At the end of 2016 I wrote about welcoming the new years challenges by focusing on five key areas of my life: Financial, Physical, Mental, Spiritual and Emotional health. I've decided I'm going to hold myself accountable to this throughout the year by looking back and doing a quick recap of how well I did in each of those areas for each month of 2017. Here goes.
My long-term goal for 2017 is to get some investments going. Before I can do that however I need to get the rest of my financial life in order.
What I did so far:
How am I feeling about achieving my financial health goal by the end of 2017? Hot.
My goal for 2017 is to make exercising a normal and fun part of my daily life. The reality is exercise is NOTHING like taxes, although it can feel just as arduous a task when all you're doing is thinking about how you have to do it instead of doing the damn thing. Plus every time I exercise I feel SO good afterwards, not so much with filing my taxes.
What I've done so far:
How am I feeling about achieving my physical health goal by the end of 2017? Luke-warm. I want to exercise A LOT more in February than I did in January.
My goal for 2017 is to read books about subjects I wouldn't necessarily find interesting. I'm going to expand that to include listening to podcasts I wouldn't necessarily find interesting, and other kinds of material including articles and essays.
What I've done so far: Big fat nothing. This is a really challenging one to do.
How am I feeling about achieving my mental health goal by the end of 2017? Cold, so cold. It's really hard to decide to step out of the neural pathways I'm most accustomed to traveling. Also, I use up time that could be spent reading new material watching TV sometimes - I hate it, but it feels so good.
My goal for 2017 is to incorporate meditation into my daily life more.
What I've done so far: Nada.
How am I feeling about achieving my spiritual health goal by end of 2017? Numb. I'm kidding, but I wonder why I haven't gotten started on this yet. I can feel the need for it because stress is real.
My goal for 2017 is to keep meeting new people, nurture friendships I already have, and spend lots of time with family.
What I've done so far: All of the above.
How am I feeling about achieving my emotional health goal by end of 2017? Warm & fuzzy.
As February gets ready to fly by I'm going to focus on my mental and spiritual health which fell behind a bit in January, but also keep taking steps towards physical, financial, and emotional health.
I listened to Tim Ferriss' podcast today, and in one of the episodes I checked out he touched on the concept of 'decision fatigue'. He says you want to eliminate the number of decisions you make in a day so you can focus on the creative ones that matter most. I'm hoping that as I continue to focus on making health a priority, in all its many facets, I'll eliminate the need to make a choice to be healthy. If I automate healthy decision making in the basic areas of life by making them a habit, I'll be freer to make choices that allow me to soar in other more exciting ways.
Keeping My Happiness With Me
Lately I've been thinking about how to keep my happiness with me. It's something my mom has been telling me to do for years and years. I'm an emotional human, or a passionate Cuban depending on how you want to look at it, and for the longest keeping my happiness with me has been an illusive challenge. Don't get me wrong it still is challenging, but lately I've been having some realizations that may help me get closer to controlling my emotions.
Emotions don't happen in a vacuum, they're usually a direct response to something that was said or done by another human or animal. We get touched or moved by events that happen around us, and that can be positive and remind us that we're all connected. I'm not so worried about getting a handle on those positive emotions, what I want to pay attention to are those instances where I feel hurt by something (emotionally not physically.) Those are the moments when I have a choice to either get angry, get sad, or take a moment to reflect on why I might be feeling hurt in the first place. My new challenge to myself - it doesn't get boring in my brain, ever - is to catch the moment of pain so I can make a conscious decision about what to do next.
I believe we have a choice, most of us, on whether or not we want to act on an emotion we're feeling. If I'm feeling hurt about something maybe I need to speak up and let the person whose statement impacted me know I'm feeling defensive or sad, but I don't need to do so in a voice tinged with that emotion. I've learned recently that expressing myself in an emotional way isn't always the most effective way of communicating. Sometimes my emotions block people out or impact them in such a way that they get hurt or angry and then there's no room for conversation. If I can calmly observe both to myself and them that I feel a certain way it gives them the opportunity to clarify if there was a misunderstanding - basically it's like opening a bridge and inviting them across instead of burning the bridge down. If I can't be calm in the moment, I need to wait to speak about it until I can. Enter Thich Nhat Hanh's extremely helpful book, Anger.
