Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Dear Me at 30"

Five years ago my friend Candace and I came up with the idea that we should write letters to ourselves at random moments in the years leading up to our thirtieth birthdays. Call it self-help, call it therapy, call it nuts. Whatever you want to call it, we did it, or at least I did, and I ended up writing myself several letters at various points throughout that time span. As I battle a head cold tonight, unable to sleep, the memory of them returned to me. So I find it only appropriate that I return to blogging by divulging bits of what I learned about myself...and about life in general.

"When I think back to my childhood, I'm reminded of a little girl with brown curly hair and big brown eyes who didn't know how not to portray the emotions she was experiencing at any given moment. She possessed an undying ambition to ham it up at every opportunity and utilize her wise-cracking mouth. (Pause) I guess I haven't changed much...but, to some degree, I've evolved." - 4/8/06

They say you can't get anywhere if you don't know where you came from and my first step toward growing up may have been coming to the realization that I'm not that much different than I was when I was five. And the second step: being okay with that. Being okay with who you are. I can't say I've fully grasped the second step yet, but I'm learning to...

"I worry that my talents will not get their chance to come to fruition." 

That line is from the same letter. Firstly, why am I using words like fruition when I'm writing a letter to myself? Secondly, this was a worry that would trouble me desperately for the next four years. But it was this same worry that would propel me to bust my ass on weekends and create web content without a budget and hope that at some point it would all mean something to my future. Which leads me to a telling moment from another letter...

"I think the main reason I've never actively pursued my creative side is a fear of rejection. I hold my writing so close to my heart that if I'm told it sucks I may abandon it forever." -7/17/08

I was on the verge of completing my first web series, Linked, and feeling incredible pressure for it to be successful, not for just myself but for all those who had dedicated their free time to make it happen. I remember reaching a do or die point where I had to finalize the second half of the series, 40-50 pages of script, within a two day span. I sat on the porch of my family's beach house in North Carolina and was shaking from the pressure and fear that I couldn't finish the project. And then I told myself "Stop worrying about what you can't do and just DO." And after that...I wrote...and wrote...and I finished it. I look back now and know that I could have made the series even better had I had an actual budget, but I did what I could... and what I could turned into a project that made the series a finalist in a nationwide competition. But more so than that, it alleviated a bit of my fear. To say I am fearless now would mean that I have learned nothing at all. Fear drives me, without it I would be complacent.

"My life has changed so rapidly in the last few weeks that I can't seem to make sense of anything. I'm stuck on a ride that spins uncontrollably with a broken brake and I have no idea where I will land." -8/1/10

This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life...Scratch that.  This was the beginning of a whole new book! The year I spent as a twenty-nine year old (and the few months leading into it) would prove to be the most eventful (sad, happy, life-altering) year of my life... Or at least to date. I would spend the full year without a strongly significant other in my life, something I hadn't done since...since...Crap, was I ever single before this?? Simultaneously, I would attend four weddings of very close friends, then have several friends also give birth to children and through it all have my mother giving up on me and fearing she would never have her own grandchildren. She means well though, and when she found the cutest puppy in the world to call her own, she stopped beating me with the pressure of being the only child and continuing our family lineage. So with that off my plate, I relaxed and started to learn the difference between alone and lonely. And I was okay.

And in the midst of that biological and emotional chaos, I made a career change and left my stable and secure job in the corporate world for the ever-changing, never 100% stable, always energy-draining life that is the television business. Within one TV season, I learned and propelled to heights I'll admit I hadn't thought I could handle. And when that first chaotic season was behind me I stopped to reflect on it and realized that for the first time, I had to give myself some kind of credit. I may not be the best, but I'm good at this. And I can be better, and I will be, and then I'll try to be even better than that. I'll keep learning from others, their fortunes and their mistakes. And I will be grateful for having known them all.  

As if I could pack anything else into my 29th year, I took two amazing trips; one to my family's homeland of Puerto Rico and one across the Atlantic to Europe. In PR I learned that what is usually familiar can become something wondrous when you're the one in charge of showing others what you know. And in Europe, as I made the journey on my own, I learned friendships aren't hard to come by when you're stuck on a bus with fifty people or viewing some of the most amazing sights our world has to offer us. And from both I learned that the places I've been are only the first steps towards where I will go in this lifetime.

So, as I sit here, writing all this and wondering how I should end it, I realize that there is no end...just more of life to look forward to.

"Dear Me at 40...I hope you are still learning. I hope you are not fully satisfied so that you keep striving to make a difference in your own life and that of others. I hope there is still some fear in you so that you will push yourself to reach greater heights. I hope that you have evolved... but I'll he happy to know that, deep down, you are still that little girl you first wrote about when you were 25..." 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Planned Spontaneity

I wouldn't say I grew up the most rambunctious and free-spirited of kids. I planned my Saturday morning cartoon marathons according to a schedule that included a breakfast break and cleaning duties. Twenty years later, I haven't proven to be much different than that little chubster. I make weekend plans several weeks in advance, organize my day around a timed distribution of snacks, and search for summer weekend getaways in February. It's just how I am.

