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Becoming adept at conversation; 5 tips that work even if your subject matter sucks.

In Becoming, life on October 20, 2015 at 1:42 pm

conversing

“Power off”

A woman, 30s, sort of a Demi Moore look to her, though less refined, walks into the elevator with me, talking to her phone.

Just the two of us, in a slow elevator.

“Power off

I smile, press the buttons, and

Power off

She’s fixated on her phone. My inner monologue starts writing itself, mostly in question form. Isn’t it easier to power off manually? I notice her nails are almost an inch long – how does she do anything? Okay, maybe it’s easier to voice-command. Does she use Siri for everything? Does Siri ever work well? Remember that time Siri responded to us, saying that she didn’t have the maps for Malaysia when we were trying to look for the closest metro station in DC? I’ve never used Siri since, though I almost got to be her voice in China. Ugh, imagine that, I’d be the bane of every iPhone user’s existence. Well, at least my Father would hear my voice this way.

Power off

Okay. I look over to her, awkward forced smile. Well, she’ll just have to go to the same floor as me. 

“It’s a new phone, I’m trying to turn it off, it’s telling me to swipe, it’s not working.” My awkward smile exchanged for a generous few seconds of her attention before she went back to her phone, forcefully pressing it, in all the wrong places, it seems.

“Isn’t it easier to turn it off manually?” Too many questions in my head, eventually one made it out.

“How do you do that?”

Oh.

###

Surprisingly, in the ever advanced world we live in today, we lose our abilities to do simple things, like turning off devices, and well, talking. Being sociable could mean a lot of things, but a good conversationalist it does not equate to.

We talk via our tech, into our tech, and with our tech, making real conversation with real people, in real time, less frequent occurrences. Few do it; even less do it well, because most people are out of practice. Sounds like a Millennial concern, which in 2015, counts for a heck of a lot.

In my experience, the best conversationalists are lecturing professors and children – which goes to show that it’s not about subject matter. I’ve sat through dreadful lectures and avoid children whenever possible. Content is important, certainly, it’s why we force ourselves through misery to consume mediocre shit. But conversing is an artform heavily shaped by style, and dictated through behaviour. It’s a thing of beauty, really, and once you’ve experienced beauty, anything less becomes mediocre.

A handful of seemingly simple things to try. Rudimentary? I’d go with foundational.

I. Listen

Two ears, one mouth.

Beyond basic math, a Google search with “listening skills” will yield 17,700,000 results in just half a second. Why so much material? Because we don’t, and the world clearly needs it.

Self-accounting is great for deep reflection – do it in solitude, in front of a mirror, but not in front of company. If you want to see a good one man show, go see stand up, and see how terrifying it is. If you are anything less than a professional speaker, do something with much less risk, and much greater value. Listen.

Listening allows for you to connect. Connection is the prize, but it’s also the work. Most people are nervous because they don’t know what to talk about.  Listen, and experience how liberating and great it feels with this problem solved. Listen, but don’t be a dead piece of wood. Respond, comment, sound back, ask questions… and see how the conversations grow.

II. Be present

Your presence says a lot about you. Your “air“, so to speak. Opening up yourself subjects you to being vulnerable, but yet, it’s the only way you can really feel, which is the only way you can really offer something. As you nurture this skill, you also develop empathy, (and thereby saving a couple thousands worth of therapy bills, on a modest estimate.) By being present, you are in turn, valuing and validating the presence of your company, which does two things of magic: 1) their self-esteem increases, and 2) the esteem they hold for you also increases. Being held in high esteem is perhaps, the most noble of all places, which is why it doesn’t come easily. But it’s really not magic, it’s just learned and trained behavior over time.

III. Be genuinely interested

Sounds like listening, but the focus here is on sincerity. No meaningful engagement is without it. Being genuinely interested enables you to pick up cues and hints – emotional, cerebral, and physical, so much better, faster, and more accurate than feigning it, which is deceptive and arguably manipulative. We all know someone who simply can’t take a hint – don’t become that person.

On a level of conduct, being genuinely interested is a mark of being respectful. Showing respect is rudimentary of all good conversationalists. The sharpened awareness that stems from it, is a bonus. Plus, you might hear something valuable – without having to pay subscription/tuition!  This is, in a way, the gift that keeps on giving.

IV. Be open to new ways of thinking 

There’s nothing more satisfying than learning something new. At the core of a good conversationalist is a good thinker. Good thinking shows your values, philosophy, attitude, and worldviews. How you think is your politics; a good conversationalist is a good diplomat. Diplomats don’t start wars.

New ways of thinking, at its worst, will inform you; at its best, will enrich you. Knowledge is power – you can’t lose this one.

V. Go beyond the charms; offer your art; speak to affect.

A good conversationalist is naturally charming; the reverse is not always true. When it’s not true, it’s disappointing, one could even argue – deceiving, and deception is just garbage.

Good conversationalists are artists, artists are givers, charmers are takers. Because most communication is non-verbal, the same line, said differently, have different effects. The way your words land is an art in its own right. Acting lessons, if nothing else, help with this. Get a coach, or just start saying things differently -repeat what others say in your head, people watch and be a fly on the wall. Watch good films and actively learn.