Keeping my happiness with me is also about not letting negative people who like to shit all over, shit on me.
'People become shitty because you let them shit inside you.'
I believe I read this quote in James Altucher's Choose Yourself - fantastic read - and it really struck home. Don't let people become shitty, it's to all of our benefit. The more a person thinks it's okay to shit on you the more confidence they'll have to try and shit on someone else. Imagine someone you know, a disrespectful rude person, trying to be shitty and being refused. Now imagine them standing there with a steaming pile of shit in their hands not knowing what to do with it. Pretty great right?
Here's to keeping our happiness with us, a moment at a time.
Welcoming the New Year's Challenges
It's time to revel with family, go to the Nutcracker, hike up a mountain, explore a new place, open some presents, read a good book, take in the view, and dance our way into the New Year. As so many people have pointed out 2016 has been a heck of a year and my guess is each year we greet from here on out will be a HECK of a year. Politics, the environment, so much is changing and feels out of our control. However as 2017 rolls around the bend, I want to focus on what IS in my control.
Financial Health - Lately I've been learning a lot about finances and the importance of investing, so in the New Year I'm going to get some investments started. I don't have a whole lot of money lying around, still work full time, but I'd rather start small now and see where it takes me.
Physical Health - I want to adjust my perception of what I need to do to be physically healthy. I want to take long walks every day and then also take exercise classes where the competition motivates me to work harder. Less emphasis on 'needing to work out' more focus on making physical health a part of my every day routine. Walking up stairs, exploring my neighborhood on long walks, taking fun classes etc.
Mental Health - I want to read books about subjects I wouldn't necessarily find exciting, because chances are I have the most to learn in those areas. Also who knows maybe something I read in a book about the Universe might lead to a creative breakthrough.
Spiritual Health - I'm aiming to incorporate meditation into my daily life more. I've started to a little in the past month with some surprising results. I'm realizing meditation is a form of self love, a way to sit still and reflect inwardly while working towards peace of mind.
Emotional Health - I want to keep meeting new people and nurturing the friendships I already have while continuing to spend lots of time with family.
Here's to a great new year of growth and change. What goals do you have for the New Year?
Skating Through My Fear
Last weekend I went to a friends roller skating birthday party. I hadn't been roller skating before and although I had rollerbladed as a kid, hadn't done that in a good 16 years or so as well. The event took place after hours in a public school, a flashing disco ball hung above the doorway outside marking the entrance. By the time I arrived, twenty or so people were skating around in a repurposed school gym with Christmas lights hung all around the cieling and a TV playing 80s music hung above the 'rink'.
I was feeling pretty good about coming out, despite the long journey to BedStuy from Queens and the frigid cold. Soon as I stepped into the building my nose started to thaw and the man who greeted me was friendly and all smiles as he helped me find skates in my size. It wasn't until I put the skates on and attempted to skate over to the rink that I suddenly realized how absolutely terrifying this was going to be. After nearly falling flat on my back several times, it took every ounce of courage I had to not take the skates off and sit by the chips and cupcakes all night.
I saw some of my other friends sitting in chairs watching the skaters go by; they were waiting till they gathered enough confidence to get the skates on at all. I sorely wished I had waited to do the same. However my skates were on and there was nothing left to do but get moving and get used to the motion - left, right, left, right. Some super talented skaters whizzed past me dipping and twirling and skating backwards and I watched in admiration and envy until I had to nervously look down at my own feet to make sure I was still shuffling along - left, right, left, right.
My friend whose birthday it was also hadn't really skated before but she was all smiles in a beautiful flowing white dress. She's a new friend and I'm completely grateful she's in my life her positive energy and laughter are infectious. I felt like giving up and sitting on the sidelines and I did take a break to try and feel more grounded, in charge of my body and luxuriously safe, (and to eat a cupcake). Eventually though that got boring and I started to feel lazy. Plus the birthday girl was out there getting her groove on, so I powered up my nerve and went back out into the rink.
