Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Moving on.


When I moved to Chicago, I thought I’d leave before college graduation.

I wanted to be a teacher and it made sense to my seventeen year old self to only go to an out of state college for three years then come back to CT or NY to get certified within that state. But when I changed my major three days into my freshman year, that plan went out the window.

I was supposed to move back to the East Coast after college graduation. Actually, I did move back to the East Coast. Well, kinda. I did not renew my lease in Chicago. I packed up and planned to move home but was called in for a job interview. The day before going home, I put all of my stuff in storage then went on the interview. I figured that if I didn’t get the job, I could come back and get my stuff. Then I packed all my clothes and headed home. We immediately went on vacation for a week where I found out that I was being called in for a second interview. After vacation, I headed back to Chicago and took the job. So essentially, I just over packed for vacation

When I started working in Chicago, I had no immediate plans to leave. I always knew I would eventually end up on the East Coast, but I never had a definite time frame. My standard answer was that I would be in Chicago for two more years, which turned into three, which turned into four. Two years ago, I was ready to pack up everything and move to Los Angeles but breaking my knee put those plans on hold. I wasn’t too upset about that though because Chicago always pulled me back.

I’m nine and a half years into my extended stay in Chicago. I love this city with my entire heart. I love the people I met and the strangers who greet me with the kindness and optimism that can only be traced back to the Midwest. I love taking an hour long walk after work along the lake and finding myself still in awe of our skyline. I love the neighborhoods I lived in – Lincoln Park, the Southport Corridor of Lakeview and now Uptown. I love that I always find something new in the city like how expansive Montrose Park is or where to order the best Chicken Shawarma plate. I love when I find myself back on DePaul’s campus and replay the memories: the quad where I used to run through the sprinklers after a night of drinking, the dorm where I met my best friends, the hall where I was initiated into Chi Omega. I feel the pit in my stomach churning when I find myself by my old place on Cornelia, wishing I had enough money to buy the townhouse that I loved so much. I like the way we all gather inside for long nights of beers and Christmas lights in the winter and eat outside every night in the summer. I love Eagles games at Mad River, our annual Christmas Trolley and late nights after comedy shows at Old Town Alehouse. I love how it’s in the middle of the country so flying to either coast is not a hassle. In college I cried on every ride to the airport down Lake Shore Drive. I knew I would be back soon, but I never wanted to leave. I would strain my neck looking back at the skyline on the way to Midway until it was completely out of view.

I never wanted to permanently live in Chicago. I stand by that. For every reason I have for loving Chicago, I have another reason I want to be home. The thought of raising children so far away from my family is worse than leaving Chicago. I don’t want to be a long distance aunt anymore. I missed a lot of my nephew and cousins growing up and while I don’t regret my time here, it’s bittersweet to see all the time lost whenever I realize how old they are. While I pride myself in being a lot more present these days because I’m more financially stable, I want to be able to join in on all the little things the next generation of my family will bring. I want to be at sports games and school plays and whenever I have my own kids, I want sleepovers with cousins and dinners with grandma. Beyond family, I miss New England. I miss having four seasons instead of two and being so close to so many major cities. I don’t like that each time I come home it’s an event. I want to be able to visit with friends without feeling like I’m stiffing my family. I’d like to be able to relax instead of making sure I got to see everyone while home. And I miss New England falls. GOD how I miss New England falls. I miss the hills and the trees and the mountains. I miss the foliage and the scent of October. I miss being able to hike up real trails instead of city paths.

But each time I think I’m ready to leave, something pulls me back. It’s not easy being in love with a city so far from home. I wish New York or Philadelphia had the same vibe as Chicago.

I know that in the next few years I’ll be leaving this city. Where I’m going next I’m not too sure of. I don’t know if I want to spend a year in LA living in warm weather for once before returning to the East Coast, or if I just want to head straight home. I’m not even sure of where on the East Coast I want to live. While I’m 90% sure I’ll end up in New York City, which would split the difference between my extended family in New Jersey and my immediate family in Connecticut, I’m not positive. I may jet out to California in a year then head over to New York City a year or two later. But whatever way I split it, I have two years max left in Chicago.

I’ve set dates on moves before, so I know things can change. But the problem is that I keep on delaying my departure which makes it more difficult to leave. I fall more in love with this city with each passing year. There are some good reasons why I haven’t left Chicago, like breaking my knee and wanting to stay with my medical team until completely recovered, but the truth is that I’m also terrified. I wasn’t scared of going to college. Everyone made some sort of leap that year. And while I was constantly scared after college, it was also a normal transitional period. But here I am, in my late twenties, and there are no external forces like going to college or joining the workforce to push me out. This decision is completely self-motivated and I’m the only one that can execute it. I’m scared that I won’t find the same support group I have here. I’m worried that moving closer to my family will keep me from hustling in comedy. I’m concerned that my constant indecisiveness on where to live will be what keeps relationships from forming.

