By an incredible stroke of luck, I found myself on all-expense-paid business trip to wine country in Puglia, Italy. But let’s be honest, I don’t belong on this trip. I am not an importer, I am not a distributor, I don’t even work at winery but at a small independent retail shop in Brooklyn. “Just drink the wine and learn as much as you can. No pressure,” my boss told me. While deliriously drinking in the beauty surrounding me just as earnestly as I knocked back my Primitivo, my hedonistic aspirations come to a crashing halt when I realized This Is Not A Vacation. I was to pretend to be an importer and I didn’t know the first thing about acting that part- my boss sent me on this trip completely unprepared. So I shakily bluffed my way through interviews with winemakers and didn’t; get much of a rush from it. I was afraid of sounding stupid and for them to call me out as a fraud- which a few did, to my total mortification. All of this is added to the fact that I was a young, attractive American woman at least 15 years younger than anyone else on this trip. I stuck out like a sore thumb among the 60 year old European men which constituted 90% of the group. The thought plagued me, “Who the hell would take you seriously?” When I expressed my anxiety to my senior associates they consoled me with “Don’t worry, use your looks to your advantage. You’re here to taste wine and learn about this industry. Don’t let these people intimidate you, just give them a smile.” I was frustrated with my own ignorance and the feminist on my shoulder telling me if I was a young man I would be treated much differently. Flattered by the chivalrous treatment and downright spoiled by the Italian lifestyle, but I still felt uncomfortable treating this whole thing with such flippancy. I thought that if a young man were in my position, more would be expected of him so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself and the company sponsoring his trip. But as I a young attractive American woman, everyone is concerned that I am enjoying myself. No doubt everyone else is enjoyed my refreshing presence among the usual suspects. My goal is to be taken seriously, and all I can do right now is fake it till I make it. All of my audition techniques proved very useful on this trip because handling so many situations such as this all comes down the basic principles. Dress the part you’re going for, practice your lines, research your part in the context of the entire script and when show time comes simply react. After recently attending his show at the Brooklyn museum, I thought that Jean Paul Gaultier’s idea that “our body, the way we present ourselves—it’s a form of communication. Our clothing, hair and body decoration reflect our true identity” is very much true, unless you’re trying to adorn yourself in order to disguise. But, even the way you walk, it’s always giving yourself away. Self-conscious musing and constant mirror checking don’t satisfy my anxiety that I’m presenting the image I want. Your headshot can say so many different things and your audition could completely contradict or highlight those facts. We’re in the business of appearance and here every details counts. I feel accomplished that my efforts to be taken seriously were at least noticed in the fact that I behaved with demure, refined manners, unlike my fellow loud-mouth American attending this trip. It was a great lesson in self image and providing a benchmark for how much I know versus how much more I have to learn.
I received my first PhD rejection letter a few weeks ago. It was from Brown. Honestly my heart wasn’t set on Brown; the program wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and I can’t say I was thrilled with the prospect of moving to Rhode Island. But, the letter carried a certain foreboding weight; the way people say death comes in threes. It had an air of Après moi, le deluge (after me, comes the flood). Sure enough the rejection letters trickled in, and I was flooded with feelings of self-doubt. After Brown, was UT Austin (the hardest blow), and then Columbia. I suppose rejections come in threes as well. I’m still waiting to hear back from two schools, but it’s not promising. The first moment you open the letter and read “We regret…” is the worst. Your heart sinks; your stomach turns. Columbia really knows how to kick a dog when it’s down. Its rejection letter was the most pretentious letter I’ve ever read. No really, I had to look up one of the words they used. As if all of us reading the letter don’t feel stupid enough. I spent about $500 applying to schools and about $80,000 on a fancy masters degree and so far I’m three for nothing. At first I felt so disappointed in myself. I kept telling myself that this past year of shitty jobs and too much Netflix was ok because come September I’d be hitting the books again, getting a PhD. I moped for a couple days and of course because life has a cruel sense of humor, and because I work with babies, who are really just receptacles for viruses and bacteria, I was sick as well as academically rejected. I contract a stomach virus and Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (a virus that usually only toddlers get) I had a fever, soar throat and a painful, itchy rash on my hands and feet. Between stress about not getting into schools and the painful rash, I couldn’t sleep. I paced back and forth in my apartment in the middle of the night, rubbing my itchy, red hands together. Who would have thought that a toddler’s virus could make me look like lady Macbeth in the “out damned spot” scene. Needless to say it’s been rough.
