Man Oh Man – What is a Man?

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I recently googled “How to do my taxes” (Because apparently taxes are a thing and I’m in my early twenties so who knew) and the very first article was on the website “The Art of Manliness.” It was essentially an article stating that doing taxes is a “man’s” job and once you know how to do them, you can finally step into manhood. This made me pause and reflect on a number of recent experiences and issues I’ve encountered in terms of “manhood” and “masculinity.” In a society so forward-thinking and progressive I am continually shocked by people’s assumptions and ideas of gender and societal norms that accompany these roles. How in the world are taxes a rite of passage into manhood, and why would that ever be the FIRST article that google displays? Certainly people everywhere, both men and women, google tax information on a daily basis.

Similarly, I recently participated in a TV segment in which I got my eyebrows groomed by a celebrity eyebrow artist. The woman doing my brows was going on and on about how the “guybrow” is becoming more popular but she is sworn to secrecy about the identity of her male celebrity clients and therefore isn’t allowed to discuss her work with men. She stated that these men were so afraid of what labels or threats to their masculinity they may receive that we could discuss it no further. This is very surprising to me. I feel like men in general, not to mention Hollywood celebrity men, are embracing grooming and advanced personal hygiene more than ever before. With publications like GQ, Details, and Men’s Health, along with popular culture influences like the 2012 documentary film Mansome, by Jason Bateman and Paul Rudd, men are being drawn to more “feminine” experiences like manicures, facials, moisturizing and of course the ever growing phenomenon of “manscaping.” Therefore, it surprises me that there are still such stigmas about what men should and shouldn’t be doing. Image

Now, whether to trim your nose hair or not is not a definitive factor in establishing gender norms, but these ideas highlight the growing cultural acceptance and tolerance (or lack thereof) of different types of men in society today. As an active supporter and member of LGBT rights and the LGBT community I am in constant conversation and activity surrounding gay people in relation to straight people, but as this dichotomy is lessened I feel like the dichotomy between gay men and straight men is growing. Not in terms of acceptance, but in terms of roles and societal assumptions.

Many men are struggling to find their identity because they don’t want to be perceived as gay, and as more people stand behind the LGBT community and when being metrosexual is growing in popularity, the lines are blurred. Therefore, many men stick to the traditional aspects of a “man” and in that place they remain safe. They watch football and drink beer (and only secretly wax their backs) and are safe to be a “man” in the eyes of society. However, because straight men are the majority, I struggle even more to find my own sense of masculinity and place in the male world. Now I am all about grooming and blasting some Katy Perry while I agonize over what to wear for a night out, but I also confess that I was in a fraternity in college and enjoy beer and getting riled up for the Super Bowl and can have just as much fun going to a pub with some guy friends as I do in a club, dancing with some girlfriends. So where does that leave me? I find myself in the constant struggle between being “too manly” for my girl friends and gay male friends, but being “too feminine” for many straight males. Again, not in terms of actual acceptance, but in terms of personal identity and belonging. So why does this keep happening to men in our society? Why does it matter? And this struggle for masculine identity is universal in all men.

ImageUpworthy posted a video recently about the danger of using the phrase “Be a Man” to young boys and the toll it takes on personality formation and ideals growing up. It depicted voiceovers of people saying things like “Don’t be a pussy” “Sack up” “Don’t show your emotions” “Bros come BEFORE hos” “Don’t be a fag” and countless others. The video continued with psychologists and sociologists stating how the idea of masculinity is so built up that men cannot have a secure formation of self or emotional well being. One psychologist noted that this stems from a society that doesn’t put higher values on caring, empathy, emotions and relationships. Priorities are placed elsewhere and it has tragic consequences.

The desire to achieve a level of masculinity is only furthering the dichotomy of gay men and straight men. Countless LGBT rights groups are protesting or boycotting the Sochi Olympics due to Russia’s anti-gay laws. On January 13th, Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria, passed a law that criminalizes same-sex relationships. Although this is outside our country, there are many places in the US that are still shockingly anti-gay. “No Promo Homo” laws are in effect in eight US states such as Utah, Arizona and many places in the south in which it’s against the law to promote homosexuality in any way.

This conversation of homophobia and people being crazy is for another time, but it does show that although we have come so far and seemingly get more and more tolerant and progressive each day, we are hardly there yet. It’s time we stop with the ideas of how men should and shouldn’t behave. It’s time to stop thinking of labels and think of people. Just like every human, every man is different and it is vital to accept people for who they are and not how they act. A “man” is not a collection of specific traits – whether gay or straight, athletic or not, groomed or ungroomed – a man is just another human being.

