Fathers’ Day

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“Dads are like chocolate chip cookies; they may have chips or be totally nutty, but they are sweet and make the world a better place, especially for their children.”

I am fortunate to have had two remarkable examples of fatherly love in my life. My dad has done and continues to do everything he possibly can for me. My grandfather, despite having been gone almost 20 years, continues to be a source of inspiration and strength. I am proud that the blood of these two men flows through my veins, and I honestly would not be the person I am today without them.

On days like this, I see my friends posting about how theirs is the greatest. I wonder, do we feel our father (mother, etc., depending on the holiday) is the “greatest” simply because he’s ours? Or is it because we are lucky enough to have an involved, loving, generous father who has remained a constant presence in our lives? Certainly there’s no concrete, scientific way to know our father is the greatest of all the fathers, because we only get one. (Or two, in some cases, as the definition of “family” happily is evolving.) Once we grow up, and especially when we become parents ourselves, we recognize the things our parents didn’t do and/or the things we’d do differently. We can acknowledge mistakes they made, and we know they’re not perfect. But yes, I guess we feel that, “Hey he’s MY dad, and he’s the best.” Because he was/is the best dad for you. Because our dads (hopefully) are doing the best they know how.

When I really think about it, when I think back to my childhood, I can only feel grateful to my father. For all the patience used, the time taken, the love given, the money spent, the lessons taught, the miles traveled, the snowmen built. I hope that he feels adequately repaid.

And my pop. The man that fought the Atlantic Ocean and won. His immeasurable strength of will inspires me every single day. I cannot help but feel loss when I think about the time I couldn’t spend with him, as he passed away when I was nine. But what he did give me was a model of an infrangible spirit. Or maybe that spirit itself. And that is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Sending special virtual love to those who’ve lost their fathers, especially my best friend, whose dad took us to our very first concert 16 years ago and stood guard while 10,000 adolescent girls (including us) lost their minds over the Backstreet Boys.  And that, my friends, is fatherly love.

Grandparents, or Know Where You’re Coming From

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I’m Joe Martzen’s granddaughter. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about grandparents. Someone very close to me just lost his grandmother, and so, comforting him made me immediately empathetic in a way I’ve never been before. I experienced the bevy of emotions that accompany loss all over again: sadness, anger, happiness when reminded of their jokes, hunger when you remember the cookies they made every Christmas.

Also, I’ve been talking a lot with my boyfriend recently about personal history. He’s been doing a good bit of research into his family’s country of origin, Jamaica, and it’s made me think about where–and whom–I come from. There’s a Bob Marley lyric he keeps quoting:

“If you know your history,
Then you would know where you’re coming from,
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me,
Who the hell do I think I am.”

I’ve never thought of my upbringing as particularly exotic or interesting. I’m just a small-town girl from small-town people. But talking with my boyfriend about his history and family has made me think differently about my own. I started to take a real interest in the history of my family’s country of origin (one of them, anyway), Czechoslovakia. Currently, I’m reading Prague Winter by Madeline Albright. While the main thrust of the book deals with WWII, Ms. Albright spends some serious time discussing the Czechs and their colorful past. I’ve been highlighting passages like crazy, so that I’ll be able to reference the important stuff. A favorite is the following description:  “A Czech does not rely on others [but]…sets out to do his work and will overcome everything.” It is an apt description of my immediate family members and myself. We’re all rather self-reliant (sometimes maddeningly so). But to tie it back to the initial subject of this post, my grandparents exhibited the ability to overcome everything better than anyone else I know. The best example of this is the story of how my grandfather fought the Atlantic Ocean…and won.

During WWII, my grandfather was enlisted in the Coast Guard. The unit he was with was called upon one night to rescue a freighter caught in a storm off the coast of North Carolina. The boat on which they set out also got bested by the weather, and the men were tossed off-board. For the next two and a half days, the men fought for their lives. Unfortunately, many lost the battle, especially since there was no clean water and little to no food. Being the consummate athlete that he was, my grandfather swam all around, trying to keep his buddies awake, since to sleep was to die, and to keep their spirits up. My grandfather weighed about 220 lbs before the accident. Upon rescue, his 6′ frame had dropped about 60 lbs in as many hours. The constant physical strain and the complete lack of nourishment took its toll. Fortunately, when they were rescued, my grandfather was among the few lucky ones, and lived to tell the story on a radio program where he was named “Hero of the Week.”

