The False in Our Starts (part I)

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Starting Blocks at Vacant Starting Line Before Event

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

“The try and the fail, the two things I hate…”   -Jay Z

It starts off small.  Sea monkeys.  Remember those sea monkey kits?  I never could get my sea monkeys to hatch.  All I ever managed to get was a tiny aquarium of murky, stink water, where all I ever managed to see were my tiny hopes and dreams dashed.  I believed in sea monkeys!!!  I tried several times to witness the wonders of a mini under sea world come to life before my eyes.   I followed all the instructions, but all I ever got was murky, stink water.  They made it look so simple, so I must have done something wrong.  I must have failed some how, right?

It starts off small, but it can expand quickly.

The try: auditioning for theater company in high school.  The fail: getting rejected two years in a row.

The try: starting college and double majoring in English and Speech Communications. The fail: having to drop out thousands of dollars in debt.

The try: feeling empowered to start my own small business.  The fail: worrying excessively about start up money and possible failure, then not following through.

The try: earning a livable wage while pursuing my dreams.  The Fail?

Free Trial Period

I have tried and failed many things.  Until fairly recently, I believed that made me a failure.  Trying and failing, it doesn’t feel good.  And no matter how many times it happens, it never gets any easier.  It always sucks.  If I may borrow from Jay-Z, trying and failing are two things I hate.

Correction:  Now that I think about it, I don’t hate trying.  There’s a reason I’ve tried all the things I have tried.  To try, is to take a risk.  To try, is to be willing.  To try, is to hope, to experiment, and to learn something new.  I have tried a lot of things, and many of those things failed miserably, but I don’t regret trying.  As long as I learned something, none of my efforts are wasted.

If I apply the same grace to my failures as I do my attempts, then every so-called failure is actually a teachable moment.  Scientist have to do experiments in order to test their hypothesis.  If the outcome disproves their theory, they adjust the experiment and test a new hypothesis.  I love to learn (I am a proud nerd), so, really… I can no longer consciously hate “The fail” either.

Should I even label the things I’ve tried, that did not go the way I planned, as failures?  And if my failures aren’t really failures, then how can I think of myself as one?

You see, I get these residual failure pains.  Whenever something I attempt doesn’t come out the way I planned, I internalize it as a character defect, and the pain lingers long after the loss.  I have spent so much of my life feeling like a “constant screw up”, “the family disappointment”, and other colorful self-deprecating titles.  And I played the roles dutifully.  However, the real truth is I am not a screw up: I am a person who tries many things; I am willing to risk; and I dare to hope.

Try Outs

In Spring 2015, I took part in this crazy 5k called WipeOut Run that involves an obstacle course of ridiculous proportion.  There is foam, and swings, and inflatables, and big red balls galore, including the unforgiving wrecking ball.  This event can be made even more epic when participants fully commit to the foolishness by wearing costumes.  Being a book nerd, I decided to create a costume inspired by one of my favorite books.  I started a team for friends and fellow book nerds, and I gave us an awesome name befitting our love of words.  The team name, you ask?  The False In Our Starts.

The team name was an homage to a great book I adore, “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.  Even more perfect, Green’s title was already an homage… to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet!  (Do I get double points for literary cleverness?)  What is less obvious about the name choice is that it is also a metaphor, influenced by the idea of the false start in the creative process.  The concept was first introduced to me by a great guy named John Pluecker.

Tried and True

Allow me to introduce you to John.  We met while I was working for an art, culture, and community organization called Project Row Houses.  John Pluecker, with his organization Antena created an installation at PRH.  As part of the installation, John was the creator and facilitator of a read/write club.  He created a space and an experience where students, community members, and artist could buy and read books, talk about them, then create our own words inspired by them, and share them.  He introduced me to experimental poetry, several daring new writers of color, and to small-press and handcrafted DIY works from independent presses.  We got to meet with, or skype, some of the authors whose work we read.  John supplemented each session with audio recordings from the authors, music, and visual media made by or which influenced the works we studied.  My fellow participants made authentic connections by relating to the works we read and sharing our own personal experiences.

My favorite part was the writing sessions.  I started taking myself and my writing more seriously after being a part of Antena’s read/write club.  At first, I felt intimidated, because I didn’t think I was a “real writer” or a “true artist”, and I was afraid I had no talent and that everyone would realize that I didn’t belong.  However, John created an environment of inclusion, support, and encouragement that allowed me to break out of my timid shell and be less fearful about sharing my work.  As a matter of fact, it was John’s words that helped me have words to share in the first place, when he introduced me to the concept of the creative false start.

After each writing session, John would open the floor for us to share what we had written.  We could have called it a read/write/show & tell club.  He noticed that I was usually reluctant to share.  I hesitated to share, because my work was often so incomplete.  I always felt like I was just getting started when it was time to end.  As he looked at the pages I had written, he noticed all the scratch outs, all the starts and stops, and all the editing.  I opened up with John about my work being incomplete, and I told him about how I felt compelled to constantly begin again.  I was unproductively trying to process my thoughts, capture my ideas, and improve them all at the same time.  I would decide that something wasn’t working, then I’d get a better idea, or the thoughts would finally come together, and I would be compelled to rewrite.

