Category Archives: Inspiring Stuff

The Journey Begins with the First Step

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 8/31/14 )

ojai

Greetings, friends. I’ve been on a vacation as of late. A bit of a creative vacation, I guess you could say. You see, I’m at a creative crossroads. I’m turning 40 in 10 months and though I largely consider myself to be “successful”, I haven’t quite found my place in the larger, creative world. And I’d really like to.

I’ve embarked on the 12 week journey known as “The Artist’s Way” in an effort to reclaim and recover my creative self. I’m one week in, and so far it’s been enlightening, to say the least. While I’ve spent most of my adult life pursuing work as an actor, I feel I am much more than that. And I feel my “success” will be somewhere else. This is my attempt to find it.

So, friends, I hope you’ll consider walking along with me on this journey of self-healing and self-discovery. I’d like to share my triumphs, epiphanies, failures and ruminations with you. Perhaps some of them will resonate with you.  Perhaps we’ll all come out of this a little better – more fulfilled, more introspective, happier and more at peace.

Here’s to those first few steps!

The Best Kind of Valentine

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 2/21/14)

Valentine’s Day has always been one of those holidays about which I have mixed feelings.  In the years when I was single, it could pass without my hardly noticing.  Those years when I may have been attached in some way, perhaps I received flowers or we went out for dinner, but I don’t ever recall it being a huge priority.  The red and pink hearts always made me throw up in my mouth a little. I’ve never been one for super-cutesy stuff, and it always seemed like that’s what Valentine’s Day was selling – an over-priced, cartoony, pastel-hued version of love.  Meh.

Recently, however, I’ve taken part in V-Day, which is a global movement to help end violence against women and children.  It’s organized by the hugely inspirational Eve Ensler, and for many years centered around worldwide productions of her play “The Vagina Monologues”, in which I’ve appeared for the last three years in Los Angeles.  For the past two years, the V-Day movement has also included a rising on Valentine’s Day, where people around the world gather in the streets to dance.  Called “One Billion Rising”, it’s simultaneously a demonstration against violence and a joyous coming-together.

One of my closest friends in LA, Kristina Mitchell, was the organizer for the rising in downtown Los Angeles, which was part of a full day of risings throughout the city.  I agreed to photograph the event, which began with a flashmob dancing at LA Live, then continued with everyone marching through the streets of downtown to City Hall where several speakers, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and Jane Fonda, were to speak.

Last year I attended the event solo, as hubs was in Haiti with the Haiti School Project, helping to build a school for a community that was particularly ravaged by the earthquakes there.  Not to slight the man, but what a fun and raucous day of celebrating the vagina!  I spent the entire day and evening surrounded by some seriously fabulous women (and a few men), dancing and speaking out about how to end violence NOW.  My heart was full with all the love that day.

valentine1This year, hubs was home and wanted to participate. We took the Metro downtown and met up with the group at City Hall, where we mingled with men, women, students, and even a dog who were all serious about supporting our global sisterhood.  Hubs even wore a pink shirt to get in the spirit of things.  Kristina emceed the event that included speeches by the Mayor, the incredibly fabulous and eloquent Jane Fonda, and several others including actress Frances Fisher and author Marianne Williamson (perhaps most well-known for saying “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” – powerful words, indeed). The event ended with the flashmob dance and a symbolic breaking of the chains that imprison us – a paper chain comprised of the names of those that have abused or mistreated us.

valentine2

valentine3Hubs and I then departed and spent some time simply wandering around downtown LA.  What a treasure trove of little goodies here and there!  We wandered into the Grand Central Market, which has been operating in LA for nearly 100 years.  The newly-opened DTLA Cheese inside the market called to us, and after sampling several mouth-watering cheeses, we bought over a pound to take home.  After a trip to IKEA (what Valentine’s Day isn’t complete without a spin around the showroom and some $1 fro yo?) and a quick visit with some friends, we headed home to cuddle up for the night.

valentine4I put together a platter of our cheeses with some other tasty treats such as marinated olives, fresh strawberries and truffle honey, and we tucked into it while watching the Beatles salute that had been patiently waiting on the DVR for a week.  The plan was to nibble then make dinner, but after singing along for two hours and eating ALL of the cheese, we decided to simply call it a night.

Best kind of Valentine’s Day, if you ask me.  I’m a lucky gal.

Where Is Home?

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 12/21/10)

Here I sit on a Southwest plane, mid-flight, on my way from California to Chicago.

That time of year is upon us again:  the holiday season.  My absolute favorite time of the year.

But before I get into that, dear Blog-Friends, I must take a moment to apologize for my prolonged absence.   Many friends who have become unemployed recently had warned me as I began this adventure that within a month I would find that, suddenly, I was completely overwhelmed with things to do.  This is one of the big ironies of unemployment.  I have no idea how I got things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom done when I had a job, because I hardly have time to do them now.  I suppose for me, as a way to transition into this new way of being, I have over-structured and over-planned my days, weeks and months.  I definitely operate from a schedule, and strive to have concrete activities to complete every day, however mundane they may seem (organizing and labeling all my crafting supplies into a tower of tiny drawers, anyone?).  I’ve gotten a little wrapped up in all these varied tasks and have neglected this particular project.

And not only have I become obsessed with the minutiae of everyday life, I’ve also had the privilege and luxury to do some international travel and mull over the idea that I am part of a much larger world.  And I’ve begun to get my life as an actor in order.

