Friday, February 11, 2011

Knowing and the Opposite of Knowing

If someone were to ask me how my week was, I’d probably sigh (or grunt) and say “busy.”  And that would be true. Mostly. But if I actually thought about the question for more than a millisecond, my response might be, “interesting,” because I have, in fact, had a very interesting week.

For starters, I bumbled into casting calls for two well-known, international companies within a 4-day span. While I’ve been represented by a local ‘real person’ modeling agency for about two years now, the requests I get from photographers or casting agencies ebb and flow.  Since I haven’t heard from anyone in a long time, I just assumed the agency found a lot of new models and my ‘look’ found its place at the bottom of the pile. But then this week – two calls for big jobs. And by big, I mean I could write down my earnings using a single digit, followed by a ‘k’. These are the jobs that are worth the inconvenience of showering, schlepping downtown, paying for parking and of course, walking into studios with gorgeous people who actually know what they’re doing.

I do not know what I’m doing in this modeling world that I sometimes drift into. I don’t have a side or a pose or an expression. Over and over I step in front of the backdrop, find the mark, stand on it, do a quarter turn, put my hands on my hips and flash the giant smile that God gave me. I have nothing else to offer these people.  Big smile. Hands on hips. Ability to find a mark with speedy efficiency.  That’s me.

The first casting call was surreal. I sat in a small waiting room with several men and woman who were also contenders for this ad. Although I know that the role isn’t given to the most attractive person – the casting people are looking for a look, not unflawed beauty – I felt like in that room, at that time, among the other women surrounding me, I was the least flawed. 

The man I sat next to, however, was so breathtakingly beautiful that I couldn’t imagine how he and I could possibly exist on the same planet, yet alone in the same print ad.  Because in no normal universe would that man and I be a couple. And I’m not fishing for compliments here. I’m totally okay with how I look. I feel attractive. I look younger than I actually am. And on those rare days where I throw on something more than running tights and t-shirt, I have caught men checking me out. That said, I don’t typically find myself unworthy of being in the presence of attractive men – I can hold my own. But this man – this man was cut from a different cloth. He was tall and had this unflawed, chiseled face. Stunning dark eyes. Wavy, dark blond hair. And from the conversation we had, not a single, functioning brain cell in his beautiful, perfect head.

Where was I going with this? Oh…yeah. So, I’m sitting next to the most beautiful man the world may ever know while in a room with a bunch of largely unremarkable women. One of the women was extraordinarily jumpy and her absolute strangeness got the group talking and since I’m quite the talker, by the time I got called into the photographer’s room, I was relaxed.  That is, I was relaxed until I shut the door behind me and found eight executives from the casting agency and the international fast food company sitting at the other end of the room, each and every one of them with an opened laptop in front of them.  Startled at the sheer volume of people in this room, I flashed the giant smile for which I’m known and said, “Gee. There’s so many of you. What’s going on?” The woman in the front row, just to the left of the photographer, laughed and said, “Well, she’s just going to take your picture while you talk to me and we all judge you.”

Fuck. Me.

I not only hadn’t been in front of a professional lens in about 6 or 7 months, I also hadn’t had to stand in front of a group of people and present …something…in close to four years. I was caught SO off guard and with the door already shut behind me, there was no turning back.

So I did it.

In three minutes or less, we talked about Pennsylvania, escaping life-threatening situations from flesh-eating pigs and The Flintstones (this was clearly not ‘prepared’ material. I riffed the whole thing.). I had at least 7 of the 8 executives laughing. The photographer took photos of me and I wasn’t even working my quarter turn. I was complimented on my necklace. I left and felt that if personality was going to be a driving force in the selection, I’d make the short list.  I felt good.  I went into a non-comfort zone and made it comfortable for me. I win, even if I don’t get the job (and FYI, I didn’t get the job).