John told me, “Each false start has meaning and value.  You could go with it.  You can use them”.  His words were simple yet powerful to me.  Immediately, it was as if they created new synaptic pathways in my brain: the work I had already done was useful; it could lead me to what I really wanted to say and do.  John even found me a book in which the author repurposed his various false starts.  It was an entire book of false starts!  Before John rewired my brain, I had only ever associated false starts with racing.

As a kid, my friends and I were very serious about racing.  We would quickly disqualify anyone whose toes went over the starting line or started running before “GO!” was called out.  In racing, false starts get you in trouble; they get you disqualified.  Now the definition of a false start has expanded to include any unsuccessful attempt to begin something.  The idea of a false start having value and meaning was therefore revolutionary to me.  It’s been a few years since I learned this from John, but it has stuck with me ever since.

As an overly critical, self-inhibited writer/creative artist, false starts happen.  Our minds are a wealth of ideas, a playground of projects, but all these possibilities can lead to starting things but not finishing them.  Especially if we have perfectionist issues!  (For instance, that last sentence isn’t a complete one.  Don’t tell the Grammar Nazis.)  This is an important paradigm shift for me, as a recovering self-destructive who viewed every mistake as, not only a failure but, a personal character flaw and evidence  that I was a screw up and family disappointment.

Try, Try Again!

“My life has been long, and believing that LIFE LOVES THE LIVER OF IT, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring still”.

-Maya Angelou

In effect, John Pluecker rescued me from myself, with his insights.  Every false start/misstep/mistake is usable, not punishable.  They are experiential learning opportunities.  This new perspective is especially valuable to other writers and creatives, who constantly struggle with an inner resistance that keeps us from creating and completing our work.   Ultimately though, it is helpful to anyone grappling with The Try and The Fail.

Maybe you are a blogger, like me, having trouble completing and sharing posts.  Perhaps you are a creative artist struggling to complete and share your work.  Perhaps you messed up at work.  Perhaps you screwed up in a relationship.  Or maybe you are having trouble forgiving yourself for all the time you feel has been wasted, trying things and not succeeding at them, on the road less traveled, yet full of obstacles and detours, and making mistakes while figuring things out.  None of it is time wasted.  It has meaning and value… if we allow it to teach us.  

 

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I really enjoy reading your comments, and would love to hear from you.  What’s one of your try and fail experiences?  How are you redifining what failure and success mean to you?

If you’d like to learn more about the amazing work John Pluecker and Antena are doing, please visit them at antenaantena.org.

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Storytime- “Who Is This Kid?”

Before we begin, a little background:

Along with a myriad of other gigs, I am a barista.  I serve both coffee and connection.  In exchange, I have the flexibility and freedom to pursue my education and creative side projects.  This story begins at the small coffee shop where I work.  There are all sorts of random things adorning the walls, desk area, lobby, and even in the espresso bar area.  For instance, to many of the customers’ wonder, an unknown person managed to reach the rafters of the high ceiling and place four cups of descending size.  Side by side, they remained for many years until recently when my store was remodeled.  The store scavenger hunt also includes tiny stickers of adorable dogs and the store logo hand drawn in several inconspicuous places.  I got accustomed to the random wall coverings.  One such random artifact is a tiny black and white cutout photo of a nameless baby.  It’s been there long before I starting working at the store and survived two renovations.  Last year someone taped up a note near the picture begging, “Who IS this kid?”

I thought it was interesting that other people noticed and wondered about the baby as well, so I posted a follow-up note.  A proposition.  The note invited people to create a short story about who the baby might be.  Much like the art assignment (mentioned in my last post; link here), I gave my fellow partners some homework.  Use an old photograph to tell a story.  Without realizing it at the time, I stumbled upon Ransom Riggs thing and stole it for myself.  It was an extra credit assignment so not that many people took part in my little “short story contest” (there was no prize).  Two other people besides myself wrote stories.  One was written as a fairy tale, but when she couldn’t finish it, she revised it down to a one-sentence story.  It read: “Decafaniquequa.  The End.  I WIN!”.  I found it clever and hilarious.  The second entry was a haunting tale about the disembodied cry of a baby that was heard each night as the baristas closed up shop. The following tale is my contribution to the collection.  A narrative.  The story itself is fictional, but many of the people and details are real.  Most of the drink orders are authentic too.  It is kind of historical fiction.  I wrote it to seem true to the partners and customers who read it and from the point of view of my store manager who has been at the store for over 10 years.  Her name is Jennifer.  I leave it up to you to ponder which parts are truth and which parts are make-believe.

I Hope You Enjoy,

-Bryanda Minix


Who Is This Kid?

written by: Bryanda Minix

(February 4, 2014)

The Barista

     They say nature abhors a vacuum, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the faded black and white photograph, which to me became as much a part of the structure of the building as a load-bearing wall (but to the other baristas was just a question mark, an open-ended question unanswered), elicited curiosity.  “Who IS this kid?”  “LOL, that kid stares at me while I am on my break”.  “Whose baby is that!?!?”  “What’s the deal with the creepy baby on the wall?”

     The years sneak up like pounds on a scale, before you know it, you’re looking down like “who added all these numbers?”  Have I really been at this store for over ten years?  I am the only one left who knows that the faded picture, the “creepy baby”, has a name.  I know the story very well, though part of me wishes I could forget.  The other more sentimental part chose never to take down the picture.  I guess someone had to remember.