After I'd gone around and around maybe 30 times I started to get the hang of it. I started to let my feet get a little more creative with their gliding, pointing my toes towards eachother and letting my skates glide close and then tilting my toes out and allowing my feet and legs to follow. Maybe by the 40th time around the rink I started to move my upper body in time with the music a bit, relaxing into the beat.
By the end of the night I was blowing past people and one of the guys who had been skating backwards and doing tricks randomly held my hand and tried to get me to twirl around and I had to explain 'oh no I'm new to this can't spin yet!'. It felt damn good to be skating around with the wind blowing my hair back and the hum of laughter and other skaters swooshing by. Being in motion and allowing myself to go with the flow of everyone around me felt so positive. Pushing through my fear had yet again led to an adventure, a new experience, and a deeper appreciation for the variety of ways I can enjoy being alive.
Another day, another lesson learned about the importance of taking action in service of my values in spite of the limitations of my fears.
- Lillian Isabella
I get nervous about flying and it would have been less scary to just stay at home and relax for Thanksgiving break but I moved through my fear and past my excuses, bought a plane ticket and got ready for adventure.
My boyfriend is the Technical Director on a Game of Thrones Behind the Scenes experience happening in Chicago this weekend - super cool gig - and I went down to join him for a Thanksgiving meet up with his extended family.
I got to Chicago in one piece (so happy) and decided to go to the top of the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) to see their Skydeck! I waited in line for an hour and considering how many people were in the line that wasn't too bad; props to the efficient Skydeck staff on Thanksgiving. To see the Skydeck you shoot up to the top of a 1,363 foot building in an elevator that rapidly counts the floors as you soar past them. Once you're up at the top there's panoramic views of parts of Chicago, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. For the more daring there's a glass-enclosed ledge you can step out onto. I did it and was completely terrified. You're standing on top of a 1,363 foot drop and you can see the whole thing.
I'm always musing about what I'd like to share on social media next and I knew this experience could generate some wicked cool photos. The woman working the glass ledge was super patient and took my photo and actually took way more photos than I had hoped for! I even dared to lie down for the photo opp, this is the one version of those where I don't look terrified.
That night as my boyfriend and I were driving back to downtown Chicago from our Thanksgiving dinner I felt incredibly full, and not just from the food. My heart felt full too. As we wound around the highway, downtown Chicago skyscrapers coming into view, I imagined what it would feel like if my heart was full all the time. I tried to parcel out what in that moment was making me feel so good.
Then I had a realization. A lot of what I'd been doing on this vacation was reflective of what I most value in life. I value travel and exploration, sharing on social media, writing, meeting new friends/ bonding with family, learning from others, and performing / entertaining others. I realized that when my values become a part of my daily life I'm acting in the best interest of my heart, and opening myself up to give the most back to the universe. Going forward I'm going to work on turning those things I value into the compass by which I navigate the world.
I came back to NYC holding onto some inspiration from Daniel Burnham the architect of Chicago.
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."
Here's to finding the magic and stirring wo(men)'s blood. Onward!
Transitions and New Beginnings
Yesterday was my last day at Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) as I get ready for a new adventure. I did social media and blogging for TFI for about a year. During my time there I got to lead social media workshops for independent filmmakers, lead a blogging workshop for a group of men in prison, follow the careers of TFI alum in the news, and attend filmmaker workshops and entertainment industry panels to cover them for social. It was a tremendous education on how the backend of the independent film world and non profit grant industry works. For more on that see this blog I wrote with some indie filmmaking tips I learned on the job. I'm incredibly thankful I had the opportunity to work at TFI and I'm equally excited to begin my next journey.
