Are You a Highly Sensitive Person – Like Me?

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buck

Have you ever walked into a Super WalMart and felt completely overwhelmed? Do overhead fluorescent lights inspire rage inside you? Does  just the thought of watching a violent horror movie make you sick to your stomach?

Then you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – like me!

Welcome to the club, brothers and sisters. But don’t worry, it’s not the kind of club where you have to go to meetings and stuff, because we all know that would be a little over-stimulating for all of us.

So what the hell is a Highly Sensitive Person? And is it a real thing? According to Dr. Elaine Aron, it is. She coined the term and has been studying the psychological make-up of HSPs for nearly 25 years. According to her, you may be an HSP if you

  • Feel overwhelmed by bright lights, loud sounds, or strong smells.
  • Withdraw from overwhelming situations.
  • Avoid violent TV shows and films.
  • Notice subtleties in your environment that others miss.
  • Were ever characterized as being shy.

Now, I’ve never been called shy. In fact, I used to think I was an extrovert (I fall somewhere in between). But I can pretty much relate to all the other characteristics of an HSP. Sammy Nickalls wrote a post for Hello Giggles called 22 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person (and That’s Okay!). Seriously, I needed someone to say that it’s okay, because I pretty much relate to everything she wrote.

I was starting to feel guilty or somehow flawed that I prefer exercising alone, working alone, have trouble making decisions, and have an extreme sensitivity to sound. I should buy stock in whoever makes earplugs, because I go through several tubs of them each year. And seriously, DO NOT get me started on fluorescent lighting. I would prefer to sit in the dark than subject myself to fluorescent lights. I always thought it was because I had overhead fluorescent lights in my bedroom growing up. Good to know, I suppose, that it’s just part of the package of being an HSP.

Apparently, even the way I eat and treat my body can be traced back to being a Highly Sensitive Person. Shit, even the way I live in my own home, and how I decorate it is probably a result of being an HSP. My husband knows very well not to turn on overhead lights unless it is an EMERGENCY (or if he’s feeling the need to be given the third degree about why he needs to have so much light). And I can finally feel less guilty about always wanting to indulge in some flowers for the house.

I think my creativity is indelibly tied to my high sensitivity, which I see as a good thing. On the flip side, however, I also think my anxiety is tied to my high sensitivity. I struggle more and more with anxiety as I get older, even though I’m totally aware of it, what triggers it, and have many methods to deal with it such as meditation and gardening. But my anxiety persists and grows as my creativity persists and grows. I suspect they will always be tied together somehow, and that it’s something I will deal with over the course of a lifetime.

Think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person? Then head on over to Dr. Elaine Aron’s website and take the self test. And let me know! I’d love to commiserate.

 

 

 

What NOT To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

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I have been feeling a profound entropic malaise lately. A disordered feeling of mental uneasiness, if you will.

In layman’s terms, I’ve got a bad case of the blahs.

This feeling has been happening with more frequency of late. When I wake up, I generally feel pretty good. I have a positive outlook about the day ahead. But just give me 30 minutes. By the time I set about conquering my to do list for the day, I become inert.

You ever have one of those dreams where you just can’t run? Where you know you need to run and you will your feet to work faster and you get like maybe three or four steps into a run and your body just won’t cooperate? All you can manage is a kind of fast walk-hobble?

That’s where I seem to be right now. In some kind of fast walk-hobble, willing myself to move forward but my spirit just won’t cooperate.

I would love to share with all of you how to get out of this mess. I know I can get out of it. I know I will get out of it, sooner or later. I’ve traveled enough times around the sun to know that this, too, shall pass. But I haven’t found the medicine for this particular strain yet.

In an effort to continue to move forward, I figured I would at least share with you what DOESN’T work. These are all scientifically tested (by me!) methods of assuring that you WILL NOT figure out what to do. At the very least I can save you some trouble, should you find yourself in this situation.

