Friday, July 16, 2010

Fame and fortune

Since I've been ordered by a physician to spend all day on my couch eating,* I managed to finish the book I was trying to save for my upcoming flight to Massachusetts: High On Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips.

It brought me to the conclusion that I'm so, so grateful that I was not raised by rock stars. Sure, my parents were hippies, but they were relatively grounded and actually put a lot of thought and energy into raising their children.

It's made me think about fame. Mackenzie's mom was John Phillips' first wife - she married him before he got famous. John Phillips then left Mackenzie's mom for 16 year old Michelle, and they formed The Mamas And The Papas. Fame gave Mackenzie's dad (who, it seems was never exactly responsible to begin with) money and adoring admirers, allowing him to live in a hedonistic, drug-filled alternative reality where he could do whatever the heck he wanted. Sure, he may have still been a crappy dad if he'd never gotten famous, but he probably wouldn't have had the resources to expose his children to the kind of environment that money and fame allowed.

One thing that Mackenzie said about her dad toward the end of the book was that he had wasted a lot of his potential. She thought he could have achieved more as an artist if he hadn't let drugs and partying completely take over his life. I thought this was an interesting point, especially because he did achieve so much artistically. But he could have done more, she thought, could have continued to grow as an artist, and he chose to party instead. Because he could.

It got me thinking about myself, and other artists that I know. I think for many artists, fame and fortune are the worst things that can happen. This is not to say that I think starving artists are more pure or legitimate, just that many of the crazy, envelope-pushing tendencies that make for great art can become warped into self-indulgent excess when they're not kept in check.

*I should note, though, that she stressed that I was to eat healthy food :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

An actor tries to write

When I started working on my novel, I noticed that writing dialogue came naturally to me. Since the only writing I'd done for years was for theater, this made sense. But I soon noticed, flipping through my first draft, that the manuscript was mostly dialogue. It didn't look like a novel. It looked like...a script. Oops.

My sister said, "you're expecting the set people and the costume people and the lighting people to take care of everything else. But there are no set people and costume people and lighting people."

So I worked on adding description to break up the dialogue. Anyone who's ever taken an acting class is familiar with the concept of motivation. You read the lines, and figure out what the character wants from the person they're speaking to.

My novel is told in the first person, so I ended up with several variations of "I wanted him to..."

Not good. I needed action. This is where my theater background actually started to help me instead of hindering. I acted it out.

I would mentally put myself in the situation, say the lines of lovely dialogue I'd already written, and observe myself. Sometimes literally, in front of a mirror. But more often, I just noted what my physical impulses were, then wrote them down. I should note that it was at this point that I gave up on the idea of writing in coffee shops.

My training in Playback theater was especially helpful for this process. Playback is improv, but not the comedic type. We listen to stories and experiences offered by audience members, then we act them out on the spot. I've found that Playback helps me get into the heads of others by connecting to universal emotions instead of focusing on differences. I often have to play someone who is not my age, gender, race, etc. It's the kind of role I would never be cast in for traditional theater, but it happens all the time in Playback.

One time, I remember I was acting out a scene and I actually made myself physically ill. I got so upset that I felt nauseous. I had to stop and remind myself that not only was it "just a story," it was a story I freakin' made up!

What can I say? Actors are intense.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


People often ask me if being vegan is hard. It's a tough question to answer. What makes it hard for me is that it's less convenient. Eating out is definitely more of a challenge than it used to be.

Before going vegan, I thought the really difficult part would be feeling deprived of all the yummy non-vegan foods I used to love. Not so, it turns out. It was a pleasant surprise that I actually didn't feel deprived. Two of my dietary downfalls before I went vegan were dairy and sugar. I adored cheese and baked goods. Vegan baked goods certainly exist (as does vegan cheese, and the only brand worth bothering with is Daiya...the others are not so good), but they're not as readily available. I either have to go to Whole Foods, a select few coffee shops, or make my own. The end result is that I eat less sugar overall, which is a very good thing.

Sometimes, though, I get a craving for something decadent, and I will go to the effort to satisfy that craving. I think I brought this on myself by mentioning La Crepe Nanou yesterday...I was totally craving crepes today.

I made some, following this recipe on veg web, and filled them with Tofutti "Better Than Sour Cream," sliced bananas, and vegan chocolate chips. Topped with real maple syrup (I'll eat fake sour cream, but don't mess with my maple syrup).

They were pretty damn good!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A sad goodbye to Cafe Bamboo, a happy hello to DixieBee!

I recently learned that Cafe Bamboo on Esplanade closed :( That was my favorite restaurant in NOLA since I went vegan (before going vegan, it was La Crepe Nanou, but I'm pretty sure nothing on the menu there is vegan...though I would love to be wrong about that).

As sort of a consolation prize, though, a lovely little juice bar/sno-ball/gelato shop opened up recently just a few blocks from my apartment: DixieBee. Not only do they have a wide variety of juices and healthy sno-balls,* but their gelato is made with coconut milk, not dairy. They will even make non-dairy shakes! Check it out, locals, whether you're a freaky vegan or not.

They're on Magazine across from Whole Foods.

*Flavored shaved ice, for those not familiar with this favorite NOLA treat. MUCH BETTER than the sno-cones you can get up north at fairs and such.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Work and results

A friend posted this article on Facebook, which is about trades and manual labor. It's a great read. I could relate quite a bit.

