Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How the Hell I Got to New York

I write about a range of topics on this blog.  But I'm not quite sure if I ever covered how I ended up in this city. So here goes nothing:

A lot of people want to try living in New York at least once.  But for me, besides the one fantasy I had of attending Columbia University (got rejected), I never cared to live here. During my visits to Manhattan from Atlanta, the heat mixed in with the stench of trash juice made me cringe. The BO in the toasty subway cars made me miss the luxury of air conditioning in our cars. Basically, in Georgia, we go from one air conditioned bubble to another air conditioned bubble.  I rarely dared to voluntarily stay outside for longer than it took to walk from the car to my destination. It was the worst thing when you were forced to park in a space at the mall that was far from the entrance. In my dramatically heightened memories, the sun beat down on me and the glaring reflections off the cars shot straight into my eyes as I shuffled across the scorching asphalt hissing its heat up my legs.  And that's what walking around Manhattan felt like the whole time- pretty sure I only went during the summers.

Alright, enough dogging on New York City.  How did someone who had no inkling of a desire to live here get here?  Well, as much as I love the fact that I grew up in the South, I knew in my heart that I was going to live elsewhere.  I needed to see more of the world! After teaching English in Korea, it was between San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles. Long story short, after visiting all of those cities, I came back to Atlanta to make some decisions, and fate intervened when I got a summer job teaching in Los Angeles.  I never used my return ticket home. 

After random jobs as an assistant in a financial firm, an intern at a production studio, and even a missionary trip to Kyrgyzstan, I attended UCLA to study urban education and taught for a couple of years.

During my second year of teaching middle school in the downtown LA area, we got confirmation that we would be losing our jobs due to budget cuts.  It was pretty devastating.  Throughout the year, we had been fighting this with petitions, protests, hunger strikes (yes! what!), and even slept on the streets next to the school.  It was intense.

Camping out but obviously not on a hunger strike here

Being offered a job back as a substitute teacher was a slap in the face.  Teachers used this "opportunity" to further their education, travel the world, and go into other fields of work.  My good friend Erin decided to move to Manhattan where her sister Lauren lived.  In addition to the career situation, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to a toxic relationship. I feel like I have a pretty good head on my shoulders, and in the past, I typically didn't waste my time on drama. THIS was my very first insane, wacky, ridiculous relationship. The type that makes you go "WHO AM I?"  The one involving the vicious cycle of breaking up and getting back together.  I can look back at that now and laugh (There were times I was maniacally laughing at myself then, too), but it was a trying period to say the least. 

One night, over a glass of wine, I told Erin that I would go with her to New York- this place that never before brought excitement to me.  She was so shocked.  And I felt so liberated.  This would break the chains from this guy for sure! (Well, it wasn't exaaaaactly that immediate, but fleeing to the opposite coast know, out of sight, out of mind.) In that instant, there was a discernible shift in my life. I don't know if Erin is aware of this, but I drove home that night with tears streaming down my face. Yes, it was a comical sight. I was so happy!  I'm sure there was some emo song or triumphant, angry Pink blasting in the background as I thanked God for this new path I was taking.

This is Erin. I-I followed her.

Somewhere in that last year of teaching, I participated in the Landmark Forum.  Yes, the one people accuse of being a cult.  I was a mess, you guys. So I was pretty much open to anything to set my life back on track. And perhaps even make it better than before.  I will say that their tactics can be a bit aggressive. I was totally NOT feeling it the first night and wanted to leave early. Ooooo weeee, do they make that hard for you to do!  They were asking why I had to leave, if that was what I REALLY wanted to do, yada yada. It wasn't necessarily strong-arming me, but it made me feel a bit guilty and I walked back to my seat with my tail between my legs. I will go more into Landmark in another post, but I will say that my friends and I have gotten a lot out of it and I would recommend it.  Most of us had that phase of suspicion throughout most of the 3-day seminar. Then you experience this unexpected breakthrough...a lot of us had it toward the end. So imagine how bitter you are during the majority of the program, kicking yourself for being so stupid and spending (a lot of) money on this "crap". Sitting sullenly through all the yapping and exercises and then BOOM! Out of nowhere. I swear, it was like that. 

