This is the video store which I grew up with, well, at least the second or the third.
Previous video stores like Evergreen and Hudson Street Video went out of business in their cavernous depths throughout my West Village upbringing, sings of the changing times even before Netflix, the gentrification of my neighborhood, the transition from VHS to DVD which already then was too much for some places it seems to overcome, the eventual rise of the neighborhood boutiques that would take over the place of my upbringing turning it into yet another mall for tourists, a transmogrification of Bleecker Street from “quaint” to the fetish-izing of that word, just another route to the meat-packing district, the acceptance that the neighborhood I knew is gone in a way.
People have similar complaints about 42nd Street describing its grit, real-ness, it’s trouble pre the early 90s revitalization of it into its current “Disney-fied” incarnation, the place of “bright lights, big city”, but I feel like that must be different as the West Village I knew, transvestite prostitutes or no, was never in need of a “fix”. In all honesty, looking back, we could have still used the video stores.
But this was the last one, World of Video, the place I tried unsuccessfully to maintain a membership at through my film school education and after, which I failed miserably at because I, like so many of the past generation of Americans before me, am epically terrible at returning DVDs, the same reason I no longer take books out from the library (other than the functional illiteracy that comes out of emerging from a world of a structured education).
Going in there, it was full of the type of misanthropes I envied in my youth and feared in the wake of my film school education, people working at a video store, failures of a type in my eyes. Clinging to a past with no foreseeable future, bitter for the sake of what left not to be about.
As I looked over my last entry, I saw (unsurprisingly) how close I feel to the last time I wrote, just in an inverted fashion. As opposed to last week, where I looked back on a week of accomplishments , I look back on this week with the difficulties I’ve faced and as opposed to feeling conquered, I find myself through the looking glass, not worrying, at least initially, about how bad I feel, but how much it’s alright to be ok.
That might sound confusing, I should probably explain. On Friday, I went to a party, got drunk off a flask of Evan Williams I got to avoid the keg provided (finding “alternatives” still a part of my dietary lifestyle) and did what people in such a place are apt to do, I tried drunkenly flirting with people, got upset over stupid things and eventually just got sad walking home (though not crying sad). I felt bad in the moment, but fine the next day, when I had lunch with my family talking about difficult stuff, I took it with grace, being even more “okay” than they were, using my yoga practice for self-kindness and then kindness to others. Saturday, I bombed a show I really cared about, Sunday, I struggled heavily in class and through a sketch show. The only place I could be, I told myself, was where I was, where I am. That is my mantra. We can only be where we are, be in the moment, pay attention, give our all and then forgive ourselves for our shortcomings.
I did a private session with one of my yoga instructors, Sarah Bell, last Friday because I always felt like I was doing things wrong in my practice or at least not as well as I could be. I looked at my downward facing dog, the simple upside-down v-shaped inversion that you see a lot in people who practice yoga and in all of my practice I could never straighten my legs, always bent. I told Sarah my concern and showed her my pose and she asked me, after a moment:
“Alright, would you mind clueing me into what you think is wrong with your downward facing dog?”
“Well,” I replied. “I can never straighten my legs. So I feel like I must be doing something wrong.”
“You’ve been practicing yoga for 6-7 months now. How old are you?”
“24.” I replied.
“24.” She repeated back. “So for 22 of those years you’ve stored tension in your legs and I’ve seen your progress and you’ve improved so much, in what, those 6 or 7 months. Look at yourself in a year, look at yourself in 10 years. Look when others are getting lower back issues. For now, look at yourself with kindness and be proud and be okay.”
And I felt GREAT coming out of that, I felt so happy, just as I felt when after another romantically-blah evening out my friends took me aside to point out how impressed they were.
“Dude,” my friend (who wishes I would refer to him as “my extremely funny friend”) Sebastian told me, looking seriously. “You were just being yourself and goofy. Usually you’re so aggressive, no middle ground, but you were really being chill tonight. Just letting it come to you.”
And it was such a nice gift. Just feeling like I could see myself in my practice, like others could see me. That even in failure, I could notice my improvement, regain balance, see the world and not get bitter.
This morning I was cut from a sketch group I was asked to join, a major accomplishment and opportunity. I had the feeling the cut was coming and voiced that opinion to friends and my roommate Teddy, who didn’t think so, but didn’t deny it either. I did feel terrible as I did this morning, heading to therapy, a process I described to my therapist as the feeling when you get close to your house when needing to use the bathroom: your bowels get tense, your body telling you “Run!” as the discipline with which you held yourself disappears so close to the finish line, as you rush to take an “emotional dump”. My therapist, a less crude person, likened it to getting sick after a big project.
I let out my feelings there in therapy, voiced my concerns, tried to be aware, but my therapist wondered if I was too analytical still. What is the boundary between detachment and self-kindness, what is long enough to be in your emotions?
These are the same questions (as I’ve pointed out repeatedly) that I think we face in improv. There are no “right” moves, but there are moves feel right in the moment, things that are good or bad, ways we learn to trust ourselves and our choices, not second guess ourselves, be more in the moment and less insular. They are things I struggle with, as we all do. But I can only make the choices I can make, which is not for a lack of responsibility (which I think could be alternately called “self-awareness”). So how does one be okay with not being okay?
I feel like that’s what my blog is all about.
I don’t offer an answer. I already was cut from the sketch group I was in. Lots of great things are happening too in my attitude, in the way I look in the world, in the stupid ways that people look or react to me, or even in the opportunities I’m given.
I can think about reasons. I can think about the “whys”. I do in my life try to be mindful and reflective.
But it’s difficult to look critically at self-kindness and be kind when looking at self-criticism, to take the note, make the move, known when to be aggressive with a girl or a job or a group, know when to hang back and wait. A great many people are happy and a great many are not.
It’s confusing this life.
It helps, you know, to talk about it.
I don’t much have to say about this except that it was a fun party.
On Saturday, my friends dragged me out to Astoria to my friend Will Quinn’s birthday party at his last-stop apartment shared with a bevy of other comedians from Virginia. It was a “Game of Thrones”-themed party renamed “A Game of Wills” replete with grapes, a cape and some dude holding a foam-core version of Thor’s hammer the Mjolnir, because a more appropriate Game of Thrones reference was not forthcoming.
I, surprisingly to the nerd that I once was/still am, have never seen A Game of Thrones, probably a vestigial grudge left over from when I used to play at the RPG/collectible-card-game store Neutral Ground, where the people who played the Game of Thrones CCG (Collectible Card Game) were even weirder and lamer than the people who played Magic or the incredibly ghetto kids who played “Yu-Gi-
Oh!” an anime-based CCG that somehow tied into a hyper-sexual ancient Egypt.
Anyway, I just showed up in a plaid shirt and got real messed up and silly. Eventually, my friends making fun of me suggested I fight the other kid in our other group of friends (a Fordham contingent), a kid named Adam Twitchell who usually did not party and so was being real goofy out-of-his-mind, while I just sat outside on the patio in a lawn chair, enjoying the late-spring breeze in my anti-social tendencies. What began as me grabbing the foam-core Mjolnir and just randomly hitting Adam eventually devolved into us slow dancing to “I’ll Make Love To You” by Boyz II Men in order to make up for the aggression.
Like I said, this all is a small thing, but I feel like usually on a Saturday Night I’d be out seeing or doing improv shows or at nearby bars talking about improv or thinking about it or even just walking, heading home, as I do so often now.
So, it was nice to just get out to the outer boroughs, drink something and be silly in a crowd of similarly aged people also not knowing what they were doing with their lives, peppered by occasional personal conversations and some extensive chair sitting.
Adam, I’m sure this will be a treasured memory for you, for all time.
I’ll make this as brief as possible.
This was a very embarrassing moment for me.
Hanging out with some of my very funny improviser/writer friends in the improv ghetto around 30th-26th Sts bet 6-8th avenues (further if you count rehearsal spaces), everyone seems obsessed with the new Panera.
It’s a throwback to people’s suburban existences. It offers ample seating and bathrooms for an area low on those things. It’s relatively cheap, people bring things to your table, no tip necessary. It can be difficult to spend even 10 dollars there.
Still, it always looked goddam awful to me and I would usually bring in my balled-up Faicco’s sandwich when my friends would go.
This time though, I bit the bullet and ordered a “Thai Chopped Chicken Salad” just hoping it would not be awful fake meat like Au Bon Pain.
It was not fake meat. It was relatively low-calorie. It was very filling.
But man was it average.
I guess guys, if you need something to eat.
Or if you find yourself in a desperate situation.
You make the best of it.