I graduated with a degree in Theater Arts in 2003, and moved to New Orleans six days after graduation. After about a month of temp work and frustration, I got a full time job as an Office Manager for an IT consulting company. I worked there until 2006, when I quit to go to massage school.

I never fully understood what exactly the company I worked for did. Nor did I feel that the work I was doing was important, beyond general helpfulness to my co-workers. I spent a lot of time bored out of my mind, and tried to learn new things to fill my time. There were a few things I enjoyed - the IT guy showed me how to make ethernet cables and we re-wired the office (that was fun!), and I learned enough about various programs we used that I was the support contact for my co-workers (that was fun, too!). But overall...yeah. Bored out of my mind.

I remember one day, one of my co-workers, who was not usually someone I would consider very sensitive to the moods and feelings of others, said to me, "You look like you're suffering from a lack of artistic opportunities."

This was a surprising statement, coming from this particular person, but it was, of course, completely true. When I was working on a play, I found that I could tolerate my "day job." Sure, it meant long hours of rehearsal on top of long hours in the office, but I felt like I was doing something meaningful. When I wasn't in a play, I got depressed.

I used to worry that I would always have to have a "day job" that I disliked, because it seemed unlikely that I'd ever make a living doing theater. I am so happy that I discovered Massage Therapy, because I love it and people seem willing to pay me to do it.

One of the great things about massage is that you can feel results. This is something the author of the NYT article talks about - tangible results. If I client walks in the door stressed out and in pain, and leaves happy and pain-free, you can't argue with that result.

But I think this concept also applies strongly to theater. When you've rehearsed a show for weeks, and then it opens and you've actually managed to pull it off, it creates this amazing euphoria. You hug everyone backstage, even the annoying people that drove you crazy throughout the rehearsal process.

And sure, part of that euphoria is artistic fulfillment, the feeling of connection with the audience, the risk of the live moment. But another very large part of it is simply seeing the results of your work.

And audiences love to see "the work" happening on the stage. When a performer is fully immersed in their work, their role, the audience gets to witness the result of hard work. It's immensely satisfying. As audiences, we want to see them pull it off.

As the NYT article mentions, we live in a society where work is often about vague concepts and corporate absurdity. It's natural for human beings to long for honest communication and visible results. The theater can provide us with that. Now, if only it would also pay our bills...

Friday, July 2, 2010

The drive to create

Last spring, I decided to write a novel. There was an idea I'd tried unsuccessfully to write as a play for years, and one day, while I was doing a massage, I began to think of the story as a novel instead of a play. Suddenly I had so many ideas that it was almost overwhelming. I couldn't wait to rush home and start writing. I had the next day off, so I ended up writing all night, and all the next day. That was at the beginning of April. By early July, I'd finished the first draft of my novel.

Looking back, I think there were a combination of things that put me in the mindset to pour all of my energy, my free time, my self into this project. First, I'd just been dumped. It wasn't a very serious or long-term relationship, but something about it hit me really hard. I was so depressed that I could hardly function. I desperately needed something to think about, something to have feelings about, other than the breakup. Once I started writing, I got over the pain of the breakup almost instantly. It was almost freaky.

A second factor was fear. I was afraid that if I stopped writing, I'd abandon the project. I've abandoned lots of projects in the past, but for some reason I knew it would be unthinkable to abandon this project. So I resolved to work on the novel every day. Even if I was suffering from total writer's block, I forced myself to open up the Word file and at least re-read what I'd written so far. That was usually enough to get me going again. One day, I remember I felt so blocked that all I did was type two new words, then I closed the file and went to bed. The next day I deleted those two words and wrote three thousand more.

I'd always thought of myself as a "theater person." All the writing I'd done since college was for theater. It was very strange for me to spend so much time in my own head, interacting only with my laptop. Everything about the process felt unnatural to me. But every single other thing in my life - my job, even basics like eating and sleeping - felt like an annoying distraction. I just needed to finish the novel. Somehow.

I'd had shorter periods of that kind of feverish compulsion in my life, but nothing like the months I spent writing the first draft of my novel. It's probably for the best that I'm not like that all the time - even if I didn't burn out, I'd become so detached from the world that I'd be left with nothing to reflect upon.

Still, I loved that crazy feeling. It reminds me of the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who become obsessed with Devil's Tower, though they don't know why. "This is important...this means something."

This is when you know you're an artist. People might think you're crazy. That's are crazy. If you can't get a little unbalanced when you're lost in the drive to create, you may have to ask yourself, is it important? Does it mean something?

All aboard the spaceship!

So, I've started a blog. This will be a space for me to spout off my numerous opinions about my life in New Orleans (and beyond!), especially pertaining to the performing arts scene and being vegan. I've lived in New Orleans for over seven years now. I moved here on a stiflingly hot summer day with no job, few friends, and very little money.

NOLA has been kind to me, for the most part. One of the things I most enjoy about living here is the arts scene. Not only is it alive and active, but supporting the arts seems to be a fundamental part of the culture here. Now, when I say "supporting," I'm not necessarily talking about money. In fact, when I ask my friends to see a play or a concert with me, the response is usually "how much does it cost?" There are plenty of relatively cheap fun things to do in NOLA, so pricey arts events are often a tough sell. Thankfully, there are plenty of cheap or free arts events here. But what makes the arts "work" as well as they do here is the general sense of encouragement and camaraderie within the arts community. Other areas can be harder to break into, without a lot of influence and money. Here, artists welcome other artists, and support their efforts.

I'm speaking generally, of course. There are petty snobs here, too. But I haven't encountered many of them.