Sunday, July 31, 2016

Alice in Ship Land: Last Dance, Last Chance for Love

A perfect port day. Aunt P was in Boston and met me at a coffee shop with a sweet outdoor patio for sun-sittin’! We meandered to the contemporary art museum to enjoy shadow plays and photographs. Got some green smoothie, some internet, some phone time. No pangs of urgency getting back aboard. I ate dinner alone at the diner, ordering a hack mish mash of sides to construct lime fish tacos. I wonder what people around me think. “This person dressed in almost pajamas came on a cruise alone and is working very hard to make okay food.” I holed up in the cabin, writing, writing, writing.

Ideally this would be a “FINAL CRUISE! LIVE LIKE WE’RE DYING!” week, but it just wasn’t. I was pretty happy! But, no bucket list items dramatically checked, no wild risks to take, no things I loved so much that the goodbyes would be difficult. In fact, the only thing I could think of even remotely in the “I want to say farewell” category was the flourless chocolate cake served Saturdays at lunch. This week it just wasn’t there. I shrugged my shoulders and chomped a Pop-tart while watching UnReal. I felt like I SHOULD go to Hamilton one more time, and the places I wanted to visit were closed. I ended up eating overpriced avocado rolls and scamming some internet. The highlight was actually the ferry trip itself. Sun, wind, and Final Fantasy on my Spotify. I watched my favorite part of the magician’s act at night, was invited to a cabin party, went for ten minutes, realized I actually had nothing new to say to these people I see every day, and curled up with The Night Of instead. I did make it to Zum Zum class (Zumba rip off) after promising my friend who teaches it for the past month I would. I showed up and danced in the front row since no one else would. I shimmied and chirped when told to. The class was really short. My friend hugged me after and said, “I’m still drunk from last night you have no idea.” #Cruisin

I was productive—writing every day, finishing my solo show, starting new projects, jumping in deep to my next screenplay, reading Sick in the Head, listening to podcasts. I have gotten SO much writing done since February. I got four essays published, finished multiple drafts of my screenplay, made a big fat revision of my musical, started a new play, lesson planned, and wrote a solo show. Most days I wish I had done more, but looking back on what I’ve accomplished while in the middle of the ocean, I think I did alright.

Monday Folds, MB, and I made a trip to St. George with some dancers. A great day beginning with a pleasant ride over, crumpets, and beaching. I got lobstered, but I also swam to a cool rock, and read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates (keepin’ it light on vacation! LOL).

I’m very into Dan Harmon right now. I finished Rick and Morty and kind of became obsessed with hearing how this self-proclaimed alcoholic functions. The final days feel strange. I am getting curious about the outside world again because it will be within my grasp soon. I start to have a bit of an irrational fear. I wonder if I will die before my contract ends. Like a “this cop got shot one day before retirement” situation. I think if I voice this silly thought it will melt away. I tell Folds and MB. They tell me it’s likely. “No!” I say over and over. At farewell steakhouse dinner we discuss what we’re excited to get home to. MB adds under her breath, “if you make it.” I explain the bit to the table and Tail, stone face asked, “What do you want done with your cadaver?”

We had a very special gift—our last show ever was our best show ever. Every seat taken. People piling down the staircases. Standing far far away. At least 1,100 very happy people/fire hazards. I got one minuscule catch in my throat as we sang the finale. It was a dream afterall.

MB and I do a bit where she’s my annoyed teenager Penelope, and I’m her divorced mother. She does Soduku and hangs it on the bathroom door pouting, “I just want you to be proud of me!” I respond, “Doing a puzzle doesn’t make you special.” She says, “This is why Dad left.” After the show we were gabbing and changing when she sat down on the bed with wet eyes. “I’m gonna miss you,” she said. We hugged. She sniffed and added in a sullen voice, “I don’t think it was your fault Dad left.”