Last night, my agent called me. As soon as I saw her name pop up on my phone, my heart raced – I thought maybe I was getting a thumbs up to the job I auditioned for earlier in the week. Nope. But, she had a casting call for me to go today.  I was three minutes away from leaving for run club and was actually looking forward to an open Friday, but hastily agreed to the appointment when she told me how much I’d earn if I booked the gig.  And then my phone rang again – my friend was coming to pick me up for run club.

The entire way to run club (it’s all of a 10-minute drive), I was obsessing about the audition and more specifically, what I would wear. The agent happened to call after I had sorted laundry into three heaping piles – a good chunk of my wardrobe was in a crumpled ball at the bottom of those piles -- and because I didn't expect to return home until 9 pm, the chances of doing three loads of laundry that night looked slim. But once I got to run club, I didn’t have a second to think about what I’d wear the next day. 

Run club is organized by my trainer and it is the only time right now where I can really get in some group training opportunities, which is to say that it’s the only time I can suffer with other people. Misery loves company.  I certainly carried some anxiety about this session throughout the day because I knew that run club was not going to be a walk in the park. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t even just a run through the park. My trainer decided to make it a circuit workout, which means running laps at various speeds (she’ll tell you if it’s an ez jog, a moderate pace, alternating speed ups or all out being chased by clowns with axes) and then breaking to do hateful, torturous core and strength exercises like burpees and suitcases and lunges and wall sits. Circuit workouts on the track are grueling. 

The short story is, I survived run club. Beyond surviving it though, I was really, really proud of the effort I put into it. I mean, I’m NEVER going to figure out how to make my left arm and right leg move together for a flying superman, and the burpees are going to take a lot of work, but I did hit a 9-1/2 min. mile for the first time since it was warm enough to wear shorts outside. I was not happy with life during the workout, but the second it was over – and I ran every step, by the way – I felt like I had accomplished the unaccomplishable. Tired and a little achy, I returned home anxious to update my Facebook status and begrudgingly searched through what was left in my closet so I’d have something to wear to the casting call this morning.

Having figured out something suitable to wear, I got the kids to school and printed out directions for where I had to go. I got there without incident, found prime parking and was pretty happy with the session, even though it did involve something that felt like acting to me. They actually wanted the big smile, so that was easy. And then they asked me to, while drinking from a mug of pretend coffee, act like I was looking at my husband who was eating all of the delicious [food product] that I had just prepared for him.  I needed to convey – in this one look – that I loved him, but I really loved the [food product] a little bit more. For someone that isn’t terribly good at masking her own feelings, let alone making them up in front of strangers with cameras, not to mention that this someone hasn’t even been an extra in a grade school musical production – I did okay. I don’t know that I’ll get the job, but without any actual skills to back me up, I did what they asked me to do and I felt like I succeeded. I was on my way home 15 minutes later to enjoy the rest of my day off.

What hit me on the car ride home was that I put myself in three uncomfortable positions (that’s what she said!) this week and I came out of all of them smiling. I put myself in three situations that I couldn’t prepare for and I walked out of them proud of my effort.  I guess the Disney ending to this would be that I got all of the gigs, made a shit-ton of easy money and my trainer carried me off the track on her shoulders.  None of that happened (although, I might still be in the running for today’s audition – I’ll know more next week.).  But the real achievement – something that I’ve struggled with for years – was tapping into some sort of confidence that allowed me to go into a situation unprepared. And instead of recognizing I was unprepared and giving up, I joked and ran and charmed my way through it.

I was recently asked by a friend from high school to join her online Weight Loss Support Group. Now, she’s in PA and I’m in IL and if any of you know what I look like, I’m not a good candidate for losing weight. In fact, weight loss might actually kill me. But I was asked (I think) because my friend has watched my exercise-induced Facebook posts for the past two years and understood my commitment and struggles with training. And this year, for reasons not entirely clear to me, she joined another friend and walked the Harrisburg marathon, which I think is pure awesomeness. She also rallied a bunch of folks in the region and created a wonderful online support system for their exercise and eating habits (they have dropped a collective 160 lbs since January 1, 2011!).  Many of these group members are joining her in a Warrior Dash on June 11th – the race where you run through mud and rivers and hop across fire. Lots of racers wear those crazy Viking hats. Beer and turkey legs are provided at the end of the race.  It’s a race for the adventurous bad-asses all over the country. For this race, she’s getting her team t-shirts, and selected the following slogan: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Find the warrior in you…

Now, how great is that???

