Don’t Mind Me

Don’t Mind Me

by Jacqueline Arend

There are moments where I can’t bear it. There is so much inside of me, so many different feelings, thoughts, ideas pulling and tugging at my being. Working through these moments are a blessing… so don’t mind me.

A friend asked me recently if I’ve always been conscious, “woke”, per se, before “woke” was a label. I know I have always been self aware, self conscious and believed that life was bigger than me. Sensitive beyond understanding as a young child, constantly adapting to behave in ways that are socially acceptable, misunderstood and labeled weird. This caused me to become very observant and inquisitive about life and the meaning of my own.

In my 20s… during the days when I was living more recklessly, when driving over bridges, I used to have visions of just driving off them. Imagining what the fear, thrill and shame all at once would feel like to make such a ridiculous choice and then the cause of effect, dropping below on oncoming traffic, the sound of the crash, the impact, the panic in others, the potential casualty beyond my own and it’s no longer a thought. Too much pain and suffering on the other end. Too much unnecessary destruction. I did not imagine this to take my own life… but to understand the experience of such a situation, if an accident was incited by someone else, I may have no control in the action of my car going off a bridge. The sudden realization that your car can be a very deadly weapon, intentional or unintentional is an intense feeling of fear. And so the responsibility to be safe when driving is reiterated and respected. I don’t imagine that scenario as often, yet, still become aware of the impact my vehicle can have on the lives around me… and so, I still become suddenly anxious about it. 

One day, about 5 years ago, I got in my car, pulled out of my complex and felt instantly anxious about taking a left turn onto a busy street, during rush hour. Without thinking, my imagination saw me in that car and began zooming out, the car on the road, the road on a grid, the grid on a map, the map on the globe and the globe in the solar system. For a split second I was made aware of how insignificant my car and I were in the bigger picture… yet still, like an ant, part of a working system…. belong in symbiosis. Then, it didn’t seem so daunting anymore. Much of life became less daunting. I am a part of the whole, like matter… and so, fluidity. Funny. I didn’t know that’s where I would end up… with fluidity, but a good enough place for the now of my life. 

At the ripe ole age of 41… the introspection is maddening. It’s… also beautiful. It’s true what they say about the mid life crisis. I hope everyone is lucky enough to have an awakening of mortality, inventory on quality of life and the drive toward positive growth. If you’re lucky, you have a chance, at this point, to live another amazing 40 years, what are you going to do with it? I have the good fortune to take my time with myself, be mindful and recondition. With that comes a new sense of self that is not clouded by requirements of traditional standards. i.e. dress codes… specified routines… responsibilities even. I don’t have kids, I’m not chained to a career. I’m self employed, work remotely and set my own hours. I don’t have any assets, just my husband, friendship, family, handful of jobs and a few cats.

In 2017, at 38, I had that moment. I took inventory on my quality of life. I made a point to try and begin living my life unapologetically, out loud, shine my light and turn up my volume. I had all these voices in my head about who I was and where I was going, but none of them were mine, so I had to find “my voice”. With this focus comes bold new behavior. One of the first mental choices I made was to extinguish the guilt for saying “no”. I said, “I will not do anything that gives me anxiety.” I have to dull the anxiety, I have to reprogram that feeling into something positive. This meant that I said “no” a lot and… confused my entire understanding of myself by becoming introverted. I was shocked by how easy it was for me to hide away, to avoid people, small talk… to say hello and goodbye and not engage any further. How easy, and how relieving it was. For my friends, it was difficult, some friendships still haven’t recovered and lots of that is buried under piles of dirt… I had to be transparent with many what I was doing so they knew that it wasn’t personal. This is about me and what I need. Saying “yes” led to anxiety, saying “no” led to guilt, guilt led to anxiety. 

So… the guilt. Much of that was dependent on me understanding that how I was operating was beyond full capacity… and full capacity is all of you and then some, so if you give everything to your work, to others… what happens to the stuff that you should be giving yourself, it overflows the cup, spills, shame, guilt and creates anxiety. I began living by the “love yourself first to love others” motto. I love community, I love people and supporting others… but if I don’t have that love for myself… am I truly living? The realization of how much I loved myself was disheartening. I was becoming aware that I was existing purely on the reflection from others. I did not truly have an identity beyond my life in the eyes of others. Well, I did, I was just afraid to make it important.

