A vow to water my soul

“Life is so strange. You can be sitting on a beach chair on a cruise ship in the middle of the Bahamas and still feel like something is painfully absent.”

~~~~~

2018 was a roller coaster of a year, and probably the fastest-passing one of my life thus far. A lot happened, they happened in a lot of different places, they included many different people, and they all came with their own unique set of realizations.

However I think the most identifiable thing that made 2018 stand out so far from past years was that it presented me with the very first time in my life where I had no “outline” to rely on; no plan I could live blissfully by. Every single year- from kindergarten through post grad- was set in stone; no gap year to be found anywhere in those nearly-two decades of my life. I was able to escape the existential post-graduation crisis by booking my first professional job while I was still in my senior year of undergrad (perhaps while many of my colleagues were going through it). But, ha, don’t you worry; it came for me. It just came about a year later.

Feeling the rug being swept out from right underneath my feet, in the way that it was, was one of the worst moments of my life. It was one of those moments you know you could never forget no matter how hard you’d be willing to try. The moment I realized that those particular “plans” were not going to go the way I had all the confidence in the world that they were going to go, my stomach dropped and I think I actually saw black for a second. You know how they say, “Remember to exhale”? Well in that moment, all of the breath that was inside of me left me, and I actually forgot how to inhale.

Long story short, my ego, my comfort, and my pride got an unapologetic *slap* to the face real quick. And, to be honest, it was probably well-deserved; one should never be that confident in a decision that is ultimately going to made by others. In other words, the kind of confident that my ass was. Because believe me, a big lesson was learned that day and it was not a gentle one.

Regardless, I don’t think I ever really accepted that rejection, through the months of planning leading up to my Great Big Move to the Big Apple or even in the first weeks I lived there. Because that’s the thing about being fiercely competitive and passionate as hell; no matter what I did- the auditions I attended, the job interviews I prepped for, the nights out with friends, the shopping trips to make my apartment my home- everything, everything, everything traced back to the reason I was there in the first place: because of the most humiliating rejection of my life.

So I’m in the city for not even three weeks when I get an email from casting, offering me not only the contract I was hoping for months back, but for the thee role I thought I would only ever understudy. It was all I could have wanted in that moment; on top of the surreal-ness of the offer, the city wasn’t proving to be a smooth adjustment by any means, and each day I would find the Mickey Mouse-shaped chip on my shoulder getting bigger and bigger. I weighed out my pros and cons, chose to take the opportunity, figured out a subletting situation (which was way more complicated than those 5 little words make it out to be), and moved out of my beautiful Brooklyn brownstone apartment. Most of the people in my life supported me, and the ones that didn’t taught me a lot.

Rehearsing in Toronto was a dream. On top of rehearsing for the role I wanted to be rehearsing for most, I got chosen to be a Dance Captain. Because of that, I was able to make use of everything I had learned in my previous contract as Swing, and that was the best feeling. Apart from working approximately 8-9 hours a day and absolutely loving every second of it, I explored the city to the fullest. I made a list of restaurants I wanted to try and checked every single one off my list. I went to SoulCycle and F45, both for the first time, and realized that cycling is so much harder than it looks. I started a new eating plan and continued with F45 and got into the best shape of my life. I got a Brazilian for the first time in my life (yes it freaking h u r t but it was worth it). I bonded with my cast and got to know a good handful of them through long talks and wine and rooftop barbecues and chocolate cafes and The Handmaid’s Tale. It was work hard, play hard, and I lived my best life for two months doing just that.

Then the end of August came around and we got to the ship part of our contract. And about a month and a half in, I began to see why veterans say, “Toronto is the best part of the contract.”

I am fully aware of how bratty and privileged is seems to even mention the above statement when you and I both know that a big part of my job involves touring different islands around the Caribbean and performing in multiple shows a week… but hopefully by the time you finish reading this post, it will seem a little more understandable.

Around mid-October, about a month and a half after embarking the ship, I dipped into a kind of depressive state I hadn’t ever really experienced ever in my life. I knew from my first contract that ship life (and yes, even cruise ship life) can, and will, be extremely lonely at times, but there’s something about returning to the same place around the same time as before that really puts things into perspective for you. No matter how much you try not to do it, you find yourself comparing this second experience to your last one because that’s what happens with pretty much anything a second time around. And, as comparison almost always goes, the results weren’t pretty.

I’m sure many of you have noticed that my posts these days are few and far between. The truth is that my motivation to write has become lost along the way. In fact, a lot of things have. Even though I’ve still kept myself in top shape since kicking myself into gear those last few weeks of Toronto, my motivation to go to the gym on a consistent basis has given way to naps. My once-a-week minimum of writing in my personal journal has become more like a once-a-month maximum. Instead of making a point to do things like read and write and walk from one end of the ship to the other outside, I’ve opted to stay in my cabin or take the indoor ship corridors to do so.

As far as reasoning goes, it could be a lot of things. To rattle them off, I think that I came into this contract with too many (or too high of) expectations because of subconscious comparison to my first contract. I’m going on 2 years now that I’ve been doing the same exact choreography for the same Musical Theatre-style shows. I was bluntly blindsided by the onboard leadership duties that came with the role of “Dance Captain.” The parts of living and working on a cruise ship that dazzled me my first contract were replaced by a deeper sense of awareness of certain socio-political patterns on the ship, and ones that I really didn’t like discovering. I’m also undoubtedly dealing with the inevitable fatigue that comes along with being in the shows all the time; something I never experienced during my previous contract as Swing. But frankly, to blame this decline in motivation solely on fatigue seems lazy to me. In truth, I think it’s a combination of every single one the things listed above, and probably more that I don’t even realize.