Two weeks ago, I was at the gym, running intervals on the treadmill. During my last sprint, I felt my focus blur and my body tire. Realizing I had to get my focus back if I wanted to make it through, I had the sudden thought of, “You are Joe Martzen’s granddaughter.” Something clicked inside me that gave me a boost of energy that not only allowed me to finish strong, but also to add an extra minute of sprinting. I realized that if this man’s blood flows through my veins, this man that survived two and a half days in the ocean, then I can plow through this workout. I’m trying to recognize that that strength is not just physical and to parlay it into all aspects of my life.

All of my grandparents endured hardship in their own right, whether it was illness, lack of financial stability, or growing up without a father. When I remind myself of these things, I become aware that my background is not as humble and ho-hum as it seemed. I come from people who “overcome everything”, and I inherited the blood of a man who kicked the Atlantic Ocean’s ass.

New Year

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Well kids, here we are. 2013. Those who believed the (seemingly) numerous end-of-the-world prophecies are surprised we made it.

Not to sound cynical, but what’s the big deal about January 1 anyway? It’s just a lot of hype. It’s a way for gyms to up their membership (at least until February). It’s a day that people use as an impetus to start a new project–whatever that project may be–but how many of us actually continue pursuing our goals once the confetti has been swept away and the Christmas tree recycled or taken out to the woods. (I grew up in a rural area. We take the trees right back to where they came from.) I get the feeling that we’d all be a lot more committed to our “resolutions” if we started them on a day that means something to each of us. You know, everyone acts as if January 1 is their opportunity to have a clean slate, start over, make a lifestyle change, etc. It’s obvious to me that we have the opportunity to do so any day of the year, but I’ve never felt any different on January 1 than I did on December 31. I’ve always considered my birthday a far more important marker for beginnings. It’s my own personal New Year. And since my birthday coincides so closely to my anniversary of moving to New York City, it makes that week all the more pertinent to me.

That being said, the beginning of a new calendar year gives us a chance to look ahead. To save up for a vacation. To make note of things to watch out for as the year unfolds–art exhibits, new plays, summer blockbusters (I cannot wait for Man of Steel. Henry Cavill in Spandex. Yes.), seasonal food and drink, job opportunities (Actors pay close attention to their calendars. Each season brings about a different kind of auditioning.), etc.

Is there a point to any of these rambling thoughts?

I think today’s post can be best described as speculative. I don’t pretend to know when the best time to celebrate a “new year” is.

Maybe a year is too big a chunk to consider when thinking about resolutions and goals. Maybe it’s better to break things down a bit. What do I want to accomplish in 6 months? A fitness goal, perhaps. What do I want to accomplish by the end of this month? Sign with a manager, in my case and many of my acting colleagues. What do I want to accomplish by the end of this week? Purchase an organizational piece of furniture for my bedroom. What do I want to accomplish by the end of today? Posting to my blog. (Done!)

What do you consider your personal new year? What do you hope to accomplish by the next one?

It’s Christmas Time Again

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Frost grows outside the window

First kiss under the mistletoe, oh oh, oh oh

The above lyrics are from a new holiday tune “It’s Christmas Time Again” by my favorite guilty pleasure, the Backstreet Boys. Yes, they are still together; yes, I do still enjoy them as much as I did at age fourteen; no, I do not care if you judge me.

This year, I am happy to report, will be a better Christmas than the previous two. Last year, my boyfriend was out of town working for two months; the year prior, I spent my first Christmas alone. This year, my boyfriend is in town, and I will get to see my mother and father on Christmas Day.

But I will say, this year, Christmas feels different. It’s been on a progression of “feeling different” ever since my grandfather passed almost eighteen years ago. That was my first taste of some of the magic being taken away. Then, somewhere around age 9 or 10, we all can say we stopped believing in Santa. Then, the presents stop being quite as fun: Barbie dolls and Matchbox cars turn into sweaters and ties. Then you’re an adult and live away from home and have to worry about airline workers going on strike or bad weather interrupting your travel plans. And for those of us who’ve ever worked in retail during the holidays, forget it–the magic feels non-existent. The songs (and shoppers) wear thin our nerves, the decorations are on sale before the holiday even happens, and the Valentine’s Day candy is out on the shelves December 26th (or earlier!).