My friends in Connecticut and Los Angeles will all confirm that I’m not a great long distance friend. I miss and love them but get distracted when I’m in a different city. I push away from the ones I’m really close to because it hurts to know we no longer live close enough to be dependent on each other. I try to separate myself so I’m not disappointed when their life eventually goes on and they find someone to fill my void in their new city. I want to change these things about myself, but I know that it’s something I struggle with.

I know that Chicago will always be here to visit. But I loved being a resident. I know my close friends will remain my close friends and I’ll probably come back as often as I jet to the East Coast right now. And I know that if I ever find that I made the wrong decision, there’s a three story walkup on Cornelia Ave. that I’m more than happy to put a down payment on.

I chose the perfect city to become an adult in, both legally and mentally. Any pain or hurt is almost always the result of loving something, so I’m thankful that I found myself in a city that I loved so hard.

After almost 10 years, I’ll finally answer the most frequently asked question of an East Coast transplant: Chicago is WAY better than New York*. But sometimes the thing we love most isn’t what fits best.

*(Except for the pizza. NYC thin crust over Chicago any day.)

Sexism and Pain


As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain power and voices, I’ve been nursing my most recent story in my head. I was quick to jump on with accounts of my own harassment, assault and constant struggle to be taken seriously in my career. I think it’s time to talk about my most recent medical journey as well.

Two years ago, I was rehearsing for a show when I bent backwards to narrowly escape a fencing jab. My left knee gave out and I crumbled to the floor. An intense and sharp pain shot from my knee through my whole body. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.. so bad that when my writing partner went to grab her car, I started throwing up. My knee started swelling immediately and I couldn’t put any weight on it without unbearable pain.

The morning after I went to the ER, the hospital called me to let me know they found a small fracture in my kneecap and advised me to get to an orthopedist as soon as possible. As it was Friday, my options were limited. I called every orthopedic office until I found someone with a Monday appointment.

That following Monday, I saw Dr. Trash for the first time. (Why I’m concealing the identity of a doctor that doesn’t deserve protection is beside me, but his pseudonym is not only fitting but also very close to his actual last name so it works.) I didn’t think much of having to wait over an hour past my appointment time in his office (all doctors operate like that, right?) and didn’t care that he rushed the appointment. All I cared about at that time was getting the medication needed to ease my pain and the doctors note to clear my absence from work. He asked about the injury and I explained it to him. I told him that it felt like my knee twisted and that there was bone on bone. He laughed at the description, citing it’s impossibility. He looked at my x-ray for about 30 seconds then diagnosed me with a dislocated knee. He advised me to stay in a thigh to ankle immobilizer and come back after two weeks.

I went home and, despite my medication, was still in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even lay in my bed because laying flat was uncomfortable. For the next two weeks, I just dealt with the pain and powered through it.

Two weeks later, I went back to Dr. Trash’s office. When I said that I wasn’t doing any better, he said it was probably because I wasn’t icing or elevating. I told him I was doing that constantly and my office even got me a special chair to elevate. He told me I would be sore for a bit but that’s “just how teenage girls’ bodies are.” I was 25. I thought it was a weird comment but didn’t think much beyond that at the time. He wrote me a script for more pain meds and pushed me out as fast as I came in.

I started PT and spent the first month relearning how to walk because the immobilizer stiffened up my leg. I was in constant pain. I started to get worried that something more was wrong. My roommate has a strong history of dislocating her knee and I’ve seen her recover before. Her recovery was much shorter and appeared to be less painful, but I thought “oh well, everyone’s body is different.”

A month later, I was back in Dr. Trash’s office. At this point, I was starting to get really concerned. After relearning how to walk, I was finally starting to strengthen my knee at PT and it was met with intense, localized pain.

When asked how I was doing, I told Dr. Trash that my pain was getting worse with physical therapy. I told him it was localized and that it almost felt as if my knee was like a puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. He dismissed my pain, stating that these things take time and I would be sore for awhile, but I told him that I wasn’t sore, I was in pain. He told me that the way teenage girls’ bodies are stacked puts pressure on your knee and therefore causes discomfort. I revealed to him, yet again, that I wasn’t a teenage girl and that my pain wasn’t discomfort – it was sharp, localized pain. He mentioned my teenage girl body yet again, and said this is all common for girls dislocating their knee. I told him that I was concerned I tore something when I fell, and asked why I didn’t get a MRI. He told me that he usually doesn’t issue MRIs for women with knee dislocations since dislocations are so common in, you guessed it, teenage girls. Defeated, I gave up.