     The story goes back pretty far, back to when I first came to this location.  I can’t tell you who the baby in the faded photo is without starting there.  Not without telling you about my first regular customer… the first person whose name and drink I memorized.

The Customer

     Her routine was dependable.  Monday through Friday, I could set my watch to her arrival.  I always knew it was 6:30am because she’d be there: her hair gathered loosely in a bun on top of her head, a bird’s nest of long red curls; the laces of her running shoes never tied; always paying with five dollar bills and always leaving a tip.  Her drink was dependable too: 1 pump vanilla syrup, 1 pump hazelnut syrup, non-fat misto topped with creamy foam and cinnamon.  I always had it ready for her.

     All it took was three visits.  The first visit, I learned her name and could recall 50% of her drink order.  The second, I remembered her name, nearly forgot the cinnamon, and learned that she worked in the Medical Center as a nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital.  On her third visit, I had her drink ready for her as she pulled into her usual spot in front of our store on S Rice Ave.

     She was the first customer to mention how this location use to be a hardware store.  I joked that we still sold tools… battery packs and generators in the form of caffeine.

     It took a few weeks before I realized another favorite customer, equal part nerd and rock star (tortoise shell P3 glasses, Cary Grant hair, and lots of tattoos: the Pythagorean theorem and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 among them), was her husband.  He usually bought a pound of Verona on Thursdays, because even thou they came every morning, they still made coffee at home, enjoying one or two cups before hitting the road.

     Some mornings he’d be with her at 6:30, his running shoes also untied.  They came together the morning they announced they were expecting their first child.  They would also stop by our store after each visit to their OB/GYN who was another regular of ours, who always got a grande non-fat, no whip mocha… in a personal cup.  The couple became everyone’s favorite.  They continued leaving generous tips even after every barista, seeing the increasing growth of the belly bump, insisted on giving them decaf (her, because she was pregnant and him, because it wouldn’t have been fair).

     Her routine changed a little after the baby was born.  She started getting sugar-free syrups and opted for breve instead of non-fat milk; she miraculously learned how to tie her shoelaces; and she showed up at 6:15 instead of 6:30, toting a wide-eyed red-haired baby girl in one arm.

The Baby

     The baby had her mother’s red hair but lacked her mother’s punctuality; she arrived nearly two weeks past her expected due date.  I lost $20 dollars in the pool we had going.  She had her father’s nose and his family’s forehead, but her eyes, neither mother nor father’s, seemed to belong to someone 60 years her senior.  An older retired regular, venti-extra-hot-two-Splenda-cappuccino remarked, “Oh my, why, it’s like she’s been here before… just looks at yah so… just like she’s gettin ready to tell yah the answer to a question yah hadn’t even asked yet”.

     That was it.  She had an old soul.  She was a very quiet baby who seemed to pay acute attention to everything.  She didn’t smile at everyone, but the whole team knew how to make her laugh.  All we had to do was hide behind the register or espresso bars then pop back out looking lost or surprised.  It always worked and we never got tired of the sing-songy coos that followed each giggle.

The Day

    I made her coffee like I always did, had it ready at the register before 6:15, but she never came.  Her coffee got cold.  Days later, it was Ms. Melanie, another regular, who enjoys her coffee with a newspaper, no cream, no sugar, had brought me the newspaper clipping.  I didn’t need to read the article thou, I already knew what happened.

     She had been up all night with her baby girl who, sick with fever, kept waking up wailing.  You see, it was his turn to sleep.  The day before, he got a call from the daycare informing him that his daughter had a sudden high fever.  They requested that he pick her up immediately.  He dropped everything and cancelled the rest of his day, so he could care for his little girl.  He never got the chance to stop by our store for his pound of Verona.

     Her routine was off that day, from the start.  She woke up with a stiff neck, having slept in the rocking chair next to her baby’s crib.  The baby’s fever broke around 3am.  Usually, she naturally woke up at 5am, but the clock on her coffee maker read 5:45am.  Though intellectually she had done the math and figured she had about two hours of sleep, she felt as if she had only rested her eyes for a moment.  There was no coffee.

     In a fog, she tried to recover her routine.  She had already called out for the day, with the intention of bringing her baby to the doctor, so she allowed herself little cheats.  She threw on a sweater over her pajamas and shoved her tired feet into her running shoes; she didn’t bother tying the laces.  Afterward, it was that small act, the image of her untied shoelaces, that haunted her with regret.  She believed it evidence of her distraction and neglect, a red-flag that had she taken notice of, could have rescued her.  She never stopped blaming herself.

     Still in the brain fog, and purely from muscle memory, she strapped her still sleeping baby into the car seat.  She took her familiar route, driving the 5 blocks toward the place she felt could make everything better.  Her favorite coffee shop.  Our store.

     Two seconds.  Had it only been two seconds?  She drifted to sleep at the wheel, and into the intersection of S Rice and Bissonet, for maybe two seconds.  But that is all it took.  She blinked back into consciousness, having enough time to see the grill of the dairy truck and the terror on the face of the driver trying to make is delivery on schedule, but not having enough time to avoid the impact.  The clock on the dashboard stopped at 6:13am.

     Inside the store, four men we nicknamed “The Board Members” (due to their diligent attendance, “reserved” seating, and lively discussion) had an unimpeded view of the intersection.  Myself and the one other barista on duty could see only the lights from the vehicle headlights as they reflected through the windows, creating a grotesque dance of shadows on the walls.  We could all hear the tires screeching, the metal crushing, the glass shattering.