I'm not going to divulge where I'm going next just yet because I want to get started before I announce it. However I can say it will be in the tech finance world and it's part of the #FinancialFeminism movement. I'll be learning about investing, doing tons of research, and basically getting educated on how the people with money do it. Going from non profit to #FinTech is a big change and I'm diving in head first. (Read: learning a bunch of financial stuff)
I've also been using the transition period before my new job starts a lot like I use my birthday or the New Year in that I'm taking it as an opportunity to get organized and focused. All those events I just mentioned are marks, a fixed point in time that stands as a motivator for forward motion, and a deadline of sorts, because it promises a new beginning. I'm getting ready for the new change in pace and whatever opportunities it will bring. The list of things I'm motivating myself to do vary widely in ambition and scope, for example:
It's a diverse list but completing each of those things will make me feel really good. That's the point I guess, to feel good. I'm freeing up energy by using energy to complete the tasks I've been putting off.
Last year Jonas Mekas said to me "Energy likes to be used. The more you use it the more it grows." I believe using up too much mental space with stuff-yet-to-be-done, fills up your internal hard drive and then you're reluctant to let more information in. All I want to do is gather more information, feed my curiosity and desire for growth, and expand my horizons, so first I've got to use my energy to make space and also be thankful for all that I am already.
Finding Time to De-Stress
Today is National Stress Awareness Day. The joke I've been hearing all day is 'we're always aware of our stress'. I know for a fact I experience stress every single day, living in NYC contributes to my stress levels a lot. Those of you who need to commute on the subway in to work and home from work, know how incredibly stressful that can be with crowded grumpy people shoving by sluggish pre-coffee individuals. Not to mention the multitude of other stresses you face the rest of the day. However while I'm aware of everything that causes me stress, I've been trying to become more aware of the moment I'm feeling stressed so I can try and calm the heck down.
I've been writing freeform stream of consciousness thoughts for about 45 minutes every morning for the past two years, started while working on The Artists Way (!) by Julia Cameron. Now I'm almost done filling up my 7th book of writing, and it's been a tremendous help in getting me more in tune with my thoughts and emotions, especially overarching issues I'm grappling with over time that cause me stress and anxiety.
As of this Monday I've been challenging myself to wake up super early, 5:30am-6:30am (yes that's super early for me) and write my pages by candlelight. Waking up that early is definitely challenging for me but so far I've found:
I'm looking forward to continuing this experiment and hopefully making it a daily practice.
I've also been making an effort to do things I want to do, whether it's finish projects or learn a new skill, instead of feeling stressed about not doing it. As I mentioned in my last blog I've been seriously blocked by fear the past couple of years and I'm coming to own that and look that fear in the face. So this Monday I went and took an archery lesson. I LOVE archery but I've only done it three times now, with lots of space in-between due to fear. Not fear that I'd get hurt, just scared of committing and seeing what comes of it.
While I was practicing the teachers in the place told me I was worrying too much and that I needed to relax. They said just aim the arrow and then let go gently. Practice makes perfect, and I'm not going to get it perfect right away. I was being too hard on myself they said. They were talking about archery specifically, but if they only knew they were diagnosing a much larger challenge I face every day. Judging myself and needing to be perfect at everything is a huge amount of stress I dump on my brain and body daily, and I'm going to keep hitting the refresh button, lighting a candle, and honing in on what's real now.
Facing My Fears and Choosing to Act
I have a vivid childhood memory of watching my mother standing in front of her french-door closet, next to an ornately cut mirror that she'd hand-painted with a rim of golden leaves. She grabs an item of clothing that reminds her of an ex-boyfriend out of the closet and pitches it on the ground, gleefully exclaiming 'I want to change my life!' When I was growing up my mother was always clearing out the old to make room for change and livening up our Bronx apartment with touches of grace and beauty. I've been remembering that this weekend as I've been clearing my apartment of old clothes, boxes that have been lying around, and over a years worth of magazines. I too have decided to change my life.
It's been a long time coming but I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I've been creatively stuck for the past few years. I've come up with loads of ideas for projects I want to work on, and I've gone through and created a bunch of them, but I haven't finished them and shared them with the world. I've been holding onto them, keeping them close, buried inside. It's been a long build up for me: a nearly 140 page book of interviews and memoirs that needs edits and rewrites, a solo play that is ready for a fresh round of edits, another solo play that is ready for self-publication, a short film I wrote two years ago and am starting to now get into pre-production, performing in a monologue project for Youtube, an idea for a children's book I started researching and then stopped.