Do Not Eat Too Many Peanut-Butter-Filled Pretzel Nuggets

You know what I’m talking about. I don’t even LIKE pretzels, but somehow these little crunchy pillows of peanut butter are IMPOSSIBLE to stop eating. Don’t buy them at Trader Joe’s. Don’t even buy the unsalted kind! They aren’t as good, but you still won’t be able to stop yourself from eating giant handfuls of them at a time, with utter reckless abandon. And for the love of god, DO NOT buy the giant plastic tub of them at Costco. You KNOW how you’ll feel when that tub is empty two days later. Don’t even talk to me about the calories and fat and salt you (I) just ate. Take my word for it – STEER CLEAR OF THESE EVIL BASTARDS. I’ve done the required research. They won’t help. Or any other kind of food that can easily turn into too much of a good thing (which is pretty much all of it).

Do Not “Nap It Off”

Sometimes naps are awesome. Like, when you’re in grad school and you’re sleep deprived and you suddenly have three hours free one afternoon and you let yourself fall into a deep, soul-replenishing, outlook-refreshing sleep.

But if you’re inclined to take a nap every day because you don’t know what else to do – DON’T DO IT. What should you do instead? Like I said, I don’t have the answer for that. Put together a puzzle? Shave the dog? I don’t know. Just don’t nap. If you take too many naps too many days in a row, you aren’t going to feel good about yourself or be any closer to figuring your shit out. You’ll probably just have one of those dreams where you know you’ve slept too long and you dream that you’re on drugs and really out of it and can’t quite come to. Haven’t had one of those dreams? Lucky you. RESIST THE URGE TO NAP OFF YOUR MALAISE.

No napping – even with balloons. Especially with balloons!

Do Not Watch Daytime Television

In the history of television, have they ever had good programming on during the day? If you do not know what to do, I’m begging you PLEASE do not turn on your television. Especially if you’re like me and don’t have cable anymore. Do you have any idea the kind of mind-numbing crap they air between, say, 10am and 4pm? Jerry Springer, anyone? How the hell is this guy still on the air? And now it’s all modern with #JerryJerry! Good god. While it may seem like watching nearly illiterate low-lifes slugging it out on national television may make you feel better about your life choices, let’s just make this clear – IT DOESN’T. At least those people are out there doing something, even if they don’t realize how truly awful it makes them look. Guess what – they got one over you because YOU are watching THEM. And god forbid you’re in your pajamas on a weekday morning when you’re doing it. For shame! Seriously, TURN OFF THE TV.

Do No Beat Yourself Up

Seriously, though, don’t get down on yourself. So you got a case of the blahs. So what? It won’t last forever. You’ll figure something out. Or at least keep trying until you do. Slog through it, and know that it is completely normal. Even the most accomplished people have had their moments of malaise. Okay, I can’t think of a specific example, but I’m sure they’re out there! You’ll get through this, too. And still be awesome.

So, there you have it. If you don’t know what to do, I have at least eliminated four choices for you. What else can we eliminate? Anybody got any ideas?

 

 

 

 

My First Celebrity Crushes

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Valentine’s Day is here! In honor of the holiday that celebrates love, I thought I’d dig back into the vault of my pre-teen years and unearth some of the celebrity crushes I had. Or rather, the celebrities I obsessed over. Some of these are pretty obvious and mainstream, others a little offbeat perhaps. Some might even make you question what kind of kid I was, exactly. Anyway, here goes:

Corey Haim

haim

This one is so obvious I’m not even sure I should include it. EVERYBODY loved Corey Haim. I suppose some loved the other Corey, too, but Feldman was a little rough-and-tumble for my taste. I craved the dimpled sincerity and foppish hair of my one true Corey. I really wanted him to be my boyfriend.

 

Tim Curry

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Fun fact: when I was a kid, around 10 years old, I would fantasize that if I became terminally ill and the Make a Wish Foundation granted me one final wish, it would be to meet Tim Curry. I had vivid imaginary encounters with him – me in my hospital bed, him dressed as Wadsworth from Clue. What 10 year old has a crush on middle-aged Tim Curry in a tuxedo? This one, apparently.

Michael Jackson

Michael-Jackson-and-ETOh, Michael. You and I had such awesome dance parties in my yellow bedroom with the green shag carpet that made my butt itch when I sat on it. I would gaze upon your picture tacked to my hollow-core bedroom door, and pretend that it was me you were holding hands with, not E.T.