     It was Gil, at the time just a rookie officer, that regretfully informed us that the impact had ejected a baby and her car seat from one of the vehicles, killing the tiny child instantly.  The baby had been sleeping the whole time; she never woke up.

     In the officer’s hand was something he retrieved from the wreckage, in the hopes of making a quick ID and gathering eye witness accounts.  I saw what was in his hand, and immediately thought about the now cold cup of coffee at the register: I pump sugar-free vanilla, 1 pump sugar-free hazelnut, breve misto topped with creamy foam and cinnamon.  A shiver shot through my spine, blanketing me in an icy numbness.  He handed me the personalized Starbucks mug, remarkably still intact, all the baristas had gotten it for her as a shower gift.  On the cup were two messages: “No more decaf, we promise!!!” and “You’re gonna be a GREAT mom”.  We had all signed it.

The Photo

     I carefully cut out the photo from the article Ms. Melanie gave me and taped it to the wall near my desk.  Our store baby.  The baby who we had observed as a growing belly bump, the bump we took care never to give caffeine, the baby with red hair and an old soul whose eyes were her own, was gone.

     Her picture remained, even after two remodels.  I knew she was there.  I simply allowed her to fade into the background.  However, human nature abhors vacuums too, the cavernous voids left behind after someone we care about is lost, as well as the empty space behind a question mark.  So this time… rather than let you fill in the blanks, I decided to fill the vacuum, answer the question, and tell you what really happened.

     And I’ll go ahead and answer the other question you’re probably about to ask anyway: what is the baby’s name?  That, I could never forget, for it is the same as my own.  But we all just called her Jenny.


Thanks for Reading!!!!! 

Let me know what you think.  Should I post more of my short stories more often?  Any feedback from fellow writers is welcomed and appreciated.


When April Fool’s Joke Goes Wrong

I started writing a screenplay once.

It happened last April.

On April Fool’s Day, I posted to Facebook something I thought would be ridiculous and obvious and that everyone would just have a good laugh at.  But something unexpected happened… most people didn’t realize it was a joke.  They didn’t realize that it was an April Fool’s joke because they accepted the story I made up as plausible.  They believed in me.  So the joke was on me.

Here’s what I posted:

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The title was foolish yet believable enough to pass as a Tyler Perry movie, so that even after I revealed the status was a hoax, I kept having to explain to people that is wasn’t real and that there was no forthcoming Tyler Perry production titled “God Don’t Like Ugly”.  The majority of the Facebook comments were super encouraging regardless.  I thought about it, and decided if they believe in me, perhaps I AM capable.  I thought, “why not write the screenplay… just as a joke”, but then I decided maybe it could be worth something, so I decided to write it for real.  The big problem was that I am just not a connoisseur of Mr. Perry’s work (no shade), so how could I write an honest spec script?  Understand, it’s easy to be a critic, especially when one is not putting his or her own work out into the world; I choose appreciation rather than criticism.  I appreciate the work for what it is.  I appreciate Tyler Perry for working hard to make his ideas happen, carving out a market for himself, persevering in the face of criticism, taking risks and constantly putting his work out into the world, and being the best at what he does.  His plays and movies make his intended audience happy.  I do not fault him for what his work is not, most of the time, it is just not for me.  I haven’t seen most of his body of work simply because it may not showcase characters I most relate to or does not reflect the kinds of stories I am drawn to.  Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”.  The onus is on me to start telling stories I want to hear… yet, I still wanted to prove something to myself, or at least to the people who believed in me, so I still set out to write someone else’s story: Tyler Perry presents “God Don’t Like Ugly”.

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The screenplay I wrote was pretty raw: I never came close to completing it; the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, and the plot lacked clear direction.  However, I was content with what I did.  I finally stopped because I realized I wasn’t wholeheartedly invested in it.  My heart wasn’t in it and my initial motivation couldn’t sustain me.  I was only writing something I hoped to sell off to Tyler Perry productions and then remain hands off.  Just take the money and run.  I was not even concerned with my name being attached to the project.  If it actually did get produced and did terribly, I would have regretted receiving credit.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with an unfinished screenplay collecting dust.  Two unexpected things happened as I wrote the screenplay.  First, I had to confront the things I did not know.  I was unskilled at writing a feature length screenplay.  I was both naive and arrogant for thinking that I could quickly write something that takes years to master.  I did not even know where or who to submit my work, even if I had finished.  Secondly, I began sneaking into the story.  The type of story that more closely related to the kinds I like to see started edging it’s way forward and demanding to be heard.  All the late nights I spent writing and all the daydreams I devoted to sculpting the story and characters got me attached.  It was no longer okay with me to ghost write a script, to give birth then give it up for someone else to raise.  I was going against my nature.  I am a nurturer, and nothing I do is purely motivated by money.  Money is a tool to me.  It has influence to provide needed resources.  It keeps me from going hungry or naked.  It is instrumental in the fulfillment of goals and detrimental to them when you don’t have enough.  I have never felt comfortable doing something simply because the money might be good.  There was very little chance of selling the screenplay or earning any money, yet even if it was a possibility, I couldn’t pretend that I was willing to do that.