I feel like I need to clarify at the point that I never had a “teenage girl’s” body. I grew boobs and hips before I ever knew what they were and never hosted a typical teen body. As an overweight 25 year old, I DEFINITELY wasn’t hosting one. I also grew up as an athlete and had my fair share of sprains, pulls and thrown out necks. I had chronic pain due Lyme putting water in my knee as a kid and carpal tunnel as a teen. I understood the difference between long term ache and “holy shit something is wrong.” Something was wrong.

Over the next two months, both of my PTs and I started getting frustrated with my lack of results and increased pain. There were sessions that brought me to tears because I was in so much pain. No one knew how to help ease it and it seemed that everything they did made it worse. I recall holding my breath and concealing my tears as my PT rolled out my patellar tendon because the pain was so bad it sent goosebumps to my skin. (Turns out she was rolling right over the actual trouble spot without realizing it.) Defeated, my PT checked in with me one day. “So it’s just a dislocation. Your x-ray didn’t show anything else, right?” “Aside from the ER showing a small fracture, nope.” “And your MRI was clear?” “I didn’t get a MRI.” “Why?” “My doctor won’t prescribe one.” “You need to push for a MRI.” he mumbled under his breath.

That was the jolt of confidence I needed to make another appointment with Dr. Trash. I decided I would push as hard as possible for a MRI then take it to another orthopedic surgeon. The night before my next appointment, I ran into my old roommate who broke her femur when I lived with her. As I was telling her about my rough recovery from a seemingly simple injury, she asked me who my doctor was. I told her it was Dr. Trash and she told me to run away from him. He was the same doctor who did her leg surgery wrong, and when she questioned him about her pain and bowed leg, he dismissed the pain and told her she would just have to wear long skirts for the rest of her life, like her problem was that superficial.

The next day I went into Dr. Trash’s office with more confidence than I had over the last 8 months. When he asked me how I was doing, I was honest and told him worse than when I came in. I told him that I was in immense pain that only got worse with PT. He told me women tend to feel pain worse than men, especially when it came to TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEE. I was done with his shit, and demanded a MRI. He told me he doesn’t prescribe MRIs for women’s knees because of the high statistics of TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEES. I told him I was not a teenage girl, and even my limited medical knowledge told me that there were enough ligaments and cartilage in the knee that a MRI seemed appropriate. He told me “honey, you didn’t do any damage to your cartilage or ligaments, you dislocated your knee.” I asked him how he was so sure, and again he gave me the stats on how common of an injury it was with teenage girls. He told me insurance would never cover the MRI. I told him I didn’t care, I’d pay full price for it. He then, defeated, told me “Well I guess I can falsify your prescription and tell them we’re looking for floating cartilage or something so insurance will accept it. Will that make you feel better, sweetie?” I resisted the urge to punch him in the dick, said yes, grabbed my script and walked out of his office for good.

After getting my MRI, I went to one of the best knee surgeons in Chicago. In my first appointment, he spent more time that Dr. Trash did in all my appointments and told me that the problem was that I chipped a chunk of cartilage off my leg. He said it could be seen a bit in the x-ray alone, but was clear as day in the MRI. The MRI also showed bone bruising and minor ligament damage, all of this caused by… my bone coming together when my knee twisted. EXACTLY WHAT DR. TRASH TOLD ME WAS IMPOSSIBLE. My new doctor, Dr. Hair, told me nothing was impossible in medicine. A few months later, I found out that the second thing I felt, my knee feeling like a bad puzzle, was also true. I had surgery that revealed a piece of cartilage as big as a nickel chipped off and lodged itself into another part of my knee.

It has been almost two years since my initial injury and I’m still recovering from my most recent major knee surgery which should correct my defect. I spent eight months of that time with a doctor who dismissed my pain and diagnosed me off of statistics instead of symptoms then didn’t listen when I told him I was in pain.

I wish I knew at 25 what I know at 27. You know your body. Trust it and listen to it, and the second a man starts comparing it to the statistics of teenage girls, run to a doctor who will listen to you. I heard stories that women often had pain dismissed by male doctors but had never experienced it myself. I wish I listened to the little voice that kept telling me something more was wrong, but instead I trusted that someone who thought my biggest symptom was being female knew more than me just because he had 50 years of medical experience. Every single day I’m thankful for my PT and old roommate who gave me the confidence needed to run away from Dr. Trash.

When I think about that time in my recovery, I fall into a depression. This injury changed everything for me. It kept me from performing and pursuing my comedy dreams, cost me thousands of dollars, made me miss months of work and stopped me from being a typical mid-20 something. Instead of going out, I had to relearn how to walk three different times. I spend $90 a week on PT. I lost friends because I couldn’t do anything for weeks at a time. For two years, I couldn’t perform or hustle like I used to while I watched peers get closer to their dreams. My plans of moving to LA were replaced with surgery dates and recovery windows. When I realize that this all could have been resolved in a single year instead of two had I not gone to Dr. Trash, I become furious.