But it’s like when you walk in to Chili’s and you hear about things being “fire-roasted” and stuff, you can at least somewhat imagine that people are doing those things in a Chili’s, even though they are obviously not.
But definitely not in a Beige-clad place like Panera.
It did have real chicken, peppers, edamame and some nut sauce though.
And maybe, for some people that’s enough.
What has my life become?
Thai Chopped Chicken Salad (w/ “fire-roasted” edamame, red peppers, lettuce, peanut sauce, etc…)- $8.29
7th Avenue bet. 28th and 29th Sts.
1 to 28th St.
On Monday, 4 separate people came up to me and asked me what the matter was and I didn’t know what to tell them.
More disconcerting than whatever was going on in my heart was the fact that it was so readily apparently, obvious to 4 different people, so urgent that not only did they notice it, they felt the need to come up to me directly in order to have some sort of intervention.
And what was that?
My hairline? A source of easy, venial obsession. I noticed the other day a spot on my frontal scalp hair would not grow and which I keep trying to sweep to the side or not notice, an easy signifier but not something worthy of a massive self-immolating breakdown to the point that people are concerned.
My weight? Still a point of contention for me, so much so that wandering around on Monday I considered talking to a nutritionist, a medical doctor (something suggested by my father after I told him the difficulty I had had opening tough window) or downloading a fitness app, only to finally just literally google “What should I weigh” only to discover from the rote internet that I was literally at my ideal weight or, said differently by a tipsy girl at the bar last night: “Really, you’ve lost a lot of weight Nick since I first met you, don’t lose anymore or you’ll be too skinny.” Grace here is not imminent because it is something I chose to change about myself (thus a point of vulnerability) but at least validation from a stupid google search proves the insanity of my inadequacy there.
Romantic difficulties? These have tortured me since forever, so there’s no big change there, except maybe sometimes feeling like a dirtbag. Going in to my therapist’s on Tuesday, she posited that the issue regarding my weight and my romantic difficulties were inter-connected and thus feeding each other in terms of worry, that “you were wearing your extra weight as an excuse, a way to protect yourself or not take responsibility for your difficulty in finding someone compatible with you”. After all if I had the excuse that there was something physical I could change about myself, I could let myself off the hook for the more difficult work of maybe just accepting myself more, being more okay with myself, just being a happier person.
I gave a note the other day to the Level One improv class that I Big Brother (read: like a TA in college) that was given to me by Peter McNerney: “A great gift that you can give to your scene partner is being natural, not being worried, not trying to “get it right”. Because when you get yourself in that headspace of ‘getting it right’, you close yourself to the opportunities of what the scene can become.” An easy note, a difficult one to accept. If I want to be more desirable, more fun to play with, find some more balance or okay-ness in myself. Don’t try to blame percentage points of my own weight (“If I lost 1 pound would I be one pound closer to a girlfriend?” cries flawed and silent logic) but instead just do the work of trying to enjoy myself more, be happier, be more in the moment and ready.
In my yoga classes I take (again Young Nick cries out in douchebaggery at present Nick’s invocation of yoga), the teacher will often tell us in poses, “Don’t look down at the ground. Looking down at the ground may serve you in life, probably not, but maybe. But here, in practice, look up.” Like in yoga, in life, in improv, just trying to stay positive, not seeming worried, being affected but staying up until something important comes along, well, it’s important.
So I went into my therapist and confessed like I would a confessional the different ways I felt like I was undermining myself romantically, the ways I felt inadequate or sad or frustrated. And my teacher Christina Gausas is right that “after a certain while, navel-gazing becomes about ego”, in the way that people have pity-parties as a way to attract attention and receive external validation, but it also felt good just to be explicit about what you feel about your life, to be expressive to say your emotions in a way that they could be exposed and then mastered. In my work with my coach Sean Taylor, one of his most frequent notes to me and my teammates is just to “speak your thoughts”. In life we are frequently coy because we fear the consequences and certainly as I look back on a youth of speaking rawly out of either extremes of speaking out of intense emotionality or saying nothing that that is not the best way to live, but damnit, if you can just talk to another person, birth your thoughts and insecurities into the world, make your unconscious or conscious mind exposed for a moment, what a difference that makes.
To reiterate a note from last week from Neil Casey- “We are that special breed of people who can talk about what they mean on stage”. Or, that way, in life.
People ask why I write this blog, why I write things so personal here and it would be easy to say that it is therapeutic (and it is), but the truth is as it has always been, is that storytelling is a craft which is both a practice and a way of attaining a sort of mastery over the self. In connecting the dots in my own life on paper, I see my own patterns, forgive myself for my own mistakes, make manifest what is only insecurity when it floats around in my brain. When I talked to my friend Matt Weir this morning, who is very handsome and tall and an inveterate improv lady-killer, he was telling me how important it was to have that moment “where you realize you are in the presence of someone or something important”, where you take that time to recognize the importance of the moment and not blow it off, but try not to worry about it.
And then the paradox of yoga, improv, acting, what have you: To care about the things that are important to you. To consider them without worrying about them. To show the appropriate amount of attention to things that drive you without letting them consume your life or become yet too much for you. Yesterday in my groovy friend Emily Shapiro’s “Yoga For Freaks and Geeks”, a cheap yoga class she runs for improvisers and comedians, Emily talked about “Tree Pose”, that classic pose in yoga where you try to put one bent leg high upon the other, balancing on the straight leg: “Maybe today you get high on your leg, maybe you’re just down by your ankle or even toes on the floor. Just try not to push your knee and hurt yourself. Wherever you are, that’s cool!” the last part intoned with her own goofy lilt. Finding balance in your life, your worries, your improv, everything.
And then that difficult part embodied by Emily’s cool-weird-girl lilt- Being in that place then, of “That’s cool!”
So there you are, people who came up to me, worriedly on Monday. My psyche exposed. I’m worried about my weight sometimes, my improv not so much right now (I had three great shows last week, pretty cool!) and my love life, happiness, balance, quite a lot. Sometimes I fall out of that pose, on to the floor and sometimes it gets me down not being where I want to be and I dive into that place of self-criticism, desperation or even the crappy validation-projection that happens looking on online dating sites or into the eyes of another person at a bar.
But even those days are fine, somewhere along the way.
Even those moments are fine as long as they are manifest and talk-able.
Because I think a scumbag is someone who isn’t honest with themselves.
And I think me, I just have a receding hairline.
And that will have to do.
It was a feast fit for a blood test.
As I have mentioned on this blog before, I suffer from psoriasis, one of the nerdist things one can suffer from.
Psoriasis makes you covered in terrible like scabs and crap and rough patches, it can be brought about by stress the environment or nothing, be dormant in you forever or make you into a freak of nature, standing around like some 50s Ray Harryhausen creation.
Luckily I take pills that control it for me, just leaving me with something that resembles but isn’t dandruff and a couple weird spots here and there. But, the medicine that I take does have all sorts of side effects causing me to get blood tested every now and then just to make sure that my liver isn’t failing or any of that crap.
And that also means, once in a while, in a while, I can’t eat anything for a full 12ish hours.
This would be easy for most men, but not a hypoglycemic crazy like me, oh no.
Between the waiting, the daze of getting up and the unfriendly people at the NYU Medical Center Pharmacy, by the time I have gotten my extraction given and on gone, band-aid placed, I am in a blur of food-crazed starving and blind anger searching like a sasquatch seeking brains!
But that old conundrum, one that used to plague me!
By the time I get done with these things it is ALWAYS 10:30-11:30am! The nether-zone of eating!
Too late for breakfast with it’s strictures and conventions (see other rants against breakfast on this blog) and too early for the nearby go-to Indian joints of Curry Hill (near to NYU-Med) to be open.
So it was in this way that I found myself trying out for the first time a place on Lexington that I never would have gone to ordinarily, one of the anonymous joints that line that street with adverts for sub-par lunch buffets or hot plate fare, all pale imitations of my beloved Dhaba Lunch Buffet which opened stunningly at noon! Noon! Too late!
Anjappar Chettinad is a South Indian restaurant, a breed that is usually vegetarian (and thus constantly advertised for NYC as being kosher) but this one advertised on the window that they featured “thalis”, the south indian tradition of a meal comprised of several small plates, but with non-vegetarian options as well. I almost opted for the North Indian special off their lunch menu, not knowing what anything really was, before a kind look from my waiter steered me back saying “If you come to a South Indian restaurant, it would make sense to try the South Indian food, no?”
The plate was deceptively huge with a chicken curry still on the bone, a delicious spicy vegetable curry with cauliflower, the precise makeup with which was unrecognizable to me, some biryani rice (plain) which I tried to have little of even though it was exquisitely spiced, raita and finally the bread.