The best conversationalists have always had an affect on me. The way they think starts to influence the way you think, and before you know it, you start to share mannerisms in your speech and draw from the same vocabulary. Studies have shown that people who share the strongest relationships also have very similar ways in which they think … It’s the mental bond that has the strongest hold. That’s one reason one night stands are fleeting and tasteless. Always more seductive to be in someone’s head than someone’s bed. Mental space is a scarce commodity, but good conversationalists reside there.

Good conversationalists also reside in brick and mortar buildings, in that offline world. So stop reading this. There isn’t anymore.

{X}

P.S. Practice makes perfect.

P.P.S. There’s always more.

Face to Face; a Love Letter to The Art of Acting.

In As Artist, life, Love on October 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm

as artist

I called “cut”. The room was quite tense. The camera started rolling at 10AM, by now it’s almost 2PM, and we’ve got nothing. Day 2 of filming, same subject, same setting, same format, the only difference is text. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Not that we don’t have anything – we have just short of 5 dozen clips of the same text – about the subject himself. A biographical text, so to speak, derived from a series of questions by me, co-written by three creatives, then distilled into its most essential form. Nothing is exaggerated, nothing is untrue. It was confounding to me, how a handful of quite remarkable facts and accomplishments chained together in a lyrical flow, were rendered unusable because the speaker had, time and time again, ran over the words like they were the petty, wilting items in the grocery aisle, on “end of day sale”. I’m not working with wilted salad.

“Do you have another appointment after this?” [read: you seem rushed, and rushing gets you nowhere]
“Are there others whom you should attend to first, so you can be fully here?” [read: you’re not present]
“Take a moment, walk around, grab something to eat…” [read: leave this space for a minute]

I’m running low in the barrel of positive reinforcements… yesterday was fine. Alone on set, I re-checked the frame, the lights, the technical design of it all, and the aesthetics were quite pleasing – the cosmetics, the composition. Beautifully lit, too, but what good is beautiful, if it’s untrue? The camera doesn’t lie. Still images can be very deceiving, but moving picture? “Film is truth, 24x a second.”

That very quote from M. JL Godard changed my life. From actor to director, I suppose I’ve “come of age”, but nothing comes for free.

For an actor, our work is mostly intangible, but if the process involves any degree of blood, sweat, and tears, what we then deliver, you will feel it through the marrow of your bones – and that feeling, is undeniable, is stronger than anything you’ve ever felt, is the closest to truth you’ll ever get. That’s the breath of life, in this often lifeless world we operate in. Close your eyes, inhale; feel. 

I was filming a musician. As a musician myself, I equate what we do with love and truth as well, but there are differences. If there isn’t love, there isn’t passion, then the work is void of depth or artistry; there needs to be fire.

There isn’t a correct way to compare music to acting, but of one thing I’m certain – that acting forces you to confront yourself, and all that’s deep within you, in a way that music allows you to sink into, and quite possibly, drown. Music is like mother ocean, it offers an escape; acting, well, you’re on fire and you’re running on a one-way street straight to hell, repeatedly. Because, Meisner.

The art of it is so. The business is a whole other beast. Hence, the actor’s dogged training in the art itself, its techniques, camera techniques… years and years of training that makes acting itself, its proper profession. Years and years of character sculpting and forced emotional-palette widening that neither music theory nor ear-training quite get to.

30 minutes on the clock, my talent has returned, with coffee, thank god. One rehearsal, we almost had it, the cameras roll, and we’re shut out, again.

I turned the camera off, and what proceeded to unfold, was in essence, therapy. Unbeknownst to me, I had stepped into the shoes of all the great acting coaches I’ve had. I was channeling them all, even the ones I’ve only read about. Of the many things I said, the most matter-of-fact had been that, the hardest lesson in acting, is learning to let go and unlearning all that adulthood and society have conditioned and socialized us with. Reversing that takes more than two days; for some, even two decades will only scratch the tip of the iceberg.

So, it was a moment of epiphany, of revelation, of miracle, and even that is an understatement, when a dragon of more than four decades had been slain. The dagger was not from me, but the blood burns in my hands. If this is what I’m devoting the rest of my life to… I’m okay with that. These moments, I can live and die for them, even though the cost is unimaginably cruel. Can you be so in love with your art? I don’t know. I just know I am, and the evidence before me, confirms it.

It’s been almost a week since its death, and I remain affected, as if it had just happened. Another country, another set, another wrap, I still remember it all, all too clearly. It was a moment of raw beauty, where no words could accord with justice, but ending the blog here seems without manners.

The tears we are reduced to, along the path of artistic training, are worth more than the petty emotions of a baby. They aren’t signs that we need to grow up, but rather, anthems of having grown up, the lament of all that’s sacrificed, and the realization of all that’s lost… A classmate once reported to the Chair of the Acting Department of the conservatory where I trained, that “we all had breakdowns”, to which I quickly added, “no, breakthroughs” – because there is a difference.