So, ladies (and gents too), what can I teach you? Listen to your bodies and trust that know them. You are not reduced to a statistic based on your gender. And the second a doctor starts dismissing your pain or comparing you to a teenage girl, run the fuck away.

I’m back.


I decided to start routinely writing in my blog again.

There are a couple reasons for this.

The inciting incident is a conversation I recently had with someone where I was talking at length about my post “My Worst Moment in Improv”. I mentioned how, in the aftermath of that post, I started backing away from both writing in my blog and improvising as a whole. I didn’t expect so many people to read my words and wasn’t prepared for the reactions I received. I was contacted by classmates who expressed regret in not stepping in on scenes that went too far. I was contacted by too many women who shared the same sentiment. I was contacted by theaters in other cities that asked me for advice on how to implement change in their own theaters, like speaking out about an issue makes me qualified to write their harassment policy for free instead of hiring a HR rep. I started slowly, and subconsciously, backing away from improv as a whole. I was tired of having to speak on behalf of all women. I was disgusted by the handful of people who shared my words & were the same people I saw inflict harm on women in the community. I was sick of showing up in buildings, including the one I worked in, and having the words “So I read your article. To play devil’s advocate, isn’t it more dangerous to deny creativity?” being said to my face. I was frustrated that I was being asked to explain consensual scene work like some kind of expert, yet was not being paid for the energy it took out of me. I was done with men stepping up to prove that they’re “good ones” like I didn’t have the ability to read them upon meeting them. I didn’t expect the reaction to consume so much of my energy and just grew tired and disenchanted by the entire community. A lot of that was on me. I wasn’t bold enough to just tell people to fuck off. I felt a sense of responsibility to continue the conversation and educate people who were inquiring. But clearly it took more out of me than I thought, because when I look back, that article is what caused me to slowly back out of the improv game and stop writing in my blog.

Two years later and I found myself back in a class with an instructor I trusted and admired for years. During the class I did the same exercise that the article I wrote was based on for the first time since a bunch of dudes thought date gang rape is a great group scene idea and I checked out completely. I felt disconnected and just wanted to get through it. I did, without incident, and was proud and sad and just thinking a shit ton. I came to the realization that I allowed my experience a few years ago take so much from me. I was pissed at myself for letting that entire experience keep me from two things I love – writing personal posts and improvising. After a high quality long conversation on a sticky and humid summer night, I decided to throw myself back into both writing and improvising.

The second reason is because in a month, I’ll be having major knee surgery for a dumbass accident I had almost two years ago. During a rehearsal, I made a dumb physical choice and fucked up the cartilage in my knee. I have already been through one surgery and two counts of learning how to walk again and am dreading this last round. The surgery will require that I do not put any weight on my leg for about six weeks. Short term recovery (being able to walk well, swim, exercise lightly, etc.) will take six months and I should be fully recovered in a year. While I’m grateful that this will be my last surgery, and that I have really good insurance to cover a highly specialized and expensive procedure, I’m really dreading sitting on my couch again. It’s really hard to be in limbo for two years while I watch my friends go on with their careers and lives. I did not think that my mid-twenties would be defined by this injury. I hate thinking about where I’d be if I didn’t have to take so much time out for recovery. While I want to be happy for my friends and their achievements, it’s hard for me to hear about their trials and tribulations in the comedy world while I’m stuck in this knee limbo unable to do anything. Before this accident, I felt like I was constantly creating, performing, writing, and working hard to achieve my goals. I finally got some of that wind back this summer, and now I know I have a year of recovery starting soon. I cried like a baby last night upon realizing that I might have performed for the last time before my surgery. So I’m trying to be proactive and reintroduce things I can do while recovering. One of those things is this blog.

So I’m back. Because I need this outlet again. I have a lot of thoughts I’ve been bottling up and my Facebook statuses weren’t providing adequate space. 

Why improv is really important.


This past Thursday was awful. There’s no sugar coating it. It just was. Life happened and I was just trying to stay afloat.

On Thursdays I have my conservatory class at Second City. We’re more than halfway through the term, and have an audition coming up, which means we work. Hard. Our teacher pushes us and doesn’t let us slack. Since I’ve had this teacher before, he doesn’t let me rest on my bag of tricks and pushes me to expand my range. Which is what I’m there for, which is what I love about him as a teacher. But on Thursday I just wasn’t having it. My only goal was to last three hours without running out of class.