The bread was the best part, my deepest regret, my greatest pleasure.
It was neither naan nor poori nor any of the indian breads I am used to. It was a heavier, flaky, pull-apart bread soaked with butter that felt rich and full absorbing curry fully with every bite. I was transported.
I ate so much more than I ever though possible.
Luckily Yoga was harder than I thought it would be with Emily Shapiro.
So I felt some sort of atonement.
And also drank some Diet Coke (sorry Emily )
South Indian Executive Lunch Special (Non. Veg)- $12.95 (15 w/tax+tip)
Lexington Avenue bet. 27th and 28th Sts.
6 to 28th St.
A final addendum, food wise.
I am addicted to those fucking hot wraps from Pret A Manger.
It is embarrassing.
I blame Christina Gausas who, while lovely and amazing and talented, has an unnatural predilection and love for that place that like most of her advice, forced me to follow it.
The Buffalo Chicken Wrap and The Falafel and Red Peppers Wrap are inexplicably excellent and relatively inexpensive (like 6-7 dollars). They are low in calories and (if you give them five or more minutes to digest) very filling, disturbingly so considering their low calorie count.
Now, I should be clear. I should hate Pret A Manger. They are a chain, the enemy of New York City business and innovation. Low calorie foods are stupid and lame and pre-packaged hot wraps? God, why don’t I go to fucking Denny’s?
But I can’t help it now.
I dream of getting fucked up and eating twelve of them, wrap after wrap.
Damn you, Christina Gausas. Damn you, Pret A Manger.
You have turned me in to a corporate shill.
A rough one.
This week we did a character wheel exercise focussing on second beats off of a character monologue and Neil was not pleased. None of us did particularly well and even the Harolds were a little bit of a slog with some second beats getting restarted (including one I did). We then did a final tag-out exercise like a La Ronde to build off patterns and blow-out games, focussing on taking “big swings”.
It felt difficult to get into the groove of it and everyone seemed dejected leaving. Some times are just like that.
I felt fine, in going with my notes from last week, knowing that even if I performed less well this week, I could feel the stretch. I felt like I was getting second beats drilled more into me.
Anyway, here are the notes from this week, abbreviated, hastily-scrawled, typo-ridden, mostly inaccurate.
Use them for what they are worth.
Strong emotional commitment will carry the day in your first beats and invocation.
Today is about encouraging simpler stronger second beats and then simpler stronger third beats
Harold exercise without connections
Last line/first line edits: I like editing on the lines, I think it’s nice to pivot on that line, it feels like we’re building a chain between the scenes.
Playing real vs. making things important: think back to park bench of truth
If you and I sit somewhere and have a conversation, something playable will come up if you’re being aggressive about observing and seizing things.
The artifice of playing it real is yes-anding, because if we were in real life we can just sit around and not doing anything
If you’re at my house and we are sitting around and making iced tea, we can sit at that in real life, but as improvisers we have to provide verbal information into the scene while still being in the reality
Sometimes if my big note is play it real, I’m not noting people on plateauing and not adding things. I’m not going to barge in and say “yes, and” but if you’re playing it real and not getting to funny you are probably not yes-anding
Follow your instinct about how big of a choice to make, don’t sell out the first thing you make, just trust yourself. There is no such thing as too big of a choice, but such a thing as a false choice, if something is contrived and shoe-horning a sitcom premise. Make sure it’s actually flowing from what’s going on on stage. If I step out with you and have a moment with you it sucks if I back out of that to do an initiation.
Threes going to be something that’s already there when we step out together and it’s easy to see people reject that, hard to point out what’s right.
What’s always going to be new is you and me looking at each other talking about what’s on our minds.
Why is it that when I say characters people do half-crosseye and insist on playing morons?
You can play characters that are dumber than you, but have a good reason. Your instinct shouldn’t be to knock 10 IQ points off.
Play someone you know, our instincts to play characters is to play goons.
If I’m an idiot then my fundamental game is that I’m an idiot and you can’t play anything else
A real blockhead is an unusual thing, they don’t exist in real life
People say I wanna play a big character and so you play stupid
Note on second beats:
We don’t want to get vaguer with a specific game, we want to get more specific with what we are doing.
And don’t miss the beats, the builds of first beats.
We don’t want to be second-beat robots, if you expressed something in a certain way in the first beat, that will probably be a big part of your second beats.
It’s ok to play unoriginal games, you just have to act the hell out of it, because if you are doing it the same way we’ve seen it done before then we lose interest.
We have to honored what we’ve been labeled with, one way or another.
We don’t want to do second beats where we are more detached about the things that are cool, we want to be even more in the shit.
I’m trying to draw out of you second beats that peel the onion away as opposed to pass them around
I want to do second beats that you do first beats that are hit or miss but second beats you know what’s coming so really hit that pitch
I would rather you guys la ronde or push your second beats, if the move is lateral. If your second beat isn’t clearing the bar that your first scene met, then work it
We want clear, simple more hard-hitting attacks on the game
If not, let’s take group ownership w/ tag-outs and walk-ons to mold things
I eat apples now.
Walking around New York City in the all-encompassing want-to-eat after Yoga, meandering between classes, rehearsals and such, I want something sweet.
The chocolate “bark” I keep in my bag for dessert-y things is quickly depleted through sharing and late-night, mid-day and other cravings. I want something portable and I don’t crave anything sugary due to the calming effects of the dark chocolate.
So I go for apples. A new development in my life.
But I find myself needing one to eat.
As referenced by friends and even in the New Yorker not so long ago, this is not as easy as it might seem. For some reason, between childhood when I ate apples enjoying their simple sweetness and the current moment, skipping over the many years when I did not eat the fruit (who would eat an apple if you could eat a Candy Center Crunch from Good Humor?), apples seem to have either vastly declined in quality (a talked about rumor) or my taste buds have changed significantly (true as well). Now, unlike the daily banana that with a piece of Babybel cheese consists of my breakfast, I cannot just pick up an apple anywhere.
Myst has to be made about finding an organic store, sifting through or discovering the right kind of apple (Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, the list goes on) and then spending the 1,2,3 dollars just to try to get to something that tastes like it’s sweet and edible as opposed to mealy like the Red Delicious or Granny Smith has been reduced to.
It’s a strange task, but one suited to me.
After all, I’m a chaser.
To make the obvious metaphor, I chase around girls, trying to find the balance. For all the roller-coaster highs and lows of comedy, I feel like I’m getting a lot of attention in my small corner of my small community for the work that I am doing (despite how much I still beat myself up for not being good enough or getting it right, in a direct proportion of about 3-4 bad rehearsals shows-to about-2-3 good ones). My therapist continues to compliment me on my looks, as does the old woman Marie who wakes me up every morning grunting up the stairs (“You’re beautiful.” she tells me, when I see her on the doorstep). I had someone text me for a date last week out of the blue that seemed fun and fine. I even have people tell me at the bar come up and say they “like my face” which is pretty cool, but in flirty situations, I still don’t know who I am.
As I try on being mildly aggressive, it’s like putting on a character in a scene. When you touch my arm, are you touching it because that’s the way you are or you want me to touch you back? How much contact is too much? Or how do I even gauge how you feel about me? Now that I’m not so hung up on crushes (or am I?), I can be better about backing off, not hanging my hat on one thing. But then if I’m just flirting, how do I read your mind or confidently make moves when I don’t know how much to put on, how little?
I feel like I get kind of creepy when I talk about this stuff and, of course, I assume it is something I will learn at some point (bringing things back to yoga, I didn’t assume with that I’d be a prodigy over night, much to my aid) but it goes to life and improv and everything. In situations of comfort or elevated status we can be comfortable and otherwise not.
An improv example: this past week I did a rehearsal with my friends Teddy and Sebastian. Both of them are incredibly funny, talented people who have had a lot of opportunities thrown their way because of how good they are, how hard they work. Our coach is Louis Kornfeld, an improviser I have amazing respect for and I get into the room and I just choke and choke repeatedly. My friends are being hilarious, getting tons of laughs, making nice, natural choices. I am talking quickly, unnaturally, sounding worried. Telling people who they are. It takes me all the way until the end of rehearsal to get out of this place of tension.
A counter example: I go into the class where I big brother (read: T.A. the class) and help teach the students exercises and I do great, feel super-natural and when I make mistakes I don’t sweat it. I got to do a show last night on the Magnet mainstage, that I was so tired and burned out for, I had just had a class I had done terribly in right before it and had no rehearsal and destroyed it. Everyone at the bar was talking about how funny I was, coming up to me, shaking my hand. It’s improv so that show is gone forever, but for that night, it was mine.