Among the 74 clips I have trimmed down to work with, one of them, I know, marks the transition between being in the dragon’s shadow, and being free, truly, free. In between the takes, there was that private space, that sacred space, that elusive truth which we trade our vulnerabilities for, and forever seek to reach… be it actor, musician, or any other creative through any other medium.

As artists, we need that truth like it’s the air we breathe. We need it to live, to create, to imagine fantasies that feed the rest of the world. Because when all the glamour and lights fade away, all we have, to taste, to save us, is the air we breathe.

Exhale.

{x}

Whiplash, replayed through 10 piano teachers.

In Becoming, life, reflections on January 26, 2015 at 10:11 am

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I saw Whiplash in the theater yesterday. A FULL theater, mind you. When was the last time that had happened? Opening night of Pirates of the Caribbean when I was in high school? Go see it if you haven’t yet. It’s number one on my list, for reasons obvious, and for reasons very close to home.

Too close to home.

Growing up, I’ve had a piano teacher for every place that I’ve lived for more than 6 months. 10 in total, thus far. My second teacher at the Tianjin Conservatory orchestrated most of my childhood formation, and had serious plans of sending me to Germany or the US when my fingers were ready. But my Chinese parents weren’t. My mother and I moved to Canada when I was 12, and without a piano, I was forced a break, until I wanted it again. I wanted it, but didn’t commit to it enough, which left my fourth teacher in a constant state of frustration and helplessness, “…my girl, if you just practice more, you can become a great pianist, not just a piano student…” That plea every week for years until I was 17, and forced a break, again. Like #2, #4 saw something special in me, but no amount of nagging was whipping me into shape. All those years, I’d been interested, frustrated, annoyed, wanted it, but ultimately, I didn’t get it. I was good, but I wasn’t great. I was told by many of my potential, but I never aspired to that greatness they alluded to. I hadn’t been inspired. Nor was I pushed. Perhaps a Fletcher in my life would have done me good. But someone better came along…

My fifth piano teacher changed my life. I was labelled his “protégée”, and after thirteen years of being on the keys, something finally cracked. I finally got it. There was love, inspiration, aspiration… all of everything. Something cracked… I put in the hours, three, four, five, every day. If in the waking moments, the tips of my fingers didn’t hurt, something was wrong. I practised on the piano the way Andrew practised on the drums. I frequently slept over in the studio. There wasn’t a bed, but three chairs sufficed. My needs were simple. My drive was ignited. For the very first time.

At 18, that’s all I wanted. A dangerous age for a desire that intense; nothing else mattered. The dinner table scene in Whiplash? I get that. I’ve had that. At 18, I was called a “musician” for the very first time. When that’s all you want… the words of your piano teacher, piano master, becomes the only voice in your life that matters. It’s a dangerous thing. I put my scholarship on hold, removed myself from institutionalized education, family, friends, most circles in life, and piano became the only focus. It’s difficult to explain, but the music was all I had. That amount of isolation eventually drove me deep into depression. The first time in my life.

Greatness, whatever the cost, I paid my dues.

Years later, a Trans-Atlantic move matched me to piano teacher #6, who only lasted for a single lesson, which had a lot to do with piano teacher #7, the Fletcher in my life.

#7 was the Head of the Music School where I had studied, and partially lived. Inside my locker, along with all my music books, there was a blanket. I would continue my habits of staying the night in the music studio, because that remained all I had wanted. I’d start my practice at 22h, work through the night, nap a few hours on the piano bench, then leave the building at 6h30 the next morning, for an hour of hot yoga at 7h. That was my routine for most days. That was not really allowed. But “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission“, a line from piano teacher #5 that continues to serve as my modus operandi. I never made time for friends, except for my best, and I stopped dating guys who had suggested that I take a night off practice. That coffee shop break-up scene? I’ve done it on repeat, only worse. I didn’t have the decency to meet in person. Piano was most worthy of my time. The guys who took away piano time was a text away from good-bye.

Greatness, at what cost?

#7 didn’t inspire, but he whipped, pushed, shouted, and did most things Fletcher did. He was the closest to have broken me. I left most lessons feeling like shit, and although I never let my tears roll down in front of him, I cried after every lesson – all but my very first. Then I continued to practice. Harder, longer. Three, four, five, six hours a day. I don’t know whether this is of any relevance, but you could smell him (the cologne) and hear him (footsteps, keys, and whistling) before you could see him. He ruled by fear, intimidation, and a sharp degree of arrogance that was somehow justified because he took on only the “very best“, and such a reputation made room for ways and methods of unreasonable abuse.

Greatness, how does it trade?

I gave it my all, and for all that’s worth, time under #7 was a one-way ticket to deeper depression; it had been the most destructive part of my artistic formation. From the Dean’s office, to counselling, I was advised to flight rather than fight. Another change of scenery. I was first linked to piano teacher #8 at the Juilliard School, who was a legend in many ways, but it was more so a “treat” than a routine, as I was commuting from Canada… When #7 still reigned as the head, there was little I could do. My ultimate escape was to Paris, their top political institute, and piano teacher #9, a retired professor from the Paris Conservatory.

Sometimes, I still imagine what life would be like, if I had stayed in Paris, but New York had other plans for me.

#10 was bat-shit crazy.