So I let myself slack without feeling bad about it. I was proud of myself for even going. I was elated when I did something useful and wasn’t hard on myself when I was called out for being in my head. Just show up. Just commit. That’s all I that expected.

Then during break I got some really rough news. I felt like someone gutted me, like the tiny sliver of control I had (and so desperately needed) was stolen and smashed on the floor. I was devastated and done. Just done with it all. The numbness that I felt for days suddenly became raw emotion and I didn’t know what to do. My body went on autopilot and I went back to class.

Autopilot Annie went up to my teacher and told him all that I could bring myself to say: “Just so you know, some really weird things are happening in my life right now and if I have to leave, that’s why.” My teacher told me to leave and take care of myself, but I knew that to take care of myself, I had to stay.

I turned around to find my class expressing genuine concern and sympathy for me, and not that fake puppy face shit, but genuinely asking if I’m okay. I assured everyone that I was fine, while trying to reassure myself that I would be. I sat down and kind of thought to myself, “Welp, now you have nothing to lose.”

The next hour and a half was spent not caring. I didn’t care about being good, or challenged, or expanding my range. I only listened to directions enough to perform the exercise, without trying to find exactly what he wanted. Everything went away: worrying about making my scene partner look good, worrying about whether or not I knew what was going on in a scene, finding relationships, setting up premise… all of it was forgotten.

I just wanted to laugh. I just wanted to make my classmates laugh. That’s it.

What I needed during that second half was an escape from reality. So much shit was in my head from the past week and I just wanted to feel happy again. I was sick of being numb and not having control. I so desperately wanted to be happy. And I was.

My teammates were so willing to join in on the fun. We all let loose and just fucking played like kids on a playground. My teammates and teacher just let me run around like a loose cannon and do whatever the hell I wanted to do. And for 90 fucking minutes I was able to leave all the shit behind and enjoy the moment. That’s what improv does. That’s why we do this.

So often we get bogged down in the hard work and late nights and forget that it’s about spreading joy, and bringing joy to yourself in return. Do you understand how powerful having the ability to improvise is? You’re able to escape whatever shit is happening in life and just play. Not only that, but you don’t do it alone. You have an entire team ready and willing to go down that hole with you. Ready to support you in any capacity.

I can’t tell you what I did on Thursday. I vaguely remember buttering biscuits and gutting someone. I blacked out and don’t remember the rest. All I remember is the incredibly alleviating feeling of forgetting that anything in my life was wrong. That’s what improv does. It reminds you that there can still be joy and fun, even when it feels like nothing is fun anymore.

At the end of class, my teacher came up to me and told me that I was really fun, and funny, and fucking weird… and that he hopes everything is okay. My classmates did something similar. And while I usually avoid any and all compliments, I really needed that reminder. I’m so fortunate to have such a wonderfully supportive and loving team. I know that it’s rare and special and I cherish the fuck out of every second I spend with these guys.

It’s natural to get caught up in pressure, expectations and being so tired because you are working so hard. But every now and again, give yourself permission to throw everything away and just play. It’s really important.

How improv gave me the courage to quit my job.


I remember the day vividly. I was standing in the middle of a circle at ComedySportz on a Tuesday night in September for the first rehearsal with my new team Caution Tape Party. “What’s your biggest goal?” I was asked. Icebreakers, right? “Uhm, like in life? Or comedy?” ”Just your biggest goal.” Had I more time to think about the answer, I probably would have set visions of grandeur: “I want to make a living off of comedy,” “I want to write my own show,” “I want to bring back The Cosby Show and be cast as Clair Huxtable’s apprentice.” With just a second to think of my biggest goal, I blurted out the truth: “I want to quit my job.” As if saying it out loud didn’t put enough weight on it, I was asked a follow up question, “When do you want to do this by?” “Uh… by the end of the year.” “As in the end of 2013, or a year from now?” “A year from now.” There it was. At 11pm on a Tuesday night, I said it out loud. I had until September of 2014 to get a new job.

Today is my last day at my current job. The improv community got me to admit I wanted a new job, supported me when I came to rehearsal nearly in tears after an awful day, encouraged me that leaving my job would not only improve my life, but my comedy as well, and eventually hooked me up with my new company.

But it’s so much more than that.

My first introduction to the Chicago comedy scene was made through Brian Posen. On my first day of class he told us that improv would change our lives… that he’s seen people move, get married, change jobs – all through improv. I didn’t believe him. Was I wrong or what?

Improv taught me to live for today. That’s one of the biggest lessons that you’ll get from this art form. You live in the moment. Don’t get caught up talking about what you did in the past, don’t get caught up talking about the future… the audience wants to see you deal with what is happening right now. Notes such as “This is the moment” “It’s all about the now” and “Today is the day something wonderful happens” fill my notebooks. Don’t live a life hoping that something wonderful will come in the future. Make it happen now. If you’re miserable with some aspect of your life, you have to deal with it right away. Why should I spend 40 hours of my week miserable?