What I’ve been struggling with this year is how to make Christmas feel like “Christmas” again. I wouldn’t say I have the holiday blues or anything, but the whole holiday just doesn’t feel “right”. It comes up so quickly that there you are, 5 days before Christmas, writing out cards to your aunts and uncles, making sure you get last minute gifts for your parents, and checking weather.com for what you hope will be good driving conditions Christmas Eve morning. The memories of what Christmas was when you were a child start to make you wistful rather than warm and fuzzy. You brace yourself for what questions your parents may ask you that you won’t want to answer, for arguments you don’t want to have.

I assume that my friends who have children have regained some of that Christmas magic. They have someone for whom to make Christmas magical, someone who believes in Santa, someone who is untouched by the grief and stress brought on by the season. Since I don’t plan on having children, this is not something to which I can look forward. My friends who do not yet have their own children but have nieces and nephews receive a modicum of the magic, I imagine, since there will be toys to unwrap and cookies to put out for Santa. I’m an only child…no nieces or nephews here.

So what, then, are we childless only children to do? What do you do when you hope Christmas will be more than just you and your aging-and-grumpy-about-it parents sitting around staring at each other all day? How do you enjoy yourself when you know there are people whose relatives are in the military overseas and there are people whose houses got wrecked by a hurricane two months ago and there are parents whose children who got shot at last week?

….

You celebrate Christmas. You eat your favorite meal (mine is Christmas Eve dinner). You give your parents cards that make them cry (Damn you, Hallmark). You sit around and stare not at each other but at the beautiful, lit Christmas tree. You indulge in cookies. You indulge in tears for those no longer with you. You listen to the same Nat King Cole Christmas album you always listen to. You go to church and sing louder than all the other Catholics because Catholics don’t sing and your mother elbows you for singing too loudly (at least this is my Christmas service experience). And you celebrate Christmas. The guests change, the magic dissipates, but if you’re lucky, you have a mom who still bakes your favorite Christmas cookies and a dad who still puts up all the lights (in perfectly straight lines) on the trees outside and a cousin (who was like a sister to you growing up) with a baby you can buy presents for and see their face light up and feel that light in your heart.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. Happy Two Weeks Paid Vacation to those of you who don’t. And may 2013 bring goodness and blessings to all of us.

Second helpings

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It’s been far too long since I’ve written. Chalk it up (mostly) to laziness, but my one (relatively) decent excuse is that I have spent a lot of time reading (those trilogies will suck you in) and catching up on a show that everyone’s been telling me I should watch (Boardwalk Empire). I will endeavor to post more often in the future. Part of my whole “be more disciplined” campaign.

I have completed my first year in New York City. The back half of the year was far better than the front half. And now, at the top of my second year in the city, things are really looking up, despite the fact that winter is fast approaching. (Stocking up on Vitamin D, commence!) I’ve recently landed a commercial agent (!), and I’ve got a manager who’d like me to send them something to look at (!). My goal by this time next year is to belong to one of the actors’ unions, though I think a SAG-AFTRA card will be easier to come by. It’s really wonderful to finally be in a place where I’m not constantly doubting and disliking myself. Not that those negative thoughts don’t still creep in, but I’m getting better at pushing them away.  It’s also helping me focus on my product as an actor in a more realistic fashion; i.e., I’m able to be more objective as far as my appearance is concerned. I should go to the gym regularly and eat well not because I’m not beautiful the way I am, but because I should be a fit and healthy performer. When I’m not on my A-game in class, it’s not that I am a bad actor; it means that I should be more proactive in my study outside of class. If I want a Tony someday–and I do!–I just need to take more responsibility to take the steps to get there.

Things are not perfect, but they feel an awful lot better than they did a year ago.

Alright NYC, I’m ready for round 2. Let’s go!