Greatness, at what cost?

Some define “insanity” as doing the same things repeatedly, but expecting different results. I’m a composer now.

Ten piano teachers later, piano remains my deepest love, but I work differently now. Acting school has had a lot to do with that. Jungle life has had a lot to do with that. Personal loss, among others, have humanized me. I still aspire to greatness, to be one of the greats, but the calculus have changed.

I have never subscribed to mediocrity, which in Whiplash terms, is frankly, “not my tempo“. Yet, excellence, innovation, perfection, or whatever drives the world forward… at what cost? at what tempo? and to what end? How many Sean Casey’s for a Charlie Parker? If we’re truly born equal, then greatness must be a miscalculation.

If Greatness is a miscalculation, then is it rushing? or is it dragging? Greatness, at what tempo? Timing, when it’s not magic, it’s a bad word. I have an expensive metronome; we’ve never quite been friends.

{X}

Quo Vadis? I just peace on out.

In Family, life, Love, reflections on January 17, 2015 at 7:10 pm

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I flew for the first time on my new passport today – BTV to JFK.  Almost exactly five years ago, I flew from YYZ to CDG. Like 5 years ago, my passport received expedited renewal service. Like 5 years ago, I flew out the next day. 5 years of traveling, and what have I learned? Time can sometimes be bought – with a lot of money, and timing is somewhat of a mysterious thing. To get it just right is magic, but most of the time, it’s a bad word. The timing of things – like the rests in a piece of music, shapes and changes everything. Rachmaninoff with zero rests? You don’t want to…

“It’s always easier to leave than to be left” – so it became my modus operandi for the better part of a decade. There’s a strange sense of ease I feel at airports, and thank goodness for that, for I suppose I earned the “trouble-maker” label from a former boss of mine, and life still constantly reminds me of such, so I guess I’m still growing up. I have “no age”, or “none that matters”, as it had been remarked a few times.

Map reading is not my forté – home is where you can roam around without a GPS, and wearing a compass around my neck would probably serve me better than wearing a Steinway key, but navigation at airports is instinctual and second nature. I’ve done it since I was 4. A lot of it. I’ve learned the hard way who to avoid upsetting, how to be so charming to skip most lines, hold a departing flight, and a few other things that should remain private. The stamps in my passport make for a better blueprint of my life thus far, than any other tangible record. From one airport to the next, lessons were many, stories are plenty, and tears always needed to be there.

A couple passports ago, I was still an undergrad in England (Herstmonceux Castle, to be exact). It was 15:55, I had just handed in an essay due for 16h, and with a generous 5 minutes to spare, I was dashing through the ballroom trying to catch the next train out of Polegate to London Victoria for a dinner date, and a send off. The date was special, Lebanese food & co., mostly the co./M, because he’d been the only one with whom I didn’t mind sharing my “temple” – the alcove of the ballroom where I had just dashed from. There was a piano, on which I practised every day, usually alone, with the exception of tour groups coming through every so often. While M was still a student there, he would study in the ballroom – either by the bar, on the floor by the far windows, or somewhere far enough to still respect my “private practice”… When he was no longer a student, he would visit, and there would be flowers left on the piano bench… M and I don’t have a “settled” story, as it were, because we were mostly going places, yet throughout the fragments, there had been enough to distill it all into an “I love you”…

Just like that, at LHR, “I love you”… and I didn’t echo back.

I didn’t because I didn’t know how. I couldn’t give something I didn’t have; I couldn’t give something I lacked. Repeating those words back would have been a lie, a crime, because the genuine place where that should have come from, was a void, was darkness, was a hole… Of what little I knew about love, I knew that I didn’t have it there to give. So the years that followed, from one airport to the next, I drowned myself in affairs and conditions of the heart. The years that followed, from ZAG to YUL, I learned to love, to fully engage, to fully commit, to fully fall, and to fully fail. Yet, the irony of it all is that by loving, I seem to have killed my darlings.

Gotta be the way I love,
Or perhaps I still don’t know how.
And timing is still a bad word,
So
I just peace on out…

{X}

 

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Hendrick’s with Hobbes

In Drunken Philosophy, life, Of Power on November 30, 2014 at 2:56 am

#Ferguson #RayRice #JianGhomeshi #whyistayed #whyileft #BigEarsTeddy

Hendrick's With HobbesHashtags violent enough to descend Hobbes to my apartment door, in the “all of everything” that is New York. He didn’t show up uninvited – I don’t appreciate these surprises as they disrupt my creative flow and derail my work cycle. Rather, he’s been on my mind. His theory of the natural condition of mankind has been deeply ingrained in me, even before the POLS250 days. Political theory – a subject dense enough to have induced anxiety attacks of former classmates, is not the average cup of tea, or your usual Saturday night delight. Hendrick’s is served.

Between #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday, the world as it is, glitters with more abundance than ever. Yet, stripped away of material excess, the State of Nature remains a “war of all against all,” in which human beings continue to constantly seek to destroy each other in an increasingly incessant pursuit of power. Life in the State of Nature remains “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In the increasingly interconnected world, every platform amplifies, every echo resounds, every wall reflects, every Retweet further perpetuates. Noise levels have become assaulting; silence is harder to hear. Impressed, Tom was, of my modern recount of Leviathan. He noticed the tattoo above my left heel; Chapter XIII was my favourite, I told him.

