About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Monday, February 27, 2012

NEW PROJECT

Check it out! I’m starting a new blog:

foodrulesforreals.blogspot.com


Earlier in the year, I mentioned that at the end of January, this blog would go into retirement – or at least hibernation – while I started working on a brand-new project.

Well, I meant to start talking about my super-exciting plans about two weeks ago, and meant to start the new project last week. So, it’s about time I talk.

Basically: I’m going to follow the food rules outlined in Michael Pollan’s titular book TO THE LETTER for the next forty days.

Why forty days? Why now? As many of you may have connected the dots: last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and we’re now in the season of Lent.

Let me say first that, despite taking place over Lent, this is NOT a religious project and this blog will NOT be about God. This will probably be the last time I mention God, except maybe in some vague or abstract musings about the nature of the world or the human condition. I’ve never really been able to quit that. But as far as my own spirituality goes, I am a faithful person. My relationship to the idea of God is a strange, aching, personal path. “Personal,” being a key word. I don’t like to talk about my faith and I certainly don’t like to shove it in anybody’s face.

But, that being said, no matter where I seem to end up on my road to God, Lent – a religious staple of my childhood – has always been a beloved and spiritually enlivening time of the year. I am a big believer in the spirituality of sacrifice, no matter what your faith, and the awareness gratitude, and mindful restraint in cultivates. I always get excited about Lent. I think of it as a time for growth, reflection, and big ideas.

This year, I have a really big idea. For a long time, I’ve been toying with the idea of pulling off a somewhat ambitious Lenten sacrifice: to give up all processed food. I love this idea in theory, but in practice it gets a little muddy. What exactly constitutes “processed food”? The Cheetos in the pantry definitely fall under the category and the apple in my crisper definitely does not. But what about my hummus from the grocery store? Is THAT processed? And if so, what sort of floodgate does that open up? Is my yogurt processed? That loaf of wheat bread?

If I were to do this, I realized, I would need to sit down and write down the rules. I’d need a whole list of comprehensive and carefully considered rules. It was an overwhelming task.

Then what should fall into my lap but a book by Michael Pollan called “Food Rules.” 83 lovingly developed, well thought-out rules about how to eat a balanced diet and escape processed food in the modern Western world. Exactly the guide I needed.

It all started to come together. Observe all 83 rules for 40 days, and focus on (roughly) two specific rules a day. It was perfect. And, what’s more, it would be a fantastic adventure to write about and share.

The scope of Pollan’s rules make this a pretty terrifying undertaking, and I’m pretty sure I’m clinically insane for doing it, but at least it’ll be fun to share the insanity. I’m looking forward to writing about all my discoveries and inevitable disasters.

The new address is:


foodrulesforreals.blogspot.com


I hope you follow me. I’m a little scared. But excited. But scared.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making the World a Little Bit Better (Or: Leigh Is a Huge Sucker)

I'm about to do something that I usually don't do on this blog: I'm going to make a personal plea.

Here's the deal. Because I just don't think it's enough to be working at Farm and Table and volunteering for BikeABQ and freelancing as a writer, I ALSO have a day job making phone calls for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It's great, because even though it's exhausting and sometimes frustrating to make phone calls all day, at the end of it I can go home feeling good about myself and satisfied with how I've spent my time.

Except that... I don't.

Every day I talk to literally hundreds of people about all these kids who are suffering from neuromuscular diseases. Everyday I tell these people how important it is that we fund medical research and help pay for costly medical equipment and send these kids to summer camp so that they can have the experience of getting out and playing like normal kid. Everyday I tell them how much we need them to fundraise with us and help raise money for this wonderful cause.

Well, ironically, after spending my days convincing precious few how important their support is, I've managed to accidentally convince myself.

I'm an artist. I've asked for money for a lot of projects and given money to many more because I honestly believe that the work I'm supporting is, in its own way, making the world a better place.

This is making the world a better place, too. It's two sides of the same vital coin.

My feathers are also a little ruffled because everyday I listen to CEO's, business owners, lawyers - people in, let's just say, a much better position than anyone I know down here in the trenches tell me they don't have enough time, they don't know enough people, $1600 is a lot of money to raise.

It is a lot of money to raise, I want to tell them, but I've seen it done time and time again. If it's IMPORTANT, you will FIND the money. You will FIND the time. I know, because, guys, we always find the money.

