For auld lang syne

Okay, so I don’t really believe in time, but Happy New Year!

Look, it's me 9 years ago with sparklers. Can you tell I'm terrified? Photo by Laura Pope.
Look, it’s me 9 years ago with sparklers. Can you tell I’m terrified? Photo by Laura Pope.

Even though I think labelling periods of our lives as generally good or bad (i.e. “This year sucked!” or “What a great day!”) is actually not helpful and overgeneralizes the nuances of life, I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year for myself. For the past few months, I’ve been taking stock of everything that has happened. It’s a lot. It’s amazing how short and yet how expansive 365 days can be. Even more amazing is how vastly different a year can seem, just based on perspective.

When I focus on the struggle, the pain, the mistakes – this year seems awful and exhausting. Another year older, another year full of disillusionment, of hard lessons learned, of heartbreak, and parts of myself – innocence, behavior, ideas, friends, truths – lost.

But when I count my blessings, and there are so, so many – this year seems miraculous. I’ve finally finished filming my short film, got into stand-up comedy, shot over 15 new web videos, co-founded a sketch team, made it as a semi-finalist in a comedy festival, received a promotion at my job (which I love), and I’ve met hundreds of new awesome people and made so many new awesome friends. Not to mention I got in touch with my birth-family, created several new paintings, started eating meat again (I know) and continue to grow every moment as a breathing, living, flesh-and-blood human being.

My gratitude is overwhelming. So instead of going on further about how great my year was and how lucky I feel to be alive, I want to instead brag about some of my wonderful friends. Because they’ve had amazing years as well:

Chris Chianesi  launched his new webseries, #MANNYPROBZ, and he’s hilarious and his costar Leisl is adorable and it’s everything you want in a comedy webseries. Also, I was cinematographer on a couple of them and those shoots were so much fun.

Jessie Evans launched her new series, “Jessie Eats,” and it’s everything you want in a food blog/webseries – which is basically watching her adorably enjoy all sorts of delicious cuisine and drinks and you fall in love with her within seconds.

Taylor Tobin started writing for the website, Brokelyn, and her food listicles are all you’ll ever need while dining in Brooklyn. Her culinary advice has never led me astray.

Christina Stone has started making custom puppets! They are fuzzy, adorable, and hand-sewn. It’s the perfect gift to give to the children and young-at-heart in your life. You can contact her through her website to place an order.

Emily Duncan premiered her new, original musical, “Me and my Birdie,” which premiered at the Bad Theater Festival, and it was touching and hilarious. AND she collaborated with the magnificent Regina Gibson – they co-wrote and composed a new holiday song you can see Regina, who has the voice of Greta Garbo but 10x sexier, perform here.

Rowan Rivers started a new blog where he divulges his magickal insight on tarot card analysis and it’s wonderful. I love his writing.

Check out this touching and very funny video by Glamour Magazine starring the extremely talented Keisha Zollar and Andrew Kimler, as they talk about their first month of marriage.

The incredible Morgan Clarke is the drummer for the awesome band, Worthy Fools, who just released their EP this year, which you can buy on iTunes!

Cartoonist and illustrator Kyle Rose launched his new webcomic, The Working Stiff, and he’s made major progress on his upcoming book, The Comic Book Convention Survival Guide, so stay tuned!

Producer/Actor Andria Kozica released two new web shorts on Funny or Die this year that are hysterical! Go Bag and Meeting Mr. Reich.

And my best friend since 3rd grade, Nicole Sweeney, literally just seconds ago made the Board of Directors for Pure Romance, a company whose mission statement and products I love. You can buy awesome stuff from her here.

Honestly, I can go on and on and on. I’m am so #blessed to know so many amazing, passionate, creative artists and creators. Sometimes I just scroll through my Facebook feed and beam with pride. How lucky are we?

Here are some more friends who are creating awesome work you should check out:

ChEckiT! Dance, headed by the sweet and lovely Allison Brzezinski

Urban Spiritual, by the insightful chief editor/writer Terence Stone

The SoulGlo Project, a podcast and monthly live show with Keisha Zollar, Anna Suzuki, and Emily Schorr Lesnick.

Have a wedding upcoming or a special event you want captured to remember forever? Hire James Sireno Productions – seriously, Jimmy and his wife, Chelsea, are two of the nicest, most professional, talented videographers I know!