If you don’t like something, change it. As a writer, I find a metaphor in everything. A few months ago, my teacher was telling us that if we initiate the scene as a tree and five minutes in, our arms are tired and we can’t hold the pose anymore, then transform into something else. If you don’t like where you’re at, you’re the only one with the power to change it. Since your team loves and supports you, they’ll adapt to your change. You should never feel stuck… you always have the power to change things. For so long I was sitting in my job thinking that I couldn’t change what was around me. I thought that I should just be grateful that I’m employed and suck it up. I have a great life outside of my 9-5 so is it really all that bad? I was a tree whose arms were unbelievably tired and I had to just take that leap.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re ready. Todd Edwards nailed this into our heads. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re ready because they never will. If you really want something, go for it. Don’t wait around for things to come to you. That’s not how it works. We all would love to think that if we just continue to work hard and be a good person, the universe will just hand us an opportunity. I spent a good year saying that I’m “always looking for a job.” I use that phrase because I think it nails down the fact that you’re not really looking that hard. When you’re “always looking” then you’re really just applying to something that may come across on some idle Saturday but spending most of your time just wishing you had a different job. Waiting for someone to come to you and hand you an opportunity. That’s not going to happen. You have to let people know you’re looking and apply for everything you come across. You have to work really hard for it. No one is going to give you anything – you have to work.

Good mentors can make you work hard without screaming at you. The main reason I had to leave my job was because I was treated horribly at work by one person. I was constantly getting yelled at for nothing. Literally nothing. The other day I was screamed at because our computer system shut down. Mind you, I’m not in the IT department & the system shut down because of a virus I didn’t cause. That doesn’t make me want to work hard. That doesn’t make me want to impress anyone. I define myself as a hard worker. It’s part of who I am and who I’ve always been. I always want to do my best. However, when someone yells at me over trivial things for two years, I’m unmotivated. When someone screams at our janitor for taking out the trash that she accidentally threw something important into, it doesn’t push me to succeed. What pushes me? Good people who earnestly care about the result of your product. When I had Jay Steigmann for writing, I worked my ass off. For every sketch she assigned, I’d write three… then rewrite them until I felt like I was turning in something that reflected my potential as a writer. This wasn’t because she was some insane hard-ass who demanded excellence. It was because she actually cared about what we produced. Her feedback was valuable and on point, which meant that I was willing to work harder so that when it came time for her to review it, my notes wouldn’t be that I should have proofread, or that it was sloppy, or that I lacked point of view. I wanted my notes to be something that I wouldn’t have thought of before because I already put everything I could into the first draft. Getting someone to work hard doesn’t mean being on their ass all the time. It means embodying your work so that they want to impress you. The other night my improv class with Jason Shotts ran an hour and fifteen minutes over. Our three hour class turned into four hours and fifteen minutes of the hardest work I’ve ever done. At the end, I was left absolutely exhausted, drained and physically spent. He pushed us to out limits, but he did it out of love because he wanted us to realize our potential. We worked hard because we all collectively cared about the work being done… including the teacher. If you want people to care and perform well, you have to care and perform well too.

Follow the fear. Jay Sukow, who is one of best human beings I’ve come across, nailed this one into our brains. The main reason why I didn’t leave my job earlier was because I was afraid of the unknown. I wanted to wait around for a “safe” job to come across. Something that felt like a safe transition. However, that job doesn’t exist. Anything was going to be a risk. I had nothing to lose and I was still scared. Eventually I just needed to get over that. It wasn’t easy. As I was interviewing for other jobs, I kept thinking about what could go wrong. My past experience made me expect the worst. But honestly… nothing is safe. When I got my old job, I thought I had my dream job. It was the exact field I wanted to go into. Then what happened? I realized that it wasn’t where I was meant to be. So even when you think you’re safe, you’re not. Even now, as I’m headed into a new job, I’m terrified of the unknown. If Jay didn’t constantly remind me to follow my fears, I would probably spend another two years sitting around waiting for something safe. Just go for it.

Most of all, you deserve to be happy.  A key part of being happy is feeling worthy as a human and spending your time with those who build you up. People who want the best for you. About a month ago, I had a panic attack at work. That was the straw that broke my back. I went so long without having any… I went so many years with the ability to keep my anxiety at bay. I was simply not willing to go back down that path because of a job. The improv community is full of people who are dedicating their lives to making others happy. They’re simply some of the best people in the world. When I’m at my worst, I know that I can turn to these people to raise me up. I found true happiness through them and I learned that I deserve to be happy in all aspects of my life. There’s no one holding you down and telling you to stay miserable. If you don’t like something, change it.

