To the girls in my life.

Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Girls,

We usually communicate through snapchat and dance parties, cards and sleepovers and many, many jokes and laughs. I think about you more than you may realize and try to live a lifestyle that does right by you. I’ve watched you grow up into young girls, preteens and teenagers and I am so proud of who you are.

I’m usually the comic relief. The cousin coming home from Chicago for a party or celebration. The babysitter who lets you mix sour punch straws with popcorn because I’m just as curious as to how it tastes. The bridge between my generation and your generation… in return for me making sure that you don’t set the house on fire, you serve as as a distraction from the bleakness of adulthood.

I was looking forward to you seeing a female president so early in your lifetime. When I was your age, I didn’t think women could be president. I don’t mean that I didn’t think they’d be able to be elected, I mean that I genuinely thought there was a rule that women were not allowed to be president. I’m happy you won’t be as ill-informed. I was elated at the prospect that for some of you, you would only know a black president and female president in your lifetime, and ready for the task of helping you understand the historical significance of that feat.

Instead you have a president that does not respect your body or mind. One that is racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist. I hope you learn what those words mean and then how to fight them. I hope you get bossy and fight back for any of your friends that may fall victim to the bullying or violence that your president elect’s words have incited. I hope you understand the privilege you have and stick up for those who don’t. I hope you are taught history as it happened instead of a PG, whitewashed version.

The adults in this country elected a man that says it is okay to grab your bodies. That criticizes women who do their homework and show up prepared. That has been accused over ten times of assault. That has bullied women for the way they look and harassed them on tape. Who sees us as sex objects or nasty women. And you weren’t able to have a say in it, and for that I’m sorry.

Because someone is an authority figure does not mean that you have to accept their behavior. If a man on the street were to say these things to you, I would have you run as far away as you can from them. Just because the president elect is saying them doesn’t mean you have to support it.

The president elect won’t be the first, nor the last, man to say or do these things to you. I’m not naive enough to think that you will never experience them at school, work or in the world around you. If and when you do, I hope you are bossy. I hope you learn how to say no and that no is the final answer. I hope you scream and yell and seek help when needed. I hope you speak up for other women instead of putting them down. I hope that if you are ever violated, you know that it is not your fault and that those who love you will help you fight back. I hope you never accept limitations and that you promote intersectional feminism. I hope you know that you can love whoever you want to love. I hope you fight like hell to be treated equally, and I hope you win. I hope your generation can be even nastier than mine. You have a lot of fighting to do.

Fight back with intelligence. He’s afraid of your potential. Reclaim the names he calls you. Own being a nasty woman, a bossy kid, an angry feminist. Speak up and work hard. That’s what scares him the most.

Know that there will be a female president. Personally, I hope that our next elect will be a lesbian woman of color. While I’m not sure if it’ll happen in our next election, I know that it eventually will. We just have to work at it.

Work hard, study hard, and don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. Women are not limited. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

My Worst Moment in Improv.

Happiness, hardship, Life Lessons, Silly, Uncategorized

My friends Sam and Donald have an outstanding podcast, SDI, in which they interview novice to professional improvisors. Almost a year ago, I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by them and they asked me one of their signature questions – What was your worst moment in improv?

I dodged their question and opted for a moment that I learned the most from. Because the truth is… I was too scared to talk about my worst moment in improv.

Two years after my worst moment in improv, I still get really emotional thinking about what happened. I get angry, sad and frustrated. While I’m extremely open to talk about my successes and failures, I’ve only told a handful of people about my worst moment in improv because I just hate talking about it. But keeping it a secret doesn’t help anyone, so here it is.

About a year into taking improv classes, I was in a class where we were doing an onion peel. For those who don’t know what an onion peel is, it’s a game where a scene starts with one person, then a second person walks on and starts a new scene, then a third and so on and so on until everyone is onstage in a large group scene. Then you reverse the process – each person finds a reason to exit in the reverse order that they came in and you go back to the scenes that you did previously until you’re left with the original improvisor finishing up their original scene.