I couldn’t pretend that I was doing it as a satire either.  I had thought about it too deeply and invested too much of my creative energy.  Parts of me, my own style of storytelling and the things I value, kept slipping in.  The project was becoming less “Madea’s Family Vacation” and more “The Diary of a Precious Black Women” based on the novel “Move or be Pushed” by Aquamarine (my birthstone *wink*).

I learned a lot about myself last April.  One was that I was serious in my desire to make a living as a writer, and two, that I had done little about it and was clueless as to how to make it happen.  I enjoyed the challenge of learning what I could and developing the story.  I stopped writing the screenplay and started looking for more ways to write for myself.  I also started seriously thinking about what I wanted to say and the type of stories I wanted to tell.

When you tell people that you love to write and that you want to be a writer, one of the first questions is… “Oh, what do you write!?”  It is a genuine question, but it stumped me one too many times.  My previous attempts at answering this question lead to ambiguous responses like “nothing” or “everything”.   Response A: “Oh, unfortunately I’m not writing anything right now; I am still figuring it out”.  Instantly AMATEUR was stamped across my forehead.  Response B: “Oh let’s see… I love to write poetry, and short stories, I am working on a play, I also love screenplays, eventually I hope to write a book, and…”.  CLUELESS AMATEUR gets stamped on my forehead.  I am sure many other nascent writer’s can understand the struggle: when we are still discovering our voice, figuring out what we want to say, but are forced to vocalize to people what it is we are doing or hope to do.  What we know is that we want to write, that the unspoken words eat at us, and that we have an itch to write which unlike in real life doesn’t go away when you ignore it.  As for the continued plot and details of our future… they are unwritten, and we hope that they will reveal themselves as we edit the next draft or write our next chapter.  My advice for the loving and curious friends and family of an emerging creative artist is to “wait for the book to come out” and “don’t skip ahead”.  This is a period for me to not only discover what I want to say and what mediums I wish to use to share it, but also to develop the creative habits necessary to build and sustain a career as a professional writer and creative artist.

Please wait for the plot to reveal itself; everything will make more sense in the end.  (At least I hope it will. *wink*)

How to Lose Weight

Summer is almost here, so it’s that time of year where many people start to seriously focus on their figure.  During winter we might have been focused on just trying to stay warm, hiding underneath layers of protection, and not stepping outside as often.  Springtime is a time of renewal; fresh starts are so motivating and often prompt some much needed Spring cleaning.  I recently dropped a lot of weight, so I wanted to share my secrets.

Does it Still Fit

The first secret is that I use a lot of metaphors.  Not for losing weight.  I haven’t done the research, but I am pretty sure there is no correlation between heavy metaphor use and weight loss.  Losing weight is the metaphor.  I am not here to teach you how to “get it right and keep it tight”.  Although this post is not about how to shrink our waistlines, I would like to share about a very different weight loss journey.

It’s usually not the scale that signals to me that I have excess weigh to lose.  There are plenty of signals, the ones that get ignored and the ones that refuse to be.  Once my clothes won’t fit anymore, I can no longer remain oblivious.  I understand basic physiology.  I understand that my actions have consequences, so intellectually I know that being neglectful of my workout routine, undisciplined with my eating choices, and making overall poor healthy lifestyle choices, will only result in an increase of both unwanted weight and tears.  Unfortunately, it is not until I am forced to rely too heavily on stretchy pants that I take action.  A few years ago, I decided that I would not buy the next size up, and that I wanted the activity and flexibility that comes with dropping pounds.  I didn’t just want to look better, I wanted to feel better.

Around this same time, I was working two or more jobs, seven days a week, while going to school.  My entire life became either working or studying.  I didn’t have time, money, or energy to do anything else.  My relationships with friends and family were affected the most.  During a rare Facebook cameo, I noticed that both my friends and family were leaving comments about how they missed me.  Even my two roommates, the very people I lived with, would tell me they missed seeing me.  It was confounding: how is it that EVERYONE in my life is missing me?  Who am I spending time with?  What am I doing with my life?  I felt heavy.  My life begin to feel too tight.  It didn’t fit me anymore.  I was tired of the worn and faded things I kept wearing over and over again.  It wasn’t me anymore.  I realized I needed to change.

Check the Scale

One of the scariest parts about deciding to lose weight is stepping on a scale.  Sometimes it’s a confirmation of what we already suspected, but sometimes it’s a wake up call.  2010 was the first year that I stepped on a scale in a really long time.  I stepped off in tears.  I was well over 200 pounds.  How did I get so far off track!?!  It was a wake up call to make better choices.  I started doing more physical activity and eating better.  I cannot say that I remained consistent or disciplined.  I face many derailers, especially self sabotage.  I make mistakes, I learn as I go, and when I know better, I try to do better.  It parallels my personal quest to follow my dreams.  There aren’t the same scales to step on, but there are ways to see if I am out of balance.  I was making strides in my personal life: I lost weight and had more energy; I earned my associate’s degree and was ready to transfer to a four year university; I got to dance almost everyday of the week; I fell in love.  Yet, even with all these strides, I still felt an unrest because I was too far away from my dreams.  I didn’t have a simple solution for losing the heavy weight that pressed on my chest, depressing me and making it hard to breathe.  I couldn’t just become more active.  Joining a boot camp and eating more kale weren’t going to help me become the creative artist I had longed of becoming.