These kids need so much, and it takes so little of us to give it. I'm pretty sure only maybe five people follow this blog, but if all five of you give just $6, we've gotten one kid their flu shot. And if all of you can give $15, well, we can fund fifteen minutes of research.

If you click right here, you can get to a Kickstarter-type page where you can donate right online. It's so easy, and any little bit is appreciated.

It's not a project, but it's the reason why we do our projects in the first place. And I would appreciate your help.

And here's the link again, in case you missed in the first time.

Thanks, guys.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Further On Food: My New Job

Until recently, I've been sort of at a loss as to what to do with my love of food and my investment in making and eating food more mindfully. I love to cook, but don't want to go to culinary school, I like the idea of gardening but I don't know how - in large part because I have the world's blackest thumb. Seriously. Once my friend Monica, permaculturalist extraordinaire, brought me some plants for my apartment. "Don't worry," she said. "These are my hardiest plants. It's impossible to kill them." Guess what? Uh-huh. I've also been reading about different peoples' adventures in urban farming, which has been a lot of fun but when it comes to personal application, well, let's just wait until I have a backyard and can grow a tomato before we start thinking about chickens.

Enter a project that somehow combines all these wonderful things and more that I believe are the most important things in the world: local food, sustainable growth, and a focus on art, culture, and community. Farm & Table restaurant, opening March 1st.

I happened to see Farm & Table's ad the Tricklock Revolutions program while I was enjoying the festival last month. I needed a job and - as we all know - I have the experience, so I decided to call them up and see if they still needed waitstaff. They did, and Cherie, the owner, asked me to come down and talk to her about the restaurant and the possibility of working there.

I have to admit, when I traveled out to the North Valley to meet with Cherie for the first time, I was on the fence about the possibility of working there. On one hand, I had been unemployed for a while and this seemed like a business that was in line with my interests. On the other, I didn't want to wait tables. I left New York with the hope that I would never have to wait tables again - that I would finally have the chance to do something that I could see a future in.

I wasn't sure what I would say to Cherie, but after she finished talking about what Farm & Table was about, how it had originated, and where she saw the business going, all I had to say was, "Yes! YES YES YES. I am IN."

Farm and Table sits on a 10-acre piece of land with a farm from which as much of the restaurant's food as possible will come. Everything that doesn't come from the farm itself will come from sources so local, you'll know exactly how it got to your plate. Greens from the South Valley. Grass-fed beef from Las Cruces. And there's an atmosphere of education: the staff will know exactly where everything on the menu is from and so will the guests.

And what excites me most: a huge focus on community art and culture. There are already community events in the works for March and the restaurant is hung with works by a local painter. There are plans for arts outreach and on-site workshops for things like cheese-making or composting. If I were to create or become involved in a business that brought together all the things that I feel most passionately about, I have to admit it would look a lot like this. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in it, observing and learning as much as possible. I want to work in the garden, in the kitchen, on the floor, everywhere.

I'm especially interested in being involved with the community-outreach arm of this spectacular project. I hope to get involved with creating and coordinating events for the restaurant, and assist with the drive to reach out and connect with other individuals and organizations in Albuquerque devoted to arts and culture. And, as usual, I'm especially interested in using digital media to connect with the community in innovative ways. The website already has a blog and a Facebook page - hopefully at some point I'll have a chance to grow and evolve our online network. Ultimately, I want to help make Farm & Table the mainstay for the community and culture that I think it wants to and will be. I'm not sure what my role here is meant to be, but I'm excited to discover it and be a part of it in whatever way I can be.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Things That I Love III: Social Media (After Susan G. Komen)

On January 31st, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would halt grants to Planned Parenthood.

I know this because on the 31st my Facebook page was saturated with the news. In the next three days links to news, criticism, petitions, clever photos, and other calls to action poured in. It seemed every day dozens more friends had signed on to register their disapproval.

By February 3rd, Komen had caved, issuing an apology and a new statement that Planned Parenthood would be eligible for grants from the foundation.

I love Planned Parenthood. Those who know me know that I feel like Planned Parenthood helped me at a time when I was having a lot of health issues and was too poor to pay for any of it. I was frustrated, scared, and didn't know what to do. I feel like I owe Planned Parenthood a lot. I feel like they sort of saved me.

But that's not what I want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about the various political agendas that motivated Komen's decision and then its reversal. You have mine now, if you're curious, but that's not the point.