At my piano, I entertained him with some twelve tone ideas I had been engrossed in for a brass quintet reading at Juilliard. Perhaps a wild mistake for a man who didn’t live long enough to even experience Bach, but it was the precise prerequisite to tolerate any tinkering on a gravely out-of-tune piano. He took to the Hendrick’s. Well… given the options, I, too, prefer music of his era. Sorry, Jon, but you know this about me.

Tom served me a top-up, and inquired about the concert-program-turned-coaster beneath my glass. Fragile Freedom, he noted. Yes, now that was music to his ears. Having conceived his masterpiece during the English Civil War, arguing for Social Contract and an absolute Sovereign, he took serious intrigue with the Velvet Revolution and the transformation it had ignited. In times of war, freedom is fought for with blood, tears, and lives on the line; freedom is a dream, elusive and fragile. In times of peace, freedom is a blessing, yet bruised by irony, its existence seems more fragile, because we didn’t fight to secure it. If freedom in our lives cease to exist, it’s because we have failed to own it.

I told Tom about the woman at the street corner (see Worth) only a week ago. As life would have it, I met her only 5 minutes after having left the Fragile Freedom concert. Our acquaintanceship literally formed on concrete, where she was drowning in a sea of feelings – feelings strong enough to have halted my kinetic march home on a very cold night; feelings that I remember to be as destructive as they were debilitating. Feelings, the very essence of what makes us humans; the most primal and deeply rooted are fear and desire.

At the most primitive level, fear is instilled in us to trigger retreat from life-threatening danger. This type of fear saves us; its value and utility lie within self-preservation. However, a continual state of fear paralyzes us, and fear-induced-paralysis feeds the demon. I know this from experience. Abuse is the name of a monster whose initial attack is an assault, where our blood is but an appetizer. What feeds it, and what strengthens it, is the target’s submission, the ultimate relinquish of one’s power. If after the first attack, you didn’t run for your life, then the alchemy of fear clearly didn’t serve you. It didn’t serve S, nor is it serving Janay Rice. With only a glance of the news, Tom was tickled to see that his theories remain relevant to this day, that even in 2014, we still live in a Hobbesian world.

Out of the crucible of fear, are endless narratives of #WhyIStayed. These voices aren’t limited to romantic relationships, domestic partnerships, or any relationship of a sexual nature. The monster’s desires go beyond carnal appetite; their lifeblood runs on power – and thus, it feeds on every type of relationship.

Another drink. Tom noted the photo next to the Hendrick’s, and asked me about the beautiful girl in pink. Can you blame him? “She’s engaged to an amazing man,” I said. “But why is she crying right now?” Touché, I forget that the dead can hear beyond our mortal ears, and that even with the sonic assault of my out-of-tune keys, Tom was able to register the sounds of her tears.

“She, too, is battling with a monster.”

“Tell me more…”

“You know the story. The very foundation of the Leviathan, and of your life’s work. Every man for himself. She signed a contract with a monster who clearly cares nothing of her welfare or time; she is not valued for even a fraction of her worth, let-alone well-being, but exploited for results, an experience any high-performer could relate to, as most have attracted and/or experienced some form of such abuse in their trajectory. Abusing the contract, the monster reigns sovereign, which actually, defines him as a tyrant.”

You know how this is going to end.”

“I don’t assume that I do. Although I hope, as I have asked her, to reclaim her self. To own herself. The possibility for an alternate ending, for a counterstrike, exists as long as she hasn’t completely relinquished her power.”

I use the word “target” because “victim” carries with it too much negative connotation. It is not to deny the power dynamic, but “victim” denotes the battle is over, whereas “target” is a status of a fluid nature. I refuse to further strip away one’s dignity by word-painting them into a position of even less power. Words matter. The monster is after power; fearlessness is its kryptonite. Targets can win this battle, but only by fearlessly owning themselves.

“…fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; … this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful. I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering – enough is certainly as good as a feast – but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are… He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable.” James Baldwin

Unshakable starts with knowing your worth. He who thinks we live in a time of peace is under grand illusion, for so many of us aren’t even at peace with our selves. The only freedom that’s antifragile, is the one fought for, by exercising supreme authority over your self, owning your self. Owning your difference, your narrative, your time, your choices, your mistakes, and your power.

For Tom, sovereignty is the soul of the Leviathan. I say, sovereignty is the soul of antifragile freedom.

{X}

P.S. Di, the copy of Antifragile, which our photo is propped on, is yours. I remember your traveling style to be with overweight suitcases, nude pumps on feet, and a hard-cover book on hand – all signs of an inexperienced tourist, really, but as facts would have it, you jet through 60+ countries on a regular basis, so I don’t feel too badly about this contribution to the weight you carry.

P.P.S. M, Hendrick’s and rosewater go very well together – better than Hennessy and Guru, the way we had once experimented in our undergrad days. I mixed in the bottle you had brought back from the Middle East. Tom was a fan. 

