Bertha's list: December edition
A young Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home.”
Truer words have never been spoken. The average American moves 11.7 times in a lifetime. In the past three years I’ve moved three times. That’s an average of once a year. That’s a lot of boxes. It seems that we are all in search of the same elusive thing: a sense of home. At the end of November, Vicky, Maury, and I decided to move together into a three bedroom in Harlem. The best part? A large living room and two bathroom sinks. The worst part? Leasing an apartment in NYC. All the required paperwork was enough to convince me otherwise. We put down a deposit that same day and so began the two week waiting period to be approved. I was also set to fly home for the holidays in exactly two weeks. The waiting felt like an eternity. As the snow settled so did my panic. What if this was a horrible decision? What if we didn’t get it and I’d be stranded in Miami? To deal with the anxiety of possible homelessness I began to pack. It took 3 days, 11 boxes, and the entire season two of Will & Grace. One snowy night I sat on the bed, the lone piece of furniture in the empty apartment, and looked at the bare walls. I thought I’d be nothing short of ecstatic to leave it all behind but a lot had gone down inside those four walls. Two years’ worth of some great highs and some deep lows. Two years’ worth of stories. It was the first place I’d made my own. Truth be told, it was bittersweet. It was the end of an era.
To keep my mind from obsessing over the move I focused on everything but. With 3tO5 we planned last minute details for Hard-Bitten. I performed in a friend’s scene for her directing class with Anne Bogart who in spite of being such a respected figure in the theater community is really down to earth. I have to brag here, being complimented by her and subsequently sharing a 25 minute train ride was, I must say, one of 2013’s highlights. Sunday night watching La Soiree with the boys. Wednesday evening window gazing on Fifth Avenue with the girls. Nothing says Christmas in New York like the opulent window displays of Bergdorf Goodman. Of course, we also paid the giant Rockerfeller tree a visit. It was freezing cold but it was a magical night. The next day I went shopping for my Secret Santa. I lucked out with the perfect gift for him and a perfect pair of black cowboy boots for me. A girl’s got to indulge once in a while. I assuaged the guilt that usually accompanies a lavish purchase with the image of how cute those five and a halves would look, paired up with a summer dress, walking to a first date in a honky-tonk bar. A girl’s also got to dream. I had to vacate my apartment on the 15th so I crashed on Ryan’s couch as we waited to hear back from the broker. Jian made us chocolate chips cookies and as the snow fell we watched The Family Stone. I couldn’t wait to be with my own dysfunctional family. On December 17th, a frigid Tuesday morning, we signed our lease and on December 18th I slipped on my made-for-walking boots and set out for LaGuardia. Destination: a 70-degree-weather paradise.
I was greeted with the kind of welcome home party only my Tia Olga can throw (disclaimer: I may be biased because of her homemade flans) and by the sloppy kisses from the bandit who’d stolen my heart, our puppy Pulguita. Christmas was just around the corner and I yet had to do my holiday shopping. After raiding my sister’s closet for an outfit, I went out with Beli and Mami for brunch and store hopping. Cuban pizza, leche malteada, and hearing my mother’s laugh. It was good to be home. The day before Christmas Eve I volunteered at Miami Rescue Mission helping my cousin as she planned the toy drive. Not only did I get to feel like Santa, I was also taken on a tour of Wynwood in the process. I couldn’t believe all the fantastic art of that tiny sub-district. I’d been selling Miami short. After sorting through all the donation bags of toys and saving a Madeline tick tock clock from the discarded pile I knew a certain new roomie would love for her dresser, Lian treated us to an al fresco lunch with a view of original Britto sculptures. Definitely selling it too short. Leaving the Mission Luisita played The Last Five Years on the radio right as we were driving past my alma mater, Florida International University. “Remember this?” she asked. Did I ever! It was crazy how a song I hadn’t heard in years was a capsule for all my college memories. Hearing that album again felt like revisiting a previous life. I was such a different person then. We zoomed down US-1 singing along at the top of our lungs. She, of course, sounding much better than me. The night before I’d been to her high school’s talent show and had stared slack-jawed in complete awe of her talent. The little girl who I once taunted with ghost stories, whose hair I brushed and plaited, who looked up to me when I showed off at family gatherings, whose first taste of Broadway was a VHS copy of CATS I’d given her. The little girl was now a young woman in her own right, filling an entire auditorium with a voice that belied her years. My Luisita made me prouder than a mother hen.
Christmas Eve at my sister’s house. I was just waking up when I get a call from my mom’s husband. His voice was somber, “Hi, Kika. Did I wake you?” My stomach went into freak out mode because something bad must have happened for him to call. Please don’t let it be my mom. I don’t answer right away because I don’t want to know. To avoid the question is to prolong those precious seconds right before reality catches up and caves your world in. At the same time I want him to just spit it out and put me out of my misery. What’s with the stupid, cryptic questions? “Get dressed, I’m going to pick you up. Your mom’s-” the adrenaline spiked to a pitch in my ears. “My what?” I almost screamed. “Your mom’s brother, your uncle, died this morning. Your mom can’t drive so I’ll come pick you up in five.” My body collapsed. There it was. My world caving in. We knew Tio Juan had been battling cancer so his death wasn’t unexpected but it was no less devastating. Seeing mom and my tias in so much pain was debilitating. Our only comfort now was the refuge of our family unit. The traditional fiesta de Noche Buena was out of the question. There was no need for frivolous music or sparkly dresses. I washed my puffy face and managed to throw on a cardigan as the family began arriving at Beli’s home; the festive red and green decorations we’d put up the night before so at odds with our sad faces. We told stories of Tio’s rascal days, of lighter times, and his daughter even managed a smile. We put on a brave face for the little ones and our only joy came from seeing them excitedly unwrap their presents. Amidst a grief so palpable, my fondest memory of the night was gathering the children around me for a puppet story. Their smiles were my comfort. One day I will be their Tio Juan because such is the circle of life. I hoped they’d remember my rascal days too.
Since the older generation doesn’t celebrate Christmas night the younger cousins usually end up at the neighborhood Regal Cinema. As we left the theater, everyone talking excitedly about The Wolf of Wall Street, I got a text from The Body, a guy I’d met through my cousin at the welcome home party. I accepted his dinner invitation and set a date for 7PM. The day of the date arrived, the clock stroke 10PM, and he still hadn’t called. At 10:30 I pronounced myself officially stood up. I text him “I bet you have a great excuse. I’m going to bed. Don’t bother calling.” There was an immediate reply. It wasn’t him. It was my past asking to rush back in. “Heard you were in town. Would like to see you.” I had one of two choices: repeat the same self-destructive habits or leave the past right where it belonged. “That’s not a good idea”, I responded, “Hope you understand.” Although I actually considered his offer to soothe my bruised ego, the second I said No I felt something click into place. My decision had single-handedly redefined our relationship and exorcised some inner demons. Times like that it’s hard not to believe in karma. The Body did finally call me back. I ignored both calls.
We shot Hard-Bitten at Ryan’s house over the span of two nights. We couldn’t thank the Rodriguez family enough and also our friends and family who showed up to help on and off camera. It was a challenging shoot because the uncooperative weather made for longer hours than expected. But on that last day of shooting, way past 3 AM, replaying the last take of the final scene, it really dawned on us. We’d created something special. We’d made a movie! I left the set feeling invigorated as an actor and validated as a writer/producer. The next day Beli lured me out of bed early with the promise of Knaus Berry Farm baked goodies. We picked up mom and headed south, Homestead-bound, in pursuit of the most delicious cinnamon rolls in the country. At least to this Miami girl. We drove past the church where Beli got married. We talked about her wedding day, an overcast sky not unlike today's, and the relentless rain. How beautiful it all was regardless. Before we headed home Beli took us to the house she and Eric were considering once their own home was sold by the end of January. Our best friend Lizandra also had an upcoming moving date and I thought it was so ironic how the three of us found ourselves in the same situation yet with very different definitions of home. For Beli that meant a house close to Mami’s, spacious enough for her husband, their dog, and her extensive shoe collection. For Lizy it meant a cozy, safe-haven that she and her little one could grow into. And for me I guess it meant finding the halfway point between New York and Miami and being comfortable in the proverbial middle way.