Still with me?

They can be very chaotic for beginner improvisors but are a great way to teach them how to listen and work with a group. In this particular scene, we were in the army and therefore I was crawling on the floor, because honestly when I started improvising, I had no control over my body and was almost always throwing myself across the stage. Someone walked onstage and started a new scene where we were all at a party. To justify being on the floor, I acted wasted (ok, not the smartest choice but I was very new to this so give me a break.)

That’s when my worst moment onstage happened.

A classmate of mine crawled over to me and put his arm around me. Another classmate pretended to roofie me while another stroked my face. It evolved into what I can only describe as a date rape gang bang scene that I couldn’t find a way out of because I was so in shock by the man who decided to start humping my leg. I tried to push everyone away for what seemed like an hour but was probably about thirty seconds.  I had never been so relieved for someone to walk onto a scene than I was that day.

No one spoke up to stop the scene.

In the moment, I wanted nothing more than for someone to stop the scene midpoint and yell at all of us for letting this happen. Even yell at me if you think it would help! Tell me I’m allowed to speak up for myself! Tell me to fight against sexism! Teach me how to take the power back in the scene in case it happens again! I felt powerless against these men and my instinct was to just roll up into a ball and wait for it to be over. The day, the class, the term. I just wanted to go home.

I didn’t talk to anyone about it because I felt like I couldn’t. I didn’t want to be a bad teammate. I didn’t want to be the one who tore the group apart. I thought I would just get over it, but the truth is that two years later I still don’t like talking about it.

In my entire improv career, which has been five years long, I’ve only had two female teachers and two female coaches. This is a huge problem. There’s no reason why that number should be so off. Having female teachers and coaches gives female improvisors a person to go to when they feel like they’ve been harassed, assaulted, or the victim of sexism. There are definitely male teachers who are feminists that fight for us but it’s hard to go to them because no matter how much they can sympathize, they don’t understand what it’s like.

It is so frustrating that we even have to think about this. But here’s a few examples of things I’ve had to deal with that I don’t think my male improv friends have ever had to think about.

I’ve had to leave multiple graduation shows of mine because my drunk male friend keeps on hitting on me.

I’ve had to yell at the same person multiple times because he keeps on grabbing my ass and can’t understand why I don’t think it’s funny.

I’ve been sold as a prostitute in a scene.

I’ve been in interviews where half of it was focused on why I hate being called a strong female comedian, and I’ve been asked more times than I can count whether or not women are funny (in which I now use the Katie Rich method of answering.)

I’ve been in auditions where I was called a bitch onstage and was told to go to the kitchen and make a sandwich. When I spoke out against this within my scene, I was left with silence and awkwardness then had to work through the rest of the audition just hoping it would be over soon.

I’ve been told to lose weight, change my voice, and to change my name from Annie, which I’ve always gone by, to Anna, which is only used legally, so that it sounds less like a little girl’s name.

I’ve been told, multiple times by strangers,  that the reason I got cast into a show was to fulfill a female quota. I’ve been told, by strangers, that the reason I got a job coaching was because I was a woman. I’ve been told, by strangers, that the reason I got a slot at a theater was because the owner and I “had a thing”. All by people who have no authority or clue as to how hard I worked or how talented I may be. (I’ve learned that people really love to use your gender to justify your success and their inability to achieve said success.)

Every time I look for a new director, I have to consider whether or not they’re safe enough to be vulnerable around.

My Twitter, published articles and blog posts are a feeding ground for trolls who call me fat, ugly, idiotic & untalented – and those are just the tame trolls.

The reason I haven’t spoken about this in five years is because I’m afraid of be labeled as “difficult to work with” or “oversensitive.”