P.P.P.S. Jon, having said what I said, I am nonetheless grateful for the limitations that push creative growth 🙂 I hope cocktails are being served with the readings, and not after the readings. I’m aware that this may read rather suggestively.

Worth

In life, Restart on November 23, 2014 at 1:06 pm

worthThis isn’t a pity-blog. I write, with sub-zero intention to ask for sympathy, which in my books is the poorest form of begging. I write, because what I’m about to say, is clearly not something we hear enough. The power to be, the freedom to be, are the branches of the same tree, that’s rooted deeply in responsibility.

21h30, Upper East Side, Park Avenue, a night where it was too cold to sit at a concrete street corner. I was walking home, briskly, in my own zone, as usual, because my jungle education has trained me that a prolonged, or even an establishment of eye-contact with a stranger could mean trouble. On the streets, I oscillate between the observer and the oblivious, depending on mood, distractions, immediate environment, company… Most of the time, I’m focused on my audiobook. Most of the time, I don’t give a second glance to street-dwellers; I don’t give to encourage begging. Perhaps that makes me heartless, but I believe any fully able-bodied being can, and therefore should, contribute to their society by taking care of themselves, so to reduce the amount of #firstworldproblems, which by definition and existence, is somewhat of a privileged thing.

I walked past such a street-dweller last night. Caught my eye because she was too beautiful; she didn’t belong. If this had been a scene in a movie, the casting director must have been high. But it’s real life. Whether she belonged or not, she was there. In real life, as we do in movies, we all look for that one thing we identify with – the parallel; the relevance; the relate-able elements. As I walked past her, my shadows merged with her existence. My bones felt a familiar chill. The echos of my footsteps became increasingly uncomfortable for the next block, until I turned around, and there I was, at her end of the street corner.

How life imitates art.

What unfolded was almost a modern rendition of Bernard-Marie Koltès’ “The Night Just Before the Forests.” A long monologue I had studied tirelessly, rehearsed endlessly, and performed in no less than a dozen ways. The ways of being had long been adapted to heart; my acting coach hit this one on the bullseye. Every character I play stays with me, in some form or fragment. She said I was strong enough to play the part written for a man. She saw more in me than I cared to believe.

I reached out to her, the beautiful, crying, woman partially out of instinct, and partially conditioned by training. As I do with most tasks in life, being an artist, after all. It’s unbelievable how much you feel safe to reveal to a stranger, who are never so unforgiving as those who claim to love you. I listened to her as she shared her stories, told her that at least she had the spine and dignity to remain sitting up, while sunk below my lowest points, I was completely horizontal on concrete…only about a year ago. She had just run away from an abusive husband. Her second marriage.

S: “I don’t know if I just attract abusive men, or if all men are the same.”

X: “I would say it’s both.”

I shared a lot of my past that I don’t care to relive. I don’t have the answers to all the questions she posed me. But I know with concrete certainty, that under no circumstance, should we bleed our own worth in the name of someone else’s pain. Not even in hell, would our worth be traded below battered spirits and marked bodies.

S: “It’s happened before… we just had dinner, and we both made a list – a list to work on…but when we got home…”

X: “Have you reported it to anyone?”

S: “No. Everybody loves him. No one believes me.”

Why did I even ask? Have I reported to anyone? I did, that first time, when I was 9. No one believed me. I stayed at home, pretending to be sick for the whole week… 16 years and 28 countries later, the matrix of danger have only grown richer. Rich enough to see patterns; rich enough to see that life, is a battlefield; rich enough to know that my acting coach was right, that to survive, you have to be no less than a warrior.

I gave her a number of support lines, resources, therapy-related things I had gathered during my darker times. I told her that help is there… counseling is there… but perhaps the most direct way of help, is simply sheltering her for the night.

We stayed at that corner until she ran out of the crumbled (but clean) Starbucks napkins I had (out of slight embarrassment) offered her; until I could no longer feel my legs.

S: “I don’t know what to do. I want to just run away, to leave, from everything. Or should I go back and deal with it?

X: “You have to deal with it… Nothing resolves itself. But you don’t have to deal with it right away, or right now. Do it when you’re ready…”

There are different ways to go about healing. For a while, I spent 5 hours of my Tuesday evenings deep in BK, with a group I didn’t feel the slightest sense of belonging. I choose to spend my life differently now. But I remember the scars as I do with the burns. I use it to fuel my art now. I use it to light up inside.

Worth begins with self-care. Love and light are the two essentials, without which life would be a path of decay. Those who dare diminish your worth is criminal. If you allow it, you are the accomplice. Never too late to walk away. Never too late to start a new journey. Never too late to start loving yourself.

{x}

Whiskey, Cigarettes, & Cologne

In life on March 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Is being an actor in New York hard? You never seem to be wearing many clothes in your FB pictures. Hope all is well in NY. I have no doubts you are doing very well.

How do you respond to a message like this, really? Even when I ignore the sarcasm from the opening question, the heavy judgment in the statement that follows renders the genuine, caring bits in the end, contrived and meaningless at best. I confirm the fourth and last statement to be true, thank you for your faith in my nakedness.