The point is that after just three days after the initial announcement, Susan G. Komen backed off after a "deluge of outrage online."

It is amazing and inspiring that so many people were able to organize so quickly and affect real change in the world.

Stories like these remind me why I am so passionate and curious about social media - why I keep reading about it and think about it and talking about it and experimenting with it. I imagine without social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, this is how the whole Komen thing would have went down:

-On January 31st, Susan G. Komen announces its decision. Maybe I read about it in the New York Times, but let's face it: probably not. I really only skim everything that's not the theater section.

-Later that week, somebody says to me, "Hey, did you hear Susan G. Komen pulled its funding from Parenthood?" I say, "WHAT?!? That's BS. I'm not buying any more of that pink crap."

-October, breast cancer awareness month, comes around eight months later and I buy some pink crap.

Instead:

-Someone posted the news and I shared it.
-Someone commented in protest and I liked it.
-Someone gave a link to a petition and I signed it.

And three days later, the decision was reversed.

Since the moment of its inception, it has struck me what a wildly powerful tool social media is; it has the potential to connect and organize massive groups of people on a scale that has never, ever been possible before.

Actually, it wasn't at the inception of social media that I got so excited. I actually remember the moment. It was that group - do you remember it? - that upstart kid who started a group on Facebook about seven years ago called, "For Every Member of This Group I Will Donate A Dollar To Darfur." This was before you could post a link, way before you could share somebody else's status - it might have even been before the newsfeed. But somehow, this kid's page went viral and, if he was true to his word, relief in Darfur got a ton of money.

And it occurred to me: my god, look at all these people, all these 250,000 members (yes, that was viral back in the day) who have come together so easily to do real good for the people of Darfur just because it was as simple as clicking a button.

How many other millions of people, in how many other ways, can technology like this unite? The potential was - and still is - limitless and unprecedented.

Of course, as anyone who's been on social media for more than five minutes knows, it's really not as simple as a click of a button. I know from experience that it's about as difficult to make something go viral as it is easy. This Planned Parenthood scandal raced across the internet - as did the protests agains the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills earlier in the month, and both campaigns were met with incredible success. But for every SOPA, how many other dozens of good and necessary causes, organizations and people that deserve our attention fall through the cracks?

The first thing I did after realizing social media's potential was to form a group that would be dedicated to seeing plays that were written, directed or produced by women on a regular basis to support female artists with our pocketbooks as well as just with advocacy. Six people joined. It never really got off the ground.

Meanwhile, seven years later, Works by Women is a group that is using another social tool, Meetup.com, to do exactly what I had attempted with much greater success.

It takes a strange mix of expertise, charisma, dedication and luck to use social media well. I want to discover what that mix is and make it work for me. That's why I love social media.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Volunteering Blues

On Tuesday of this week, I showed up to BikeABQ's first meeting of 2012, with no idea what to expect.

Volunteering for the advocacy group has been slow-going so far. Soon after volunteering my services, I was teased with the vague prospect of an event at a new coffee shop that I could "help organize." But it seems that the event will be much smaller than initially anticipated, and, in any case, very far in the indeterminate future.

Beyond that, it's been pretty minimal. A board member enlisted my help writing the invitation to the meeting, and I offered to show up a little early beforehand to help her set up. I got there about half an hour before the meeting's "refreshment hour" was supposed to begin, to discover that most of the set-up had already been finished. I poured some Chex Mix into a bowl, and then stood around awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

After a while, I was joined by a woman who looked very nice and extremely cool as she rocked a vibrant orange sweater and some fabulous heeled boots. We discussed enthusiastically a beautiful, vintage-looking turquoise bike in the corner, and then fell silent. I shifted from foot to foot, unsure of what to say or what exactly my place there was. Did we really need two people to watch over a pretty self-explanatory refreshment table? I grasped for suitable conversation topics; in my desperation I talked way too much about how much my bike needed a tune-up.

At the meeting itself, I didn't fare much better. Besides the young woman in the orange sweater, I met one other person who seemed close enough to my age to relate to; most of the members were older men. Well, that's okay. I didn't exactly join the group to make friends... although I had kind of hoped. More frustrating, though, was how little I felt I was able to contribute to the meeting. I stayed almost entirely silent while the members around me discussed strategy and logistics for upcoming events.