It’s true you attract things, well, I think we’re always attracting things. I had a boyfriend once who was reading the necronomicon and bad shit kept happening to him. I was like “duh, stop reading the necronomicon”. Anyway, I had a full cup, I am making room, because my cup was gross… it was once delicious, but it spoiled or I didn’t want that taste anymore. So I emptied my cup… and I’m being very picky about what I fill it back up with. I’ve carried a number of beverages in my hands as a server, I could carry up to five with two hands. I was amazing at it and still love to show off at parties. Strong hands and amazing balance. I loved to impress myself and others with the skills. Now… it’s like, one glass is nice, just enough for me. I’ll let others get their own drinks for a while. And, let’s leave room, ya know, no need to have to walk around all day worrying about spilling. And, let me try to attract a variety of things before I decide what to add to it. And funny enough, when you have room in your cup, things come round to fill it. When you vibrate high, things will attract to you. Once you’re comfortable saying “no”, find your own voice, it becomes much easier to choose quality for that cup, guilt free. A lot of this is also understanding your value. I never could sell myself, I did not believe in my value. I did not love myself.  

So, I look in the mirror everyday, I wear what I like to wear, I look how I want to look, and slowly, I began to love myself, more and more with each passing day and soon my body began to look right, my face, my smile, I began to see my own glow. I admitted to a friend a couple years ago that perhaps if I was born later and a youth in this age, maybe I’d be non-binary. I can’t claim that today, I’ve lived too long in society, where it was, to accept my biological womanhood and truly appreciate the gift of having been born a woman. However, my image of myself is very androgynous and my own ability to see gender within is incredibly fluid. I was this way as a young girl, where I rejected super feminine clothing and liked my hair short. I conformed, over time, especially because I wanted boyfriends and it was made clear to me that boys don’t like girls who look like boys. Eventually, I got boyfriends, a husband, and then…. in the advent of loving myself… here I am. Living my best androgynous life, trusting that in being myself inside and out, I will love myself more for being brave, authentic and bold… 

I know many woman, people, friends, like myself, getting the hair cuts they want, dressing how they want, turning up their volume and living out loud… These people are inspirations on others to do the same. You see people living their best life and you think, I want that. Slowly you start to make bold choices that fully represent your innermost self, your authentic self, that which you’ve hidden so that society will accept you. I’ve seen people around me bolder and braver… 

So perhaps I’m not alone with these things I’ve shared… and isn’t that meaningful in humanity, to be reminded that we are not alone. Yes, we have individual thought, but those thoughts resonate with others. We can relate to more than we imagine. After all, any which way you look at it… we ALL come from the same ilk, we are all a small spec on the planet, we are living in symbiosis. 

My life, at 37 was like a metaphorical car crash. A pile up, and I went off the bridge. Ultimately, we as people can do damage too, we are a weapon of the heart. That year and the events within, changed everything I knew my life to be. I had a passion for something, a purpose, and suddenly it was gone. I tried refocusing, I thought, oh, this has made it possible to put more into acting, writing, what the fudge is it? … turns out it was me. I had to come to terms that I wouldn’t find the answers right away. I had to become okay with just being. I’m grateful for that event in my life… the “car crash”, cause I wasn’t happy, I was no longer living my best life… I’m now grateful to be alive and to look everyday, every moment for the opportunity to feel alive, in all its pain and glory. I believe this is where the joy of humanity lives. I still have no clue what’s ahead, I don’t know my purpose, I don’t have a burning passion driving me. However, my energy, my heart, my mind, my all… is open to whatever magnificence this life has to offer. I do believe I still have a purpose waiting to be realized, a calling, something to do yet on this earth, whatever that thing is that has been eating at me my entire life, telling me there’s more for me. I don’t know how else to get there, other than love life more and be better than I was yesterday. Knowing that is enough is a wonderful place to be.

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be wandering this party with my half full cup, having a ball.

Golly… Finding Your Identity

… I struggle with this topic and my interest in sharing with people. On one end, I don’t think it should be a big deal, but on another, it’s been a part of me my entire life, never truly addressed. It’s about my identity. Truthfully, I did label myself recently, but shortly after, I thought it was still trite. Truth is I have nothing to come out about. I’m still 100% heterosexual and boy crazy. But in terms of my looks, my charm, my demeanor. It’s all dude. This is not a physical thing I struggle with. I love my physical form, and love being a woman, however, the androgyny is the look that best represents my personality. I like cool, looking cool, acting cool and feeling cool. I have spoken to it before, I aim to be more interesting and more charming than each moment before. I feel slightly weird about this objective in life, but also, it seems like a positive one. I want to feel confident & sexy as a woman. And honestly, without a doubt, I do that by dressing like a man, the hope is that in doing so, I am all woman.