Half a year ago, I made the shift from performing constantly to coaching and directing more than I perform. I made a vow that I would never cast a show that had less women than men, and that I would never cast an ensemble that didn’t have multiple POC (if you want to know what it’s like to be an improvisor of color, read this.) I promised myself, and continue to remind myself, to speak up when someone is being sexist and racist instead of letting it slide. Everyone who has worked with me knows that I lead with a lesson that I took from the book of Dana Quercioli… before we even warmup, I lay out the types of jokes I won’t tolerate because they’re crutches, and they’re offensive. Any jokes about gender, race, sexual orientation, weight or things that come out of your body won’t fly. Not only are they offensive, but they’re already used up- we can find something better.

So why the post? I’m frustrated and sick of not being spoken up for, but to be honest… I’m not doing a great job for sticking up for myself. I’m more concerned about being liked than being treated with respect. That’s not right. So I’m going to start speaking up. I hope you do too.

An open letter to the little girl I babysit.

Life Lessons

I hope that you remain curious. That your never ending questions continue to dictate the way to see the world. I hope you always see the world as a classroom and observe it like a student. When you don’t understand something… whether it’s why you have to go to bed early, why you should to help your sister clean up or why adults don’t seem to listen to kids… I hope you always ask. Approach the world like you approached your first school project on outer space… eager to understand something that you know nothing about. Determined to master a new subject. Ready to share your knowledge with any and everyone who will listen.

I hope you continue to find strong female role models. Right now you idolize Doc McStuffins. It’s the only program you want to watch on TV, you tuck her in at night next to you and you even dressed up as her for Halloween. Out of all of the characters in the world to love, you picked an African-American female doctor who dedicates all of her time to making others feel better. When you’re not pretending to be Doc, you’re pretending to be Anna. A silly, strange, curious and strong princess who risks her own life to save her sister.

I hope you never stop expressing your emotions. We had a little fight the other night. I told you that you have to go to bed and you broke down. Hysterically crying, you refused to go to bed. I was coming off of a 40-hour work week and had to go straight to my show after I left your house, so I was immensely frustrated and exhausted. I left you alone to cry it out and put your sister to bed. When I came back, you were still sobbing. I thought you were putting on a show. Frustrated, I finally asked you why you were so upset… something that I should have done much earlier. You told me that you missed me and wanted to spend more time with me. That we didn’t get through half the stuff you wanted to do. You were honest with me, you told me how you felt. Keep doing this. Keep telling people how you feel about a situation instead of masking it. When you let me know why you were upset, we were able to fix the problem. We made a list of everything that we were going to do next time I came back and I made sure to read an extra book at bedtime. Instead of just fighting, we worked it out.

I hope you never stop singing. When I started babysitting you two years ago, you were a ham. The second an opportunity to perform came up, you threw on a tutu, improvised some dance moves and sang at the top of your lungs. You would force me to videotape you so that I could show your parents when they came home. The other night while we were eating dinner, you told me that you don’t sing anymore. You said that you can’t hit the high notes. My heart broke a little. You didn’t care about this before you started singing at school assemblies. I did the only thing I could think of… I told you that I couldn’t hit them either but I still loved to sing. I hope you don’t let your peers tell you what you can and cannot do. I hope your fear of high notes never keeps you from doing something that you love.

I hope you keep finding joy in the silliest things. I let you have four cherries on your ice cream the other night and you acted like I gave you a million dollars. You were beaming and said it was the best day of your life. I hope you’re able to find something every single day that makes it the best day of your life. I also hope you never lose your sense of humor. You’re a little comedian and you’re too young to care about whether or not you’re funny. You tell jokes, make ridiculous faces and find a way to make everything silly. Realize that this piece of your personality is unique and endearing. 

Most of all, I hope you continue to take the iPad into the bathroom with you when you poop. It’s the most adorable thing about you. “Ok, I’m going to poop. Where’s the iPad?” It makes you so… you. It’s your quiet time… your time to escape from your little sister and me. I know that you don’t take that long to poop but I let it happen. Everyone needs some time to regroup. I hope you always steal a little piece of the day for yourself. 