It may sound odd to feel discouraged for not practically running a meeting for a group I hardly know anything about yet, but it highlights a particularly frustrating trait I see in myself. When I'm given very specific instructions, I work hard. When initiate a project, or am otherwise ostensibly In Charge, I have no problem assuming responsibility. But it's that grey area in between, that area where, to assume responsibility you simply have to find it and take it, that I become mousy and fade into the background. I second-guess myself. I wonder if I'm doing it wrong. I wonder if I'm stepping on other peoples' toes.

But I don't WANT to fade into the background with this group. I joined this group to try something new. To really help. I worry that I'll end up going to monthly meetings, sitting quietly in the back, and leaving equally quietly.

I volunteered enthusiastically for the next big fundraiser, a mysterious event called a Bike Swap, which I'm sure I'll be learning more about in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, I wish I could do more. To be perfectly honest, a big part of my intention when it comes to volunteering is to cultivate skills and experience while doing something that I care about. That's not going to happen if I'm in the back folding sweaters because I can't think of how else to help.

I want to be somebody capable of grabbing that responsibility and holding on tight; I want to be a leader. I think the best thing I can do is to use this experience as an Opportunity for Growth, and to discover new ways to step outside of my comfort zone. The trouble is, I'm still hazy on how, specifically, to take that step.

What about you? Have you ever had trouble taking on greater responsibility? What did you do?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Things I Love, Part II: Food

One night, not long before I moved to Albuquerque, I cooked a sort of goodbye feast for me and my ex-boyfriend. The meal was made from the spoils of a day up on Arthur Ave, and contained unnecessarily excessive riches in the form of cheesy breadsticks, pasta, sausage and heavy cream. By the end, we were both stuffed, but I still wanted the chocolate I had bought for dessert.

"Not me," said Andrew. "I'm too full."

"Well, I'm going to have some," I said. "Sometimes I think I'd really excel as a competitive eater."

"Yeah," Andrew agreed.

"HEY!" I said, "You're not supposed to agree with me! That is NOT a good boyfriend response!"

"What?" he asked. "I love you, but do you want me to lie to you? Do you want me to tell you that the other night you didn't eat an order of cheese fries, a bacon-wrapped chili-cheese dog, three sliders, and another order of fries?"

My response? "In my defense, it was only two sliders."

Okay, yeah, I really love food.

I love eating food, I love cooking food, I love watching food on TV, I love talking about food. I loved waiting tables for a surprisingly long time, partly because I like talking to people but partly, I suspect, because I love food.

A number of people have suggested that I become a chef, or at least go to culinary school. I cannot state emphatically enough that I DO. NOT. WANT. THAT. I love cooking; it makes me very, very happy, and I don't want to turn it into something that doesn't. Cooking is an art, and if there's one thing I've learned about making art on a serious or competitive level, it's that you have to cultivate a willingness to hate yourself a lot. Pursuing something that requires such a high level of passion and self-expression is always going to be a love-hate relationship. And right now, my relationship to cooking is love-love.

Besides, I don't just love food, I'm interested in it.

Here's what I mean. When I was thirteen, I became a vegetarian. Back then, I wore my little thirteen-year-old heart on my thirteen-year-old sleeve, and I couldn't bear to think of all the living beings that were dying just so I could enjoy my Chickent McNuggets. Fast-forward seven years later: I'm twenty, I'm overweight, I'm lethargic, and I want a change. I've tried changing my diet and eating healthier before, but with little success. I have a sinking feeling I know what I have to do. I start eating meat again on a trial basis. And I immediately feel better, more alert, and more energetic. So, dilemma: do I sacrifice my morals or my health?

Over the years, as I grew and evolved, so did, obviously, my relationship to vegetarianism. Although I still cared - and care - about the well-being of all living creatures, the choice had become less about poor Wilbur and more about the spiritual and environmental consequences of eating meat without thought. We as a society just consume - just destroy and consume, and we don't really understand or appreciate how much we consume and destroy, because we've created system where we don't have to be aware of it and we don't have to give anything back in return for what we take. We just take, and we don't give back. It throws the whole system out of balance and that imbalance must certainly be destructive both to the world around us and to our own spirits. So far, my response to a system that I had observed to be broken had been to remove myself from it as entirely as possible. But didn't it make as much or better sense to try to bring balance back to the system by being a part of it? By being appreciative and aware within it, and attempting to give back as much as I took?