At first, I decided that I would just have to work less to devote more time to my craft, but I quickly discovered that it opened me up to more financial instability.  If I worked any less, I couldn’t pay my rent or bills or eat or buy books.  I balanced periods where I would lose copious amounts of sleep trying to do it all: work, be social, and create.  The only way I could ever save money was by depriving myself of essential things.  The first thing I skimped on was always food, either I didn’t buy much or I bought really cheap stuff that wasn’t good for me.  Then bills always got priority over luxuries like replacing worn out shoes and clothing, repairing something, or going to the doctor or dentist.  Needing new shoes is the worst.  I would wear my shoes until they literally fell apart, and then I would wear them a little bit longer after that.  One pair of cross trainers, that doubled as my work shoes, looked as though they were holding conversations, the soles were so worn that they would flap up and down, exposing my socks, as I walked.  At my lowest, and most shamefully broke, I was desperate enough to wear black swim shoes to work (we must wear non-slip shoes to work, and you can’t get any more non-slip than swim shoes).  I worked too hard, for too long, to be living so destitute.  If working more and sleeping less wasn’t the answer, and working less and creating more wasn’t sustainable, then what was the solution?  It took me several years on the hamster wheel, in a crazy perpetual cycle between what I thought were my only options, before I realized how to get out of it.  I needed to lose more weight!  I needed to scale back!

Consume Less, Give Up Sweets

Not every lesson must be learned the hard way, but I will say those are the lessons that stick with me the most and the ones I appreciate more deeply.  My “aha! moment”, when I realized what it was really going to take to “lose the weight”, came at a painful price but I value it highly.  No matter how much I worked to increase my earnings, it seemed the bills would rise to meet them.  I was barely getting by and constantly juggling late fees.  I had what I realized was a cash flow issue.  I would work to earn enough money to pay my bills, but it wouldn’t always be available when I needed it.  The first of the month was notorious for leaving me bankrupt.  If the 1st came too far away from a pay day, then I would be forced to pay unanticipated late fees, which caused further strain on my ability to pay off the next set of bills on time.  I was stuck, in a classic hamster wheel scenario, working really hard, yet getting no where.  I could never get ahead, even though I saved money, because my savings would often get spent covering the discrepancy.

This was the part of my weight loss story were I allowed myself to be oblivious to how heavy I was becoming.  I remained in a rather Sisyphean cycle for far too long, so I am now grateful for the catalyst which made it impossible for me to ignore my unhealthy weight gain.  My symbolic squeeze into yoga pants came in the form of an eviction notice.  I had lived in the same apartment for over 3 years.  I was so unhappy there.  I could never get work done there, and it was infested with tiny roaches, despite regularly scheduled pest control visits.  They were not your average roaches; they must have been teenage mutant ninja roaches.  They lived without fear.  They would not wait until the kitchen was dark and unoccupied, they would just come straight for our plates as we sat at the dinner table.  They enjoyed lovely lamp lit strolls through the microwave while it radiated food (which I consequently trashed, first the food and eventually the microwave).  They got into EVERYTHING!  I stopped being able to enjoy any of my nice things.

Not only did I live in a roach motel, but the walls were so paper thin, that not only could you clearly hear every word of every conversation of every person passing by or in the adjacent apartments, but you could also smell every other meal being prepared.  On top of everything else, the washers and dryers were constantly breaking down and stealing your quarters, and even if the appliances were robbing us, ladies had to worry about some perv who stole underwear and bathing suits out of unsupervised dryers.

Home was not at all a sweet home.  However, I paid the largest percentage of my income to maintain that unsweetened roof over my head.  So imagine my absolute disgust when, after explaining how unexpected financial burden left me unable to pay all of my rent until Friday, which had been 4 days away, I was told that if I didn’t pay the remaining balance by midnight that night, that I would be issued an eviction notice the next day and that my roommate and I would be forced to vacate by Friday.  I was livid!  I felt certain that the apartment management was using manipulative, unlawful scare tactics.  We were not months behind on our rent, and in fact, my roommate had paid her portion on time, but a partial rent payment was still enough for them to feel an eviction notice was warranted.  I explained my situation to someone in the office and my roommate loaned me money from her parents so that we wouldn’t have any stains on our rental history.  The whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth, and I decided that when our lease was up, I would not renew it.

When I thought about where I would live next, I didn’t have a clue.  What was most important to me was to get rid of the heavy emotional and financial burden the apartment had become.  Something clicked.  I realized that there was only so much I could work and only so many expenses I could cut out.  If I could save on the high cost of rent however, then that would give me a chance to catch up.  It was the solution to my cash flow issues.  As it got closer and closer to the move out date, I decided that I wouldn’t look for another place to stay.  It seems drastic, but when you have limited resources, and you have been deferring your dreams for so long, drastic measures become appropriate.  Facing eviction made me take a serious look at my conviction.  If money was the main thing stopping me from pursuing my dreams, then I would do whatever was necessary to eliminate it as the problem.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows that success depends on burning more calories than you consume.  The simplest plan is to create a calorie deficit by becoming more active and consuming less.  That is the big secret to my weight loss; I became more active and consumed less.  I write everyday, I seek acting and dancing opportunities, I constantly work with children and learn more about how best to teach them.  I also realized I can live comfortably with a lot less stuff, and I stopped consuming the empty calories.  Eliminating sweets, or expensive creature comforts, had the same effect of drastically reducing my calorie and fat intake.  I lost weight right away.  Now, I feel so much lighter, and I have more energy.  I can now work less if I need to, without the debilitating fear of being homeless.  I am already homeless, and as it turns out, it is not the worst thing in the world.  Discovering that I can live with a lot less, has made it possible for me to take more risks.  The money that used to be dedicated to paying rent, is now being reinvested to fund my dreams.  I still don’t have a clear cut path or clear directions on how to get there, but at least now I have the capacity and energy to make the journey.