My guide to happiness, part one.

Happiness, Life Lessons

Understand your pitfalls.

Know yourself and understand where you struggle. Stop wishing to be normal… normal doesn’t exist. Instead, just be in tune with your pitfalls. By understanding and accepting your darker sides, you’ll be able to deal with them a little easier. When I was fourteen, I had my first panic attack. I literally thought I was dying, as the symptoms are very similar to a heart attack. I’d stay up all night, come to terms with my inevitable death, get tired, eventually fall asleep and wake up in the morning amazed that I was still alive. I was so sure that I had some awful terminal illness. When I finally found out that they were panic attacks caused by anxiety, they were easier to manage. Did they go away completely? No… but when one came, I knew exactly what it was. I went from staying up all night thinking that I would be dead in the morning to learning how to breathe deeply and isolate myself so I could ride out the attack. It didn’t happen overnight… but since I learned how to manage my anxiety, I’ve had significantly less panic attacks.

Once you understand something, it becomes less scary. When you know your struggles, when you can see where they come from, you can manage them easier. Pretending that they don’t exist won’t solve anything. You have to learn how to live with whatever crap you have on your shoulders. You have to learn how to ride out the waves.

Let people know how much they mean to you.

This was my biggest regret when my dad died. I felt as if I let him die without knowing how much I loved him. I was so caught up in my teenage angst and didn’t make the time to have those conversations with him. The truth is, most of us don’t. We’re so scared of being rejected that we hold back our feelings towards those we idolize, love or care for. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting to guard yourself. It’s human. It actually took me three deaths to realize there’s no time to hold back how you feel. When I lost my dad and two of my friends unexpectedly, I realized that I need to let people know that I care for them while we still have time together.

So I write letters and tell people that I’m appreciative of them. I let people know that they made a difference in the way I look at the world. The truth is that everyone is human. Even if you think that someone is perfect and flawless, they have moments of self-doubt. Your kind words of gratitude may be what makes someone realize that they’re great. Don’t ever be afraid to let someone know they changed your life.

Be kind.

To everyone. I always say that it’s not hard to be kind… because it really isn’t. You have to practice patience and self-control but it can be done. I hate people who fight… grown adults who yell at each other. Nothing gets under my skin more than this. Being kind doesn’t mean that you always have to be happy with someone, but if you’re angry then treat them as a decent human being and have a conversation. Be levelheaded.

Don’t make fun of people. It’s so stupid… I hate this. I hate when one of my friends posts a picture, or video, of some homeless person on the street who is clearly has an intellectual disability. I love people who have intellectual disabilities and I know that they’re so damn lucky to be in a loving family. These people on the street weren’t as fortunate, that’s all. If you don’t want to help, just leave them alone.

Ah, and finally, the hardest of them all… being kind to those who are awful to you. This is where patience comes into play. When someone is yelling at you for no reason, all you want to do is scream back and tell them they’re shit. I know this. I dealt with it every day for two years. I do believe that there are bad people in the world. However, I also believe that if you treat these people like shit then you’re sacrificing your character for someone who honestly isn’t worth it. My mom taught me this lesson… some people just aren’t worth your time and energy. She always told me to consider the source… don’t let words from someone whose character you don’t believe in affect you. If you dislike them as a person, why are their words hurting you? They’re invalid words. They don’t mean anything. They hold no weight. Once you’re able to realize this, you’re also able to let their fighting words fly past you and speak with them levelheaded. Stick up for yourself, but do it in a professional manner. Let them know that their behavior is unacceptable… but do it in a kind way. Through an intelligent conversation. Your opinions hold more weight when they’re executed with a clear mind. If you yell at them, you’re just as bad as the person you’re yelling at.

Go for it.

What do you really want? Be honest with yourself. What do you want to do in life? Why aren’t you doing it?