 

Judd Nelson

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You know there has to be a bad boy in the mix, right? And who was badder than John Bender? That hair! Those boots! The soulful brown eyes belying his sensitive inner life!

Ken Ober

remote-control-ober_l1The host of MTV’s Remote Control? Really?

Yeah, really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew McCarthy

andrewmccarthy-medAgain, duh. Maybe I should just blanket cover all the cute boys from John Hughes movies. Although I liked him best in Heaven Help Us. He was good at the whole vulnerability thing.

Side story: I did have a real-life geek out moment as an adult when I went to see a play in Nyack, New York. I saw Andrew McCarthy in the parking lot before the show. When I took my seat, the seat next to me remained empty. Right before the curtain went up, he took that seat. I don’t remember what play I saw that night, who was in it, how I got home, nothing. But I do remember the feeling I had when I realized that Andrew McCarthy would be sitting next to me for over two hours in the dark.

Bill Murray

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There’s something kind of warm and fuzzy about Bill Murray that I really liked even as a kid. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that I married someone who is sometimes mistaken for Bill Murray in public. But you know what? “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”

Tom Hulce

hulce

I guess I had a thing for mentally unstable guys in powdered wigs and fancy dress.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-Young-Photos-29I would imagine us stranded on an uninhabited island together. Please don’t ask me to elaborate. It would embarrass us both.

 

 

 

 

 

John Cusack

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NOONE holds a candle to Lloyd Dobler. He’s just looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

John Malkovich

still-of-john-malkovich-in-dangerous-liaisons-(1988)-large-pictureIs it the powdered wigs?

John Malkovich was the peanut butter to my jelly. When I took acting classes at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in high school, it was practically orgasmic to know that I was occupying the same space that he occupies (not at the same time, mind you, but still). I even went into the men’s bathroom at the theater, and marveled that John Malkovich had actually peed in there!

 Alright, your turn. What celebrities did you have crushes on as a kid?

Finding the Path of Least Resistance

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Last night I attended the annual departmental reunion for my undergrad theatre program. A program which was terrifically formative for me and which has produced dozens, if not hundreds, of successful and even famous theater, film and television artists over the last 40 or so years.

There’s nothing like an alumni event for your competitive and prestigious alma mater to make you start questioning all the decisions you’ve made that have gotten you to this point in your life. 

There were many fresh, young, eager and excited faces there last night – full of hope and anticipation for good things yet to come. There were also a fair amount of faces in the 35- to 45-year-old range, looking a little dazed and sharing thoughts of “What the hell happened? Where am I? How did I get here?”

I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to live a creative life, and more specifically, to pursue a career in acting. There was never a doubt in my mind about that. And for many years, I did just that. Many, many, many years. So many years of struggling to have a voice, to be heard, to find my place at the table.

I don’t think I’ve ever found my place as an actor.

I look around me and see so many of my colleagues in the same position. The market is glutted. It’s really hard to find your way and to make it stick. There is so much struggle, so much hardship, so much financial instability, so many sacrifices. So little success, so little reward.

I got into this business because I had something to say, something to share, a desire to make a connection with people and say “Look at this crazy life. This is something, isn’t it? Being human? Let’s figure out a way to make the most of the time we have.”

But I hardly ever get to do that, be part of something that puts something meaningful out into the world and puts food on my table. There are always road blocks, obstacles, big huge boulders in the way. And after 20 years I’m looking at this and thinking, “What the fuck? Why am I beating my head against the wall? I have something to offer this world. And I’m not getting any opportunities to do it, no matter how hard I try or how many different roads I try to go down.”

Which got me thinking about the idea of finding the path of least resistance. If I keep pursuing the same thing but don’t move forward, shouldn’t I try to find a path with less resistance? Shouldn’t I be more like water in a stream, diverting around obstacles with ease and grace and going off in a different direction? Is there any real merit in continually pounding the same obstacles until I’m thoroughly exhausted?

I don’t think there is. And I find tremendous freedom in that. But to others it looks like giving up, and it can be hard to manage those expectations.