Don’t focus on the numbers, focus on consistency.  Do things fit better?

So, I probably look and sound like a crazy person to quite a few people.  When I have to explain that I do not have a permanent address, or a bachelor’s degree, or a high paying job, or a concrete plan, I can understand how people might interpret it negatively.  But when losing weight, there comes a point when your trainers tell you to stop focusing on the numbers on the scale.  The numbers may discourage you, however it’s important to remember that muscle weights more than fat and that a little fluctuation is normal.  The professionals know that it’s not all about the numbers; it’s about consistency.  They ask us instead to look at how we feel, how our clothes fit, how much energy we have, and at our overall health.  I am learning to pay less attention to the numbers (how I appear to other people, the titles and pieces of paper, or my net worth) and to devote more energy to becoming consistent (reading everyday, writing everyday, posting at least once every week, practicing dance at least five times a week, performing/studying improvisation and character study every week, telling more stories everyday).  If I can do the work and lose the excess weight, so can you.  So maybe I mislead you with the title, and perhaps you really wanted tips on shedding unwanted belly fat and bringing sexy back, that is the beautiful thing about any good metaphor, the lessons still apply.  The skills are transferable.  Whatever it is that you are seeking, whether physical or intangible, I hope that you discover beautiful results.


Perhaps you do not have to do something as drastic as giving up the stable roof over your head and other worldly possessions, and perhaps you do not have as many hardships standing in the way of you and your dreams.  If that is the case, I want you to really think about it…  

What is holding you back?  What is weighing you down?  How can you lose that weight and change into something that fits you better?

Not Enough Ours in a Day

Audition UPDATE:

I GOT A PART!!!  I was thrilled to receive an itty bitty, teeny tiny role in a super short play.  I am excited to be performing again.  This small role gives me a chance to warm up muscles that have been dormant for too long (performing for an audience of one doesn’t count).  The performance is on March 19th; I’ll give more details as the show approaches.  Thank you to everyone who sent me encouragement.  Stay tuned.

Snapshot 1 (6-26-2013 5-57 PM)


Our Hours

Happy Friday!  Another work week finished.  Unfortunately, a finished work week does not equal finished work.  Right now, I am all about wanting to finish things.  I want to have an idea, feed it and watch it grow; I want the idea to become a plan; I want the plan to come to fruition.  I want to START something and FINISH it.

I admitted in a recent post, that I don’t know what I am doing.  I am still figuring out how to get from point A to point B, and at times I feel like I don’t know where I am going.  I am also still figuring out how to do it all in the time allotted.  There is a finite amount of time in a day, but we all get the same amount.  There is a finite amount of time I have on this earth, but I cannot know how much time is allotted to me.  I have witnessed time be unkind to several people very close to me, so even though I am young, I carry an intense sense of urgency.  I used to be convinced of my own impending finality.  I honestly never thought I would even live very long past 18.  Often the passage of time feels heavy like a physical weight I must carry around as a reminder not to get too comfortable.  That uncomfortable feeling keeps me from getting complacent, but it also means it’s hard for me to relax.  I never think what I am doing is enough.  I hate that I haven’t accomplished more of my goals.

I have this tiny problem when it comes to #GettingStuffDone: I take a really long time to do EVERYTHING!  Write.  Read.  Answer emails.  Even my natural walk is slow, which is a problem when I visit places like New York, because I can’t keep up.  That is largely how I feel now.  I feel like I cannot keep up.  I am not trying to keep up with anyone else, more so keep up with all the things I am seeking to accomplish in the time I have allotted.  There are so many possibilities, and I love exploring them.  As a creative person, who loves to learn, I thrive in learning environments and new opportunities.  But what that means is, a lot of times I end up pursuing various avenues, but not following one path to the end.  The reality for me is that all my interest are valuable to me, I just don’t know how to juggle them.  I suck at prioritizing one over another.  Everything seems equally important and whatever is most urgent is what demands my attention.  Perhaps that is the difficult side of being a creative artist.

So many of my hours must be dedicated to other tasks.  I have this thing called “bills to pay”, and if you’re like me, you even need to eat sometimes.  I must work to eat and pay bills, and the majority of my hours have been spent clocked in, fulfilling someone else’s mission statement.  Then there are filler task, aka busy work, aka administrative duties: laundry, cleaning house, grocery shopping, scheduling doctor visits, washing my hair, etc.  The hours can get spent up pretty quickly, and most of the time they don’t feel like my hours.  Even when my time is my own, I am still learning how best to utilize it.

Our days can get so busy.  But busy doing what?  What are we filling our days with?  How much of our time is ours?  How many of the hours in a day are ours?  Do you find enough of YOU in YOUr day? Finding the time that is ours, dedicated to learning new things, putting new work out, self promoting.  How do you spend your creative time?  Do you have a process?

Special thank you to readers:

Thank you for using some of the limited hours in your day to read my words.  I hope that they add and not take away from your time.  I look forward to sharing many more words with you.  Please leave a comment and let me know what are some things you struggle with.