When I find myself in a place of comfort or not, when a girl stares into my eyes and tells me “you know people really like you around here” or grasps my hand or something, or when I just have no idea who someone is to me and so act naturally, without as much self-regard, I tend to do better. The same as improv, dating, life, job interviews, god… But when I feel that pressure to perform, whether it be on track to team auditions, or just in a room full of people I respect (or a girl I have a crush on) it can be easier to find myself in that place of self-doubt, of instant self-judgement. Crippled.
This happens often. As I’ve said, I’m a chaser of things, formerly dreams (replaced by “doing the work”), sometimes girls, still constantly: approval.
I still seek it out and even in that seeking, find myself lost (a cliche, but…)
In a great speech Michael Delaney gave to my improv class two weeks ago, he talked about people auditioning for Harold Teams at the UCB theater and talked about the priorities of these people in comedy:
“They all want to get on Saturday Night Live, right?” He said. “I think that’s honorable, that’s an honorable goal. But I think it’s a shame when people miss the opportunities they could find along the way while they’re hurtling so quickly towards their goals.”
Because isn’t that the trick of it? Just slowing down and noticing. Seeing what happens, being open, even as you have a want?
In improv, pretending you don’t know you’re funny, that you have no idea what you’re doing, so that you can accept and give laughter?
In acting, “pretending you’re not pretending”.
In dating, seeming like you’re not needy for long enough for you to both admit that you are, in a way that’s hopefully mutually manageable?
I’ve walked around New York City a bunch. I’m less worried about my weight.
I’ve eaten quite a few apples.
Maybe it’s just fun, finding my type.
Or having a show.
Or going with overwrought metaphors.
For one post or two.
I feel like for most of my food discoveries, they could just all be chalked up to: “What can I say? I was hungry.”
I had noticed a hole-in-the-wall called “Meatball Obsession” a few times, sticking up near the PATH train on my way/walk up toward the improv ghetto from down near my house.
The proximity to mass-transit along with the specificity and tinyness of the location all contributed to my interest and one semi-hungover morning before class I decided to just sit at a Starbucks waiting, waiting for it to open.
It claimed to be the home of the “meatball-in-a-cup” and indeed it was, with various balls retrieved from crock pots with toppings administrated liberally.
There was a sandwich option which I did not avail myself of, but I was happy to report that the cup was full and nourishing.
I got the turkey meatballs in a “double” which were great (though my mother’s remain the gold standard), filled with bread crumbs and light with thyme for flavoring. I also opted for the Genoa topping at an extra buck which added toasted pine-nuts, shaved parmesan and some nice extra virgin olive oil I saw to the top of my meatballs coated with “sunday sauce”.
The dipping bread was delicious, dangerous, unexpected. Strips of parmesan-coated Foccacia already placed swimming in the sauce. I ate only one before throwing the other one out in a task that took too much willpower and a lot of fear.
Apparently they had opened that week so I felt pretty cool.
“You are.” They told me, looking me in the eyes.
And then I made out with the cashier.
Double Turkey Meatball Cup w/Genoa Toppings (Shaved Parmesan, Pignolis, EV Olive Oil)- $8.71
6th Avenue bet 13th and 14th Sts.
123FL, PATH to 14th St.
Now, to be clear, I don’t want this to turn into a lame fucking Tumblr, where I give off shitty one-off sayings and post animated “gifs” of things.
That said, here’s a song I thought of this morning.
I listen to Pandora in the mornings when taking a shower because it carries with it both familiarity and possibility. You know the genre, so you know you’ll get a certain kind of music, but you don’t know really what you’ll get which leaves open the possibility of discovery, either a re-discovery of something you loved and maybe you had forgotten or didn’t know the name of, an awakening of a memory within yourself, or you’ll find a new song that speaks to you, another kind of magic moment, experienced spontaneously.
I heard this song in the shower one day, “thumbs-upped it” and let it go. I even thought it was by a different artist, a guy named Jens Lekman (who also sings laconically).
But I woke up this morning on around five hours of sleep and two whiskies, feeling not as good as I could about the night punctuated by those drinks, the night coming back to me in yoga practice as we did twist after twist, performed by a sub, as the regular teacher was at a memorial in Cleveland.
As I felt judgmental and sad and self-pitying, I was also overtaken by verses of this song emerging from my memory.
I listened to it a couple times over this free lunch I was given spontaneously on the street by the dudes over at Bongo Bros, sitting in a Starbucks over on Charlton St.
I don’t have any commentary on all this really.
Sometimes those moments of memory overtake us, despite our struggle to be present or no.
There’s some magic in the way our minds work like that, or at least some chemistry.
The lunch was pretty good.
And I thought that was worth sharing with you.
Chicken Platter w/Platanos, Rice+Beans, Salad, Bongo Aioli – $9.00 (free for me, apparently)
Check @BongoBros for location daily.
Ugh, guys, this was a rough one.
Not a lot of notes here. Neil was sick and we did two fairly terrible Harolds at the top of class where we had to do each others second beats. These Harolds caused Neil to sigh so much that someone actually is trying to start up a practice group called “So Neil Doesn’t Sigh At Us”.
We then did an exercise drilling second-beats, doing three different second beats off a source scene.
For my personal struggles, I did a tag-out in the Harold where my move was either not understood or unclear, which hasnt happened to me in a long time and which caused Neil to note me hard.
I was even stiff in the second beats, not initiating any of them and basically letting my partner define and contextual games.
I even had a freak out on stage as a put-upon mom during a bad group game that drew concerned looks.
I’m feeling really good today after writing the last blog post, so I won’t beat myself up too much, but man. Geez.
Anyway, here are the notes. Hastily scrawled. Mostly inaccurate. Use them as you will.
Today, take a break from commitment and focus on game
Drill second beats. So that you focus on game in second beats, as opposed to plot or fun character patterns that ucan just get you by.
When you are doing an interview opening, if they are being honest, be on their side
Everyone loves to initiate scenes with dead dogs no one cares about, but people don’t care enough to sell it.
How would you really react to grief/tragedy, let’s see it.
If you make a move and a person doesn’t react the way you want them too, do it harder or roll with it, don’t freeze.
Don’t play characters who are morons, play to the top of your intelligence means play characters who are at least as smart as you. Otherwise, if we’re playing dumb people who are emotionally impenetrable, commenting on the situation without being invested, we’re just going to be doing bad improv.
What’s the emotional reality of this scene? Act like you would or justify it.
If you’re in a scene and nothings going on, decide what is going on. Don’t be too willing to let things drop.
If you touch on something dark, commit to it, don’t back away. We can all see it when you apologize for your choices.
It’s constantly going to happen that the two of us are going to be in two different dimensions in scenes. It’s what we do that matters.
If you make a move that I don’t understand I will make you explain it to me and if you don’t then I will label it explicitly, just to make sure we know where we are/who we are/whats going on.
The most important thing is playing relatable characters on stage. I don’t care how funny it is if it’s bullshit.
I’ve seen this become a thing of college-educated white people doing funny voices on stage and it makes me ashamed to feel this is what I spent my life on.
Heightening stakes to crazy places in second beats can seem forced or too big as opposed to putting a fine point on what was funny in the first beat.
I want to see you working all the time.
It’s perfectly fine to have flawed first beats, but you have to be smart and forward with what you bring from the first beats.
We do second beats so we can do the perfect version of our first beat, it’s why we teach the Harold.
In the best case, it allows you to pick up what the audience loved after a respite.
But, in the more common case, you’re getting a second chance to attack that game in a way we didn’t before.
A lot of time our instincts are to make a lateral moves or mad-lib it, it’s not something we do for the hell of it, it’s for a second chance.
Try and sum up the headline of what was funny about your first beat.
The way you sum it up is unique to you, there’s wrong if it doesn’t sum it up but your sense of humor defines that.
I talk a lot about yoga nowadays, which I still believe firmly makes me into some sort of douchebag but that said:
Often times in my life, it feels like improv, yoga, dating, living, just walking around on the street, is all just a journey towards self-acceptance and the accompanying tension and struggle of that journey.
Put in a different way, by the great improviser David Razowsky (among others), denial is the source of all suffering.
The way we want to be or imagine ourselves versus seeing clearly where we are and are surrounding, being present in the moment, is the tension of existence.
And it’s painful and difficult to notice how aware you are, how present you are, and to try to make yourself more so.
Some of us are tighter than others, I can’t even do a decent downward-facing-dog because my hamstrings are too tight or are decent chair pose, because Frank thinks I’m too weak and my teacher thinks I might have too much tension.