The answer is yes.

Yes, acting is hard. You have no idea how difficult it is to be completely open, honest, and truthful, 24 times a second, on set, on camera, and off-screen rehearsing. The way we train and stretch our emotional dials to the extremes will terrify you, because we make big choices that terrify ourselves. The difference between an acting school and an asylum is that as actors, we’re actually sane and controlled. But to an untrained eye, we’re all just the same. Naked, vulnerable, crazy, and fully exposed to judgement, warranted or unwarranted.

Acting is hard, because unlike most people, as actors, we can’t settle – it’s all or nothing, go big or go home. We don’t fake it – we won’t fake it. Every fiber of our body, every cell, is filled with intention, truth, impulse, and a genuine interest in getting the others to “tick”. So acting is tiring, but it is the one thing that makes me feel most alive. Acting is about constant growth and a state of becoming – it comes with the territory, and it is one of the most difficult journeys of discovery and exploration.

Music is what runs through my veins, but acting is what gives me pulse, so I don’t remember life before I became an actress, before I tumbled down this rabbit hole that I call my paradise. But I remember the smells like I remember the sounds. I used to shower only with products that smelled of chocolate, coconut, vanilla, or mint. I used cinnamon buttercream frosting lotion, and I had an intoxicating collection of perfumes, some of which still sit on my dresser, somewhere between the masks, feathers, black lace, leather cuffs, silk bows, and white pearls…

A glimpse of my past and you wonder why I’m naked where I am today. I don’t.

These days, every time I close my eyes, I relish in the scents of whiskey, cigarettes, and cologne. And I don’t really want to wake up.

So go ahead and judge me. I dare you. I’m as real, and as full, as you’ll ever be. Or never be. Recklessly wasted on life’s succulence…you should taste it.

{X}

*Shh…Don’t Wake Me

In life on December 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm


“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” ~ Lewis Carroll

One of my best friends recently advised me to not “dwell on the impossible”… the only problem is, I don’t believe in the impossible… Can someone please tell me what that is?

From the moment I could make sense of things, I’ve always dreamed of and fantasized about the impossible and the improbable. When others asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I’ve responded with long lists of mythological creatures and faeries before eventually making it to a mermaid, and other more probable things…

I probably over-dosed on mythologies, fairytales, fantasies, even science-fiction… and as the silly child, I believed all to be true. I drew my own faeries, created my own myths, and even invented a coded language with my friends. Despite being a city girl, I’ve spent much time in beautiful gardens, and I would let my imagination run wild as I chase after and dialogue with flower fairies (http://www.flowerfairies.com/). I was a bit crazy, or just wildly imaginative, and with time, as my friends and most people grew out of the silliness, I seemed to have gotten more struck by its intensity.

My imagination is my most prized possession, and my art feeds on it. Thank goodness my career allows me to indulge in these fantasies, because as actress, “impossible activities” is just part of the many exercises that form our training… The Meisner technique demands the actors to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances, and this is where my weaknesses in the “Starbucks world” transform into real strengths…

I am excited by what might be, not what is, which I find so boring, and passé. The very existence of what “is” leaves no room for creation; it’s the unknown that captivates me, pushes me, and drives me. I’m a dreamer, if you can’t tell by now. I dream all the time, unconsciously at night, and consciously by day. But I’ve served my time in the “Starbucks world,” and conditioned by it, I still have trouble letting go, but that’s far from impossible.

Despite where we may be in our minds, ultimately, we all live in the Starbucks world, it is what it is. But sometimes, a little fantasy goes a long way. If you ever reminisced of your childhood, you know what I mean. You know the feeling that you miss. Because you, too, no matter how battered by life you may be, you once believed in fantasy…

Sometimes, imagination is the only cure to everything you find dull. When I was last wandering the streets of the Starbucks world, my instincts led me to a tattoo shop. Scribed in Tibetan, inked in my skin, is the word “fantasy”. So if ever I lose my way, I’ll never be really lost…I’ll always have something to hold onto, I’ll always believe. 

Even when I’m awake, I’m dreaming… so either dream with me, or pass me by, but whatever you do, don’t wake me…

{X}

Give me rain, I’ll show you dance.

In life, Love, XX & XY on December 18, 2011 at 1:57 am

Rain On Me

It’s been 8 months since I’ve written for myself; the kind of writing that is indulging. I admit, I’ve been bottling up, and now? Now I’ve ran out of bottles…

8 months have passed, and perhaps the biggest change is that I’ve learned to genuinely feel again. Silly, because I’ve always felt, certainly, I’ve felt deeply since my very first memory, and I have an impeccable memory. I remember everything, even the moments I’d rather have not lived; it’s a blessing and a curse.

Through with the generalities, the problem – my problem(s) – with being so acutely and intensely sensitive, is that it’s actually tormenting to live, and exponentially worse to love. You see, I have a tendency to fall for the wrong people, and when I do, I give and love so intensely that I get blinded, derailed, and there’s no one there to catch me. Did I mention I fall for the wrong men? Legitimacy is so overrated.