On New Year’s Eve we were running late to prima Mumi’s party. Mom had claimed to know the way so she drove. After four wrong turns we were lost. I busted out the GPS and Jesus, her husband, and I acted as co-pilots. Unsurprisingly we were early because Cuban parties run on Cuban time. At the stroke of midnight I sought out my mom for my first kiss. I barely remember the last time I was able to do that. We ate 12 grapes while making 12 wishes for the new year. We looked up at the fireworks. We stuffed our faces with yuca and lechón. We drained the last champagne bottle. We danced way past a decent hour. We walked back to our cars, shoes in hand. It was getting late and we’d better be getting home. I still wasn’t sure where that was but we had each other and a GPS. We’d find our way.
Bertha's list: November edition
November 2 is National Book Lover’s Day.
It also happens to be one of my best friends’ birthday, a certain Mr. JianCarlos Vasquez. For his big Two-Four he wanted to go apple picking so we hopped a ZipCar, pumped up the radio, and set out on the Long Island Expressway. Southampton-bound. Bumper-to-bumper traffic has never been so fun. I’m sure there’s Instagram proof somewhere, like so many of our other well-documented antics. It was one of those perfect autumn mornings, the multi-colored leaves in sharp contrast to the clear blue sky and cold enough for a sweater. We picked seven kinds of apples, rode a red wagon, ate clam chowder for lunch, and at night we baked three different pies/cakes for dessert. In this social circle, food is love and gorda is our middle name. It was a day for celebrating friendships and births. Not only Jian’s bon anniversaire but also the birth of our multimedia production company- The 3tO5 Group.
The 3tO5 was the brainchild of JianCarlos, Ryan Rodriguez, Mauricio Abascal, Victoria Collado and yours truly. Like all great ideas it developed late one night while we sat around an empty pizza box in a Park Slope living room. Rooted in the innate restlessness that takes over the stagnant artist, the idea to write a play about our Cuban roots evolved into revisiting a screenplay I’d written close to four years ago. The more we talked the more ideas would emerge. We realized that this was bigger than the screenplay. Not only did we have too much enthusiasm to restrict it to a single project but we were also great collaborators. It only made sense to come together, slap a name on the thing, and make it official. The name “3tO5” was a tribute to our Miami home and a play on words for the group that was once comprised of three (Jian, Ry, and moi) and was made complete when it became five (Vicky and Maury). On a Sunday afternoon, we locked ourselves away in Ryan’s apartment for six hours to establish our vision for the new company and a line up for upcoming enterprises. The screenplay, a short film entitled Hard-Bitten, was set as our first project. We had to prove to ourselves if we could work together having zero budget, zero equipment, and all pre-production, including casting and crew assemblage, happening more than 1,000 miles away. I came to affectionately think of it as the little film that could. In order to raise money we came up with a marketing plan that tapped into our resources: friends, family, and social media. We launched our website and fundraising challenge on the same day. The challenge was, in my humble opinion, genius. Avoiding websites like Kickstarter we instead challenged our audience to give us any amount between $3 to $5 (See what we did there? Wink, wink!) and we in turn would make a movie on whatever funds we raised at the end of our campaign. The outpour of support on every platform was overwhelming. Because of their generosity we were able to hire a talented cast and crew right on deadline- two weeks before the scheduled shoot. So come December off to Miami we would go!
The snow had arrived early and while the occasional drink after a long Saturday at work is not only welcomed but necessary for a less boring Snuggie existence of Netflix and chocolate chip cookies, the best thing to do on those snowed-in days is to stay in bed. And nothing makes those quiet days even better than getting mail, especially when it’s a prettily wrapped hunter green passport to Neverland. The “passport” was a thank you gift from my friend Sonia for helping her propose to her girlfriend. Days before we stood on a Central Park bridge showering the couple with glitter/confetti while serenading them with an impromptu a cappella rendition of Bruno Mars’ Marry You. Set against the backdrop of a setting sun igniting the fall colored leaves on fire, it was truly magical. It was an honor to be part of such a special moment of their love. Congratulations Sonia and Lynn!
The following week another package arrived. The sender’s address read Los Angeles. Inside was a freshly pressed Penguin copy of The Great Gatsby. Happy Book Lovers Day to me! I’d been searching for a Penguin edition in bin after bin. I’d searched every Strand, Barnes & Noble, and vintage bookstore I could find to no avail. Yet here he’d managed to not only find it but deliver it with the same tenderness and attention to detail which once upon a time had made our relationship so sweet. Unbeknownst to him, I’d romantically told myself that the man who gifted me that book would know how much it meant to me. It would be a sign that I had to marry him. I would know for sure that he really saw me. As soon as that ridiculous notion entered my head I held on to the hope that it would come from a certain someone else. A certain someone else whose personal hang ups once made me question my own worth. There are certain RobotBoys who will unintentionally and without malice do that to you. And so it happens that some thousand words bound together in a book holds more meaning for me than just the Great American novel. I placed the tiny, orange paperback reverently on my nightstand, the hand-made dedication card tucked inside its iconic pages. I called Mr. Tony Stark to thank him for such a lovely present. After all we’ve been through he really shouldn’t have. “Well I knew how much you wanted it”, he said, “and I thought if she wants it she should have it. Somebody should give that to her.” My heart squeezed. My eyes teared up. There are people who will sing back to you the happy song you’ve forgotten. Although this story doesn’t end in wedding bells Mr. Stark was a reminder to discern the really special someones. The ones deserving of our love.
After five consecutive weekends of trekking to Harlem, spending Saturday after Saturday looking at apartments, Jian and Ryan found the perfect penthouse nestled between 126th and Lenox. Just in time for Thanksgiving. The 3tO5, not only the company but also the group of friends, got together with pizza (always!) to paint, drill, and organize the new apartment. All the while discussing future Hard-Bitten plans. Once every wall was varnished and every light fixture was installed we had ourselves a Thanksgiving feast. At a table of family and friends the most delicious dish was the conversation and the memories. Read: the wine and the twerking. There was a fireplace, holiday music, a turkey, and good ol’ American apple pie (my first solo bake ever!). For a Cuban kid like me, raised on lechon asado and Rey Ruiz, this was the stuff of holiday movies. The following morning Ryan and I helped Maury and Vicky scout for apartments since their lease was up in a few days. Coincidentally, I also was set to renew my lease that coming Monday but I wasn’t looking to move out, much less to live with roommates. But then we found it. A lovely, freshly renovated, affordable, too-perfect-to-pass up three bedroom between 146th and Frederick Douglass. The unicorn I was waiting for. We put a deposit that same day and just like that I too was moving to Harlem. Talk about a Black Friday deal! To celebrate that night we went to watch the book-turned-movie blockbuster Catching Fire. On our way to the box office I had a thought, if my life was a book then it was off to a great start.
Bertha's List: october edition
To remember is to live again. That is exactly what my blog has been about: chronicling those moments in my life that would have otherwise lapsed into oblivion. But as October marked the two year anniversary of Bertha’s List I wondered if this was a good stopping point. The pressure to produce “inspirational” narrative had become overwhelming. Every month I procrastinated more and more between writings. It was starting to feel like a chore. Even if I stopped altogether, who would it really affect or care other than me?