More people you need to keep track of because they’re about to be FAMOUS, they’re that talented:

J.W. Crump, Stephanie BencinMadonna RefugiaTabitha VidaurriDavid MonkCarolyn BusaBilly Bob ThompsonAlyson Leigh RosenfeldKristin Seltman, Miranda KahnBetsy Lippitt, Sarah Knittel, Graham Halstead, Ana Defillo, and actually this is super stressing me out because I have way too many talented friends and not enough time right now to list them all so please just go look at my Facebook friend list because I haven’t even gotten into the hundreds of New York comedians I’ve met this year who are hysterical and exciting.

So congratulations, mazel tov! If you’re reading this, that means you’ve made it through another year. I hope your 2015 was filled with as much love and pain and wonder and life as mine has, and I hope your 2016 is just as full, if not fuller.

Happy New Year!

EDIT: I can’t believe I completely forgot my amazing and talented friend, Hannah Cauhépé who, after doing a daily photo challenge for a year from her home in Paris, has now embarked on a massive world-wide journey and continues to document it with her breath-taking photos. She also has just unveiled her new project, The Lesbian Gaze, where she takes beautiful portraits of lesbian, queer, bi women from all over the world. I forgot because she’s always on the move, currently she’s in Nicaragua! Check out her work!!

I don’t know.

I haven’t written in this blog in a long time. And until just a few moments ago, I couldn’t really tell you why. Being busy, not feeling “inspired,” or not having anything to share are not really accurate excuses. I think it’s because I’ve been hiding.

Photo by A. Pagliaricci
Photo by A. Pagliaricci

I didn’t know I was hiding, not at first. But like a shapeless, dark monster that creeps into your dreams, vignetting what seems to be a fairly standard happy image, I had this growing suspicion that something was not quite right with me. It’s been plaguing me for weeks, this sensation that something is about to fall apart, that I’m not truly alive and aware, that any happiness I’ve felt was false. I’ve talked about it at great lengths with my close friends, my therapist, writing about it in my journal. I could articulate it, yes, but at most it was an intellectual diagnosis. It felt like someone dubbing over my own voice in a foreign language. I knew, but I couldn’t touch it. It hadn’t hit me yet, it floated above me, mockingly. I was pretty sure of what I wanted to eat but I had yet to order it and actually ingest it.

Okay, enough metaphors. You get the idea. But for someone who always has to know the answer to everything, this uncertainty has been difficult for me to live with. So I simply didn’t. In the past 3 months since I’ve last posted, I’ve been quite busy. I held a fundraiser party, I went home for the holidays, I finally wrapped principal photography on my film, I started a writers’ group, produced and acted in a new comedy web-sketch, as well as started developing more web-sketches for PITtv. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to work full-time and go out with friends or on dates. I’ve been very busy. I’ve been barely home. I’ve been rarely alone. Because I’m hiding.

When my best friend suddenly died last June, all I wanted was to be alone. Grief was the most isolating experience of my life. I’ve lived quite an individual life so far, but the alone-ness was palpable. I couldn’t be around anyone, I couldn’t smile for anyone or make small talk with anyone. I just wanted to sit outside and listen to our favorite music and cry. Nurse my grief like it was the last drink I’ll ever have. I walked the streets of New York with a bubble around me, protecting me from interaction, from engagement, from life. I just mourned.

So when I finally came out, when the sun’s rays finally actually got to touch my skin again, when I looked up, it felt miraculous. I slowly started to feel inspired again, the need to be productive, to continue living. After a while, I wanted to see other people. I wanted to start working on my projects again. I would never be the same, but I was back. And once I got my footing, I took off running. I filled my schedule and took on new projects and set up meetings and dates and outings and laughed and talked and acted like my old extroverted self again. But I was hiding.

I was hiding because I was afraid of being alone again. If I was alone, then I would think. And if I thought, I would think about Matt. And if I thought about Matt, I feared I would slip back into that dark yet brightly-lit, stark, empty room of despair again. I still am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be sad. I’m afraid to let myself continue to grieve. I’m afraid I won’t come out of it again. It’s been 8 months and 17 days since Matt died and I’m not still fully healed. I’m not over it. That’s okay. I’m never going to be over this. People tell you about that deep loss. I know this. But I might not also fully heal from this.