Okay, I thought. I'll eat meat again, but only if I do so respectfully and mindfully, and only if I accept the sacrifice that's been made for me, by sacrificing of my own time or money or whatever else I can to give back.

Friends, let me tell you: easier said than done. In the entire time that I lived in NYC I almost never found myself with sufficient time or funds to consume as mindfully as I wanted. I soothed myself by saying I was making up for it by having no car and living (through little choice of my own) incredibly austerely. But it's never felt like enough, and perhaps it never will feel like enough, and so I continue every day to strive toward honoring that promise.

That promise, coupled with my deep love of food, has made me increasingly obsessed with things like small farming, local and seasonal food, sustainable, organic practices and basically anything else that moves us away from the huge, corporate monoculture that is stripping our country's resources bare. It's something that I believe is vitally important, mentally, physically, spiritually, and environmentally. And, while I hope I've always been a conscious consumer, I've never had the time and money to give the cause the attention I know it needs to have.

And now... well, at least I have the time, and that's somewhere to start.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Impromptu Jam Session Is Worth A Thousand Tweets.

(Or: Lessons That Should Have Been Fairly Obvious, But Somehow Weren't.)

The lesson? Get off your ass and go out and talk to people.

I've been spending a lot of quality time with a cup of coffee since I got back to here. That is, I spend most of my days plunked in front of my computer screen with my beloved caffeinated beverage, searching for jobs, writing query letters, and cruising the internet for people, places, and things to do in Albuquerque that might appeal to me - might get me closer to my goal of following my passion.

But Googling "Cool stuff in Albuquerque," and all the permutations thereof is not going to get me the answer I'm looking for.

Getting out is gonna do that. Talking to people. Getting to know this city.

This seems to be a fairly obvious truth, and yet I cling to my keyboard with bony little white knuckles. Why? I think a part of it is due to the success I had extending my community through Twitter and blogging last year in New York. But the key word there is extending. Not building from scratch, which is what I'm doing here. I already knew the New York theatre community when I jumped in online; I already had a good idea of the people I wanted to talk to, the things I wanted to do and see.

But you can't become a part of a place by reading about it. You can't understand a community by asking Google. Obviously.

This facepalm-truth hit me with its full force this past Tuesday night, when I crawled away from the bright, calming light of my computer screen long enough to attend the kick-off party for Tricklock Company's Revolutions Theater Festival - an international theater festival that, while I WAS excited about it before Tuesday, I don't know why I wasn't jumping up and down and gnawing at my knuckles to stifle high-pitched squeals about it. Well anyway, I am now. It looks awesome.

The very moment I got to the party, I opened the festival's event calendar and learned something all of my furious searches across the internet had kept from me. A new restaurant is opening next month - a kind of business that looks right up my alley. I made a point to call the owner the next day and learned more about it: it really is exactly everything that I'm passionate about. Organic food sourced completely locally, much of it from the very farm it sits on. A focus on community and culture, complete with events and workshops on site. Collaboration and support of local artists and musicians. Oh lord. It's actually overwhelming how awesome this place seems. But more on that later.

I also ran into my very first mentor, the person who first got me hopelessly, irrevocably addicted to theater when he cast my 12-year-old self as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was a thrill to see him again, an even bigger one to see the look on his face at seeing me and an incredible ego-boost to hear him immediately say, "I want you to audition for me!" Why, little old me? Act? Oh, you flatter me, sir.

Even better: I told him I'd love to audition for him, but I'd love even more to assistant director. How delightful would it be to AD for my first and most beloved mentor?

But this isn't about networking, or making connections, or even about theater at all. It's about actually taking action to be a part of something. Being at the party, hearing about the shows in the festivals from so many of the people involved, got me excited about theater in a way I haven't felt since moving here. It made me excited in a way I haven't felt since moving here, period, really.

The night was tough. I won't lie. I felt stiff and awkward for most of the evening, knowing very little of the people in the room, and even less what to say. But there were some introductions, and a few fleeting moments of real, genuine, lovely conversation, and I feel happy knowing that now, next time I see those people, maybe I WILL know what to say.

The night ended with a house party and a little impromptu jam session. Me, despite 8 years of piano lessons, I don't have a musical bone in my body. But I sat and watched, and don't think I enjoyed the evening less for it. And even if only for a fleeting second, even if only on the periphery, it made me feel like a part of a community.