As the dregs of a rough September still lingered, I craved a fresh start. Since I’d been trying to grow out my pixie chopping off my hair was not an option. The next best thing was a new vision board. I’d kept the same one for two years and it needed a cosmic make-over. In the middle of the new board, surrounded by pictures of Jon Hamm and a Manhattan zip code (any day now, Universe!) was a picture of a Zen circle with the single word “Breathe.” What I needed most was patience. The patience to wait for the callback that may never come. Or the patience required at a master level of self-control to not explode in the holding room when you’ve missed your audition slot by a measly three minutes. Especially after having trekked across town for it and skipped out on an hour of work. But still you don’t lose faith. You show up anyway to those so-wrong-for-the-part-they’ll-be-crazy-to-cast-me calls. You feed the good dog. You schlep it up to 132nd for Antigone rehearsals ready to play, feeling so grateful that your playmates are the same actors you call friends- your FIU family. Being surrounded by that much creativity inevitably breeds inspiration which in turn breeds creativity which in turn breeds inspiration ad infinitum. Which is how a night of hanging out on a couch in Brooklyn turned into the resurgence of a screenplay I’d written years ago. No sooner said than done, we dusted off the script and had the original director on board. Apart from having the perfect location we had very little else. We didn’t have a cast, a production team, nor a single penny allotted to the budget. The challenge seemed insurmountable yet terribly exciting. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, which only fueled the impetus to so. Because we were artists and because we took to heart Anne Bogart’s words of wisdom: “Do not wait for enough time or money to accomplish what you think you have in mind. Work with what you have RIGHT NOW. Work with the people around you RIGHT NOW…”
Friday night dinner at Scalino. Our friend Jennifer was visiting for the weekend and over a plate of pappardelle the conversation jumped around from gluten-free diets to why my next post was taking so long. I said that September would probably be the last one. Maybe I’d outgrown it. Maybe what was once a tool for self-discovery had become a source of self-inflicted pressure in my attempt to write something worthy of a reader’s time. To this Jen wryly replied, in the way only Jen can do wry, that she personally looked forward to them every month popping up in her inbox. I swallowed another bite of pasta with a side of realization. Expectations should indeed by high when creating art. If not for myself then to at the very least repay such kind words of loyalty. On Saturday we watched the sun set from the Highline and we carved a jack-o’-latern named Rudy. It was something worth writing about.
Usually my morning commutes are pretty uneventful: a smooth 50 minute ride with a book du jour. This was not to be one of those days. The train was running with delays; stalling between stations. On the second stop a white haired gentleman found his way to the empty seat on my right. He sat down with a huff, “This is unbelievable.” “Can you believe this? Unbelievable”, he kept mumbling, “The trains didn’t use to be like this.” After a few non-committal sounds of commiseration on my part and a deeper burrowing into the pages of my book, he went quiet. “I’m sorry to have bothered you it’s just that sometimes you need someone to talk to.” I didn’t know what to say. If New York had taught me anything is that the city was a holding pen for crazies one should be weary of. Yet here was someone asking for the most basic of human needs: interaction. My instinct for protection battled against my sense of compassion. Wasn’t compassion after all the very thing I aspired to when logging all those Tuesday nights meditating at Tibet House? Compassion was not grasped on the cushion it was attained in other people. I took a breath, hoped he wasn’t certifiable, and stole a sideways glance. He sat slightly stopped over, hands folded on his lap, and he smelled like a forgotten library- yellow pages and moldy mahogany- my favorite. Something in his eyes reminded me of my father. “Yeah”, I said timidly, “the trains are unbearable. Do you go to Manhattan often?” Clyde had lived in Brooklyn his whole life and no he didn’t travel to Manhattan often or much leave his apartment for that matter. He was a Catholic, Army veteran who after the war got a job in Wall Street manning the room-sized computers. Most of his family had moved or passed away so now he spent his time taking pictures which is why he was heading to 34th Street to buy a new lens for his camera. We talked about what New York was like in the 60’s, how much he loved riding his bike, and how he didn’t like cussing nor reality TV. When we made it to my stop at Union Square he asked if I didn’t want to tag along with him. I declined (flirty little bugger!) but I wished him luck finding his lens and I thanked him. He may have been the one that needed to talk but I was the one who benefited all the more for it. Later that same day, as I left work for rehearsal, I crammed in the uptown 1 train next to an older couple. Script in hand, I was mouthing my lines when the husband turned to me, “Need help memorizing?” I apologized if I had bothered them and he said he used to act himself and would love to help. After two quick run-throughs (it was another long train ride) he seemed impressed that it was a classical piece and commended me on my diction. I asked if they lived in the neighborhood but they were only visiting. When he was younger he’d lived in New York for a while and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He said it was the loneliest year of his life. I wished them a happy stay and as I left the station I thought about those two subway encounters, both in one day. It was something worth remembering.
The air in autumn is charged with a special kind of electricity that foretells magic. Maybe it’s the imminence of the witching hour on All Hallows Eve or the way the leaves hold a secret promise. The crisp wind calls for chunky scarves and cozying up to childhood favorites like Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic. This magic time is also my birthday. As I shed another year of my twenties with each coming autumn I become melancholic. It’s not sadness so much as a keen awareness of the passage of time. The pathos of knowing that each year is one more further from your childhood when the adults would take care of the scary parts, like aging. That was something your grandparents did. But then one day you wake up and you’re the same age your mother once was when she had you. Time is a slippery thing. Twenty eight years gone in the blink of an eye.
For the big celebration I envisioned a fabulous night worthy of old New York, dinner and drinks, so I made reservations at a Carrie Bradshaw favorite, Pastis. But when a table for twelve proved to be a scheduling headache I settled for Bucca di Beppo. It was nowhere near as fancy (read: trading Marchesa for Merona) but it would accommodate us without having to boot anyone off the invitation list. Little did I know my wonderful friends had done some planning of their own. They hijacked me for the afternoon and we ended up at Make Meaning where I helped them design and bake my Sex and the City-inspired birthday cake. That night at Bucca, sitting around a long table, we drank sangria, laughed uproariously at inappropriate sex jokes, read tarot cards, and ate pink cake. "Single and fabulous, exclamation point!" Brownie points if you get the reference. As the plates were cleared, the remaining cake was wrapped up in its pretty box and we headed out into the autumn air. We said our goodbyes and headed home. Sitting on the sidewalk was a man who asked if I could spare any change. I kept walking with my head down because again no need to encourage the crazies but I stopped mid-way, turned on my heels and walked back, “Sir, I don’t have any change but I do have a piece of cake that hasn’t been touched. Would you like some cake?” He smiled, “Sure!”. I left him the box and continued on to the Q train. It was like sharing my birthday with the entire city. I figured that was something worth remembering. Maybe even something worth writing about.
Bertha's List: September Edition
I moved to New York ten years after September 11.
Not having lived here before the attack meant that the Manhattan I came to know was one without two proud towers at the edge of the small island. The dust had long since settled but for every New Yorker the memory was still fresh. I’ve read and heard survivors’ accounts attesting to the kindness people showed one another during that time. There was no shoving on the sidewalk traffic, no rush to get anywhere. People went out of their way to help. The undercurrent was a mutual understanding of solidarity, there was tremendous compassion amidst all the horror.
During my second week living here I developed a terrible tooth ache. Terrified because I didn’t know my way around the city, much less of a dentist’s office, and feeling vulnerable being so far away from home I called my friend Doug. He took me to the clinic where the good doctor recommended one of two options: root canal or extraction. I was in so much pain I didn’t want to add any more. I also had a wisdom tooth waiting to come in which I figured could easily take the place of the molar gone rogue. I decided to take the sucker out. The pain was instantly gone. In its place was a gaping hole of tender flesh. Out of habit I kept flicking my tongue over its absence until over time the gum healed and the wisdom tooth dropped.