Check out the Upworthy video here!

Also for some comic relief, watch Sue Sylvester comment on the blur of male gender lines here!

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It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To (Or Even if I Don’t Want To)

I am in an acting class that meets once a week for scene study. This is when we prepare scenes or monologues to perform for the class and get feedback from the instructor. However, once a month we are required to do “emotional exercises” where we choose one emotion or feeling that we have difficulty accessing and try to create ways to bring it to the surface. It changes from week to week whose turn it is, but usually there is at least one person per week who chooses to do an emotional exercise. This week, a girl in my class opted to do an emotional exercise in which she wanted experience accessing “loss.” Next thing I know, this girl was up on stage, alone, in a chair, bawling her eyes out, while the instructor talked her through what it would be like if her sister had cancer and was on her death-bed. The world’s saddest music was playing and the rest of the class was sitting in the room watching this happen. All of a sudden I found myself sitting in my chair in the audience, envisioning each of my family members dying, and I started to tear up when I snapped out of it and looked around the room. Every single person was crying, sniffling, or just looking devastated and I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. This is what acting is.

On the flip side of that, I also study at the Groundlings School of Comedy, where we do improv and/ or short monologues we’ve written. Each week I find myself adopting some weird accent while I try to flirt with my scene partner while sweeping the floor and clucking like a chicken. This is also acting.

IMG_1889There are countless things I’ve had to do (or depending on how you view it, I GET to do) while studying acting. We roll around on the floor, or make lemon and lion faces in the mirror. We practice viewpointing, we say silly tongue twisters, and pass invisible balls or slaps to each other. This is all done before we even put on the crazy costumes, wigs and makeup that are required to transform into another person. But I think the weirdest thing of all is the idea of triggers and emotional vulnerability.

I can’t tell you how many crazy stories I’ve had to come up with for myself and the details that go into them. Sometimes I’ve won the lottery, or find out I just booked my own HBO show, or simple things like I open my refrigerator and see more than a jar of olives and some eggs. But what’s harder and more emotionally exhausting is the bad stuff. I envision the phone ringing and discover that my mother has gotten into a car accident, or my brothers were kidnapped and are being tortured and I can hear it on the phone, or my best friends have all gathered together and told me that I’m worthless and they never want to see me again.

I can’t stop picturing the girl in class crying alone on stage and have to wonder why we do this to ourselves? And I’ve been there. Standing in front of a class or a cast crying about something my brother “said” to me (who knows if he really did or if it’s in my mind. It all blurs together. Whoops). We put ourselves through the ringer to access these emotions to be more truthful in our acting, but is it really worth it to keep killing our friends and family?

I think the answer is yes. At least for me. In my last blog post I wrote that it’s difficult to find a mentally and emotionally healthy lifestyle in Los Angeles. As an actor, it’s vital to have emotional vulnerability so that you have the capacity to access specific emotions when needed, and this effortless access of emotions enables me to have a deep feeling of empathy toward those around me. Now I don’t know if emotional empathy falls under the category of an “emotionally healthy lifestyle,” but it does make me feel things all of the time. When other people are happy I am OVERJOYED for them (Don’t get me started on my excitement over other people’s birthdays). When others are sad or frustrated, I know how they feel and totally empathize with them. It may sound inappropriate, but when something bad happens to someone, even if it hasn’t happened to me, I can still empathize because I may or may not have imagined that exact thing happening to my dad or my roommate or whoever.

Sometimes this leads to heartbreak, or drama, or being taken advantage of. For me, I always want people to be happy and because I empathize with their emotions, I don’t always take into account what’s best for me. That is why so many actors are so crazy, or emotional, or turn to drugs or alcohol because they are living in a completely different emotional reality. Although this isn’t advantageous for self-confidence, it does make for better acting. Natalie Portman recently stated in an interview that, “an actor’s job is empathy.” It is mandatory in acting to think only of other people, and try your hardest to connect with them, find out what makes them unique, what makes them happy or breaks their hearts, and why they behave the way they do. This applies both to the scene partner and to the character you are playing. Sometimes a character I play may have different opinions than me, or express emotion differently than I might. However, it is my duty as an actor to have the emotional vulnerability and expression to enable me to access these emotions.615419_1307402242887_400_300

Returning to the idea of emotional health, being able to express these sort of emotions frequently is its own version of therapy. If I’m having a problem with my roommate, or a good friend of mine, I can use these feelings as triggers, talk them aloud and express how I’m feeling through scene work. This is not to say that I don’t acknowledge the problem head on, but it’s therapeutic to be able to express myself this way. This sort of feeling and acting allows me to live with a generally happy disposition the majority of the time. I think I’m good at expressing myself and if I have a problem, I have an outlet to vent about it, or I know how to put it on the table and discuss it.