So touché, Brian Posen. Improv changed my life.


Also, added bonus… for those of you who aren’t in the improv community, enjoy this video I made about a month back of my time in Chicago’s comedy community. I hope it gives you half the vibe of this wonderful world.

“I will always try to be happy.”


Here’s a fun fact about me (that you probably already know): 99% of what I read is nonfiction. Most of my bookcase is filled with autobiographies, instructional books and opinion pieces on the Middle East. Every now and again I sprinkle in a little Hunger Games or Narnia. Since my commute can be up to two hours every day, I read a lot. Right now I’m reading Sarah Silverman’s autobiography, The Bedwetter (thanks to a raving review by my mom). Yesterday I came upon this paragraph, which made me pat myself down to make sure she didn’t have a wire on me or a chip planted in my head:

A lot of comics think the real threat of mental blockage lies in becoming happy. They fear that happiness or even just dealing with their shit might make them not funny anymore. To me, that’s a bunch of romanticized bullshit. I don’t know. I guess if you write your best stuff when you’re miserable, maybe, but I don’t. I’m paralyzed when I’m miserable. I sleep. A lot. I will always try to be happy. I don’t think people really understand the value of happiness until they know what it’s like to be in that very, very dark place. It’s not romantic. Not even a little.


I have a very hypocritical stance on this whole “tortured artist” thing. So many people emphasize that comedians come with baggage, with a dark past. And I hate that shit. But at the same time, I feel like a hypocrite because I had a dark past myself. However, my place in comedy really has very little to do with my struggles in life. Here are the only three parallels I can draw:

  1. When I spent my two days at SNL, I was happy for the first time since my dad died and that made me realize I could do the same for others.
  2. By having anxiety issues and depression, I realized how valuable happiness is.
  3. By losing three people prematurely and unexpectedly, I realized that life is too short to not go after what you want.

But the reality is that I could have very well pursued comedy regardless of my dad’s death. I grew up in a family that valued humor and encouraged me to perform. Everyone was very loving and supportive. No one in my house really had any big problems… my childhood wasn’t dark and lonely. It’s not like I started doing bits to get attention because no one loved me… I did it because my parents encouraged us to be creative and silly. So it’s unfair for me to say that my hard times were the contributing factor to my pursuit of comedy.

I wanted to call up Miss Silverman, meet her for coffee and give her a high five when she mentioned that misery isn’t romantic. Thank you, Miss Silverman. Maybe I’m being a bit of a dick when I make this generalization but whatever… this is my blog, and I do what I want. But I really think that those people who romanticize hardship and write best when they’re miserable don’t know what being really depressed is like. When I was in my dark days, I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t even get out of my fucking bed. Everything was a black hole and the thought of even getting up to go to the bathroom was exhausting. I slept and cried. That’s it. Didn’t even watch TV or read. On my more functional days, I would read or try to write… but my writing read more like a sad and dark diary entry than anything. When did I write my poetry? When I was happy. I could remember and reflect on my misery… therefore being able to write about it… but it was done with a clear head. I didn’t get shit done when I was depressed. I got shit done when I was happy.

So I think that anyone who romanticizes depression and hardship hasn’t gone through it. Maybe you think you did… because emotions are relative. When I was younger, I thought that I was depressed when my cheerleading coach quit. I didn’t think it was possible to get more upset than I was at that point. Then I learned what real depression was… a debilitating, dark and miserable sinkhole. So, kudos to anyone who can’t relate to this. Anyone who thinks I’m being an asshole because I don’t understand their feelings. I’m happy you’ve never experienced what others have. But I really believe that anyone who knows what it feels like to be in a very dark place would never wish to revisit it, especially when you know what happiness feels like. I strive every day to chase happiness. If that makes me normal, boring or naïve… great. There were many years of my life where I prayed that one day someone would use those adjectives to describe me.

I’ll sum it up with this point… I would trade everything I have in this world if it meant that my dad could come back. My time in Chicago, the people I met through losing him, my SNL experience, the wonderful college years I had, my wisdom, how close I became to my family, the experiences that I was able to enjoy because of losing him, my own happiness… I would give it all up. So I hate romanticizing hardship because the truth is that if given the chance, I would give up my gift of creativity if it meant that I didn’t have to experience my dark days. That’s not romantic.

Strive for happiness. Appreciate it if you’ve found it. If you’re still looking, have faith that it’ll come. There’s no nobility in holding onto your sadness in fear of losing your creativity. 

Don’t be afraid to tell your story.


I write a lot about my life and the experiences I’ve been through. I like to think that being honest and open about the hardship I endured could potentially help someone going through the same thing. I wasn’t always this open.