On a chilly Saturday in November, I was sitting outside of a restaurant crying on the phone to my boyfriend. At the time, he was at home on vacation (in between contracts), so I was grateful to at least be able to fully vent to someone who was away from the ship/shiplife. We were talking about our days and catching each other up on what we missed due to the 6-hour time difference that stood between us, a routine we had developed over the course of a few weeks, when I started to express something that was becoming more and more difficult to avoid as time went on; something that was eating its way deeper and deeper into my core: My loneliness.

As I delved into the waters of why I was feeling the way I was, I realized that the tears were closer to the surface than I thought they’d be. Through sobs, I told him that I absolutely loved my cast, but it just wasn’t the same. Everything about the dynamic was different to me and I found myself experiencing social anxiety all the time, which was humiliating to me. I told him that I have always valued and identified with my independence, but it was turning into something else; something that was starting to change the way I saw myself. He listened to all of it and then said something along the lines of, “Let me tell you something, love; nothing is like your first contract or ever will be. I’ve been working for the company for three years and each contract, I put another filter into place. It started out with dozens of us in our friend group. And with each contract, there have been less and less people in my circle.”

His department is a bit different because they get to choose whether or not they come back, as almost every single department on the ship except ours gets to, whereas performers have to rely on casting, but the message resonated with me just the same. For any experience you repeat, you will come to it with a certain wisdom and perspective that you’ve gained from the time you did it before. This wisdom will inevitably come with certain filters, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Made up of many things- what you know you like and don’t like, what new things you want from the experience, what your purpose is this time around, the ways you read people, etc.- these filters will shape your experience in ways that will make it both easy and difficult for you to compare it to your first.

I have realized that I mostly come to my laptop and write blog posts when I feel there is something I have to say. And what I have to say today is that happiness is a weird thing. I thought that landing my top-of-the-list role at DCL would set me up for an ever-blissful contract in a sense that there would be no real reason to be anything but happy 90% of the time. And I will say that performing onstage in that role undoubtedly produces a gleam in my eyes every single week. But as far as mostly everything else goes with my being here, mentally and emotionally, I’m doing a lot more treading than floating.

This contract has made me become painfully aware of how important it is to always be doing things for my soul. Writing in my journal. Writing for my blog. Being outside and getting fresh air every single day. Dance-Improvising regularly. Reading books (because, yes, that’s also something I’ve lost motivation to do). Watching artistic films and documentaries that make me think and feel in a deep way. Having mentally-stimulating talks with people who can teach me things and make me look at the world from different angles.

“Life is so strange. You can be sitting on a beach chair on a cruise ship in the middle of the Bahamas and still feel like something is painfully absent.”

This above quote is the one you saw at the very beginning of this blog post and also one that I took directly from one of my most recent journal entries. I remember the day perfectly: Me, in between the windowless, magnetized-walls of my tiny, dark cabin. It was a few weeks ago on a Friday, so we were docked at our last port of call, Castaway Cay. I was thinking about how nice it would be to take my journal up to Deck 11 and write in the fresh air underneath the sunshine, especially when all the guests are out at port and it’s practically empty. I made my way up the 8 decks to see that one of those big lounging chairs was uninhabited. You know, the ones that you can just sprawl out on because it’s basically one big circle couch and the 7 pillows that are on it only take up about 1/4 of the thing. I get myself situated and open my journal. It’s not even five minutes into my don’t-let-the-pen-leave-the-paper-until-it’s-all-out writing sessions and I find tears trickling down my face.

So here I am typing this post. Me being completely raw and real with you all, and admitting that the grass isn’t always greener; a lesson I keep stubbornly and continuously learning.

I don’t want this post to make it sound like a cry for help or make it seem that I’m not appreciative of everything that this crazy year brought me or even that 2018 left a bad taste in my mouth; it hasn’t. Because at the end of the day, it was the year I got exactly what I wished for and so much more. I learned how to deal with rejection productively and finally got around to making my website/reels and moved to New York City. I traveled the world, and with someone who my feelings for have only gotten deeper and deeper each day. I got to live in Toronto for a second beautiful summer. I got to work with a whole new cast and make some wonderful friends. I gained yet another year in which I could say that I was working Actor/Dancer/Singer/ Artist, which is a blessing in itself.

I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned how to listen to my body in such a way that I can pinpoint exactly what it needs and when it needs it. I’ve learned that happiness is not overrated, and that it’s actually a completely valid way to measure things. I’ve learned how important it is to not interrupt. I’ve learned that I’m deeply uncomfortable with privilege when it is given in direct proportion to job position. I’ve learned that I am a radical f*cking feminist and that I love that about myself. I’ve realized that one of the things I hate most is when people stare when they have no right to be staring (which is almost always). I’ve learned that the path to true individuality is a lonely one. I’ve learned that relationships are anything but easy, no matter how good some people are at making them look on social media or by what they tell you. I’ve learned that our perceptions are largely shaped by our environment, and how much we underestimate that. I’ve learned that our perceptions can always shift and change, because most of the time, they are wrong. And that’s okay.

To be honest, I don’t really know how to end this post in a clean, conclusive sort of way, perhaps because I didn’t really feel like 2018 was like that. So let’s just say here’s to 2019- a year of rawness and realness and, above all, a vow to water my soul.

 

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