On the last night of the very long sessions, I was telling someone that I want to try to be an actress. He looked at me and firmly said, "That's the first thing you need to change. You aren't TRYING to be an actress. Tell yourself that you ARE an actress." Insert Joey Lawrence "WHOA" here. 

I don't even know where the acting bug came from....I was never involved in drama or theatre at school. The first acting class I took was in LA at the community college while I was also learning Mandarin (fail) and working at the financial firm. Then I did some random background acting jobs for money. I remember being on Zuma Beach with my friend Beverly and marveling at how we were getting paid (a measly amount but still paid) to just sit there on the beach while paparazzi clung precariously to the Malibu cliffs trying to get shots of Mischa Barton.  Yup, we were working on "The OC" while it was still the rage.

One of my first background jobs as a 60s chick with a super short dress for some MTV show.  Took it on my AWESOME TMobile Sidekick.

During my last semester teaching, I took a commercial acting class for fun, but maybe my subconscious desires were already coming out.  I showed my awkward fake "commercials" to my students, who I thought were getting a kick out of it at the time.  But they were probably just happy getting out of doing work.

My teacher friends and I made thriller math movies for our students, which involved them solving math equations to figure out the next clues.  Acting in those "films" was definitely a highlight of planning our curriculum.

Teacher actors

However, I still don't know what fully triggered the formal resolve to go into acting when I moved to New York. All I know was that I told my students to follow their dreams, and I couldn't be a pansy and not practice what I preach, right?  So there we have it. 

Within a couple of weeks of declaring my move to the East Coast, I had sold my car, bought my plane ticket, and we had secured an apartment right next door to Erin's sister's building. Lauren hooked it up. Talk about getting lucky. So I moved from a 2-story, 2-bedroom condo in Studio City that I shared with my roommate. I had my own full bathroom. We had a washer/dryer and even a pool table. So I went from this...

To a "two bedroom" apartment in Murray Hill. I put those quotations there because I am certain that it was a one bedroom converted into two.  My room basically fit a full size bed and a dresser. I'm not quite sure how I managed to navigate the area. 

Even though the place was tiny and my mom would probably cry if she ever saw it in person, I have such fond memories of that apartment. Within days of moving in, we had a revolving door of visitors who took HUGE advantage of the nightlife. Walking home when the sun was coming up. Sometimes dealing with casualties and questions of "WHERE IS so-and-so?!" due to losing wanderers throughout the night. 6+ people crammed into our super humble abode, some sleeping on the floor. 

A lot has happened since then. My cycle of LA roommates left me for sunny California. I wouldn't say the trainwreck days are over, but some of us have moved onto being wives, husbands, PARENTS(!), and just calming the fuck down.  Friends have moved onto other careers.  Romances fizzled and rekindled or just died.  Brooklyn and Astoria are the "it" places to live (wtf).  I was supposed to go back to CA after a year of acting in New York. How silly of me.  I didn't even commit to acting in the first year. I was too busy being scared. I met my now-husband here so I couldn't just up and leave for LA. Interestingly enough, as the months passed, I grew to love NY even a tiny bit more than LA. 

I have worked on some amazing projects including various fantastic films (still pinching myself from the jaw-dropping experience of working with Richard Gere), an upcoming HBO show, commercials, a CBS show and new Showtime series "Billions". I will never forget being in the room with the "Billions" writers, who are also writers of "Rounders" and "Ocean's Thirteen," as we worked on scenes that they wrote for my character. One of the writers told me that he recalled a conversation that he and I had during our shoot in January and got inspired to write from that. I was so surprised that I didn't fully process what he said until later. I don't know what will happen with those scenes or my character, but what will always remain with me is that time in the writing room.  And although I wouldn't say I'm quite the "working" actress yet, that guy at the Landmark Forum would be proud.  I no longer say, "I'm TRYING to be an actress." ;)

Here's to 6 years in New York!

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