Why do we look at wounds as things that need to heal? I kept trying to become this holier-than-thou totally enlightened wise being in the last several months. How pretentious of me to go on and on about how my best friend’s death changed me? I would wax poetic about death and the meaning of life like I suddenly had all the answers now that I’ve experience such profound, tragic loss. (My friends know exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you for not slapping me, but god somebody please slap me next time.)

That is total bullshit. Okay, not total, but I was missing the point, I see that now. That was me trying to tie everything up neatly with a bow again. That was the same Katie that pretended to give eloquent interviews about world issues to the mirror when she was 9 (okay 15… okay 21… okay fine, last night) but still – I have this need to romanticize everything in my life, to package it neatly and analyze it and understand it all, but the truth is, I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all.

Photo by danabooo
Photo by danabooo

I’m a mess. I’m a flawed, messy, emotional human being. Made of flesh and blood and bones and chemicals and weird shit like that and I’m trying to figure it out desperately like everyone else. I miss my best friend and I still grieve for him but also sometimes I don’t think about him. And yeah, I feel guilty about that too. I don’t always stick to my diet and sometimes I get drunk on weeknights and I date the wrong people and I can be flaky and I don’t call my parents nearly as much as I should. I make snap judgments and I say things sometimes just to get a rise out of people and I get secretly possessive over my food. I have hateful thoughts sometimes and I’m mad at my best friend for dying on me and I miss him so frickin’ much and I worry way too much and I really do want love and children and a family someday. I cry at the drop of a hat and I have dry skin and I don’t like to follow rules and I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a human. I am not a saint, I am not the Buddha, I will not rise out of this like a glorious wise martyr. I am ugly sometimes, and I have ugly emotions sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’m allowed to be ugly. I’m allowed to be human. I’m allowed to let this wound fester a bit.

This all came to a head while I was listening to the Strangers podcast while at work.  I highly recommend everyone listen to this episode. When I first started researching about grief in the initial months after Matt’s death, I would scoff at those articles about broken hearts. “Who cares about a break-up? I f*cking lost my best friend – he f*cking died! We can’t ever see or talk to each other again because he doesn’t exist on this planet anymore!” But the fact is, a broken heart is a broken heart. Listening to these storytellers talk about their own experiences after a devastating break-up, it echoed exactly what I went through last summer. When Annie McEwen and Lea Thau said that even waking up is hard, realizing that this is the world you live in now, that’s exactly how it felt waking up every day last summer. And in Annie’s story, when the female character mentions just living with her lost love, not being consumed by it but giving it space and just knowing that she has to live with this feeling, without him, every day – it resonated with me.

Like these two women, my heart is broken. And I agree with Annie, I don’t think I’ll ever love the same way again. I don’t think losing Matt is something I’ll ever fully heal from. What Matt and I had was special, our friendship was truly one-of-a-kind. But I don’t think I’m necessarily a better person for having lived through this experience. I am a person. And it has deeply affected me. That’s really all I can say. But like Annie, I am more compassionate than I ever have been, and I’m finally going to start being compassionate with the one person I’ve been hardest on my entire life: yep, myself. Me. I’m going to do that by letting myself have flaws. By letting myself be messy. By letting myself grieve and cry and scream and laugh and dance and drink and eat carbs – and do whatever I need to do.

Death sucks. Break-ups suck. Having your heart ripped from your chest and stomped on really frickin’ blows. And I can’t tell you why. I have no idea why life is so unfair. I don’t know. I really don’t know. And that’s okay.

Taken Care

Okay, I’m going to try and keep this one short, but I just had to share something that happened to me this weekend.

On Sunday, I had booked several meetings for “Are You Afraid of the ’90s?”  pre-production, and catching up with old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I met up with my hilarious and talented line producer, Emily Duncan, and she broke the news to me that despite all of the fundraising we’ve done, we were still over $3,000 short for our last shoot in January. I was crushed, naturally. Not only did I have to somehow find a few more thousand dollars, but even then I wouldn’t be able to afford to give my hard-working crew the measly raise they really deserved. This shoot would, again, be about scrambling and penny-pinching (#indiefilmproblems). We joked about going into prostitution (as I’m sure all poor artists have before us) and promptly went to get a glass of wine.

The cuteness is too much, right? Photo credit by Jimmy Sireno, of course.
The cuteness is too much, right? Photo credit by Jimmy Sireno, of course.