Or, to pull backwards, It can be difficult for me to be confident in improvised scenes because I’m often not confident in life and my choices, it can be difficult for me to “be in the moment” listening to people and absorbing what they have to say (in scenes, life, dating) because it’s not a skill I’ve always used, it’s a “tight” muscle.
All of this is fine, we all have our limitations as humans, our own stretching to do. But not being present, wanting to be somewhere else, being desperate, judging or hating ourselves, is a slippery slope to despair.
And all of this is too vague. Some examples:
This past weekend, I auditioned for Harold teams over at the UCB. Those of you who know me know it is sometimes a place of stress for me (I still get rejected for even classes there all the time, take that reality-star pseudo-fame). I had decided long ago that the Magnet was the place that I loved and getting to work with Christina Gausas in her classes and shows, learning her style. Harold teams weren’t a priority for me, heck I didn’t even like Harold Night for the most part (Neither did they apparently, since they broke up most of the teams while I was writing this). But, the thought is you’d be crazy not to audition, at least to get the experience. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has a lot of exposure and can be a good place to perform and there is much to be learned from any performance opportunity. I decided I would be fine with the auditions, because I didn’t want it, unlike some people in the comedy community, for whom getting on a team there is the be-all end-all next-step for them in their ascendance to greatness. I told myself I was ok.
But I wasn’t. As the audition came up, I got gradually more stressed. I wasn’t too stressed before the audition and even going in felt like I did fairly well. But after the audition as I talked to friends and they seemed overjoyed, I felt overwhelmed by failure. Even if we didn’t know who made teams, I wasn’t as good as them. Who was I here? Why did I care so much when I told myself I didn’t care, when I didn’t even love all of UCB, this stressful place for me? The truth, as my father told me over a turkey burger before the audition, was “that you do care so you should just stop lying to yourself about it”.
And what I realized, walking back down along lower 6th avenue to write this blog post, was that I did care because I wanted their approval BUT even more than that (explain the explanation!) I wanted their approval because still in me there is so much that isn’t ok with myself, so much that isn’t self-confident, that wants someone to tell him that he is great and that everything will be ok.
And what’s more than this and this is the most difficult thing to say of all:
THAT. IS. FINE.
Ultimately, do I want to be an insecure person? No! I would like to be less of one, at least. I have girls constantly telling me how much they hate “weakness” or “men with no balls”, just for instance. But we all have our own places we are tight, our own places to stretch, our own progress that can be made from where we are. If I have a core of insecurity and I know that, guess what?! It’s the fist, million-time-th-better-step to being less insecure! Just knowing where you are and then stretching from that place, trying on more confidence, little by little. Doing the work and being satisfied.
At the end of my Neil Casey Advanced Study class yesterday I had a terrible class where I couldn’t make choices, another player on stage didn’t understand my move and we sat in the shit we had collectively taken on stage and I just performed generally poorly. And yet I knew I had done the work so I tried to feel good, I knew I had identified weaknesses and stretched them.
When we are practicing yoga, or working out or running or whatever physical activity we do to strengthen our bodies, we know we do well because our bodies literally thank us through releasing endorphins telling us that we are helping them, physically MAKING us feel great! But when we work our minds, our souls, there is no accompanying flow of endorphins, no hints to make us be okay with the stretch, the tear, the weakness we have endured, so insted of thanking ourselves, I judge myself and make myself feel bad, or I can.
I walked out of a rehearsal for the show I have that I was cast in that Christina Gausas is directing that I am SO honored to be a part of, that meshes with my values and background and how I love to play and knew I was worse than the other people there, knew I had fucked up repeatedly in rehearsal, knew that only in the very last moment of rehearsal did I begin to grasp myself and my skills and have a breakthrough. I moved already from a place of weakness to a place of strength in such a small time. As my yoga teacher, Chrissy Carter says, do not think of the body you are not in right now or wish you had, thank yourself for the practice you are doing in this body at this time.
But as I walk out, I am consumed with worries. Will I not be good enough and be dismissed from the show? Am I being too weak in scenes, in that struggle to be in the present? What about my habits and quirks that I try to suppress, picking my nose, or scratching my scalp or just my insane gestures from the audience (a fun sight for those of you who know me to behold). It is a struggle to not judge one’s self for one’s mental work because WE CARE. I care! We all care about our lives and our passions and so it is difficult to see them as practice. It’s good to be emotionally invested in things, to feel things. My friend Jon Bander said last night in rehearsal that “it is so wonderful to see people feel things on stage, because frequently as stand-up or sketch comedians, we are not allowed to feel something on stage, only comment”.
But I also have to recognize that note that Ashley Ward gave me over a year ago that, “you are where you need to be”.
I didn’t get on a Harold Team at UCB. I didn’t even get a callback.
I didn’t have a good class with Neil Casey and impress him, so I could get petted and stroked and told how brilliant I am.
I wasn’t up to snuff in my rehearsal with Christina, whom I admire and adore, and it breaks my heart.
But today, I feel happy and I feel fine.
Because wherever I am in my life, I’m doing the work. As my friend Sebastian told me as we were walking down the street, quoting another great improviser and teacher of mine, Michael Delaney: “If you want to do this, see that you are working the hardest out of all of your friends.”
Because today, I look at myself, I see where I am in the present moment, I forgive myself, I love myself and know there is nowhere else that I could be.
Whatever happens, I do not control. I don’t control what others think of me, whether I am cast or not, admired or not, nothing.
Only if I am in the moment, the present and I’m okay with my own weakness.
Which I guess, you could call, a kind of strength.
What the fuck have you done to me?
My friend Frank, who is now the big brother/probably partial-dad (his pops is in his early 60s) of one Charles Orio, tells me I obsess too much about my weight.
This is true.
When I went into my therapist’s office, I described a night of regret where I got drunk ate two “Kooky Brownies” (Brownies that had a chocolate chip cookie top to them), bought too many drinks and let other people buy me some and woke up 3 pounds heavier.
(I also saw Kiss*Punch*Poem that night, an improv show inspired by and involving poets, which I highly recommend, as it currently is I think the only show that elevates improv to art in New York City that is running right now.)
My response, which calmed her down, was that I just ate normally that day. Had some nuts and coffee for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, a Fu Man Chew from Better Being Underground (aka my secret sandwich shop) for dinner and this taco for a late-night snack.
My couch-crashing roommate Teddy and I were walking down Greenwich Avenue on the sort of long-stroll from the Magnet back down to Soho we occasionally get to indulge in on a nice night when we noticed a lone taqueria standing open on the late-night street.
We went in to discover it was “Taco Happy Hour” at Oaxaca as exemplified by an open tall-boy of Modelo Especial at the counter and a dude who was willing to talk about why he was not willing to join the co-op in Park Slope.
The taco itself though was fragrant and delicious, mounds of picked onions, spicy salsa verde and a light sprinkling of cotilla cheese on two light corn tortillas with some chewy, salty chicken for an umami core. At 2 bucks, it made me more okay that the taco truck wasn’t out on a weeknight over on 6th Ave.
Teddy and I headed home after he even talked about applying there for a job and our conversation was complete.
The next day I weighed less, I told my therapist.
And all was right in the world.
Until I woke up 2 pounds heavier, this morning.
OAXACA TAQUERIA WEST VILLAGE
Pollo Taco- $2.00 (5-7pm or after 10pm)
Greenwich Ave. bet. 6th and 7th Avenues.
123L to 14th St-7th Ave. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.
This is the sight of me walking down 7th Avenue after a midnight show, semi-successfully executed, in the post 1am hours, going down past the bar from 57th St.
I had been flirty at the bar, an easy enough affair. I had tried it on like a coat, or like the clothes at that American Apparel warehouse sale I go to, seeing if things make me look good.
An apt analogy actually. I have commented to people that never before when I weighed much more did I ever comment on or want to shop for clothing. It was outside the realm of my expectations as I knew I didn’t look good, so my defenses shut me off to the possibility of shopping, of having to see myself, or accept the way I was.
Now, I shop endlessly on the cheap, mismatched racks of the American Apparel Warehouse Sale on 26th St, looking for things that make me feel good, asking for opinions on what works and what doesn’t, what colors, what styles, looking for shirts that fit me tight, that show me off.
That’s how I try flirting on in that bar after the Gethard show, my friend Andrew Parrish (who met his current girlfriend this way) had recommended it to me previously, actually, but I’m usually too tired after the show, too wanting to do Yoga the next morning, too scared to put myself out there and fail or, worse, fuck up a good situation for me.
So in that mix of defensiveness, self-doubt and common sense, I usually end up walking home down that 7th Avenue, either all the way down or far enough to pick up my locked-out couch-crasher Teddy, who is at a different bar, before completing my 3 miles and being home.