The last two days expand into infinity.  I start actually counting the hours, but they still don’t pass any quicker. I have exactly one friend from the ship I have made on my own. He's a bar server from St. Lucia--the one who started "Smart Alice." Without much to do, I hang around his post for a solid hour one night. I learn tons about St. Lucia, his life, his plans. It's hard to crack into a real relationship with people you see in passing, with a major cultural divide, sometimes language divide, but I am leaving with one real pal and an open invite to his island anytime.

I see the dancers do their toughest show for the last time, have a Bachelorette viewing party with some of them, visit the crew pool again, pack it all up, sign the paperwork, do the last improv show all together. It's a good one. Everybody has a shining moment. The cast wasn't the cuddliest I have ever worked with, but it was one of the most talented. Tops and professional at that. The debark process is terrible--waiting and waiting and lines and tired and we don't even say goodbye is the truth of it. We all go through immigration at different times and in a puff of engine smoke it's over.

My bus to Maine is twice delayed. 7 hours. Arriving at 11 PM. A meth head sits behind me and the driver is an angry, jerky driver. I throw up in the bathroom. Of a Greyhound. I can't believe I'm not going back. I arrive at my next gig so late, so hungry, on a rabid hunt for food. Everything is closed so gas station burritos will have to do. I don't mind. There's something wonderful about it all. The harsh bright lights, the aisles. I am free. I am different and free.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Alice in Ship Land: Penultimate

Island of Hamilton!
Guest entertainers only have to attend one crew drill per month. After our last one (first week in July) I said, “At least this is our last!” ZPill said, “Don’t. The ship will hear you.” I corrected to the wind and waves, “I take it back!” But, it was too late. On Monday night, around 10 PM, our manager calls to tell us the new policy is guest entertainers go to two crew drills per month effective immediately. So long Tuesday plans. The deck is on FIRE. I woke up early to workout before hand, which adds to my guts feeling boiled. I had drank about a third of a bottled water. Why? Because there is literally no more water being sold in crew areas. A new policy means passengers can’t bring beverages on or off board, so they’re (understandably) buying twice as much water as usual. Which means all the bottles in crew bar and mart have been brought upstairs. I have two big bottles and I am trying to ration them for the week. I drink two cups every meal at the buffet, but I’m getting increasingly suspicious. I’ve been sickly this whole contract. The men who come on board to work on the purification systems never ever ever drink ship water. Not even through two filters. They’re a strictly Aquafina gang. All this is to say, I almost pass out in the Bermuda heat. The lifejacket I am made to wear for an hour seems to get tighter and tighter around my neck. I sweat profusely. Something’s coming out of my shoulder blade—a bump. I ask MB to rub it and it feels like I’m a hunchback in training. There’s a stress lump growing. The drill ends, and I run to the buffet to guzzle three glasses of water.

The ferry to Hamilton is one of my favorite pieces of life. All the big island houses hiding in green hills. Sailboats. Breeze. Tail says he thinks the seats smell like mildew, but they smell like the ferry to me, so I guess I like mildew now. I tottled to a little coffee shop and had a “normal person day.” I wrote, gchatted, emailed, researched for hours. I almost caught the 6 o’clock ferry, but instead I spotted a teeny wooden restaurant called Devil’s Isle and the pull of a beet quinoa fennel cashew bowl was too strong. I drank a sour cherry soda and journaled about how to love more people. I walked back to the sea, sat on the balcony of the boat, listened to Keegan Michael Key on a podcast. Onboard I went to the gym, showered, and started Sophie’s Choice while eating ginger cookies from the local market. At 10:30 crew spa night started. I started a failed game of Marco Polo in the reflecting pool and closed my eyes in the sauna. It was almost midnight, but I was still up. I put on a skirt and made my way to nightlife. MB was out with a gaggle of peeps who all shocked said, “What are you doing out!” I danced for an hour or so before getting bored and wondering what the choice Sophie was going to make. I was watching Meryl when MB bust in with a gang of several people drunk and hungry. They ordered pizzas from room service and we all marveled at how everyone else sounds smarter to us (South African, British, American, Australian accents flying).