But, in the last year, there are things outside of my control that take the luxury of planning away from me. I have a job that keeps me working around the clock and a diminishing list of single, childless friends to keep me company. The times I find myself free are usually last minute and, unfortunately, not when my my friends are available. I've been a bit cranky about it. Three weeks ago, on a Friday night, I desperately wanted tacos and cupcakes. (I know that's random, but one block length of Mott Street will bring you to both.) Sadly, no one was free to accompany me and I couldn't stand the thought of going alone, so I didn't. Instead, I pouted and stomped my way home.

This past Thursday, I regained a sense of purpose because I had a clear plan for my evening. I would take an uneventful subway ride to Houston & Allen Street to see my friend Nicholas Howard perform at Rockwood Music Hall. Simple as that. But, when I jumped on the F train, that plan immediately swerved off course... 

I took a seat on the train, tired from my day, and pumped up the volume on my iPod. I did a little seat dancing to a Rhianna song in hopes of waking myself up. That's when I noticed the girl standing in front of me was doing the same thing, tapping her foot to a beat I couldn't hear. I was so caught up in admiring her stylish snow boots that it took me several minutes to look up at her face. When I did, my mouth nearly feel open.

Unless this woman has an identical twin in NYC, I was staring at America Ferrera. I nearly lost my sense of control and tugged on her arm. For those of you that don't already know, I had a serious love for the TV show Ugly Betty. It reminded me (almost too much) of my life as an assistant and of being the only Latino in my workplace. When the series ended I wrote a tribute to it on Huffington Post and caught the attention of Michael Urie, an actor on the show. While I love Michael, this moment with America may top my list of celebrity interactions... Except we never actually interacted.

I think the air changes the moment a person recognizes a celebrity, and the celebrity notices them stalking staring. I could almost feel her quick look into my eyes tell me "Please don't say anything, I just want to get home." Had I been standing next to her I would have simply mouthed the words, "I loved Ugly Betty." But, from my seated position this wasn't possible and so I rode with her standing three inches from me all the way to 2nd Avenue. When the train came to a stop, I gathered myself, and my longing need to expose her identity, and exited. 

When I got above ground I immediately called Jonathan, who shared my love of UB, and left an explosive voice mail on his cell that was both rushed and, I'm sure, incomprehensible. I then got wind whipped back into sense and made my way down Allen Street toward Rockwood, all the while smiling and finding it hard to believe in my unplanned encounter. 

I grabbed a table with Nick's parents, their friends and my mom who had actually made her way into the city for the performance. If you haven't seen it, Rockwood's stage 2 is a sexy venue, lit in such a way that everything looks hazily red except for the stage. I prefer the word intimate to small, but whichever you use, it is only worthwhile to know that it was filled up rather quickly. Nick jumped on around 7:30 and started things off with a newly written song that easily hooked the crowd and grabbed their attention for the rest of his set. The boy did his thing and (as his friend I can tell) is finding his comfort zone with the piano, making beautiful arrangements pulse through the air.   

After Nick, the headliner, Maiysha, took the stage with her band. I'd heard her music briefly on iTunes but, if I'm going to be honest, it was only a small glimpse of what this gorgeous woman is capable of. I connected with nearly every song she sang, less because of the songs themselves and more because of her voice and performance. She was sassy and sexy, but only in a way that was wonderfully compelling instead of tacky. The emotion in her voice had a way of resonating with me. By the time she was done I was fully aware of the new fan she now had within me. 

Hours after I had entered Rockwood dazed with the sighting of my TV icon, I left dazed by the vocals of two super talented musicians. I was on some weird entertainment high. My mother asked what I planned to do next and for once I wasn't really sure, I only knew that I didn't want to go home. That's when I got an unplanned text message from my friend Chris asking me if I was in the city. As it turns out he was only a few train stops away. So, I went along with this unplanned turn of events and joined him at Florencia 13 in the Village. 

Chris and I met in March of 2006 when I stepped outside a club for fresh air and he decided to chat me up while he smoked a cigarette. One month away from exactly five years later, we're still close friends regardless of the fact that we rarely see each other. I ordered a glass of wine and he suggested I eat some tacquitos when I told him I hadn't had dinner. Over the next hour we caught up on our work lives, love lives (or lack thereof) and whatever else came to mind. We laughed at the fact that had we actually planned to get together, it may have taken months. 

"That's the thing about life in New York, it's a plethora of random, unplanned moments," Chris said. I smiled. 

The next day, I started writing this blog and planned to finish it at home that evening, but I was sidetracked by a conversation I was having with Jonathan via text. 
Me: It's Friday and I'm going home to write a blog. I'm a loser. 
Jon: Call me right now.

I call Jonathan. He answers and before he can say anything I jump in with, "Before you tell me I need to stop whining and man up and remember what's good in my life, let me just tell you that there's a box filled with nails that I'd rather go stand in barefoot." 

"Listen, hot mess, that's not what I was going to say. I was going to ask you if you want to meet up for happy hour," was his answer. Well, that was unexpected. Locking down plans with Jon is something I usually start to put together at least two months in advance. This was a treat. 