Here is a piece of dialogue from something I’m currently writing. I can often tell when I write dialogue that I have some personal things to work out, because I can’t help writing my own truth, to an identifiable outcome. I suppose that is part of the writers curse. Everything is a thought that belongs to them, it’s an incredibly vulnerable process. It’s frightening to share anything, because all my best stuff comes from truth. I am trying to strengthen my courage to share more, to believe that I have something to say that’s interesting. Or even to say to myself, “who the [beep] cares, no one cares about me, they just want me to be happy.” hahaha. Cause, ultimately, I have something kinetic going on within me. It’s a dragon of energy, I’m feeling open and I suppose this is the best time to put myself out there a little more and more with each passing day. I know there is more for me, but first I have to arrive.

MICKEY

Ooo, that’s big. I struggled with it for some time. I guess it started about 5 years ago, I just was, like I said, finding my light, transitioning… like you were, which is also why I think I was so drawn to you. On order to find my light, I needed to understand my voice. What am I trying to say, what am I wanting to represent. It’s that idea of presenting who you are, so that when people see you, they can get a sense of your personality. Before I got on the right path toward that, I battled with the urge to be more masculine, not be a man, I don’t identify as a man. I just feel normal, like myself, in giving myself the permission to appear the way I feel then I would in return have a stronger connection to my true identity, and sexuality. I feel sexy like this, because it’s me. I hope men find it attractive. Otherwise, life’s gonna be a total bummer. Anyway, I did give myself the permission eventually to just go for it as I started really winning at the light thing, and I eventually labeled myself gender-creative. Then almost a few weeks later thought, that wasn’t necessary at all. I’m just me. This is who I am… but more importantly, I’m a constant changing living thing who is always striving to be who I want to be. This means that nothing ever remains the same. So who I know myself to be today, will not be the same for who I am in two hours. Who is hopefully a better version of me now. 

in addition, I’ve been playing men recently in a couple of small projects. I played Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, linked below. And Nixon in a student project, which I can’t share, but it’s pretty [bleep]ing great. I loved it. Proud of it, feel motivated by it. I think it’s the first thing I’ve ever done where I felt, yes, I definitely have something, keep going Jacque. You’re doing it… think happy thoughts. haha. That’s not to say I hope to play more men, not at all, but I certainly welcome the opportunity and my courage to say yes without fear. Playing men in improv is what I do. I’m good at it. Why not celebrate that with something a little different. Why not be the normal. It’s acting. Anyway – here’s Sam Spade:

I have been talking about this to a variety of people over the last years, and those individuals have always been so kind to support my image, my vibe, to enjoy it and recognize it as me. To ensure that I am remaining true to myself, and reminding me that I am not crazy, but wonderful. This has been invaluable to helping me remain confident to continue being bold in how I engage with the world around me, down to the socks & shoes.

The Saga & Evolution of Oh Captian, My Captian

This was a fun quarantine project, I have to say. There were some days where I couldn’t imagine putting on the wig or taking the time to write silly nautical digs. Once I was able to get over my own darn perfectionism I could have more fun with it, and let the moments strike me. It was a great little exercise in writing for a character and trying to lock onto a specific vocal accent. I decided to make Oh Captain, My Captain pratey, but also Irish, and if you watch all the videos, the accent is a real wok in progress, and changes with every video. As easy as it is for me as an improvisor to apply a voice to my character work, accents scare the bejeezus out of me. My ear will catch a mistake, I don’t quite get the pronunciation right or my tongue is in the wrong place of my mouth and I am immediately aware that I am failing, I am instantly dragged from the moment and feel defeated. It’s an interesting look at failure and how we treat it, how we view the stakes and how much importance we put on succeeding. Learning and perfecting accents are a journey, much like like life and we can perhaps expect that it would take lots of dedicated time to be perfect, if such a thing were to exist. Don’t have to let the process of failing at it hold you back from sharing  your work, because your attempts at growth are the only way to make this life you have, a rich and satisfying one. And… you might just inspire another along the way to do the same. And… failing is actually fun! When the stakes are clear, when you realize it’s actually celebrating your courage and unique gifts, it’s fun to entertain, to perform, to be seen. It’s fun to prove to others that we can continue to get up again and again and again. “Aye! Every journey has a battle, and right now i’m winning!”

