Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flour Power!

Sometimes we just need to take a step back from the world, ignore the junk mail and the traffic lights and the alarm clocks and the hydrogenated oils, and just let ourselves be: Allow ourselves to merely exist in the world, enjoy our surroundings and just enjoy living.

It seems that the world continues to race by without ever providing us a chance to truly breathe, to appreciate our lives for what they are, and to love ourselves for being ourselves.

In the days leading up to my friends’ college departures, each second of my life is consumed by an ominous ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. I hear it as I walk home from work, wash the dishes, get dressed, open my mail, realizing that time continues to pass and the seconds become fewer and fewer until I am on my own. Every social occasion always ends with someone’s tearful goodbye as we realize months may pass before we see her again.

This afternoon I escaped the world. Whenever I walk by the giant bags of flour at Costco, I am completely tempted to split open the thin paper and toss the thin white powder in a flurry. Obviously, I value my membership at Costco far too much to achieve such a feat, but when divulging this fantasy to my friends, I realized that such a whimsical daydream was attainable.

And so was born The Flour Party.

With a host and her backyard in tow, a demand for all black clothing, and pounds and pounds of flour, of course, The Flour Party emerged. We congregated beneath the hot summer sun and before we had time to even create a set of rules, flour was smashed into ponytails, shoved up nostrils, caked into bellybuttons, lost down v-neck shirts. Flour coated our skin, our clothes, our hair; every crevice on our body was filled with white residue. Flour stuck to our teeth as we giggled and dumped flaky white piles on each other, flour blinded us and suffocated us as we tried to properly adorn every surface in the chalky powder. Laughter and shrieks remained our only form of communication as paste formed in our throats.

Words barely do justice to the ecstasy that was The Flour Party. The decidedly annual tradition ended with sprints through chilly water from the hose and the inevitable loss of hearing/sight/speech due to the excessive amount of irremovable flour stuck to our bodies. I left the festivities elated, unconcerned by the fact that my contacts were lying somewhere in the white-dusted grass, that my hair may forever sport a permanent white streak, or that I had just used some of my precious time doing something so completely purposeless.

Because sometimes we need this type of purposelessness, this nonsense and foolery to show us what life is all about. We need to loosen up, realize that life is about living, about loving and laughing, about enjoying who we are and who we’re with, and about just having an all around good time, and perhaps throwing a handful of flour in your best friend’s face every now and then.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To The Stage!

So I quit The Biz. This is no surprise: it’s been over a year since I tossed away glossy headshots, recycled crinkled copies of 16 bar musical theatre audition pieces, made room in my brain for more than memorized monologues, and even spent time daydreaming of more substantial goals than receiving my Tony/Oscar/Emmy. I just dropped everything cold turkey: stopped wanting what I wanted most and redirected my passions elsewhere. I look back now with bewilderment at the quickness with which I derailed my love.

The thing about acting is that it always gave me a safe escape; I could say anything I wanted, morph into whomever I desired, and nothing counted because all words and actions remained protected in this world of make-believe.

And then suddenly last Spring, on a school theatre trip to New York, sitting through Legally Blonde and then Spring Awakening for my second times that season, that everything was so falsified. It was so made up. The exact choreography swung over the stage, different actors replaced the original casts and played the roles nearly identically, and the music told the same story it sang to my on iTunes daily. I left New York uplifted, realizing that I had control over my life, not everything needed to be scripted, covered in stage lights and heavy make-up, or even auditioned for. My abandonment of the stage empowered me to be myself, see the bigger picture of the world in front of me, and start living honestly.

My days this year didn’t feel empty without the hours of acting and dance classes every single afternoon. I barely saw any live theatre (and Chicago theatre is the best) and hardly remembered what I was missing out on. And this summer contrasts drastically from that of two years ago when I was constantly running from rehearsal to performance from the South Loop to the North Shore, just trying to maintain my oh-so-fabulous actor lifestyle.

Saying that my campers saved my life may perhaps be a little dramatic (hey, I haven’t given it all up!). But in a summer full of completely thespian-esque ups and downs, spending six hours a day with artsy eight year olds was possibly my best therapy.

I spend the last seven weeks as a camp counselor at the arts camp I attended almost ten years ago. My days were filled with dance class, cheerleading routines, acting lessons, singing groups, and so much more. I left the world for those short hours while my campers reminded my that sparkly glitter is an acceptable favorite color, that dessert should always be eaten first, and that holding hands with your bestie in public is absolutely acceptable, if not required.