This past September 11, riding on the Q train over the Brooklyn Bridge, I looked out the window as usual, admiring the skyline. I tried imagining what it must have looked like before. Looking at the absence of the Twin Towers, it occurred to me that this landscape will never again be the same. The same way my missing molar forever changed the mouth I’d known for 25 years, New York’s landscape was also forever changed. Wounds mold the landscape of your body into something else. The scar becomes part of it. And although eventually you grow accustomed to the empty space, it’s a new mouth altogether.
Things with RobotBoy had been slowly deteriorating. By Labor Day I was ready to cut my losses and move on. I understood we were not so good together. Or rather this half-in, half-out ambivalence was not so good for me. I thought the graceful way I let him go represented some sort of personal growth on my part. Comforted by the thought, I picked up the pieces by going to Tibet House to meditate and hear the great masters speak. I didn’t know if through this relationship I was learning about Buddhism or if Buddhism was helping me learn through this relationship. Still, I was grateful. I’d also started jogging again. Meditation cleared my mind and exercise took care of everything else. I went to places by myself. Like that night at the movies to watch Prisoners -a fantastic film that I cannot recommend enough- and Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Calligraphic Meditation- an exhibition running at ABC Home till December that I also cannot recommend enough. I even went on a date which I considered a huge success because I managed not to think of him for the full span of one hour. It really was such a great first date and yet…
I closed my OKCupid account the next day. What was the point of sitting through an unbearably long dinner when all the while I longed for somebody else? Just like clockwork RobotBoy resurfaced, extending a friendly invitation for Friday-night-drinks. Against my better judgment, I accepted. My gut screamed to go home instead but fate had other plans. In his non-committal ‘Hello’ I sensed something was off. He casually handed me a beer and casually introduced me to his friend. Later in the evening she casually re-introduced herself as his recent ex-lover. My lungs cut off all oxygen, my stomach dropped, and my chest wouldn’t let up its squeezing. I couldn't believe the amount of pain that kept crashing over me in waves. I felt so betrayed, so humiliated, so hurt. I made up some pathetic excuse about an early brunch and booked it out of there faster than my rapidly disappearing composure. I commanded my trembling legs to move but only made it half a block. Before even realizing it, I found myself dialing Ryan's number. His voice surprised me because I'd forgotten I was on the phone. "Hey, I don't want to bother you but-" my voice cracked. He instantly knew. "Come over," he said. At the train station the only available seat was across a guy on the saxophone playing the saddest little song the world had ever known. Or maybe that was just me. Against all restraint, two silent drifters made their escape, prickling my cheeks. You haven’t truly lived in New York until you’ve nursed a broken heart waiting for the F train. A creepy man kept offering advice "You're too beautiful to cry... If you need someone to talk to... The city can be a lonely place." I thought the sax was bad but now I was officially in hell. I finally made it past Ryan's threshold and, like a weary traveler unloading its burden, I opened the flood gates and collapsed on his couch. Which is exactly where I stayed for the next two days.
If Robyn got me through my first crash on this carousel, then Sara Bareilles got me through the second. I lied on the couch, Kaleidoscope Heart playing on repeat, Jasper's furry paws at my feet, as I stared into nothingness. The events from the previous night kept replaying over and over again, like a badly written movie. The silent tears had now made grooves, as if to make the path easier for their successors. The ache in my chest was so tender I could almost touch my heart. I kept waiting for anger to break through the numbness. It did, eventually, but not at him. I was angry at myself. How stupid was I to be here again, to come full circle and have learned nothing? Maybe the lesson wasn’t clear the first time. Maybe I needed a solid blow to understand that if you hit a dog long enough it will eventually learn to stay away. Did I really expect him to come running up the fire escape, flowers in hand, and save me? I know, I know. That’s only Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. But just like Vivian, I too wanted the fairy tale. I deserved someone who would chase me. Or at the very least, came after me as I’m leaving a bar.
By nightfall Ryan and JianCarlos had had enough moping around to emo music. We had a friend’s party that evening, after all, and nobody liked a sad girl. So they dragged me out dress shopping. Jian sat in the dressing room for twenty minutes while I unenthusiastically tried on several little numbers. I put on a smile because I realized that their way of cheering me up was to make me feel pretty. Their kindness touched me so deeply. Those boys are golden and just then I felt so goddamn lucky. Few things are harder than celebrating with a bunch of people when all you want to do is be alone and miserable but celebrate we did. The fine drizzle at the beginning of the night turned into a deluge by the time we had to leave the party. We made a run for it, hollering and laughing the entire way, but we still got soaked. I secretly hoped the rain had washed away some of my melancholy.
The next day I washed my salt-stained face and took Jasper for a walk in the park. Sitting on a bench I watched the kids on the playground, the squirrels scampering across the grass, and the birds nesting in branches. I took in all those things I don’t usually notice and I was grateful. The sun kissed my shoulders and I forgave myself. I’d done something brave- I’d dared to love. Pema Chödrön wrote “Feel what’s underneath the story line. Feel the wounded heart that’s underneath the addiction, self-loathing, or anger. If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and to relate to that wound.” In turn, I also forgave him. I left my anger on that bench and took only my wounded heart. I went back to my trusty couch. I gave myself permission to unravel. I needed to come apart at the seams before I could re-stitch. I’ve now come to understand that as my modus operandi. I woke up a few hours later with still no desire to move. That’s when my head very kindly told my heart: thank you for guiding us so far but now it’s time I take over. It seemed like the perfect time for that long-contemplated social media sabbatical. I needed to deal with my emotions without any welcomed distractions. I needed to learn how to be with myself, how to be alone without being lonely. Coincidentally, it was the first day of autumn. The arrival of a new season signified the final page on this
There’s an installation at the Thích Nhất Hạnh exhibit that reads: be still and heal. The placard underneath explains that when an animal in the wild is wounded, it chooses a quiet place to rest and recuperate. I craved stillness. I kept meditating, jogging, and throwing myself into long hours at work. I sipped wine while cooking (which is in itself therapeutic) to Bossanova radio. Whenever my mind wandered to the sad story line I practiced mindfulness by bringing my attention back to my surroundings. If I was bored I let myself be bored. I noticed right away that I was much more invested in the conversation being had over dinner than the texts buzzing in my purse. Because I wasn’t staring down at a glaring screen I was open to the present moment. My acting will one day thank my Buddhist practice, I’m sure of it. I would indubitably return to Facebook one day but for now I was enjoying the freedom of digital detachment.
A week passed and I felt so much better. Having already dispelled the notion I was meant to be miserable forever and ever, I went out for another friend's birthday. We went bar hopping with the sole purpose of life in your 20's: getting drunk. I personally needed a big old drink and, since it doesn't take much to get me tipsy, I was certifiably drunk after an Amaretto Sour and a beer. An adorable, tattooed Italian boy kept putting on the moves with quite the heavy hand. At our friends' behest, I ended up making out with the guy whose name I didn't even know. Sure, it was fun, but it sure wasn't like me. I apologized for my behavior, which I guess he found either endearing or ridiculous because he laughingly called me “too cute,” and for the second time that week I left the bar. The old adage of getting over someone by getting under someone may prove true for some people but not for me. Yes, that makes me a boring prude. But I'm the kind of girl who makes the extraction, waits for the wisdom to drop, and gives the tenderness time to heal.
“The Buddha taught that all human suffering is rooted in desire,” Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Desiring another person is perhaps the most risky endeavor of all. As soon as you want somebody- really want him- it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of that person, so that any separation will now cause you lacerating injury.” Her words resonated. No matter what the attachment is, whether it's a great national tragedy heard round the world or the quiet heartbreak that only you can hear, pain is pain. Ultimately, what defines us is how we choose to let the wound scar. Do we allow it to close us off or do we allow it to open us up a little more each time. To make us more compassionate, more loving, more hopeful.