I’ve spent so much time preparing and preparing and over-preparing for meetings and situations and parties and vacations and events so that I wouldn’t fail. And this week – THREE TIMES – I drew upon my own experiences and strengths to carry me through situations that I couldn’t prepare for. I’m wondering if I’m starting to find that warrior?

This week, as interesting as it was, was also exhausting. The idea of getting into bed tonight and not having to set an alarm for tomorrow is just heavenly to me. I will close though, by saying I hope I wake up with that warrior, as I’ve got a 1.5 mile swim and a 75-minute run staring me in the face on Saturday and Sunday!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Sucks and Being a Mom is Hard

I woke up this morning with this big chunk of sadness sitting on my chest and in my throat.

Some of it, I guess is that this is the first week back to the grind … well, my grind at least. Last week was nothing but excitement for the blizzard and then enduring the blizzard (which was a little tedious by Day 3, to be honest).  Today, it’s business as usual, which included getting the 7-year old to school at 7:30 am for a supplemental reading program, coming home and then turning around to get the 10-year old to school by 8:45 am.  Fat pain in the ass. So the anxiety of a 5-day week is certainly present.

I also have an audition for a spot in a national print ad tomorrow.  I haven’t had an audition in a long time and these things always make me feel so vulnerable. I signed up for a “real person” modeling agency about two years ago and have managed to get two or three gigs as secondary ‘talent’ (I usually get the part of  ‘blurred woman in background’ – that’s the ‘talent’ I bring to these shoots).  The easiest gig got me $75 for about 45 minutes worth of work, and I actually saw the photo in a local publication. The most challenging gig got me $350 and 6 hours of feeling self-conscious – which then evolved into anger from allowing myself to feel … less … than the main talent at the shoot.   Anyway, I’m not a model. I don’t want to be one when I grow up. I just like making a few extra bucks now and again.  But I can almost guarantee that I’ll spend most of tonight with my teeth and fists clenched tight, worrying about the audition. Not knowing what is expected of me, or if I’ll meet those expectations, destroys me.

The real sadness, I think, is that Monday sucks. While I enjoy having a quiet house and enjoy that time to get the house back in order after the weekend (tidying, laundry, groceries, bills, etc.), I have realized that I hate knowing that I’m on my own until I get my kids at 3 pm. And then we’re on our own until my husband comes home around 5 or 6 (or later). I miss them when they aren’t here. I miss them so much.  And this is a bizarre realization, after being a stay-at-home more for close to 4 years now, because I’ve not always felt that way.  I think the first two years after I left the agency for the full-time-home gig, I was resentful. Everything was inconvenient. All I wanted to do was be out of my house. A stay at home mom that absolutely couldn’t stay at home! In the past year, I've made some changes to my home that actually make me want to spend more time in it. I've taken the space that we occupied for 10 years and made it into a home. Big difference.

The beginning of this school year wasn’t easy. Our afternoon homework sessions were agonizing! My son couldn’t focus for more than 3 minutes and I ended up yelling at him because he wasn’t understanding things fast enough. It was awful. I found myself drinking more – and earlier in the day – than I had been in a long time.  By the time Carlo would come home at night, I’d be stressed out and angry. It was a terrible way to spend our time together.

Sometime either right before, or maybe right after, Thanksgiving break,  I had an a-ha moment. An a-ha moment that was triggered by a few containers of Yoplait yogurt.  And the very short story is this: my kids behave really well and can focus on work if they like the after school snack that I plan.  If I get them home, share a likeable snack with them and give them 15 minutes of ‘down’ time with me…they can focus. That’s it. It’s actually that easy. And with this brilliant plan, I’ve found that I enjoy bringing them back home after school. I enjoy that time with them.  I’m helping my little guy learn to read with confidence and I score a few points with my daughter when I display my mad algebra skills – this is what parents do, I realize (10 years later)! I no longer feel like they’re taking time from me but rather, like I’m sharing my time with them.  That may sound like semantics, but the change in approach has made a giant impact on our relationship with each other.  That time isn’t painful – for anyone – anymore. And by about 11 am on any given Monday, I need them home so we can share that.  