I gave myself into love and into madness. Yet I never gave myself a chance to be loved. The moment someone confesses serious feelings for me is the moment I fly away, you can almost count on that. I’m a free spirit that will not be caged. If you want to keep me, don’t date me. That’s what I always say I’ve always said.

But that’s changed…

I’m in love. It’s scary for me to say this, because I’m going out of my comfort zone – and as a performing artist and trained actress, that’s a pretty big zone – if I could figuratively pinpoint a place where I feel I’m at, I would say Siberia… Yeah… I’m that far out of my world. But don’t judge just yet, because I have a vague idea of how ridiculous this equation is… chasing dreams in NYC + in love = Siberia. Under the circumstances, I can forgive you for not believing me, but really, I’ve always excelled at math…

Maybe Siberia has rainbows and butterflies, too, you know. But I’m really not trying to make it sound like Venice or Vienna or any other romantic, exotic, happening place. I say Siberia because, well, I hate to repeat myself, but I fall for the wrong men. Okay, so things haven’t changed completely…but enough.

Enough to make me feel, for the first time in my life, intoxicated in love. Only weeks ago, did I experience one of the deepest pains of loss. In darkness and isolation, I was mourning, yet when he spoke, his presence was like a ray of sunshine that penetrated right through me… he was like air, lifting me out of darkness, and making me breathe again.  I felt my world was a 2D black and white image compared to the kaleidoscope of colours that I see through him. I felt so much I’ve never felt before, and I wanted to feel more… I suddenly realized that when I gave myself into love before, I gave up what I deserved.

And perhaps by being in love this time, I’m doing it again, and perhaps I wouldn’t even come out whole, but even then, even with all the pain and hurt that is inevitable, I am surrendering myself, with reckless abandonment. Because it’s worth the trip; it’s the only trip that ever really matters.

So rain down on me, pour it all out on me. Some people stay idle to wait for the storm to pass, but I dance with every raindrop that falls. I’ll even throw away my umbrella, so that I could be completely free to embrace all that there is, so that I could catch it all. I won’t run towards shelter, or hide under a bridge… I will dance with the rain, to the rhythm of the storm, let passion decide each turn and the wind choreograph each twirl. I will captivate love, the way you’ve had it captivate me, and I will be ever-electrifying.

{X}

Spring Cleaning; Live with less, but live only with the best.

In life on April 22, 2011 at 2:25 am
In pursuit of Quality

I’ve never strived to be a minimalist, but by virtue of my nomadic life, I’ve had to become one. I may have a lot of things, but I don’t have the same type twice. My bare essentials fit into two suitcases, and 2 carry-ons, which isn’t bad at all, considering that I travel with my “studio” (midi-keyboard, electric violin, multiple laptops, recording devices, etc.), my dance gear (jazz, ballet, modern, lyrical, oriental, hiphop), my yoga things, and my performance wear… When they’re specialty items, the cost of replacing them far exceeds the burden of carrying them, so I keep them with me.

As I live and accumulate (I don’t shop much at all – my highest expenses fall under travel and restaurants, thanks American Express!), the amount that I am able to keep and carry (while in nomadic mode) does not change. As such, this kind of lifestyle has forced me to become highly selective, yet, I still find Spring cleaning to be necessary. As the “new” come in, instead of hoarding everything like a pack-rat, it’s better to re-evaluate your assets, and let go of the sub-standard. You owe it to yourself to live with only the best.

What’s more important in life though, are the people we meet and keep. In the age of hyper consumerism and hyper connectivity, we are all of a sudden, exposed to that many more people, thanks to multi-platform networking. I’m a huge fan/advocate of social media, but studies have shown that regardless of how many thousands of people we may be connected to, fundamentally, our capacity to maintain genuine and meaningful friendships is at around 150 connections. (i.e. Dunbar’s number as a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships). 

If one is limited by one’s capacity to carry things – the rational solution would be to reduce the load. Paralleling this logic, as the number of people we meet increases, we should also let go of a similar proportion of people, so that we don’t max our cognitive threshold. The key formula in maintaining a healthy balance is to keep the people who enrich your life, and let go of those who are bloodsuckers in disguise. To blow a relationship – any relationship, over a disagreement is plain silly and unfortunate, but it happens all the time. Yet, so many relationships that have clearly passed their best-before dates are still being held on, for reasons that confound me, and at the cost of happiness.

Trendy numbers don’t stay in my closet for more than a season; classic, timeless pieces are in my permanent collection. I will continue to carry them, to the 26th, 27th, and eventually 192nd country I travel to, and that’s the same attitude I have with the people I’ve had the privilege to encounter in my life. I’ve been lucky in life to have met so many incredible and inspiring people I now call my friends. I’ve also had to part ways with a number of them, but that’s how life runs, and it’s worth it, knowing that I live and learn only with the best.

So when time comes around for Spring cleaning, don’t just get rid of boxes of stuff – look at the people, too. Life doesn’t come with a “refresh” button, so you just gotta do the dirty work yourself. As a child, I used to cry when friendships fall-out. At 15, the end of my first relationship broke my heart. At 22? I couldn’t be happier at the sight of some people walking out of my life – they’ve just made room for my life to become better.

I love detox.

{X}