I spent a lot of time thinking philosophically about our sketch show while curling my hair. So many adults don’t laugh on a regular basis. We really get to bring a lot of joy to people. It’s something not to be taken lightly. And then we performed to the most tired, sunburned house ever. The lines fell painfully flat. The scenes barely moved at functioning level without the natural rhythm of pausing for laughs. Ten college kids sat in the front row, totally annoyed, not clapping as we bowed. Oof. But I don’t mind. I mean, it happens. And the show was actually still good—just not well received. It’s great practice to be disliked. And what do you know, the 9 PM was literally our best house ever. We performed the exact same show to roars and screams of joy.

Cruises remind me of high school. Your social patterns and status are so temporary and you KNOW they are temporary, but also, inside the bubble it seems like your whole world is ending if, say, you have nothing to do on a night you want to do something. You have to consciously step back and say, “Wait a minute, there’s only ONE thing to do right now that’s not watch a movie by myself. And it’s a fake dance contest I have seen twenty times. And it’s not really very entertaining.” Or, “I like my cast, but they are not my best friends. So maybe no need to get so upset about one of them hurting my feelings.”

It’s been hard writing my solo show. I have an urgency to do it, but just as much force in the self-doubt column. I need to send my next draft by Friday, and so much judgment crowds in. And so I fight! I fight very hard! I ask for text support from my spirit squad. I read Lean In at the gym. I pray. I do more research. I force myself to recall how I always feel this way and then sternly say, “And was it bad? What actually happened with the last thing you were afraid of?” I ask what will happen if I truly fail. Not very much. I keep writing.

After our first improv show Wednesday I have dinner with MB and Folds. He’s disappointed he wasn’t more productive. In some ways, no one should be disappointed in themselves here. Menial things take way longer, your mental state is stale, you’re lonely. On the other hand, if you haven’t done “it” in this environment, you probably won’t. This job is the perfect backdrop for any major goal. And if you can’t do it here, you probably don’t actually want to. I am relieved to find out I want to be a writer. I want to work out every day. I don’t want to be healthy (I had a free salad bar at every meal and I still opted for candy lunch.) I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to keep an organized closet. This is the land of no excuses, only the harsh mirror of reality. At 2 AM MB and I are trying to sleep, but I keep starting 90s songs and replacing the key words with “scone.” She’s definitely over it, but I complete the entirety of Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Scone” anyway.

Our closing night show wasn’t good. Our opening was solid, and we closed with a great rap battle. So I doubt the audience hated it. But what happened in the middle was…just fine. It’s tough to shake the stink off. You just have to forget. Watch a castmate practice magic tricks, eat all the sour cream cheddar Pringles in bed with your roommate. Tail explains Native Americans would sometimes go to jail and be told it was for a year, but they had no concept of time. It felt like the end was never coming. They chose to starve.

A few of us walk the windy streets to the next island over to see the cemetery up close. Mostly sailors who drowned or died working on a ship. I whisper to stones I like best, “You can haunt me if you want.” Folds even dares me to lay down in a sunken plot of land. He takes us through a grassy path to a secret beach. It’s full night at this point, and the boys strip down and swim via moonlight. I decide to head back to the graveyard to get more time by the gazebo, but a few steps into the narrow trail I swear I hear someone spit, so I run back and wait for companions. On the walk back to the boat we come across some abandoned condos. I want to go in—fitting with the night—but right as Folds gets to the doorway he yells, “F*ck that, no way.” And we kind of take off, a bit faster than we came.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Love Alive?