Bertha's List: August Edition
“I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they live in rags. Even if they aren't pretty, or young, or smart, they're still princesses. All of us! Didn't your father ever tell you that?”
When Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote that, I believed it. I believed it with the same fervor her tiny heroine proclaimed it. You see, I am what you call a girl’s girl. Always have been, always will be; which is probably the reason why I hate reality TV shows like The Bachelor. Thirty smart, beautiful women tearing each other down while some dude openly deliberates which of them he’ll pick? It’s enough to send my feminist heart into a rage. But for every chauvinistic, tasteless show there is a Sex and the City to wipe the misogynistic slate clean.
Now, before you jump for my throat claiming that SATC is the epitome of anti-feminism, let me clarify. I may not be a card-carrying member of the Gloria Steinem variety, I happen to love my red lipstick and yes, I dress for men as much as I dress for women, but my generation’s definition of feminism has managed to attain equality without eschewing the feminine. The two can and should co-exist. Those that criticize the show never understood it. Beyond the glamour of city-living and expensive footwear, SATC was always about relationships- messy, complicated relationships- and, most importantly, friendships. Sarah Jessica Parker has said in countless interviews that what she loved most about the show was the friendship between these women. The love and support they shared on and off set. I remember watching the episodes with my girlfriends in high school and it bonded us with a deep sense of sorority. It set a high standard for how we valued each other and other women- with respect and confidence. As Kim Cattrall once said about Sarah Jessica “She shines and lets others shine, too.”
Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m no ring leader of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I too have been guilty of jealousy. I’ve tried blocking from memory a very public outburst of emotion which turned into a full-blown breakdown in the middle of Union Square Park. I’m still infamous with some innocent passer-bys as that ratchet girl screaming her head off on the sidewalk. Not my finest hour. I’ve also been the victim of girl-on-girl crime and lost some important friendships because of it. That one’s a bit more complicated. But those experiences haven’t jaded me into having “only guy friends because girls are so bitchy.” If I had a dime for every time I heard a girl say that… I can’t assume that mentality because I have been raised, and continue to be surrounded by, some pretty damn amazing women. I refuse to think we are anything short of absolutely wonderful.
As summer drew to a close, it brought along the end of an era. On the last day of August we said goodbye to our friends Maribel and Dodge as the recently-engaged couple prepared for their new life in California. At the couples’ request, Thanksgiving came early. In a tradition that over the years became known as “Drunksgiving,” our urban family celebrated with turkey, mashed potatoes, and copious glasses of wine. Just days before we’d helped the bride-to-be look for her wedding dress and many hours were spent deliberating over lace, silk, and tulle. That day we’d also found the perfect dress. It was a good omen. I realized how much I would miss Marbles. This was the girl that talked me through a panic attack the same night I’d arrived in New York. When I say I was literally convinced not to buy a return ticket, there is really no one else to thank. So we toasted to her future and promised our paths would meet again. At that same rainbow’s end, just waiting round the bend, my huckleberry friend.
With so many birthdays in August, I spent the month celebrating the fierce Lionesses in my life. Whether it was dinner at Pio Pio, a midnight showing of The Conjuring, or a day by the Coney Island shore, I felt privileged to call these ladies my friends. They have held my hand on more than one occasion, through surgeries and dating disasters. Take for example my lovely friend Nina. She’s sat through two dinners, one awful Off-Broadway show, and three cocktails while I rambled on and on about my romantic woes. Where she finds the patience I frankly do not know but I love her all the more for it. During one of our rare, once-in-a-blue-moon drink after work (coincidentally, it really was a blue moon that night) we talked about how much women sacrifice for their significant other. I knew so many gorgeous, strong, warm, intelligent women who, at worst, put up with physical abuse or, at best, put up with waiting around for these boys to finally, maybe, hopefully grow up, get his crap together, and love her the way she ought to be adored. Why do we give so much and settle for so little?
Friday night, after my date cancelled on me (four hours prior, mind you- "I just became exclusive with someone I've been seeing. I hope you understand." I hadn't even met him and already I was rejected? Never a dull day, I tell ya’) I was ready to jump in my jammies and call it a draw when my high school sweetheart, who just so happened to be in town, invited me to hang out with the old gang. He said something about a karaoke bar and I dressed up faster than I once did getting out of my prom dress. One fizzy drink and two kick-ass "Don't Stop Believing"/"Goldigger" renditions later, he walked me to the subway. After three long blocks he became melancholic and began talking in "what-if's" and the possibility of a future together. As he leaned in for a kiss I sharply recoiled as if I'd been stung. Given our history, that is a pretty accurate metaphor. Because even if, against all the odds, I wasn't at that particular moment in love with someone else, and even if I could overlook the fact he was seven years too late, I was just sick and tired of being "the one that got away." I was tired of being the hindsight-is-20/20 girl, the one that waited around while the boy figured it out. I looked at him and thought: here is a man who, once upon a very long time ago, was all I ever wanted and now here I am interested in nothing more than a friendship. So I kissed his cheek, thanked him for the book he'd gifted me, and we each went back to our respective parts of the world. I went home that night knowing that I hadn’t settled because this time I’d chosen me.
Not long after that large feat of self-actualization, I had yet another test of adulthood: choosing whether to fight over a man. Having already stated my abhorrence for The Bachelor, I’m sure you can imagine my utter horror when I unwillingly found myself in the middle of an episode happening in a Lower East Side bar. Totally unprovoked, this woman, whom I’d only just met, sought out to be hurtful, dare I say even vengeful. I had two choices: I could stoop down a few degrading levels or I could walk away with my dignity intact. I wish I could say that I walked out because I was the bigger person but ultimately I walked out because cattiness is not my kind of sport. I also walked out because I understood that this woman’s need to stake out her territory stemmed from a place of insecurity, perhaps even jealousy; traits not foreign to me but ones I don’t like cultivating. Deeper still than the jealousy, her actions stemmed from a place of hurt. Whatever mask she tried hiding behind, it was glaringly obvious- she wasn’t over this man. So I chose to walk away. The only thing I learned that night was that maybe I should have stayed home with a Woody Allen film.
Talking over the incident with my friend Aileen I became very interested in women’s inherent sense of competition with each other. More specifically, those first few seconds of meeting another woman, when you’re sizing her up for friend or foe and maybe slyly judging her outfit, why is it that our first instinct is to automatically feel threatened? Her discerning opinion was that men are easy, all it takes is a bit of charm, but with women, since the prospect of sex is off the table, charm will only take you so far, which is not very far at all. This of course only applies to interactions with heterosexual females. The other side of that coin is a whole other story left for a whole other writer. So my very funny friend Aileen deducted that the futility of harmless flirting with other women only leaves you with the possibility that they’ll genuinely like your personality. I could easily attest to that since I find it more nerve-wrecking asking a potential new girlfriend out for coffee than it is to shamelessly flirt with the cute barista. I’m also of the lone opinion that it is less awkward to break up with a lover than to break up with a friend you may have outgrown. The final verdict of our conversation was that maybe out of fear of rejection or maybe out of some evolution tactic pre-dating back to the cave days, sometimes women aren’t so nice to each other.
All unintended Sapphic undertones aside, I love women. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely fascinated with them. I love them for their best-kept beauty secrets and for the deep sea of secrets that is a woman’s heart. The ones in my life are my heroes, my role models, my gurus, my confidants, my sisters, my mentors, my mothers, my worst critics, my biggest fans, my guiding spirits, my friends. They shaped the woman I am and hope to one day become. Maybe it all does come down to upbringing and I am lucky for a mother who reminded me every day how precious I was. Every little girl should grow up knowing she’s special, just like all other little girls are too. They deserve to be treated as such. So if you ever see another princess in need I suggest you be kind. Tilt up her sloping crown and remind her of a little princess named Sara Crewe.