I met him and his friend Nicole at the Adidas store on Houston. After my shoes were complimented, which flattered me considering I see both Jon and Nicole as highly fashionable people, we zig-zagged our way through SoHo to Sweet & Vicious. Nicole suggested a frozen margarita, something the place is known for and I easily obliged when I found out it came in a mason jar. As we sipped the slushy wonderfulness, we chatted about music and the OWN network. Nicole had to dip out shortly thereafter, leaving Jon and I to our usual devices. And by devices I mean Jon saying so many hilarious one liners that I ended up quoting him on Twitter repeatedly. For example: "Why is 'Depression Advice' following me on Twitter?" and, my personal favorite of the evening, "When your undergarments can check in to separate places on Four Square, you're a whore." If you're not yet aware of why I love this guy, you haven't been reading my blogs closely enough.

By 930pm, the week was weighing on me and I was getting sleepy. Jon's friend Carolina arrived, giving me the out I needed to not feel bad about leaving him at the bar. I hugged them all goodbye and then headed out. There was only one problem...I was starving. 

I looked up at the street sign as I walked. I was closing in on Spring and Mott Street. Which meant that if I turned right I would end up on Mott between Spring and Prince...which was exactly where my tacos and cupcakes were located. This was the place I had wanted to visit three weeks ago. There I was, alone and in very cool shoes with a rumbling stomach. I took a deep breath, walked up to Pinche Taqueria and opened the door. 

A burst of loud voices and laughs greeted me, as the place was filled with a group of people who were clearly friends gathering between bar hops. I ordered my two tacos and walked over to a small, unoccupied table. No one looked at me weird and I didn't do something strange like implode. I just sat and ate the delicious braised pork tacos. 

Over the course of two evenings I had two unplanned, but totally welcomed meet-ups, a celebrity sighting, had fantastic music touch my ears, and an experience of eating on my own. Life is continually changing...and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

In the Land of Mini-Films

To say I've stepped out of my comfort zone in the last six months of my life would be an understatement. It's been more like a leap, followed by a 1000 meter dash, finished with a long jump. Between job changes and personal changes, I've all but buried the person I used to be. But I've managed to keep in tact the core of what made me who I am, and I attempt to continue a building process. I'm not sure a process such as this ever ends, but at least I'm aware of it. 

Over the last three years I've been a producer of web series, with a special interest in comedy and sci-fi. When I landed my current job on a medical/health show I nearly panicked. How could I possibly mesh my background with this new endeavor? Well, six months later I've learned, that wasn't really the point. The point, little Lauren, is that no matter what you do, you need to make it interesting. You need to tell a story that the audience can connect to. 

With this piece of knowledge in mind, not only did I begin to find comfort and confidence in what I was doing with the show, I began to incorporate it into what was once my only means for self-expression, but is now more of a hobby. I began to think of my next side project. And that's when I started to work with Nicholas Howard...

Nicholas and I met last April in the way many people meet these days... via Twitter-conversation. I had written a Huffington Post article on his and Louis Colon's iPhone App (MySneakers) and he had Tweeted me a thank you note. Our online friendship continued sporadically until we met in person at an industry function later that summer.  Meeting Nick was like buying a new car and then suddenly seeing it pass you by at every crosswalk; after meeting him we kept bumping into each other and, thanks to our shared abilities of intuitiveness and blunt commentary, became actual friends.

Among other things, like learning he's the owner of two humans trapped in feline bodies (shout out to Lucky & Cookie!), I learned he was a very talented musician. Having already released two independent albums that focused on his vocal talents, Nick was amidst the process of mastering the ability to sing and play the piano simultaneously. I visited venues where he would test the musical waters and later hear him recount his interpretation of the experience. Watching him tell these stories, and being witness to his passion for the craft reminded me of my own love for filmmaking. And that's when the idea came: Why not shoot my first documentary and make Nick's music the subject? Granted I have not the time nor means to pull together a full feature production, but 5-8 minutes? Sure! 

Over the course of a few weekends, we made a couple of runs around NYC, and gathered videos and photos of Nick's past. I interviewed his friends and family, grabbed shots of him playing the piano, working in his studio and giving candid commentary. I started to pull together a layer of sense. While in other productions my involvement topped out at producing, acting, directing and editing, this new attempt also included being the director of photography. It wasn't the easiest of tasks, but I found myself loving every minute of it. 

Being that filmmaking is still a hobby for me and is treated as such, reaching the final cut of the production took a bit longer than I would have liked.  But in the end, when I sat back to watch it in full I felt...proud. It wasn't so much that I had achieved at bringing the thing together on my own, it was that, while I watched it I felt as if I was learning about Nick for the first time. I was taking it in as if I hadn't been the one to construct it, and that felt somewhat surreal. As much as I've changed, my core need to create lives on and will always finds its way to the surface in an attempt to remind me of who I've always been. 

So without further ado....

If you're a YouTube user, you can also find the video (and other performances) on Nick's YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/NicholasHowardMusic and you can hear his music on his artist site: www.NicholasHowardMusic.com