I allowed myself a couple days in the flood, but then it was time to come in out of the rain. Now I’ve decided to look at my rejection letters as acceptance letters to a new life adventure. After my interview with UT Austin, when I thought it might be a possibility, I got my hopes up and started researching the city and, being that I have a tendency to be over zealous, I started looking at apartments on craigslist. After living in my crappy, unheated, Bushwick apartment for the past year, all the less expensive places in Austin seemed luxurious. I found myself getting excited about things like a washer and drying in the building and stainless steal kitchen appliances. Performance as Public Practice at UT Austin is my dream program. Living in Texas would have been economically more comfortable than my like in NY. My girlfriend would look pretty hot driving a truck, and I think I could really pull off turquoise jewelry and a pair of cow girl boots, but I am not yet ready to be the kind of woman who is excited about stainless steal kitchen appliances! That’s how it all starts; first a great apartment in a safe neighborhood, then I’d get my PhD, and hopefully start my career, and before you know it I’m all settled down and having my girl friend’s baby! Maybe these rejections are for the best. Maybe I need another year in this liminal space. I’ve always been so responsible and structured. Maybe I need a little chaos, more time off, an adventure! I want to travel. I want to be the abnoxious American sipping coffee in a Parisian café, while reading Molière (I imagine Jacque Brel somehow playing in the background). I want to eat paella in Spain and see a play at the globe theatre in London. My girl friend and I have no money and I don’t even have a passport but I know we will make this happen! Sometimes after the flood comes clarity.
When I was little*, I considered the woods to be my own personal playground. The house couldn’t hold me and once outside, my imagination ran wild. I built houses for the fairies that I knew lived in the woods. They were extravagant castles with stick turrets and moss walls. I left the fairies notes scrawled in the mud and I knew they liked their homes because they wrote back and told me so! I would leave them presents that would be gone when I checked back the next day. I saw them, too. At night, little lights would dance around the woods. They weren’t afraid of me so they showed me how they played and danced. They knew they could trust me.
Then one day, I wandered into my mother’s room and noticed a box on her bed. It was full of the presents I had given to the fairies. It broke my heart. This wasn’t Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny, this was my reality coming undone.
I might not leave presents out for the fairies in the woods anymore but I do believe in their presence. I believe in energy and the magic that inspires my artwork. If I hadn’t played in those woods as a child, I may not have ended up as the artist I am today. Let your imagination run wild and don’t listen to people who tell you you’re acting silly or that something isn’t real. Go out and play in the woods. Most importantly: play. As an artist, of any kind, that is our job. When we play, we inspire others to do so. This is our job, our livelihood: to entertain and inspire. Hold on to childhood memories as a well for your purest time of creativity. Do not be afraid to mine from it, as it is bottomless.
I am a fairy
I am a witch
I am a mermaid
I am a muse.
Call it whatever you want, but life is more interesting when you believe in something outside of your everyday tangible existence.
*This anecdote was related to me by Eleanor
“Ballybetagh Woods” by Catherine Nelson from Imaginary Landscapes
This piece, a collection of individual thoughts, is an offering that was devised during NYU’s Praxis 2014. It came about from The Grace Period Blog’s “InDEBTed to Art: Traversing Digital and Corporeal Resistance” workshop. We are so grateful to and inspired by all who were involved and participated — we hope this is only the beginning of our conversation. Credit to contributors and collaborators goes to: Christa Noelle, Sha Savage, Victoria Randall, Taylor Black, Victor Bautista, Phoebe Rumsey, Ian Watson, Susana Epstein, Sarah Lucie, Gabriela Moreno, and Sydney Arndt.