It’s funny to think that for the first 6 years of my daughter’s life (and for the first 4 years of my son’s), I worked. And every day that I was in the office, or locked away in my home office trying to get stuff done, I felt bad about not being at home – or in the moment -- with the kids. And then when I had all that time to be home with the kids, I was angry about how demanding they were. 

I wish we could get do-overs – I’d totally do-over those years where I felt like they were taking too much from me. If I’d have given more generously, I don’t think I would have felt like they were taking so much.  But, I guess the best part of this is being aware of it now and seizing the moments that I do have with them. Probably giving into an occasional cry on a Monday morning wouldn’t be the worst thing either.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On, Wisconsin?

Saturday morning, I asked my Dad and his wife to come to my first Olympic-distance triathlon in late-June. I opened the conversation by telling him we were planning on taking the kids camping across the country this summer and that we wouldn’t make it to Pennsylvania for a week like we normally do. I had my “It’s Wisconsin!” pitch all ready, because I know he feels a little tense and claustrophobic in the city, and I thought Wisconsin would be a good compromise.

And when I stopped talking, he said, “Okay. We’ll be there.”

All I had to do was ask.

I was a little surprised at how elated I was. I no sooner hung up the phone when my husband returned from an early-morning long run. I delivered the news with the same intensity I imagine I’d use if I ever get to tell him I bought a lottery ticket on a whim and won $7 million dollars. I called my aunt and e-mailed my bestie from middle school to tell them my news. Then I got into a steaming hot shower and cried a little.

Something about my dad seeing me compete in this race is emotionally overwhelming. Despite my training, I’m certain I’ll be feeling awfully vulnerable when I’m in that first big race, and I’ve just invited my Dad to be a part of this experience – sink or swim (literally!).

I can’t remember the last time my Dad was in a crowd, cheering me on for something. I never was an athlete, so I don’t have any stories of picking his face out of a crowd as I slid into home plate or blocked a goal or …. whatever happens in sports that would make a Dad yell and scream enthusiastically. I played the flute in marching and concert band for three years in high school. I think I was in key club my senior year. I signed up for Spanish Club every year.  Not really “Go, Tracy! You can do it!” moments. 

Of course, my dad was in the crowd when I graduated from college. He was at my wedding. And he damn near beat us to our condo when we brought Maggie home from the hospital (we were driving from downtown Chicago; he was driving from Pennsylvania – go figure).  So, while he’s certainly been there at the key points of my life, I’ve not really had any situations that would require him to watch me do something physical; something that might require a few shouts of support.  Something that might give me an opportunity to see him as I drag my tired ass across a finish line, instead of just calling him to let him know that I didn’t die during the race (which has been the protocol since I started competing in triathlons and half-marathons).

It’s been a few days since I started writing this entry.  I got a little carried away with the Chicago Blizzard of 2011 and spent my time hoarding food for the family and then I turned to my favorite non-active activity: knitting. After I talked to my Dad on Saturday, I felt a new source of motivation, and then I promptly skipped two workouts.  But on Tuesday – the day the storm rolled into Chicago – I got myself to the Y in the morning and did my run workout – a 35-minute run with 10 minutes of stairs. I pushed myself throughout the run, instead of making excuses for why I should take it easy and at the end of 45 minutes, I felt happy.

I don’t need to be the first one to cross the finish line … ever.  And I didn’t sign up for triathlons two years ago to gain my Dad’s approval – that would have been stupid. But I think having him in the crowd … and having 5 months to think about him being in the crowd … will help me power through with a little more intensity on the days when I just don’t feel like it.