You’re going to come up with a million different reasons. I came up with four years’ worth of reasons. I came out to Chicago to pursue comedy then avoided it for four years. Why? Because I was terrified of not making it. Before I even got started, I was scared. Here are just a few of my excuses: It’s stupid idea, it’s too much money, I don’t have time, what if I’m not good at it?, if I really love my family then I’ll move home after graduation instead of being selfish, that’s something that I should have done earlier… now it’s too late, what if I fail? There were a million more excuses.

Then want to know what happened? I almost had my comedy dreams stripped away from me. I was moving home without ever trying… I was leaving that dream behind. Then I got a job in Chicago and a week later I found myself on a train back to Chicago. It was a second chance. This time I’ll just go for it… because nothing felt worse than having to explain to my friends back home why I never got started.

So I signed up for one class. That’s it. Just one class. It changed my life. Let me say that again… it changed my life. My life changed forever. I became happier, a better person to be around. I met mentors who changed my life. I quit my awful job. I learned that I deserve more out of life. I learned that failure isn’t as scary as never getting started. When I was little, my dad used to tell us “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s don’t go on the scoreboard.” You may fail, you may succeed… but do something. Don’t live in regret. One class just over a year ago evolved into 15 classes, 26 shows, 33 original sketches, a blog, an internship, a new job and an incredible community that I couldn’t imagine my life without.

That kind of stuff happens when you go after what you want. You find that you wanted it because it fits you like a glove.

Don’t expect the world to hand you anything, especially happiness.

No one is going to do it for you. Work hard, maintain a good character and strive for happiness. No one is going to bring you happiness. No one. No person, doctor, object, amount of money or success will do this for you. You have to work really hard at it.

I know because I spent a long time wondering if I was ever going to be happy again. When I finally went for help and was diagnosed with PTSD, I learned that I was never going to just be happy naturally. No one is ever happy naturally. We’re all fucked up in some way. When that illusion faded, I realized that I can teach myself how to be happy. I literally wrote one thing down every single day that I’m grateful for. One thing a day to extract happiness from. Sometimes it was hard… sometimes it was as simple as “I’m happy I’m alive”… and when I couldn’t find anything in my life to be happy about, I looked around me… “I’m happy my mom is healthy,” “I’m happy that my nephew was born,” “I’m happy that I have a bed to sleep in.”

This taught me to extract happiness from the world around me. That no one was going to come up to me and tell me that I’m cured, or that it’s time to be happy. I learned that shit happens… all the time. Bad things will always happen. However, when you learn how to extract happiness from the world around you, the bad things won’t seem as scary. You’ll feel like you can deal with that one awful thing because you have lists of incredible things to be happy about.

I kept my list for 42 days, exactly. I know this because I still have it. After 42 days, I no longer needed a list. I had trained myself to extract happiness naturally. I worked really hard for those 42 days – I was sober, I stayed away from most people, I avoided anything tied to a bad memory… I just focused on myself. After 42 days, I felt like I could start being the young, vibrant person that I wanted to be again.

Happiness didn’t just appear after 42 days, but I knew that it was coming. I felt like I was in recovery – knowing that better days were to come. And they did. They came about two years ago. I realized one day that I was purely happy. I was no longer self-conscious, paranoid, selfish, ruled by anxiety, depressed… I was better. I was happy all the time. Bad things have happened since then, I’ve cried a lot, but I didn’t let those things rule my life anymore. This is my new life. I am in control.

This formula won’t work for everybody. Everyone has a different way to heal. This is just what worked for me.  But what I’m getting at is that you have to work for the things you want in life. They’re not just going to come. That never happens.

I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor

Grief, Happiness, hardship, Life Lessons

I started this blog two months ago. I was sick of hearing Millennials talk about how much life “sucks” in your twenties. I was afraid that my friends weren’t even considering that happiness is always an option… even when everything seems bad. So I published 20 ways to be happy and since then I strive to make every other post I write bring happiness. I want to remind people that life is so good if you let it be.