20 Important Songs of the Past Year

Mine - Phoebe Ryan
Happy summer strolls to work, to rehearsal, slipping into bed at night to watch Scream and eat crackers.
Nine People's Favorite Thing - title of show
The reminder to keep making the stuff I want to make.
Fight Song - Rachel Platten
A buck up number when notes get me down.
Geronimo - Sheppard
The best song in Step class!
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Anthem for a fall camp reunion in Michigan.
Give it to Me I'm Worth It - Fifth Harmony
Getting the class excited to learn about grammar!
The Schuyler Sisters - Hamilton soundtrack
I mean.
Peace - O.A.R.
Figuring out my place in this big fat world!
Rock It 'Til You Drop It - Fefe Dobson
Getting pumped on the train ever Saturday night, heading to the theatre.
Hey Leonardo - Blessid Union of Souls
Chicago nostalgia. Creeping through my past.
Love the Way You Lie - Eminem, Rihanna
Important angry run music.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody - Whitney Houston
Important happy clean the apartment music.
Hit or Miss - Newfound Glory
Watching people as they pass, as they pass.
My Life Would Suck Wihtout You - Kelly Clarkson
Coreography in The sketchshow I wrote this year.
Winter Song - Sara Bareilles
Practicing the splits in the coldest of cold days.
Hold Up - Beyonce
Jamming in my tiny cabin, being transformed by pure passionate art.
Everywhere - Michelle Branch
Dang, I get to be a loved woman.
Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
Running around the Carribean happy as a clam.
Pogues - SC material
The finale of our show that I love dearly.
Sweet Home Chicago - Blues Brothers
Our "get into places" music for our mainstage show on the ship.

Last year's list.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alice in Ship Land: Sweet Sixteen

-A new Mexican restaurant opened on board and passengers can’t make reservations yet, so we decided to go as a cast. Tail was in a particularly good mood and pushed for all the apps, two desserts, mahi tacos for all! I even treated myself to a lime soda because real non-mass produced food tasted so so divine. I will not miss a single dish on this cruise ship. I’m grateful. I have matured here. I am no longer a person who is even remotely enticed by the concept of “all you can eat dessert.”

-Our first day in port, MB and I got a hookup from a friend of a friend to take a glass bottom boat tour in the Bermuda Triangle followed by a snorkel sesh. I saw turtles poking their heads up, long brown creatures, lots of reef (my favorite was brain coral), and a big mama fish that was probably no less than half my size. We were famished when we got back to the ship, ate our faces off at the diner, and then snuggled up for The Bachelorette. RIP Wells.

-I’ve been into night writing in the library. Feeling jazzed, putting the pedal to the metal.

-Staff enrichment threw a crew party on the helipad! It was so fun. I went around midnight and everyone was there dancing and mingling. The beats were typical “everybody dance” jams, and everybody did! The galley workers, the room stewards, the spa staff. I kicked my legs with an engineer and grooved with the South Africans. Plus, anytime I looked up—stars. Looked out—the ocean zooming past. Pretty rad. On land a party like this (with free booze nonetheless) could easily be billed for $100 per person, but it was complimentary, and, like all things, a six minute walk from my house.

-Monday was super duper hot, so a few of us went to the Bermuda museum. I actually learned a lot, and the grounds were nothing to cough at—big ol’ mansion, rolling meadow lawn, a dolphin pool. The usual. There was a gigantic mural by a local artist who painted in deep colors—anti the “pastel syndrome” he believes his home to be afflicted with. The quote on display was, “Part of my sanity was left in that room.” I relate. I hadn’t brought water and bust out on a hunt, but before I got to the pharmacy, I saw a snow cone tent and bought one of those instead. Not smart, but, yes, refreshing.

-Our final day in port MB and I caught the bus to Horseshoe Bay, also know as THE pink sand beach in Bermuda. I bought a ginger beer, hiked up an overlook at the beach corner, and then got in the water. Best. Beach. Ever. Period. There’s no contest. The salt water is JUST chilly enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to slide right in. There are no rocks, the sand is ultra soft, and the waves were perfectly balanced, strong and gentle. I let them push me to shore and laid there, belly down in the sand. It started to rain, and in the grey I really saw the pink hue shine. We went back to the boat because it was show night. A good one, a solid one. Folds accidentally dropped an F bomb in the 7 PM during the improv section. I wonder if any kids will remember. MB and I were judging the dance battle. A goofy high schooler with secret moves won. The little side jobs we have to do often seem like an inconvenience, but I always enjoy myself. We dance and prance around the lounge, around the ship, down to crew bar to chat and hang. I’m very into ginger beer now. Three this week. If I’m really gutsy I ask for a cherry or lime too.