 

The 2020 Post

So it’s 2020 and another 10 years went by –

In 1980 I turned 1.

In 1990 I turned 11 and went into 6th grade.

In 2000 I turned 21 and started my life in Arizona.

In 2010 I turned 31 and was building an improv theater.

In 2020, I will turn 41 this summer, i’m still in Phoenix, still married (eight years) and still undecided.

In reading many friends and acquaintances post at the turn of the decade, it’s hard not to reflect on your own path. And with 2019 being the turn of my 40th year in human existence I have done an awful lot of reflection on all four decades. Especially as the year 39 was spent finding my authentic self and committing my future to living my best life.

In my 30s the 2010s – I focused all my attention on building an improv community in Improv, for no other reason than being passionate, driven, motivated and madly in love with the art form. These were career building years in a realm of art that may never have been able to provide for me, yet, I was still hopeful that my hard work and dedication to it would give back and be my guiding light forever.

At the top of 2010 the Torch was just turning three and we rented our first space with the hopes of creating a dedicated space to this wonderful things we all loved. Along with that and down the next ten year road I was learning all kinds of things, a free education of sorts. However, mistakes, naivety, lack of conviction, complacency and the inability to fully comprehend how my actions affected every outcome, the amazing thing I had built with my colleagues became toxic. My return on investments no longer outweighed the heavy burden I created for myself.

And just like that…

I turned 40 and I felt like I wiped everything I worked hard for off my plate. I had to… I had to find myself underneath the life I created for myself. I sacrificed and compromised so many little things to be the person this organization needed that I no longer understood myself. The initial burn was incredible and felt like reinvention. It was hard to imagine myself without that history. I had a big gaping wound and was very angry about how it got there. I had anxiety over the one thing that connected me to my experience, improv. The thing I loved, the thing that drove me for 10 years of great life, was now, a scary monster. The healing has been slow and, rightfully so. I stopped performing for a time, I stopped teaching… and I let go of whatever I thought laid beyond 2020. To the point that nothing existed beyond it. Opportunities were still being offered, doors were still opened, but my joy of walking through them was not there. My dreams of finding more were ignited, but I no longer had a lamp to see what lied beyond this point. So yes, I feel very much like I am seeking a new doorway.

But time is not ever lasting, it doesn’t stand still while you feel the need to. I have given myself permission to look inward, focus on self preservation, find my light and turn up the volume on my stereo. This has led to more courage and bravery, to present myself the way I wish to be seen. Big dreams and fantasies swarm and cloud my mind… there is not a lot of doing, just a lot of being. However, in just being and doing more for me than others, I am finding my joy, my happiness in aspects of life I could not see under all the narrowed focus of my 30s.

This is lovely and is grounding me, allowing me to find my core, anchor me to this life… but finding my place and imagining a future in it is still unsteady. I focus on my likes and dislikes to stay linked to something. Putting no pressure or expectation on who I should be for others, but who I want to be for myself. It’s an empowering period and I have hopes that it blesses me with fulfillment once I see the possibilities. Yet, sometimes I worry that all that’s ahead of me is all there is… and that’s not a bad thing, I work for two great organizations, have a happy and healthy marriage with an amazing man who loves me. I am given opportunities to share my expertise in the art form and people are inspired by my. My biggest concern is who inspires me? What inspires me? Will I ever find something like improv again that drives a whole 10 years of experiences, growth, challenge and life affirming good times?

As much as I appreciate the last decade and all four that make up my life to this point. I worry that I’ve missed the mark. I antagonize over the talent I possess and the standing still I do with it. I wanted more for myself and sometimes I feel like my fear has held me back from being great. I don’t see the little affect, because I yearn for a greater one, yet, incapable of putting in the real work necessary to succeed, or taking the big leaps… perhaps I’m actually more comfortable, safer in this life.

All in all – I feel like the healing process is completing itself. I want to be an individual now. A powerful light that fills a room, without having to do much, just because that is what I am.

The 2020s just started for us, and the 2010s was full of amazing things. It’s not my job to predict, but I can imagine, ultimately, I just need to experience… and I wanted this for myself. When things got bad for me, I wanted time… I was desperate for space to find myself again, to figure it out. I suppose I’ve been harsh for having to take so long standing still. I’m not sure what will happen, but I have hope, and I feel alive, very much alive.

Best to everyone in the New Year! May you get one step closer to living your best life, everyday.

Jacqueline Arend