But I try on flirting that night. Complimenting, finding ways to be assertive without being intrusive, seeing opportunities to connect, making sure, as I try to with all people now, that I am looking them in the eyes confidently, with a smile or the receptiveness of listening.
Like clothes, it’s not a natural fit for me, a thing out of the past. Like clothes, I still don’t really know what I am doing, throwing on a slapdash approach, sometimes not seeing how silly I look.
But Michael Delaney pointed out to us in a class that the difference between writing a sketch and doing improvisational work (being in the moment), is that a sketch is like working with clay where it can be formed and reformed, changed and shifted before being presented. With improv though, he said, we are working in marble and every move we make, mistake or not, is visible.
I don’t know what I am doing in marble right now.
Flirting or performing, though I’ve gotten better about being okay about life.
Christina Gausas (an amazing performer and improviser who I am lucky enough to get to work with) noted me a few weeks ago that when I made moves in my scenes it was like I was moving through water, making half-moves, unconfident. A non-improviser or even one might be confused by the terminology, I’ll explain. Instead of grabbing someone by the hand and giving a firm handshake, you reach out in slow motion waiting for their acceptance. Instead of brushing a girl’s hair back, you touch her lightly on the arm, uncertainly. When my old friend Jonny-Jon-Jon told me I needed to “take more leaps, not just from sinking in the mud to a rescue helicopter, more uncertain ones”, he was right too.
And life, improv, writing everything, they all tie together and seem to intermesh, though my life is full of them, so that may just be it.
Another moment learning from Christina was an exercise she does where we draw a trait from a piece of paper in her hand and have to play it subtly, or to put it differently, like a real, normal person. I nailed “gay” apparently (I talked about taking some time off from work to explore the world and a collection of Portuguese spun-glass), but when I drew “sexually aggressive”, I stumbled into creepy or timid, struggling like balance in yoga, to find a middle ground.
“When I think about being flirty or aggressive, ” she told me. “I think about a male improviser who would always be at the bar, just making super sexual jokes and it was always cool because that was just who he was, but if you ever took it seriously, he’d be down in an instant.”
I think my version of that was someone telling me my voice was hoarse it was and saying it sounded super-masculine.
“Yeah, I have huge balls.” I replied.
I think that got a laugh.
But in the end I walked home by myself again. I didn’t want to stay out late (I did), didn’t want to feel like shit again (did), wanted to get up in time for yoga, which I did.
But what am I looking for?
Playing my gameboy (a term, Nintendo DSi is the more accurate one) is often a troubling sign, something of a detachment from reality for me. Playing it while walking, an even greater one, especially now that I am aware of the work I do on my posture in yoga and how I fuck that up looking at my screen.
In improv and in life, the work I do is essentially to listen better, which is what I’ve told my friends, listen to myself (which I have gotten better at), but listen to others, be vulnerable, be in the moment and be confident not knowing ever what you are going to do.
Think about it, the amount of times in life we pre-plan what we are going to say, the times we judge a conversation or muscle past it just to make our point. If our points are so great, let’s make them, but as a talker I am almost exclusively defined by my propensity to talk about myself to the exclusion of others. Thus the blog you are reading right now.
So to listen, to not pre-plan, to be in the moment and vulnerable is practice in life as well as an improv. It makes you into a better, more responsive person. Know what you want in life and have that somewhere and how you feel, but I think that’s all you get to take for things.
When I go into a bar, or a classroom, when I hang around the Gethard show, or the different comedy theaters, who knows what will happen? It’s painful to be there, frightening to be confident.
So the “safe choices” are either detachment or self-abuse, detachment by not trying to connect with other/yourself (video games) or just judging yourself for your inadequacies as a way of not absorbing them, by viewing your perceived weakness as an external force, itself a kind of detachment as well.
All of this seems rambling and it is late. No apologies.
On Tuesday I had a great show and a great class and felt on top of the world. I got asked to be in a sketch group the next day out of the blue with people I respect, again people much more talented than me.
And yet, for all my practice not judging, for all my work, I still find myself slipping into judgement after a bad class, beating myself up over not being good enough or confident enough to really connect or hook up, wondering what I am doing or who am I, looking for external approval, because somewhere within me still lives vivid my own sense of worthlessness birthed from years of insecurity.
I’ve said here many times on this blog, I’m happy to return to yoga as much as I do because it reminds me when I am exerting myself that staying calm in the moment is how I stay calm in the face of adversity of life, that when I am not good at a pose it only means that I have self-awareness and I am doing the work, that when the teacher comes over to adjust me (which is very frequently, even now), it is a help because it means I am learning and getting closer to my own self-sufficiency, put succinctly by my friend Amy Hellman: “Think of everything as practice and you’ll get a lot more of a kick out of it.”
I spent time with my friend Frank today, a new big brother to his 62 year-old father’s son with his wife, Karen, a sort of slightly removed half-brother for Frank as he’s adopted. I knew though talking to him, as I went to Park Slope and to New York Methodist Hospital to see little Charlie in the NICU and saw Frank’s pride and wonder at his little brother’s cuteness, at his little brother’s being.
Well, some shit’s real.
And sometimes it’s good to remind one’s self of that.
And have more fun, if you can, and be more “practical” with the stuff that’s not.
And maybe that’s called “being a man” which is a note I got once, and maybe that’s called being confident.
Or maybe, it’s just something I’ll just have to be okay not knowing how it looks on me, until I do.
I am addicted to Mediterranean food.
It’s just delicious and healthy and flavorful. It’s adjustably spicy. It has great textures and vegetables. Hummus and falafel are so good that it’s just silly that they even exist.
So I apologize for how much I cover them, it’s just that I love to eat them and so I write what I eat.
In this case, it was The Hummus and Pita Co., a new joint over on 6th Avenue that, like Meze Grill before it, attempts to be a sort of Chipotle for mediterannian food.
Unlike Meze though, which I have not been to in a long time (I’m not often in the 50s during dining hours), THPC seems to be put on a little fanciness with a wider range of stuffings (fried eggplant, shawarma or a sort of tandoori chicken/steak as well as falafel) and different kinds of hummus.
All of it of course seems a little strange when you can get a 4 buck chicken kabab sandwich on many street corners.
But everything was really fresh and delicious. The salad bar of toppings (the mark of any great Mediterranean take out place) was ample with different kinds of cabbage and pickles and the shawarma I got was greasy and great and I even found some whole wheat.
The result was a yummy journey from crunch of cabbage to soft plyant chicken thighs rounding through to savory hummus and tahini, with dabs of hot sauce flecking in a mess that fell apart only to be scooped up, finger food, the dirty work covered up with napkins.
Maybe not for every day with the amount of good halal carts, but if I need some primo-shit, I know just where to look.
THE HUMMUS AND PITA CO.
Chicken Shawarma Whole Wheat Pita w/Fried Eggplant, Pickles, Red+White Cabbage, Hummus, Tahini, Hot Sauce- $8.11
6th Ave. bet 16th and 17th Sts
1 to 18th St. FLM-PATH to 14th St-6th Ave.
Why am I so resentful of other peoples’ happiness?
This is a question that used to have an easy answer, but now it seems more difficult to examine as I go on.
Looking back at myself and how I have changed in the last two, four, six years, the easy answer to why I resented other people for their happiness was that I was miserable.
Even more than being miserable though, I was in denial of being miserable.
Going back to high school, the experience of opening up to people, of sitting in stupid cinder-block dorm-rooms discussing stupid political things and not getting booed out, of sitting in quad-like courtyards, of making movies and writing things and just beginning to find my voice and gain some respect–it was all such a rush.
I have gabbed and bloviated on here many times about how miserable my high school experience was, a sentiment that almost seems cliche to express nowadays (for me or otherwise), but also just how enclosed.
I was an introvert, a person who kept to myself, I’d wear my same leather jacket every day, my same crappy polo. I’d take tentative, painful steps outside of myself calling up friends, maybe trying to have a conversation with someone and the negative outcome of all the already self-worthlessness (and, by compliment, defensive hatred of others) and my inability to connect would others would only reinforce the notion that I was unlikeable, unloveable, that only I could exist with me in a cloistered setting, talking to myself, patting myself on the back.
“It’s alright.” I would tell myself dissociatively, a voice in my head, stepping outside my emotion. “I am here for you, Nick. I love you. I think you’re good and cool.”
And then that voice would pat me on the back as I’d reach my arm over on the long walk uphill toward the 95th St R train onto my black leather jacket and pat myself literally. At least there was that something in me, taking care of me.