It was recently brought to my attention that happiness isn’t so easy. I realized that I keep on pushing this concept that you can make a conscious decision to be happy, however, people who suffer from various illnesses don’t consciously choose to be upset. It’s a chemical imbalance. That’s when I realized that everyone who reads my blog couldn’t possibly know my own story and history.

Baby I’ve been here before / I’ve seen this room and I’ve and I’ve walked this floor / You know I used to be alone before I knew you

I know that depression is a rough battle to fight. I understand that you can’t just wake up one day and be happy. I’ve been there. 

For a solid 8 years, I battled all kinds of demons. In high school, about two years after my dad passed away, I became so paranoid that I wasn’t able to go to bed until sunrise. I spent the entire night pacing around, scared to death something would happen to someone. After two of my friends passed away in college, I was so depressed that I spent days crying in bed… I didn’t go to class, talk to anyone or eat. Each traumatic event took it’s toll on me – I was miserable. Friendships were ruined because I refused help, my dignity was lost and I seriously thought that happiness was impossible. I didn’t tell a soul how I really felt. I was too embarrassed. Ever since my dad died, everyone told me how strong I was. I didn’t want to let everyone down by admitting that I needed help.

After about two years of serious mood swings and battles against depression, I hit rock bottom. One of my best friends dropped me from her life because I was too much work. I’m not sure if she thought that I was acting this way for attention or just sick of me refusing help… but she was gone. I had no more options – I conquered my fear and went to a psychologist.

Ever since my dad died, everyone tried to get me help. It was overwhelming to me. School psychologists, child psychologists, school counselors, art therapists… it was too much. I was sick of telling my story over and over again. With each new person, I had to start from the beginning. I felt so guilty about my dad’s death and it was too painful for me to relive. So I ran. I ran away from every single professional looking to give me one-on-one help. I would go for one session then disappear – I wouldn’t show up to the second. I spent many classes ducking into the bathroom because I knew that they would look for me. I preferred being in a group and  thought that I would be fine with group therapy… but it only allowed me to hide behind other people’s emotions instead of working on my own.

So here I was… twenty years old and finally getting the help I needed. Within the first session, my psychologist diagnosed me with PTSD. While it was terrifying for me to have a name for this extreme paranoia, insomnia and overall depression, it was the first step to my recovery. From there, we could fix it.

Here’s where my idea of making a daily conscious decision to be happy comes in. When I was going through therapy, I had to relive a lot of shit I would rather avoid. Reliving everything only meant that I became more paranoid and upset. I knew I couldn’t last in this mindset so I taught myself to count a blessing everyday. I made a conscious decision to take at least one minute a day and devote it to reliving happy memories. It was tough… some days I really had to think to find something worth being happy about… but I always found something. There was always something worth living for. From there, I took other small steps towards happiness. I admitted to my family that I never got over my dad’s death and needed help. I realized that I broke key relationships and I apologized… to my friends, my sorority sisters and most of all… to myself. I forgave myself for all of the shit I did in the past. When I finally got over my past, I restructured my life to allow for happiness in the present. I ditched friends who didn’t have good intentions, found roommates that I loved and surrounded myself with a group of good people eager to contribute to my happiness. I lost my fear of being emotional and told people how much they meant to me. I allowed myself time to be selfish and took up dance and improv. I was finally happy. 

It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took a solid two years after seeing my psychologist before I considered myself stable. But everyday I made the decision to take one more step in the right direction. I trained myself to think this way. As I write this, I promise you that I’m 100% happy in life. My dark days are far behind me… and I have therapy to thank for that. You guys, it’s possible to be happy.

So I know that sometimes I can generalize and make it seem like happiness is right next door… but I also understand it takes work. My intention is not to be unsympathetic to anyone’s circumstance. I  just want everyone to know that you have one shot at a beautiful life and you deserve every bit of happiness. Get yourself the help you need to allow yourself the ability to live a happy life.