I've recently realized all this incompletion is because I've been afraid. The creative energy that I most want to express I've been using a lot of energy to restrain and repress because I'm scared of what might happen when I share it. I don't like admitting to fear because I'm a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, but it's real and I want to charge through my resistance to get closer to self-actualization and peace of mind.
We live in a time when it's pretty easy to drum out the noise of our fears. I can tune into one of any number of the TV shows out there, drown it out with music, or turn to things I'm already confident about such as social media. I have done all that a-plenty but what I really want now is to move forward.
Along with de-cluttering and beautifying my home, I'm going to finish these projects I have in limbo, starting with self publishing a solo play I wrote and performed in last year about Jonas Mekas, the 'godfather of avant garde cinema'. I interviewed him and turned that into a 20 minute solo piece called That's How Angels Arranged. I'm excited to share that piece with you soon.
Tomorrow is another chance to make the right choices, the ones that will lead me further into the fear I feel, and closer to getting through to the other side of it. What I fear most is change and the terror of the unknown and yet both are an inescapable part of being human.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” - Anais Nin
This quote is my mantra right now. There's risk either way, whether I stay fearful or whether I take action towards growth. And so much good could come of allowing myself to blossom. So, here goes. I'll keep you updated on my progress.
A short film I acted in, DAYDREAMING by Eren Gulfidan, is screening at Lid Off Film Festival in Kansas this weekend. It's a surrealist narrative about a woman (played by me) who flees from her office and finds refuge in her unconscious. I had a blast making the film, we traveled by van - true indie film style - to shoot scenes on a beach, in a grassy field, and a motel. We even shot some scenes on the subway - first time I've done that - and I had to learn how to juggle balls for those. I have since become pretty good at juggling (!) and practice on my own. Check out the teaser for the film below!
Daydreaming Teaser from Eren Gulfidan on Vimeo.
I first met the director Eren years ago at an audition I got through Backstage, for a web series called Red Notice, a re-imagining of Dante's Inferno starring two women. I booked the job, and we've continued working together ever since. Currently we have a couple of projects in development and it's exciting to see this short film making the festival circuit now. Stay tuned for updates and more opportunities to see the film!
I attended Crain's Entertainment Summit today in New York City and witnessed a robust panel discussion on why the state's film and television tax credit is so important to New York's economy. The bottom line is that the tax credit hugely incentivizes people to bring their productions to New York, which in turn leads to increased job opportunities for New Yorkers working in the entertainment industry, and bolsters revenue for local businesses. As an actor and a writer living and working in NYC, I am all about that!
The panel included: Scott Levy, Founder & President, Eastern Effects, Inc.; Julie Menin, Commissioner, Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment; Clyde Phillips, Showrunner, Dexter, Feed the Beast, and Nurse Jackie; Alan Suna, Chief Executive Officer, Silvercup Studios; and Beau Willimon, Creator, House of Cards.
Beau Willimon, there in his capacity as a Writers Guild of America Council Member, additionally advocated for a tax credit to incentivize diversity behind the camera. He and Writers Guild of America East are asking the state to allot $5 million of the $420 million Empire State Film Production Tax Credit towards productions that hire women or minority writers or directors. A few times the crowd, myself included, broke out in enthusiastic applause as he spoke truth to power about how behind we are with diversity when it comes to people behind the camera. As he says, it's our responsibility to the industry and our peers to work towards having a greater variety of people employed.
If we're going to tell stories in NY, the people telling them should reflect the people in NY. - Beau Willimon Click to Tweet
A LOT of stories are currently being told in New York. In the last year 52 Episodic TV shows and 336 movies were produced in NY, according to Julie Menin, the Commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). That is truly exciting and I can't wait to see how that number continues to grow.
The state's film and television tax credit is up for renewal soon, it is currently extended through 2019. To keep tabs on what's happening with the credit and how you can apply for it check out the MOME website.
I am an advocate for gender parity in the entertainment world and write, act, and produce with a mind to facilitate that change.