-First sea day back is gym, breakfast, rehearsal. Tension with a castmate. This experience is very difficult sometimes. MB has reminded me that if I were on a team with any of these people in Chicago, there wouldn’t be time to find what really gets under our skin. But here all we have is time to think about why other people suck. Instead of doing that I write, enjoy some banana bread, get my head scratched by a friend, show up happy for the family show. I text Puhg for the rest of the night. I almost forget the distance. I listen to my acoustic playlist and walk a mile around the deck. Passengers recognize me as give me compliments, so I put my hood up.

-The cruise ends with me, three castmates, and two castaways (a dancer and HR) sitting in my cabin talking about first kisses and toots on airplanes. It’s three AM, and I call it. In the morning I have brunch with Bex. She is two years younger than me but her life is settling into a more stereotypical version of adulthood at rapid speed. For all the set-backs of being a professional actor, the weird schedule, and missing weddings, and the unstable paychecks--I’ll take it all for not only Doing the Dream but doing it with nights like Thursday regularly occurring. We have our whole lives to be steady.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Alice in Ship Land: Oof (Cruise Fifteen!)

Friday started with a trip to Mike's Pastry. I didn't feel well--fajitas at 2 AM with the guys after empty glasses filled up the table and they started a game of "Real Housewives of the Cruise." Tail talked about his new Pilates studio and mimed sloshing wine on everyone. Still, I ordered the largest pastry in the glass case (a lobster tail) and gobbled it down. I was anxious to hear the diagnosis of my laptop at Apple (had to be sent away). I spent the rest of the day getting lost, drinking a disgusting overpriced smoothie, and as a result of my phone dying suddenly, having to get back on the ship an hour early.

I showered in our overflowing bathroom. I talk to Puhg and think of him at home. Chicago in summer. The people there. The ship crawls away from all of them, while I lay in my bed under water. The one day in port is so important. A reset. I do not feel refreshed. I'm not ready.

Our room steward avoided our cabin for four days so I was no longer able to enter the bathroom. I would reach for my toothbrush, brush my teeth outside, and do a push up on the sink to spit. When I had to relieve myself, I took three flights of stairs to a public toilet in the atrium. I went to the gym on Monday and when I came back I realized I couldn't shower. I had been using Folds' in dire times but his wife was on board last week. I called our manager and pleaded for a place I could simply get clean without stepping in urine. She said I could use her room. I went up to her SUITE WITH A PORT HOLE AND A COUCH and cried in the shower.

My favorite thing to eat on board is a staple in the restaurant menus--a vegetarian lasagna roll. Stuffed with spinach. It's the one thing I feel is actually healthy and nourishing. I haven't been able to eat it since we've been denied from restaurants every time we attempt to be seated. Folds' wife made us a reservation! I licked my lips! I sit down at dinner, open the menu, and realize it has been revamped. There's only one vegetarian option now and it's a pesto dish--which gives me heartburn. I cry. I cry at a restaurant while wearing wedges in front of Folds' wife because I can't have a spinach roll. I eat a lot of cheese and bread. I avoid everyone, go home early, and watch Transparent on MB's computer. This is what I do every night all week (sometimes after buying Skittles, sometimes not). I finish the first season in six days.

I start developing what some might refer to as "depression." Oh, just trying to oversleep, finding myself saying things like, "I know I used to find this fun, but I don't feel anything." Those types of cool developments. MB found a beetle in her salad. Everyone's stomachs shrink. No matter, my body is finally rejecting boat food. I am going number two around eight times a day. Sometimes dramatically. At midnight Sunday ZPill calls asking I go with him to a bar in Bermuda where he orders Dark and Stormys. I shuffle to land like a zombie. We talk about comedy. Cliche sad clowns.

I am scheduled for a three hour training at 1:30 PM, smack in the middle on our only full day in port. 4th of July. Everyone else goes to the beach. I learn about how to direct passengers up stairs in the event of an emergency. I wonder who in our cast would actually muster at our station in an emergency since we're useless if something actually went down. I think about the musicians on the Titanic playing as the ship sank. I imagine us playing short form improv games on the deck as passengers scream and scramble for lifeboats.