I then went to visit my good friends and producers, Chelsea and Jimmy Sireno. Chelsea has been working with me on this film from the beginning and is one of my biggest cheerleaders. And her husband’s extensive knowledge/talent on all things video and production, as well as his infallible cheerful attitude, have been my saving grace many a time. As if they couldn’t be more awesome, Chelsea just gave birth to their first child, James Phillip Jr., last week. As I held their baby son in my arms, I could feel myself just melt. He is perfection, right down to his little fingernails. What a wonderfully lucky little human. Here he is, just 1 week old, surrounded by unconditional love. He has the best parents he could ask for, a loving extended family, and really cool family friends. (Wink, wink!) In my arms was Possibilities. He has years and years ahead of him to experience love, loss, happiness, excitement, disappointment, pain, sorrow, anger, pleasure, peace – it’s magnificent.

After, I made my way home, feeling full of love. On the train platform, I took out my old journal. I re-read old entries from July, but they seemed like they were written lifetimes ago. I rode the train with my rose-colored glasses on, thinking about how far I’ve come, my place in the universe. I am still sad for the loss of my friend. I’m still anxious for our upcoming shoot. But the night was crisp and clear, and I felt so grateful.

And then, as I went to unlock my front door, I noticed my keys were missing. As I knelt down in the lobby of my apartment building, the soft, dreamy tendrils of my zen-like state quickly began to recede as panic set in. I had lost my wallet and keys. They were nowhere to be found. And of course, I had kept everything important in one place, so my license, credit cards, monthly Metrocard, insurance card, everything – was just gone.

I will skip over the hours I spent freaking out, calling my banks, and making poor, exhausted new father Jimmy check out the subway stations for me (thank you, Jimmy!) but needless to say, my grateful mood was ruined. I felt so stupid, my self-esteem plummeted, and I couldn’t stop kicking myself. More so, I felt betrayed. I had trusted in the universe and right when I felt so grateful, it goes and screws me over. What the bleep.

The next day was rainy and so was my mood. I was so grumpy and the whole work day felt as if I were in a fog. But then I got a phone call from my gym. (I thought it was to hit me up for paying my fat tax) Turns out, two kind elderly ladies had found my wallet and had been trying for hours to get a hold of me to return it! But I had already cancelled all of my cards and by then, my mood was so foul and low that even that news didn’t seem to cheer me up much.

After work, I went to a seminar at NYU Tisch about raising money for the arts. I was skeptical but as mentioned earlier, in pretty desperate need. It was informative, but most of all, inspiring. One thing that Andrew Frank, the instructor, imparted to us was to have a daily mantra:

“Money comes to me easily.”

When he said that, my immediate reaction was to do a spit take. But alas, I was not drinking anything at the time. Even now, that statement makes me want to cry-laugh loudly. It sparks an anxious little flame in my gut. But he continued, saying that we should say it 10-15 times a day, putting it out into the universe.

After the class, feeling a bit more invigorated about my film’s financial situation, I went over to the apartment of the ladies who have found my wallet. They were so sweet, the first thing they did was wrap me up in a big hug. We chatted in their home, me profusely thanking them and trying to give them money, they refusing the money and telling me to be more careful. They were the African grandmothers I had always wanted. We agreed to get drinks next time and I headed back out into the night.

source: wikipedia
Look at how much those stars and planets love you. They twinkle with love. source: wikipedia

On the way home, my spirits were flying once again. How silly I was, to think that the universe would not take care of me. I was being a spoiled child, crying over spilled milk. Here I was, in good health, with wonderful friends and family who support and love me, living in one of the greatest cities in the world, pursuing my dreams and creating art, working a full-time job with great co-workers – and I was stomping my feet over losing my wallet! I thought the universe had failed me, when maybe this all happened to show that It is actually really taking care of me more than I think. Maybe it’s not some old bearded man in the sky, maybe it’s just Energy, or collective consciousness, but sometimes things do work out in ways that, at the time, we might not always understand.

That’s not to say that tragedy never happens or that we should force ourselves to ignore feeling horrible. As my friend Terence was telling me while I was ranting, most likely the Buddhist thing to do is just acknowledge the emotions I was feeling, without judgement. This whole experience has made me recall one of the first conversations I had with one of the actresses in my film (who is also incredibly zen and centered), and she looked at me across our lattes and said,

“Do you think the universe is out to get you? Or are you the type of person who believes that you are loved and that you will be taken care of?”