Yes, acting was my first true love. But there are so many different outlets for my creativity, there is no reason I can’t set acting aside and find a path that offers less resistance. I just want to put my story out there, to pay attention to the world and to share my observations about it. I want to help illuminate this journey we’re all on by being honest about my own. I want to connect with people and hopefully in the process make my life and yours richer and more meaningful. Wouldn’t staying on the path that is going nowhere be counter-productive to my end goal of not only living a well-observed life, but also sharing it?

I studied the Michael Chekhov acting technique with the brilliant Lenard Petit many years ago. One of the biggest take-aways I got from it is the idea of working with the Four Brothers – a sense of form, a sense of beauty, a sense of the whole, and a sense of ease. Can’t we apply that not only to creating a character, but also creating anything? To creativity in general? I think so.

I want to create with a sense of ease. And I haven’t found that ease with acting, but I have found it with other mediums, like writing. Sharing with you on this blog and in other venues provides the same connection I seek with acting. So like the river, I will flow around the obstacle and find a new, unobstructed path.

I will find the path of least resistance. I will find my “yes” in a sea of “no”. And I will find a way to deal with the fact that to some it looks like giving up, although to me it feels like being honest about who I am, where I am, and what I need to do to live the life I feel compelled to live.

H.G. Wells said, “The path of least resistance is the path of the loser.” 

I disagree. If there is another way for me to achieve my goals and to be of service in this life, a way that provides less resistance than the path that I originally chose, would I not be a fool to say no to it? As long as I am not sacrificing who I truly am inside? Doesn’t it take strength of character to admit you may be going the wrong way and that you need to alter course? Can it not be both exciting and rewarding to take a breath, let go, and see what happens? To see what flows into that space you have created when you let go of the death grip you had on the things you thought you wanted? To understand that maybe all the choices you’ve made along the way were preparing you for something other than what you at first intended?

Have you encountered this? A feeling that there might be another way for you, if you can set aside other people’s expectations, and focus more on what feels right for you personally? How have you dealt with it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Want To Know the Secret To Feeling Joy? It’s Really Simple If You Do This.

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You want to know the secret to feeling joy? Spread it.

No, really, it is as simple as that. Be the instigator.

I experienced this phenomenon firsthand a couple of weeks ago. You see, I had an item I needed to return to a friend of mine. She had accidentally left it at my house. Here is the item:

Aloysius (now Hoots), wearing a sweater and packaged up for his journey.
Aloysius (now Hoots), wearing a sweater and packaged up for his journey.

That friend happens to be in Kindergarten. Instead of simply handing said item back to her, I devised a plan to make the return a bit more, let’s say, dramatic than that. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. So I sat down and wrote this letter.

 January, 2015

Dear Miraculous Miranda-

This owl informs me that he belongs to you and he would like it if I returned him to you, thank you very much. He tells me his name is Aloysius, and that he comes from a very long line of very rare and very special owls. That is why he has blue eyes, because he is rare and special.

(Or so he says. I, myself, have never really trusted owls.)

He wants to apologize to you, Miraculous Miranda, for getting himself lost. He was trying to fly, you see, but isn’t very good at it. His wings are bejeweled and that makes them very heavy! He landed under my bookshelf, and nobody heard his cries. He has such a very tiny voice, after all. I found him when I was cleaning out the dust bunnies, who had been keeping him company for several months, and boosting his morale. They never let him give up hope that he would find you again.

But his adventure did not end there! Oh, no. You see I must apologize to you as well, Miraculous Miranda, because I meant to give him back to you on Thanksgiving. I had put him in a special place of honor on top of my dresser, on the very top of a pile of very shiny, very old brooches. Do you know what a brooch is? It’s a very fancy way of saying a pretty pin for your shirt or dress. Anyway, all of the brooches are very shiny and bejeweled, just like Aloysius. I forgot he was there! Oops! My bad.

He was very irritated with me for leaving him with those brooches for so long. They are very chatty, and all they want to talk about is The War and how kids today don’t know how to dress. He wants you to know that he defended your fashion choices to them to the very end!

Anyway, Aloysius is very anxious to be back in your care, so I promised him I wouldn’t wait another moment. I am now sending him on an adventure all by himself through the mail. I suspect it will be very exciting! There will be so many letters for him to talk to, from far away places like England and Van Nuys! Think of all the things he will learn!