Bertha's List: July Edition
During sophomore year I was cast in my first college production opposite my acting class partner. He was attractive, charming, elusive, and unattainable. Basically, he was my type. I'm sure that working together for hours on end, along with character transference of emotion, had a lot to do with it but it wasn't long before I developed a major crush on him. There is probably a troublesome psychological explanation as to why I'm attracted to unavailable men, the likes of which we will not go into detail here for the sake of brevity and my sanity, but amidst what I assumed to be mixed messages and heavy flirtation I impulsively kissed him one night at a party. Feeling sexy and victorious, and also highly intoxicated by one beer too many, I went home with him. Ever the gentleman, he made me sleep in the guest room and locked his own door. The next day I met his parents and afterwards he drove me home. His mom loved me. I knew this was going splendidly well. He left that summer for an acting workshop in New York and I was left in the murky grey area of unanswered questions. I still have my diary entry for that day: "If you love something let it go. If it comes back it's yours and if it doesn't then it never was." Ryan came back to school that autumn and we stayed friends, surprisingly without any awkwardness. The following summer he came out to our class when it was evident he had found the love of his life: JianCarlos. I was in denial for all of five minutes until I realized that not only was I happy for my friend, I'd also just gained a new one.
Skip ahead five years and it is summer again, only this time it is one hot Fourth of July in Prospect Park. There's nothing like barbecue, cold beer, and competitive Frisbee with your urban family. And although this one in particular was bittersweet because one of our own would be leaving for California, we made every irreplaceable moment count: watching the fireworks, singing the National Anthem in perfect off-key-Kumbaya-style unison, and re-telling our favorite "Heads Up" inside jokes (Beethoven and Mulan, you know who you are!) I woke up the next day sore from all the activity and opted for a day in. Feeling angsty for no real reason other than me just being me, I sat down with a romantic movie which only managed to worsen my mood. The guy marries this chick after only a week? Because he just knows she’s The One? Who writes this crap? OK, so maybe I was bitter. Rom coms usually cheered me up. Something was wrong. Just as I was contemplating a second round of chocolate chip cookies there was a knock at the door. Standing there were Ryan and Jian- “Change out of that potato sack. We’re going out.” This is not the first time my boys bring me out of my self-imposed misery bouts but it surprises me how often they willingly put up with my mercurial bullshit. A day that would have been wasted moping around in my comfy nightgown (ahem, NOT a potato sack) was instead filled with playing football in the park and chomping down some mean Vietnamese sandwiches. That night we ended up in a warehouse party in Williamsburg. DJ Lobo was spinning away and we tore up the dance floor, sweating buckets, till five o’clock in the morning. Recuperating the following morning called for double-stacked pancakes and a car ride around sunny Brighton Beach. Life is what happens when you leave your apartment.
My day job was particularly slow which left me with a whole lot of unwarranted free time. As a Type A personality who can’t enjoy just “being,” I filled up the hours with auditions, shooting new scenes, and working on monologues. I went to INTAR’s Monday Night Salon and Soka Gakkai meetings. I was doing anything and everything to fill the gap left by my recent lack of routine. Mainly I just didn’t like all this free time to think. So I called up friends, made plans, went to the movies, spent an entire weekend learning Cups and proceeded to annoy everyone around us by singing it at restaurants, bars, beer gardens, train stations… On my way to the office one morning I was waiting on the outside of the curb for the light to change. I was so preoccupied with being on time that I didn’t hear the dump truck’s warning beep as it was backing up towards me. An angel in a white sundress moved me over to the sidewalk. I thanked her and made it to work a little more than shaken up. If I had been present in that moment I would have been aware of my surroundings. I would have heard the beeping noise alerting me to wake up, to look up. Here was my life and I was missing it. I was letting a job define my time’s worth. I’d been viewing this whole thing wrong. In a city that rushes past faster than it can kill you, this was a blessing in disguise- one that was asking me to slow down and enjoy every second left of summer. Because it wouldn’t last forever. As someone who likes sole control of her path, I have to remember that the journey must also lead me. It was time for fun. Pure, frivolous fun on a girls’ night out dancing on a hotel rooftop in SoHo on Thursday, drinking bourbon and cokes in the Lower East Side on Friday, a keg party in Brooklyn on Saturday, and wearing a pretty dress to the Met on Sunday.
I used to believe that true love was a fairy tale definition for romantic love and that family was a group of relatives. But I have learned that true love is for anyone that knows your ugly and loves it just as much as your beauty; anyone who sees you clearly, objectively and loves you anyway. That too goes for family- both the one chosen for you and the one you choose for yourself. As it turns out Ryan did come back to me. Our relationship blossomed into something more than friendship, he became family. So maybe it won’t look the way you thought it would once upon a time. It can look even better. If you can stop questioning, the people that are meant to stay in your life will find a way to do so and when we let go of control we find the joy of living in the grey. This one’s for you, my loves- “my boys.”
Bertha's List: June Edition
There is a thin line between love and attachment.
So elusively thin in fact that it is easy to mistake one for the other. Very often we equate love with ownership and out of desperation we try to grasp that which is fluid by nature. As humans we feel the need to posses because, faced with our own mortality, we like to believe in the permanence of a forever after. Osho once warned that if you love a flower not to pick it up because it then dies and ceases to be that which you loved- “If you love a flower let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
Having houseguests is one of those rare times when I feel like an adult. Beli and Eric, my sister and brother-in-law, were visiting New York for the first time and I got to play tour guide. Nights were reserved for cuddling on my pull out sofa bed watching Game of Thrones and the days were spent showing them around the city I’d chosen as my home. I shared with them the history of the Fifth Avenue Library, the sheer majesty of St. John the Devine, and the unexpected quiet of Central Park. Once they left, the inevitable sadness seeped into my empty apartment. I missed having my baby sister around. It was the same feeling I had when boarding the return flight from Cuba. As soon as I made it to the States I emailed my little sister Silvi to tell her how terribly I missed her. She replied that she missed me too but that we don’t need to see each other every day to love each other every day. It is my karma in this lifetime to be guided by far-wiser little sisters. For twenty five years my sense of self was defined by my place in my family. I was my mother’s daughter, my sister’s sister, my aunt’s niece. It was no surprise then feeling so uprooted when I initially moved out on my own. But their love was big enough to let me go in search of my happiness, so many miles away from them. To this day I am still defined by the love of my family and where I fit in our large tribe, but I’ve also gotten better at standing alone.
On the calendar the first day of summer hits closer to July but for this New Yorker it couldn’t come soon enough. The city comes alive in the blistering heat and suddenly there are a million and one things to do: rooftop parties, beach days with the girls, movies at the park, and the biggest event of them all- Pride Parade. Manhattan trades in its parka for a rainbow-colored bra and opens up its café doors to let the sun in. It’s really my favorite time of the year. New York blossoms in the summer and so do I. Or at least my wardrobe does. Armed with the kind of confidence only a sundress and a pair of wedges can muster, I too was letting the sunshine in. Somewhere between dinner at an Indian restaurant and a sing-along Beatles concert I was back on the dating market. I’d also started seeing RobotBoy again. I wondered if maybe this summer fling wasn’t becoming a pattern. Hadn’t I already done this merry-go-round? After all here I was a year later, none the wiser, and still asking the same questions. But this time felt different. Because this time I understood that a lovely night at The Angelika could be just that and nothing more. No name doodling and His & Hers towels. Those crazy Buddhists are right- when you’re not wasting energy on controlling the situation with the “Where is this going?” talks it turns out you’re free to simply enjoy the previews, the main feature, and even the closing credits. Relationships, like wine, need room to breathe. So taking a break from my incessant obsessing I took what my friend Gill refers to as a “mental health day.” I defrosted my fridge, got a mani, and spent the afternoon wrapped up with the only man allowed, Haruki Murakami.