Eight long weeks ago, at a time when I was possibly feeling the most worthless and vulnerable in my entire life, I occupied my days decorating nametags with glitter and googly eyes, perfectly copying each name from my clipboard unsure of the identity behind the letters. 35 camp days later and I knew each child in and out, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their humors and their fears.

My campers never hesitated to tell me that I was cool, beautiful, or amazing. They drew me pictures and presented me with cards and handmade gifts. They loved to impress me with their Spanish skills or interesting lunches. Although I was frightened that none of my girls new who the Spice Girls were much less Mary Kate and Ashley, the generational gap proved to be the most refreshing part of my summer. And they trusted me to demonstrate their dance routines perfectly, to accurately sign their songs into ASL, to make them laugh in an improv exercise, and sing all their lyrics with precision.

I would hop up in acting class, suddenly feeling rejuvenated at my regained ability to make an audience laugh; I craved the moments I could steal the spotlight and transform into someone else, even just for a few seconds. My campers taught me that I can enjoy something without making it my life, that like them, I could participate in arts during the day and then venture off to become a professional ice skater/swimmer/violinist (I had quite the Renaissance group) and still enjoy my life. My campers reaffirmed my love for play, just for being silly and having fun, reminding me to not take myself so seriously and just take it easy.

My campers inspired me to renew my passion for performance, for true art, for art that is not a fallacy of the world but rather an honest expression of ourselves. My campers silently convinced me to return to classes at Giordano’s and Second City and perhaps even audition for something again one day, to just have fun and maybe learn a little along the way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who's Buying?

So I did something pretty cool the other day. What, you ask? I bought myself a purse!

“So what?” you may ask as you shake your head and squint your eyes. “Who cares? Why not write about something actually important?”

Because, I tell you, I insist, that this is important! (And no, this is not a cue to start playing “Material Girl”)

Over the years, I have accumulated many titles from fashion queen/diva/protégé to shopaholic to teeny bopper (I hope I’ve evolved from this one at least). To put it mildly, clothes have been an important part of my life.

And why shouldn’t they be? Choosing wearable art, forming a way to express myself like no other is an enjoyable hobby; finding the perfect gems to gloriously define my style occupies much of my time yet feels oh so satisfying when I find the perfect pair of jeans.

Whether we like it or not, our appearance somehow dictates who we are. How we choose to present ourselves, eclectic or impeccably matching, dreary or illuminated, provides others with a certain perception about our souls. In no way am I advocating judging a book by its cover, for lack of a better phrase, but yes, we have the ultimate power in the manner in which we choose to illustrate ourselves to the outside world and I assume full control of that.

This weekend I took a trip to Nordstrom’s with my mom. We started out in the show department where I immediately found a pair of multicolored high tops that I absolutely needed.

“You have thirty million pairs of shoes, I don’t think those are necessary.”

“But I need them to walk.”

My mom knows all my tricks. She knew I was going to persuade her until the magic plastic card floated out from her purse and the sneakers would be taken home, soon to forgotten under piles of flats and heels and boots. We stared at each other, each crossing our arms and I decided that battle was not worth fighting.

I moseyed on over to the accessories department and started looking at purses. Generally, I just tuck my wallet, phone, and lip-gloss into a few pockets and I’m ready to go out, however, I realize that in my epic move to New York my $7.99 Strand tote bag may not hold everything…

After selecting a black bag large enough for a Macbook, food, and perhaps a Chumash, I brought it over to the check –out counter and took my own debit card from my back pocket. Eagerly, I handed my lime green ticket to freedom to the salesperson, signed a receipt, and suddenly became the owner of a brand new designer purse. My mom laughed as I grinned, shopping bag in hand.

Later that evening a few friends stopped by my house. My parents dropped into our foyer just as we prepared to go out, “Did you see what Issa got today?” My purchase was proudly shown off to my friends.

“Who gave that to you?” I chuckled smugly and divulged the news. “Wait, it wasn’t a gift or anything?”

“And how much do you think it costs?” my mom prodded. My so-called bffer guessed $30, and then decided that was too generous, he would never pay that much. Seeing my mom so proud, kvelling some may say, of my accomplishment reinforced my satisfaction.

The point is, the rewarding feeling of buying yourself something you want, something you may not necessarily need, remains unmatchable. A combination of self-satisfaction and reassurance rushed to me as I indulged in my new purchase. Yes, I had earned this through hours of chasing kids and selling symphony tickets to obstinate ancianos. And while relaying on fifties from Daddy to fund our latest Urban Outfitter shopping sprees or lunches on the Mag Mile is all fun and easy, but buying our own way through feels so much more rewarding. Now if I could only afford that Parisian vacation I’ve been asking for…