I don’t want to think the universe is out to get me. It sounds like an exhausting way to live. I agree with my friends, Mr. Frank, and Björk, and I will repeat these mantras every day, believing them as best as I can:

I am given love. I am loved.

I am taken care of.  

Money comes to me easily.

So. What are your mantras?

PS: How appropriate that my coworkers have this song playing right now?

PPS: Here are some other wonderfully heart-warming stories of human kindness to lift your spirits.

Inspired during an early evening commute home…

Every single writer, poet, filmmaker, musician, and artist who has ever lived in New York has tried to express how much they love New York. Or how much they hate New York. It can be the most magical place on earth or it can make you want to jump into the tracks of an oncoming train. The skyscrapers and glittering lights can inspire and enlighten or it can feel as though you carry the weight of many tons of steel and iron upon your shoulders. However, one thing can always be said about New York: there is so much life here. It’s every where, at every block, every building, stoop, subway platform, alleyway, and corner- there is so much life. At any one time, there are over 5 million stories happening.

Most of those stories are right out in the open for all to see. The woman crying on the phone as she walks east on 52nd st. The homeless boy in the blue coat with a bent cardboard sign on 8th avenue. The 30-something woman whose pink jogging jacket match her purebred chihuahua’s little boots on 6th avenue. The smiling man with large boils on his face sitting on the Canal st train platform. Life is every where you look here. No matter the time or day, life is happening here. Stories are being written here. For any artist, it’s absolutely thrilling. But in a place with so much life, there is so much death – so much decay. Sometimes the amount of life and death is too much for one human to withstand. It can overwhelm, like a cacophony of disheartening news reports that grows so loud one cannot hear anything but the din of sadness and suffering. For life is suffering, as the Buddhists believe, and for a city full of so much life, it is also filled with so much suffering.

Imagine being acutely aware of ever single moment of emotional and physical pain in the world as it is happening. To be so sensitive would surely break one’s heart so completely so many times. It would drive any normal mortal to end the pain as soon as possible. But why is it a bad thing to feel sadness? Is a typically “happy person” more in tune with the universe and more generous? Is a mostly “sad person” selfish and a pessimist? Or is the happy one merely in denial and the sad one more intuitive? Maybe it’s more complicated than that. No one likes to feel sad. Many try to avoid feeling sad as much as possible, whether that means diverting and distracting feelings, emotional strong-holding, or resorting to substances to dull the senses and pain. Is this healthy though? Is there a way to stay with the pain, accept the sadness, and not want to kill oneself every waking moment? Can you feel sadness but not become sadness?

There are many institutions that have formed over the centuries to help alleviate everyday sadness. Religion, spirituality, sports and exercise methods, the arts – they all serve to give us a greater sense of purpose. Without purpose, our egos start to flail and our sense of self begins to spiral. Religion gives us an explanation of the sadness and suffering. The old books of old prophets tell us why and what’s next. It seems we humans have a very hard time functioning with the knowledge that life could just be random chaos, that our suffering was senseless and never-ending, with no reason or goal to look forward to. But what if there was no sense to it at all? Perhaps that’s what the Buddhists meant when they said that Life is Suffering. It is not a means to an end or even something to be explained, but rather it just is.

I myself cannot begin to even pretend to know the truth behind what we feel and what we are. The only supposed “truths” I can begin to understand are as follows:

1) I am here.
2) I feel pain. I feel happiness.
3) Things that seem and feel awful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
4) Things that seem and feel wonderful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
5) But no matter what happens, it is my judgement that deems it “bad” or “good.”
6) And regardless of all of the points above, everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever and everything changes.

It can seem hopeless to think that one could spend years and years building an empire or creating a work of art or nurturing a family – and in one instant, it all could be destroyed and cease to exist. But that thought can also be incredibly freeing. It doesn’t necessarily mean one shouldn’t strive for anything or the human race shouldn’t progress and evolve, but like the rhythms of the city – the way the garbage and snow will pile up and then seemingly disappear within a day, the way real estate here can seem to change ownership every month – it might just be worth it for us to continually try to be conscious. Conscious that we are all part of this life, this suffering, and even more so, this impermanence.