Ultimately, this whole idea of emotional vulnerability is easier said than done. Many people who are in Los Angeles are beautiful people, or shallow people, or fake people or self-centered people and don’t have an empathetic bone in their body. Sometimes Hollywood caters to that and Lindsay Lohan gets cast as Elizabeth Taylor, or people give Lisa Vanderpump ANOTHER season. But for the most part, if you want to be taken seriously and become the next Meryl, or Leo, or my girl J-Law, emotional empathy is unavoidable. So unfortunately Mama, I have to keep killing you. But just know – it’s because I love you.

Lost Angeles

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Let’s face it, when we were children we all wanted to be something extraordinary when we grew up. Be it a firefighter, or an astronaut; a magician or a movie star; or even President of the United States. Most children are taught to dream of and pursue a life of wonder and excitement, where their days are filled pursuing passion over practicality. When we are young, these ideals seem comically simple, achievable and even appropriate. However, there is something that happens to most people along the way from childhood to adulthood that shatters these dreams and forces many people to alter their career paths and pursue something a little more realistic. They trade in their plastic wands, their homemade space capes, and their trick decks of cards for a wonderfully thrilling college degree in finance, government, history, english or whatever subject they have dubbed as their new “dream” and off they go into life hopefully trying to pursue a dream thats more within reach.

ImageFor most people, they find jobs that are somewhat related to the field they are in and make decent money and are content to find other hobbies, maybe start a family and that’s life. But then there are those of us that are not content to discard their childhood dreams. We refuse to throw away the ideas from our parents that anything is possible and dreams do come true. So we move to Los Angeles, rent a one bedroom apartment for two people and get a job in a restaurant while we do everything we can to pursue our dream. I am in the latter category. Yes, I’m referring to those of us that dreamt of being movie stars when we were younger. We were in the same boat as people who dreamt of being professional skate boarders, or famous gymnasts, but somehow, the skateboarders got haircuts and started practicing politics and the gymnasts stayed in our hometown to teach elementary school, and we just didn’t get the memo. We still maintain the idea that this crazy dream is going to pan out one day. We call ourselves actors now because the idea of being a “movie star” implies a desire for fame which is an insult to the “craft of acting.” (I may agree with this sentiment for the most part, but I want to say to all those people – get over yourselves. We all already have an Oscar speech planned).

But pursuing your dreams is not always as amazing as it sounds. Especially this specific dream. Although the work may be invigorating (when we get it,) LA doesn’t always promote a healthy lifestyle. Although physically healthy yes, (shoutout to my weekly trips to Earthbar and Trader Joes), it’s difficult to find emotional, spiritual and mental health. We find ourselves in this city of dreams where we are constantly judged on who we are as people, where our bodies are our “temples,” where you are old at 30 and where everyone thinks they are somebody, but in reality they are nobody. It’s funny because this is my life and the dream that I have chosen to pursue, but if I had told the wide-eyed, 9-year old version of myself that this is what “pursuing your dreams” looks like, that tiny tot would have laughed in my face, then cried at the realization before finally saying, “Fuck it, I’m gonna go get Chipotle and go to med school.” At least that’s what he would have said if he were smart.

But alas this is the life I lead. And I’m completely fine with it. I once had an acting teacher tell me that if there was something else that I was even remotely interested in then I should pursue that instead of acting. Being an actor, particularly in Los Angeles is nearly impossible, but here I am because although it’s hard, there is absolutely nothing else that makes me feel alive inside, impassioned and full of joy. It might be that I’m delusional or blissfully ignorant, but at least I know that I’m following my parents teachings.

So that’s why I’ve created this blog. To share my thoughts and experiences as a delusional artist in Los Angeles, trying to juggle a professional life with personal happiness and fulfillment in a city that doesn’t always cater to that. Not only is acting itself like shooting fish in a barrel, but people flock to LA to pursue their career and come into their own but find themselves surrounded by many people that are insecure, competitive, jealous and self-centered. So we all are just flopping around, against each other, trying to survive, like fish in a barrel.