It’s sad to admit looking back at it because it was a sad time. That dissociative voice, something I am sure other people have but which people are loathe to admit (schizophrenia, might be the stigma or diagnosis) followed me for a long time as some sort of way of containing myself or handling my depression. The idea that one is so isolated, so unwilling to lean on others or ask for help, or even able to necessarily, that they have to invent something outside themselves to even exist, to deserve to exist. Rough.
But it’s a good context to look at college in, a place where I still was very unhappy in large parts of my life, even while I was opening up, discovering and experiencing greater happiness than I had ever felt, or what felt like it.
After all, how could I be miserable sitting in a dorm room at 19 with a 40 of Colt 45 (It seemed cooler than the ubiquitous Olde English forties everyone was drinking) in my hands getting drunk in a room full of people who found me interesting and engaging, when 2 years earlier I had only myself for consolation/conversation.
I would cry going home to my dorm freshman year when I realized people were happy to see me, when people wanted to hang out, cry on my pillow at night that I had friends, I would ask people if they were “sure that they wanted to hang out with me” trying to make sure that I wasn’t imposing, taking tentative steps into the social world, beating myself up terribly, hating myself when I made a social mistake when I alienated someone, a bad cue or social move, alienating someone or losing a friend was like losing a toe, I’d never be the same again because I’d probably never have another one.
It was the same philosophy I had about growing my hair, fearing that if I cut my hair from it’s then super-long state, I might never have it again.
Looking at that progression to now, the amazing thing wasn’t my transformation into a fuller, realler more socially able person, a more realized person, but that for the time of that transformation, from coming out into the world of the living, through that pain and self-hatred and intense judgement, I culled small successes and called myself happy.
At the camp I taught at in rural Vermont, there was a blind woman who was also an assistant counselor (whom I would later try to hit on, unsuccessfully) who told me that when she opened her eyes in front a bright light source, especially if she was a little tipsy, she could see light: spots, floating in front of her face. She wasn’t born without vision but it had degraded rapidly as a very young child and she thought she might one day get her sight back, she was intent on it. To her, the small campfire we sat in front of on the camping trip where we were supposed to learn how to lead a camping trip (I later ordered pizza on the camping trip I led), was magic because it was light, something she could see. It was a transcendent experience for her but one she recognized as fleeting.
For me, I looked at those fleeting moments of happiness between the poor dating choices, intense internal/external creative pressure and incredible social adjustment and labeled myself as the happiest I’d ever been in my life, because that is what I knew my life to be.
But somewhere in me, that voice knew otherwise and I knew that because it continued to exist all throughout those college days and afterwards, walking me home on drunk sad nights where I never found the opportunity to make out with that girl in the back of Larry Lawrence, through around 50 film festival rejections including my own school’s, through realizing I now hated the place, the film school, which I had so immersed myself in, which I had so loved, in the wake of a terrible accident. Through uncontrollable rage at issues famlial and personal. Through all of that anger and sadness at others, myself.
I called myself happy throughout those times and projected my hatred at the falsehood of that, the denial of my suffering on to others.
My popular poem at the summer arts camp I attended: “I hate couples”.
There’s a reason, I’ve been attracted to some of my friend’s girlfriends throughout college, stupidly (other than their attractiveness) and it’s that somewhere I wanted their happiness, I resented them for it, I wanted whatever it seemed like they had for myself.
And even when I had a solid relationship and romantic fulfillment (still astonishing to me based on who I was), I was working at a movie theater dealing with the fallout of my film school dreams, clinging desperately to that happiness while utterly miserable, replying to questions like how are you with a smile, but a litany of complaints ending in that I still loved my girlfriend, so things were ok.
That struggle to be okay! To be not a burden! To continue one’s tenuous acceptance into the world!
As I’ve said many times before, I’m happier now (isn’t that crazy to say?) With the help of years of therapy, some yoga, some improv, a vacation, loving parents, weight loss and a good, though somewhat rotating cast of friends, people come up to me and tell me how much I’ve changed. There are the obvious things, like frequenting the salad bar at Whole Foods that I used to rail against as satanic and against the spirit of New York, and the less obvious things like the way I saw a girl who turned me down to date me at a bar the other night and was just cool and flirty and not even self-conscious. I made that interaction easy because I didn’t take the sight of seeing her as some sort of reflection of the inadequacy of myself. In the small things like that, I see improvement.
But in other parts of my world, when I see a couple I know talking in that unironic but very nerdy way about each other, when I feel like I’ve disappointed my friends or teachers or people who believe in me, when I see guys I don’t like get opportunities or ladies I don’t like (probably because they’ve rejected me) popping up as “in a relationship” or talking about how great their boyfriends are, something in me still pops up despite progress despite reason, despite, for spite of much of me, just to hate them, to feel resentful.
To just feel like well if I can’t be full and happy, then fuck you.
In this past week, I had a web series go online that I am proud of my performance in that people complimented me on that I didn’t even know, made by my good friend Charles Rogers. I had two shows and two rehearsals I felt great about and got great notes and great compliments, again unsolicited, even from people who weren’t my friends or close to me, telling me how much I’ve improved or changed, not to mention the “you’re so skinny” stuff. Just the fact that I have an ongoing bit with a friend of mine where I try to make out with her is good news.
The other night I tried dipping a friend out of the blue and she cried out happily grinning when only three or four years ago that same move would have elicited a “this is not funny, put me down” from almost anyone I tried that on (at least, in my mind). I’m becoming more of “a man”.
But well, I still get upset over that pop-up.
Which I guess just means, there’s still somewhere else for me to go.
One of the benefits of my essential unemployment and light schedule (other than the fact that I can do ANYTHING, or as my dad would put it “How much are you writing?”) is that I get to take long walks.
I’ll have parts of my day I won’t have a commitment for 6-9 hours in the middle of it.
To loop back to the previous segment, this might have paralyzed the old Nick since it would make him remember the feeling of being trapped, friendless inside his parents’ apartment, or make him confront his unhappiness about his life.
But now, I just fill it with blogging and walks to get food.
So, when I saw that Freddy “King of Falafel and Shawarma” was opening up a non-Queens-based cart for his 2010 double-Vendy award coup of a cart, I decided to just walk there all the way from my house.
My unemployment meant that I no longer had the monthly unlimited MetroCard I was used to, but it just was more of an excuse for me to be more of the walker I always was.
Up Thompson St, Through Washington Square Park, Up University Place and the shops, cut diagonal across Union Square Park past the new playground and then up, up, up the hill of Park Ave, down the cavern of Grand Central and back up through the escalators of the Metlife Building with their Snoopy mascot back through all the way to 53rd St.
Now, I will mention, I was heavily bribed.
While I am fairly sure Freddy, a big swarthy dude, does not watch Bravo or is aware of that world, he was very happy to see enthusiastic customers on his first day out in Manhattan and he kept giving me falafel balls as samples to eat. I think I had like three of them unsolicited before I even ate my meal.
The goal was to NOT have something fattening and terrible so I thought I would get a salad.
But instead what I received in addition to my falafel balls were 5 more spread out with a heaping of fresh chicken shawarma, lebanese pickles, pickled turnips, red onion, hot sauce and two different type of white sauces all over some iceberg lettuce and maybe some tomato.
They even gave me some pita chips which, god, dipping in to that mess, were so, frickin, delicious.
It’s a dangerous thing to put yourself on any part of 53rd St if you’re a halal cart owner as the legendary halal cart, The Halal Guys makes their home on 53rd and 6th (also 7th) and to sit yourself there is to invite comparison to the masters who attract block-long lines on a nightly basis.
But Freddy the King in a way is not trying to compete, offering more add ons, a greater emphasis on falafel (mostly neglected by THG which stick to pure Meat/Rice/Salad/Sauce mostly) and daytime clientele. This is a world, I think, where they can coexist and both be great.
I walked back the 3 miles to my house, making it 6 total for the day, but I knew I had still gone wrong when I ate that Turkey Burger later that night, with three kinds of fries.
Ah well, sometimes, you gotta live.
KING OF FALAFEL AND SHAWARMA
Chicken Shawafel Platter w/lebanese pickles, pickled turnips, red onion, tahina and more: $7.00
NW Corner of 53rd St and Park Ave. (weekdays/daytime only)
EM6 to 53rd St/Lexington Ave, NQR45 to 59th St-Lexington Ave.
I have to say, looking back on this moment this morning on my computer, the thing I was most impressed by was how red my hair looked on TV.
Now, I should point out, what was happening in this picture was that I was getting a move called “The Regal Stretch” performed on me by NWA champion pro-wrestler Colt Cabana, a move that involves being thrown on the ground, grabbed around the neck and stretched upwards while an NWA champion puts his knee into your back, thus causing intense pain.
