." No one expects, when a baby is born, that she is going to grow up to love classic rock and dye her hair bright red and get big tattoos and be a weirdo. But I'm awful proud of the weirdo I've been, and the one I'm growing to be.


Will you stay in our lovers' story

If you stay, you won't be sorry

Cause we believe in you

Soon you'll grow

So take a chance

On a couple of kooks

Hung up on romancing

-- David Bowie, "Kooks" Hunky Dory


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