You deserve it. I promise you… you really deserve it.

He should be the one on stage

Grief, Life Lessons

Today was my dad’s birthday. It’s the 9th one without him and I have to say it’s the toughest one yet. In November, it will be ten years since he passed away. Each year brings something different… this year is no exception. What people don’t understand is that the days get easier and you can find true happiness after loss, but deep down it always hurts. Every success has this bittersweet feeling to it because you can’t share it with them.

Why was this year harder than any other year? He would have fucking loved that I’m fully immersed in the Chicago comedy scene. My dad worshiped the comedians that the Second City cranked out. Every time I step foot in that building I miss him. Some days are tougher than others. This year when I had the incredible opportunity to meet Aykroyd and Belushi, it killed me that I couldn’t talk to him about it. He was who introduced these people to me… I grew up watching Coneheads and learned to play harmonica at a young age to compliment the Blues Brothers impression he taught me. My dad was, hands down, the funniest person I’ll ever meet in this lifetime. I feel guilty… like he should be the one on stage. He even had his own set of self-proclaimed “Three Amigos”:

Image

A few months before my dad’s accident, he came and saw me in my first “real” show (that wasn’t held in my living room or elementary school cafeteria). It was a musical review that wrapped up a summer camp I went to in Newtown, CT… I pretty much just smiled, sang and did some choreography in the back all while trying not to pass out or puke. My first “big” show was the last one he would see. At the end of the show, he gave me some flowers with a card that simply said, “I feel like this is the beginning of a great career.”

It wasn’t until this year that those words really sank in. He chose the word career… not hobby, activity or pastime… career.

My dad understood following dreams. When he graduated high school, instead of going to college, he joined a minor league football team and was eventually drafted by the NFL. He worked hard and followed his passion. He paid his dues, took criticism from his coaches, applied corrections and didn’t once apologize for wanting to achieve his dream. So many people told him that he was foolish… but he did it.

Even though I have so many people in Chicago supporting me, I feel like there’s always going to be this void in my life. I was lucky to have parents who cultivated my creativity and allowed me to chase my dreams. I wish so much that my dad was still here to support me in this endeavor. I know that he would have been extremely supportive and excited for what each new milestone brought.

We shared comedy… we both understood it. We both had this insatiable desire to make other people laugh… to allow them to forget about all the bad in this world… all of their troubles and hardship for just a second. We were a duo… he would set me up and I’d go in for the kill. He used that word – career.

It’s hard to admit that I want this to be a career because other people aren’t as supportive. I don’t care in what capacity… I could be performing, directing, teaching or running the PR… shit, if someone offers me a fair wage to mop the floors, I’ll do it. I just want to be able to make a living off of it, to be surrounded by a creative and positive atmosphere. To make a living out of making people happy. A lot of people tell me to be realistic – which I am. I understand it’s tough and it will break your heart and there’s so much competition. I get it. I hear you. I just want someone to tell me what he did… that I’m in the beginning stages of what will be a great career. Someone I could go to and talk about wanting to make a career out of comedy without feeling the need to apologize for it. My dad would have been that person and it kills me that he can’t be.

But alas, if there’s one thing that I learned in the past ten years it’s that there’s nothing I can do about it. He’s never coming back. He’s gone. There’s no use in living in the past. So what do I do? I think of him often. I imagine what he would tell me. I think of the hard work, rejection and perseverance that he saw down his road to the NFL.

My dad was a wonderful man. Everyone loved him… and I mean everyone. He didn’t have enemies and his services were flooded with friends who were heartbroken by his loss. Think of that… no enemies. No one to talk poorly about your character at your services. Are you living a life like that?