But all that is for a different blog entry.  Tonight I am consumed with thoughts of home, and family, and snow, the ending of an interesting year, and the beginning of a new one.  I suppose it’s normal to take time for reflection this time of year, and I’m certainly no different.

Adam and I had a friend over for dinner the other night at our apartment in Los Angeles (I made really delicious pizza from scratch, but again that’s another blog entry), and he asked me what I was up to since we hadn’t seen each other in a few months.  Since I was in the throes of planning Christmas presents and travel itineraries and packing and all that, I remarked that I was getting myself ready to go home.

“You are home” he replied.

Which, really, brings up a question that I’ve never been able to successfully answer:  where is home?  For the last 17 years I’ve lived away from my family, sometimes thousands of miles.  And I notice that every time I visit the place where I grew up, where my whole family still lives, I tell people I am going “home”, and that when I tell people I am returning to wherever it is that I live, that I call it by the city name.  I rarely refer to my apartment as my home, unless I’m talking to local friends (as in “I’m sorry, I can’t have another margarita because we’re in the Valley and in order to get home, I have to drive on the 405 in the dark”).   Yet, by definition, I feel “home” is fundamentally where one lives, and I know that I can no longer imagine myself happily living in Indiana.  So why after half a lifetime away do I still call it “home”?

I just finished reading a quiet, lovely little book by Dominique Browning called “Slow Love:  How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness”.  In it, she also reflects on this idea of home, and has rested on the idea that home is the place where you want to go to die, or to be buried.  Since my parents had the foresight to get cemetery plots for themselves, my brother and myself when I was five years old, I know that unless something drastic happens, my final resting place is in Calumet Park Cemetery in Schererville, Indiana, with the rest of the Armstrong clan, my mom’s side of the family.  So by that definition, I guess Indiana is home.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something – or more appropriately, missing out on something.  I spend 95% of my time right now in Los Angeles, living with my boyfriend of 4 years, surrounded by wonderful friends who feel like family.  I want it to feel like home, but somehow all the satisfying parts don’t add up to a whole home.  Is it possible that I can’t feel a sense of home unless I have blood relatives living in close proximity?  I don’t feel any less connected to them, all of them, living so far away.  I don’t have the luxury of popping in on a moment’s notice to chat, or to have dinner together on a week night, or to attend every birthday celebration, anniversary, or, sadly, even funeral.  But I still feel like I’m a part of their lives and they are a part of mine.

But none of them has ever set foot in my apartment, or met my boyfriend’s kids who live with us part-time, or marveled with me at standing outside in shirt sleeves in February in that miraculous southern California weather.  I don’t get to share these things with them, things that have become part of my everyday life.

As 40 is no longer a far away concept, something that will come upon me naturally when I’m “older”, I’d like to feel like the place I’m living, the life I’m building, the relationships I’m nurturing, gives me a sense of being “home”.  But that feeling still eludes me.  And I don’t stop getting older.

I’m curious if any of you wonderful readers have felt this sort of thing?  I know many of you have chosen a similar path to mine, which is to say the path of a creative person, a life a little off the beaten track.  Is there something endemic to this lifestyle that promotes this sort of restless yearning for a place to call “home”?  Or is it something bigger than that?  Something generational, perhaps?

I don’t anticipate solving this question over the coming week, but I’m certainly going to enjoy playing cards (Michigan Rummy), chatting with my dad over a cup of coffee while my mom is at work, skiing with my brother (apparently you can ski in the Midwest, who knew?), and in general reveling in the grand, messy splendor of my uniquely weird and lovable family.

HOME?
HOME?

Me Today, You Tomorrow

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/1/10)

Yesterday I attended a funeral.

Now I promise to try not to get morbid or unduly sad on you, dear Blog-Friend, but I feel it warrants mentioning because it’s often during these sorts of circumstances that one has moments of clarity.  The funeral was for a woman I had never met – she was the mother of a dear friend of Adam’s – but I wanted to be there to show my support for the family.

The internment ceremony – held at the celebrated and oft-filmed Hollywood Forever Cemetery –  was attended by just of few members of the family and close friends and officiated by a comfortingly gregarious Irish priest (complete with brogue!).  It was short and simple, but not without depth of feeling.  She had been married for nearly 70 years (!) and her husband, our friend’s father – was quite beside himself with the loss.  I had not anticipated having a strong emotional response myself, but seeing how much he (and everyone else) was missing her, I was moved to the point of needing a few tissues myself.  70 years with someone.  70 years.  Most of us will never know what it’s like to even know someone for 70 years, let alone at that level of intimacy.  All the stories.  All of those life moments shared, both good and bad.  I felt privileged, in some way, to be there while they said goodbye to her.

All those in attendance spent the day together, and I had several opportunities to talk with my friend’s father and share his memories not only of the times he spent with her, but of a lifetime totalling almost 90 years.  The Battle of Midway.  Traveling across China.  How downtown LA has changed in the last 60 years.  At one point towards the end of the night, he asked me “do you love yourself?”.  A pause before answering, “I think so.”  And encouragement to stay positive.

Other friends have had losses of loved ones recently, and it’s in these moments that we realize, however cliched it may sound, that life is precious, and short, and the only thing fear and hesitation brings is regret.  How I hope to remember that lesson daily.

My friend’s father’s place next to his wife in the mausoleum already bears his name and epitaph, taken from a phrase he saw at a convent in Italy:

Me Today, You Tomorrow

How true, how important to remember, and how difficult to comprehend.