During my sophomore year of high school, my honors English teacher taught a section on poetry. Poetry wasn’t new to me. In fact, I already wrote hundreds of poems by the time this topic was introduced. I used poetry as the main form of therapy after my dad died. I found that poetry gave me a creative outlet where I could hide behind metaphors and literary devices. I could run on autopilot for hours writing those poems, which kept me from thinking about anything else that was wrong in my life. It distracted me… but at the same time it let me temporarily release all the rage, anger and depression I felt.

But this was all very private. I didn’t publish them on my livejournal or turn them in for assignments. Occasionally, I would share one with a very close friend. It was a way to communicate how I felt without having to open up too much.

So, when my teacher taught this segment, she made us put together a portfolio of all of our poems. It was a huge percentage of our grade. At this point, I wrote about artificial things – wanting to move to a city, my best friend, graduating high school… nothing too personal. Then she gave us an option – we could write two freestyle poems for extra points. I was in a crunch and didn’t have time to think of a topic. So I just wrote for two hours. By the end of the poem, I was sobbing.

I wrote a piece connecting dance to my dad’s funeral. It was the first thing I ever turned in that had to do with that subject directly. I was terrified. When we got the project back, I found a post-it note on my extra credit poem. It said, “Annie- You’re very talented and have endured a lot at a young age. I know that you only write for yourself… but if you publish, you can help others heal too.”

I still have that note. It took me a really long time to actually follow her advice. I was terrified of appearing weak and vulnerable. I was scared that my “funny girl” image would be distorted. It was much easier living in silence and denial. When I started this blog a few months ago, I was scared that people reading it would feel bad for me. I hate pity.

None of that happened. Instead, people started to relate to me. Friends of mine opened up about their past. Family members shared my posts because they thought I did a good job articulating how they felt. Readers sent me messages to thank me for helping them through their own tragedy… telling me that they didn’t know anyone else felt the way they did. People commented saying that they didn’t know there could be a light at the end of the tunnel until they read my story.

Seven years ago, I was in a really bad place. Every other night, I had a panic attack so bad that I was convinced I was dying. I didn’t see a way out. Today, I’m incredibly happy with life. At one point in my life, I simply didn’t think that was an option. Through being honest about my dark days, I hope others can see that it can get better.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Wear your scars with pride. There is nothing you can do to change the past. It happened. The only way I’m able to accept my past is to see it as a lesson for someone’s future. Let others learn from your mistakes and misfortune.

the music turns on and i start to sway with it

a steady slow beat

we are told just to move how we feel and not think about it just go with the music

right now i see his face

you do it roccapella i say and give him one last hug goodbye

as he goes off to dj the party

i lose all the connections with the world

as my feet move to the music african tribal chants

slow but meaningful

the music changes to a faster beat

an angry beat with lots of drums  

i go into a mad rage unaware of those surrounding me

i hear screeches and i see a crash

him panicked soon to be lifted by a helicopter

the car completely demolished

my feet take over for my mind as i swing my arms and stomp my feet

then the music changes to a bittersweet song with recorders

as i see him laying in the bed

a neck brace on his neck and surgery recently done on his leg 

knowing that he will come home tomorrow

because my mom already told the school i wouldn’t be there so i could greet him

but i didnt know that would never happen

i didnt know that this would be the last goodbye

he looks at me through his door and says goodbye bird for the last time

and i gracefully spin and turn and although im exhausted i keep with the beat

as it changes once more to a confusing tribal song

i dance in madness and confusion and hatred

as i remember being woken up from my peaceful rest

one in the morning

hearing that he died in the night

although i was told he was coming home

no one knew how he died

some kind of heart failure related to the accident

no one knew what to do

at this point i start to cry

but the dance in there to hold me and take me into its arms and song

as it plays the fifth and last dance

i stand still

a farewell

i picture saying goodbye

laying in my best friends arms because she knows how i feel

she was as close to him

thanking her for being there for me the whole week

although i know she wouldnt have gone to school anyways

because he heart was breaking too

i see the cast around me dancing in their own worlds

the people who i have learned to call family

i see his face for the last time

the tears drop down the face of an innocent teenager only in eighth grade

but shes there to hold my hand and its okay

together we say one last goodbye

since im too weak at heart to go through it alone

the music starts to die down

they cover the casket with an american flag

my feet start to stop

my sister recites a farewell speech

the dancing stops

his six closest friends carry him out

i drop and lay there

six huge men crying

i lay motionless on that stage

but i still hear a faint beat that seems to never stop

my heart races and my legs ache

im sweating more than ever before

and for at least twenty minutes after we lay there not knowing what to do

secretly wondering what went through the others’ heads as our feet took over for our body

but that is for only the stage to know as michael tells us to take a five minute break before rehearsal starts again


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.