While reading The Chris Farley Show, I came across a passage that was so closely related to my father, it took my breath away. I had to reread it over and over again to make sure that I was reading it correctly. I was allowed a brief second to relive the memory of my father. It read:

“There were times, for instance, when Chris and I’d be on the highway, going through a tollbooth. He’d do a bit in front of the tollbooth talker, and it’d make the guy laugh. [Let me note that my dad did the same exact thing at tollbooths] At first you were kinda like, oh, that was a little weird. But on the other hand it was like, you know, he just made that guy’s day. That guy’s gonna go home and tell his wife, ‘Yeah, this big guy came through in a car today and did this thing with the steering wheel…’ One of the cool things about Chris, and one of the noble things about Chris, is that if he made somebody’s day better, he could ease the pain and sadness in the world just a bit, that was why he felt he was here.”

I have big shoes to fill. I’m up for the challenge.

The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on

Life Lessons

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me Denzel Washington’s 2011 Penn Commencement speech. There were many great parts to it… and I’m sure I will write more blog posts inspired by different sections, but for now I’ll focus on a quote where he describes an analogy Les Brown, a motivational speaker, made:

“Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life,’they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together.’ So I ask you today: How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes? You invested a lot in your education. And people invested in you. And let me tell you, the world needs your talents.”

Yeah, man. We all have ideas… restaurants, blogs, screenplays, novels, fashion designs, the next slinky… but so many of us dismiss them as something for someone else to do. We can’t possibly be destined to be the next Wes Anderson. Well, have you ever actually read about Wes Anderdon’s life? He wasn’t born into greatness… it’s not like his parents were Hollywood mavens who made it easy for him to be successful. He did it himself. He was born from a realtor and advertiser, who were divorced when he was a kid, loved philosophy and worked on his passion through college. He was just another guy… but he didn’t dismiss his talent as something for someone else to do. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of people who made it… you’ll find out that they were just as lost and confused as you were at your age. They’re people. Yeah

I was lucky. When I graduated college, I decided to move back to Connecticut. I packed up, said my goodbyes, boarded my flight and flew home… my time in Chicago was done. About a week after landing on the East Coast, I was back on a train to Chicago for a job interview that I would ultimately get. During my 28 hour train ride from NYC to Chicago, I realized that I went off to Chicago to pursue comedy but didn’t even try during my four years there. I didn’t take a single class. With my dad’s advice ringing through my ears, “Shoulda’s, woulda’s, coulda’s don’t make it on the scoreboard”, I started my job, saved up some money and took my first improv class in five years. There was something about coming back to Chicago that made me refocus on what brought me here to begin with. I figured that if I don’t make it, I don’t make it… but that’s for someone else to decide. I’ll do everything in my power to pursue my passion. At the very least, it brought so many good people and so much happiness into my life. When I’m on my deathbed, I can honestly tell myself that I tried.

Related to my earlier post, in line with Denzel’s last lines, I genuinely believe that people don’t hand out empty compliments. Well, not the people who matter anyways. You know the people whose advice you always take because it’s honest… your teachers, team, close friends… they’re investing in you because they see something. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t waste their time. There are so many thingsthey could be doing instead of boosting your ego and investing time in your progression. There are so many other people they could focus on. But they’re focusing on you.

Make a list right now. I know you have time so don’t try and make excuses. You’re making time to read this so clearly it’s not a busy work day. What ideas have you had that you’re too afraid to bring to life? What would you do if there was no one around to judge you, tell you that you can’t, or if the preconceived notion that it’s too ‘tough’ didn’t exist? One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Here are my ghosts that still need a good kick in the ass:

  1. Write a book
  2. Learn how to play guitar
  3. Create a nonprofit that awards vacations to families with children who had an immediate family member pass away

If you take even one of these ideas and at least try to make it happen, you’ll live a life of fewer regrets. How are you supposed to know what you’re capable of if you don’t at least try?

I’ll leave you with this… what would the world be if everyone thought [insert your passion here] was for someone else to do? That they weren’t meant to follow their passion? Have you heard the theme song to Weeds? Yeah, it’s boring as hell.

Now take the next 22:36 to watch this, it’s worth it.