“You’re being totally unrealistic.” Since when has the term “realistic” come to mean uncreative, defeatist, and resigned? The political and economic problems facing our generation often seem insurmountable. Between student debt and health care issues, coupled with job insecurity and the inability to save, it seems that we’re destined for a more complicated life than the one our parents experienced. Just deal with it, right? Just take care of you and your own. Make sure that you save enough for your own family, and go on with your day. Be realistic.But I don’t want to be realistic. I don’t want to give up and accept things as they are. I don’t want any of us to accept our lot in life and just make the most of what’s given to us. I want to keep pushing, to keep thinking about what the ideal is. Just because the ideal solution is hard (some would say impossible) to accomplish, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be thought, it shouldn’t be voiced. I’m not a politician. Politicians have to be diplomatic and compromise and find a realistic solution.
Realistic is boring, be surrealistic. Surrealism is what brought you to art anyway.
Possibility is like a blank page. So many options, let’s get started.
I’m an artist by nature. I have a realistic job, however, to take care of my real bills.
Responsibility. Feelings of having to think about the future in terms of financial security too much.
Denial is the next best thing after ignorance. I can pay off all my student debt in a year if I make $10,000 a month, plus living expenses.
How do I find an audience that will listen. I want to convert the realistic ones into a new way of thinking.
How are dreaming and desire part of a realistic world?
Do you really want to solve a problem, or do you want to provide the most creative solution without regards to a chance of success?
Wasn’t any other historical period as difficult as this one or perhaps even more difficult in the past?
What’s real to the body, society, and the mind, and will they ever collide?
Jenna’s New Years Resolutions:
Get more involved in NYC theater
Find a job that is fulfilling
Get into a PhD program
Convince my slummy landlord to fix the heat in my apartment
Keep up with the laundry
I’m not one for New Years resolutions. Change doesn’t have to wait for a prompt by a calendar, and any true change is a continuous challenge that will need to be refreshed and begun again. I do, however, welcome inspiration always—New Year or not. At a New Year’s Eve party, a friend read this poem to me, and it was as if the universe reached out a gentle hand and lovingly shifted my direction. And so, I leave you with the inspirational words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Invent a new language anyone can understand.
Climb the Statue of Liberty.
Reach for the unattainable.
Kiss the mirror and write what you see and hear.
Dance with wolves and count the stars,
including the unseen.
Be naive, innocent, non-cynical, as if you had
just landed on earth (as indeed you have, as
indeed we all have), astonished by what you
have fallen upon.
Write living newspapers. Be a reporter
from outer space, filing dispatches to some
supreme managing editor who believes in full
disclosure and has a low tolerance level for hot air.
Write an endless poem about your life on
earth or elsewhere.
Read between the lines of human discourse.
Avoid the provincial, go for the universal.
Think subjectively, write objectively.
Think long thoughts in short sentences.
Don’t attend poetry workshops, but if you do,
don’t go to learn ‘how to” but to learn
“what” (What’s important to write about).
Don’t bow down to critics who have not
themselves written great masterpieces.
Resist much, obey less.
Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.
Write short poems in the voice of birds.
Make your lyrics truly lyrical. Birdsong is not
made by machines. Give your poems wings
to fly to the treetops.
The much-quoted dictum from William Carlos
Williams, “No ideas but in things,” is OK for
prose, but it lays a dead hand on lyricism,
since “things” are dead.
Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and
think the rest of the world is going to think
Remember everything, forget nothing.
Work on a frontier, if you can find one.
Go to sea, or work near water, and paddle
your own boat.
Associate with thinking poets. They’re hard
Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking.
“First thought, best thought” may not make
for the greatest poetry. First thought may be
What’s on your mind? What do you have
in mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.
Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall
Question everything and everyone. Be subversive,
constantly questioning reality and
the status quo.
Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t
pander, especially not to possible audiences,
readers, editors, or publishers.
Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there.
Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered
windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks
from the doors, but don’t throw away the
Be committed to something outside yourself.
Be militant about it. Or ecstatic.