A month earlier I’d run into my college professor and she told me about a two-day workshop she was offering her former students. I jumped at the chance. During a warm-up exercise we were asked to close our eyes and see ourselves doing whatever it was we wanted if money and time were no obstacles. In the middle of that studio floor I had two clear epiphanies and their force knocked the wind right out of me. I had a crystal clear image of being in the prime of my career and I realized then how desperately I wanted this. It was just me and my ambition but it didn’t feel lonely. I felt fulfilled. Maybe I’ve always known and accepted that no sacrifice would ever be too big. The second epiphany was something I’d subconsciously known for a while but one I’ll keep to myself. A girl must have some secrets, after all. A week later I dressed the part to attend the Actor’s Equity Association 100th Anniversary Gala and the following day I gave an interview on Ese Rules Radio. (You may skip ahead to 18:53) Red carpets and interviews? I could definitely get used to this. This was, indeed, all the romance I needed. Fresh off my faux celebrity high I went in for my monthly doctor visit. A year to the date after my surgery and the adorable M.D. confirmed that everything was in tip-top condition. I was having the best week ever!
On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, I made my way downtown to celebrate my friend Maribel’s engagement party. With the Brooklyn Bridge as the backdrop, a place so beloved by the couple, and the East River glittering beneath us, it was one of those perfect warm evenings. The bride-to-be had a glow lit from within, the kind that can only come from being in love and irrevocably happy. As they posed for pictures he gently pushed back her hair and I pushed back my cynicism long enough to realize that maybe there are more important things in life than a career. Maybe every mediocre dating story’s worth lies in the possibility of finding something as picture perfect as the love I was witnessing. Not one that stems from fear of losing; that is attachment. But one that promises to let you bloom; that is love.
Bertha's List: May Edition
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo loosely translates as "I devote myself to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra."
It is a mantra chanted by Nichiren Buddhists and it is a philosophy I’ve embraced as my own. On May 5th, after one year of practicing alone, I joined the Soka Gakkai International which is a lay Buddhist organization linking all practitioners around the globe. That day I received my Gohonzon: a scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters, in the form of a mandala, depicting the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and seen as an embodiment of the Buddha state that exists within every one of us. Nichiren Buddhists believe the day you receive the Gohonzon becomes your second birthday. It was Cinco de Mayo and I had twice the reason to celebrate. After enshrining the scroll, I celebrated with friends by making margaritas and baking a cake. A very merry unbirthday to me, to who, to me!
No sooner did the thermostat hit a perfect 78 degrees that our shorts-clad legs found their way to Central Park. We laid out a blanket, ate mangos, and basked in the sun. It had been a long winter. After doing cartwheels with a Mikhail Baryshnikov look-alike, who quickly became our best friend when he revealed he danced for the New York City Ballet and could get us tickets, we headed back to Brooklyn for a college friend’s welcoming party. I was under the impression my crush, let’s call him Peter Pan, would be making an appearance but after learning that he indeed wasn’t coming I moved on to the next best thing- jello shots. The next day I woke up hungrier and thirstier than a wannabe rapper. An all-nighter of blue gelatin and “twerking” will do that to a gal. By Monday I’d shed my party girl alter ego for a much more fitting persona, the pseudo intellectual theater-goer. I met up with a girlfriend to watch INTAR’s “Pinkolandia” and although it’s pointless to review it now since it’s already closed, if you ever get the chance to read it or see it I highly recommend you do. The relationship between the two sisters had me blubbering in my seat, like every single sibling story always manages to. Later that week when my sister Beli picked me up from the airport I told her about the embarrassing little episode and she said she does the same thing. We are two sentimental saps!
I was in Miami for just the weekend but the schedule was jam-packed. I hosted a dinner party on Friday and nothing made me happier than seeing my friends and family break bread at the same table. Saturday night Beli and I took Mom out for drinks, dancing, and a surprise trip to Showgirls. Nothing screams “Happy Mother’s Day” louder than Candy’s pink platforms wrapped around your progenitor’s neck. In true Cuban tradition the after-party always continues the day after, so we chased the sun down the seven mile bridge to Islamorada. We sipped our piña coladas by the Tiki Bar and stared out at the sea. I returned to the counter for a slice of pizza. If I’ve learned anything in my 27 years is that drinking on an empty stomach is made for people with stronger constitutions than mine. As I’m signing the receipt I see him walk in: fedora hat, salmon-colored shorts and a predator’s swag. He saunters up beside me and before I know it I’m being handed a business card. Clearly it wasn’t this cowboy’s first time at the rodeo but it was definitely the first time I was being so unabashedly picked up. So naturally I respond like any extremely sophisticated woman in my position would, I fluster my way through a “Nice to meet you” and awkwardly leave the bar. In my 27 years I’ve also learned that the “game” is better left to players more skilled than me. Ladies, if a man tells you twice how sexy you are in the same time span it takes to reheat some dough, run. Run faster than LeBron at an NBA Finals! Also, note to self, never trust a man in salmon-colored shorts.
On the flight back, rummaging through my agenda getting ready for the week ahead, I looked down and there they were: the six auditions I’d skipped out on because they’d taken a back seat to my busy social calendar. Between the late nights and weekly outings I now had six reasons to feel like a failure. I let my perfectionist side bully me with guilt all the way to La Guardia. Three hours and a Diet Coke later, however, I was already fed up- apparently I have a low threshold for remorse which might also be the reason why I’ve never found Catholicism too appealing. Besides, my hedonistic side had much more convincing argument. I didn’t need self-flagellation, I needed a distraction. During rehearsals and performances for “Lucy Loves Me” theatre was all I cared to breathe but now here I was with all this free time. That same day I reactivated my OKCupid account. Since I didn’t have a character to love I might as well settle for a date. The prospects, though, were bleak. I decided to hold off on those interminable first meals and rather spend time with the people I already knew and adored- my friends. We celebrated Doug’s birthday with liquor, board games, and more liquor. What can I say, sometimes you choose your friends but sometimes they choose you. They’re the only ones who will put up with your 45 minute rant about lack of manners and still want to hold your hand at the movies when you’re sad that Jay Gatsby has to die. They’re the ones who will plan a spontaneous day trip to Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend. Two back-to-back Philly cheesesteaks on a wooden bench beats pretending to love salad at a trendy restaurant any day of the week.
Tuesday afternoons I volunteered with the Page Turners, an after-school program to help kids with homework. On the way there, feeling mighty altruistic and marveling in my own Buddhahood, I walked to the subway like I always do, engrossed in my iPhone. Not bothering to look up I didn’t see the light had changed and I nearly got hit by a bike. As he zoomed by the cyclist yelled “Wake up!” He could have picked any other choice of words, a few juicy insults come to mind, but instead he said “Wake up!” I took out my earphones and continued walking. The Universe has different ways of delivering its message. A week before, while walking in Chinatown, I’d stumbled upon a Buddhist temple. After lighting some incense I picked up a small piece of paper with my fortune. It read “Work for Bodhi, e’en if it takes an eternity.” Bodhi is the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the nature of things. It literally means awakened. I liked this fortune. To me awakened means seeing the here and now as the only promise we have. There will always be other auditions but there will never again be another today. Awakened is enjoying the light in a child’s eyes when they correctly solve a math problem they deemed impossible. Awakened means opening up your heart to forgive others for being human and in doing so a chapter you once thought was closed can again be opened and hopefully re-written. And sometimes all it takes is a year-long, overdue email. I read somewhere that “Patience from a Buddhist perspective is not a ‘wait and see’ attitude, but rather one of ‘just be there’... Patience can also be based on not expecting anything. Think of patience as an act of being open to whatever comes your way.” The best we can do is breathe in, breathe out, and work for Bodhi.