But I am color-blind and people often tell me that my hair is no longer reddish as it was in my youth, a strange disjunction that I still see it that way, the way memory or nostalgia colors even the reality we perceive.
“Nope.” My couch-crasher Jeff told me, looking at the play-back clip. “It’s just a red light. Everyone’s hair looks that way on TV.”
If you want to know how I got into this situation, I am a strange and marginal character named “The Man Behind The Plant” (because I sit behind a plant) on a strange public-access/internet TV show called “The Chris Gethard Show”. The bit that night was that people could call in to see former NWA world champion Colt Cabana do wrestling moves on Chris or any of the other masochists on the show, but unfortunately for me, my improviser friend Shaun Farrugia is going through a bad breakup and too much free time and as a way “to kill the pain” decided to call in to ask Colt to do a move on me, by name and, well, improvisers don’t say no on stage.
After some intense back-pain and some grumpiness, I hobbled home, walking the 3 miles down 8th avenue to pick up my other couch-crasher Teddy from the improv mixer he was at, before walking and walking home.
In parts of my life, I find myself fearless, shameless and in others, paralyzed.
I speak of this abnormally, but it is normal, I’m sure.
I had my first Advanced Study Harold class with Neil Casey over at UCB and I came in to a class that some people freeze up in, a master class with a top performer and approached it fearlessly, a mile a minute, my heart pumping adrenaline off some sort of in-the-groove high causing me to talk a mile-a-minute after class getting food and in the break. People wanted to hang out with me, sent me messages on Facebook asking me advice, my only note I got was for breaking in my own scene because I was having too much fun. Something in me knew after I got in there, maybe after the initial fear, that there was nothing they could do to me now. I had taken so many level 4s at UCB, been rejected so many times. This class wasn’t an audition for anything, just an opportunity to learn. So I tried having fun and did great, I stunned myself in how great I did. I felt like a million bucks that day.
And then the next day I went to sign up for auditions for the UCB’s house teams and even just waiting in line looking around, confidence abandoned me. Here were all these people, nervous and experienced. I was just a number again and everyone seemed more together more belonging. Who was I? I wondered. What chance did I have in this wide sea?
I have had the honor for the past few weeks of being coached in a small team and a larger show by Christina Gausas, the best teacher and performer I’ve ever had the chance to study with (who is, incidentally, also beautiful), who somehow ended up taking me and my best buddy Sebastian under her wing in some miraculous confluence of events that I can’t even seem to recount now. In her workshops that I took, I did the best work of my life playing way outside my comfort zone, finding characters and confidence inside myself that I never knew I had. But in practice, something happened to me, these past few weeks, that was hard to overcome. I couldn’t say what it was? A fear? A pressure? A sense of not belonging or being unworthy? Or having to live up to something? Of being some sort of disappointment.
“It’s like you’re moving in slow-motion.” She told me. “There is a hesitancy. A half-move. And it’s something new.” She said.
“I don’t know, I feel afraid.” I told her.
“Don’t.” She replied, simply.
Christina is an amazing teacher, in that unlike some teachers giving a philosophy, like my other mentor Armando Diaz, she creates an atmosphere in which people can be true and honest, kind of like the way a catalyst works in chemistry: a catalyst doesn’t add some crazy energy to a reaction, it simply lowers the barrier that it would take for a reaction to happen otherwise.
That practice, I broke my boundaries and returned to that place of confidence and did, again, some of the best work of my life.
But I’m a big fan of believing that improv notes are often life notes.
Neil Casey told our class that improv “is not about not doing bad scenes, it’s about recognizing where you are and finding a way to navigate out of it”. That same not could apply for yoga, could apply for life. Noticing where you are, not judging yourself or giving up, finding a way to have fun even in an unexpected or unwelcome situation.
And Christina’s note to me (her notes that often seem like mind-reading) apply to my life as well.
Somehow, from all the confidence I’ve felt through the weight-loss and the way I’ve toned up my body, the way I’ve been continuing to perform well, the improvement I see in myself and the opportunities I get, there’s still that something inside me that isn’t confident, that feels small and unworthy. That thinks this current happiness a sham.
Sebastian (who often complains about not being represented positively enough on this blog) diagnoses it as my 8 years of high school introversion and also it should be noted, my markedly less-positive than remembered college experience, bubbling through, reminding me who it thinks I am.
Or maybe it’s just my singleness, that emptiness in me there.
A chauvinistic joke among my improv friends is that when a female student starts dating a good male improviser, they seem to improve rapidly as if succubus-like absorbing their power (I apologize for the offensiveness of this). But the truth is, just like my old sketch teacher Adam Conover used to say in his stand-up routine, there’s such a thing as “Girlfriend Confidence” or boyfriend confidence for that matter: the sensation of knowing someone loves you, that evolutionarily you are a winner for now, procreating, safe. I think the truth behind the joke for women in the improv community is that it is very, very difficult to be a woman in a small comedy community full of awkward men, especially when you might be interested in some of them, or even just unsure and that in finding a solid significant other, especially one whom you respect, you gain the confidence of not having to deal with being externally sexualized at the same time as being emotionally vulnerable in your practice. And it shows.
For guys though as well, it’s a difficult path, trying to find the right one, trying not to hang your hat on any failure or rejection. Trying to find grace in a small bar full of people after a show.
As I’ve said, dating in the community is kind of like shitting in a kiddy pool: everyone knows you’ve done it and they’ll probably remember even if some different people step into the pool.
So my therapist told me I should go back to online dating, which I’ve considered.
“How long has it been?” She asked.
“July or August. September?” I offered.
“You’re a much different person now then you were then.” She told me.
“It’s a place I went out of desperation and loneliness.” I told her.
“But it betters your odds.” She replied.
Looking back at my profile, at the questions I answered, how I’ve changed is evident, the intense criticism and self-doubt on display there is evident, so willing to beat myself up. I change answers, write new things as I realize the change in myself.
I worry as I look at my “quiver matches” about having to put myself out there again, talking to these people, taking a chance on something that could beat my confidence, that could make me feel terrible again.
But the note is that confidence breeds confidence. Life is unwritten and all we have is an initiation an attempt at connecting with someone.
No one knows where the scene will go.
So act confidently, knowing that no one has any more idea than you.
As Chris Gethard said:
“When you get up there, what you do could be the greatest thing that’s ever been done, or totally terrible. No one knows.”
Or as my sister said:
“You’re the dude. It’s up to you to initiate. So just be confident like the handsome cardigan-ed man you are.”
Life back into improv.
I did some good scenes yesterday.
Let’s see if I can do some good life.
It was a Sunday brunch, I was fighting a two-whiskey hangover (sorry for my pussi-tude) and I was look for something delicious for the day, a treat.
Faicco’s was the obvious choice, that magical oasis where a man can get a three-meal sandwich the size of a long forearm for 10 dollars, somehow located in the yuppified Greenwich Village/West Village boundary.
But Perilla just caught my eye, wandering down Jones St.
It was another morning where I had gotten up early and I had planned to read my backlog of New Yorkers and had yet again failed miserably to do so (I keep one in my mailbox for self-shaming purposes).
I saw the Spicy Duck Burger on the brunch menu, as it was my habit to check out the menus of restaurants I do not know as it is the habit of some people to stare up at blimps in the sky: admiring, with an eye to read their purpose.
As a non-carnivore, I am always interested in burger replacements, especially with alternative meats (most Veg-burgs I’ve had have been mealy or rubber-y) and this one came with fries, a forbidden and sometimes allowed treat for me.
So I waited out that extra time between 11:20 and 12, like I used to in my anti-breakfast days, until I sat at the bar, while a hipster emo-couple in their 30s came in with their hipster-emo baby.
My burger came shortly after the couple and was delicious.
Duck can be a little too fatty for me sometimes, difficult to eat in its dark, veiny-ness. But ground up and liberally spiced, the duck was perfect material for a burger replacement, with thick broadly-cut fries coming out fresh and a generous, sweet-seeded brioche, which I tore off much off, to preserve my weight-sensing sanity.
My only complaint (the price was high but reasonable for the atmosphere/quality) was that all of my burger toppings came on the side. For shame, restaurant. When I enter you I do not want a democracy. I want a tyranny of your choice as chef, deciding my experience.
If necessary, I can say the safe word of “allergies”, but other-wise, give me the stomach-pounding I paid for, no choice, just submission.
Spicy Duck Burger w/Pepper Jack Cheese and Spiced Fries- $16
Cornelia St bet. West 4th and Bleecker Sts.
1 to Christopher St. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.