To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen, to be
a poet at 40 is to be a poet. Be both.
Wake up and pee, the world’s on fire.
Have a nice day.
From “Performance Scores for the Struggling Artist”:
12. Ignore any artwork you may be doing, including this.
17. Fail. Fail again. Repeat until desired outcome is reached.
When I wrote my performance scores last month, most were done tongue-in-cheek, with an angry/bitter undertone of sarcasm. Number 12 was one such score. I added it because I had moved to New York to find more creative outlets, to do more as an artist than I had ever before, to find a gold mine of inspiration. Instead I focused on making sure I had the necessities to live, worried about finding a permanent home, and worked full-time at a retail job and no-time on my writing or anything else artistic that I wasn’t already committed to with six other (brilliant and wonderful) women. If The Grace Period had been a solo venture, I say with full confidence that it would have fallen by the wayside, just like my own personal artistic endeavors did when I came to New York. As of my last blog post, I was well aware of the inconsistency between the amount of writing I had planned to do and the amount of writing I had actually done. Thus was born performance score #12. The worst part is that, a month later, I have just barely begun to reverse that trend. And not only that, I’ve been a horrible artistic partner. In my struggle and my worries, which I won’t detail here, I had/have ignored my fellow artists and collaborators and become a non-presence in the group, something I’m not proud of but won’t deny. Ignore any and all artwork? Check.
Number 17, rather than out of bitterness at what I was already doing, grew out of fear of what I might do, of what might happen if my New York (Dream) Life fell through. It would be a failure. If I couldn’t get things together and had to move back home, I would have moved and tried to make it here (because then I can make it anywhere, right?), and failed utterly. That was failure on the biggest scale for me, though it could also easily apply to ignoring my artwork. After all, if you come to New York to be an artist, and you don’t do any art, you’re failing, aren’t you, at least in some respect? But I digress, slightly. The fact is that, one month later, I have inadvertently achieved the first part of score #17: “Fail.” Long story short: I will not be staying in New York. Not for now. Home again, home again, jiggity jig and all that. (I’m sorry to my fellow bloggers who are hearing of my departure in this format. Right now, given my penchant for being reclusive and uncommunicative, I don’t know how best/how else to say it, so this will have to do. I hope you can forgive me.) For many reasons, which again I will not be detailing here, I can’t make it work right now. And that’s okay. I don’t mean that to sound as though I’m okay with rolling over and dying, here, though several weeks ago I would have seen it as such. This is not a failure. Yes, my plan failed, but this is not a failure; I am not a failure. I go home; I regroup; I improve (as an artist, a person, an adult); I try again. After all, the score does say to repeat until the desired outcome is reached.
Fail again? Let’s hope not (but that’s life, and I’ll get through it again if it comes).
Repeat until desired outcome is reached? Still in progress. Report to follow.
See you next year,
- Best Mortgage, Student Loan & Credit Card Hardship Programs for 2014 (prnewswire.com)
- New principles for fair student lending (consumerreports.org)
- I’ve Been Trapped in Sallie Mae Loans for Almost 19 Years (huffingtonpost.com)
- Should Schools Be More Accountable for Student Borrowing? (affordableschoolsonline.com)
Please use with discretion and a grain of salt.
1. Sit in the park. Contemplate homelessness.
2. Eat only foods that cost less than $2.
3. See how many different couches/beds/futons/floors you can sleep on in a month.
5. Do not buy anything.
6. Have faith. Lose faith.
8. See how long you can go without eating.
9. Optional solo or with two (or more) people: look for a place to live. Fail.
10. For two (or more) people: talk about living with each other, but don’t actually do it.
11. Live with each other.
12. Ignore any artwork you may be doing, including this.
13. Avoid looking at your bank account balance for as long as possible.
14. See how long you can go without doing laundry.
15. Think about art.
16. For two people: commiserate.
17. Fail. Fail again. Repeat until desired outcome is reached.
19. What is comfort?
20. Decide what is enough.
21. Be artful with money.
23. a. Move.
b. Don’t move.
25. _____________________ (Fill the void.)