Bertha's List: April Edition
“It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
So quoth Ernest Hemmingway in his classic— The Old Man and the Sea. The phrase rings true to me now as it did when I first read it. Any time not spent on stage is a chance to prepare. This past month I have seen the inside of more audition rooms than in the last two combined. Ever since gaining those three wonderful initials on my résumé, tucked neatly under my name, I’ve gone from some number-40-on-the-waiting-list to you’re-up-next. Getting in and out of audition rooms quickly makes my busy days run that much smoother. It even makes the piercing glares of fellow actors and my own yuppie guilt a bit more bearable to take. Unlike The Old Man I would rather be lucky but very much like The Old Man I need to be exact; so in between auditions I've been searching for new monologues. I hope to have a repertory of twenty different pieces memorized and ready to go. In order to catch bigger fish one must have chunkier bait.
I also think watching great performers is as essential to an actor's training as any acting class. In my opinion, the former can sometimes be more instructive than the latter. So every Monday night I took myself out on a date to watch the Manhattan Theatre Club play reading series. Do I really need an excuse to watch Corey Stoll up close? Attending those readings made for lovely nights out when I could stroll the deserted streets, just Manhattan and me. Once the series ended they were replaced with nights at the INTAR Theatre Saloon. For ten minutes you hold the stage choosing to share whatever inspires you. I've started to read a play I wrote almost five years ago and hadn't given much thought to. I'm also thinking of following that with a workshop of my one-woman show. The Saloon is by no means an acting class but if you’re an actor in New York you simply must drop in sometime. I may be biased in my love for this theatre but I can guarantee it will inspire you simply by being in the room.
Chunkier bait also called for updated headshots. So on a very rare warm day I trekked out to Brooklyn Botanic Garden for a photo shoot session. Buddha also tagged along, see him voguing up there on the letterhead? I used the pictures to update my website and thought about sending some to talent agencies in Miami. I figured I spend so much time there anyway, might as well capitalize on it. I asked on Facebook about any recommendations and was met with some alarmed responses. Was I moving back to Miami? Much to the dismay of my frenemies but to my true friends’ relief I reinstated that I wasn’t. It surprises me how people can be so keen on witnessing the failures of others. But while returning to Miami wasn’t on the agenda, moving to a new apartment was.
When I first found my apartment I was grateful for the many things it afforded me, mainly the luxury of living alone. And while I’m still grateful, I’ve also had my fill of leaky ceilings and being woken up by screaming toddlers at seven in the morning. Every morning. All morning. When Pina, my Mom’s dog, had puppies she sent me a picture and I fell in love with them in a heartbeat. I named the runt of the litter Lulu and started to make arrangements to pick her up during my trip in May. I envisioned our life together: walks in the park, snuggling up on the couch watching movies, playing fetch, taking her to the vet. The fantasy bubble was soon burst when my landlord told me he didn’t allow pets. I was so disappointed that taking pity on me my Mom said she would keep her until I found another apartment. Lulu died the following day. I cried inconsolably for a little soul I hadn’t even met. I told myself that maybe this was for the best. Auditions, performances, work, and my social life would have made it near impossible to give her the time she deserved. So I chalked it up to the list of things I’ve given up for my selfish career. I resented that list. I resented that Lulu would never have a full life. I resented my landlord. I realized then that my desire for a pet wasn’t just about love and companionship but about a desire for growth. While this apartment had served its purpose as a stepping stone it no longer supported my needs for a bigger life. Change is scary and moving is a royal pain the ass but without change all that’s left is complacency. My lease is up in December so I’m casting my net once again. May the best borough win.
I have this fascination with what it means to “have it all.” For a twenty-something, single girl that means a lot of balancing and working towards the future that promises the perfect boyfriend, the perfect career, the perfect friends, and the million dollar lifestyle; the ebullient future that is always just a little out of reach. I guess that’s why it’s nice every now and again to remember that having to take the subway to a friend’s birthday dinner when you’d much rather take a cab because your butt is freezing in your cute thrift store find is the Universe’s way to keep you humble. To remind you that this is the journey and this is the stuff that great stories are made of. To remind you that after the third free cocktail at a fabulous restaurant opening there are worse places to drag your tired heels than to a cozy place somewhere in Brooklyn called “home.” To remind you that there’s still time to be exact, be prepared, be ready.
Bertha's List: March Edition
What. Is. Your. Next. Project.
Five little words defenseless enough on their own but string them together, slap on a question mark, and suddenly they have the power to send any actor into panic mode. I remember a well-meaning audience member (an actor himself) ask me that after watching the show. My next project? Am I supposed to have one? I was still trying to wrap my head around this play, this character. It was only opening weekend!
I’ve met a lot of actors who confess being terrified of not having another job lined up after their current one. Considering the economical instability of our career that’s no small fear. It’s also nothing short of outstanding that some can afford to make a living from their acting alone. But while I understand the reasoning behind the fear it seems to me that planning four steps ahead doesn’t allow much room to simply enjoy the moment. I am by no means a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kinda gal. Living with complete abandon is a trait I admire in others but fail miserably at and I’ve got the day planners to prove it. I even schedule my Walgreens runs for Pete’s sake! But this idea of one subsequent play after another, without breaks in between, sounded like automatons churning out performances. Maybe I’m too green to understand this is how the business works. Or maybe there’s something to be said about taking some “me” time.
I’m guilty of quoting my former teacher, Ms. Tracey Moore, way too much but she once said, “You’ve got to live! Go bungee jumping, fall in love, have experiences because that’s what you bring on stage. Otherwise you’re always drawing from the same bucket.” I doubt she remembers having even said it but it has stuck with me through the years. Artists need to feed their creative genius and actors especially need time to shed the character’s skin. As much as I loved Lucy and her tumultuous world I was looking forward to the tranquility of mine. I was craving that which I used to regard as dull and trivial: the minutiae of my vie quotidienne. I was ready to go back to my own life where an Ikea bag full of dirty laundry awaited me as well as an apartment that hadn’t been cleaned in well over a month. Having the time to do laundry is one of those luxuries I would never consider as such until amidst industry events, performances, and after-parties I couldn’t find the time to wash my own underwear! (Too much info? OK, dialing it back.)
In an effort to molt I got a long overdue haircut and a much anticipated mani/pedi. I spent my first free morning in bed with a latte and an issue of New York Magazine. I also had a lovely don’t-schedule-anything-after Sunday brunch with friends. I was being a lazy, balanced Libra and totally loving it. The lackadaisical feeling, however, didn’t last long. “Lucy’s” set hadn’t yet been cleared before I was out auditioning again. Of course. Once the rush wears off we’re out searching for the next hit. Actors are the worst kind of junkies. Sitting in the waiting room I felt very confident and I knew right away something was amiss. Where was the desperation/anxiety I usually felt in these waiting rooms? I reviewed my sides for the umpteenth time, gave the best audition four hours of sleep could manage, and left the room feeling content. I didn’t end up booking the job but somehow my happiness no longer depended on it. The time I took for myself was more important than I realized.
A few days later I came across a Backstage interview with actress Carrie Coon where she said that "A lot of opportunities will come and go. And you have to remember that if you don't get it, it was someone else's turn…" I wholeheartedly agree. Not only is this auditioning shtik not personal but it is also a matter of timing. From what I’ve gathered, during my short time in this career, is that there are phases of waxing and waning. And perhaps (knock on wood) I will be waning for a long time. After all, the statistic of currently unemployed actors is enough to make one give up. Heck, I should know, I’m one of them! But until my “next project” comes along I gotta say this down time is not too shabby. Until then I can indulge: attend Buddhist meetings, watch amazing theatre, go bungee jumping, and fall in love. You know, live a little.