-Bry


Let me know. I want to hear from you.

What fills your day?  Is it unbalanced between all work and no play?  Where do you find the time to write and post (or pursue whatever passion interests you)?  Do you have a day job now, or what sort of day job helped support your art during the early days?


Coming to the Stage- Part 2

I do love a good metaphor.  In Part 1, I wrote about stages: stepping to them, being on them, going through them, sharing them… you get the point.  However, I am happy to report, that it is not just a metaphor; I really am coming to the stage again.

Two days ago, I went to an open audition.  I haven’t auditioned in a ridiculously long time.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been performing.  I have been dancing and even singing on stage quite a bit up until recently, but for whatever reason, either I haven’t had to audition (#winning #MyReputationPrecedesMe), or I haven’t been taking enough risks.  Unfortunately, we know which one was more commonly the case.  The underlying problem has been that I haven’t had the capacity to do more.  Now that I have made some schedule changes and sacrifices (more on that next Tuesday), I have the opportunity to do more with all the creative energy that I have been bottling up.  So imagine my giddiness, while reading the playbill for a theatre company that I admire, and noticing that they were holding auditions only 3 days away!  My heart sank as I realized that I had a work conflict.  It only took one text message, inside one minute, to switch my schedule around (that has never happened before!!!  Switching schedules usually requires a high level of begging, bribery, and/or blackmail akin to those in public office, but miracles do happen everyday!).  I was able to audition!

After emailing my headshot and a rather unimpressive resume of my meager body of work, (darn The Struggle for being so real!!!  If all you do is work, then of course your extracurriculars suffer) I received my audition time.  It was really happening!  Then, I had a brief flashback, remembering how awkward I was in high school during auditions: I was the dweeb in the bathroom reciting lines over and over again, and even practicing tongue twisters (“Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow letter” “the seething sea ceaseth, and thus the seething sea sufficeth us”).  I did this nervously up until the very last minute.  When my name was called, all my preparation immediately went out the window; I became someone else, and unfortunately not the characters I was trying out for, but the mild mannered Clark Kent version of myself, hiding my super powers.  Auditions often begin with the director asking a few questions, they’re getting to know you and/or trying to put you at ease.  I was wound so tight, that no amount of preamble could have put me at ease.  This level of performance anxiety derailed most every audition.

If you think I am over exaggerating how badly I bombed at auditions, allow me to introduce exhibit A: I tried out unsuccessfully for my high school’s theatre company two years in a row.  I continued to take theater classes, in both technical theater and performance, however procuring a place in the company always alluded me.  The only reason, I think I made the company after trying out my junior year, is because my theater teacher overheard me telling another classmate, that if I didn’t make it in this year, I’d be done with the theater program.  To this day, I am not sure whether I made it in based on the merit of my audition, my record of outstanding work in class, or out of pity.  Either way, I was elated to finally be “in”.

So this is what I recalled first, as I read my confirmed audition time.  I quickly regrouped by flashbacking  over all the time that has passed since high school and all the times I successfully performed, feeling at home on stage and connecting strongly with the audience.  I’ve come a mighty long way since my lame days of high school, but it left some residual phantom pains of lameness.  I foolishly wondered, “I don’t have it anymore, but can it grow back!?!”  I made a choice, in that moment, to no longer entertain those thoughts, and chose instead to be excited for the opportunity.  The take away from all the flashbacking is that being prepared, remaining calm, and confident in my abilities is key.  Maybe I don’t have much experience with auditioning since high school, but I have a lot more performance experience since then.  I told myself, “I got this!”  Also, I wore my confidence-boosting secret weapon… red lipstick.

I arrived surprisingly early, because I found the place without any trouble.  There were signs on the door outside that told me I was in the right place.  (For all my fellow metaphor lovers, I shamelessly point out the last sentence.)  I took a seat and a deep breath.  “You got this!  Just have fun!” I assured myself.  I could hear laughter coming from the audition in progress.  Finally, the door opened, the last auditionee stepped out, and then my mispronounced name was called (the unique name struggle).  I remained myself, no Clark Kenting.  Inside were the director and two company members.  The black and white image I provided for my headshot looked up at me, smiling reassuringly, from the director’s table as I grabbed the script we would be reading from.  I got a brief description, from the director, about the short play and the characters within it.  The two other company members were my scene partners.  Talented and funny, they didn’t just read the lines off the page.  They acted out the scene with enthusiasm, and instead of being intimidated, I simply reveled at our play.  I got to “read” for different parts, and then it was over.  It felt like an enjoyable roller coaster ride: the anxious butterflies at the beginning, the thrilling euphoria of rising and falling, the hilarious yet awkward reactions to the unexpected, the joy of feeling suspended in time, and finally the abrupt disbelief that comes with the unavoidable return to central standard that signals the end of the ride.  “What?!  It’s over already!?!  Can I go again?!”  I tried out; I made mistakes; I kept going; I got a few laughs.  I just wanted to get right back in line and ride again.

In the end, the audition did have a bit of awkwardness (though extremely watered down; it was more of an eua de toilette hint of high school lameness).  I wouldn’t say I #nailit, but I can honestly say I had fun.

I find out later today whether I’m “in” or not.  Whatever the outcome, I am going to keep coming to the stage.