Beach Fridays

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Well, here I am at the end of my first summer in New York. (Nearly the end of my first year in New York, but that’s a post for another day.) I survived the crush of tourists while trying to get to work in the theater district, and I didn’t melt while waiting for the subway (though many a time, I thought I would). There was one grand night at the (original) beer garden in Astoria and several Saturday lunches outdoors. My favorite part of this, or any, summer, however, is always the beach. This year, I think I’ve gone more than any other. My boyfriend and I made it a point to visit the beach weekly, and we only missed a couple of times. The reason he insisted we go weekly was because he wanted to work on his swimming ability. Swimming is a skill he came to later in life, while for me, swimming is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Growing up, there was a pool in the backyard. Not only was there a place for me to swim on a regular basis, but there was a teacher very close by who didn’t charge more than hugs and kisses:  my mom. Both she and my grandfather are/were excellent swimmers. My mother was on the first girls’ swim team her high school ever had, and my grandfather survived three days stranded in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. Needless to say, you put me in a body of water, and I am happy as a clam.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, did not grow up with a pool in his backyard where he could splash around as often as he liked. So, we made Bay 9 at Coney Island our swimming pool. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coney_Island) We’d work up an appetite for a couple of hours, and then we’d head up to local landmark Paul’s Daughter for a hot dog and the coldest Brooklyn Summer Ale in the borough.

We made special beach trips on three occasions–once to Fire Island, twice to Sandy Hook, NJ. The Fire Island trip was a bit of an adventure. I hadn’t looked up exactly how we were going to get to the island. I knew there would be a boat involved, but I assumed Google Maps would tell us where to get the boat from. So, in atypical fashion, we got on the road without real direction(s). My boyfriend was proud of me for doing so; I was proud of myself as well. It was a step towards sanity.

On the first try, we ended up at Fire Island National Seashore (http://www.nps.gov/fiis/index.htm). Even on an overcast day, the park was beautiful. But we saw no indication of a ferry anywhere, so we asked a friendly-looking couple where to go. They told us to go back to the mainland. We were about half an hour out of the way. Without any fuss from me, we headed back toward mainland Long Island (an oxymoron, yes?) with directions from a hotel on FI. Eventually, we ended up in Bayshore, a lovely little town with manicured lawns, a main street, and Victorian-style houses. We found the ferry, chatted with some locals while we waited to board, and decided to splurge on a hotel for the night, the same one we had called for directions. (http://palmshotelfireisland.com/) It was the first time in my life I stayed in a hotel room that cost more than $200/night, and it was worth it. I would highly recommend it to my friends with “real people” jobs. 🙂

Most recently, we traveled to Sandy Hook, NJ, which is itself a national park. It’s a seven-mile stretch of beaches with beautiful views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the NYC skyline. (http://www.sandy-hook.com/) Thankfully, I have a car, so we were able to forego the bus and ferry combo that most New Yorkers take to get there. The waves were fierce on our first visit, so my boyfriend’s newly-honed swimming skills got a real test. We came out unscathed, and I must say, enjoyed the loveliest of days together. Finishing off that first trip was dinner at the Seagull’s Nest, which from the outside looks like a real restaurant, but in actuality is a glorified fast food stand. That doesn’t even have bottled beer because it’s in a national park. (‘merica.) That was all part of the charm, and we took it in stride. On our second trip down to the Hook, we had a much more pleasant drive, as we left from Manhattan instead of Queens, and avoided all the nasty construction on I-278. We had a much more pleasant dinner, as well, at a little Italian place called Francesco’s in nearby Highland. The owners are the chefs, and we ate in a patio area that could be your aunt’s backyard.

And so, I wave farewell to my first summer in NYC with my beautifully bronzed hand. Few things make my soul happier than the smell of the ocean air and the sound of crashing waves. But I put away my bathing suits knowing they were well-used this season. Now on to autumn adventures, which I predict will involve mountains, stargazing, and epic views of the foliage along the Hudson.

Reunions

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A detour from “Life in NYC” proper to discuss something prompted by a recent message from a dear friend.

My class is having its five-year reunion at my university’s Homecoming this year. Five years. Not a terribly long span of time. But for people in their twenties, quite a bit can happen in five years. Many of us have gotten married, had children, are planning to get married; many of us want none of those things. Some of us have moved, started new jobs, travelled. All of us have a string attaching us to one another–merely that we graduated from the same institution on the same day. Is it necessary to keep tight hold on that string, or is it time to loosen the knot?