After you read this, and after you’ve given proper attention to Aloysius and fussed over him and told him how happy you are to see him (he really likes that, he’s just the tiniest, littlest bit insecure), please send word of his safe arrival. The brooches are ever so concerned about his safety on this voyage, and it would help to settle their minds to know he is finally back home.

Ever Yours-

Amy

P.S. – I put a sweater on him because he was very nervous that he was going to be cold during his travels. He can keep it to remember me by.

Oh my gosh, the delight I felt in writing this letter, the excitement of dropping the package in the mail, and the anticipation of the package arriving at its destination!

I mean, c’mon folks – it’s just a letter. All it takes is penning a letter to a friend, for the purpose of having some fun, to put joy in your heart. I rode the high of it all day.

And THEN the joy came back to me again when I received my own response in the mail!

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Feeling a little low? Want some joy in your heart? Then spread that shit like peanut butter! Seriously, just give it a try. I bet it will work.

This Is My Body, Lumps And All – And I Love It

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2015 marks the fifth year that I will be involved in the Downtown LA production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. You would think after five years that the experience of working on this play could no longer stretch me, shock me, or push my buttons.

But you would be wrong.

The play premiered in 1996, and is a candid conversation about the realities of having a vagina. It’s based on a series of interviews that Ensler conducted with 200 women about their views of sex, relationships, and violence against women. Some of the monologues are hilariously funny, others dark and moving. All are incredibly informative. Did you know, for example, that the clitoris has twice the number of nerve endings as the penis? (Check out Natalie Angier’s book Women: An Intimate Geography for even more astonishing facts).

Over the last five years I’ve performed a couple of different monologues, and they each have allowed me to stretch myself, explore different aspects of my personality and examine my own relationship with my vagina, my gender, and my sexuality.

Hell, I’m thrilled that I can even say or type the word “vagina” now without embarrassment or fear. I think many other women feel the same way, and we have Eve to thank for having the courage to start this conversation.

I mean, I even make anatomically correct vagina cupcakes for the production every year. I got this, right?

So imagine my surprise after all these years, after all these conversations about vaginas, and sex, and violence, and all the other stuff that comes up when you discuss something like this, that I would actually do something in connection to the show that made me nervous. That made me want to hide under the couch or feign the flu or hell, anything that could get me out of what I agreed to do.

We want to have a blow-out this year, for the fifth anniversary. So our producer/director decided to have a sexy photoshoot on the top of a building downtown, the product of which we would use as our publicity shots. Arden Ash – an amazing photographer and fashion technologist – was on board to take the photos.

I’m almost 40 now, and I’ve gained a bit of weight, so the idea of being sexy on top of a building in broad daylight was kind of intimidating. I don’t feel as sexy as I used to, and I certainly don’t have the bod that some of my fabulous women friends involved with the show do.

I tried on lots of different outfits at home, trying to figure out what to wear that would make me feel good enough, and hide the parts I don’t feel so fantastic about right now.

But you know what? That’s not what this show is about. This show has nothing to do with hiding who you are. So even though I was nervous, and even though I didn’t feel great about showing this sorta lumpy body to the world, I ultimately decided that hiding who I am right now in this very moment is counter to the spirit in which this play was created.

So I put it out there, lumps and all. Here is one of my shots. Yes, I’m nervous about showing it to you, but maybe my willingness to do so might inspire other women to feel less insecure about their bodies.

 

Photo by Arden Ash
Photo by Arden Ash

Nobody is perfect, and I think my strength and my purpose in life is to show others that we can have rich, meaningful, and fulfilling lives without being even close to perfect.

I don’t have a perfect body. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have confidence. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what my body does. That doesn’t mean that OTHER people can’t enjoy what my body does, what it is capable of doing. It’s healthy and strong and has carried me through this life and goddamit I’m going to CELEBRATE it!

Let’s celebrate our bodies, ladies, instead of hiding in shame. Let’s own who we are, and let our voices rise above the Negative Nellies and Danny Downers. Let’s not let other people decide how we should feel about our bodies, our minds, ourselves.

Now go out there and kick some ass!