Finding The Balance

April 17, 2012


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?
***
PANERA
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.


Why Am I Such A Downer?

April 12, 2012

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?”

It did.

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 :P)

***

ANJAPPAR CHETTINAD

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.

 


Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Six

April 11, 2012

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


The Apple Of…

April 6, 2012

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.

***

MEATBALL OBSESSION

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.


Mini-Addendum: A Morning Song

March 30, 2012

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.

***

BONGO BROS

Chicken Platter w/Platanos, Rice+Beans, Salad, Bongo Aioli – $9.00 (free for me, apparently)

Check @BongoBros for location daily.


Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Four

March 29, 2012

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.

-Nick

***

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.


Feel The Burn

March 28, 2012

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.

Oh yoga.

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.