We’re in a weird place, this five-year reunion crowd. Not gone long enough to feel old but gone long enough to have grown up. And in some cases, apart. We can still reminisce with little difficulty, and–in sharing those memories–feel as if we never left. Yet, there’s that awkward silence after those memories are shared when we don’t quite know what to talk about because what’s going on currently in our lives requires too much backstory to cram into that ten-minute chat you’re having. And then you force an equally awkward farewell and slink away to a different mate to repeat the same exercise. You have to condense the last year, two, ten years of your life into ten minute conversations with people. And really, the ones I want to keep in touch with, I have. I don’t need to make small talk with people who have not been part of my life for five years, and whom I don’t need back in my life. That’s not out of malice; it’s just fact.

Then my mind turns to the idea that perhaps Facebook has made class reunions obsolete. I mean, on any given day I can see what my “friends” are doing: from their important life events right down to what they ate last night for dinner. While I’m among the first to bemoan the lack of personal contact this digital age has caused, it sure is a money and a time saver. Do I really need to take a weekend off of work, travel two hours, and pay for a hotel room, just to learn about all the things I see daily on Facebook?

My friends with whom I have kept in personal contact and those that I make an effort to see are clearly the most important ones. And if I want to travel two hours and take a weekend off of work, I know it’s worth it. Because there will be hours of conversation, no awkward silences, and complaining about how everyone is getting married and having babies over bottles of wine. And those are the reunions I’m always down for.

Living the Dream (no, really.)

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A couple of months ago, I decided that I should see a therapist. I’ve battled insecurity for my entire adolescence and young adulthood (and, as I’ve discovered, most of my life), and it was time to win the war.  My entire teenage years were spent worrying about not being pretty enough and not fitting in with this group or that, and that snowballed, and at 26, all that worrying seems superfluous and exhausting. And, quite frankly, I’ve little to be insecure about.

One of the things that has come up for me during the process is the whole idea of “Am I the 26-year-old my 15-year-old self imagined?” For a while, I thought I wasn’t. But after careful evaluation, some tears, and a fresh perspective, I can say that yes, I am the 26-year-old my fifteen-year-old self imagined. Here I am, living in New York City, in love, acting…no, all the details are not exactly the way I pictured them, but the basic frame has held up. Yes, I still have some work to do as far as losing any lingering fears or insecurities, but here I am. Mid-twenties, in the city of my adolescent dreams, in an acting class, auditioning. And really, if everything was the idyll I imagined, towards what would I have to work? I’ve come to realize that the process is the act; that is, when you are in the middle of doing something, e.g. attending an acting class, you are doing it, i.e., being an actor. My entire life has been a focus on an end product, and I’ve never learned how to appreciate getting to that end. I’ve wanted to be very good at something right away; I’ve wanted the best results immediately. But the process is the act. The practice is the doing.

And the dream is the living.

First

It occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to start this blog in October, when I moved to the city, and I could have chronicled all my “firsts” in New York. Better late than never, of course, and I think it will be difficult to run out of firsts for a while. I know people who’ve lived here almost 5 years, and they still say, “I’ve never…” Also, I think it takes you at least the first year to become aware of things you should be doing, shows/events that take place annually that you should go to, and so you just make mental notes when you see the posted and go, “Oh, shit! I missed that?!?”, and you get ready for next year.

So, here I am, first summer in NYC. On Thursday, my boyfriend and I are going to Fire Island for the first time. (He’s one of those aforementioned New Yorkers who’ve been here 5 years.) We’ve been getting in a beach day once a week lately, just because it’s ridiculously easy to go to the beach when you live in NYC. And incredibly cheap (at least to get to one of the beaches. What you do after you get there is another story.) We’ve been going to Coney Island, where we got lucky on the first try and found a patch of sand that’s never crowded or noisy (and no, I’m not telling you where it is). Our visits have concluded with a beer and a hot dog from Paul’s Daughter, a stand on the boardwalk that has a line shorter than Nathan’s but with almost as much history. We decided to expand our New York beach horizons this week with a trip to Fire Island. He’s big on road trips, and I’m big on beaches, so it worked out beautifully.

A report on the trip will follow later this week. That, and maybe a little more about me and how I got here. Until then, good night New York.