An officer calls because I made a sexual harassment claim last week. I meet with him and share my statement. He is very nice but keeps referring to the incident (an officer leading a training  making sexist and suggestive jokes at the expensive of women) as "silly comments." I keep correcting: "sexual harassment." He dismisses me. Happy Independence Day.

MB and I are assigned a new room! Then we are unassigned it. Then she and I go to the office and ask what on earth is going on, she uses the phrase "we're eating turds" repeatedly, we leave with a promise to return, we are reassigned! The room is still small, but literally twice the size of our old one. AND THE TOILET WORKS. This was such a battle--way too long to bore you with here--but long story short, huge win. Tail calls us Norma Rae.

During Crew Drill we razz ZPill about how much shrimp he eats at the buffet, which eventually devolves into all of us singing pop songs and shoving "shrimp" in them. IE "I like big shrimp and I cannot lie/ You other shrimp can't deny" or "Im so shrimp-y/ you already know." etc. This entertains us for a solid hour while we wear life jackets in the blazing sun. 

My mom knows my week has been crummy. She emails me a very generous offer. She wants to treat me to a massage! They're expensive on board but in port crew gets 40% off. I forego Bermuda for an appointment. Its truly wonderful. Moms, you guys. I sneak into the spa and read in the relaxation room, write in my journal, lay on a hot stone. I sit in the steam room and feel the mucus drain from my face. Everything is really okay.

The shows are still great. 3000 passengers makes for a cut-throat line at the toaster, but fantastic houses. In my favorite scene, Tail and I joust, and at the end I divulge I have been riding a piglet the whole time. In rehearsal we play a game called "Alice Said It Best" where someone gives a long-winded opinion and then I distill it to a sentence thats usually optimistic. I wish we rehearsed every day. Everyone would hate that (except for me). Dreams become work. I am excited to go back to Chicago where people love it again. I still love it. I love it so much. I miss comedy when it's not around--even for a couple days.

We do a 4th-themed family show and end with a historical rap battle. I throw down as Michelle Obama against Ronald Regan. I rhyme "you make me frown" with "trickle down" and "lets move, lets hustle" with "my arm muscle." I kiss my biceps a lot. I get second place, losing to Paul Revere who does a pretty good "one if by land, two if by sea" rhyme. There's a fantastic sunset that stays pink for an hour. A huge egg yolk. Tail and I watch it sink while comparing and contrasting our job to Grey Gardens. I ask him to pose by the orange sky, and he says he feels like an Olin Mills model.

I spend a few hours writing a rap outside, the ocean chops past. Its a Thursday--midday. These are the moments I am still so grateful. After our adult show MB and I head back to our room to find our key cards have mysteriously stopped working. We track down a security guard to help us in, but our keys are still broken until Personnel opens in a day or maybe two. This means we have to leave our room open any time we leave. MB hugs me, goes to the bar, and I leave the door ajar so she can get in later. The boat rocks and the door flies open. I debate which is worse, having to scuttle down from my top bunk or potentially be robbed in the night. An urgent bout of diarrhea makes the decision for me.

Boston. Ahh. First things first, I immediately pick up my computer. It's intact. It's clean. I'm a happy camper. I meet with Malt--an old friend from college--at his v corporate job. I love Malt. funny and smart, a link to the past. He is tired and a little grey in the face. He describes his career as "soul crushing" and I know I would not switch places with him. I wouldn't even entertain it. I waffled about posting most of this update. MB says I shouldn't censor sadness, but I know if I had heard someone "complaining" (emoting) this way a year ago I would scoff and say "Are you kidding? It's worth it." And the truth is I know that! Is it okay to feel sad over dumb things? Is that a valid question? The week was hard for fluke reasons but also because without my computer I couldn't write very much. During shows I felt great! But then after we bowed and took off our mics, I felt like a purposeless balloon. In some ways, this realization is a blessing, a reminder that I really really want to do this Thing. It pains me not to. Perspective. Grace. A new week.